Chapter 2: Sensing the elements of the operational environment that the commander controls (B-GA-402-000/FP-001, Canadian Forces Aerospace Sense Doctrine)


The sensing of friendly forces straddles the line between the Command function activity of monitoring and the Sense function activity of creating the common operating picture (COP). Knowing the where, what, when, and how of our forces is a Command responsibility and is linked to the command and control (C2) of aerospace forces. This is discussed in the B-GA-401-000/FP-001, Canadian Forces Aerospace Command Doctrine. Further details will be promulgated in B-GA-401-001/ FP-001, Royal Canadian Air Force Command and Control Processes Doctrine. For the purposes of this manual, this chapter will discuss only the sensing of own forces as it relates to the creation of situational understanding and COP.

The need for commanders and staff to sense the outside world is not limited to the subject areas of adversaries and the operating environment. Commanders and staff must also be able to sense the status of their own and other friendly forces. This is often difficult, due to the frequently dispersed nature of aerospace operations and the dynamic nature of events. It takes concerted effort for higher levels of command to maintain accurate knowledge of friendly force activities.

Friendly Information Requirements

Friendly Force Information Requirements

Guided by the commander’s critical information requirements (CCIR), the knowledge of friendly forces is further refined and focused by the friendly force information requirements (FFIR) to provide the "information the Commander needs about friendly forces in order to develop plans and make effective decisions."[1] The truism of "garbage in, garbage out" can affect this process so, it is critical to ensure the commander’s knowledge requirements are the priority and the essential elements are protected. It is equally important to ensure the commander’s intent is understood and is not misinterpreted or diluted by the levels of the organization, ensuring that proper information is sought.

While they can take many forms, FFIR are often structured as questions to be answered or as reporting requirements included in reports and returns (R2) formats. When required, FFIR will have an associated or expressed time requirement that guides hierarchical (organizational) decision making in time-critical situations. The FFIR relate to any information necessary to make decisions, examples of which include:

  1. Command. Readiness levels of forces, force locations, forces in contact, network status, communication status, liaison reporting, morale, rules of engagement, and so forth.
  2. Sense. Disposition of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) resources, capability status and limitations.
  3. Act-Shape. Combat readiness and weapons states.
  4. Act-Move. Mobility capacity, availability of aviation resources, and personnel recovery requirements.
  5. Sustain. Personnel status, logistics states, and lines of communication.
  6. Shield. Force protection status and network vulnerability status.
  7. Generate. Aircraft serviceability and training capacity.

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Given that FFIR seek knowledge about friendly forces, there is often an element of subjectivity and/or assessment by subordinate commanders implicit within the FFIR products. At all levels, as situational awareness (SA) is developed, data is received and information is processed requiring a degree of lower-level fusion, evaluation, analysis, interpretation, and judgment[2] to occur. This lower-level processing and perspective can greatly enhance or detract from the quality of information provided for consideration at the higher level. This is particularly true when it relates to less tangible assessments such as morale, cohesion, discipline, combat preparedness, capability readiness, and intentions. Critical to ensuring quality of data and information is trust of both the sources (i.e., people) and the systems (i.e., security of networks, authenticity, and freedom from deception).

Essential Elements of Friendly Information

Guided by the FFIR and the priority intelligence requirements (PIR), it is important to scope the data and information activities toward the essential elements of friendly information (EEFI) required to make operational decisions. Effectively bridging the Sense and the Shield functions, EEFI must be protected in order to achieve information superiority. It is important to look at EEFI from a potential adversary’s point of view to help determine what vulnerabilities exist to help ensure that this information is protected.

