For any military, collection, analysis, and use of geographic data can provide its leaders timely and accurate information for strategic decisions. Geographic information system (GIS) is used to store, manipulate, analyze, and manage all types of geodata, and is widely used by many military organizations for military decision-making processes (MDMPs). Apart from accuracy, usage of GIS in MDMPs provides many advantages. That is why it has become a powerful and popular tool for militaries in developed countries.
However, the Sri Lankan Army, which endured a bloody civil war for over two decades (1983-2009), has not fully been able to take the benefits of GIS.
Sri Lanka is a developing country that suffered from a civil war. During that period, decision-making and data gathering were done manually, thereby spending more money and manpower. In MDMPs, terrain factors need to be analyzed precisely, but in the absence of adequate technology, most commanders depend on outdated methods and equipment. Planning is typically accomplished by using 1:50,000 maps and satellite images, even though GIS and RS technologies can produce better results.
A military operation base (MOB) is a secured forward military position generally used to support either permanent or temporary tactical operations. MOBs can be classified depending on size, troop strength, and tactical importance. The selection of MOBs is one of the most difficult tasks during a military operation, as commanders need to consider several factors to ensure optimal results. Substandard imagery and maps can complicate this task.
A common method in the Sri Lankan Army included deploying a reconnaissance patrol to gather information, which largely determined the base location. This method, however, put soldiers in positions where enemy contact was possible, resulting in casualties. Using GIS and RS-based methods can not only avoid needless deployment of soldiers into potentially hostile environments, but can produce more complete data and information for site selection.
Batticaloa District of the Eastern Province in Sri Lanka, one of its 25 districts, is a second-level administrative division of the country. The Ampara district was carved out of the southern part of Batticaloa district. The district was divided into 14 divisional secretary’s divisions (DS divisions), each headed by a divisional secretary. The DS divisions were further subdivided into 346 Grama Niladhari Divisions (GN divisions) (Figure 1). The area of paramount importance during the civil war was limited to three DS divisions: Koralei Paththu (Oddamavadi, Valaichchenai) and Eravur Paththu, covering approximately 1,200 km2 (~460 mi2).
This sparsely populated area was controlled by militant organization the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), because of which, geospatial data were not properly updated by the government. Most of the area was covered with forest, isolated rocks, cultivation land, as well as heavily networked with cart tracks — making base citing a very difficult task by conventional methods (conducting extensive field operations and verification observations).
MOB selection plays a vital role in a MDMP. Adequate preparation and analysis of various factors in base selection is essential. The Sri Lankan military forces applied both simple geographic methods and on-ground reconnaissance for site selection. MDMP and intelligence preparation of battlespace (IPB) processes were applied, and several criteria were selected based on the military context relative to Batticaloa District and the accepted doctrine for MOB selection.
Population zones: When planning a battle, human population in the area is an important consideration for commanders in terms of selecting the best approach for MOB citing in the MDMP. Fighting in built-up (urban) areas and jungle environments were the main two types of operations in Sri Lanka. This work focuses on the jungle operation scenario. (Figures 2 and 3 display the population density and population density classification).
Ground height zones: During MDMP, leaders are advised to take high ground, as the enemy is then be forced to attack from a lower position. Fighting from an elevated position is easier than operating from lower elevation, and, holding high ground offers an elevated vantage point with a wide field of view, enabling surveillance of the surrounding landscape, in contrast to valleys which offer a limited field of view Ground height classification (displayed in Figure 4).
Radio communication coverage: In a tactical context, during a military operation, communication is one of the most significant factors influencing success. Results of the communication analysis showed that the areas that could be covered by each base station (Figure 5). Considering coverage, it suggested that:
Climate, weather, surface water, and soil: In Sri Lanka, seasonal climate regimes are highly variable. During the planning stage of an operation, this factor can greatly influence a commander’s MDMP. Decision-makers should have knowledge of current meteorological conditions and climatological regimes, as failure to take these into account can expose an operation to climate and weather-related vulnerabilities and natural disasters.
Soil conditions can directly affect the momentum of an operation. Additionally, weather changes can alter soil trafficability. Most armies in developed countries use various technologies to evaluate soil conditions, but Sri Lankan military forces depended on expert knowledge and ground reconnaissance. The classified data were reclassified as weighted values: 1=least suitable area; 2=moderately suitable area; 3=the most suitable area, as shown on the following soils map (Figures 6, 7 & 8).
Similarly, mapping and analysis of road and camp zones was also done.
IPB and MDMP were the main criteria for the selection of those factors which describe the conventional method of MOB selection. Analysis using AHP was completed in two stages: Determining the MOB selection factors and Test of consistency.
Following the analysis, synthesization, and determining the rank of MOB selection factors were calculated.
All the weighted values were generated based on military tactical doctrines in mind as well as expertise erudition:
Military operations are stochastic and erratic, with many factors that can be difficult to account for. Commanders can never be completely certain how the enemy will act or how scenarios will develop. Military commanders who understand how time and probability affect enemy and friendly forces are better prepared to develop successful plans. Systematic military operation planning is executed through MDMPs, and under uncertain situations, the use of new technologies can play a critical role:
Therefore, these base points provide strong evidence to support the GIS-based selection method utilized.
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