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Chirag Gupta asked: What is the difference between domain awareness and situational awareness in defence/security?

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  • Abhay Kumar Singh replies: In general, domain awareness and situational awareness both grasp very similar activities which is “knowing what is going on around us”. However, they have slightly different connotations and are not synonymous.

    Situational awareness is defined as the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status in the near future. One of the key concepts of situational awareness is the distinction between a person (or a system) and the environment.

    In the context of national security, a “domain” refers to all areas and things of, on, under, relating to, adjacent to, or bordering a specific space whether land, sea or air that could impact activities, infrastructure, people, cargo, vessels, etc. that move or operate within the space. A domain can be either physical, i.e., the maritime domain of a sea, ocean, or other navigable waterways, or conceptual, i.e., the cyber domain of networked systems. Domain awareness is about understanding how a domain operates and interacts within their environment and how they could impact the security, safety, economy, or the environment.

    Domain awareness is considered as the broader notion which subsumes situational awareness. As highlighted in the abovementioned definition of “domain”, domain awareness goes beyond analysing what happens in a specific environment and focuses on everything connected to the that particular environment. In contrast, situational awareness emphasises space and time (situations) and is hence more oriented towards operations, incidents, real-time analysis and rapid reactions.

    While situational awareness is related to specific mission and tasks, domain awareness is not a particular mission or task but rather the result of proper integration of a diverse set of capabilities, which provide decision-makers with an effective understanding of the specified domain. In other words, situational awareness contextualised through the integration of all available data, information and intelligence provides domain awareness.

    In the maritime domain, the interrelation between ‘Maritime Domain Awareness’ (MDA) and ‘Maritime Situational Awareness’ (MSA) exemplifies the conceptual differences between these two terms.  MDA refers to the effective understanding of anything associated with the maritime domain which could impact the security, safety, economy, or the environment. MSA denotes persistent monitoring of maritime activities in such a way that trends can be identified and anomalies detected. A layered picture of the current state and trends of MSA is fused and integrated with intelligence in order to develop MDA. In other words, MSA displays location and identity of neutrals, enemy and friendly actors as ‘the blips’, MDA integrates this information with intelligence to discern intentions of the actors or ‘whether the blips matter’. If and when a decision is taken to deal with ‘some of the blips which matter’, the shared MDA of the specific geographic space becomes a key input in the development of mission-specific MSA.

    Posted on August 27, 2020

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.