Back to the Basics: The Battalion S2
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department ofDefense, or the U.S. Government.
The most important mission of combat battalion S2s is to provide their commanders enough timely information to allow them to make critical decisions on the battlefield. While in the field, this mission far outweighs all others. If the S2 succeeds, the battalion is almost always successful; if the S2 fails, the battalion is almost certainly doomed to defeat and the unnecessary loss of American lives. As the lowest echelon of tactical intelligence, the battalion S2 has the most direct influence on the basic building blocks of tactical warfare: platoons, companies, and the battalion task force (TF).
Bearing this in mind, the battalion S2 must have access to and the support of higher intelligence channels and products. However, while potentially useful, intelligence from higher echelons is not always responsive or accurate enough for battalion or lower level operations. (At the National Training Center (NTC), practically all of the opposing force's (OPFOR) intelligence comes from scouts not from the electronic warfare (EW) platforms at higher echelons or secondary imagery dissemination systems.) The picture the chief of reconnaissance develops comes from spot reports, a map, and an alcohol pen: the most basic low-technology approach. Battalion S2s owe it to their commanders and the soldiers they support to be able to provide enough information about the enemy disposition to allow their commanders to make correct and timely decisions with the assets they have on hand and nothing else. In order to do this, the S2 must go back to the basics.
Battalion Rules of Employment
Regardless of the make-up or control of a battalion TF's scout platoon, certain rules of employment should not be broken. Seven of these rules follow.
- Scouts are reconnaissance assets. They are the "lookers," not the "killers." When scouts die, the S2 looses eyes and potentially valuable information. Commanders should always minimize the scouts' killing role during the counterreconnaissance fight unless they want to be surprised the next day.
- Scout platoon leaders are (or should be) the subject matter experts on employment of the platoon. They must be integral players during any reconnaissance and surveillance (R&S) or counterreconnaissance planning. They know who the strong and weak crews are and limitations of the soldiers and the equipment. The scout platoon leaders should be graduates of the Scout Platoon Leader Course (SPLC) at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and must be given the time to practice their skills as much as possible. Scouting skills are perishable.
- Battalion S2s should control and task the scout platoon. They should also be SPLC graduates (if possible) so that they know the capabilities and limitations of the battalion's only taskable intelligence-gathering asset. Allow the S2s to train with the scouts and practice their skills as much as possible. The scouts' skills of identifying the enemy and his equipment are also perishable.
- Plan for battalion reconnaissance throughout the sector. This may stretch scout assets and may necessitate sending individual vehicles rather than sections to observation post (OP) locations. Plan to have battalion eyes cover the critical named areas of interest that answer the battalion commander's priority intelligence requirements (PIR). Do not rely on higher echelons to do it for you. Have a plan for redundant coverage of critical areas and a plan for the repositioning of assets to replace ones who die.
- Dismount! Scouts should fill dismounted OPs at least a few hundred meters from their vehicles. A vehicle is much easier to find and kill than one or two scouts with PRC-77 or PRC-126 radios.
- Ensure the S2 can talk to the furthest scout from the tactical operations center (TOC). Plan for and use a radio retransmission system. Be sure to bring the signal officer into the R&S planning process.
- Enforce communications security. You would not believe the amount of information given in the clear over friendly forces' scout nets. Practice passing information over unsecure communications nets. Use good brevity codes and secure communications.
These are just a few of the basics. Few are taught at the intelligence school. Battalion-level operations were presented only during the MI Officer Transition Course and, I assume, the MI Officer Basic Course. Since many of the MI Officer Advanced Course (MIOAC) graduates will go on to become battalion S2s, perhaps it would be a good idea to incorporate the tactical level of planning and operations into that course. Either that or create a battalion S2 course that stresses what they should know and do, and teach it to prospective S2s just before they go off to their new units. As a battalion S2, I would have been better served by taking the Transition Course after the MIOAC so that the information presented there would have been fresher in my mind. Regardless of where one learns the rules of employment, either in school or through experience, there are specific things to consider depending on the type of operation being conducted.
Movement to Contact
By nature, a movement to contact must be flexible although not unpredictable. The intelligence officer must template likely avenues of approach and the most likely areas of defensible terrain, where the enemy may stop and set up a hasty defense to await his still moving opponent. This type of battle, dubbed the "movement to hasty defense," is becoming popular at the NTC. The commander must have a plan to counter any possible enemy courses of action (COAs) throughout the zone of attack. The R&S plan must provide coverage throughout the zone to give the commander enough time to prepare for whichever option the enemy executes.
The keys to the movement to contact reconnaissance fight are as follows:
Above all, the S2 must be able to communicate with all the scouts throughout the entire depth of the battlefield.
- Speed the scouts in; they are less likely to be caught while moving by enemy scouts or counterreconnaissance teams.
