Data-driven battlefield mapping sheds new light on recent and historical conflict

“Mantle will provide a substantially improved situational awareness capability, equipping deployed forces and theatre commanders with tools to comprehend the vast amounts of information in the battlefield.”

UNSW Canberra’s Military Operations Analysis Team, headed by Dr Bob Hall, in collaboration with Gradata Systems Pty Ltd, a data analytics company, are developing a software platform called Mantle, which can ingest data from various sources and provide real-time insights and locally-relevant operations analysis, from tactical through to strategic levels of command.

Mantle is designed to provide Defence with an enhanced Big Data and operations analysis capability, in order to improve intelligence gathering, situational awareness and planning. It is primarily intended to give commanders with an easy-to-use yet powerful analytical tool that provides insight relevant to them and their own specific regional information requirements.

The project is using many data sources to validate its outcomes, including:

• Millions of ground, air and sea operational records from the Vietnam War, including the incursions into Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.
• Open-source material, including incident reporting from Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and social media, including Twitter.

“Some of our source data originated from the Australian War Memorial, in the form of combat reports created usually a few weeks after the combat had taken place,” said Dr Hall, whose own experience in the Australian Army during the Vietnam War gives him a unique perspective on the project.

“When I had a contact, as part of that I had to file a report, including up to 32 facts on the incident, including the number of shots fired and the location.”

But working with historical records is only a small part of what Mantle can do. It is capable of providing nearly instantaneous analytics on real-time data including reports from current operations and acting as a filter to help combat information and cognitive overload for commanders. This will assist them with the discovery of insights relevant to them and their local area. If deployed, Mantle has the potential to change the way armed forces understand the terrain around them.

“What we did with Vietnam was useful for historical analysis of that particular campaign, but Mantle is designed to apply to any current or future campaign,” said Dr Hall.

For example, a commander planning a patrol through a given area can use the system to identify geospatial and temporal patterns and trends based on historic and current data, then develop a risk profile of the patrol including routes, key terrain and areas of interest. This capability would improve Defence’s ability to adapt more rapidly to evolving threats, by enhancing information sharing between current operations and future planning.

Dr Hall believes Mantle will provide “superior situational awareness, operational planning and decision support to commanders, giving them the tools they need to harness the vast amounts of information in the battlespace so they can fight and win, smarter.”

About the team

Military Operations Analysis Team
Contact: Dr Bob Hall at r.hall@adfa.edu.au

Dr Hall heads the Military Operations Analysis Team at UNSW Canberra. He served in the Vietnam War as a platoon commander in 8th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment and has published extensively on military operations analysis.

The team’s previous project, Australia’s Vietnam War, focused on the Vietnam War and provides the public with an interactive ‘Battle Map’ of South Vietnam showing the locations and details of individual ground, air and naval operations. Since its launch in 2016, veterans have uploaded hundreds of personal photos and recollections of their wartime experiences, making the website an invaluable living history of the Vietnam War. It can be accessed at: vietnam.unsw.adfa.edu.au

Gradata Systems Pty Ltd
Contact: Mr Peter Kimberley at peter@gradata.com.au, or gradata.com.au

A data analytics company founded by Peter Kimberley, who until recently served as a Signals officer in the Australian Army, including operational deployment to the Middle East. The company developed the software behind the Australia’s Vietnam War website and more recently, conceptualised and developed the software that is Mantle.