Fireside chat with MG Maria Gervais, USA, Army Futures Command and MG Charlie Cleveland, USA, NGA
Opening the Fireside Chat on the second day of USGIF’s 2021 GEOINT Community Forum, The Geospatial Metaverse – Infrastructure, Tradecraft, and Applications, USGIF CEO Ronda Schrenk quipped that the only thing better than one general…is two generals!
Major General (P) Maria Gervais, Director of the Army Futures Command’s Synthetic Training Environment Cross-Functional Team, and Major General Charlie Cleveland, Associate Director for Operations at NGA, sat down with Schrenk for a discussion about how the Army’s One World Terrain (OWT) program and GEOINT will enable improved soldier training and mission effectiveness for years to come.
The OWT program provides 3D global terrain data, capabilities and services that replicate the coverage and complexities of the operational environment. This is crucial because the current geospatial ecosystem is large and often fragmented, with various collection methods, databases, and organizations existing together. The generals kicked off the hour discussing the origins of the OWT program and how the Army and NGA work together to vet and implement 3D solutions.
According to MG Gervais, when the OWT team conceptualized a workflow for generating geo-specific 3D content at the beginning of the program, they were focused on applications related to training simulations and systems. The goal was to capture areas of terrain and put prototypes in the hands of soldiers as they went into training exercises.
“What came back from our soldiers and our commanders at that point was, ‘Hey, you are looking at this for training only. The opportunity to meet operational and potentially even targeting needs are valid and we need this to help us in the execution of not just our training mission but our operational [needs]… and targeting also,” said MG Gervais.
This revelation shifted the focus of the OWT program development to include not only training efforts but operational and mission-specific efforts as well, to include targeting. Gervais reiterated that “as we are looking through this and expanding with the opportunity, I think we’re just now seeing the tip of the iceberg with this technology and where it could go.”
MG Cleveland agreed with MG Gervais on the universal impact of 3D data. “It almost sounds a little bit cliché, but at NGA we really do believe that 3D has got to be the future of foundational data for everything we do,” MG Cleveland said. “[It is certainly] easier said than done, and it’s not going to happen tomorrow for a variety of reasons. But as we move forward we think that that is what the future of foundation in many ways is going to look like for us.”
MG Cleveland highlighted the leadership, governance, and standards roles that both the Army and NGA play in the 3D terrain sphere.
“Together we both have a bit of a leadership role in this broader topic as it pertains to support. We think there is a governance role as well, where we can help put the appropriate governance infrastructure in place so that we as a broader community can work together,” MG Cleveland noted. “Finally, there’s a standards aspect to all of this as well… that continuum of missions I describe probably does not require the same level of precision or accuracy. But as we move forward, we owe it to each other and we owe it to the broader community to be able to articulate what the standard is and then have our industry partners or others come back and tell us, ‘Hey, we’ve been able to meet this standard, or we have not.’”
MG Gervais then shifted the conversation to supply versus demand for 3D data. She noted that the consumer is driving the demand for 3D terrain data. Currently, demand for 3D is outpacing supply, and that will only accelerate over time. MG Cleveland added that building, storing, and disseminating 3D data is a monumental challenge that the OWT program continues to grapple with.
“As we move forward, I think on that demand aspect we want to have a repository and an effort that allows people to draw from it. I think we also, with this proliferation of capabilities to develop this, have the ability for it to empower individual organizations to do some of this themselves, and then contribute that data and that information back into the broader collective,” MG Cleveland said.
The demand for 3D data has led leaders to reimagine how they conduct business and identify parts of the process that are suitable for automation in order to allow analysts to perform to the best of their abilities.
“Our OWT effort is already using automation… and what we’re finding [is] now the products are so good, the technology is so good, the level of fidelity is so good, the accuracy is really good,” MG Gervais said. “The first thing that people will think is… that high-resolution, that high-fidelity must be expensive… [that it] must be a bandwidth hog. What we’re finding is actually it’s getting cheaper and cheaper to actually get to this level of resolution and the utility of that is just where we are seeing the value.”
When asked by an audience member whether they envisioned the Synthetic Training Environment (STE) ever replacing live training, MG Gervais opined this would never be the case, “because there is no substitute to being in the moment, in the chaos, the fog of war. But what we can do is try and set the conditions so when you step into that, you are comfortable enough that you’ve done the reps and sets and have some of the experiences necessary to be much more proficient than before.”
The generals wrapped by discussing the cultural aspect of working with 3D data and the enthusiasm and trust in it that young generations have.
“The younger generation… they are digital natives. They use this. They want this. They have trust in this,” MG Gervais shared. “So, I think the cultural side of this is: how do we move beyond just the way that we are accustomed to getting it done? And how do we really understand the value and opportunity for the way that it could be done?”
USGIF thanks MG Gervais and MG Cleveland again for their stellar participation and insight in the 2021 GEOINT Community Forum.