Intelligence Collection

For Pen Box Operations

by Captain Mark J. Leszczak 

The 1st Cavalry Division uses the penetration box (Pen Box) concept to focus the resources required to penetrate the enemy's defenses at the critical point on the battlefield, as designated by the division commander. The maneuver brigade commander who is assigned the Pen Box mission further refines the area of penetration to sustain the division's momentum in the attack. The end-state is the rapid penetration of the enemy's defenses and the destruction of his forces within the Pen Box.

The Pen Box Team

The 1st Cavalry Division's plans and targeting team is the nucleus for the development, refinement, and execution of the Pen Box. The team, collectively called the "Deep Operations Cell," includes representatives from all BOS elements. They ensure that their respective resources are planned for and incorporated into the synchronization plan to provide maximum lethal effects at the zone of penetration. They must also consider the protection of those assets involved in Pen Box operations.

The G2 section, including the Analysis and Control Element (ACE) plays a significant role in the Deep Operations Cell. Successful management of intelligence assets, which is the responsibility of the division's collection manager (CM), contributes immensely to the success or failure of the Pen Box.

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Figure 1. Timetable of Key Events in 1st Cavalry Division Pen Box Operations.

The Pen Box is a product of the tactical decisionmaking process (TDMP) wargame. The development process begins approximately 72 to 48 hours prior to the initiation of Pen Box operations. Both the initial intelligence information collection effort and the position areas (PAs) for the artillery emplacement are identified to support the fires associated with the penetration box. These PAs also influence the scheme of maneuver and the development of force protection measures for all critical assets. The priority intelligence requirements (PIR) associated with the Pen Box impact the development of the division collection plan and initial Intelligence Synchronization Matrix.

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Figure 2. Tasking of Collection Assets in Phase I.

Pen Box Operations

The key events in 1st Cavalry Division Pen Box operations follow a rough timetable that I have summarized in Figure 1. From H-hour minus 48 hours to 36 hours (H-48 to H-36), the targeting team begins to adjust the location of the Pen Box, based on intelligence gathered as part of the deep effort. The 48- and 24-hour looks at the targets of the deep fight provide us with the ability to see the enemy in the expected Pen Box. With this information, the division can adjust the collection effort or scheme of maneuver as needed to support the expected location of the Pen Box. The key to this phase is to identify quickly which assets at theater, corps, or division are required to improve our picture of the Pen Box, especially those assets that require long-range adjustment and coordination such as the combat observation lasing team (COLT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT). At the same time, the targeting team plans air interdiction (AI) and other deep actions to remove the enemy's ability to affect the Pen Box.

From H-36 to H-24, the collection effort focuses on confirming the enemy disposition and the effective emplacement of collection assets. The division Pen Box team coordinates with the maneuver brigades for the aerial emplacement of COLT teams and any additional deep collection assets. This emplacement is best done in conjunction with the division's deep attack, conducted between H-24 and H-12.

During this same timeframe (H-36 to H-24), the targeting team conducts a subsequent review, refining its deep plans and the identification of AI targets. Initial close air support (CAS) allocations developed for maneuver units are published in the Air Tasking Order (ATO). Also, the brigade targeting team begins its initial input to the Pen Box process. The brigade team begins to identify initial Pen Box locations and to nominate targets that will require division resources to locate.

Between H-24 to H-12, the targeting team focuses on building an initial synchronization timeline for execution. CAS allocation is finalized for maneuver units based on any adjustments to the ATO. The maneuver brigade tasked with the Pen Box mission must refine the zone to the desired area of ten kilometers by ten kilometers. The intent here is not to obtain a perfect square box but to allow the division to focus the collection effort on the projected zone of penetration to support our scheme of maneuver and the targeting process.

At H-12, the Pen Box team meets to finalize the synchronization of all assets operating in support of the Pen Box operation. The team also meets at H-8 and H-6 to finalize mission requirements. Fire plans are built at the fire support element (FSE) at the division main command post (D-Main) and are refined as necessary. The FSE passes the plan to the division artillery (DIVARTY) tactical operations center fire direction center (FDC) NLT H-6, with the final revision due NLT H-4. After H-4, the fire support coordinator (FSCOORD) is the approving authority for targets in the target plan. Targets not on the target plan are passed to DIVARTY and treated as targets of opportunity.

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Figure 3. Tasking of Collection Assets in Phase II.

Pen Box Fire Plan

The penetration box concept cannot be successfully executed without thorough synchronization of lethal and nonlethal fires. The key difference between a Pen Box fire plan and a standard artillery preparatory fire plan is that all battlefield operating systems (BOSs) must be synchronized for Pen Box fires.

The 1st Cavalry Division's fire plan for the Pen Box is executed in three phases. In Phase I, fires focus on the destruction of all enemy artillery that can influence friendly elements as they pass through the Pen Box. These elements include both artillery in the Pen Box and artillery that can range it. Phase I fires begin at H-2 and last for around 30 minutes.

In Phase II, fires are focused on the destruction of enemy C3 elements, maneuver counterattack forces that could influence friendly maneuver units, and RISTA in and around the Pen Box. In addition, fire support elements will continue to engage artillery as required. Phase II fires begin at H-1.5 and also last for around 30 minutes.

In Phase III, all fires are concentrated on the destruction of enemy forces within the Pen Box. Phase III begins at H-1 and lasts until H-hour, when friendly units enter the Pen Box. After H-hour, artillery assets continue to provide additional fires as necessary.

Pen Box Collection Concept

The collection plan for the Pen Box becomes a primary focus of the overall collection effort for the division. The G2 section creates the observation plans for the Pen Box according to the targets of the three phases of the fire plan. Figure 2, 3, and 4 outline  the tasking of various collection assets by phase.

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Figure 4. Tasking of Collection Assets in Phase III.

The observation plan for Phase I targets, primarily emplaced artillery, includes AH-58 teams, TP-Q36/-37 counterbattery radar, and Quickfix and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flights. The collection effort for all phases, including Phase I, requires assistance from higher headquarters, including Improved Guardrail V (IGRV) from Corps and Joint STARS from the theater command.

The targets for Phase II, C3 nodes, RISTA assets, and ADA units require the use of additional assets. The division tasks the scout units available to the division as well as all available COLT teams for collection on these targets. The collection manager also continues to task the assets used for Phase I target location (AH-58 teams, Quickfix, and UAV's).

In Phase III, the division begins to use the collection capabilities of its TLQ-17s, TRQ-32s, and Trailblazers for the location of Phase III targets, which include all maneuver units, their defensive positions, and their obstacles in the Pen Box. Reliable target location is critical to the destruction of enemy units in the Pen Box and the ability of the division to punch through the enemy's defenses.


The penetration box concept allows the 1st Cavalry Division to focus all of its assets at the critical point on the battlefield. It is the instrument that enables the division to accomplish one of the most difficult staff missions: synchronizing lethal and nonlethal fires to support the maneuver commander at the decisive point in the division's battlespace. The success of a Pen Box plan, however, relies heavily on how well the G2 can paint a picture of the Box. As always, good intelligence is critical to battlefield success.

Captain Leszczak is currently the All-Source Production Officer in Charge at the 312th MI Battalion. His past positions include Collection and Jamming Platoon Leader, Direct Support MI Company Executive Officer, Assistant S2, and S2. CPT Leszczak has a bachelor of science degree in Finance from Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. Readers can contact the author via E-mail at or telephonically at (254) 287-9216 and DSN 737-9216.