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Human geography: critical data for operational decision-makers

After more than 10 years of producing military topography data for the Multinational Geospatial Co-production Program (MGCP) community, the Thales/Airbus consortium teamed with Geo212, a specialist in geo-intelligence, to diversify into the production of human geography data. 

The goal of the International Program for Human Geography (IPHG) is to build a standardised international geographic database including human geography information — data on ethnicity, language, religion, demographics, etc. — in order to gain a more complete understanding of a given region, on a national and supranational scale, and derive a range of operational map products from the data.

Human geography adds a rich layer of information on top of physical geography, which focuses on natural features (vegetation, bodies of water, etc.) and human-made features such as buildings, roads, factories and military installations. It provides additional context and insights into the situation in a given country or region by describing human interactions and power dynamics in an area of interest, which are clearly of crucial importance when planning operations of any kind. France is closely involved in this effort, and has proposed a number of ambitious projects and joined the international IPHG community of a dozen countries. 

The IGN, France’s national institute of geographic and forestry information, acting on behalf of the French Ministry for the Armed Forces, appointed the Thales/Airbus consortium and Geo212 to lead an IPHG project in 2022. The challenge for the team was to collect and consolidate four types of information — demographics, language, ethnicity and religion — across a vast area of the Horn of Africa and build a reliable, standardised database of population groups and their interactions in the region. This database can now be used to generate synthetic map products overlaid with information on one or more of these themes.
With this structured, georeferenced database, operational staff can quickly find the information they need to deal with issues, for example to understand inter-ethnic tensions and their potential repercussions for the wider region, as well as sharing and exploiting the maps produced by other countries. 

The project was successfully completed and submitted to the international IPHG community, which congratulated the IGN, the French defence procurement agency (DGA) and the BGHOM (geography, hydrography, oceanography and meteorology office) for their work and quickly appointed the Thales/Airbus consortium to conduct a new project in 2023 with a focus on economic factors.

The IPHG projects are another illustration of Thales's ability to support the armed forces by providing the human geography products they need to analyse the situation in the theatre of operations. They reflect our capacity to analyse and consolidate multisource information, and help to strengthen our positioning in the areas of OSINT (open source intelligence) and GEOINT (geospatial intelligence).