- Push assets to the objective or until the enemy assembly area or laager site is found (depth). If the laager is located early enough, certain COAs can be invalidated and the S2 may have to redistribute reconnaissance assets in depth. Make the R&S plan flexible enough to take this into account.
- Keep dismounted OPs close to vehicles. They may have to remount quickly if the vehicle has to "shadow" the enemy force throughout the zone.
- Make certain the scouts know the maneuver plan. They can predict where the battle will to take place and suggest options to the commander. They can also vector friendly forces to exposed enemy flanks or weak spots.
- Ensure the S2 knows the maneuver plan and look for the critical pieces of information. For example, if the criteria to commit the main body in the north is the commitment of the enemy's second TF in the south, the S2 can focus his attention on those assets that can see deep to the north and south.
- Incorporate the scouts into the indirect fire plan. Make sure that scouts know which targets are in their areas of responsibility. This would be especially critical during the deep fight when scouts provide the only eyes on deep targets.
- Tell the scouts the locations of the friendly family of artillery scatterable mines (FASCAM), chemical strikes, etc. This is self-explanatory.
- Track the enemy by teams or companies. When facing an enemy motorized rifle battalion, track motorized rifle companies (MRCs). Do not get wrapped up about tracking a "doctrinal" 10 tanks and 31 BMP armored personnel carriers. Just find all the MRCs and the numbers will take care of themselves. Reports on MRCs rather than numbers of vehicles also take up less time on crowded command nets.
During the defense, the scouts must be incorporated into (not solely responsible for) the counterreconnaissance plan. Doctrinally, the S3 is responsible for planning and executing the counterreconnaissance fight, but the S2 plays a big part in it. The counterreconnaissance plan must be coordinated in detail among the S2, the S3, the fire support officer (FSO), the scout platoon leader, and any commander supplying troops to the counterreconnaissance fight. The following are four key elements of the counterreconnaissance.
OP Positions For Scouts. Scouts should be delegated to the "hunter" role as much as possible. "Killer" teams should be employed to kill enemy reconnaissance vehicles. The S2 must ensure that the scout platoon leader has the frequencies of the unit providing the killer force. Allowing the scouts to directly vector in the killer teams is much more efficient and responsive than is coordinating through the TOC. The S2 must monitor the battle, however, in order to track enemy reconnaissance strength and discern the enemy reconnaissance plan (if any).
Limited Visibility Plan. Scouts should be assigned to conduct patrols of choke points through which enemy reconnaissance vehicles must traverse. Patrols can be covert or overt. Covert patrols are best conducted with thermal-sight-equipped vehicles, either individually or in sections. These vehicles can set ambush positions along their patrol routes. Enemy BMPs sometimes conduct overt patrols using searchlight drills to seek our reconnaissance vehicles along constricted terrain.
This also has the effect of causing friendly reconnaissance to go to ground. OP positions should also be shifted or collapsed to account for their limited observation range in darkness or other conditions of low visibility.
Illumination Plan. Indirect illumination support should be coordinated beforehand with the FSO. Illumination should be both on call and fired according to a fixed, but unpredictable schedule to ensure constant illumination within the scouts' area of observation. Nothing will ruin a stealthy scout's night more than an illumination round popping above him. Plan illumination points over choke points and likely infiltration routes.
Reporting Plan Scouts and the "killer" teams should know their positions and responsibilities in relation to each other. Once an OP picks up an enemy scout, it should know who will pick up contact once the enemy moves out of its observation range. A contact should be tracked until it is killed. If a contact is lost between assets, the TOC (which should have been monitoring all along) can detail other assets to search for and kill the enemy, or at least template where the enemy will emerge or has gone to ground.
The key to defensive battles is to keep eyes alive throughout sector and track enemy movements into the main defensive area while denying him "eyes on" your own defensive preparations. Coordination among the S2, S3, maneuver commander, and FSO is critical for success in the counterreconnaissance battle. No one staff officer or commander should be left alone to fight it.
Conducting an attack against a defending enemy is where the battalion or TF S2 can most visibly make a difference. If time permits, the information from the scouts can aid in constructing a good picture of the situation leading to more informed decisions. The defending enemy is hindered by the same elements that make him stronger: his static positions. While giving him strength, these positions dictate where he will fight and telegraph his intentions if observed. Without fully successful counterreconnaissance fights, the enemy must always assume we know where he is and what he will do. It only takes a little information, properly interpreted, to discern the enemy defensive plan. Key elements for reconnaissance in the offense include the following eight elements.
Plan initial reconnaissance throughout the sector. Do not sell yourself on one enemy COA. Plan for your reconnaissance assets to observe throughout the sector and all probable enemy COAs. The area you discount may very well be where the enemy is planning to defend.
Plan to use dismounted OPs. Just one two-soldier OP team can provide all the information needed to plan an attack. A counterreconnaissance effort that destroys all of the known enemy reconnaissance vehicles may well overlook one or two dismounted teams. Ensure that OPs have the means to talk back to the TOC and make sure they have enough supplies to last through the duration.
