Editor’s note: Scott Lee is a former military intelligence analyst and now TerraGo’s director of federal sales, where he works on intelligence solutions for the military and federal government.
The smartphone is the key to making every soldier a sensor. A warrior on a mountain in Afghanistan should be able to call in fire or direct an air strike with the same device he or she uses to call 911 back home. With a working knowledge of a smartphone’s geospatial capabilities, gleaned from finding pretty much any location on Waze or Google Earth, soldiers should be able report to basic training with the ability to affect the outcome of a firefight before they learn which end of the M-16 to point downrange.
But 4G network availability isn’t common in Afghanistan and other locations where firefights occur. And the military has long worked to overcome the mobile device’s lack of security and often-sketchy connectivity in removed environments. Too many smartphones have too many different operating systems. Maybe the smartphone is too smart. Maybe it isn’t smart enough for a military that can have thousands of square miles of maps, along with imagery, 3D video, and other data for a single area of operation. The U.S. military has so many systems that an inventory of duplicated maps and overlays to serve them all would challenge Amazon. The military also seeks data from soldiers carrying mobile devices with GPS capability, but cannot process it all. This is why, after so many years of testing and trumpeting the possibilities of connected, mobile soldiers, the concept remains ahead of its time.
But it is getting much closer to realization with the Open Geospatial Consortium’s GeoPackage, an initiative led by the Army Geospatial Center (AGC). With GeoPackage, AGC aims to simplify complex questions: Who gets what data and how can it be transmitted in an intuitive, easy-to-acquire way? The Intelligence Community and defense contractors support AGC’s effort.
GeoPackage is a collection of open standards for handheld devices designed to bridge a gap between the field and systems that exchange data along the tactical unit/headquarters track. The important word here is “open,” because different systems see the same intelligence in different ways. Using the SQLite database on every mobile device to store vector features, tile matrix sets of imagery, and raster maps at various scales, scheme, extensions, and metadata, GeoPackage can operate across computing environments without translations between systems. It also enables soldiers to work offline in bandwidth- or connectivity-challenged areas without specific, system-based geospatial data that can stress the limited storage and battery capacity of mobile devices.
GeoPackage is particularly valuable in time-constricted situations because it is intuitive, which helps soldiers who have a mobile device background but not a geospatial education. The soldier has no time for surfing the web in a firefight.
This intuitive challenge is why TerraGo adapted its GeoPDF to GeoPackage. The adaptation involved embedding a SQLite database in a GeoPDF application that has been an Army Geospatial Center staple for years. The result offers cross-platform interoperability and geospatial intelligence sharing that satisfies the need for intuitive operations.
The TerraGo move is one of several among contractors who support GeoPackage. The migration responds to an understanding that before smartphones are purchased for combat there is a need for back end underpinning to support the quest for mobile data sharing. Putting the proper infrastructure in place will help fulfill the quest for mobile data sharing.
Yet it remains for the military to address security issues before placing orders for millions of smartphones. The process that looked like a sprint so many years ago has instead been a marathon, and the finish line remains distant. But with OGC GeoPackage, there is a finish line. Once crossed the mission to make ever soldier a sensor will shift from mantra to reality.
Image courtesy of TerraGo