Geographic information systems (GIS) are highly valuable to armed forces around the world. So, how are major armies, navies, and air forces using them? We’ve highlighted different common GIS military use cases.
At a glance:
- GIS is used by a growing number of militaries around the world
- We’ve listed different GIS military use cases
- Understand what GIS is and how armed forces use it
- Learn how GIS military teams help their colleagues
In a dangerous world, modern militaries are turning to geographic information systems (GIS) to gain an advantage over their enemies. This digital mapping technology has been used by armed forces since the 1980s. However, thanks to recent advances, the technology is now far more efficient, detailed, accurate, and useful than ever before.
Many armed forces have launched their own GIS military units within cartographic departments, and are using the technology in innovative and creative ways. To help you learn more about applications of GIS in military settings, we’ve listed 10 common use cases of the technology to demonstrate its value.
What is a geographic information system?
A GIS is a computer system that allows users to create digital maps and layer data over the top of the map to provide more context and information. There is no limit to what kinds of data a GIS map can show. It can include layers as diverse as:
- Landscape information (topography, elevation, watercourses, etc.)
- Roads, tracks, footpaths
- Population density
- Buildings, roads, bridges, and physical infrastructure
- Soil information
- Land use
- And much, much more.
GIS military units create digital maps using information from a variety of sources, including satellites, airplanes, helicopters, drones, open-source data, and intelligence on the ground. Their colleagues in other departments will request digital maps containing specific kinds of information, and the GIS team can use a variety of data to produce the map.
Case study: Learn how the French military is upgrading its GIS capabilities
Different GIS military applications
The following examples of applications of GIS in military scenarios demonstrate some of the more common use cases for this technology.
1. Mission planning
Arguably the most important GIS military application is its use in mission planning. A GIS map can provide vast amounts of information about the terrain, landscape features, locations of buildings, vegetation, and more. Modern GIS systems also use up-to-date satellite imagery to feed into the maps, which can help identify any changes on the ground (such as trenches, new buildings, destroyed bridges, etc.) which will influence tactics.
2. Weapons systems
The application of GIS in military weapons systems is also vital. By feeding in up-to-date information about a target, it can help modern weapons systems to be more accurate and effective. The data from GIS can be used for targeted missile strikes, guided bombs, and autonomous drones.
3. Population maps
GIS military units can create population maps that identify settlements and estimate their size. This can be especially important for missions in rural and remote areas. Modern pop maps use up-to-date satellite images to identify exactly how many dwellings are in a settlement and spot any changes (such as rapid expansion, construction of new roads, etc.).
4. Route planning
GIS military units are often called upon to support route planning, especially when the army is conducting operations in places without roads. Topographical data is particularly helpful, as it can help with identifying the fastest route through the terrain. But GIS can go further. Remote soil analysis can, for instance, estimate the amount of moisture in the soil – an important consideration when driving heavy vehicles that could become stuck in the mud.
5. General military logistics
Up-to-date military GIS maps are invaluable when it comes to planning logistics for major operations. The data can be used by armies, navies, and the air force to understand where they can go, what barriers exist, which routes are safest, which routes are fastest, and if the situation on the ground has changed. For instance, changes such as blown bridges, damaged railways, or obstacles on runways can all be identified and mapped using the latest GIS military systems, and factored into planning.
6. Disaster relief
Another application of GIS in military settings is in the field of disaster relief. From floods to tsunamis, hurricanes to earthquakes, the military is regularly called on to provide support. By utilizing GIS maps that contain recent satellite images of the ground, logistics can be planned in the most efficient way.
By analyzing a GIS map you might, for example, see that some communities can still be accessed by road, while others are cut off. This would help the military plan where to send wheeled vehicles, and where to send helicopters.
Military GIS units are regularly called upon to carry out general intelligence activities. From mapping suspected terrorist training camps through to monitoring power plant construction in unfriendly countries, GIS can support all manner of intelligence gathering.
8. Risk analysis
GIS military units can also perform a wide range of risk analysis to provide information to their colleagues. By using imagery from satellites or drones, they can help identify risks such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs or roadside bombs), mines, likely sniper positions, and more.
9. Simulation training
A growing number of GIS military units are connecting their mapping environments with simulation software. It is now possible to create 3D ‘digital twins’ of real-world environments for the purposes of training soldiers, pilots, and naval officers.
10. Simulated mission rehearsal
Similarly to the previous example, some militaries are using satellite imagery to create highly accurate, up-to-date maps of mission environments, then connecting this to their simulation software. This allows soldiers to explore a realistic rendering of their destination before they go in person – they can then rehearse their plan, estimate timings and routes, and feel more confident entering the field of battle.
Applications of GIS in the military
GIS military units in multiple countries are helping their colleagues gain an advantage in conflict situations, access advanced intelligence, and feel more prepared and confident for challenging scenarios.
At LuxCarta, our geographic information systems use the most up-to-date imagery of the planet from the Sentinel satellite array. Our BrightEarth technology automatically converts these images into intelligence for GIS military teams – helping them to identify building footprints and vegetation, creating pop maps, and more. Our solutions also connect to leading simulation providers such as VBS4, helping create the most sophisticated and up-to-date mission rehearsal environments.
Read our case study to learn how the French armed forces are using our technology to maintain their edge.