GIS Applications in Army


New technologies such as GIS – Geographical Information Systems, GPS – Global Positioning Systems, and Remote sensing capability systems are being increasingly used by the defense systems both for war and peaceful purposes. This paper examines the many ways in which these applications are being used by the army for war and peace and development purposes. The term army is used to refer to the defense and paramilitary forces such as the army, navy, air force, and other federal agencies and other special agencies that are set up to create GIS databases.

GIS Systems in the Army

Geographic Information System – GIS is used to create, manage and analyze geographic and topographical features of a particular landscape so that the information can be used as and when needed. The term is used to denote hardware and software applications that would store, analyze, edit and integrate the geographic features of an area. Geographic features refer to rivers, mountains, plains, and other features of an area and an area could be a small village, a state, or even a country (DTIC, 2007).

Techniques used for GIS by the army

The army has access to certain methods of gathering data that is not available to private agencies and these include the use of government-owned satellites that create high-resolution Cartesian images of a region. Techniques such as digital information with digitized data creation where hard copies of survey maps are fed into a computer-aided design software application to create raster images of continuous data such as rivers, mountains, and also discontinuous forms such as houses, buildings, roads, and so on. Some techniques used include creating a trace of the geographic data on an aerial image to trace a digitizing tablet. The image that is formed is typically a raster image or a scalable vector image. The images that are formed are indexed as per keywords and tags and stored in large relational databases so that the information can be used as and when needed (DTIC, 2007).

How the Army uses GIS

The US Army Military District of Washington, Fort McNair, DC has published a detailed paper on how GIS is used by the army (Keys, 2007). According to the authors, the army uses GIS for military installation management and there are a number of tasks that are performed. Some of them are listed as below:

Management of Facilities: Facilities management used planimetric base maps and this information is used to create the GIS data. Data in planimetric features are typical, walls, roads, fences, buildings, and others, and these are fixed to the ground coordinates and then superimposed on aerial photos. Typically applications are:

Develop installation master plans to evaluate infrastructure details on installation and find if any changes can be done to the master plan. 3D images of the facilities can also be generated and stored. Linking floor plans and creating 3D scenarios of the present and historical data Integrate information about the location of critical equipment, built-up storage is, crating an intelligent street map so that personnel can plan their route marches in advance. By properly managing information about facilities, it is possible for the army to take control of very large facilities such as oil refineries, nuclear reactors, airports, and so on (Keys, 2007).

Training Planning and Management: GIS can be used for effective training of the paramilitary forces to create mock rescue missions of a certain area. It can be used to analyze the soil and topography features so that new construction plans can b defined, assess the natural and man-made barriers to a region, take up exercises for fire rescue and other activities, perform analysis of terrain to find the type of vehicles that can go in an area and if the topography would support battle tanks or only light Armour vehicles

Protection and securing an area: GIS is very valuable when troops would want to enter an unknown area as GIS would provide details of the topography such as rivers, bridges, natural cover, loose soil, and so on. The information can be integrated with the emergency rescue and evacuation teams when natural disasters strike a region and even in the event of war when troops would have to be rushed to an area.

Disaster planning: By using GIS data, advanced plans for disaster prevention can be framed and these would help troops to move to predefined areas and locations so that the rescue plans can be more effective.

GPS in Army

Global Positioning System – GPS is a radio navigation system developed by the US Department of Defense. The system allows users to find their position on land, air, and sea in three-dimension coordinates anywhere in the world and it would be possible for people in remote areas to know clearly where they are on earth. Almost the whole world is covered by satellites and while GIS is used by experts with extensive equipment, software, and hardware, GPS devices are available as small handheld devices that can be used by an ordinary trooper who would not be expected to know intricate details of complex raster imaging algorithms. Often GPS and GIS are integrated and while GPS would tell the soldier of his location, GIS would tell him about the topography of the region (PM GPS, 2008).

Techniques used in GPS

The DOD provides access to agencies and equipment manufacturers who can then create GPS systems. There are three components: User, Control, and space. Space refers to 24 satellites that are placed in geostationary orbit around the earth so that at any point, 6 would be available and relay information to any user in the world. The control segment is made of the Colorado Springs master control station supported by five monitor stations along with antennas that track the GPS satellites and receive information from them and there is a constant relay of information and it is possible to precisely know the coordinates of each satellite. The user segment including the army is made up of processors, receivers, and antennas and these devices allow the troops to receive information precisely about the location anywhere on earth, estimate their speed, and take the satellites as the reference point (Garmin, 2008).