The EEFI can take many forms but are often structured as questions to be answered or as reporting requirements included in R2 formats. When required, EEFI will have an associated or expressed time requirement that guides hierarchical (organizational) decision making in time-critical situations. Examples include:

  1. Position. Friendly positions; movements or intended movement; and position, course, speed, altitude, or destination of any air, sea, or ground element, unit, or force.
  2. Capabilities. Friendly force and allied capabilities; limitations or assessed vulnerabilities to friendly equipment; friendly force composition, identity and readiness; capability limitations or significant casualties to special equipment, weapons systems, sensors, units and personnel; and percentages of fuel or ammunition remaining.
  3. Operations. Planned friendly operations (including timings, scheme of manoeuvre, location, intentions, progress, and results), operational or logistic intentions, assault objectives, mission participants, flying programs, mission situation reports, and assessed results of friendly and enemy operations.
  4. Personnel. Friendly key personnel; movement or identity of friendly flag officers, distinguished visitors, and unit commanders; and movement of key maintenance personnel, indicating equipment limitations.[3]

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Reports And Returns

The primary means for sensing the status of subordinate forces are reports and returns, which can be:

  1. Near real-time (NRT) reporting is direct communication between lower, flanking, and higher levels of command or cooperating agencies. The classic example is DataLink reporting between an aircraft and a supported ground unit or operations centre. Another example is computer-based networks of "chat" communication. The defining characteristics and benefits of NRT reporting are continuous, interactive, and immediate communication between parties. The downside of NRT communication is that it imposes a heavier time burden on those involved, is dependent upon robust communications capabilities, and may be susceptible to environmental factors such as weather or electromagnetic interference, line-of-sight limitations, spoofing or jamming as well as equipment serviceability.
  2. Exceptional reporting is the dispatch of a report (in any format) when a significant event has occurred but is not covered by real-time reporting. The classic example is a significant incident report, but all exceptional reporting need not be written. The benefit of exceptional reporting is that it provides information on significant (often unforeseen) developments without the burden of maintaining continuous, NRT reporting. The disadvantages of exceptional reporting can be a lack of timeliness and detail.
  3. Routine reporting is recurrent, will usually follow a standardized format, and will be disseminated at standardized intervals. The classic example is a daily situation report. The benefit of routine reporting is that it allows for the comprehensive coverage of a period of time, which can capture a large volume of non-exceptional information without burdensome real-time reporting. The disadvantages are the lack of accuracy between reporting periods and often a lack of detail of specific incidents that may be of interest to higher levels.

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Requirements for R2 should be carefully considered and specified in appropriate direction to optimize the COP. Specific technical systems will need to be established to allow real-time reporting, and the occasions when it will be expected should be clearly defined and standardized. The occasions when exceptional reporting is expected should be clearly articulated, and formats will often also be specified.[4] Timings and format for routine reporting should be specified in orders. When defining R2 requirements, the commander’s need for information should be carefully weighed against the burden the reporting will create, and the two competing imperatives should be carefully balanced:

  1. Need. Enough information should be reported, by all means, to foster the understanding needed across elements and levels of command. In this regard, the CCIR should be used to provide guidance.
  2. Burden. All R2 requirements impose a burden that must be carefully weighed by the commander. It takes time to report and technical systems to provide the connectivity to report. Both present very real costs. In particular, the time of those who will be required to report; every moment spent reporting upwards is time not focused upon the actual task.

Automated information technology. New technologies allow automated NRT reporting. Prime examples of this are DataLink (Link-11, Link-16, and Link-22), the Battle Control System used by the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), and the Blue Force tracker systems. Such automated reporting systems have all of the advantages of NRT reporting (continuousness and detailed), without imposing a time burden on the reporting personnel. They do, however, require a robust and interoperable networked system, a transmit/receive capability (satellite, radio frequency, land line, etc.), and they must have integral identity management protocols and employ robust correlation protocols to negate duplication and misalignment of data and information.

Networking. As with all information, network enabling is a force multiplier; R2 information is most effectively utilized if shared across a network (single entry, multiple users) rather than used in isolation and reported upwards only, or "stovepiped." In general, this can be accomplished in two broad manners (both of which should be exploited as fully as possible):

  1. information sharing by a network of computers, for example, posting textual reports on websites where they are available across the domain; and
  2. fusing all reporting into a COP which is then usable across the network. This allows the information to be widely utilized, even if the original reporting itself is no longer evident.

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Liaison is a critical means of sensing the situation of other forces and entities. It provides a face-to-face means of supplementing R2. Liaison elements are extremely important pieces in the C2 aspect of military operations, ensuring proper passage of information and coordination with different headquarters and components by facilitating planning, execution, and assessment.

