Painting a clear picture for operational success

The information available to commanders is more comprehensive than ever and must be managed properly. Establishing an effective User Defined Operational Picture (UDOP) is central to this.

Sitaware HQ 3D Visualisation

Modern militaries possess a wealth of sensors, systems, and intelligence information that enable them to generate a detailed picture of their operating environment. While traditional sources continue to be important, emerging domains such as cyber warfare are adding a new level of complexity that must be taken into consideration.

Understanding how best to manage and draw upon the information available is key to mission success, and establishing an effective User Defined Operational Picture (UDOP) is central to this.

The importance of determining exactly what information a commander needs to achieve his or her mission – no matter at what level of the battlefield they are operating – cannot be understated, too little and they will not have what they need to execute their mission, too much and the picture can become cluttered and overwhelming. It is here where systems such as SitaWare come into play, while collecting and storing a vast array of information is a relatively straightforward task for most command-and-control (C2) systems, sorting and filtering the information so it can be drawn upon efficiently and quickly is the principal challenge and a key differentiator.

The way in which SitaWare layers data enables the right information to be distributed to those who need it and at the level of granularity required, be they a dismount on patrol or a Joint Force Commander.  

 

The information available to commanders in the contemporary operating environment is more comprehensive than ever before, however, if not properly managed this can quickly lead to overload and the loss of a functioning situational awareness picture.

 

A new generation

How to display complex data is a significant concern, with cyber a notable case. How can cyber threats and capabilities be visualised, for example. Simply mapping cyber incidents is not a challenge, but when a commander needs to see his cyber resources and where they can have an impact the challenge of how to present this information in an accessible format arises. As noted, cyber is now a very real component of new generation warfare and if a commander is not aware of the tools he has at his disposal and how they may affect operations, then he will likely not employ them or miss some vital opportunities.

While capable C2 systems are crucial, organisational issues must also be taken into consideration if the UDOP is to serve its purpose and the information that it draws upon leveraged to best effect. Defining what can be accessed at each level of the battlefield is an important command decision that must be made at the outset, however, it is also one that should be flexible and dynamic in order to adapt to the mission as it evolves.

The information manager’s role is central to this and they must have the tools and authority to carry out their duties. The urgency of requests can vary greatly, for example, the needs of personnel working in a command post environment and not under tactical pressures are likely not as pressing as those of a patrol commander in contact with the enemy, where delay can be a matter of life and death. The information manager’s ability to quickly enhance the situational awareness picture at different levels of the battlefield can be decisive.

 

It’s good to talk

Information sharing is another important factor in ensuring that the Joint Common Operational Picture and the UDOP are accurate and up-to-date, and this needs to be addressed both between and within armed forces. The speed of modern warfare necessitates quick decision making and therefore units cannot operate within bubbles, a siloed approach to organising capabilities and sharing information limits the ability of forces to react quickly to changes and understand what is happening outside of their own domain or area of operations.   

The challenge commanders face lies in enabling the different silos to directly communicate with one another without ‘democratising’ the process too far and without jeopardizing security. A broad overview still needs to be maintained higher up the command chain to ensure that strategic decisions are well informed. Enabling a matrix organisation to operate with and alongside a traditional ‘top down’ command structure offers significant benefits, and is a key differentiator brought by SitaWare.

 

Rise of the machines

AI and machine learning can certainly aid in speeding-up decision making and in defining the parameters of what should be included in a UDOP, with systems able to provide automatic filtering and configuration based on prior experience. Beyond this, however, these technologies promise the ability to examine command decisions and learn what should be done to achieve mission goals, automatically proposing and even carrying-out actions. AI and machine learning could be key when considering the vast volume and array of data and information generated by existing and future systems. Introducing new technologies could greatly shorten the decision-making process at a time when whoever gets ahead will win.

While much consideration is being given to how emerging technologies can aid in establishing a UDOP, understanding the capabilities of these technologies and determining how much control should be handed over is likely the most important factor. What is clear, however, is that there will always need to be a ‘man in the loop’ at key positions in the command chain.

 

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