Don’t forget armed forces in the field, expert tells GEOINT conference

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SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Despite technological advancements, the geospatial intelligence community needs to remember that many of its end users are in some of the most dangerous and disconnected places in the world, a GEOINT expert said.

“We do live in two totally different worlds,” said Patrick Biltgen, the technical director of analytics for Vencore, a Chantilly, Virginia, based data engineering and analytics company.

“There’s the suit wearing, highly-networked, ‘I work in a big building in a mesh backed chair with five monitors,’ and there’s ‘all my stuff is full of dust,’” he said.

Speaking to the annual GEOINT Symposium hosted by the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, Biltgen said June 4 that much of the cutting-edge technology many users are relying upon doesn’t work for members of the armed forces in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The idea that they can depend on [digital pipelines], they can depend on these web tools, and all these web-based databases, it really works for World A, not for World B,” Biltgen said. “Our thinking about how to get data to those people that are very far forward, we are not thinking of as many creative solutions on how to do it.”

It’s not just a data problem, but a tool problem as well, he said, noting that some of the most common programs used for GEOINT are based online.

“Those tools don’t even work on a laptop that’s disconnected from the Internet,” Biltgen said. “There are parts of the world where you can take a flash drive and tie it to a carrier pigeon that flies between two cities faster than you can actually send it over the local comms in that area.”

Defense agencies are going to have to look at unique ways to deliver large amounts of GEOINT analysis to troops in the field, which could even involve physical delivery of storage devices.

“This is something that isn’t going to be easily solved,” Biltgen said. “We’re going to have to figure out an answer to how you are able to drop data into those environments — which by the way might even be an Amazon-like drone that looks like a carrier pigeon, that drops a DVD into that guy’s hand while he’s sitting there in his austere environment.”