Simon Hill – regional defence expert with mapping technology giant Esri Australia – has met with senior Australian and United States government officials to advise how a new approach to geospatial data is required to support amphibious operations.
The briefings were held with Assistant Minister for Defence Stuart Robert, Hydrographer of Australia Commodore Brett Brace, and US Ambassador John Berry during the Pacific International Maritime Exposition in Sydney this month.
Mr Hill said he advised Defence must rethink its traditional approach to how it uses technology to manage geospatial information,to ensure it can meet new maritime challenges in the Asia Pacific.
“Washington is clearly ‘rebalancing’ toward the Asia Pacific – as evidenced by Marine deployments to Darwin, the basing of US vessels in Singapore, and recent discussions with the Filipino Government to allow more US troops, aircraft and ships to pass through the region,” Mr Hill said. “This indicates the Asia Pacific is one of the world’s most strategically significant regions – and it’s set to become even more so.”
“It also sends a very clear message that the next major conflict will most likely be fought using amphibious forces, particularly when we consider the already volatile relationship between the US and North Korea seems to be deteriorating.
“To ensure our national security interests are protected, it is imperative Defence brings its land and maritime geospatial information together, so all Services – Army, Navy and Air Force – have a single authoritative view of the littoral zone.”
As the head of Defence for Australia at the world’s largest GIS technology company, Mr Hill is a key strategic geospatial advisor to the Department of Defence.
He has worked closely with Defence on geospatial strategies that underpin numerous operations, from human terrain mapping in the Middle East to facilities management on bases at home.
“Defence already has the majority of the Geographic Information System (GIS) technology needed to integrate its land and maritime data,” Mr Hill said.
“What’s now required is leadership to institute a change in the people, process and data dimensions and ensure Defence’s existing technology investment can be fully optimised.”
Mr Hill said the improvements are also a key requirement of the Defence initiative to establish a Rapid Environmental Assessment (REA) capability – the JP1770 project.
A heightened REA is intended to provide a detailed understanding of operating environments and their likely impact on military operations in a tactically relevant timeframe.
Mr. Hill said an enterprise-wide approach to GIS technology would facilitate this capability and the littoral planning functions required to ensure successful amphibious operations.
“By integrating and mapping information from multiple sources, GIS technology creates a ‘single point of truth’ for missions for all personnel – regardless of which Service they’re operating in,” Mr Hill said.
“Traditionally, this information has been managed in silos, with topographic data stored by the Army held completely separately to the hydrographic data held by the Navy.
“Without viewing all this data together, Services struggle to be effective in the littoral zone as they can’t access information vital to their mission.”
Mr Hill said this was particularly the case in an amphibious conflict, where forces must have complete visibility over all environmental and coastal factors, such as the water depth, navigation channels, ingress and egress points, coastal features and significant landmarks.
“They have neither the time nor the luxury of consulting multiple sources or products to rapidly analyse a situation and plan next steps – which is why having this universal view of information is so vital,” Mr Hill said
“GIS technology delivers a single authoritative source of data, ensuring relevant personnel across Services have access to the most accurate, up-to-date littoral information and analysis available.”
Mr Hill said a new approach to GIS technology would improve not only Australia’s amphibious capabilities – but also the capabilities of other forces across the region.
“If all forces take a holistic approach to how they leverage GIS technology, information could be shared much more efficiently during multinational military operations – which will be increasingly important into the future,” he said.