Ideally, military commanders and their headquarters need historical and real-time situational awareness for maximal operational effectiveness, that is: the ability to know what has happened and where, and the ability to retrieve it quickly to anticipate, or plan, for what happens next. That is where GISMO – EDA-SatCen’s ‘Geospatial Information to Support decision-Making in Operations’ initiative – enters the picture. 

The idea for GISMO germinated back in 2013, following an EDA workshop on capability issues related to ISR, or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. With the backing of the EU Military Staff (EUMS) and working closely with SatCen, EDA sponsored a year-long landscaping study to identify the gaps and the options for filling them. That, in turn, led to a set of recommendations and initial project work in 2014 to begin developing a user-friendly platform to integrate diverse layers of data into an operationally flexible geospatial picture. The activity became a joint initiative between EDA and SatCen and it took advantage of the long-standing experience of SatCen, who managed the technical development of the project, including the access to geospatial information. 

Italy volunteered as the first EDA Member State to host the nascent technology at its operational headquarters (EU OHQ) in Rome where, at the time, Operation Sophia, the EU’s naval mission in the Mediterranean, was overseen. “We used that on-site time to gather valuable input from the OHQ’s various specialized personnel – those involved in logistics, intelligence, medical and so on – to get a clear view of their user needs and how that could fit into wider geospatial representation,” said Alessandro Vivoli, EDA’s current Project Officer Space (previously responsible for ISR Collection). 

GeohuB 

That effort’s result is today’s ‘GeohuB’ (Geospatial hub), a software application that enables a headquarters’ operational units to share and display geospatial information in a user-friendly fashion contributing to perform situation analyses. 

GeohuB has proved its operational added value several times over. Aside from its deployment to Rome to support Operation Sophia, it was used during the EU Crisis Management Military Exercise (MILEX) in 2017 to access geospatial information by the EU’s OHQ at the time in Northwood, UK, as well as in 2018 during PACE 18, the EU’s civil-military counter-hybrid threat exercise. Since then, it supports the EU exercises every year.   

Currently, GeohuB supports the EU’s border monitoring mission in Georgia where, with SatCen’s help, personnel in the field function as mobile ‘sentinels’ by observing events on the ground and feeding data into the GeohuB system to support decision-making. Moreover, at the EUMS’s initiative, GeohuB is now being explored as the application for sharing geospatial information among network users in an operational context. Recently, it has been used to augment the Multinational GeoSpatial Support Group, led by the German Bundeswehr, for the benefit of NATO and the EU. Finally, the GeohuB has just been deployed in the EU OHQ of Operation Atalanta in Rota, Spain. 

 

Standard tool for all CSDP missions 

GeohuB added value is that it functions as a standardised viewer and content-manager enabling information sharing. “The general aim is to provide a tool common to all EU HQs. These normally lie dormant until activated when the EU starts an operation, and then personnel is called upon following a manning agreement among Member States”, explains Salvador Llopis Sanchez, EDA’s Project Officer Communications and Information Systems. “The main advantage of GeohuB is that a geospatial officer called in from elsewhere to operate in an EU HQ in Spain or Italy will find a standard tool he can use right away, even if the wider environment is unfamiliar to him. That is a great advantage for settling quickly into the position,” he said.  

Another advantage of GeohuB is that it helps overcome the fact that HQ personnel are always rotating every three to six months. Traceability of records and data could be easily lost since the information remains in silos,  fragmented across personal directories. “Having one place where geo-referenced information is stored and centralized, along with a methodology for structuring and retrieving it, ensures it is available to new incoming personnel,” said Llopis Sanchez. “You can easily imagine the benefit this offers to a headquarters by having all its situational awareness sources in one single platform, particularly since GeohuB allows to combine unclassified [open source] layers of geographical information with the classified information generated by the mission itself.” 

