Improving Intelligence Support to Combat Aviation
by Captain Jeffrey A. Steel
The S2s in AH-64 Apache battalions have clear-cut,
critical roles during mission planning through intelligence
preparation of the battlefield and time analysis. However, they
often play little or no role during mission execution. During the
battle, they tend to remain in the rear at the tactical operations
center (TOC), attempting to listen in on the forward fight. By
taking a more active part in the mission, and actually flying in
the air tactical command post (ATAC) in a UH-60 command and control
(C2) aircraft, they can provide better support to the mission and
play a key role in its execution.
Command and Control
Attack aviation units use several techniques for C2. This article
focuses on those techniques using an ATAC. It does not argue
whether "commander in the cockpit" or "commander in the ATAC" is
better. Consider three common methods of C2 using an ATAC:
All three methods provide for depth in operational control and
mission expertise at every C2 node. Unfortunately, many units
seldom implement the same careful thought when dealing with
intelligence and employ the S2 on the ground far to the rear.1
- Commander in an Apache and the S3 in the ATAC.
- Commander in the ATAC and the S3 in the ground-based TOC.
- Commander in ATAC #1 and the S3 in ATAC #2.
In most attack aviation battalions, the S2 stays behind in the TOC.
He attempts to monitor the battalion operations and intelligence
(O&I) net, fire support nets, and his higher headquarters' O&I net.
The S2 also consolidates, processes, and disseminates information
forward and to higher headquarters. This may sound like quite a
bit, but very little actually occurs until gun-tapes processing
when the aircraft return.
Several problems exist in this method of S2 employment. The S2
cannot monitor many C2 and flight operations radio nets because
most TOCs currently have no ultrahigh frequency and very-high
frequency communications capability. Even if adequate radios are
available, the distances and terrain involved often take the
aircraft out of radio range, especially when the unit does not
dedicate a helicopter to relay functions.
The commander and S3 on the ATAC, along with his fire support
officer (FSO), often have trouble monitoring all the radio nets
they should. Frequently the unit cannot spare a channel for use as
an O&I net. These difficulties result in the S2's failing to
contribute more than simple battle damage assessment (BDA) and
information transfer to the mission after take-off. When the
commander and S3 need S2 assistance, they must call to the rear for
an analysis based on what is most often incomplete data.2
While undergoing the challenges of the Combat Maneuver Training
Center (CMTC) near Hohenfels, Germany, the 2-1 Aviation
Battalion overcame the problems described above by placing S2
assets as far forward as possible.3 Full employment of intelligence
personnel is the basis for this technique. The S2 section
noncommissioned officer (NCO) in charge (NCOIC) remains in the
ground-based TOC, fills the role of the S2, and monitors the "big
picture." The S2 flies with the fire support officer (FSO) and
commander or S3 in the ATAC. Fully integrated and trained threat
officers (pilots) fly with the companies.4,5
Expertise in the Right Place
When the Apache battalion S2 accompanies the ATAC forward,
communications and teamwork improve. Most importantly, having the
S2 in the ATAC places intelligence expertise where it makes
a difference. The S2's expertisecontributes timely
assistance where and when the units need it the most.
FM 101-5, Staff Organization and Operations, states
"The most important function of the staff is to provide the
commander timely, accurate, and critical information. The
integration of staff functions will assist the commander in
synchronizing combat power at the right place, at the right
time during the course of battle."
By having the S2 in the ATAC, the commander has his expertise where
he needs it most, contributing timely assistance directly to the
commander and the S3 during the battle. The S2 processes
information on the spot and can confer directly with the commander,
S3, and FSO.
During any mission, the S2 is immediately on hand to advise the
unit on the meaning of reports and where best to concentrate flight
information collection assets. If the S2 is on the ground in the
rear, he can only compile the selected reports that overworked
flight crews have time to send back. The S2 cannot process data and
track aircraft movements without a constant stream of transmissions
in both directions. This becomes just an extra burden on the
From his forward position, the S2 has better communications with
all elements concerned. Due to radio monitoring options of the
ATAC, the S2 requires no O&I net and the unit can conserve a radio
frequency. The S2 can get his information first hand by monitoring
any or all flight nets.
Not only can the S2 fulfill his own communication and information
needs but he can also act as a second set of ears for the commander
and S3. They may have to monitor up to four nets on a standard
UH-60 configuration, or up to seven on a special C2 aircraft.
Often it is beyond human ability to monitor and fully
comprehend so many simultaneous transmissions. The S2 can assist
with monitoring and identifying key pieces of information.8
Finally, it reduces the number of transmissions because the S2 can
process data in the ATAC, only transmitting critical information
to the rear.
Depth and Survivability
Redundancy and duplication of skills assure depth for function and
survivability. With the S2 forward, the S2 section members are
active at all levels and at all C2 nodes:
There are always intelligence experts present when and where an
echelon requires their skills. The loss of any one C2 node, even
the ATAC, will not fatally cripple the unit's intelligence
- S2 in the ATAC.
- S2 NCOs at the TOC.
- Threat officers with each forward company commander.
Team building is another advantage of fully employing the S2
section that goes beyond the tactical arena. Too often in aviation
units, ground personnel develop a different group identity from
that of flight personnel. Another group separation occurs between
the planners and the executors. Whether the S2 is an aviator or
not, this procedure draws the S2 section closer into the mission it
spends so much energy planning. S2 personnel will have better
knowledge of the air crews' information requirements and realize
what intelligence the crews are capable of providing.
When S2 section members accompany a mission, they gain intimate
insight into the concerns, problems, and methods of the flight
crews. Simultaneously, the S2 personnel now become accessible team
members to the aviators. They inevitably will feel closer to the
mission and the persons flying it. Crews will appreciate the
more personalized service. They will not see the S2 as simply
a staff officer, locked in the TOC with no knowledge of the real
The attack aviation battalion S2 can contribute significantly
during flight mission execution by placing himself forward with the
commander and S3 in the ATAC. By doing so, the unit gains
significantly in communications, teamwork, depth, and
synchronization. Communications will not hamper the S2's
information. His location will make access to his expertise easy
for the unit. Overall, the S2 will be a key member of the team.
1. FM 1-112, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures
for the Attack Helicopter Battalion, February 1991.
2. Major Mark Valentine, Executive Officer, 2-1
Aviation Battalion, 1993-1995, interviews by author.
3. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver H. Hunter III,
Commander, 2-1 Aviation Battalion, 1993-1995, interviews by author.
4. Chief Warrant Officer Two Steve Middaugh,
Senior Threat Officer, 2-1 Aviation Battalion, 1993-1995,
interviews by author.
5. Sergeant First Class Francis Rhiel, S2 NCOIC,
2-1 Aviation Battalion, 1992-1995, interviews by author.
6. FM 101-5, Staff Organization and Operations,
7.FM 34-8, Combat Commander's Handbook on
Intelligence, September 1992.
8. Hunter, interviews with author.
9. FM 100-5, Operations, June 1993.
10. FM 22-102, Soldier Team Development, March
Captain Steel is currently the Chemical Branch
Assistant Team Chief at the U.S. Army Readiness Group-Pittsburgh in
Oakdale, Pennsylvania. He previously served as the battalion S2 for
the 2-1 Aviation Battalion in Katterbach, Germany. He attended
three CMTC rotations and evaluated the S2 section of the first
24-ship Apache Aviation Restructuring Initiative Battalion. Readers
can contact him at (412) 777-1267 or DSN 242-1267.