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  • Matt Gill

Intelligence Plans: a study for effective intelligence teams in Large Scale Combat Operations

NOV 6, 1942 GEN Patton Diary entry. Off the coast of Tunisia. “In forty hours I shall be in battle, with little information, and on the spur of the moment will have to make most momentous decisions….”

General Patton’s journal entry above, while ominous, requires much more context to fully understand. Operation Torch was almost exclusively planned on the east coast of the United States without the advantages of drones, satellite imagery, mass communications intercepts and once the fleet departed the limited stream of intelligence would become a trickle. During a frantic six-week period, intelligence planners would need to identify and locate enemy forces, analyze thousands of miles of terrain, predict offshore conditions, and anticipate enemy courses of action; from 4,000 miles away. Extraordinarily little refinement would occur during the cross Atlantic voyage and one can see how Patton would author such a journal entry.

This foreboding feeling in a Commander’s mind is not uncommon, but Intelligence Planners and the Intelligence Warfighting Function (IWFF) can do many things to assuage a portentous aspect of decision making- informed by inaccurate, outdated, or incomplete intelligence.

When planning any military operation, the Commander task organizes, trains formations, forms capabilities, issues orders, computes requirements and requests support- all based on the intelligence provided by the Senior Intelligence Officer and their team. The imperative is that situational understanding must be attained so the commander can make sound decisions through the reasoned application of the intelligence provided. The foundation for situational understanding in a Division or Corps Headquarters rests on the shoulders of the Intelligence Planner and their team.

In order to provide the most effective intelligence support to the Commander the IWFF must examine the most critical tasks Intelligence Planners and plans teams must master, the most efficient intelligence plans team construct, the optimal integration measures for that intelligence plans team and the academic and developmental background desired of intelligence planners in Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO).

Prioritized critical skills Intelligence Planners and Teams must master to best support planning efforts

1. Understanding of terrain and weather effects on military operations

Terrain and weather analysis are highly mission dependent and cannot be sufficiently accounted for through the limited use of acronym-based factors (ie OCOKA) or a generalist view of how terrain and weather influence friendly or enemy operations. The analysis must establish the relationship of terrain and weather effects to a specific mission, mission and operational variables, tasks, and desired outcomes at a specific place in time.

During Operation Torch, G-2 planners provided 60 tons of maps to just the Western Task Force, and the 3rd Army G-2 disseminated several tons of terrain products per week during Desert Storm. Regardless of bulk amount, the critical aspect of terrain analysis and understanding is that it be so detailed that every Leader and Soldier knows exactly where they are, all the critical characteristics of that area, what they can expect to be there and where they fit in relation to other friendly and enemy forces. These criteria should be the foundation of every Intelligence Plans submission.

In addition to existing intelligence and engineer doctrine, to achieve an effective terrain and weather estimate, the intelligence plans team must also become academically proficient at the following: (all while using the current or predicted weather impacts for each layer)

Four-dimensional line of sight analysis. More than just doctrinal intervisibility lines, G-2 plans must account for the impact of terrain and weather on the electromagnetic spectrum (vertically and horizontally) for each area of operations, mobility corridors or avenues of approach. During LSCO and near-peer contest, the digital and communications dimension may not be dominated by friendly forces in a specific place and time. The electromagnetic spectrum, as a layer of terrain, must follow the same evaluation criteria listed above. Planners must be prepared to define and describe how the Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) is denied, degraded, or disrupted in space and time. EMS as a factor of terrain will be favorable to friendly forces, neutral, congested or contested. Knowing the conditions under which the Division or Corps will operate under must be clearly presented to the Commander.

Supply chain analysis of lines of communication. Intelligence Planners must understand the fundamentals of supply chain analysis pertaining to the movements of mass supplies, people and equipment and the effects terrain and weather have on transportation networks, assembly areas, logistics nodes and casualty backhaul. The competitive advantage that supply chain analysis and terrain provides for friendly forces is efficiency of management, expediency of movement and accuracy of delivery. These three planning criteria can be applied across the breadth of war fighting functions and analysis must be applied to threat supply chains as well.

Decoding the iron umbrella and threat airspace management. As seen in Russian incursions in the Crimea, Ukraine, and military operations in Syria; conflicted airspace is a matter of routine until one side establishes air dominance for a period of time. Intelligence planners must reverse engineer threat use of airspace. Most entities, normally nation-states, understand that air space must be deconflicted and controlled. By working with U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and Army Aviation and Air Defense professionals, Intelligence Planners will be able to show the predictive three-dimensional use of airspace control measures by threat agencies. This added layer during Threat Course of Action development in Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) will give Commanders a more holistic view of threat intent and capabilities. The G-2 Planner must transcend data points and must be able to articulate how the enemy commander makes decisions about airspace management, how friendly forces can deny, degrade, disrupt or destroy it.