Alexis Letulier, Head of IT Division at SatCen, added: “Working in classified environments is always a big challenge due to the security and network limitations. But GeohuB can be used in those environments having been developed within SatCen accredited network. ” 

GeohuB does this in nuanced ways where information can be shared and cross-referenced with OHQ personnel executing different functions. For example, incident-monitoring with tactical or medical evacuation implications can be shared between those operational units. 

Support to logistics 

Logistics is another domain where geo-spatial awareness is crucial. “Many logistics officers use very complex software to create their logistic plans. Sometimes it could be difficult to share this information with others, as the latter will not have access to that functional service. GeohuB is the common information environment bridging them,” observed Vivoli. “The same goes for your J2 [Joint Staff Intelligence] unit. They need to show potential threats from enemy forces to the commander, but the information is based on dedicated software. GeohuB can integrate all that  for common display.”* 

What, in your view, is GeoHub biggest added-value? 

GeoHub is a geospatial information tool that is easy to use and for which staff can be easily trained. It enables EU HQs to have a system similar to ‘Google Maps’, adjusted to the military environment, but at the same time to be in control of the underlying geospatial information which contains geospatial data and quality controlled products such as maps or geospatial web services. In addition, it is optimised to make use of EU SatCen products. 

The EUMS has been key in the initial phase of requirements collection. What are the next steps foreseen?  

EUMS and the Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) intend to continue to use GeoHub during the MILEX and Multilayer Exercises such as Integrated Resolve 20. GeoHub is also considered to be integrated in the further development of the EU Operations Wide Area Network (OPSWAN) which will be further improved over time while maintaining interoperability with NATO’s Federated Mission Network. 
 
How does GeohuB fit into EUMS’ wider geospatial activities? 

GeoHub is expected to give HQs full control over all the geospatial information used in a mission or operation, meaning everybody plans and evaluates on the basis of the same geospatial information or, as we say, ‘operates off the same map’. The designation of data is important: designated geospatial information is quality controlled and legally binding for executive operations when chosen by the OP Commander. 

Getting the full picture 

Indeed, one of the biggest daily challenges for any HQ is marshalling the situational awareness information from its various operational cells into a readily understandable form for displaying to its commander – the well-known ‘morning brief’. Those responsible for pulling that together to account for what happened in the previous 24 hours must bring together relevant data from all operational aspects: incidents, weather, enemy movements, logistics, deployment reports, etc.  

“Doing that dynamically on-screen facilitates coordination between HQ cells, considering that each one can access the tool with their own user profile. Thus, a logistics user can create new content that links to other tasks, with all feeding into the wider morning update report,” said Vivoli. “In other words, operational staff can adapt the hub’s functionalities to their needs. And its operational advantage is that the more complex it becomes – the more information you feed into it – the more useful it becomes.”    

Easy training  

As for training, this takes only a few days, according to Alessandra Ussorio, SatCen’s Projects Coordinator in the Capability Development Division. “The system is very user-friendly and intuitive to use. GeohuB offers several modules as part of its self-guided training material, which is available through the appplication so users can see tutorials and application examples of its functionalities. In addition, advanced training for administrators is also delivered. Historically, this was done physically either at SatCen or among the EU’s HQ sites, but under the current circumstances it has been switched to virtual training.” she explained. ”SatCen not only provides a tool, but a whole service, including training and a help desk in support of the user community.”   

Looking to the future, GISMO has a side project in the conceptual phase – ‘GeonaW’ (PNT threats geo-database to support mission planning and operations in Navigation Warfare scenarios) to build on GeohuB’s technology. The Agency’s PNT (Position, Navigation and Timing) Project Team began researching the idea in 2020 with SatCen and their resultant landscaping study, use cases, and recommendations are now under discussion.  

When brought to fruition, GeonaW will help operational planners do their job in degraded environments when, for instance, satellite positioning and navigation signals are jammed. “That would be very useful when operating in urban canyons or other built environments”, observed Vivoli.

 

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