Terrain Visualization Support in

The 1st Cavalry Division

Terrain Visualization Support in the 1st Cavalry Division 

by Chief Warrant Officer Three Brian W. Haren

The challenge for today's terrain analysts is to provide an accurate, timely, and pertinent picture of the battlefield to commanders, planners, and operators throughout the division. This is a tough challenge, requiring careful application of skilled analysis, state-of-the-art automation, and a broad spectrum of data against a myriad of problems that strongly influence how the commander will fight the battle. This challenge is particularly strong in the 1st Cavalry Division, where, on a daily basis, we balance multiple requirements for terrain visualization support against multiple contingencies and exercises. This article outlines the terrain visualization efforts within the Division, how we meet these challenges, and how these challenges are helping to shape the future of Army topography.


Army terrain analysis is in a transition period. Current topographic doctrine and tables of organization and equipment (TO&Es) were developed in the 1980s to address the needs of a forward-deployed, Europe-based force. This doctrine and the modified TO&Es (MTO&Es) structure emphasized analog production methods for limited types of terrain visualization products. These products were distributed in hardcopy format to a limited number of customers.

With the move toward a continental United States-based force projection Army that must manage concurrent multiple contingencies, the old doctrine and TO&Es no longer adequately support the force. Terrain analysts must now provide terrain visualization data and products to deployed forces on a fast-moving, widely-distributed battlefield. To meet this mission we need to incorporate new technology, data types, and battlefield information systems into our processes and products. Some recent developments in the commercial geographic-information system (GIS) field now allow the use of a broad range of digital data to more quickly and accurately answer most of today's terrain visualization requirements.

The 1st Cavalry Division Terrain Analysis Detachment, under the operational control of the Division G2, is executing missions every day that blend the newest technology and data to provide superior terrain visualization support to all echelons within the Division. The Advanced Warfighting Experiment (AWE) team and the 4th Infantry Division's Terrain Analysis Detachment are working to develop new doctrine, systems, and training requirements based on the projected battlefield of tomorrow. The 1st Cavalry Division's Terrain Analysis Detachment is meeting today's real-world mission requirements with the best technology available today, while it keeps an eye on the horizon.

Force Structure

In most divisions, the Engineer Terrain Analysis Detachments come under the operational control of the Division G2. This holds true in the 1st Cavalry Division, but the detachment is further subordinated to the G2 Plans section. This relationship is critical to the success of our terrain visualization efforts. As an integrated part of the G2 Plans section and because it works closely with the Division Planning Staff on a daily basis, the Terrain Analysis Detachment gets early and unambiguous notification of upcoming contingencies, contingency plans, and operations plans. This early notification is important because it gives the Terrain Analysis Detachment adequate time to assemble data and prepare tailored products to support the intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) effort at both the division and brigade levels. The relationship with the G2 is also important because much of the data used to prepare or update terrain visualization products is available only via Secure Intelligence Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET) or other classified sources, and dissemination of finished visualization products in digital format is reasonable only via the G2's high-bandwidth communications architecture.

Recent Improvements

Rapid terrain visualization support is made possible by two fairly recent and fundamental changes in how terrain data is created and manipulated. Recognizing the need for automated terrain analysis systems, the U.S. Army Engineer School is pursuing a series of initiatives that move Army terrain analysis away from the old analog methods and into the automated arena. One early and very successful initiative is the fielding of the Multispectral Imagery Processor (MSIP). The MSIP is a suite of commercial hardware and GIS software, with system integration software developed under the Combat Terrain Information Systems (CTIS) program.

The other important change is the recent widespread availability of terrain data in digital formats. Digital imagery is now available from national and commercial sources. Digital terrain data that describes in detail the natural and manmade features of the Earth's surface is available from the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) (formerly the Defense Mapping Agency), the U.S. Geological Survey, and various other government agencies and commercial vendors. Combining this digital data with the power of the MSIP allows terrain analysts to create tailored terrain visualization products with a quality, variety, and speed never before possible using analog methods.

Another benefit of the move to digital data is the reduction in size of the terrain database. In the past, a terrain analysis detachment's database consisted of maps, overlays, photographs, and books. Today the same data is contained on compact discs and 8-mm computer tapes. The data storage requirements for a contingency area have shrunk from a small room to a small box.

photoP15.JPG (45685 bytes)


The 1st Cavalry Division is a busy organization. We have real-world contingencies in Southwest Asia and Korea and frequent training rotations to the National Training Center (NTC). The Terrain Analysis Detachment frequently works on missions for two different contingency areas at the same time. As this article is being written, our analysts are using the MSIP system to create image maps of the Udairi Range in Kuwait, to process transportation and river data for Korea, and to print out terrain studies of NTC. Working on concurrent missions in different contingency areas means that we must store a lot of digital data online. The MSIP system in the Division has a total of 36 gigabytes of harddrive storage space and the drives routinely operate at 85- to 90-percent capacity.

