GEOINT and M&S Unite

USGIF’s Modeling & Simulation Working Group brings together the GEOINT and M&S Communities


Geospatial elements such as terrain features, elevation, human geography, and imagery are often critical to the functionality of modeling and simulation (M&S) tools. Conversely, the opportunities for analysis of spatial intelligence activities and events using M&S are growing as geospatial information becomes more accurate and accessible.

For this reason, USGIF Members formed a Modeling & Simulation Working Group in 2012 to discuss common interests shared by the M&S and GEOINT Communities, as well as how the two can benefit from one another. Bridging the two communities is about effectiveness and efficiency, according to Dan Maxwell, co-chair of the working group and president of KaDSci.

“As computers get faster and there gets to be more and more data, the possibilities that present themselves by allowing GEOINT and M&S to interact even more fully are tremendous,” Maxwell said. “But, there are also risks there that we want to make sure we think through.”

For example, it’s important to differentiate between M&S for the purpose of training soldiers versus intelligence analysts.

CAE's common database

USGIF’s Modeling & Simulation Working Group provides a briefing in May 2013 at USGIF’s GEOINT Community Week Tech Day in Reston, Va.

“Training simulations introduce a lot of realism for the purpose of helping soldiers to do their job better,” Maxwell said. “But realism and reality aren’t the same thing. From an intelligence perspective, we would rather integrate current data than have a pretty picture. It’s a subtle but really important point as we start migrating away from training to things like decision support and rehearsal.”

At USGIF’S GEOINT Community Week in May 2013, the M&S Working Group hosted demonstrations by VT MAK and USGIF Member Company CAE of their dynamic synthetic environment tools, both of which use open standards and common data.

“There are communities of simulation developers that are actually generating geospatial data to feed models and simulations for training and rehearsal,” Maxwell said. “We could achieve efficiencies for the government if we could find ways to better share the data that they generate.”

One governmental use of M&S is accurately replicating the joint operational environment for joint force development—a process where GEOINT products are critical according to U.S. Army Col. Dan Ray, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Joint M&S Environment Development Division.

A new era has just begun for M&S applications, Ray said, adding that standards reduce costs by allowing for the creation of common data structures from the outset.

“From our standpoint on joint M&S, a vast array of proprietary, simulation-specific formats are based on legacy data structures,” Ray said. “We have a terrain team that expends a lot of energy, and therefore resources, in tweaking standard GEOINT data formats into simulation-specific formats, then modifying and normalizing the data so the various simulations can function. Our push to move joint M&S to a common database structure that uses standard GEOINT formats is going to move M&S in the right direction toward common and open data.”

Building off the success of the GEOINT Community Week demonstrations, the M&S Working Group will host a more in depth follow-on session in April at the GEOINT Symposium in Tampa, Fla. The Symposium demonstrations will focus on using data published with standards from the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) that can be ingested directly into simulations. The working group and OGC are joining forces for the demonstrations, bringing together participants from DoD and federal agencies, as well as vendors, integrators, and data providers from industry.

“Open standards-based interoperability in M&S will enable the rapid repurposing of M&S data sets for use with other geospatial information in operational situational awareness and decision support applications,” said Mark Reichardt, president and CEO of OGC. “Why is this important? For example, M&S data can be used to fill gaps in geospatial coverage, and it can support ‘what if’ scenarios as events unfold.”

The Symposium demonstrations will feature participants from OGC, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, VT MAK, and USGIF Member Companies CACI, CAE, Compusult, DigitalGlobe, Envitia, and exactEarth. It will also include two demonstrations—one military and one civilian. The military scenario will simulate the rescue of soldiers from a combat situation in Yemen, with terrain modifications updated on the fly in response to late-breaking information. The civilian scenario will be set in Hawaii, and simulate an oil spill off the coast of Oahu. The purpose of the simulations will be to show how rapidly updates to an environment can be streamed using open standards.

“Both the GEOINT and M&S Communities have a challenging set of requirements,” Ray said. “We need to maintain close alignment by collaborating and partnering in areas like data standards as we move forward.”

To learn more about USGIF’s Modeling & Simulation Working Group, visit

Featured image: CAE’S common database is an open, standard database that defines a single synthetic representation of the world for use by simulation systems. 

Posted in: USGIF Working Groups   Tagged in: 2013 Issue 4, Data, Software, Standards

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