The Defence Geospatial Intelligence Conference (DGI). was held over three days in late January at the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster, London.
With delegates drawn from some 40 countries, this 11th annual event staged by Worldwide Business Research (WBR)1 offered a smaller but nonetheless important trans-Atlantic counterpart to the upcoming GEOINT Symposium in Orlando, Florida.2 And while concentrating on issues that are relevant in a European context, DGI continues to attract a strong US contingent, this year reinforced by news that the Pentagon plans a fourfold increase in spending to strengthen the U.S. military posture in Europe. That trans-Atlantic focus was particularly evident on the first (pre-conference) day and where issues of mutual interest were the subject of North American and Arctic presentations, drill-down roundtables and panel discussions.
Perhaps reflecting the growing emphasis on new and augmented information resources, the opening day also featured Future Geo Data sessions on topics ranging from the role of social media in intelligence operations to the use of human geography to predict, prevent and avoid conflict, and from exploiting Open Source for map-building to the potential of crowdsourcing and citizen data. The advent of Big Data adds to the complexity – and cost – of information management; perhaps one reason why almost half of respondents to a recent DGI benchmarking report say they are spending more on GEOINT this year than last. 3
Day two saw the main conference open with keynotes from John Kedar, Ordnance Survey’s director of international business development, Dustin Gard Weiss, director of the NGA’s Office of Geospatial Management, General Sir Richard Barrons, Commander, Joint Forces Command at the UK Ministry of Defence, and Jane Dickerson, chief of the NGA’s International Support Team for Europe. A recurring theme – and not one confined to geospatial – is the need for the improved interoperability and timeliness of information between agencies and forces.
Particularly interesting in this context is the move being made to centralise the UK’s hitherto dispersed defence intelligence estate under one roof, a topic covered in some depth by Brigadier John Magowan, Chief of the UK MoD’s Joint Forces Intelligence Group.
In addition to its HUMINT, SIGINT and Air Intelligence elements, the group’s GEOINT capability supports strategic and tactical decision-making by UK and allied forces deployed anywhere in the world. Yet the challenge of satisfying the demand for multi-intelligence fusion is immense. One reason why, for the first time, the various agencies engaged in information gathering and dissemination are being centralised at RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire.
An accompanying exhibition was supported by some 30 organisations including household names such as Airbus, Harris, Esri, BAE Systems, Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon and DigitalGlobe. Also evident were a number of first-time exhibitors, many seeking a foothold in the European market. Among them was BlackSky Global, the Seattle-based imaging-as-a-service business that plans to inject a 60-strong constellation of smallsat EO satellites in low earth orbit by 2019.
With its intention to acquire one-metre optical imagery at high revisit frequencies and deliver it at low cost, BlackSky is, in many ways, filling the vacuum left by last year’s acquisition of SkyBox by Google. Although the launch of BlackSky’s first two satellites – scheduled for the end of 2015 - has been delayed, the company’s recently-appointed executive vice president and general manager, Rakesh Narasimhan, is confident that time can be made up.
Another newcomer setting out its stall at DGI was MapLarge from Atlanta. Its pioneering Big Data visualisation, analytics and publishing platform has already garnered a fistful of accolades across the Atlantic and the company has been tipped as one to watch in Gartner’s Cool Vendors in Information Innovation Report for 2015. Other overseas exhibitors included Urthecast from Vancouver which is developing the world’s first full-colour Earth video platform, and Israel’s VisionMap which showcased its airborne imaging systems for ISR and mapping applications.
Closer to home, 1Spatial, Helyx, Collins Bartholomew and the MetOffice were all promoting their defence-related solutions to a 500-strong audience.
3 The Growing Importance of Geospatial Intelligence. A DGI2016 benchmark report published by Textron systems and WBR Digital (pdf downloadable from https://portal.opengeospatial.org/files/?artifact_id=66626).