Combat Intelligence in a Maneuver Environment

by Maj A. C. Bevilacqua, USMC(Ret)

This astute observation on the employment of maneuver to achieve a decisive advantage could be considered as a capsule discourse on maneuver warfare in general. While at first glance it might appear to be an extract from the sudden plethora of contemporary writings on mobile operations and the indirect approach, it is in fact one of the maxims of an American of an earlier time-LtGen Thomas Jonathan Jackson, CSA. Known to history as “Stonewall,” and to his devoted soldiers as “Old Jack,” Jackson, who never ceased seeking to employ this dictum on the battlefield, comes down through the years as one of America’s premier practitioners of the art of maneuver. His Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1862 and his last, greatest success at Chancellorsville the following year are still accepted as classic applications of maneuver in order to, “. . . hurl your entire force against only a part, and that the weakest part, of the enemy and crush it.”

This was Jackson’s appreciation of applying the maximum force at the critical time and placemaneuver not merely to dazzle the enemy but to create the opportunity to utterly and absolutely smash him. Far better than many of his day and ours, Jackson understood maneuver not as an end in itself but as the means to an end. That end being the exercise of tactical initiative in dictating the terms of battle.

A century and more have come and gone since Jackson sent his grey-coated infantry, “Howling,” in the words of one Union officer, “like all the demons from the pit set loose,” against the exposed flank of Gen Oliver O. Howard’s hapless XI Corps in the tangled woodlands below the Rappahannock. The intervening years have witnessed astounding changes in the technology of warfare. Today’s battlefields bear but a faint resemblance to those that Jackson knew so well. Still, the modern commander seeking to utilize maneuver to destroy an enemy remains faced with the same requirement that confronted Jackson as he sat in his last council of war with Lee in the lengthening shadows of a spring evening in 1863. Before the weakest link in the enemy chain can be smashed, it must first be identified and located.

Implications For Combat Intelligence

Thereby hangs the thread that inextricably weaves combat intelligence into the fabric of tactical operations in general and maneuver operations in particular. Perhaps more so than any other form of the military art, maneuver warfare poignantly illustrates that combat intelligence is decidedly not a combat support function. Instead, maneuver warfare provides solid evidence that combat intelligence is an integral component of combat, an element of combat power, and the prime means by which the commander can effectively apply that power at the decisive time and place. The critical areas of maneuver warfare, based upon the terrain to be negotiated and the enemy who must be destroyed, are without exception combat intelligence-dependent. Bereft of combat intelligence in these vital areas, the commander’s decisionmaking is reduced to haphazard guesswork, and maneuver becomes a minuet of the blind.

Yet it may justifiably be argued that these observations are not confined to a maneuver environment but are applicable to all forms of combat. Regardless of the specific form of combat, the commander is universally faced with the need for crucial information concerning the enemy and the environment. Command decisionmaking is a process of analyzing and evaluating risk. In this process, the objective of all combat intelligence is to eliminate or reduce the commander’s unknown risks.

Why, then, should there be any peculiar actions required of the intelligence structure in a maneuver environment if it creates no new or unique decisionmaking concerns for the commander? The answer lies in two distinct areas. First is the tendency of maneuver operations to encourage rnisperceptions of the purposes and procedures of combat intelligence. Second is that maneuver operations can change certain elements of the commander’s decisionmaking process.

Misperceprions and the Altered Combat Environment

Can a simple misperception of the purposes of combat intelligence be a near guarantee of failure? If this misperception exists on the part of the commander who directs the intelligence effort, the intelligence structure could go rocketing off in the wrong direction.

What misperceptions should the commander, or the intelligence officer himself for that matter, be on guard against? There are two such errors, and each is representative of an erroneous assumption of fact. First among these is the idea that the mission of the intelligence structure is to tell the commander what the enemy is doing, rather than what the enemy will be doing in the future. The second misperception can arise from regarding the enemy as a mere target array and considering the mission of the intelligence structure as designating an endless supply of targets for supporting arms.

What is quickly discernible is that in neither case is the command provided combat intelligence that will help resolve his unknown risks in the decisionmaking process. In the midst of an engagement in progress, the enemy situation is a known factor, derived from many battlefield reports. To rivet the efforts of the intelligence structure on this known element means that future enemy situations will remain unknown. Likewise, concentrating the intelligence effort on the acquisition of targets deprives the commander of vital decision-oriented intelligence. This latter condition encourages the enemy to be seen as nothing more than a passive, inert display of targets rather than a dynamic combat entity capable of the free exercise of will.

