Closing the Information Gap
Inside the Joint Engineer Common Operating Picture
A new computer application ready for implementation after three years in development will provide users a comprehensive, up-to-date picture of U.S. engineering activities worldwide.
By Col. Brian E. Griffin, M.SAME, USA
The Joint Engineer Common Operating Picture is intended to aid combatant command and service engineers with steady-state planning, programming, and the synchronization of engineer efforts for worldwide military operations. JOINT STAFF IMAGES
After three years in development, the Joint Staff Logistics Directorate is ready to field a new computer application named the Joint Engineer Common Operating Picture (JECOP). The purpose is to aid combatant command (CCMD) and service engineers with steady-state planning, programming and synchronization of engineer efforts for worldwide military operations.
The JECOP portal serves as a collaborative knowledge management tool that depicts network information on a map in order for end-users to quickly gather and analyze location data for purposes ranging from data summary and trend analysis to infrastructure planning and decision support. The portal provides authorized users access to real-time authoritative data linked to strategic direction via map-based displays and user-defined views.
Joint engineers formulate plans to develop and manage urban and underdeveloped terrain during steady-state operations. This requires analyzing land use and compatibility as well as existing infrastructure and environmental conditions. These assessments often lead to the creation of data, captured in facility design, real estate acquisition, construction and environmental services, that support Theater Campaign Plan objectives. Engineers and other authoritative sources produce, distribute and store this data throughout its lifecycle. JECOP aims to link this disparate data to strategic documentation to create usable knowledge-based information.
In the late 1990s, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Director for Logistics and the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Logistics partnered with the services, the CCMDs and other defense agencies to provide the joint warfighter with a real-time situational awareness tool capable of integrating and fusing disparate information found in multiple databases. The intent was to provide CCMDs with the capability to visualize military assets entering or exiting their area of operations so they could better employ them to meet current or future operational needs. This Global Combat Support System – Joint (GCSS-J) included an engineer module called the Joint Engineer Planning and Execution System (JEPES), which is designed to support the quantitative aspects of engineer planning and execution such as helping to forecast construction labor, material and equipment requirements in support of contingency operations.
Within the GCSS-J family of systems, the JEPES module became obsolete as the joint logistics community moved toward building web-based applications using the OZONE widget framework, leaving the engineer community without a viable planning tool.
In 2012, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff published the “Capstone Concept for Joint Operations: Joint Force 2020,” which proposed a Globally Integrated Operations approach. Globally Integrated Operations call for joint forces to be distributed widely across the globe, often in relatively small units, to conduct a wide variety of missions with different support requirements, ranging from military to military engagement to combat. Critical to this concept is the joint engineer capability that facilitates freedom of action for the joint force commander to meet mission objectives. Engineers provide the joint force with the required infrastructure to enable both steady-state mission requirements and support the rapid expansion of a follow-on response to a crisis. The military services use a variety of authoritative sources to facilitate engineer actions that support a commander’s ongoing operations, military engagement, security cooperation, deterrence and other shaping activities. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), and Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) provide facilities planning, contract administration, technical engineering, and other reachback capabilities in support of joint force commands. Each organization maintains its own project database and this data is not easily shared. The array of information and approaches does not support a joint operating picture or knowledge management, so CCMDs began to develop exclusive engineer common operating pictures.
The concept for the JECOP grew out of the recommendations from an Engineer Capability Assessment, which identified a competency gap in knowledge management. This was attributable to stove-piped legacy information systems, lack of fused visibility and limited access, inability to present a common picture, and limited decision-making tools for joint engineers to manage activities and events within their respective areas of responsibility.
In an effort to address this gap, the Joint Operational Engineer Board authorized the Joint Staff Engineering Division to develop a common operating picture to support the Theater Campaign Plan in December 2012. This decision represented a change in approach from spending a significant amount of time and resources on rewriting a specialized contingency planning module, like JEPES. However, JEPES will not go away. Instead, the rewrite of the module will become the second phase of this development effort. The JEPES module and JECOP portal will complement one another, with JECOP being the steady-state planning tool.
JECOP can leverage visualization methods to produce a shared understanding of requirements and the operational environment. Its purpose is to perform deductions and help facilitate action; and its system architecture is designed to enable collaboration among widely separated planners at all command echelons. The JECOP portal is not a database. It will not serve as a repository of execution information nor as an asset management, scheduling, or accounting tool. Though it may support the deliberate or crisis action planning processes, it does not have the sufficient detail to build products such as a time-phased force and deployment data. Instead, the JECOP portal serves as a program of record designed to pull data from multiple databases and produce faster and more accurate and detailed results to give authorized users a comprehensive, up-to-date picture of U.S. engineering activities and events worldwide.
