IPB: Determine Threat Courses of Action

This post is the fifth and last in the series on Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield and the Community (we did it!).  In the previous post, I discussed Evaluate the Threat.  The entire collection of posts will be published in an updated, PDF ebook and will be available for download in the Library.

Determine Threat Courses of Action.

Threat Courses of Action (COA) are simply what the enemy could do.  We will identify a few options they’re likely to be considering and attempt to forecast what the enemy will do and where he will do it.

The consequences of failure are:

You will fail to identify which of the possible COAs the threat has chosen, leading to surprise of the friendly command.

Let’s start with the end state of the adversary’s will.  What are they trying to achieve?  Is the local gang knocking off houses or is there a full-scale Golden Horde ‘zombie’ invasion?  They may not have defined their objectives beyond the next three steps but we still need to identify and define their likely goal.  When we don’t know for a fact their end goal, then we must identify all their possible goals.

Identify the full set of COAs available to the threat.

In the previous post in this series, we discussed doctrine, or the set of a defined game plan or strategies. (Click here for a refresher.)  Foreign forces have doctrine, our own military has doctrine, law enforcement has doctrine, and so will mobs, thugs, looters, and other criminals.  Mobs, thugs, looters, and other criminals have doctrine because we’ve recorded numerous instances of the same actions in the same or similar event.  Whereas, with a military commander or insurgent cell, we might say that he is willing or unwilling to do ‘x’ (where ‘x’ is a specific tactic, target, or other action) because of what we’ve observed him do in this instance in the past – doctrine.

We could assume, for instance, that the Leroy Jenking Gang (LJG; as we established in the previous IPB post) opts for the houses with two car garages and he attacks them very early in the morning.

Let’s bring up the map we made in IPB: Describe the Battlefield Effects (part three) that shows the enemy’s likely avenues of approach (AA).  There are three ways into this town; only two of which are a real viable option because the route to the north goes through some very rough territory – and that road is closed all winter long.  So here we have a few mobility corridors (in brackets) and AA#1 and AA#2 (in order of likelihood).  As a reminder, the grey areas are very tall hills and mountains that deny wheeled mobility (even to four wheeled drive); and the blue is a marshy area, through which no one is driving.  (AA#3 requires a bridge to go over the marsh; and if you deny that terrain then you deny entry through at AA.)

On the near side of AA#1 and AA#2, you’ll see that we have only one real way into this town, but each AA comes from a completely geographically different place in the area.

The LJG has been very active in the small town to the south but they’ve recently stopped raiding homes in that community.  As an astute observer, I could presume and prepare for the event that they are busy preparing for their next objective: my town.

For this scenario, Leroy Jenkins has persuaded others to join his gang, fancies himself a bit of a warlord now, and keeps a low profile by leading from the rear.  He now drives around in an up-armored Cadiallac STS and has equipped his gang with monster trucks and RPGs (let’s have some fun here).  Because his doctrine has changed, I would definitely want to update it.  If I’m acting as an intelligence element for the local militia, an auxiliary of local law enforcement, or just a community leader, this is information I disseminate to those who need to know – which could be darn near everyone.

I know that they will likely be traveling from the south on AA#1 (which provides ample kill box / engagement areas because of the canalizing qualities of the terrain); I know that they will likely be mounted in trucks (based on updated doctrine); and that he, in an attempt to legitimize himself as a warlord, is going to take and hold my town (assumption).  This is COA #1.

I make that assumption based on the doctrine of other warlords or nefarious militia leaders.  An assumption is alright to make when it’s all you have; here, it’s a necessary assumption even if it’s not exactly correct.  Remember, you don’t always have to be right but you can never be dead wrong.

COA #2 is that he has unexpectedly halted all operations because he’s run out of supplies, out of thugs, or out of targets.  The LJG knocked off that ammo store two weeks ago, so it’s doubtful that he’s low on ammunition or gear; and if he was short on other staples, then he would have likely just stolen them by now. We haven’t heard news of any arrests or gang deaths (and we normally do), so it’s doubtful that he’s short on hands.  If we rely solely on doctrine, it’s entirely possible that the LJG has robbed all homes with two car garages in their current town.  Additionally, we know that law enforcement from other areas are aiding in Leroy’s apprehension; and that area has likely become heavily saturated with police officers.

Alternate COAs (#3, #4) are that the LJG will dismount from their vehicles to climb the mountains and capture the town; or that he’s merely traveling through my town to reach a larger town a few hours to the north.  Those are less likely scenarios but in this step we want to consider them all.