The potential for further aggravating these conditions is present in the very nature of maneuver operations, which, by their urgency and immediacy, tend to center command and staff attention on the engagement in progress. While this is a natural reaction to known events, it prevents the intelligence structure from looking at the future engagement that may take place this afternoon, tomorrow morning, or the day after. The mission of the intelligence structure in a maneuver environment remains unchanged: to provide the commander with decision-oriented combat intelligence of what the enemy will do at a given time in the future. Combat intelligence, then, is predictive, not reactive, in nature. This observation is especially valid in a maneuver environment where the commander must rapidly shift his thoughts to new missions and objectives.

In evaluating how maneuver operations alter the commander’s decisionmaking process, it is necessary to understand how maneuver operations alter the combat environment itself. In brief, maneuver operations dramatically alter the elements of time and space with which the commander must think, plan, and act.

The conduct of high speed, high intensity tactical operations reduces the time available for the commander’s decisionmaking process on a battlefield, where friendly and enemy forces are separated not only by space but also by time. Fast moving, highly mobile forces can rapidly traverse long distances and quickly shrink the time in which the commander may think, decide, plan, and act. Despite this, the requirement for the commander to arrive at timely, sound decisions remains unchanged.

Along with a reduced dimension of time, maneuver operations simultaneously expand the dimension of space in the employment of combat power and logistical support. The same mobile forces that are capable of such rapid movement can also operate over far larger distances, presenting the commander with much greater areas of influence and interest.

These same alterations to the combat environment that so markedly affect the commander’s decisionmaking process are transmitted directly to the intelligence structure. Simply stated, the intelligence structure will have less time in which to perform the same functions and produce the same material. Time, that most precious and most finite of battlefield commodities, will assume an even greater importance in the conduct of combat intelligence operations.

The increased dimension of space is also immediately transmitted to the intelligence structure. The vastly expanded areas of influence and interest facing the commander will confront the intelligence structure, requiring that the command intelligence effort encompass a far larger geographic area. First, the intelligence structure will be faced with collecting an increased amount of intelligence information from more widely scattered locations. For example, while a static tactical environment may present requirements for intelligence information collection no more than 30 miles forward of friendly forces, in a maneuver operation the collection of intelligence information could be undertaken as much as 300 miles or more in advance of the friendly force.

Operating in an Altered Environment

How does the intelligence structure perform in less time, and how does it produce intelligence of a greater geographic area with no increase in assets? This is the quandary facing the intelligence officer in a maneuver environment. Despite its seeming complexity, the problem is not insoluble.

Quite the contrary, the dilemma of attempting to do more in a shorter time with the same resources can be solved by applying one condition to the other. Specifically, the intelligence officer must use the increased dimension of space to offset the decreased dimension of time. The only way the intelligence structure can offset its reduced time is to extend the range of the intelligence effort in spacewhich automatically extends the commander’s available time.

To find the key in applying space to time, it is necessary to appreciate one of the most basic precepts of combat intelligence-namely, that all combat intelligence is derived from raw intelligence information, and that the resultant combat intelligence will be only as good as the intelligence information on which it is based.

Fundamental to this axiom is the requirement that all intelligence information collection be undertaken only as a planned effort. To fail in this requirement is to run afoul of the incontestable fact that intelligence information exists in staggering quantity and widely disparate quality. The unplanned, random collection of intelligence information in response to vague generalities will invariably result in paralysis due to information overload. Moreover, much of this information may be neither necessary, appropriate, nor accurate, and may or may not address command intelligence objectives and the commander’s unknown risks. Planning for the acquisition of intelligence information, an elementary task in all combat intelligence operations, is the critical element of combat intelligence in a maneuver environment.

With this in mind, it may be seen as necessary that each potential combat mission be analyzed by the commander, the operations officer, and the intelligence officer. This introduction of the intelligence officer into what is essentially the second step in the sequence of command and staff action may seem mildly surprising on face value. However, while it is readily understood that all missions generate tactical objectives, it is not as well appreciated that intelligence objectives are also generated. If these intelligence objectives are to in fact be the intelligence objectives of the command, the intelligence officer should be party to the decisionmaking process from the outset.

The need for the intelligence officer to participate in the analysis of the combat mission is doubly important, since all intelligence objectives are part and parcel of tactical objectives; the two are inseparable, each dependent upon the other. If such a procedure is followed, the intelligence objectives will appear as concise statements of the commander’s unknown risks-determining information requirements, which is the third step in the sequence of command and staff action. Following this process, the intelligence officer has laid down the needed groundwork for future efforts in applying the dimension of space to the dimension of time.

