Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The evolving budget situation: GEOINTELLIGENCE improvements

One rare, if not unique case of capability that is being genuinely preserved (if not expanded) in numbers and also expanded in quality, is the little known Field Deployable Geointelligence capability of the Army. It certainly doesn't rank among the most well known, nor among the most celebrated capabilities, but teams from 42 Royal Engineers regiment (Geographic) will actually be found pretty much always supporting any kind of deployment, operation or force at readiness, from the Lead Commando battlegroup to the Airborne Task Force, from Operation Telic to the Olympic Games. 
One key factor of any operation is, in fact, knowing the environment in the highest possible detail, so that collecting data and build multiple layers of information about the area of operations is absolutely vital. The GEOINT capability of the British Army has significantly improved in recent years with the introduction of new equipment in support of operations in Afghanistan, and a complete renewal of the kit is ongoing under the Field Deployable GEOINT program, part of the wider Project PICASSO which provides strategic to tactical level mapping and digital geographic information and imagery derived intelligence to UK forces.
Notable UORs delivered in recent years include GEOSYS, a deployable computer system made up by more than 100 systems, each able to process up to four terrabytes of mapping, geographic information and intelligence data individually and substantially more when additional network storage is added. These computer systems, contained in characteristics green boxes, are meant to be used as standalone systems, or networked ones. The GEOSYS system is employed to collect, analyse and store intelligence data, from photographic images and digital maps to stereo enabled 3D imagery. The information is then processed and used to inform mission planning, either with electronic presentation or in hard copy, produced with printers procured as part of the UOR, along with a number of 14ft containers fitted with internal storage space and work surfaces. 
GEOSYS was sourced from Raytheon Systems UK, while the containers were made by G3. 
The other and more important UOR is DATAMAN, which uses COTS technology to deliver a powerful server system that can be accessed by troops in the field via ruggerized laptops. The product offered by DATAMAN to the soldiers is known as GeoViewer, a military software which resembles the common Google Maps but which offers access to between 300 and 350 different layers of information about the terrain. Any kind of useful information will be accessible, including data about known IED placements in the area, pattern of life information, and simple but highly relevant environment data. An overview of the DATAMAN system and its impact on operations is available in Angus Batey's weblog and archive.
At its simplest level, Dataman supplies a detailed map to its connected users. The map is not moved around from computer to computer, but held on the server: connected users access information tagged to the map, thus minimizing bandwidth requirements. Dataman allows this rich intelligence picture to be shared laterally, permitting any officer conducting an operation in a given area to better understand the changing nature of the space around them.

Information is added to the system from a variety of sources (including on-the-ground troop reports, signals and communication intelligence, open-source intelligence such as news reports, overhead imagery from aerial platforms, etc.) and validated by GEOINT specialists from JAGO (JointAeronautical and Geospatial Organization).  It is tagged to a specific location, permitting the operational units to "drill down" into the layers of data and learn about what has happened there over a period of time. In this way, an officer planning a convoy could, for example, decide which roads to avoid by looking at locations of past IED emplacements, or assess the likelihood of ambushes by checking possible routes for recent insurgent activity.

The move to integrate different data types in a single accessible system has been driven both by the determination in the British military to end the unintended stovepiping of GEOINT, which has seen the geographical element of military intelligence effectively separated from other sources of battlespace information, and by the desire of soldiers who have come of age in a net-centric era to use the consumer technologies they are familiar with in their work environment. Traditionally a very specialised discipline, GEOINT is being opened up to the non-specialist user. The results benefit everyone.

DATAMAN, first deployed in 2010, reaches into other databases covering, for instance: Counter-Improvised Explosive Devices, ISTAR, medical facilities, cross-country movements and patrol tracks, offering unprecedented situational awareness about the terrain to the officers.

