IPB: Describe the Battlefield’s Effects

This post is the third in the series on Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield and the Community.  In the previous post, I discussed Defining the Battlefield Environment.  Part Four is Evaluating the Threat.  Part Five is Determining Threat Courses of Action.

1:24k topographical map. Get one of your area. Find significant terrain features (hills, water, bridges, etc.). In this step, we analyze those terrain features and integrate that analysis with our mission statement: the defense of your community and home.

Describe the Battlefield’s Effects.

First, let’s start with the desired end effect, per FM 34-130:

Identify how the battlefield environment influences the operations and COAs of threat and friendly forces.

The consequences of failure are:

The commander will fail to exploit the opportunities that the environment provides.  The threat will find and exploit opportunities in a manner the command did not anticipate.

Our goals are to take the terrain features and human factors we identified in the last step into consideration with our mission statement.  For the purposes of this series, our mission statement is the larger Community Defense Framework.  Describing the battlefield’s effects is purely an analytical step so we should have a complete picture of our operating environment before we describe the battlefield’s effects.

Analyze the battlefield environment.

In an exercise or real world scenario, we’d calculate grades of slopes and delve into some charts to see which tracked and wheeled vehicles would be able to traverse the terrain in question.  For instance, not even four wheeled drive vehicles would be able to drive up the hills shown on our map.  I know this because I know the terrain personally and you would make the same distinction in terrain of your own community.

The best terrain analysis is based on a reconnaissance of the AO and AI.  Identify gaps in knowledge of the terrain which a map analysis cannot satisfy.

Mobility corridors.

We can therefore rule out that vehicles would be able to catch us by surprise by driving over those hills – they’re too steep to traverse.  Similarly, we know that vehicles won’t be driving through a dense forest without a road.  Be sure to do an eyes-on reconnaissance of these areas and find both man-made and natural obstacles.  Man-made obstacles would include fences and walls, irrigation and drainage ditches, small ponds not shown on maps, or buildings not shown on maps.  Be sure to plot obstacles on your map if they aren’t shown.  By ruling out these types of areas for mounted travel, we can focus on identifying most likely avenues of approach (AA) – typically roads.  Be sure to mark roads, both paved and unpaved, on your map.  We assess likely AAs based on what are called, ‘mobility corridors’.  We find mobility corridors by identifying areas where a mounted (vehicle) adversary cannot advance.  I’ve shaded over areas non-permissive to a mounted adversary, which include all our steep hills; as well as a marsh area, which is marked in blue.

That leaves me with some pretty clear cut areas where our mounted enemy can advance, along with roads which are the most obvious and most likely avenues of approach.  In short, anywhere there’s a road is also a mobility corridor.  For the sake of marking our mobility corridors, I’ve included brackets on our map.

If your enemy is on foot (dismounted), then this gets a little more difficult.  Consider your entire area, anything short of vertical cliffs or large bodies of water, as being virtually entirely permissible to dismounted adversaries.  Even then, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  During a scenario where 24/7 security is required (such as where roving thugs or looters are near), you’d probably want to have overhead assets (UAVs, or “drones”) and a static observation post (we’ll cover these in another post).  In the our scenario, dismounted adversaries could approach from nearly any direction but it would be a heck of a hike.

You might be thinking that this is terribly self-explanatory but keep in mind that I chose this map because of it’s simplicity and straight-forwardness.  Maps of your community could be more difficult for conducting the IPB process.  If at any point you have questions or need clarifications, I’m just an email or comment away.

Choke points and engagement areas.

Before we get to identifying AAs, I want to touch a little on choke points.  Choke points are areas where mobility is… choked.  These include bridges – you clog up traffic or create an obstacle on a bridge and you stop movement across.  Be sure that nearby choke points are well within your AI.  Should you need to stop and destroy an approaching adversary, a choke point is a great place for an ambush.  Another choke point on our map is a canyon or canalized area.  A canyon is also excellent ambush terrain, especially if you build fighting positions behind cover and above your target.  Rearward or forward, there are only two ways to move.  If you restrict an adversary’s mobility in one direction and force him to fight through an ambush, you will severely degrade his survivability.

I’ve circled a few of the choke points I could identify from memory or map reading. The smaller circles represent bridges and the larger ovals represent canalized or canyon choke points.  The map of your community, upon having completed these steps, is going to be a great reference for teaching others in the community about what we’re trying to do with the IPB process and Community Defense Framework.

Before we move on to AAs, if there are no choke points in your community then consider what you can do to build choke points.  I’ll cover this topic in a separate post as well.

If there’s one thing we know, it’s that we’d rather engage our adversaries outside of our community, before they can get there.  When analyzing choke points and engagement areas, keep in mind how the terrain affects those areas.  Choke points are generally good engagement areas but engagement areas don’t necessarily have to be choke points.  I’ll cover engagement areas in a separate post.

Avenues of Approach.

Finally we get to identifying AAs.  Much of this step depends on your understanding and expectations of your adversary.  Typically, unless there’s only one feasible way in or out of your AI, it’s better to have more than one AA plotted on your map.  I plotted three – really, the only three ways into town.  In addition, I’ve assigned a number to each AA, representing the likelihood of that AA being used; one being the first most likely.

In order to analyze and commit to ranking each AA’s likelihood, first answer from where your adversary is coming.  If you live to the west of a large city, then your adversaries in a SHTF scenario would probably be coming from the west; so mark that AA number one.  If there’s nothing for 200 miles to the north, you might make that AA the last likely.  You know your area best so only you can make that determination.  One final note on ranking AAs, here in the mountain west many of these passes are going to be snowed over – or roads will be just plain closed – in the winter months.  This makes travel to the grocery store difficult, much less to town through a mountain pass.  Your AA likelihood could very well change depending on the season (unless you live in a place where winter has a negligible effect on everything).

AA#1: A ways to the south is an interstate.  Although this town has a virtually zero percent chance of being overrun (or even approached) by looters or mobs, if you take that interstate and merge onto another interstate, several hours later you’ll arrive at a major metropolitan area.  With the exception of a canyon with a moderate grade, there are no mountain passes and outside of that canyon, there are no choke points.

AA#2: The area’s largest mountain pass is to the west of town.  It’s a drive and a half, even in the summer.  Beyond that pass is a group of smaller farming communities and a city of around 50,000 folks.  I could rate this as the most likely, except the mountain pass is a major deterrent and the areas to the west of that city is a lot more permissible to mobility.  In short, our scenario town is the path of most resistance.

AA#3: There is literally nothing in the way of population for the next 200 miles.  There would be little to no reason for a moving adversary to approach from that direction.

Once you’ve identified all possible AAs, it’s helpful to get another perspective.  An analysis of competing hypotheses (re: opposing viewpoints) could turn up intelligence gaps that would cause you to reconsider your analysis.

FM 34-130 also calls for a weather analysis to be done.  With the exception of how winter snow could affect AAs, I don’t feel that weather is a great factor in IPB for the Community Defense Framework.

Part Four is Evaluate the Threat. New parts in this series are published on Mondays.


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