IPB: Defining the Battlefield Environment

This post is the second in the series on Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield and the Community.  In the previous post, I discussed an overview of the IPB process and why it’s important.  You can read it here.  Part Three is Describing the Battlefield’s Effects.  Part Four is Evaluating the Threat.  Part Five is Determining Threat Courses of Action.

Define the Battlefield Environment: Introduction

First, let me start by quoting FM 34-130 on the “consequences of failure” of IPB being untimely, inaccurate, or lacking:

… failure to identify all the relevant characteristics may lead to the command’s surprise and unpreparedness when some overlooked feature of the battlefield exerts an influence on success of the command’s mission.

In short, possible mission failure; dislocation from your home, community, or retreat locale.  We want to avoid any physical or human terrain feature from surprising and “exerting influence” on our success and the best way to avoid that is to account for them all beforehand.

For the purposes of conducting IPB, I’m going to use a topo map of a small community.  It’s mostly surrounded by trees and hills, and has restrictive paved roads for entry zones (aside from aerial entry).  It has a lot of terrain features, some very well-marked mobility corridors, easily recognizable choke points, and relatively few avenues of approach.  It’s not a bad place to defend.  Let’s get started.

Identify significant characteristics of the environment.

What’s special about your community or retreat locale?  What are the geographical features?  Lots of hills, a few hills large enough for spurs and draws (see Terrain Features)?  Are there bodies of water like lakes or rivers?  Ask yourself these types of questions and form a list (identified on the map or your knowledge of the area).  Next, go through this list and annotate the features that are likely to influence an adversary, a looter, or any other threat.  If your adversary has to go around a lake or take a bridge across a river, then it’s a significant feature.  Are there terrain features around your home and, if so, what are they?

What are the demographics of your area?  Is it nearly homogenous or is it mixed?  Think race and economics.  Are there (and this is reality, folks) types of people or behavior that would be odd to see in your community?  Would it be odd to see a Mercedes Benz drive down your street?  How about a redneck-looking monster truck?  Would it be odd to see someone or a group of people wearing baggy clothing?  How about people in a button-up, slacks, and loafers?  It might be just as odd to see a white person in an all-black neighborhood as it would be seeing a black in an all-white neighborhood. The same could be said for Asian and Hispanic neighborhoods.  You’re not a “racist” if you make this observation; you’re a realist.  This is reality in many towns across America.  If a catastrophic event occurs, dislocation will be a reality and race is nearly the easiest observation you can make.

Along the lines of demographics, are there large amounts of religious folks?  How about gangs?  These are all the qualitative characteristics that we need to account for.  Areas with gangs will be predisposed to violence, automatically.  Areas without gangs might be insulated from violence, but if you see gangs move into your community, you should update your IPB.

Is there a lot of economic activity and traffic?  Are there government buildings, schools, or churches?  Are there “targets” nearby that would be considered both valuable and “soft”?  Are there cell towers, transfer stations, garbage dumps, electrical plants, etc?  Are there railroads, subways, or bus lines?  Are there plenty of roads or just a few?  Is there a nearby interstate or major highway with lots of traffic?

Finally, what’s the security forces apparatus like?  Do you live near a police station?  Are there city police or a sheriff’s department?  Are there problems with corruption or are they pretty squared away?  Do they regularly abuse their authority and violate official policies or do they use common sense and treat everyone with dignity and respect?  In short, are they an asset, a liability, or a potential threat?

Any of these questions you cannot answer, write down as an “intelligence gap” and we’ll cover it later.

Identify the limits of the command’s AO and battle space.

Your Area of Operations (AO) is going to be where you’re willing or able to travel in order to defend your home or community.  If you’re doing IPB on just your home on one acre, then maybe you’ll extend your AO out to a kilometer or half a mile (they’re not equal; I’m just using them as an example distance).  Maybe just as long as you can accurately shoot – a few hundred yards.  If you’re defending a community or a group of homes, maybe extend your AO out to a few kilometers or miles.  You judge the right size but just remember that if you can see it or be shot at from it, it should probably be in your AO.

On your topo map (you might even want to use geographical features such as hills or bodies of water as boundaries) draw out the limit of your AO.  You will become an expert at everything inside this box (or whatever shape it is; the simpler the better, within reason).  The geography, the ranges, the people, the structures, the infrastructure – this is your battlespace and you are the commander.  If and when the need arises, you will want to “dominate” this battlespace like your family’s lives depend on it.

