Adm. Kurt W. Tidd

U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) is extending this invitation to technology developers: “Try it here first.” And developers are responding.

With its vast area of operations and missions that continuously expand and shift, SOUTHCOM is positioning itself as an ideal innovation partner. For example, the combatant command is collaborating with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and commercial satellite providers on pilot studies concerning leveraging imagery and data collection. The command is also considering World View Enterprise’s Stratollite flight vehicle as a potential long-duration solution to fill gaps in imagery collection.

The quest for technology as a force-multiplier is one of the reasons Adm. Kurt W. Tidd, SOUTHCOM’s commander, looks forward to delivering a GEOINT 2017 keynote address Wednesday at 10 a.m. Tidd plans to tour the Symposium exhibit hall as well.

“Experts from the geospatial intelligence community are where ideas like those often come from,” Tidd said via email, referring to both ongoing and future technology development at SOUTHCOM, which is headquartered in southern Florida. “I am eager to hear from them, to see the exhibits, and to learn more about the kinds of cutting-edge capabilities we may be able to consider experimenting with in the future.”

San Antonio is home to the U.S. Sixth Army, one of SOUTHCOM’s component units. SOUTHCOM has long been considered at the leading edge of the war against narcotics trafficking, but that mission is too limiting in the face of ongoing worldwide terror threats. Geospatial intelligence helps SOUTHCOM and its interagency and regional security partners meet the challenge of monitoring one-sixth of Earth’s mass, an area that includes 31 countries as well as 16 dependencies and places of special sovereignty.

“This is a region where security threats range from extremist groups leveraging cyber to market their ‘brand’ of violence, to illegal mining and narcotics trafficking, to life-threatening natural disasters,” Tidd wrote. “So, we’re combining commercially available imagery with online tools and publicly available data. This combination gives us insights into the security environment, such as how threat networks are connected or the conditions on the ground after a disaster.”

Disaster relief is a growing part of SOUTHCOM’s mission. Operations in the wake of natural disasters such as fall 2016’s Hurricane Matthew point to the value of GEOINT.

During Hurricane Matthew, which touched a corner of Haiti, SOUTHCOM used publicly available images to establish base maps and then overlaid the maps with geo-tagged images of problem areas such as washed-out bridges. The information allowed Army and Marine Corps helicopters from Honduras to ferry disaster relief from Port-au-Prince storehouses to the hardest-hit areas the day after the hurricane passed.

“We were able to move much more quickly than if we waited on getting the helicopters there, sending the helicopters out on traditional road reconnaissance flights … then coming back to figure out execution,” Tidd said at a Pentagon news conference April 7.

In his GEOINT 2017 keynote, Tidd said he plans to share “some of the ways we’re embracing operational innovation and partnering with experts from the geospatial intelligence community to better understand threats and challenges in the region and increase the success of our operations against them.”

He will also discuss opportunities for industry.

“SOUTHCOM is the ideal innovation partner,” he said. “Our area of responsibility is close to the U.S. and has varied terrain and diverse operational environments. We also have willing and capable partners in the region who support innovation and are experienced at countering adaptive adversaries.”

Headline image: Adm. Tidd passes through sideboys as he departs amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima following a visit with Capt. James R. Midkiff, the ship’s commanding officer. Iwo Jima and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit provided disaster relief and humanitarian aid to Haiti following Hurricane Matthew. Oct. 15, 2016. U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Daniel C. Coxwest.

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Posted by Jim Hodges