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Updated: December 10, 2012 17:39 IST

Know your ground

  • B. S. Warrier
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Work in progress at the Defence Terrain Research Laboratory, Delhi
Work in progress at the Defence Terrain Research Laboratory, Delhi

A look at the Defence Terrain Research Laboratory, Delhi.

The strategies for any military operation are determined based on the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy. All kinds of data pertaining to the enemy are vital in planning and executing military missions. A significant element of strength or weakness of the enemy is terrain. This refers to the enemy’s area of land, its surface characteristics and other natural and manmade features. Terrain intelligence is the processed information on the militarily significant natural and manmade characteristics of an area.

The effect of the natural and manmade features on military operations has to be estimated. Such studies entail interpretation of the geographical area and the influence of weather and climate on the features. This activity is often referred to as terrain analysis, a scientific process that gives terrain intelligence to decide the styles of military operations. The terrain estimate may cover even the influence of the terrain characteristics on the response to nuclear weapons.

Without reliable terrain intelligence, military missions may fail in achieving the targets. Uncertainties may hamper sound decisions. The command has to optimise actions fully utilising the strategic terrain intelligence to avoid losses and minimise the use of resources. Terrain intelligence pertaining to one’s own land is also crucial in combat planning and execution.

One point to be kept in mind is that gathering, compiling and interpreting terrain intelligence is a continuing process to be carried out by scientific minds. Sometimes terrain intelligence may cover even an entire country. Townships, hills, jungles, deserts, rivers, plains, beaches, lakes, soils, rocks, vegetation, snow and glaciers will have to be identified and assessed. The military capabilities and vulnerabilities have to be analysed and fed. The related efforts are naturally complex and challenging. Air as well as amphibious operations would also need accurate terrain intelligence. The data will have to be garnered and updated in peace time as well for ensuring defence preparedness.

Tools such as communication maps, geological sketch maps, relief maps, soil maps, special maps showing the distribution of vegetation and depth of water bodies and aerial and ground photographs may have to be employed.


The Defence Research and Development Organisation has an institution devoting its exclusive attention to terrain research: The Defence Terrain Research Laboratory (DTRL), Metcalfe House, Delhi – 110 054;

Website: DTRL/English/index.jsp? pg=homebody.jsp.

This laboratory aims to be the technological leader in producing high-resolution terrain intelligence products for Defence applications. It has a fine infrastructure of expertise and technologies for gathering, processing, managing, and communicating terrain data. It is continuously engaged in updating data, including various kinds of maps.

Those who aspire to make studies and research in this specialised area will find excellent facilities in the DTRL.

A quick look at its history will tell you that the DRDO established a Terrain Evaluation Cell in 1964. In view of the strategic significance of terrain intelligence, the cell was elevated as a full-fledged laboratory with its present name.

Areas of work

The main areas of studies and work in the laboratory are indicated below.

Application of “recommender systems” to land combats (systems that supply information on items that are likely to interest the user. They are identified based on the user’s profile covering his opinions and habits.)

Artificial life-based models of combat in complex terrain.

Development of reliable systems for assessment of terrain characteristics through modern techniques of terrain evaluation for military potential.

Disaster assessment and prevention studies.

Extraction of terrain parameters from satellite and aerial images and maps.

Generation of task-specific terrain maps.

Generation of terrain briefs for its military potential.

Geographic Information System (GIS)-based development of decision support systems.

Groundwater study.

Image processing.

Land-use maps.

Landslide hazard zonation.

Off-road mobility study.

R&D in landslide assessment, management, and mitigation.

Terrain briefs.

Terrain parameter extraction using soft computing techniques.

Studies on suitability for traffic and preparation of mobility maps.

Facilities available

Multi-generation software for 3D visualisation and 3D modelling of terrain.

VSAT (very small aperture terminal)-based image reception for satellite data download.

Mapping instruments for carrying out terrain related studies.

GIS and image-processing tools for generating thematic and derivative terrain maps.

Photogrammetry system for height estimation of terrain.

In-SAR (Interferometric synthetic aperture radar) data processing software.

Thematic and change detection tools.


The DTRL maintains interactions with other DRDO laboratories, the Indian Institutes of Technology and other research institutions such as the Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory, Kochi, and the National Remote Sensing Agency, Hyderabad.

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