Battlefield Displays Not Keeping Up With Imagery Quality

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By MISSY FREDERICK

Commercial satellite imagery is usually of a high enough resolution to prove valuable to the military , but some of the equipment used to display the information comes with handicaps, according to a U.S. Army warrant officer specializing in the geospatial field who recently returned from Iraq.

U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Jason Feser led a four-person team that was deployed in Mosul, Iraq, from September 2004 to September 2005. The team’s job was to create map products incorporating geospatial and other intelligence information.

That task proved challenging because the data from disparate sources were stored in different formats. Feser said. “We had to take all these voices and turn it into a choir,” he said.

A map of Mosul, for example, would feature not just the location of a mosque but also would include information on its leader and his political persuasion, Feser said. A hospital’s location would be imbedded with data including the facility’s treatment specialties and management contact information.

Geospatial intelligence proved useful in unexpected ways, Feser said. When the Mosul military base’s dining hall was hit by a suicide bomber, killing 19 people, the attacker’s collaborators videotaped the incident and displayed the footage on the Internet. Feser’s team compared the video to geospatial data to determine the location from which the videotape was shot. Forces used that information to find the co-conspirators’ hideout and capture them, Feser said.

But for all the benefits of using geospatial data, there were challenges , Feser said. His biggest complaint was with the Force 21 Battle Command, Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2), a digital system consisting of software and laptop-sized displays that was used to transmit and receive geospatial data.

A major problem with the equipment, Feser said, is its small screen and slow processor. It also can only handle data that is formatted to National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency specifications, he said.

According to Feser, when displayed on the FBCB2, images captured at 1-meter resolution only appeared at 5 -meter resolution.

“If I had one wish, I would replace the FBCB2,” Feser said. “We need to own the geospatial fight, and it sets us back a number of years if we can’t push the data to [the soldiers].”