Creating a Joint Common Operational Picture
Task Force Diehard uses geospatial software to provide a common operational picture that allows the battalion to integrate into a joint operational environment.
By 1st Lt. Terence Satchell, EIT, USA, 1st Lt. Stephen Dormish, EIT, M.SAME, USA, and 1st Lt. Adam Parker, USA
One of the challenges facing engineers in Afghanistan is sharing relevant information in a joint operational environment. The 1st Engineer Battalion (Task Force Diehard) fully implemented one technique that facilitated information collaboration across service components and contractor support to meet this challenge.
TF Diehard deployed to Afghanistan in September 2012 as a multi-functional engineer battalion supporting operations throughout Regional Command-East. One of its primary missions is to provide freedom of movement for coalition forces along theater controlled routes. This requires the battalion to provide engineer support to a joint, strategic level headquarters.
The mission requires that the battalion effectively integrates with a division and brigade headquarters, elements of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, governmental agencies such as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and contracted companies. Integrating engineer support into joint operations requires the battalion to maintain a common operational picture (COP) that is easily accessible to all military and non-military organizations. A COP is defined in Army Doctrine Reference Publication 6-0 as a single display of relevant information within a commander's area of interest tailored to the user's requirements and based on common data and information shared by more than one command.
Using geospatial software to create a COP allows the battalion to integrate into a joint operational environment. It provides the battalion the ability to simultaneously conduct ongoing intelligence preparation of the battlefield for tactical-level operations and engineer expertise to the supported headquarters’ joint intelligence preparation of the operational environment (JIPOE).
There are many geospatial software programs employed at the battalion level to collect, analyze and display data. The battalion intelligence section (S2) uses ESRI’s ArcGIS for precisely sorting and displaying large amounts of data. The Tactical Ground Reporting System (TIGR) is a web-based program used by platoons and companies to develop the enemy situation prior to patrols. The Combined Information Data Network Exchange (CIDNE) provides geospatial analysis tools used by the companies and battalion to collect and display data. The Command Post of the Future (CPOF) geographically displays real time data and is used by the battalion tactical operations center (TOC) to communicate with higher headquarters to battle track and provide mission command. Each of these systems is functionally designed for a specific role in the battalion headquarters.
This system variety required TF Diehard to carefully select a geospatial software program to create a COP to collaborate beyond the battalion. The requirements for a collaborative COP required access by all U.S. Army echelons as well as contracted, joint, and interagency partners. Additionally, the variety of users requires the COP must be easy to use and compatible with a variety of geospatial and database file formats (TIGR, CIDNE, ArcGIS). The COP must also provide automatic, near real-time updates from the battalion to supported units.
TF Diehard selected the computer program, Google Earth, as the best technique to display the COP and create a collaborative information sharing environment. Google Earth was already in use to analyze and display geospatial data by multiple echelons and used by the Navy, Air Force, non-military agencies, and contracted support. The availability to contracted support agencies was a primary driver in its selection for the COP. Google Earth also displays data from a wide array of file formats and allows the user to receive automatic updates by simply providing the user with a link to the source file.
Capabilities and Advantages
As an engineer battalion in direct support of a strategic level headquarters, TF Diehard plays an important role in providing engineer support to the ongoing JIPOE process. The battalion assists in describing the effect of the operational environment along theater controlled routes. The COP simplifies this task by combining data from multiple databases and presenting it in a unified geospatial array to develop a modified combined obstacle overlay (MCOO).
Fig. 1:A MCOO is developed by importing raw data into the Google Earth COP to display mobility hazards in a geospatial array.
For the purposes of illustration, a mock COP has been constructed to demonstrate how TF Diehard employs Google Earth. A database file (.dbf) or Excel file (.xls) containing raw data can be imported into Google Earth and displayed. Other file formats such as shape files (.shp) created in ArcGIS can also be directly imported into the COP. After importing the relevant data a product similar to Figure 1 is produced. As the operational environment changes and new mobility hazards are identified, the MCOO is automatically updated providing a continuous stream of data for TF Diehard and supported headquarters to maintain running estimates.
The COP is used to evaluate the adversary by displaying improvised explosive device (IED) events in a geospatial array and allowing the user to easily access more information about the event. Figure 2 demonstrates how IED events can be mapped and Figure 3 shows how the COP allows any user to view details of each event. This lets TF Diehard examine enemy capabilities, identify enemy IED tactics, and provide predictive analysis for future counter-IED operations. When combined with reporting and intelligence from supported and adjacent units, a situational template (SITEMP) can be created in a common image format (*.jpeg, *.gif, *.tiff) and added as an overlay to the COP as presented in Figure 4. This SITEMP provides supported units with an up-to-date representation of the enemy course of action.
The most useful application of the TF Diehard COP is the ability to overlay the MCOO, enemy activity, and the SITEMP together to develop an event template. Figure 5 shows how the overlays are combined to create the event template in Figure 6. The event template shows named areas of interest (NAI), which allow the engineer and maneuver commander to properly allocate reconnaissance assets and mitigate the enemy threat.
TF Diehard uses NAIs to determine what geographical areas require route clearance and reconnaissance, mobility, and joint surveillance and reconnaissance assets to observe enemy activity. Figure 7 shows how information about each NAI can be shared with engineer assets, supported units, and joint and interagency partners to allocate assets.
Integrating the COP into Company and Supported Unit Operations
At a lower echelon, the 41st Engineer Company uses a COP created in Google Earth to evaluate the enemy situation prior to conducting patrols. The 41st Company Intelligence Support Team (CoIST) pulls significant activity (SIGACT) data directly from CIDNE and overlays the information on geospatial imagery. The software’s three dimensional imagery allows patrol leaders to conduct terrain analysis of previous SIGACT locations from an on-the-ground perspective. Figure 8 demonstrates the advantages of Google Earth’s three dimensional imagery. Additionally, the software allows the company to link all icons for SIGACTs or threat reporting to the CIDNE report, allowing the user to easily access the source information when necessary. At a lower echelon, the geospatial COP permits tremendous user flexibility.
To integrate with supported units, the battalion embedded liaison officers (LNOs) to represent TF Diehard. These LNOs rely heavily on the COP to effectively relay relevant information into these supported units. The COP relays information gathered from route clearance patrol debriefs in a near real time display. Additionally, the COP consolidates engineering and trafficability concerns relating to culverts, craters, and other mobility hazards data into a geospatial array filtered for each supported unit’s custom analysis. This COP provides an efficient way to ensure continuity of data and allows the area of operations commander to create priorities for engineer efforts. LNOs also use NAIs developed through the use of the COP as a way to advise supported units on where air assets, surveillance and reconnaissance and security forces can be best integrated with route clearance assets to conduct counter-IED operations.
Ultimately, a major challenge facing engineers in a joint environment is getting the right information to the right place. TF Diehard utilized a commercial off the shelf (COTS) solution, Google Earth, as a geographic information system to facilitate joint operations. This software program filled a critical need in sharing geospatially relevant information across multiple echelons and agencies in Afghanistan. The deployment experience of TF Diehard indicates why military engineers will continue to rely upon multiple types, and forms, of geographic information systems to share relevant information across remote locations.