Terrain Support to Joint MIPB

by Chief Warrant Officer Three Scott J. Maxner

Fall 1997 found the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) involved in Exercise Unified Endeavor (UE) 98-1, a joint and multinational training event. One purpose of the exercise was to train the Joint Task Force (JTF) component commanders and staffs on JTF operations. The 10th Mountain Division (LT) served as the U.S. Army Forces (ARFOR) subordinate to a Marine- commanded JTF also comprising of a U.S. Marine Force (MARFOR), U.S. Navy Force (NAVFOR), U.S. Air Force (AFFOR), and United Kingdom Forces (UKFOR).

Robust as the JTF was, a lingering issue was who would provide the standard and nonstandard terrain and topographic product support to the military decision-making process (MDMP) at each echelon. The 10th Mountain Division (LT) Terrain Detachment (ARFOR component) conducted the mission for the UE 98-1 JTF. Planning and execution are dependent on METT-T (mission enemy terrain troops, and time available). A JTF headquarters should have its own attached terrain and topographic detachment to create intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) products and to articulate the effects of terrain on enemy and friendly courses of action. Initially, dissemination of products should be to all JTF subordinate staffs, ensuring a common view of the battlefield, top to bottom (See Figures 1 and 2).

Doctrinal Acceptance

Many Army terms (such as IPB, MDMP, METT-T) may be familiar to Army readers, but the joint community does not formally recognize them. Add other nations as part of the coalition, and it confuses terms further. Joint terminology differs from that of the Army. Although each service performs and incorporates many related topographic functions, there is a doctrinal void for a formal planning approach. For the Army, there is a system injected in all planning staffs. The Army IPB system works and is doctrinally supported by FM 34-130, 8 July 1994, Intelligence Prepara- tion of the Battlefield. Three spheres can graphically depict the IPB triad; they interlock because each facet affects the others. No one discipline (intelligence, terrain, or weather) could adequately fulfill the IPB process.

Not surprisingly, ground forces place emphasis on analyzing, understanding, and exploiting terrain. According to Army FM 100-5, Operations, the battlefield’s organization includes deep, close, and rear operations. The manual further states that only ground forces can dominate terrain and that it takes close operations on land to gain decisive and lasting battlefield effects.

Terrain detachments are organic to all divisions and higher headquarters within the Army. The Air Force and Navy have no terrain detachments. Furthermore, the full scope is not only an analysis and production issue but also includes interpretation and communication of terrain information. To describe the battlespace to the commander is to highlight essential points relating to the subordinate commanders’ battlespace as well. The JTF battlefield framework must incorporate a thorough knowledge of the ground maneuver area of operations (AO).

Proper terrain research and anal- ysis is highly technical and requires school-trained terrain and topographic technicians and analyst experts (Army Occupational Spec- ialties 215D—Warrant Officer or 81T—Enlisted). When quantitative and qualitative analysis blends with clear and concise intelligence information (textual, graphical, and briefed) decision-makers should gain a feeling of confidence about the AO. Without adequate topographic input, a JTF commander may not make the most informed decision.

A topographic element must reside within a JTF Intelligence Directorate for the planning effort to be comprehensive. This facilitates topographic information flow, product creation and dissemination and insight for interpretation; ensures information is “pushed” down to subordinate commands (see Joint Pub 2-01, Joint Intelligence Support to Military Operations, pages III-41-42 and 21-22). A terrain element builds confidence among staffs and helps ensure a common view of the AO environment from top to bottom. Commanders can now leverage terrain information. The joint intelligence community should accept and embrace terrain information as part of the joint intelligence preparation of the battlefield (JIPB) process and must be willing to resource it. The question is how?


Resourcing the Requirement

A JIPB Terrain Intelligence Team provides ready-to-use IPB products and AO knowledge to contribute to the JTF’s planning effort (See Figures 1and 2). A database of products should exist for the JTF proposed AO. One must consider a number of factors when task-organizing terrain assets (soldiers and equipment) to support a JTF J2—


Regardless of where the supporting terrain detachment emerges, the team needs lead time before the JTF planning phase. Although a real-world contingency may preclude such advance warning, four to six months is optimal. The detachment must have the proper equipment to focus on AO re- search, build or create a database, and develop and disseminate customized products for the JTF and subordinate commands. An ARFOR (or JTF) topographic de- tachment formed from an Army divisional terrain detachment re- quires augmentation with an additional Multi-Spectral Imagery Processor (MSIP) and four soldiers. Augmentation is required to handle development of products at multiple map scales, assist with AO research and analysis, and to allow the detachment to balance additional competing requirements sup- porting ongoing missions.

