GIS Systems for Boosting Military Decision-making Processes in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, a developing country has endured a bloody civil war for over two decades. During that period, decision-making and data gathering were done manually. However, using GIS -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.

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.

The Task

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terrain factors need to be analyzed precisely, but in the absence of adequate technology, most commanders depend on outdated methods and equipment.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.

The Scope

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.

The Battle Field

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).

Figure 1: Study area, Batticaloa district of eastern province, Sri Lanka

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).

The Process

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.

GIS layers

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).

Figure 2: Population density (square kilometers).
Figure 3: 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).

Figure 4: Ground height classification

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:

  • Establishing one base station couldn’t adequately cover the entire operation area.
  • Three communication coverage maps and a research area map were merged. Consequently, the areas were weighted as uncovered areas =1, less covered areas =2 and intersect areas =3. Thereafter, the output result was reclassified as uncovered area, moderately covered area, and intersect coverage area.
Figure 5: Radio communication coverage classification.

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).

Figure 6: Surface hydrology classification.
Figure 7: Soil types (after Mapa et al. 2010).
Figure 8: Soil classification.

Similarly, mapping and analysis of road and camp zones was also done.

Data Analysis

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.

Result Analysis

All the weighted values were generated based on military tactical doctrines in mind as well as expertise erudition:

  • Field commanders should attempt to avoid areas identified as animal habitats in order to lessen the danger to troops as well as assist clandestine troop movement (Figure 9 displays 1 km buffers as applied to animal points).
Figure 9: Archaeologic and animal locations; points and buffers.
  • Military forces should make reasonable attempts to avoid the needless destruction of important cultural sites (In Figure 10, black points denote archaeological locations in the research area and black colored buffer rings denote areas to avoid during the site selection process).
Figure 10: Suggested locations for military operation bases.
  • LTTE enjoyed many tactical advantages by using natural features of the area for cover and concealment (Figure 11 shows most of the enemy bases were located in the most suitable portion)
Figure 11: Actual enemy locations.
  • After the conclusion of the war enemy density in the area (shaded circles) based on actual enemy locations were identified (Figure 12).
Figure 12: Suggested base points with enemy location buffers (study area map included).


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:

  • The GIS-based study helped in finding the optimal location for MOBs.
  • Many social and geographical site selection factors were used to select a suitable MOB. These were optimized by using a GIS tool to obtain suitable military operation base sites.
  • After comparing these theoretical data points with the actual enemy base points in the Koralai Pattu and Eravur Pattu areas, a close proximity relationship was found, suggesting that GIS evaluations can be used to make accurate location decisions.
  • Actual enemy base points (Figure 18) were selected by the LTTE during the Sri Lankan civil war, considering all available on-ground tactical factors.

Therefore, these base points provide strong evidence to support the GIS-based selection method utilized.

This study was original produced by Sisira Lenagala and Mitchel Stimers, Cloud County Community College, Junction City, Kansas, USA. Source: J Def Manag, an open access journal, ISSN: 2167-0374

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