Geospatial technologies are no longer limited to governments and militaries. The Ukraine war shows the benefits and new complexities that come with the widespread adoption of commercial and civilian geotech in conflicts.
Many geospatial technologies have military origins, from GPS, Earth observation and weather satellites to drones. In the Ukraine war, surprisingly often off-the-shelf commercial and civilian geospatial technologies are used to great effect by defenders, observers and outsiders.
This has resulted in financial and innovation benefits for the geospatial industry, at the risk of complicating international relations and conflicts, and at the cost of changing existing geospatial user attitudes towards geospatial companies involved in conflicts.
Increased transparency, greater immediacy and improved targeting
Commercial and public satellites have brought immediacy to the conflict in Ukraine, notably in news coverage of the war. Even before Russia’s invasion, commercial SAR satellite data tipped off observers of the region about Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s border.
Publicly available Google traffic data highlighted congested roads indicating the locations and movements of Russian tanks into Ukraine. Off-the-shelf commercial drones continue to play a critical role for Ukraine in gathering intelligence and accurately targeting strikes. Other creative uses of geospatial-based technology have also emerged, such as a transport app being repurposed into a life-saving information service for Ukrainian citizens.
Commercial and civilian Earth observation and SAR satellites garnered special attention for their strategic advantages and public benefits.