Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield and the Community (Overview)

This post is the first in the series on Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield and the Community.  I’ll publish a new part every Monday, to include Defining the Battlefield Environment, Describing the Battlefield’s Effects, Evaluating the Threat, and Determining Threat Courses of Action.

FM 34-130 was the foundation of my Army schoolhouse training and it holds a dear place in my heart.  Of course, we learned Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) on a Soviet-style adversary; and although that model is largely outdated, the principles of IPB are still very applicable in a myriad of scenarios – for our purposes, that of your community and its surrounding areas.

Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield is a critical step in gaining an expert knowledge of your community, its terrain and demographic features, and how they affect your defensive operations or activities.  While gaining an understanding of IPB and its tenets, and applying it to your Community Defense Framework is going to require some brainpower; in the end, you’ll come away with a much better plan to defend your community from whatever adversary you encounter.

Before I go further, please understand that this is an overview of this process.  In future posts, I’ll go into more detail for each step.  If you have any questions along the way, please fire away and I’ll answer the best I can.  If you’d like to go into great detail with regard to your community and situation, I’m available for consulting and training.

Let’s get started with a good understanding of exactly what IPB is.  FM 34-130’s Introduction sums it up well:

IPB is a systematic, continuous process of analyzing the threat and environment in a specific geographic area.  It is designed to support… military decision making.

IPB is a continuous process which consists of four steps which you perform each time you conduct IPB:

– Define the battlefield environment.

– Describe the battlefield’s effects.

– Evaluate the threat.

– Determine threat Courses of Action (CoA).

Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield is extremely important for battlefield commanders so they can understand the the battlespace and operating environment.  The same can be said with you – and maybe you’re not defending your community (or maybe you will have to); but you might have to defend the immediate area around your home or your retreat location.  We’re going to go through each of these steps and I’m going to offer you some examples – some that I saw in Iraq and Afghanistan and others that I observe around the areas where I grew up and where I live now.

To some degree, every member of every organization will need to conduct IPB.  Just like in chess or checkers, you’ll want to anticipate the moves your adversary makes.  Is the local gang more prone to quick hit and run attacks to attrit their victims or are they more interested in sustained, clearing attacks followed by looting?  Do they take the path of least resistance, move only by night, have overwhelming firepower, or are mounted in vehicles?  Where is the adversary most likely to advance and where will he have cover from your line of sight or fire?  Is the physical terrain around my home more advantageous to me or to an advancing force?  Is the human terrain an asset to the enemy or an addition to my prepared defenses?  These are all questions we need to answer.

The military has its own doctrine and so do many of its nation-state adversaries.  For instance, through the study adversaries’ Orders of Battle and previous engagements, intelligence collection, and IPB, we could have a good idea of how that particular adversary would operate and where they’d most likely position their assets in any potential future conflict.  One contemporary version of warfare – fourth generation warfare; decentralized terrorism and insurgency – is a much different animal than the conventional doctrine of force-on-force threats; and it’s what I see at the most likely future threat.  We use IPB to define that animal, its tendencies, and its potential courses of action; and through “facts and assumptions” we draw up the most likely adversarial plan of attack.  The IPB process allows us to define avenues of approach and engagement zones / kill boxes.

Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield also allows us to direct intelligence collection to fill intelligence gaps.  What are the “known unknowns” of our enemy – what weapons do they employ, do they have four wheel drive vehicles, what is their maximum rate of speed and vehicle capacity, etc.?  All these things are pieces of information we need to collect and these gaps are identified through completing the IPB process.

Of course, as von Moltke noted, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”  That’s why it’s imperative to update our IPB as the environment changes or the scenario evolves in order to be as accurate as possible.  Maybe a tree is cut down and it now opens line of site to your home.  Maybe a new building, barn, or storage shed is built and it now provides concealment, for better or worse.  Any number of things could change, affecting our AO and we must be observant and proactive in updating our IPB.  This isn’t to say that an up-to-the-minute IPB overlay is going to alleviate the chaos of battle but a completing the IPB process is going to guard against surprises.

Here are the steps, in order, that we’ll cover.

Define the battlefield environment.

We are presented with three basic steps in order to define our battlefield environment.  We read that the intelligence element (in this case the G2/S2):

– Identifies characteristics of the battlefield which will influence friendly and threat operations.

– Establishes the limits of the area of interest (AI).

– Identifies gaps in current intelligence holdings.

Describe the battlefield’s effects.

Here we’ll describe the characteristics of your area of operations (AO) and the AI, and how they will affect your operations or activities as well as those of your adversaries. In this step, we’ll cover:

– Population status overlay.

– Overlays that depict the military aspects and effects of terrain.

– Weather analysis matrix.

– Integrated products such as modified combined obstacle overlays (MCOOs).

Evaluate the threat.

The intelligence element will analyze the threat – be they local gangs, privateering thugs, or roving bands of thieves/looters.

When facing a well-known threat, the [intelligence element] can rely on his historical data bases and well developed threat models.  When operating against a new or less well-known threat, [the intelligence element] may need to develop his intelligence data bases and threat models concurrently.

The bottom line is, Who is your adversary?  Answer this question based on your observations, your expectations, information from the previous step, and other facts and assumptions.  Find, Know, and Never Lose The Enemy.  This step will likely generate a whole host of intelligence gaps; some that you’ll be able to fill and some you won’t.  If this doesn’t generate any intelligence gaps then you’re not doing it right.

Determine Threat CoAs.

Here we wrap up all our findings of the previous steps and combine them to answer the question, What is the most likely target(s) of our adversary, where will he advance, and how will he attack?  These Enemy Courses of Action will include the Most Likely (MLCOA) and the Most Dangerous (MDCOA).  Every battlefield commander wants to know the answers to these questions and, as the intelligence element, our job is to answer these questions.  We need to be timely, accurate, and comprehensive.  The consequences of being late, inaccurate, or lacking can be devastating.  In the words of one of my former warrant officers, “You don’t always have to be right, but you can never be dead wrong.”  Dead wrong gets folks killed.

Overview Conclusion.

In the next post, I’ll cover how we go about defining the battlefield environment. In order to do this with the most effect, you’ll need a good topographical map (1:24k will suffice in most cases), along with a few hi-def photocopies, and some markers.  Typically, we use red for the enemy, blue for our friendly forces, and black for terrain.

Conducting IPB should be a critical part of your Community Defense Framework so I hope you’ll continue following along in this series.  If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I will respond as best I can.

The next post in this series can be found here.


  1. G says:

    Thanks for the article ! Passing it on…

  2. Partisan says:

    Thank you for reading!

  3. glenn allen says:

    outstanding work.I have been looking for something like this for a while now. You should write a book about it.I’d buy it. Thanks a lot. Keep up the fire!

    • Partisan says:

      Hey Glenn – thank you for reading. We’ll continue putting our noggins to work and producing instructional series like this. If you’d like to read about specific topics, feel free to suggest them and we’ll put your knowledge and experience to good use. Thank you!

  4. Jaisen says:

    Nice work. I will be doing a class on the first 3 sub-steps in IPB 4 and would like to know if you have any pointers or power point slides? Thanks in advance

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