* FM 34-130 differentiates between the AO and the battlespace.  Typically, the AO is for a specific operation while the battlespace is all the ground you own.  You might not be conducting active operations in every part of your battlespace; you might only be conducting an operation in one small village.  We’re concerned with defensive operations, so I use AO and battlespace interchangeably here for the sake of simplicity.

Establish the limits of the AI.

Your Area of Interest (AI) is going to be larger than your AO.  If you live on a country road, your AI might include nearby interstates or highways even though you can’t see or reach them.  In a catastrophic event, what travels down that interstate or highway might be more important than what happens right outside your home.

Similarly, if your town is relatively safe but a neighboring town has a problem with organized or violent crime, you’ll want to include it in your AI.  If they experience a large amount of attacks that suddenly decrease, then maybe criminals have stopped attacking — or maybe they’re moving to your town.  This is going to affect your AO, so it’s of potentially grave interest to you.

Identify the amount of detail required and feasible within the time available for IPB.

What kind of detail do we need in our IPB plan?  Are you conducting IPB to help you form indicators that will trigger your movement to your retreat locale, or is your home your retreat locale?  After conducting IPB you may find that your home is indefensible; but you may also learn from IPB that there are defensive improvements you can make.  You can only get from the IPB process what you put into it so be thorough.

What are your time limitations?  The intelligence element may have as little as a few hours (or shorter!) to conduct IPB on an area ahead of an upcoming operation of a very time sensitive nature.  Other times there could be weeks or longer to complete IPB.  For us, the sooner we complete IPB the better.

Evaluate existing data bases and identify intelligence gaps.

I previously discussed a little about Order of Battle and the study of previous engagements.  We have that information because we collected it from garrisons and the battlefield; and then we stored that information in an intelligence database.  You don’t necessarily need your own intelligence databases and data mining platform, but you do need to consider the characteristics of your potential adversary.

As far as existing data bases go, Google is a great tool.  If the area in which you live already has a gang problem (maybe you’re already familiar with it), just do a search of “gang(s)” and “your town”.  You might run across news articles (the civilian intelligence information report!), blog posts, videos, or other mediums from which you can collect and analyze information.

Another great tool to utilize is www.crimereports.com or one of the other websites like it.  Just type in your address or zip code and you’ll be able to see crime activity and statistics in your area.  This is not at all unlike how we track insurgent activity in Iraq and Afghanistan.  If information is incomplete, utilize other resources.  Another good source could be your local police department.  Ask a detective about crime trends or if local gangs and tactics, techniques, and procedures are migrating.  Maybe your town or part of town doesn’t have a problem with violent crime but maybe those organizations that conduct violent crime are slowly expanding their turf or “shifting fire” to avoid an area saturated with law enforcement.  Their next target could be your own neighborhood.

An intelligence gap is simply information that you’d like to have but don’t.  You may not need to know who the criminals or adversaries are but you’d like to know what weapons they have, what vehicles they drive, and the types of targets they hit.  Another intelligence gap you might want to fill is, from what points around my home can someone see my home?  Where does your adversary have an unobstructed field of view or fire, and where do you have obstructed field of view or fire? Is there an area difficult for you to see but perfect for someone else to view you?

Consider the structures around your home.  What can your neighbors see?  Are your neighbors an asset or liability?  If an asset, would they be willing or able to provide support during a time of crisis?

How many minutes does it take to walk from the highway to your home?  To drive it?  If you received a phone call from a friend down the street who said that a mob was coming through, how much time do you realistically have before they are on your front door step?

Maybe these scenarios are extreme but some Americans – someone, somewhere – might have to deal with the Golden Horde, tribal warfare, thieving masses, or looters.  If you’re like me and you have an almost zero percent chance of the Golden Horde in your backyard, then maybe you prioritize your time a little differently.

Collect the material and intelligence required to conduct the remainder of IPB.

Here we take the questions we couldn’t answer from the previous step and answer them.

Get out and walk around.  View your home or retreat location from multiple angles.  What do you see?  For other intelligence gaps, utilize some of those intelligence databases discussed during the last step.  Use good OPSEC but talk to people.

Part Three is Describing the Battlefield’s Effects. New parts in this series are published on Mondays.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: