Senior Airman Erin Farris, right, and Airman 1st Class Shannon Davis use a hand-held Global Positioning System unit to get a satellite fix on a position they’re mapping in Little Coyote at Kunsan Air Base.

Senior Airman Erin Farris, right, and Airman 1st Class Shannon Davis use a hand-held Global Positioning System unit to get a satellite fix on a position they’re mapping in Little Coyote at Kunsan Air Base. (David Blumberg / Courtesy of U.S. Air Force)

PYONGTAEK, South Korea — Now and then at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea, some airmen can be spotted walking about with what appears to be a miniature flying saucer atop a 6-foot pole, with bright yellow gadgets wired into it.

They’ll likely be out there any time a new lamppost or building goes up on base or whenever else the base landscape changes.

The airmen are gathering information for an Air Force-wide, secured military database designed to let Air Force officials look up needed “geographic” information about airbases and other assets.

The database, GeoBase, lets users, via computer, call up useful and highly detailed information about air bases — square footage of hangars, for instance, number and location of fire hydrants or location of electrical transformers and power lines. The database also will provide precise digital maps of the base and separate graphics of individual buildings or other items that appear on the map.

The Air Force introduced GeoBase in spring 2000. Kunsan has used it since January 2002.

“It’s been used for planning purposes; it’s been used for maintenance and engineering; it’s been used for base defense,” said David Blumberg, a civilian contractor with Titan Corp. who works with the 8th Civil Engineer Squadron as Kunsan’s GeoBase administrator.

“For example, a civil engineer at the PACAF level might be able to query the system to find out the cumulative square footage for all hangar space in the” Pacific Air Forces command, said Blumberg.

“Another example … imagine you have an electrical database — power lines, transformers. You might be able to select a transformer on the map, represented by a point,” he said, “to find out which facilities are affected by that transformer, were it to go off-line.

“If you were a decision-maker at a high level” in wartime, you “might be looking at a GeoBase map that would show all of your installations within your mission space,” he said.

“You might, for example, want to know what hangar facilities are available for accommodating A-10s or C-130s. You might want to know how many there are. You might want to know what airfields have facilities for parking a C-5. You could query the database and you could do it at a site-specific level,” Blumberg said.

“Some of the uses that we have for it here at Kunsan include analyzing airfield obstructions in a three-dimensional environment,” said Blumberg. “Where we actually model the airspace above the airfield … this way we can model the potential for aircraft mishaps on or above the airfield, due to a ground feature.”

All maps, map symbols, spreadsheets and other materials are kept to a single format.

“Whether you are at the Pentagon or at a field location, the geographic information that you are looking at has a standard format,” Blumberg said. “It’ll have the same look and feel no matter where you are. It will have the same set of tools and everyone will be using the same nomenclature to refer to symbology.”

One key to the system’s usefulness is the use of the global positioning system, or GPS, hardware to get an accurate read on where an object is located. GPS relies on satellites for fixing mapping positions.

At Kunsan, that GPS mapping is the job of Senior Airman Shannon Davis of Kunsan’s 8th Civil Engineer Squadron and his fellow engineering assistants. When a new feature needs to be added to the map, they gather up their gadgets and head outside.

“We’re drawing a picture, pretty much,” said Davis, “but these pictures need to be accurate in their dimensions and their spaces, and that’s why we use GPS.

“It looks to you like I’m just walking around with a pole and a dish,” he said, but “I’ve got some different equipment hooked up to it. … I stand over the feature that I want to collect … I just press the measure button and I give the point a name and a description. That captures the coordinates of that position.”

Then it’s to the office to transfer the GPS data into a computer.

“And once they’re in our mapping software and we have this data, it has the ability to symbolize any type of point or feature, with any color or symbol or letter that you can think of,” Davis said.

Compared with older mapping systems, GeoBase is “more labor, more time, less convenience” for engineering assistants, said Davis. “But the output and the benefit is 10 times greater. The Air Force leadership and Air Force planners get a lot from this.”

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