I’ve spent my fair share of time in ops centres working on attaining situational awareness, both in garrison and deployed, and the thing I remember most is the steady hum. People on phones or calling out to each other across the room, the scratchiness of voices coming over radios, the rhythm of printers at work and, if we were deployed, the low rumble of the line of generators outside keeping all our electronics functioning and the lights on. And that was just for brigade level and below.
Now as we make our way into the third decade of the 21st century we also have to contend with cyberattacks, organized disinformation campaigns and other low-level hostilities that stop shy of provoking military retaliation. We have travelled a long way from the world of Napoleon and Sun Tzu, when a commander could survey the whole battlefield with a single glance and plot their next move. There’s even a term for that – coup d’oeil – which literally means ‘at the stroke of an eye’. Contemporary military, civil security and emergency responders can be forgiven if they wonder how that is possible in this time of information overload.
Yet, that ability to take in the “battlefield” with a glance and then see the strategy and tactics unfold before you remains as necessary today as it was for those historic commanders on horseback. Maybe even more so because we are moving so quickly. If you fall behind in the midst of an incursion, you may never regain the advantage, or avoid the confrontation.
The list grows each year. Violent nationalism; cyberattacks against financial, energy, digital and transportation infrastructure; and challenges to national and international rules of law – all aimed at weakening our legislative and political institutions of civil authority. Throw in chronic unemployment and poverty, the effects of climate change and extreme weather, and the mass migration these social, economic and ecological challenges cause, and the complexity of civil defence is clear.
Today’s commander needs to be able to understand in a stroke of an eye what is happening across land, air and sea, and now also in space and across cyber and digital realms. That’s what 3D Planeta is working to create.
Our cloud-based SaaS product fuses images from air (aircraft, UAVs), space (satellites) and water (lidar, sonar), to create one continuous 3D visualization from the highest point on earth to the lowest point across all terrain. On top of this imaging, we layer existing geographic information systems (GIS) data such as weather information, streets, topography, buildings, other objects, terrain and spectral changes. Imagine a digital map, but instead of seeing the earth in 2D or simulated 3D, you are presented an actual 3D image. Furthermore, accurate 3D models can be inserted into our real 3D world, in real time, to create the most realistic planning environment available today.
As I’ve written before, military commanders do not go looking for war; rather we stand on guard to protect and enforce peace. Moving forward the best way to do that is via a combination of human knowledge and artificial intelligence (AI).
This is not about handing over decision-making to the machines. Far from it. This is about channelling the power and capacity of AI to gather and analyze the waterfall of data coming at us.
So we can at a glance take in our 21st-century field of engagement and know exactly what we need to do.