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Common operational picture (COP)

Definition The term Common Operational Picture (COP) in military operations refers to a single, identical display of relevant information shared among different units or entities. It’s a comprehensive, real-time visualization tool that ensures mutual understanding of an operation’s status for improved coordination and decision-making. COP provides a shared situational awareness, helping military leaders make more […]


The term Common Operational Picture (COP) in military operations refers to a single, identical display of relevant information shared among different units or entities. It’s a comprehensive, real-time visualization tool that ensures mutual understanding of an operation’s status for improved coordination and decision-making. COP provides a shared situational awareness, helping military leaders make more effective operational decisions.

Key Takeaways

  1. The Common Operational Picture (COP) is a military term, utilized to provide a detailed, real-time view of the operational environment. It’s often used in command and control contexts in order to make informed decisions about asset deployment, strategy, and troop movements.
  2. Common Operational Picture is built on the data collected from multiple, often disparate, sources. This data is then visualized to provide an accessible and comprehensive view of the entire operational environment. Therefore, the accuracy of the COP is heavily reliant on the quality and timeliness of the data being fed into it.
  3. The objective of COP is to enhance situational awareness, support decision-making, and improve coordination between diverse military units. It offers a shared view of the situation to all levels of commanders which aids in assigning tasks, monitoring progress and predicting potential challenges.


The Common Operational Picture (COP) is essential in military operations as it aims to provide uniformity in situation awareness, facilitating improved decision-making processes during complex missions.

It integrates multiple data inputs from different sources to create a comprehensive, real-time, and shared view of the battlefield.

With COP, all relevant parties, from soldiers on the ground to commanders at headquarters, access the same up-to-date, accessible, and actionable information allowing for synchronized operations, effective collaboration and timely actions.

This shared awareness reduces misunderstandings, prevents conflicting directives, improves resource management, and enhances overall operational efficiency, safety, and effectiveness.


The Common Operational Picture (COP) is a pivotal tool in military operations, designed to provide unified and comprehensive situational awareness for diverse, concurrent military activities. Its primary purpose is to amalgamate vast, complex information from various sources into an understandable and easily accessible format.

This data is then made available across different hierarchical levels and functional specialties, giving all personnel, from strategic planners to the tactical front-line operators, a unified view of the environment, irrespective of their spatial or temporal location. COP is usually established by the command and control section, with the aim of achieving systematic, real-time sharing of mission-critical data throughout the operational force.

This extensively augments decision-making, coordination, and effectiveness. With COP, decision-makers can develop a clearer understanding of the ongoing operations and therefore manage their resources and strategies effectively, thereby accelerating the decision-making cycle.

Furthermore, it also aids the troops in understanding their own position and identifying potential threats in the operation area. Thus, COP lays the foundation for efficient and coordinated military operation planning and execution.

Examples of Common operational picture (COP)

NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan: The NATO forces managed a common operational picture during their military operations in Afghanistan. This enabled troops from various countries to share and understand the same information regarding ground, air, and sea situations. By seeing the same information, the multinational forces could better coordinate, execute operations, and bring about unity of effort despite their diverse national backgrounds.

US Military Operations in Iraq: During the war in Iraq, the U.S. military used a common operational picture to manage complex military operations, involving various branches of its armed forces spread across different regions. The information shared in the common operational included geographical layouts, friendly and enemy troop positions, status of resupply points, and operational orders among others. This enabled a higher level of situational awareness and better coordination of multiple activities in the dynamic battlefield environment.

Peacekeeping Operations Under the United Nations: With troops contributed by member nations worldwide, the UN peacekeeping forces are a prime example of the need for a common operational picture. By sharing a uniform understanding of the missions’ tactical situation, peacekeepers can better communicate, work together, and ensure their safety and mission success under hostile conditions. For instance, during the UN mission in Mali, a common operational picture was critical in coordinating operations in an environment marked with asymmetric threats.

Frequently Asked Questions about Common Operational Picture (COP)

What is a Common Operational Picture (COP)?

A Common Operational Picture (COP) is a type of data presentation that provides a comprehensive and real-time view of a specific operational area. It includes all the necessary and relevant information that military commanders need for situational awareness, decision-making, and command and control.

What are the components of a COP?

A COP generally has four core components: the operational area outlines, status of forces, battlespace events, and environmental elements. All these components aim to create an accurate picture of the situation, resources, and potential issues or challenges.

Why is COP important in military operations?

COP is crucial in military operations as it enhances situational awareness, promotes efficient communication and coordination, and supports effective decision-making. It helps in providing a shared understanding of the current situation and future plans among all units involved in an operation.

How is a COP created?

A COP is created by integrating data from various sources, including sensors, intelligence reports, and commander inputs. This data is processed, analyzed, and displayed in a visual format to provide an accurate and timely representation of the operational area.

Can a COP be shared with allied nations?

Yes, a COP can be shared with allied nations to foster cooperation and collaboration. However, information security measures are put in place to ensure that only relevant and approved data is shared to protect operational security.

Related Military Operation Terms

  • Strategic Risk Assessment
  • Information Sharing System
  • Real-Time Situational Awareness
  • Unified Command Structure
  • Interagency Coordination

Sources for More Information

  • Joint Chiefs of Staff: Being the United States’ primary body for strategic military decision-making, the Joint Chiefs of Staff website would have reliable information on military doctrines and concepts like the Common Operational Picture.
  • Department of Homeland Security: The Department of Homeland Security is involved in creating common operational pictures for disaster response scenarios and would therefore have relevant information.
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO): As a collective defence organization, NATO regularly uses concepts like the COP in its operations.
  • RAND Corporation: The RAND Corporation conducts research and analysis on many topics, including military strategy and doctrine. It might have studies or reports that discuss the common operational picture concept.

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