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Posted on Dec 3, 2006 in Front Page Features, Tactics101

Tactics 101: 010. Graphics

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

What are Graphics?

Graphics are a visual representation of the “photo grande” or the big picture. They use well defined and a commonly used set of symbols to illustrate the conduct of a combat mission. Graphics can be drawn over a map, a sketch, or a photograph. When made into a map overlay they must be aligned to the map. This is done using grid coordinate reference marks at the top and bottom of the overlay. Automated overlays are graphical information that is displayed electronically on a screen. It can be "turned on or off" over or in front of the primary digital display, such as a map, sketch, or photograph.

Can I use any color I want?

There are some rules for colors. Obstacles are drawn in green. Operational, or mission, graphic control measures are drawn in black or blue. Enemy graphics are drawn or displayed in red. If red is not available, enemy graphics are drawn in black with a double line. Other colors can and are used for a number of reasons. All that is required is a legend on the overlay describing what each color means.

Affiliation Hand Drawn Computer Generated
Friend, Assumed Friend Blue Cyan
Unknown, Pending Yellow Yellow
Neutral Green Green
Enemy, Suspect, Joker, Faker Red Red

What do I show?

Graphics are used to plot locations and directions of movement; however, the decision maker normally requires additional information not readily available by studying a current situation map. The battlefield envisioned by our current doctrine requires rapid and frequent changes in task organization of units to retain or take the initiative and move optimally task-organized forces to the critical point on the battlefield. Military decision-making process graphics are a tool for portraying the necessary information.

What goes on an overlay?

If you want your stuff to look like the pro’s then follow the 13 steps below and you’ll be in the ballpark. Start off with a name that relates the overlay to the order it supports.


1. Center the security classification at the top and bottom of the overlay.
2. Place the title below the security classification.
3. Place the map reference below the title.
4. Place at least two overlay and map reference points (double cross-hair reference marks on map grid lines) on opposite corners of the overlay.
5. Use the same maps that your subordinates will use.
6. Ensure that you transfer control measures from the higher headquarters’ PLAN onto your overlay.
7. Provide a coordinate appendix (a list of coordinates for major C2 points, unit locations, coordinating points, and so on) with the overlay.
8. Make the overlay consistent with the applicable text from the OPLAN or OPORD.
9. Place symbols on doctrinally correct locations.
10. Keep the overlay simple, but give enough detail for others to understand the operation and its essential tasks.
11. Limit control measures to the minimum number needed to synchronize the operation or to limit possible fratricide.
12. Make sure control measures give the commander flexibility to react to changing situations or conditions.
13. When transmitting or storing overlays, roll up or fold the overlay with the classification, title, and map reference visible on the outside.

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