In compensating space for time, think of the commander who constantly evaluates situations in terms of time and space necessary to overcome an enemy force before it can be withdrawn or reinforced. He requires an accurate determination of how far away the enemy is in distance and how long it will take the enemy to make contact. In neither instance will a simple map location suffice. For each enemy force capable of influencing the mission, there must be a careful calculation of distance, which in turn must be converted into an element of time. Given, for instance, a friendly axis and rate of advance, how long will it be before the enemy force will be encountered? Or, given the present location of an enemy unit, how long will it take that unit to reach a position that might impact on the friendly course of action?

To ensure that this element of decisionmaking is available to the commander in time to allow him to act, the collection of intelligence information must be undertaken at far greater range and depth. The intelligence structure must extend its reach beyond the engagement in progress and obtain the information needed for combat intelligence bearing upon the next battle. If the intelligence structure is successful in extending the distance of its operations, it has automatically increased the dimension of time in which to function. Provided that the information thereby collected satisfies the identified intelligence objectives of the command, it will in almost every instance be possible to present the commander with decisionoriented combat intelligence in terms of hours . . . or yes, even days-instead of minutes.

It must be noted, however, that adequately extending the reach of the intelligence structure to overcome the compression of time is dependent upon the available means. Both the range and mobility of information collection agencies are important factors. Presently, aerial multisensor imagery, aerial electronic reconnaissance, and certain national-level overhead systems provide the most practicable means of realizing this requirement. These aerial information collection systems can project the collection effort hundreds of miles forward, shift from one area to another, and subject large areas to scrutiny. These systems represent the best means of stretching the range of the collection effort, and by so doing, expanding the dimension of time.

On the other hand, ground reconnaissance units and other ground-based information collection means are generally lacking in range and mobility. While the advent of the light armored vehicle (LAV) may open new possibilities in the employment of ground-based collection agencies, it must be recognized that, at present, these kinds of collection agencies are constrained to predominantly static roles. The employment of groundbased information collection agencies in depth will offer the best method of offsetting their inherent lack of mobility and range. In this fashion, amoving enemy force no longer within range of one collection element may be picked up by another and surveillance maintained.

It becomes apparent that the careful planning of the intelligence effort, with special emphasis on the collection of intelligence information, is the only guarantee of success. This requirement is fundamental to intelligence operations in any environment. But then, so much of all combat is basics, isn’t it? Regardless, if these fundamentals are provided for, the resulting collection effort will be able to trade space for time in a manner not usually associated with that term.

The Need for Conclusions

Eventually, as in all forms of combat, but particularly in a maneuver environment, the intelligence structure must present the commander with decision-oriented combat intelligence in the form of conclusions. These conclusions must state with reasonable accuracy what the enemy will do at a given time in the future.

However, the necessity for conclusions runs headlong into one of the most enduring arguments of the intelligence profession: should conclusions be strictly confined to enemy capabilities or should there be an appraisal of intentions in addition?

Or is it possible that there is an alternative consideration? Namely, that the argument is predominantly one of semantics.

The point has already been made that the enemy is an independent being with a will of his own. Further, the enemy is free to exercise his will and is not confined to one course of action. Of those capabilities available to the enemy, the one that will eventually be executed will be the one favored by time, space, terrain, and the situation. To identify this action, it is once again necessary to view the enemy situation as it will exist in the future, since it is for the future, not the present, that the commander must plan.

Can this be done? Provided that the proper steps have been taken to collect the intelligence information needed, the answer is always, yes. The enemy situation as it existed yesterday and as it exists now-the engagement in progress, expanded by the latest intelligence information collected in depthbecomes the basis for projecting the future enemy situation. In predicting future courses of action, the key lies in recognizing that the enemy will almost invariably undertake that course of action for which he has prepared. The constant question-and the central theme of the intelligence effort is this: What tactical activity is the enemy making preparations for?

What will the enemy do in the future? He will do what he is preparing for in the present. No military activity occurs spontaneously from a vacuum. Every tactical action requires certain logical, predictable, and identifiable preparations. If enemy preparations can be identified, the capability to be executed will be identified accordingly. Provided with an identification of the enemy’s future tactical actions, the commander can successfully compare his own future course of action with that of the enemy in reaching a combat decision.

It would seem that the argument of capabilities and intentions may very well be more one of semantics than substance. A carefully planned and properly conducted intelligence effort can unfailingly provide the commander with sound conclusions concerning the future enemy situation. In a maneuver environment such an effort is a precondition to success. Without it, the commander must be willing to accept an alternative spelling of maneuver-m-u-d-d-l-e.