Common operational picture

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In military jargon, the common operational picture (COP) takes the primary form of an annotated map that can be displayed, in identical form, by units or individuals at a given organizational level. The COP is intended to provide one picture of the battlefield so that there is no disconnect in knowledge, from the infantryman on the battlefield up to the General in command. This concept is said by those in the military to increase soldiers' situational awareness, and increase the likelihood of mission success.[1]

One of the most basic endeavors of the COP is getting around the cynical military axiom that "battles are always fought at the junction of two maps". While users can zoom in or out on map details, the basic view at a given scale is common among the users.

When paper maps were the standard, overlays, on transparent plastic or thin paper, were common to supplement the geospatial information on the printed maps. Overlays could show the positions of friendly or enemy units. Sometimes, the overlay might only be shown to a restricted audience, because it revealed intelligence sources or showed critical targets.

In current electronic usage, with appropriate security controls, a user could ask a networked computer for the "battalion-level map" or the "brigade-level map", and get a display focused on the center of interest, and with appropriate overlays. With geographic information systems, the map itself may consist of layers, so, if a transportation planner wanted to see just the roads and terrain, political boundaries could be suppressed to give a clearer view.

Versions, adapted to a small screen, could be available in sizes that would fit in the cramped interior of a tank or fighter aircraft, or even on a handheld computer.

In some cases, the COP would be the entry point to more data. For example, if the software supported it, an artillery officer, using a touch-sensitive screen, could tap a finger on the graphic symbol of an artillery unit, and have displayed information such as their ammunition remaining or the fire missions they have assigned.

An increasing number of command and control systems are producing COP graphics, such as:


  1. JP 1-02, DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, 12 April 2001, as amended through 17 October 2008.[1]