These systems complement and enhance older equipment which has been around for years: TACISYS and TACIPRINT. The first item was delivered by ULTRA Electronics in 1997, although an early iterations based on the system prototypes was used to support operations in Bosnia in 1995. TACISYS (Tactical Information System) is a mobile computer system providing various geographic products, and is housed in a container mounted on a 4 Tonne Daf truck. The system is mobile to support manoeuvre formations in the field, to collect and process GEOINT and to make it available in support of planning. 11 such systems were originally procured and have been in use ever since, including in Afghanistan. 
TACIPRINT (Tactical Printing System) is a mobile printing press housed in a container mounted on an 8 Tonne Bedford, used to produce maps rich with overlaid information. Separately, a fleet of 4 tonne trucks were equipped as MAPSP (MAP Supply Point) and designed to carry and distribute up to 72.000 maps. 
This equipment is now being replaced with new, more modern systems which build on the success of the UOR equipment recently introduced and, of course, of modern electronics and printers. 
The Geographic regiment is receiving a one for one replacement for TACISYS with the new TIGAS (Tactical Information and Geospatial Analysi) vehicle, a DURO II 6x6 fitted with a specialized shelter produced by Marshall Land Systems to serve as the working environment for two GEOINT specialists and their equipment, including servers, computers and plotter. 
TIGAS will deploy on the field to collect and analyse GEOINT data, which can then be shared via network and/or be used to produce hard copy material and maps. These will no longer be produced by the old TACIPRINT, but will be made and distributed by the new Tactical Map Dissemination Points (TMDP), 2-man laboratories housed in 20-ft containers mounted on 15T MAN SV trucks. 

TIGAS and TMDP overview

TIGAS and TMDP have been delivered by Team SOCRATES, a group of companies lead by Lockheed Martin and comprising Marshall Specialist Vehicles; SCISYS; Actica Consulting (security and communications); KNK; Polaris Consulting and Safety Assurance Services.
11 TIGAS and 3 TMDPs have been delivered, and the MOD has now awarded the order for FDG Tranche 2A, which will deliver further TMDPs, possibly more TIGAS vehicles, and equipment to set up a Forward Map Distribution Point, which should be a large deployable facility meant for the higher levels of command (Division and above). A Forward Map Distribution Point, equipped with older technology, was set up in Kuwait during Operation Telic, for example.  

The TIGAS vehicle comes with a tent that can be used to exand the working and living space - photo Marshall Land Systems

The new Field Deployable GEOINT has hit IOC in August 2013 and should have achieved FOC in October 2013. The kit developed for FDG is fully UK proprietary and is said to have gained the interest of several countries, so that export orders in the near future are a distinct possibility. 
The UK modernized GEOINT capability sits within a collaborative project called Allied System for Geospatial Intelligence (ASG), in which the british armed forces partner with USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to collect, analyze and share relevant intelligence. 

This equipment is employed by 42 Royal Engineers regiment (Geographic). The regiment is based in Hermitage but is due to transfer into Roy Lines, a new structure built on RAF Wyton. 14 Field Squadron, part of the regiment, has been based in Germany to support BAOR for some 68 years: it has lowered its flag for the last time on German soil on the 18th of July 2013, at a ceremony in Ayrshire Barracks, Mönchengladbach. The squadron moved back to the UK in the summer 2013, directly into the new building at Wyton, and will be followed there by the rest of the regiment by September 2014.
The regiment also includes the squadrons 13 and 16, plus the 135 Reserve squadron. 
Moving to Wyton is part of the riorganization which sees the regiment sit beneath the 1-Star Command called Joint Force Intelligence Group (JFIG). This Command sits under the headline ‘Defence Intelligence’ and is itself part of the new Joint Forces Command (JFC) – headed up by a 4-Star Officer. RAF Wyton has been expanded and new buildings have been built ("Pathfinder" and the "Roy Lines", the new home for 42 Engineer Regiment) under Project PRIDE, as part of the riorganisation. 