In addition to their contribution to the Command function, liaison elements play a part in the provision of Sense data to the COP. Essentially, the information relating to superior, subordinate, and flanking formations or components comes in large part from direct liaison. Using a credible and trusted liaison officer can conserve manpower and ensure the consistent, accurate flow of information between agencies. An air component commander (ACC) normally provides an air component coordination element (ACCE) to superior headquarters (joint force commander or joint task force commander) and laterally to other component commanders (Land, Maritime, and Special Forces). The collocating of liaison elements within the various components enables the ACC to coordinate, request, and confirm specific data, which contributes to the ACC and other component commanders’ SA.

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Joint, Integrated, Multinational, And Public Relationships

In many contemporary operations, it is critical to cooperate with many entities that are not within the military chain of command. Under the comprehensive approach[5] to operations, this includes, in particular, Canadian other government departments (OGDs), but also other agencies in an operational area, such as humanitarian organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The term "joint, integrated, multinational, and public" was coined to describe relationships within this broad spectrum of entities, and it constitutes a new and special type of liaison of increasing importance in the modern operating environment.

Under the whole-of-government (WoG) approach[6] or comprehensive approach to operations, aerospace forces deployed outside of Canada will almost always be employed in a joint, integrated, multinational and public (JIMP) operating environment.

Thus, many partners will be integral to operations, including not only other nations’ military forces but also many civilian entities, both formal governmental organizations (Canadian and international) and even civilian, non-governmental entities. Knowledge of those types of entities, their dispositions, capabilities, and intentions will often be critical to the success of operations.

However, monitoring JIMP entities presents a new, often complex challenge. Some foreign military organizations may have different reporting standards. Many other JIMP entities, by definition, are not military and thus are not experienced, organized, or trained to provide any standardized military reporting. Nor are many of them under any compulsion to provide information. In some cases, entities such as public volunteer organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may be reluctant or even unwilling to cooperate with Canadian aerospace forces due to their perceptions or desire to remain disassociated from military operations. Nevertheless, knowledge of those entities can be critical to achieving the desired end state.

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In general, the most reliable means of sensing JIMP entities in current operations is achieved through liaison, coordination, and information sharing. Relationships with the organization need to be built personally, by the assiduous cultivation of contacts in order to earn the confidence and trust between organizations. In many cases, this will take a concerted effort by staff at senior levels, and even by commanders themselves. Reciprocity is often important—sharing our information will, in many cases, encourage a greater flow of accurate and timely information from JIMP entities.

While efforts are under way to build confidence and trust and to standardize reporting between Canadian government departments,[7] it will often require special effort to obtain information from many JIMP entities, and most of this information will come via personal liaison rather than anything resembling standardized reporting. Nevertheless, commanders and staff must be prepared, when necessary, to make this investment due to the criticality of JIMP entities in many contemporary operational environments.


Although the disposition of friendly forces over large and dispersed geographical locations presents challenges, commanders and staff must develop processes to satisfy information needs to support effective planning and decision-making activities. Therefore, the establishment of sound report and return practices and the availability of specialized systems are essential to facilitate a commander’s ability to sense not only friendly forces but also other agencies (OGDs, civilian, and non-governmental entities). In all instances, the accuracy and timeliness of the information available will largely dictate the manner and range of options available to a commander to achieve the desired effect.

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1. DTB record 21020.  (return)

2. Refers to "processing" in Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance Primer, 3-8.  (return)

3. Extracted from Allied Communications Publication (ACP) 125 (F), Communication Instructions Radiotelephone Procedures (September 5, 2001) (English only) (PDF, 221 kB), 8-3, (accessed May 16, 2012).  (return)

4. Often, the formats will be NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) specified, such as a KILLREP.  (return)

5. DTB record 34522 defines this as "a philosophy according to which military and non-military actors collaborate to enhance the likelihood of favourable and enduring outcomes within a particular situation."  (return)

6. DTB record 35242 defines this as "an integrated approach to a situation that incorporates diplomatic, military, and economic instruments of national power as required." (return)

7. Developing under the Canadian Forces "Defence Information Management Strategy 2020." (return)