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Intelligence synchronization on a nonlinear battlefield.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Departments of the Army and Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Intelligence synchronization (1) is one of the most important things an intelligence officer has to do. The purpose of intelligence synchronization is to focus efforts to build, refine, or clarify the commander's understanding of the battlefield and the threat. In this article, the author discusses intelligence synchronization in Iraq and proposes a new way of looking at it.


In past conflicts, we often had more information about the threat than a lack of information. We knew who the threats were, knew how they preferred to fight, and understood their doctrine. In this environment, intelligence synchronization focused on answering a few critical intelligence gaps like "which route will the enemy use?" or "when will the enemy initiate the attack? "This is a typical linear battlefield and this is the type of fight for which we developed our doctrine.

In today's conflicts, such as the Global War on Terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat is more difficult to define; in fact, there are often multiple threats working against our forces concurrently. Often there is much more about the threat that we do not know than what we do know about it. This is a classic example of a nonlinear (2) battlefield. This type of fight is literally the exact opposite of the type of fight for which our doctrine was intended, yet we continue to use Cold War intelligence synchronization methodologies. This is not to say that doctrine for a linear battlefield is outdated; in fact, as a general guideline, it still works. However, to make it work, it takes "outside the box" thinking and relies heavily on analysis.

Current Intelligence Synchronization Methodology

We must relook at how we conduct intelligence synchronization. Priority intelligence requirements (PIRs) are perhaps the most misused and abused element of the intelligence synchronization plan. The Army as a whole does not understand PIRs, and we as an intelligence community add to that confusion because we use them poorly. An effective PIR links to a decision the commander has to make; it relates to a specific named area of interest (NAI) and is of the utmost importance to the commander, hence the word "priority."

Many PIRs currently used in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) do not meet these criteria. There seems to be an unwritten rule that we must have four to six PIRs, regardless of whether they meet the criteria above. There are several reasons for this. First, commanders often feel uncomfortable with too few PIRs. Second, intelligence personnel base intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and intelligence synchronization plans on PIRs, so therefore we must have many of them. Finally, collection assets such as presence patrols and other non-intelligence-owned resources--which comprise perhaps 90 percent of all collection--do not care about information requirements (IRs), they only want PIRs.

As a result, we tend to make our PIRs a "laundry list" of very general questions about the multiple threats. These threats are sometimes beyond the commander's ability to affect. The laundry list of threats becomes a set of "standing" PIRs that never close out; they just linger for months at a time. The laundry-list PIR method makes every threat a "priority," and if everything is a priority, nothing is priority.

What I propose is a new way of looking at intelligence synchronization doctrine for a nonlinear environment. Because this is the opposite environment for which our doctrine was developed, we should literally turn the doctrine upside down. We will not always have enough information to formulate four to six PIRs to drive the intelligence synchronization plan; therefore, it is okay to let IRs drive collection planning. Collection answers intelligence requirements and IRs just as much as PIRs.

Frequently, our PIRs and IRs are very broad and very general. The collection (requirements) manager takes these approved PIRs and creates smaller specific information requirements (SIRs) that ask very specific questions. We then use the SIRs to develop intelligence synchronization plans and task collectors to answer these SIRs; this in turn would help to answer the PIR so that the commander can make a decision. It really is simple; the catch is that in order to develop SIRs, the G2/S2 must understand the threat well enough that he or she can come up with a list of indicators based on threat doctrine, tactics, order of battle, etc.

For example, the commander wants to know if the 13th Brigade Tactical Group's (BTG) main effort is going to attack using avenue of approach A or B. The PIR is "Where will the 13th BTG employ its main effort?" NAIs are established at key points within each avenue of approach, information requirements turn into indicators, and collectors are tasked to confirm or deny a set of indicators that would indicate the BTG's main effort. Once the indicators are observed (or not observed), it is reported, the PIR is answered, and the commander can make a decision.

