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American Forces Press Service

Geospatial Intel Will Grow in Importance, Official Says

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2015 – The role of geospatial intelligence in making American special operators the best in the world cannot be understated, Theresa Marie Whelan, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low-intensity conflict, said here today.

"In the course of the hand-in-glove operational and intelligence work that has spanned over a decade in two theaters, [special operations forces] operators and battlespace owners have come to expect premier intelligence collection, data and all-source analysis that paint a very clear picture of the battlefield," Whelan said at the GeoInt Symposium.

The collection of intelligence has changed the way the U.S. military does business, she said.

"I believe the relationships between the intelligence community, the operators and the policy-making communities are more productive now than ever," Whelan said.

New Challenges

Whelan said she's concerned about traditional state-on-state actors learning from terror groups. Last year, Russia used hybrid tactics to illegally annex Crimea, she said.

And, she added, Russian President Vladimir Putin went on to order hybrid warfare in Eastern Ukraine -- a battle still being waged.

"In this rapidly evolving yet complex threat environment, there is some comfort to be found in the capabilities and relationships we have honed in the last 14 years," Whelan said.

"The collateral benefit of the intense counterterrorism fight in Iraq and Afghanistan is a finely tuned, hand-in-glove GeoInt and SOF relationship," she said. "This relationship will be critical to leverage as we deal with newly emerging state-based challenges."

Over the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has refined the technology and ability to layer imagery with data from other intelligence disciplines, Whelan said.

"We've created a new expertise in geospatial collection and analysis which has really been nothing short of groundbreaking," she said.

Real-time imagery became a crushing advantage, Whelan said.

"We are now able to convey information that is reliable and uniquely capable of filling gaps from other intelligence disciplines to warfighters and policy makers with incredible speed," she said.

All Domains Contested

The demand for intelligence will increase, Whelan said.

"In many ways, we're in a 'Back to the Future' mode," she said. "We're confronting variations on Cold War challenges, but with a more sophisticated set of adversaries. Fortunately, we are also a better-positioned opponent."

East Asia is an example of an environment America must adapt to, Whelan said.

"East Asia is the most militarized area of the world," she said. "The advanced weaponry there, coupled with the sheer size of the region, presents stark realities for U.S. basing and power projection."

The area has sophisticated warning systems and "very mature" intelligence agencies, she said, and all domains are contested.

"We need to synchronize efforts across domains and think creatively about how to use our most unique national assets," Whelan said. "SOF is one tool in the kit, and success has created new demands. The demand for near-perfect situational awareness from commanders is insatiable and is here to stay."

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