TIGAS on mobility trials

Being under Joint Forces Command, 42 Engineer will be the only unit of sappers not directly under the command of 8th Engineer Brigade. The regiment has since decided to adopt the common formation flash designed for JFC.  

Joint Forces Command Flash


  1. All good news. We have not heard much about the various C4ISTAR background bits that came out of Afghanistan but it seems like the area where there is most to learn. I recall a series of UOR procurements of comms equipment and asset tracking systems as well as battle management system mods. I know a lot of it is feeding into the non-platform elements of Scavenger and Watchkeeper but it will be interesting to see what else emerges- especially on the Bowman ComBAT side of things..

    1. They are updating all the 107 FALCON trunks with the mods and additions developed for Afghanistan; keeping the encrypted Personal Role Radio; the Commander's Lightweight Radio and the satcom radios, for what i read so far. And those are all good news. But despite the improvements, shortcomings remain: there is currently no plan to acquire full connectivity on the move, for example, which means that command and control will have to come from stationary command posts, and every time the post has to move, as long as it is not fully set again it will still be limited to voice and perhaps limited data capability. But yes, at least some good capability is being kept.

  2. Gaby

    Do you happen to know whether the DURO II 6 x 6 and 15T MAN trucks are new buys or converted from other roles?

  3. The DURO i don't know, but the 15T trucks are most likely from the fleet already available. There should be plenty for all needs, anyway.

  4. The JFC already have their own shield design, using the standard Joint elements shared with the MoD's logo (admiralty anchor; crossed swords, right-facing eagle). So does anyone know why for their TRF they've adopted a variant of the Red+Blue Combined Operations device (stockless anchor, thompson machine-gun, left-facing eagle)? Especially as since Combined Ops wrapped up, the latter has been almost exclusively used by the Amphibious fleet (adorning the side of HMS Ocean amongst others).

    1. I'm afraid i don't know the reasoning behind the choice.

  5. Thank you Gabriele.

    Keep it up.

    A most important capability.

  6. Hi Gabriele,

    Are you working on your article 'what we can manage with' ?

    I was looking at things from the what we have view.
    If we only have enough helicopters to support 4 brigades, how can we say we should have more?
    If we only have enough escorts for x amount of tasks, we must cut the tasks to x.
    What's the minimum number of fast jets we need to guard UK air space and mount a long range limited strike?

    Keep up the good work

  7. Wouldn't £1.5 billion be enough for an off the shelf MPA? 8-10 of the Boeing P-8 Poeidon or Kawasaki P1 if we're thinking a bit more outside the box!

    1. It would possibly go a long way in covering good part of the cost of a small number of P-8 Poseidon.
      But that money is extremely unlikely to be earmarked for a single project. There will be many other voices on the list, which makes me think that the proposed shares of the headroom money do not encourage much hope in a new MPA.

    2. Australia is paying 3.6 billion dollars for 8 Poseidon, related support and necessary bits. That's 450 million USD per aircraft.

  8. I've had a look at your finance numbers above and can't seem to get where you find the £2.6bn cut in 2016-16 from? According to original SDSR numbers the MoD budget was due to rise in cash term from £32.9 bn in 2010-11 to £33.5bn in 2014-15. In the 2013 spending review however the budget for 2014-15 was cut to £32.7bn and for 2015-16 was cut to £32.6bn.

    While that's £900 million less than the original amount in the SDSR the MoD allegedly underspent by £2bn in 2012-13 thus confirming what the media alleges that Hammond (and Fox) cut far faster and deeper in the first two years than they needed too.

    1. The calculation of the impact of the reductions in Autumn Statement and budget 2013 is from the NAO document.

  9. One thing that never crops up is the replacement for the remaining Hawk T1s. They're coming up for the 40th birthday soon and while have been very reliable must be showing the signs by now. Having already put 28 Hawk T2s into service in IV squadron it seemed only logical that the Red Arrows, 208 squadron and 100 squadron would follow shortly but all has gone very quiet.


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