By Lt. Col. David Foster, M.SAME, USA (Ret.), and Col. Timothy O’Rourke, M.SAME, USA (Ret.)

For decades, joint forces have relied on contingency and enduring operating locations for the execution of their mission. The release of the unclassified summary of the 2022 National Defense Strategy emphasized campaigning and engaging with allies and partners. That reality likely underscores a growing reliance on operating locations well into the future. However, the National Defense Strategy also calls for an agile and resilient force, which operating locations and the documentation of their infrastructure will need to support. The concept of “places not bases” also has widened the aperture of how the U.S. military will prepare for and fight future conflicts.

Historical data reveals the existence of several cultural “gray areas,” implying that room for improvement remains. These gaps create unique challenges for the planning, construction, and execution of facility sustainment, repair, and maintenance. They are compounded when a contingency operating location transitions to enduring status—shifting from a Combatant Command’s service component command to the service’s installation management organizations.

The National Defense Strategy drives the imperative for the Department of Defense (DOD) to overcome that complexity.

Current joint capabilities supporting the establishment and management of operating locations include the Joint Construction Management System and the Joint Engineer Common Operating Picture. Both of these capabilities continue to evolve and mature—providing the means to effectively and efficiently plan, execute, and sustain operating locations in a manner satisfying the intent of established policy and guidance.


Cultural challenges to establishing and maintaining operating locations are rooted in the definition of their standards. Joint Publication (JP) 4-04, Contingency Basing, calls for planning the transition of an operating location to enduring status after five years. Beyond referring to DOD 3000.10, it offers little guidance regarding that transition. Both JP 4-04 and JP 3-34, Joint Engineer Operations, use common terms for initial, temporary, and semi- permanent standards. But the meanings of those terms and their outcomes are divergent.

JP 3-34 describes construction standards based on projected life spans of facilities. Applying the standards is based on several factors such as operational environment, availability of labor and materials, and most importantly, nature and duration of the mission. JP 4-04, on the other hand, applies the standards based on the operating location’s lifespan to address the attributes of a contingency location and its levels of service and quality of life.

In the latter case, when an operating location is operational for more than nine months, it should shift from initial standards to temporary standards; at 24 months, it should increase to semi-permanent standards. The result of these common terms with different meanings creates ambiguity, since standards for constructing and maintaining an operating location may diverge from those driving their management and documentation as time progresses. In practice, the commander decides which standard to apply based on engineer recommendations; this means that lower standards specified in JP 3-34 may be applied based on mission priorities and location.

Challenges are increased with each branch of DOD providing unique warfighting capabilities, which affects who, how, when, and what tools are used to accomplish their missions. Additionally, significant cultural differences exist between a service’s warfighting and installation support commands—including mission focus, classification of mission data, policy, authorities, processes, and enabling systems. This creates a situation where contingency basing asset management is conducted differently than in garrison. The impacts become most apparent when an operating location transitions to an enduring location and the standards change.

Updated guidance in DOD Directive 3000.10, Contingency Basing Outside the United States, has begun to clarify roles and requirements establishing the minimal data elements required for obtaining real property unique identification. However, operating locations transitioning to enduring status continue to face cultural issues related to their ability to adopt emerging joint processes and systems that straddle expeditionary and business domains.


Built and natural infrastructure geospatial data provide the foundation for operating location facility asset management. Still, a gray area exists between the intelligence and engineering aspects of geospatial intelligence, notably within installation geospatial information and services.

Geospatial intelligence produced by the intelligence community depicts physical features and human activities primarily by the exploitation and analysis of imagery and remotely sensed data for warfighting. Although this data is useful to the establishment and sustainment of an operating location, the mission focus of its producers is operational and directed elsewhere.

Geospatial engineering provides the ability to portray and refine data for geographic location and the characteristics of natural or constructed features and to provide engineer services. However, other than Air Force GeoBase personnel assigned to Mobility Air Force and Air Force Forces commands, geospatial engineers do not focus on, nor are they trained or experienced in, managing enterprise built and natural infrastructure geospatial data of operating locations. Today, each service’s installation geospatial information and services program manage built and natural infrastructure geospatial data. But, other than GeoBase, they do not do so for operating locations.


A joint solution for operating location lifecycle management is the way ahead. In October 2021, the Joint Operational Engineering Board established an initiative to develop theater infrastructure plans based on the tasks and missions assigned to each combatant command by the president in order to achieve national objectives. When fully implemented, these plans will comprehensively identify infrastructure requirements; provide clarity on how that infra- structure fits with and transitions from contingency to enduring needs; highlight how the requirements integrate into planning efforts; and allow the apportionment of construction capabilities and programming of facility management resources over time.

In 2022, fielding of Joint Construction Management System 5.0 will provide joint engineers a common operating location master planning capability with construction standards and designs for initial and temporary facilities. This should reduce cultural differences and enable the generation of common data for those facilities. At the tactical level, fielding of the Reconnaissance and Survey Instrument Set to both U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps engineer units will standardize collection of operational and infrastructure data.

DOD is also exploring a facilities data initiative that would further standardize data and foster the utilization of that data across operating locations and permanent installations. Employing a system of joint infrastructure management capabilities has proven moderately successful. The largest hurdle to expanding this type of capability across the joint community remains the culture of how each service operates.


The continued update of doctrine, policies, and joint systems will reduce the fog of operating location lifecycle management. Eliminating gray areas and enabling an agile and resilient force is the objective of joint engineer efforts to apply the principles of the DOD Data Strategy and the power of Project ADVANA.

Tools such as the Joint Engineer Planning and Execution System, Joint Engineer Common Operating Picture, and ADVANA allow for exploiting engineer data to gain better visibility, understanding, and shared situational awareness in support of the future joint force. Combined, these instruments standardize the ability of military engineers to treat data as a weapon system and allow for managing, securing, and using data for operational effect—informing joint operating location decisions and actions necessary to achieve National Defense Strategy objectives.

Lt. Col. David Foster, M.SAME, USA (Ret.), is President, 372 Consulting LLC; david.

Col. Timothy O’Rourke, M.SAME, USA (Ret.), is Special Assistant, Office of the Chief of Engineers;

[This article first published in the September-October 2022 issue of The Military Engineer.]