2. Understanding Threat Capabilities and Intentions, and the analysis of Combat Efficiency.

In modern near-peer conflict, Intelligence Planners must be able to articulate the difference between capabilities and intentions over time, during different phases of battle and after specifically planned operations; both friendly and enemy initiated. A threat actor may have a capability but not use it for many reasons. A Brigade Commander may have a Tank Company (capability) in reserve and not intend to use it until such conditions warrant its introduction to the operation. Combat formations will have to meet specific thresholds of capability and efficiency before a decision on their employment is made.

Understanding threat capabilities is accurately summed up in current Military Intelligence doctrine; know your enemy and the terrain they control, including the EMS and Cyber domain. Estimates of threat strengths/weaknesses and dispositions are achieved though continuous compilation, refinement and updating order of battle data, battle damage assessments, continuous intelligence collection, and open sources of information. Likewise, a Brigade Commander may start a conflict with a certain number of assets under a specific task organization; all of which can change according to conditions or change in mission.

The most effective threat analysis an Intelligence Planner can provide is an assessment of Combat Efficiency. By combining the estimates for Personnel, Materiel, and Mobility, a plans team can understand the usefulness of a formation to the Commander.

Personnel- decision making performance of the leadership, will to fight, physical conditioning, training and combat experience. Competitors may value life, civilian casualties, or collateral damage at different levels, understanding these socio-cultural aspects better informs the analysis of a leader’s decision making and employment of forces.

Material- sufficient numbers of capabilities to achieve the assessed threat mission, ability to move material to critical places and at specific times required to achieve their goals, and the threat’s ability to maintain or replace the material once lost or expended.

Mobility- the ability to be in the proper place, at the planned time and with the right equipment.

3. Mastering the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP) and the G-2 Planning Plan.

Regardless of occupational specialty, Planners must be consummate problem solvers. The Military Decision-Making Process is the interactive battle drill military staffs use to solve problems, identify mission requirements, and provide effective orders to elements that create action. If the Intelligence Planner or team are not completely knowledgeable on the MDMP, steps will be incompletely executed, errors in collective judgement will be made and uninformed plans will be distributed. Given the increasing complexity of operating environments and the evolving nature of mission command systems and intelligence collection tools; the G-2 planner must master every step of the MDMP. Mastery of the MDMP enables the G-2 planner to develop a process by which to produce an effective plan, a planning plan.

While MDMP is a process; it is also a battle drill that the entire staff must repeatedly and realistically rehearse and execute with speed and purpose. To do this, the G-2 planner must develop their own plan to support each step, but the intelligence support must be coordinated and executed to drive the actions of the other staff planners. This intelligence support plan must be built on the concepts of accuracy, simplicity, security, continuity, and flexibility.

Good intelligence, provided by an analytic team, structured to provide continuous inputs and is flexible enough to adjust across problems sets simplifies an operations plan. This model reduces unknown factors and the number of variables a staff would need to consider during the MDMP process. There will always be Gaps in intelligence compounded by uncoordinated flows of inputs will cause a staff to become confused, and friction is inadvertently entered into the process. It is the G-2s responsibility to provide guidance to the G-2 Planner, it is incumbent on the Planner to take a systematic approach to the requisition, production, and introduction of intelligence into the MDMP battle drill.

4. Navigating the Intelligence Enterprise from National to Tactical.

When designing a G-2 planning plan it is paramount to understand the complete array of tools the intelligence enterprise offers. Almost exclusively decision-maker focused, the intelligence community offers topical, multi-discipline and coordination support to G-2 planners. Knowing which agency and element, at echelon, that supports a specific problem set better informs intelligence support to the MDMP.

Like a collection plan, G-2 planners must organize a support plan specific to the mission variables. With 17 members of the intelligence community, the Planner need not solely focus on Army Intelligence agencies but rather broaden the aperture of support to decision-making. By its nature, the military is a very structured permission environment; the planner must use that structure to better leverage agencies and elements to garner the best support available. Using business analytic tools, below are some sample questions to analyze in building the components of the Planners Plan:

-Which agency is designed to inform decisions at echelon?

-Which agency is oriented on rapid distribution vs long term projections?

-Which agency is specifically oriented on the topic your mission covers?

-Which agency has the capacity for additional intelligence partnerships?

-Is the agency willing to provide support in the area of operations with an intelligence package or LNO team?

-What is the average return rate of distribution of finished intelligence or collected data points?

The Intelligence Plans team construct and span of control

There was no conclusive evidence to indicate one Intelligence Plans team construct was more optimal or efficient than another. There is considerable evidence demonstrating the value of a core team capable of leveraging the entirety of the intelligence staff and enterprise. Several examples of Intelligence Plans teams transitioning from garrison to combat operations indicated a small, agile core intelligence team that rapidly grew to much larger numbers, however, these increased structures were more informed by enabling relationships and layers of support rather than hierarchical teams.

