Geography and Military Intelligence, married in the UK
The histories of geography and military intelligence in Britain are closely inter-related. Exploration, map-making and cartography were the basis of early intelligence-gathering.
The Depot of Military Knowledge is the first British intelligence agency and the ancestor of both MI5 and MI6. It was created during the Napoleonic wars by the Quartermaster General’s Department of the War Office.
Its purpose was to gather foreign maps and information on the military resources and topography of other countries. After 1815 this activity lost its dynamism, in spite of attempts to give a boost to intelligence gathering to strengthen British imperial expansion around the world.
Military defeats by the British army like, for example, in the Crimean War, were widely attributed to a lack of geographical intelligence.
World War II was a global conflict that involved national maps based on various map datums as well as different reference ellipsoids.
The requirements of weapons systems like bombers and missiles with considerably elborateded ranges made the gap between national mapping systems quite obvious.
One attempt to bridge this gap was to spread national datums to other countries, but in 1944 this met a huge technical and political obstacles.
SHORAN (Short Range Navigation) radio navigation systems, made around 1943 for approximate geopositioning for “blind-bombing” operations, showed great interest for geo-positioning outside extant geodetic networks. Later it became a recognized powerful tools for post-war development.
Photogrammetry and terrain models
Aerial photography from airplanes was a major and powerful technology of World War I, aerial photogrammetric mapping applications appeared between the wars. In World War II, aerial photogrammetry was a necessity.
According to Amrom Katz, During World War II, aerial reconnaissance helped gathering about 80% of the information on the Axis powers and their operations.
Aerial photoraphy gave a great contribution to battlefield startegy by supporting the construction of 3D terrain models at different scales. Those were used in all major offensive operations. The conception and use of such terrain models was the main focus for military geography, and the use of those models involving planning and analysis for military geographic intelligence.
Maps served the Military Intelligence. The latter and Geography evolved alongside until fusioning and creating one body, The Military Geographic Intelligence. Through navigation systems and satellites today, military departments can not only collect data but also spy on each other. This raises questions of security and regulation. Any action to regulate the use of satellite would automatically be applied to both, spied and spies, when spied can also be spies. Can we fill this gap or is it condemened to remain as a deadlock ?
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By Morad Ouasti
1. Cloud, J., 2002. American Cartographic Transformations during the Cold War, Cartography and Geographic Information Science, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 261-282
2. Heffernan, M., 1996. Geography, cartography and military intelligence: the Royal Geographical Society and the First World War. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 21(3), 504-533.