Ideally, we want to satisfy five criteria when discussing COAs: suitability, feasibility, acceptability, uniqueness, and consistency with doctrine.

Suitability – does it suit the adversary’s goals?  Feasibility – is it within the adversary’s resources and capabilities? Acceptability – are the risks, losses, or rewards acceptable to the adversary?  Uniqueness – is the COA clearly unique and different than every other COA?  Consistency – have we known the adversary to do this before; is it consistent with the adversary’s overall intent?

Like any good little intelligence element, I’ve drawn a chart so we can easily see all the COAs and how our criteria applies to them.  If there are numerous COAs, I would suggest that you do the same thing.  Here we see that only two of the COAs are likely; the rest are less likely or unlikely.

Additional considerations.

We could make additional considerations that could affect the likelihood of the least likely COAs.  For instance, maybe the National Guard or a local militia has cleared LJG’s town and forced him out, which could increase the likelihood of the least likely COAs.  Perhaps Leroy Jenkins suspects that I’ve a good IPB analysis of my town, that we’re hard as a rock and that he stands no chance, which could increase the likelihood of the least likely COAs.  We could spell out a few more additional considerations but I’m satisfied with the work so far and I think we’ve largely covered all the bases.  Think outside the box but be careful not to include too many off-the-wall COAs.  For instance, I could have said that COA#5 is that the LJG have acquired helicopters from which they’ll dump gasoline on our homes and burn them down.  It’s so unlikely that I didn’t include it.

Evaluate and prioritize each COA.

For the sake of simplicity, I completed this step along with the last one.  You can do these two steps separately or together.

Develop each COA in the amount of detail time allows.

If we received a phone call from the local sheriff or militia leader that said the LJG had fled their town and will be in our town within a few hours, then we need to complete (or ideally have already completed) developing our likely COAs.

Here we define the what, when, where, how and why of the COA.  The LJG is most likely going to be mounted and advancing through AA#1 likely no later than 1800 hours this evening (6:00pm) but likely not before than 1600 (4:00pm).  That’s a pretty clear window and only gives us a couple hours to prepare.  In a future post, I’ll discuss how to set up and employ a Quick Reaction Force (aka QRF; we may need to give it a more… community-friendly name).  You’ll want to activate your QRF and use your knowledge of the terrain, prepared defenses, and kill boxes / engagement areas to deny the adversary from entering the town.

FM 34-130 goes on with building situational templates, which are meant for larger maneuver elements.  We don’t need to go into them.


At this point, wrapping up the IPB process, we want to take time to consider the Most Likely Course of Action (MLCOA) and the Most Dangerous Course of Action (MDCOA).  Identifying these are useful for commanders or community leaders to help assess the consequences of enemy action.

The MLCOA is that the LJG will advance from the south, mounted in pick up trucks, heavily armed, and will begin attacking homes with two car garages.

The MDCOA is that the LJG will advance from several directions, including taking positions on the mountains beside the town, with heavy weapons and engage the town from multiple directions; while the main brunt enters through the north (fixing and exploiting forces).

Use your best judgement and cover all the bases.  After conducting IPB on your community, you will be in a much better position to understand how the battlespace will affect enemy choices and the dynamics of their attacks.

This concludes the series on Intelligence Preparation fo the Battlefield.  If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments section.  In the next week, I’ll publish this manual in a downloadable PDF for wider consumption.  Here’s a link back to the IPB Overview.



  1. Jay says:

    Another great post from a great series. I really enjoyed the military analysis of a civilian combat situation. Keep it up, more how-to’s and practical articles like this would be greatly appreciated.


    • Partisan says:

      Hey Jay – Thank you for reading! As long as we have readers like you, we’ll keep writing. We have some stuff in the pipeline that I think you’ll be into. If in the future you have any questions or requests, please do let us know! We’re here for you! – Partisan

      • Jay says:

        Looks like you’ll be writing for a long time then! I’ve read through all of your archives and truly enjoy the articles. Keep on keepin’ on my friend, you have a great blog going.

  2. Grenadier1 says:

    Very nice series.
    I learned a great bit. Do you happen to have a format for creating spreadsheets that you use for these processes?
    Might be a good thing to put together a file with a template that we could download and utilize.

    • Samuel Culper III says:

      Grenadier1 – Thank you for reading. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I don’t have any templates other than the one I posted but your point is a good one. Perhaps I’ll start a library and post some links to download those templates.

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