It is estimated that over 80% of all data transactions have a geographic component in one form or another and the importance of being able to efficiently handle the growing deluge of geographic map and image products is becoming ever more critical. Few survey and mapping companies with a pedigree in acquisition and production technologies also have the breadth of expertise to deliver geo-spatial solutions, like Infoterra.
An intimate knowledge of data production puts Infoterra in a dominant and unique position in designing systems for managing complex geo-spatial databases. As the importance of geo-spatial data content and accuracy increases, so does the need for a dedicated end-to-end geo-spatial solutions provider.
Infoterra’s business strategy is based on end-to-end geo-spatial projects, providing customers with many points of access to our skills. Central to our GIS and mapping services is our independence and impartiality, enabling Infoterra to provide a blend of COTS and bespoke solutions to suit each individual application. This model very closely follows the intelligence data cycle used by defence agencies to support ISTAR activities and has allowed Infoterra to build a growing defence portfolio.
The Intelligence Cycle (from www.fas.org)
In a growing precision engagement environment that defence forces now operate in, access to high quality geo-spatial data is paramount to support in-service systems in land, sea and air - from guided munitions to humanitarian refugee planning accurate mapping is the cornerstone to achieving a Digitised Battlespace.
Infoterra operates two light aircraft from which a range of survey instruments are flown to support data production activities. These include conventional survey film cameras, digital cameras with INS and GPS for all forms of high precision mapping, thermal sensors for heat loss mapping, lidar for high resolution height mapping products, hyper-spectral for mineral and vegetation analysis.
Range of airborne data acquisition technologies
Through its parent company EADS Astrium, Infoterra also has access to 1 metre airborne synthetic aperture radar (SAR) developed as a UAV payload for day/night all weather imaging.
Complementing airborne acquisition is Satellite Data Services, which can supply commercial satellite imagery (CSI) through a wide range of negotiated distribution agreements for any location worldwide. This imagery includes coarse resolution high spectral definition data such as Landsat (28m), to high-resolution imagery from Ikonos and QuickBird sensors (1 metre and better). Infoterra is currently the de facto supplier of commercial satellite imagery to the UK MOD.
The skills developed in handling large volumes of both airborne and satellite data has, in turn led to the development of data management infrastructure and procedures. Infoterra operates the second largest near-line image archive facility in the UK and has up to 1600TB of storage available at any time. A centralised storage facility enables different data types to be fused and intelligently combined to create derivative products.
All data is projected onto either a spherical (Latitude/Longitude) co-ordinate system or a projected (e.g. UTM) system. A unified projection tends not be used since projection transformations can be done very rapidly, even on the fly, although for operational safety (e.g. indirect fire and IFF) a common reference frame tends to be used such as MGRS or UTM.
A key strategic direction is geo-database development. With all forms of geo-spatial data centrally available and trained image analysts, Infoterra has secured many national contracts based on creating highly detailed GIS databases, using geo-enabled RDBMS tools such as Oracle Spatial, Arc SDE to store and enable complex querying.
Part of the LaMIS database – every hedge in England has been meticulously recorded as part of a national Land Stewardship project.
Data Production & Analysis
Collected data is exploited to create a range of standard and bespoke products for defence applications, suitable for command and control, acoustic sounding artillery systems, guided missile and head-up displays. Flowlines for a range of standard military specification products have been developed which include DTED, CIB, VMAP and ASRP.
Non-standard products include mensurated stereo imagery (for targeting), 3D fly-throughs, land cover mapping and image analysis reports. Once the data is stored as fully attributed structured information databases, it can be interrogated through spatial analysis queries to create custom products, such as cross-country mobility maps, evacuation routes, optimum landing sites and Special Force operations.
The formation of the new Directorate for the Joint Environment of the UK MOD shows the importance of combining data from multiple sources and platforms in creating a richer operational picture, the Recognised Environmental Picture (REP). Infoterra has been providing fused products in one form or another for many years through its ability to source multiple data sources and intelligently analyse them.
Example of Image Analysis Report
The mantra of defence doctrine epitomised in the UK Strategic Defence Review is having the right equipment at the right place at the right time. A critical element of this is delivering the information to the commander at the point of their decision-making, be it JFHQ or below. In any battlefield, the objective is to gain superior knowledge. The ancient warrior Sun Tzu in his fabled work, The Art of War, stated that:
“He who knows the natural formation of the country and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor practices them, will surely be defeated.”
Accurate information allows superior decision-making, timely information enables tactical out-manoeuvring. Geographical knowledge is paramount for all forms of planning, but the ability to exploit imagery sources to gain superior geographical knowledge (and potential disposition of adversary troops, possible from high resolution imagery that Sun Tzu could not have even dreamed of), is shifting more towards efficiency and hence the ability to deliver effects more accurately and rapidly. It is not information superiority anymore, but decision superiority that will prevail. Current CONOPS dictates the use of centralised data management to achieve a co-ordinated response, ensuring that data integrity and currency is maintained at the highest levels.
The concept of centralised data management is not new but it is re-emerging as architecture due to the increased complexity, variety and size of geo-spatial data holdings that could be useful for a commander. The number of new intelligence gathering systems such as high-resolution imagery, UAV’s with EO/IR and SAR payloads and Unattended Ground Sensors (UGS) increases every year and as the granularity of collection increases so does the data management problem (integrity, currency, availability, etc) and with it the need to centralise.
Infoterra specialises in end-to-end geo-spatial data management, a key component of which is hosting and serving and enabling the control of multiple instances of a database through version control procedures. By tracking multiple versions, a client/server architecture can still support the operational need for peer-to-peer transactions through persistent concurrency and the ability to check in and out different versions to the master.
At Infoterra we recognise that a Network Enabled Capability (NEC) and the concept of reachback relies entirely on the presence of reliable in-theatre communications. With the uncertain availability of high bandwidth required for the update of image and map product libraries, Infoterra has concentrated its research and development on increasing the efficiency of data transfer over inevitably narrow-band communications rather than relying on the introduction of broader bandwidth solutions, like Pilot DBS.
Infoterra’s Applied Information Services division has begun delivering solutions based on a thin-band dissemination server. Initial versions have used fixed line connections and achieved server response times for a geographical request of less than 1 second at the server and display of it through a third party client application. Early prototypes based on the same server configuration over wireless networks to mobile handheld devices, have taken in the order of 10 seconds for the same size image, over a 9.6 Kb/sec-1 GSM network.
Infoterra have teamed with another EADS company, Paradigm Secure Communications to develop a high resilience satellite based solution for Special Forces, with optional encryption, using Skynet.