Add a topographic team, squad, or detachment to the Joint Manning Document that defines a JTF staff. Perhaps each command could establish a full-time topographic team (white cell) to build, update, and manage a current database for all potential exercise AOs. The white cell would interpret, reproduce, and replicate terrain products that a regional commander would have to support an operations plan (OPLAN) or contingency plan (CONPLAN). The team would serve as a liaison between major Army command (MACOM) topographic detachments responsible for the AO. Additionally, it would interface with national agencies and joint service components to develop (and serve as a conduit for) topographic product support.


The resident topographic team would report directly to the JTF headquarters for the exercise duration. The team would conduct initial briefings to the JTF head- quarters (e.g. Atlantic MARFOR and JTF), hand off products (standard, nonstandard, photos, imagery, etc.), and establish contact with other JTF subordinate topographic detachments. JTF’s subordinate command’s topographic teams should be on board early. Commands should make special efforts to assist the Air Force and Navy in developing IPB. The proposed staffing and equipment listing (shown in Figure 3) may serve as a guideline.

Increased staffs are a difficult proposition during a period of force reductions However, given the amount of time and confusion caused in creating and recreating products, the suggested staff would increase JTF readiness and enhance the JTF’s ability to focus on the mission.

Production and Information Dissemination

In UE 98-1, the exercise scope and large AO required the division terrain detachment (ARFOR) to straddle between the standard tactical-level analysis and production focus (1:50,000 or 1:100,000 scale) and the operational level (1:250,000). The ARFOR com- mander needs macro- and micro- situational awareness, from knowledge of the logistical capacities of aerial ports of debarkation (APODs) and seaports of debarkation (SPODs) throughput capacities, to the facilitation of RSOI reception staging onward movement and integration of the forces in the theater. In the physical environment where the battle might occur 70 to 150 kilometers away, for example, the soil may not permit the digging of fighting positions. More likely than not, choosing a map scale is more a function of logistics (mapboard size to cover the AO or zone) than the foregoing information and detail.


Although it may appear academic to simply work at a particular map scale to conduct planning throughout the MDMP, a divisional terrain detachment cannot divorce itself from the tactical fight. A number of tactical considerations may lead to operational impacts on which the commander may base decisions. Consequently, products at both tactical and operational scales would be needed, an arduous task for a 9-soldier unit.

A common picture of the battlefield allows a commander to respond deliberately to sequencing an efficient and successful operation. Pertinent intelligence information should be “pushed” down or available for subordinate commands to “pull”; this includes terrain products. In UE 98-1, we disseminated terrain products to customers via telephone, facsimile (classified and unclassified), overnight mail, and the normal hard- copy distribution system.

Releasability. Remember that UE 98-1 was a multinational exercise. The author understands how vital information security is and the implications that breaches may have on our national security. Planning staffs of all nations, Services, and components rely on current and accurate information to generate a comprehensive plan to accomplish each higher command’s objectives. Undoubtedly, those objectives relate to the National Command Authority (NCA) requirements. The paradox is that the very benefits that a “not releasable to foreign national” (NOFORN) handling caveat is trying to effect becomes a potential hindrance to the operation. Units conducting an operation need the best information possible to make informed decisions.

Information Sources (Classi- fied versus Unclassified Open Sources). As a terrain detachment conducts AO research and analysis, it sorts through volumes of messages, reports, documents, and images to add credibility to its work. In many cases, information derived from our national assets has blanket Secret NOFORN markings. What information is actually of NOFORN significance? Many times subparagraphs do not have individual markings. In many cases, one may find the information through open sources. This poses a challenge to a detachment with JTF production requirements. For example, the MSIP can integrate high-resolution imagery into products, perhaps highlighting some crucial areas, items, or both. The end product is a fantastic way to communicate terrain information. However, because the imagery is NOFORN, allied Services cannot have it—a big problem if that unit might be on your unit’s left or right. Information accessibility among the coalition should not cause hostility. This issue needs resolution at the JTF level or higher —and needs it early.


A JTF requires timely, accurate, and relevant topographic products and support early on. The task organization of joint and multinational forces requires analysis addressing topographic and terrain shortcomings. U.S. forces must organizationally and doctrinally incorporate a topographic detachment into the J2 staff to work JIPB, and we must overcome the chal- lenge of information handling caveats.

Chief Warrant Officer Three Maxner is currently a Course Coordinator and Instructor at the Defense Mapping School. He was the Commander, 66th Engineer Detachment (Terrain, 10th Mountain Division (LT)) Analysis Detachment. He has served as a Terrain Analysis Technician at 2d Infantry Division, Korea. CW3 Maxner is completing a Master of Science  degree in Education and has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business and Sociology from Cameron University, Lawton, Oklahoma. Readers can reach him at (703) 805-3079, DSN 655-3079 or via E-mail maxners@nima.mil.