July 18, 2013 --
By Jim Katzaman, MCSC, Corporate Communications
The difference is as stark as reading scribbles on a notepad versus viewing an all-terrain display on a laptop. Rather than guesswork and connecting the dots, Marine combat patrols are testing a mapping application that brings GPS-based technology to their fingertips.
“We were analog in nature. Now we’re moving to the web-based age where we reside,” said Maj. Brad Sams. He is the project officer for Tactical Service Oriented Architecture, also known as TSOA, within Marine Air Ground Task Force Command and Control Systems
The application is important to the warfighters, the major said, because “patrols are among the commander’s most reliable means of obtaining timely and accurate information about the enemy and terrain.”
The Patrol Planning and Assessment Tool, or P2AT, developed through TSOA lets Marines plan patrols as well as record actual patrol events.
“We provide the application software only,” Sams said. “Program Manager for Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad provides the hardware and the actual software operating system through the Enhanced Company Operations Suite on which P2AT runs.”
P2AT is integrated into the Enhanced Company Operations software build, which includes a laptop, camera and radio. The P2AT software allows Marines to plot planned and actual patrol routes as well as capture activities at the moment they occur on patrol. The application also facilitates planning, data collection, reporting and debriefing – letting patrol leaders create, edit and view patrol data on a map.
Sams, along with lifecycle logistician Ed Little, manages TSOA, which seeks to deliver state-of-the-art command-and-control software applications and infrastructure to warfighters while making their products as intuitive as possible. The P2AT mapping component, for example, is easy to understand and manipulate, which decreases the amount of time needed to train a Marine on the software.
“Marines become more proficient in their job because they can focus on their tasks instead of learning complex C2 applications,” Little said. “It only takes five to 10 minutes tops to learn how to use the application appropriately.”
The potential benefits of the P2AT application have been borne out in field tests.
“Using the analog patrol reporting method, patrol leaders would make entries into their ‘green monster’ [notebook],” Sams said. “They would record details, briefing points, atmospherics of the area, etc. The data was as best they could recall it.”
The patrol application eliminates the guesswork. The GPS link records every patrol movement, noting the exact time and place in order to visualize where an incident occurred on a map.
“You get a better picture of what the patrols are currently doing,” Little said. “It’s more intuitive than putting points on a map. This saves a lot of time because a patrol leader doesn’t have to talk with his sergeant to verify what and where and when something happened.”
Sams said feedback from the field has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The Marines know we’re giving them a tool to help them do their mission better,” he said. “They’re telling us it saves them a lot of time because they can see right away exactly what they did in a manner that they can quickly digest.”
Beyond the praise, the TSOA program has readily incorporated suggestions from the field into the software, making P2AT even easier for Marines to visualize their patrols.
“We’re still in the beta version of patrol planning,” Sams said. “Everyone is finding new uses for the program. For instance, one Marine discovered an option to import photos taken on a completed patrol into P2AT, and he uploaded a picture of a truck encountered on patrol.
“This capability was not trained or discussed with the Marines when they were introduced to P2AT, but they quickly adopted this function and commented on this utility to support their patrols,” the major said. “This example demonstrates the inherent simplicity of TSOA-developed applications and how Marines can quickly familiarize themselves with their use.”
Besides the photo capability, future versions of the patrolling application might include the ability to retain biometric data such as fingerprints, retina scans, blood types and facial recognition data captured on the patrol. All this information could then be compiled to build the situational awareness of the next patrol within the company or for the next force that occupies the area of operations.
With laptops, cameras, radios and TSOA-developed applications in support, Little added that Marines will soon have everything they need on patrol to benefit from a complete Google Maps experience and beyond.
The Patrol Planning and Assessment Tool is just one of many products provided through Marine Corps Systems Command. MCSC is the Department of the Navy’s systems command for Marine Corps ground weapon and information technology systems. It is also the Marine Corps commandant's agent for acquisition and sustainment of warfighting systems and equipment.