So, how does JECOP work? During steady-state operations, engineers primarily focus on preparing the operational environment to receive large numbers of forces for future joint operations. These include infrastructure improvements, environmental and energy considerations, exercise related construction, humanitarian and civil assistance projects, the construction of bases and runways, and other support to ongoing joint and multinational operations. A majority of these projects are managed by USACE, NAVFAC and AFCEC, then stored in their historical archives.
JECOP pulls relevant data from the military services’ databases and other open-source data sets, then translates the project addresses into geo-coordinates on a map. The portal uses a simple icon to denote engineer construction efforts across the command. In addition, JECOP aims to link requirements found in the Theater or Global Campaign Plans that support a combatant commander’s long-term vision of their area of responsibility—enabling them to allocate resources and assess progress towards achieving the end state.
JECOP aids commanders and their engineer staffs in achieving a shared understanding of the operational environment. Within the Theater Campaign Plan, the Theater Posture Plan provides an important link to the resources necessary to implement the commander’s strategy. The plan is comprised of three elements: forces, footprints and agreements. All are essential to supporting current operations, security cooperation, and other steady-state activities.
Commanders rely on well-placed footprints, which consist of basing, facilities infrastructure, and prepositioned equipment to enable operational reach, flexibility and depth throughout their area of responsibility. In support of steady-state planning, joint engineers must acquire knowledge of critical terrain information such as runway dimensions at potential Aerial Ports of Debarkation or the harbor depths at potential Sea Ports of Debarkation. A majority of this information can be found on open-source websites.
JECOP provides CCMDs the ability to time phase specific engineer activities and events associated with the development of “Site X” over the course of three, five, or 10 years. Access to this knowledge allows service engineers to engage CCMD engineers early in the master planning processes to identify resourcing requirements and inform respective budget submissions.
The JECOP portal facilitates the transfer of knowledge by displaying critical information against the operational environment, enabling joint engineer staffs to arrange disparate facts into a logical and understandable construct. For example, a senior leader may ask the engineer staff to update a staff estimate in “Country X.” By displaying basic information on a map coupled with critical information requirements, JECOP is a starting point of reference for joint engineers to use their intuition to identify candidate actions and elements of operational risk. This capability can help significantly reduce the options to a few core scenarios that can be further analyzed to derive a recommendation. JECOP enables the end user to better comprehend how their decisions will affect the operational environment.
The smart directory structure displays time, geography, funding type, execution method, cost and other resources to allow the users to dynamically choose which groups of information to display. When more detailed information is required, a link takes the user to the appropriate database. Additionally, users can import from their spreadsheets multiple layers of data that can be toggled on or off, with the capability to drill down to get to the details of what is planned at a given location. It also allows users to adapt the map to address individual or group areas of analysis. For instance, the scrolling timeline feature illustrates timeframes and simple schedule data associated with the total lifecycle of an engineer activity or event.
Another benefit of the smart directory is the ability to communicate a shared vision among stakeholders. JECOP provides CCMDs the ability to time phase specific engineer activities and events associated with the development of “Site X” over the course of three, five, or 10 years. Access to this knowledge allows service engineers to engage CCMD engineers early in the master planning processes to identify resourcing requirements and inform respective budget submissions. Additionally, the smart directory provides Active, Reserve and National Guard engineers with the tools to view potential construction projects in each CCMD that may be ideal for troop construction projects using a multi-component engineer approach.
The JECOP portal is a common database within the Reachback Engineer Data Integration (REDi) system developed and maintained by the USACE Reachback Operations Center at the U.S. Army Engineer Research & Development Center to receive, view, manage, track and archive project data. The REDi system is created within a SharePoint Environment and is coupled with a wide array of standard SharePoint features with custom-designed database and geospatial tools in order to provide a versatile web-based application for JECOP customers.
The SharePoint environment inherently provides user alerts, automated email functions, custom form creation for data entry and other capabilities that facilitate collaboration and knowledge management. The integrated mapping component of JECOP provides a range of data filters, spatial query tools and timeline filter options, letting users easily customize data views to meet their unique requirements. Access to JECOP on the Nonsecure Internet Protocol Router Network is available for Department of Defense Common Access Cardholders, and a multilevel permission structure provides flexibility for various user groups. The REDi system is replicated on the unclassified and Secure Internet Protocol Router networks.
A challenge for joint engineers in the future is to meet increasingly demanding logistics requirements with constrained resources during steady-state operations. Knowledge management is a way to close the information gap and gain a greater understanding of the existing environment.
The JECOP portal is the first step in creating an engineer-centric, knowledge-based network that everyone benefits from. Embracing JECOP presents an opportunity for the engineer community to build a collaborative, innovative and knowledge-sharing culture.
Jeff Jorgeson, P.E., Ph.D., and Laura Maxwell, USACE Reachback Operations Center, contributed to this article.
For more information visit https://jecop.usace.army.mil.