Geographical Information Systems in Armed essay

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Knowing in advance the terrain, the vegetation, and the water sources prepares the mission teams with the knowledge to confront the elements associated with the geographical conditions of the site. Analysis provides information for determining in advance the best sites to set up base camps, where the terrain is less vulnerable to hostile advances. It demonstrates in advance how supplies will most efficiently and expeditiously be delivered to the site. The GIS can indicate to military coordinators how many helicopters, ground armored vehicles, and other military transport vehicles the use of which is dependent upon conditions of terrain. Whether or not supplies can be delivered via ground or air is an important consideration in planning and supplying a military exercise or event. GIS is a valuable tool for military logistical purposes.

If we look at the layered data GIS is capable of delivering, we find that the information is essential to planning an offensive or defensive military position. Where troops will be strategically placed in a conflict zone is a decision making process that, today, is facilitated by GIS data.

Combining GIS data with GPS makes a near invincible military strength, which could significantly reduce the number of troops and the equipment that is needed on the ground. With the combination of GIS and GPS, the exact location of a hostile force can be determined, and, if necessary, special teams can use the information to mount an assault. The combination of GPS and GIS allow the military analysts to be to more accurately determine the number of troops, and the route of the troops in the most strategic and best prepared assault on an enemy force. The GIS allows the analysts to hone in a specific location, and actually be able to visually see the targets on the ground, evaluate their strength in numbers and military equipment.

Legacy Weather

The GIS system is important to the military in other ways. Climate is predictable, but "real time" images of weather systems and conditions are vital to planning and carrying out military excursions. GIS has the ability to show a cumulating storm system, sand and dust storms, and other weather conditions as they are occurring. Recent storm systems like the infamous Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, have been tracked by satellite.

The information, though it proved invaluable, and there was much advance notice of the hurricane as it grew to a category 5 hurricane, still there were people who did not respond to warnings for evacuation of places like New Orleans, and extensive damage and loss of life followed.

GIS allows for military leaders to make decisions, using the weather to their advantage. Troops can move under the cover of weather conditions, when opposing forces might be restricted because of they are held stationary in the weather conditions. Below, is an image of Hurricane Katrina as it bore down upon the Gulf Coast.

National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, found at,2005.

Ronald J. Sznaider, Vice President of Meterologix (2005), a company specializing in GIS and weather forecasting says"

The use of GIS as a tool to make analytical business decisions during the past 25 years is well documented. This "traditional" use of GIS was typically associated with decision cycles of longer time periods (on the order of weeks and months), the use of relatively static data (i.e. elevation contours), the near exclusive use of sophisticated desktop GIS analysis tools, and typically involved only a few, highly specialized users (i.e. GIS analysts). With the introduction of dynamically updating, localized weather information into a GIS, Meteorlogix has helped change the paradigm towards one of using GIS to perform operational decision support. The resulting weather-enabled decision support systems can support much shorter time scales (on the order of minutes), utilizing frequently updating data layers (weather information updates every minute), utilizing Internet communications technology for the sharing and distribution of the data, and allowing involvement of many users of varying experience performing simple viewing all the way to conducting complex analysis. The merge of weather information with GIS provides new and exciting capabilities now being realized by businesses to mitigate their weather-related risks."

Legacy Mapping

Of the many uses that put military forces at an advantage in using GIS, mapping is perhaps the most advantageous use. It makes it possible for military forces to map terrain and to be prepared for those conditions. It provides the military with information that means the difference between being successful, or at a loss, especially in urban settings, which once posed a problem for military forces trained to do battle in open spaces.

Data on terrain evaluation in land-based military operations is essential to military field commanders. The commanders need to know terrain conditions, elevations for maneuvering armored carriers, tanks and for use of various weapons. Military operations need vegetation cover, road networks, and communication lines, and must have the ability to pin point with accuracy ground buildings, structures, and other man-made constructs that would prove an advantage. A detailed land map with this kind of information is essential for military operations.

Through military communications networks, the information is disseminated to various command units, who then analyze it and make informed decisions on troop placement, points of entry, points of departure, and coordinating their forces with other field force locations.

GIS, GPS and the Law

Gregory F. Intoccia and Joe Wesley Moore (2006), writing for the Houston Journal of International Law. The authors contend that the description of the satellite system that is used for GPS or GIS as a shared system, would lend itself to certain restrictions under international law. That the United States entered into international agreements concerning space and satellites that would put at risk the military use of these systems. Referring back to the GAO picture graph, the various non-governmental and commercial entities that access the GIS satellite along with DoD and Defense, must be treated utilized in accordance with international law.

Existing international treaty restrictions on weapons in outer space are in fact very limited -- prohibiting placement of weapons of mass destruction into orbit, and requiring any use of the moon and other celestial bodies "exclusively for peaceful purposes." (71) in light of the longstanding use -- with virtually no international objection -- of satellites for military purposes by the United States, the former Soviet Union, and numerous other states, international debate has largely shifted to the question of the weaponization of outer space. (72) Although the United States has not foreclosed the idea of placing weapons in space, it has not yet expended the political capital to do so. (73) Given that satellite communications are integral to present and future military networks, the "weapon system" terminology could serve as the basis for a conclusion that the United States has already crossed the space weapons threshold, possibly emboldening near-peer states to more aggressively pursue their own space weapon programs."

So long as the GIS satellite is not referred to as a "weapon system," say Intoccia and More, then DoD is not in violation of an international treaty or agreement. if, however, an allegation is made as a result of the communications coming from the shared system that is being used by DoD in the war in Afghanistan or Iraq, then there could be problems for the continued use of the shared system.

The GIS technology is only now being explored as to its ultimate capacity as a military technology. There is still ongoing debate, as detailed in the 2003 GAO report, as to its uses and surrounding its shared satellite system. It is a technology that advances the awareness of military operations, and cannot be lost to international challenge. The military must take action to secure its use of the system in a way that will not jeopardize either the use of the technology, or see the United States being charged for violation of international laws.


GIS provides military with unique capabilities, and can mean the difference between being at strategic advantage or disadvantage. Ronald J. Sznaider cites the uses of GIS and weather integration as:

Battlespace: Internal military weather information, converted into GIS formats, allows weather information to be precisely combined with the locations of other military assets (i.e. troops) and ultimately more seamlessly integrated into battlefield command and control systems

Intelligence gathering: Forecast cloud cover and atmospheric moisture profiles, compared against data acquisition targets, can provide more efficient and reliable scheduling of remote sensing from satellites

Terrorist Threat Analysis: Highly localized real-time wind observations, integrated into plume dispersion models, provide timely and accurate projections of airborne concentrations of chemical gases that could endanger troops

Inter-agency transfer: Internal military weather information, converted into a recognized "standard" GIS format (i.e. ESRI Shape file) provides enhanced interoperability due to standardized data exchange with other non-weather data sets

The use of GIS in detecting terrain and vegetation…[continue]

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