Military Embedded Systems

Defense symbology standardization enhances public-private collaboration for warfighter safety


September 23, 2009

Steve Panzer


Deploying symbology standardization through an easy-to-integrate geospatial module providing DoD's 2525B symbology maximizes effective communication and enhances public-private collaboration by enabling the private sector to work cohesively with defense agencies in support of the warfighter.

As we continue to witness the shift from face-to-face battle tactics to asymmetrical, network-centric warfare, effective communication is critical to the warfighter. In theater, the Department of Defense relies heavily on maps and other visual displays – computer generated or handwritten – to communicate information about fleet routing, enemy positioning, terrain details, and other important location-specific information. The lack of standard mapping symbols can cause confusion regarding intended routes or mission directives when mapping symbols are misinterpreted or unclear. In order to maximize effective communication across the Defense enterprise, a symbology standard needed to be created, streamlining mapping processes across the board. As the government is turning to the private sector to leverage expertise and best practice technologies, this 2525B standardization also needed to be made available to both public and private sectors – enabling the private sector to work cohesively with defense agencies in support of warfighters – maximizing effective communication and safety in the battlefield.

The 2525B standard

Prior to creating a standardized symbology library, different defense agencies were using a variety of symbols meant to represent the same objects – sparking confusion, inefficiencies, and significant command and control challenges. In response to the growing need for mapping standardization, 2525B Common Warfighting Symbology was created by the DoD. This standard provides established rules and requirements for the development and display of unit and mapping symbols for all branches of the military.

The icon-based symbols contained within the 2525B standard are used to symbolize objects typically or specifically found in the warfighter’s operational environment – providing the viewer with an “at-a-glance” as well as a detailed view of the battlespace. A coding scheme for symbol automation and information transfer, each symbol is used to determine affiliation of the object as well as status and battle dimension. Status of a symbol refers to whether a warfighting object exists at the location identified or will in the future reside at the given location, and battle dimension defines the primary mission area for the operational object within the battlespace. The use of a common set of symbols is similar to everyone speaking the same language – it reduces confusion, and ensures accuracy among all parties involved, including the public and private sectors. Since the topic is often mission-critical – and life-critical – decisions and determinations, accuracy, and clarity are top priorities.

Accordingly, symbols can be used for red-force blue-force tracking, which provides the warfighter with critical enemy advancement information or the location of allied troops. The symbols can also be used for the creation of tactical graphics, indicating anchor points that define boundaries and reflect the area’s size and shape. Further, important vehicle and object distinctions can be made, such as distinguishing combat, utility, medical, and cargo vehicles. The adoption of a symbology standard has been so widespread across the Defense enterprise that other agencies, like the Department of Homeland Security, are now moving forward on their own similar symbology standards.

Deploying the standard

While the library of symbols is comprehensive, ultimately maximizing efficiency of communication through maps and other visual displays, a means of deploying the 2525B standard across the department and throughout the private sector was still needed. As all maps created within the department require use of 2525B symbols, all proposals submitted by private sector vendors working toward a partnership with the defense department must also utilize the same set of symbols. Technology such as ObjectFX’s DoD symbology module, a scalable, flexible, Web-based tool based on DoD 2525B, can be implemented on any PC and is geospatial-platform agnostic, meaning it works with ESRI and Google technologies or ObjectFX’s SpatialFX (Figure 1). It provides vendors and defense agencies with a comprehensive library of defense symbols at their fingertips. This solution, which can also be implemented as a service, allows systems integrators and government program offices to integrate the 2525B standard symbols more easily into their products, improving consistency and clarity. The consistent use of the same symbols ensures maps and charts – computerized or handwritten – can be read and understood as a cohesive whole, even when coming from different sources. The end result: A broader pool of experts can share crucial information more easily and provide the resources needed to enhance public-private collaboration in support of the warfighter.


Figure 1: The ObjectFX MIL-STD-2525B service allows for using symbology with any geospatial viewer.




Steve Panzer is Vice President, Government Division for ObjectFX, where he works closely with government agencies to guide ObjectFX in developing capabilities that assist government in geospatial technologies requirements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

ObjectFX 410-884-4090


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