Use of GPS in the Army

The army uses GPS systems widely to aid troop movement in hostile and unknown areas, to take up search and rescue missions, to target specific facilities and infrastructure for assault by artillery or airplane attacks, and to aid in navigation. It is also possible to program a route for troop movement so that troops follow a precise and well-defined route when taking up maneuvers across land, sea, and air. Some of the areas and applications of GPS in the army are (GCN, 2008):

Navigation: GPS handheld systems provide for troops to navigate in the dark to predefined areas for Reconnaissance and to coordinate the movement of equipment, supplies, ordinance, and troops. Troops can be dropped in an area for forwarding recon activities and then they relay their position through GPS for backup support.

Tracking targets: While operating in urban areas and cities, it would be very crucial to take out enemy targets such as equipment and buildings. By integrating GPS to precision-guided munitions, it is possible to target gun towers and emplacements, munitions stores of enemies, take up air to ground missile strikes by using gun cameras.

Missile guidance: Long-range missiles such as ICBM, artillery projectiles, cruise missiles, and other such munitions can be precisely guided to the exact targets by feeding the coordinates of the target to the weapons system. This provides for surgical precision strikes with less collateral damage.

Search and rescue missions: Pilots have GPS transmitters fitted to their equipment or to the ejection seat. When an aircraft is downed over land or sea, the transmitter sends a steady signal to the receivers and it is possible to send a rescue team and rescue the pilot.

Reconnaissance system: GPS is also used to create maps of areas and to perform Reconnaissance operations.

GPS Jammers: To thwart the enemy from sending GPS signals, GPS jammers can be used and these can block out the signals.

Remote Sensing Application in the Army

Remote sensing is the science of detecting objects, terrain, movement, geographical features from a distance and when visual contact is not possible such as during the night or during bad weather. The army uses a number of applications based on different technologies for remote sensing applications. Some of the applications are early warning systems for ICBM launches either against the host country or anywhere else in the world, detection for atmospheric contamination for biological warfare such as nerve and poison gas; precise delivery and guidance for munitions, reconnaissance, and surveillance detection systems and so on. The devices used are also used for intrusion detection. A number of technologies such as laser beams of low intensity, photoelectric beams, infrared and thermal devices, motion detection systems, and others are used by the army. Other technologies that are integrated include GIS and GPS systems (Hudson, 2005). Some of them are as given below (Campbell, 2002):

Radar: These devices have been in use since World War II and they have become increasingly sophisticated and allow precise plotting of coordinates of incoming objects, movement on the ground, underwater, and over water.

Laser and Radar device: Special altimetry on satellites allows precise measurement of wind speeds, ocean currents, weather conditions, early hurricane warnings, and other such tasks.

Light Detection And Ranging: Also called LIDAR, these systems are used in weapons for laser-illuminated guidance of projectiles where a laser is placed on a target and it is possible to strike the target very precisely. It can also be used for the measurement of objects, natural formations, and man-made objects.

Infrared Devices: These are used by the army while guarding security perimeters and are made of small infrared cameras that are mounted on security fences. When any living object approaches the camera, it is possible to detect the object by its heat, and warnings are flashed to the troops in an area about the possible intrusion.

Sonar devices: These are used by submarines to detect incoming undersea objects, natural barriers, and other objects. Sonar-guided missiles are also available that can fire missiles to the source that is emitting the sound.


The paper has examined the use of GIS, GPS, and remote sensing applications by the army. These technologies are used for peaceful as well as for war applications and they help the army to increase their effectiveness.


Campbell, J.B. 2002. Introduction to remote sensing, 3rd edition. The Guilford Press

DTIC, 2007. An Overview of the Army GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Research Program. Web.

Garmin, 2008. GPS Guide for Beginners. Web.

GCN, 2008. Soldiers take digital assistants to war: Government computer news. Web.

Hudson, R.D. 2005. The military applications of remote sensing by infrared. Proceedings of the IEEE. Volune 63. Issue 1. pp: 104-128.

Keys David, Melchior Heather. 2007. Implementing GIS Across an Army Major Command: US Army Military District of Washington, Fort McNair, DC. Web.

PM GPS, 2008. U.S. Army GPS: GPS user equipment. Web.

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