Potential Core G-2 Plans Team for Large Scale Combat Operations at the Division or Corps level

-G-2 Planner

-G-2 Plans Collection Manager

-G-2 Plans All-Source Intelligence Technician

-G-2 Plans NCO (35F30 or above) Order of Battle specialist

A four person G-2 Plans Team is sufficient to guide and direct all intelligence support to plans if that team is enabled with specific coordination authorities from the G-2. This small team construct is compact, feasible and facilitates focused efforts for the G-3 and G-5. The G-2 must empower the G-2 Plans Team, during planning events, with the ability to task for intelligence support across the G-2 shop. The G-2 must further coordinate direct support relationships with other elements within the staff such as weather, engineers, and signal.

Span of control

If the intelligence planner and plans team are in the Plans shop to represent the G-2 and Intelligence, then by their very nature, they represent the G-2; therefore, must be assigned to the G-2. Ratings and Senior Ratings do not inherently establish authority of warfighting function, but unity of command can. There is no consistent empirical data to indicate a better intelligence support to Plans when the Planner is rated by the G-3 or G-5, but there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that shows when the Intelligence Planner/Team are assigned to the G-2 and work within the G-2 construct, the quality of intelligence support to Division and Corps planning efforts was significantly more robust.

5. Future considerations for individual academic development

There is significant historical evidence that indicates a link between the individual academic development of Intelligence Planners and the quality of intelligence support to planning. From World War II through Vietnam, there are numerous examples of successful intelligence plans teams that contained Officers and Enlisted Soldiers with advanced academic backgrounds. The most common advanced degrees included Geography, Social Sciences, Accounting and Systems Engineering. When personnel with advanced degrees were not present and the Army Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) system did not afford the specific knowledge, set required; the Intelligence Staff members sought individual development.

Below are a list of topics, found through research, that were most commonly mentioned when discussing additional academic development

Operational Art

The most common additional knowledge set mentioned was the study of Operational art. Operational Art is “The cognitive approach by commanders and staffs-supported by their skill, knowledge, experience, creativity, and judgment-to develop strategies, campaigns, and operations to organize and employ military forces by integrating ends, ways, and means.” The Joint Staff, Joint Publication 3-0, Joint Operations (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 17 January 2017), II-3. To study this, it was recommended that Intelligence Planners become extremely knowledgeable of the tactics, techniques and capabilities of their organizations war fighting capability (example: 1st Cavalry Division or 1st Armored Division- a comprehensive understanding of Tank warfare, combined arms maneuver and the logistics required to support Tank warfare).

Operational adaptability

To gain and maintain the initiative, commanders must maintain a better situational understanding of the operational environment (OE) than their enemy commanders. To develop this comprehensive situational understanding, commanders know the context of the OE, including the circumstances that have formed the OE. Intelligence planners must develop the Commander’s view of the history of the area and conflict, the culture and motives of the local population as pertains to the enemy, and the operational and strategic objectives of the population and the enemy. Once the overall context of the situation is rendered, the Commander can accurately adapt the operation to circumstances.

Civil Engineers and big data

Intelligence leaders should consider civil engineer degrees as a factor when assessing potential Intelligence planners or as additional training. This degree’s understanding of civilian and commercial infrastructure, and the limitations, benefits and vulnerabilities associated with large cities will be crucial to Maneuver leaders in large scale combat operations in urban environments.

The relationship between big data, intelligence and engineering is evolving rapidly. The requirement to process structured and unstructured data will be commonplace in any urban, subterranean, and varying density terrain. Some of the critical analytic inputs civil engineers can provide an intelligence plan are:

1. More robust insight into past and future infrastructure for a specific area.

2. Refined infrastructure modeling and the tracking of changes and impacts to environments.

3. Advanced analysis of trafficability, transportation infrastructure and the potential impacts of combat operations on the terrain.

4. Exploitation of industry related big data sets synchronized with geospatial analysis.

Civilian Academia as a resource

The third most mentioned knowledge set for successful intelligence planners was the use of civilian academia as a resource for intelligence and knowledge. Civilian academic institutions generally have area studies programs, specific science departments that directly equate to portions of the intelligence process and have Academics with firsthand experience with different peoples and their relationships to their governments and interstate allies of foes. Intelligence planners should seek out those academic institutions who are known to specialized in the same areas they may conduct military operations or campaigns.


Intelligence planners have been and remain indispensable staff partners at all echelons of warfighting. Throughout history there have been a consistent list of basic academic foundations intelligence planners must be proficient at, however, that list of basics needs to be applied through the filter of modern potential conflict (large scale combat operations) and the potential for war across multiple domains. Doctrine reflects the minimum standards for these basic talents and each of these needs to be advanced through critical thinking, creative adaptations in application and an appreciation for outside resources such as academia and research and development industries.

As then Colonel Koch and team evolved and grew into the G2 shop that accurately predicted the threat of a German winter offensive in December 1944, they did not use clairvoyance to identify the 43 German Divisions allocated for the “Battle of the Bulge.” They used basic intelligence planning skills honed over four separate campaigns. It was the agile and advanced approach to these methods that gave them the competitive advantage in knowledge. Lessons we can hardly afford to learn again after the war has started.

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