Know what to look for. Many analysts do not know what an actual defensive position or battle position looks like on the ground. S2s, analysts, and scouts should be given the opportunity to either take part in or observe defensive preparation. They should know how to plan and site individual fighting positions, and how to combine them with others to create a kill zone or "fire sack." Often, one or two holes (vehicle fighting positions) being dug can allow for correct templating of an entire TF defensive plan. Holes are not mobile. They are usually too time-intensive to dig to be part of a deception blade hours are too valuable to waste. Likewise, complex wire obstacles are not likely to be moved. Holes and more than single-strand wire obstacles will lock in a suspected enemy template.
Ensure spot reports are complete. Reports on holes must contain orientation, what is digging them, and what is "proofing" the hole (tank, infantry fighting vehicle, etc.). Reports on obstacles must contain type, length, orientation, lanes through or bypasses, and if any overwatch forces are present. Reports of laager sites should contain composition of the force and if the enemy is conducting any rehearsals. A laager to the rear of prepared positions could be a reserve; movement to parts of the battlefield and back to the laager show where commitment of the reserve is planned.
Account for all subelements of the enemy force (MRCs or teams). Company-size elements will have semi-independent missions (their own battle positions or a reserve mission, for example) and are easier to track than platoons or individual vehicles. The enemy will also likely reposition whole companies at a time rather than smaller elements.
Require exacting detail at the planned point of penetration. Once the decision is made to attack a certain point of the enemy's defense, concentrate your reconnaissance assets on that point. A large-scale sketch of all enemy vehicle or fighting positions, as well as the obstacles in the area, is invaluable in the final planning process. I do offer you this warning: do not become fixated on this point. Maintain eyes throughout the sector. Plans can change, and the enemy can and does reposition his forces.
Know what you do not or cannot see. Identify gaps in your intelligence picture and attempt to fill them by repositioning assets. Template what you do not see in the worst possible light that is probably exactly what the enemy is doing.
Ask questions. Do not assume your scouts can see over the ridge or into the draw. Ask them if they can, and ask while there is still time to correct any problems (this usually means before the sun comes up). Ask for updates on new forces, compositions, and anything that does not make sense. The information is almost always out there; it is your responsibility to ask the question so that the answer is in a form you can use. There is always more information to gather about an enemy defense. Although you may be able to make a successful plan with a 70-percent solution, always strive for the total picture. The more you know, the better off you will be. Keep the commander constantly informed of new information that may change the complexion of the enemy's plan. Do not, however, burden him with details that will not alter his decision. A water buffalo laager may indicate a static support area and help to confirm your template, but the commander does not need to know that over the command net as he is approaching his chosen point of penetration.
Be flexible in your thinking on enemy defensive doctrine. Do not force incoming information to fit your preconceived template of what is right. Apply the common sense rule: if it makes sense and it can adversely affect you during your attack, that is probably exactly what he is doing. Give your enemy the credit he is due.
Today's combat battalion S2 must be the master of the asset he can actually control: the battalion scout platoon. He must intimately know their capabilities and limitations and be able to exploit these to their full advantage. The S2 must know what the commander expects of him and when it is expected. Few combat arms commanders will be impressed with fancy R&S graphics or overhead imagery reports when it is time to cross the line of departure if they do not have a good feel for the enemy. Your responsibility is to give the commander that knowledge of the enemy and, if you cannot give that to him with your own assets, you may very well disappoint him someday.
Commanders owe it to their S2s to verbalize their expectations of their intelligence officers early on. They must also realize that not all S2s will have the same experience they do when it comes to combat operations. The commander may have to familiarize new S2s with basic combat operations. Although the S2 may be school-trained, things look very different on the ground.
Intelligence from higher echelons is good and sometimes necessary, but national assets get retasked, good communications security defeats or deceives EW assets, and bad weather grounds unmanned aerial vehicles. G2s and brigade S2s have a much bigger piece of real estate to worry about than just your TF sector.
The battalion S2 is responsible for telling his commander what is in front of him, what he is going to have to fight and kill, and telling him in enough detail to allow him to accomplish his mission with a minimum loss of soldiers' lives. To be assured of accomplishing this mission, the battalion S2 must be a master of the basics and a master of his organic reconnaissance assets. The price of depending on what you cannot control may be too high to pay.
Captain Fuss is currently at the Defense Language Institute in the Presidio of Monterey, California. He has served as an Assistant Brigade S2 (OPFOR); OPFOR Regimental Chief of Reconnaissance; and Commander, Detachment C, 203d MI Battalion (Technical Intelligence). He has a bachelor of science degree from the U.S. Military Academy in Foreign Area Studies. Readers can contact him via E-mail at Scubafuss@aol.com.