Pacific Team Delivers GEOINT in Paradise

By Shanan Farmer

Ed. Note: This article originally appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of Pathfinder, published by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Because it is fully integrated with its partners, the NGA team supporting the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM or PACOM) has an extremely high operational tempo that contrasts sharply with the relaxing island atmosphere of the Hawaiian Islands. People often assume that working in Hawaii means that life is paradise and work is "a breeze." However, though most of the NGA employees assigned to the PACOM NGA Support Team (NST) do live in paradise, their work, while exciting, is definitely not a breeze.

The NST acts as the NGA Director's single point of representation to the combatant commander and subordinate unified and service component commands. In this role, the NST provides flexible, in-depth and predictive, regionally focused geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) analysis at PACOM Headquarters and the Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC) in Hawaii, at U.S. Forces Korea in Seoul, at U.S. Forces Japan outside Tokyo and at other commands in the Pacific region.

As might be expected, the engaging work performed by NST members varies widely and changes constantly, as the following recent examples demonstrate.

Fighting the Global War on Terrorism
NGA analysts embedded in the JIOC's Combating Terrorism Division (CTD) work closely with U.S. military forces deployed to the Philippines and Pacific Rim countries. Special Forces teams and Navy Sea, Air, Land forces support and train local militaries as they participate in the war on terrorism. The U.S. personnel instruct Philippine soldiers on small unit tactics, weapons skills, communications and medical training designed to help them defeat the enemy and assist the local populace.

NGA analysts are on call 24 hours a day to provide intelligence support for pre-operational planning and ongoing operations. Support to troops in the field ranges from providing basic maps to creating complicated, full-motion, 3-D fly-through videos covering a wide range of geographic areas. The analysts task and exploit commercial imagery of high-interest areas, providing direct intelligence support to forces of the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines. The use of commercial imagery and imagery derived products provide the broadest dissemination possible, as all field operations are conducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

NGA analysts in the CTD have traveled to the Philippines on several occasions to train soldiers in forward-deployed locations on the basic use of geospatial tools to assist in mission-specific analysis and in ordering and exploiting commercial imagery. These visits improved the soldiers' ability to do on-site analysis. Most importantly, these trips allowed NST analysts in Hawaii and soldiers in the Philippines to develop closer analytical relationships, resulting in better collaborative analysis.

In addition to real-world operational support, NST GEOINT analysts participate in all exercises that occur in the Philippines. Exploitation of exercise scenarios is completed at the JIOC and then immediately forwarded to military members participating in the operational planning stages of the exercise. Most recently, analysts assisted in identifying areas that were going to be rebuilt by joint AFP-U.S. military teams. While troops were conducting their engineering activities, GEOINT analysts provided force protection graphics and support to aid in the safe and secure completion of the mission.

Support to the Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC) is provided by an NGA liaison in Hawaii who extensively trains Military Liaison Element (MLE) representatives before their deployment. Because this training is often the first exposure the MLE has to working with geospatial data, MLE personnel learn the basic functions of FalconView and ARCGIS so they can do basic geospatial work while in the field. The MLEs also learn how to order commercial imagery for cases when all intelligence of operational value needs to be shared with local military and police forces. The NGA SOCPAC liaison also assists in exercise planning by contributing geospatial graphics and expertise, making exercise scenarios more in-depth and realistic.

Expanding Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief
NGA's Pan Pacific GEOINT Team at the JIOC leads PACOM's Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) GEOINT efforts. Before Cyclone Sidr made landfall on Bangladesh in November 2007, the team worked with NGA analysts and support personnel in St. Louis, Mo., and Washington, D.C., to prepare a collaborative approach for assisting with U.S. government relief efforts. NGA's HA/DR support occurred on a nearly continuous basis for almost four weeks, providing commercial imagery, situational awareness products, damage assessments, highlight reports, planning references and briefing materials to command and operational units throughout the disaster relief operations. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps units providing direct relief assistance to Bangladesh greatly appreciated the timeliness and relevancy of the NGA support and products.

As a result of the experience with Cyclone Sidr, the NST stood up an HA/DR GEOINT center of excellence in Hawaii. The center plans, coordinates, monitors and responds to disasters in the Pacific region, enabling NGA experts, partners and civilian elements to form a virtual network to monitor and assess disasters - whether geophysical, manmade or weather-induced - and then support responders operationally. When Tropical Cyclone Nargis struck Burma on May 2-3, 2008, causing catastrophic damage and killing tens of thousands, these well-prepared virtual partners were put to the test. The PACOM NST went 24/7 and together with the HA/DR network provided over 200 GEOINT products within the four weeks following the cyclone. The defense attaché in Rangoon stated, "We really appreciate NGA's support."

Supporting the U.S. 7th Fleet
NST members deploy to unusual locations to provide direct support. For example, one geospatial analyst works on the command ship for the 7th Fleet, the USS Blue Ridge, which is based in Yokosuka, Japan. In 2007, the ship deployed to the Philippines to perform community relations and medical care projects. During the deployment, the analyst used a suite of GEOINT tools to complete many short-notice geospatial maps, force protection graphics and route studies. Security personnel used some of these products to help protect the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines and the 7th Fleet Commander. Although the deployment required long work hours, the port visits to Manila, Cebu, General Santos City, Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta and Port Kelang, Malaysia made for an unforgettable experience for the analyst.

These operational vignettes represent a small fraction of the support the PACOM NST provides to mission partners from its base in Hawaii. Since the Pacific region is home to several of the world's largest armed forces and has been visited by 60 percent of the world's natural disasters over the past 30 years, the NST is guaranteed to be busy supporting the warfighter for the foreseeable future. Life in the islands might call to mind the saying "It's just another day in paradise," but it's paradise enjoyed and earned the NGA way.

Published Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Written by Shanan Farmer

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