A Terrain Visualization Product

As mentioned above, terrain visualization remains a fundamental part of the IPB process. For this process to be successful, the Terrain Analysis Detachment must provide, early on, an accurate and complete picture of the battlefield. Before the commander decides how he is going to fight the battle, he must know how the enemy will use the terrain and how the terrain will shape the fight. The answer to this question varies, depending on where the battle is taking place. We tailor our response based on geography, enemy, and mission.

For example, the terrain in North Korea is extremely restrictive and our greatest threat is the enemy's massed artillery. We need to find and neutralize this threat quickly. The challenge to the Terrain Analysis Detachment is to produce a product that clearly identifies those areas where the North Koreans cannot establish firing positions based on terrain restrictions. The Detachment has developed a product that highlights, in bright colors, those areas where, because of slope, the enemy cannot establish firing positions. While simple in concept and execution, the solution reflects a multidiscipline approach that is indicative of the Division planning staff at work:

The finished product, labeled "Artillery Slope Analysis," takes the digital elevation file for Korea and breaks it into slope layers that determine where the artillery can or cannot set up. Next, it color-codes these slope layers and places them on top of digital maps (arc digitized raster graphics) for easy reference. This one simple product satisfies a variety of needs at all levels within the Division:

The all-source analysis technicians use it to establish the enemy laydown.

Intelligence and Engineer "Fusion"

Terrain visualization in the 1st Cavalry Division is successful because of the Terrain Analysis Detachment's full integration into the Division G2 staff. The terrain analysis technician is a full and equal partner in the intelligence operations within the Division. Terrain analysts have unrestricted access to all pertinent intelligence data and resources commensurate with their levels of access. In garrison and in the field, the Terrain Analysis Detachment is co-located with the G2 Plans and Operations sections and our production cycle is synchronized with the G2's production cycle.

Access to intelligence data and resources improves the quality of the terrain detachment's analysis. In particular, the ability to access data via on-line resources has become critical. Agencies like NIMA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, and others are beginning to archive their topographic data on-line so that authorized users can download them for use. Since it is much easier for an agency to store and update digital data, this data tends to be more current than similar information that was available in older hardcopy formats. The gateway to this data is through the SIPRNET. The MSIP in the 1st Cavalry Division is connected to the SIPRNET so that the terrain analysts can search for and download data directly onto the MSIP system.

Another important link is the access we have to imagery servers at the national and theater levels. The Terrain Analysis Detachment is the heaviest user of imagery in the Division. Commercial broad-area-coverage imagery (LANDSAT or SPOT (Satellite Pour l'Observation de la Terre)) forms the basis for most of the products we produce. National-source imagery, when used as image insets, helps focus and refine our analysis. Again, much of this information is available on-line. However, because of the limited access to these archives and the vast number of images available, the data search and download task is better left to the division imagery analysts. A close relationship with the division G2 imagery section, and the ability to sit with the imagery analysts as they search the image archives is critical, so that we can select the best images that meet the mission's requirements.

Once a product is finished, the fastest way to distribute it is online. Terrain products are passed to the imagery section in .tif format for archiving on the division imagery server and posting on the G2 homepage. Users can then view the product on the homepage and download the full file from the file transfer protocol (FTP) site. These terrain product files are large?several hundred megabytes in most cases. To avoid eating up disk space on the imagery server and to avoid choking the intelligence local area network while downloading large files, only the key products are made available on-line. Other products are plotted out and distributed in hardcopy format.

photoP17.JPG (21731 bytes)

Warrant Officer Brad Bartee (left) and Sergeant First Class Robert Switzer, from the 1st Cavalry Division G2 Analysis and Control Element, and All-Source Analysis Enclave map screen.

The Future

Recently, terrain visualization support within the 1st Cavalry Division has improved rapidly due to the blending of automated data processing and distribution. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Our terrain analysts must continue to improve their analytical techniques using automated systems. Due to the complexity of the GIS software and the steep training curve, not all of our analysts are using the software to its full capabilities. We must continue to develop better ways to look at the available data, to develop more focused analysis, and to reduce the time required to develop a terrain visualization product.

Division-level terrain analysis detachments throughout the Army are operating under outmoded TO&Es. Personnel and equipment authorizations do not meet today's roles and missions. We must take the lessons we learned from our experiences and those from the AWE to establish a baseline division-level topographic structure that properly supports the division and is fully integrated into the division's automated intelligence architecture.

All said, the future of terrain visualization in the 1st Cavalry Division is bright. The Terrain Analysis Detachment will continue to provide innovative and timely support. Most importantly, they will pursue innovative ways to blend emerging technologies, data, and analytical skills to deliver faster and more precise terrain analysis to the warfighter.

Chief Warrant Officer Three Haren is the Commander, 123d Engineer Detachment (Terrain), and the Chief of the 1st Cavalry Division Terrain Analysis Detachment. He has served as Terrain Analysis Technician (215D) and Topographic Officer at III Corps, U.S. Army South, U.S. Southern Command, and XVIII Airborne Corps. CW3 Haren has a bachelor of arts degree from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Readers can reach him at (254) 287-3532/6138, DSN 737-3532/6138, and via E-mail at [email protected] mil.