A Guest Blog from
A.J. Clark, Founder & CEO of Thermopylae Sciences and Technology (TST),
a GSF Small Business Partner
My first experience with GEOINT came working as a Targeteer in the Air Force. Targeteers require some of the most accurate and precise Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) of all military users. It’s ironic that my focus with GEOINT today is hard to apply the label of GEOINT to. As the technology supporting location intelligence has evolved, the tent has grown quite broad and contains many different organizations and individuals.
For a decade, the company Thermopylae Sciences and Technology (TST) that I am with brought GEOINT capabilities to the furthest edge of the battlefield. Google Earth Enterprise was a foundational element for many if not all of our solutions, although we used many others. The Google Earth application was everywhere, and fit a multitude of problem sets. When other systems were not working due to network issues, Google Earth visualization of a local common operating picture or common intelligence picture was humming away. Known areas of red force activity via Significant Activity Reports (SIGACTS) as well as the Forward Line of Troops (FLOT) displayed over various satellite and sometimes aerial imagery. We found that the closer our users were to the fight, the more substantial their reliance on a tool like Google Earth.
Fast forwarding to today (and skipping past the churn on Google Earth Enterprise going away and then not going away period), it’s essential for the breadth of users to be aware of where Google Earth is going for the Special Operations community and beyond. As many defense budgets come off 3-5 solid years of constraints, a number of the fantastic geospatial ideas and capabilities for putting “crap on a map” have yet to reach broad deployment, and Google Earth remains as popular as ever. As Thermopylae set out to take Google Earth Enterprise into the next generation, we contemplated what is used the most, what is on the horizon, and factored in lessons learned over a few decades of seeing GEOINT evolve. A key takeaway is that Google Earth worked well because it could effectively function in a Disconnected, Intermittent, & Limited (DIL) Environment. It also worked well because it could manage global scale representations of imagery when network connections were in place.
Engineers from TST’s Open Source Development office currently dedicate their effort to supporting Google Earth Enterprise as an open source project. Collaboration occurs with senior defense and intelligence community staff to ensure continued unfettered access. NGA is the Functional Manager for this capability to guarantee that US organizations have access and support. Every single group that wanted Google Earth in the past is now able to leverage a supported, stable, and secure implementation. Bottom line – if you need Google Earth or think it can help your mission, the barriers to getting it are all but gone. From new features, to enterprise support, to pre-packaged paperwork necessary for any accreditation on any network it’s there.
One key challenge that comes up time and again involves rapidly visualizing high-resolution imagery that came off of aerial platforms, and this has focused our attention in recent years. My colleague Jarrett Heavenston from Tough Stump Technologies who worked as a Tier 1 Operator at Ft Bragg and I met at a training event in 2014. It was there that I saw some of the UAS capability on the horizon. The rest, as they say, is history. Jarrett was able to take the content directly from his sUAS, process it in the field, and fuse it into Google Earth Enterprise (GEE) in about 10 minutes. We are talking about having 3-5 CM resolution imagery as a layer in Google Earth for planning, situational awareness, and force protection from a flight within the last hour. That’s more than enough resolution to tell if it’s water pipe or a DShK heavy machine gun in the back of that Toyota Hilux truck around the corner. Reducing the flash to bang time with high-resolution imagery being available in the GEE platform is an area we are aggressively working to streamline for disconnected users.
We expect a continued growth of tactical mapping, higher resolution cameras on all platforms, and increased frequency of collection rates. Within the SOF community, no-one is getting more staff or more time, but they are getting exponentially higher amounts of data. Efficiently managing that imagery and terrain data and broadly distributing it is a challenge that Google Earth Enterprise currently solves.
A.J. Clark is the founder and CEO of Thermopylae Sciences and Technology (TST). TST is an award-winning technology company that has extensive Google honors for North America and Global business operations. Mr. Clark has over 20 years of business management and technology experience. He has worked in leadership roles with Fortune 500 Companies, Public Sector Organizations, and supported Non-Government Organizations. Additionally, his career has included time in uniform in the Middle East, Central Asia, Latin America, and Europe.