Now try using the same methodology on an example from OIF: The commander wants to know who is conducting attacks against convoys? What is the PIR? "Who is conducting attacks against convoys?" Okay, now where are the NAIs? The highways? Not likely. Initially, your NAI can be your entire area of responsibility (AOR). Creating NAIs is a real challenge to the intelligence staff, and cannot occur until the G2/S2 knows what he or she is seeking. What are the SIRs? Since there is no threat doctrine on which to rely and there is very little that you know about the threat, the SIRs are no longer specific but are very general such as, "Who is emplacing roadside improvised explosive devices, where are they building IEDs, and who is supplying the materials and training?" Now come up with a set of indicators for these IRs. This is the most important and most difficult task. What is an indicator of an IED maker or an IED factory? These indicators simply help collectors focus or concentrate efforts. Instead of using specific equipment or the size of an enemy element as an indicator, you have to use atmospheric or demographic information such as a "large influx of foreigners or mosques belonging to extremist sects."

Go back to the PIR, "Who is conducting attacks against the convoys?" Is this a PIR? Is it linked to a decision the commander can make? Yes. Does it help drive collection? Yes. Can you link it to an NAI? Sure, with some analysis. However, if very little is known about the area, the entire AOR may be the initial NAI. There is nothing wrong with this being the commander's only PIR; however, in my experience during OIF, there will be five more approved PIRs concerned with lesser threats, and these PIRS often will not meet the criteria for a PIR.

OIF-Tested Intelligence Synchronization Methodology

To best illustrate how you can accomplish intelligence synchronization in a nonlinear environment, here is an example of how we managed intelligence synchronization during OIF. This is a battle-tested methodology.

Step 1: Initial Development of Collection Emphasis. Create a list of very broad and general IRs based on your understanding of the threat and the PIRs and IRs from higher echelons. Be sure to involve as many sources in this as possible to increase the variety of subject and perspective. This becomes your "collection emphasis," a group of items the G2/S2 wants to have answered. These will likely be "standing" requirements that will change very little during your rotation. You can have several sets of IRs within the collection emphasis, one for each threat that you have defined. For example--

[] Where are key personalities hiding? Who are their enablers?

[] Where are international terrorists operating? How are they entering the country? Who is financing them? What are their plans for future attacks?

[] Where are the safe havens for the threat?

[] What are the potential political, ethnic, or religious flashpoints within the AOR?

Not all of these will become PIRs. Do not worry about that yet. Continue to develop your intelligence synchronization plan with all of your IRs. (Note that when you are under time constraints, it is imperative to narrow down this list to a couple of recommended PIRs. Once approved, focus intelligence synchronization planning on those specific PIRs first).

Step 2: Develop the IRs. Each subset of collection emphasis is an IR. Develop a list of SIRs that would help to answer each IR. These SIRs may be very general and may apply to your entire AOR. For each SIR, develop a set of indicators that the collector can use to confirm or deny the SIR. You may base these SIRs and indicators on observed tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), experience, or intuition. Intuition results from the combination of experience and institutional learning. Often intuition is all you have to go on, so do not disregard it. I have based entire intelligence synchronization plans on little else.

Determine which IRs meet the criteria as PIRs--not all of them will. Once this is done, recommend these IRs to the commander as PIRs and develop the intelligence synchronization plan for all the PIRs and IRs. It is important here to stress that you should not base the intelligence synchronization plan solely on PIRs. Some IRs are as important to answer, but are not linked to a decision the commander has to make. Some of your higher headquarters' PIRs will not be PIRs for your unit, but they are still important to answer. This is where you can run into the problem of having overwhelming collection priorities, and it is important to narrow down, prioritize, and task them. You do this in the next step.

Step 3: Develop the ISR Plan. Determine which SIRs are relevant to each of your collectors and which ones the collecting element is actually capable of collecting. Determine which SIRs are "nice to know" and "need to know" to further refine your commander's understanding of the battlefield. PIRs, understanding of the operational environment, and your intuition will help you do this. Turn the "need to know" SIRs into specific orders and requests (SORs) and task the collectors to report answers to these SORs daily. This tells the collectors what the commander needs to know and gives collection focus.

What do you do with SIRs that do not become SORs? At this point, you do not want to inundate the collectors with a flood of questions to answer. However, some SIRs that did not make the cut may help to answer multiple IRs so these should receive special attention in your focus. Perhaps you have a "pet theory" that is not worthy of a tasking, but you would like more information on it. Take some of these SIRs and place them in the ISR plan as "report as observed." How many "report as observed" SIRs go to subordinate units depends on the number of SORs already tasked. Keep the rest of the SIRs in your internal ISR plan; do not disseminate them to subordinates at this time, bench them. Too many times I saw "monster" ISR plans go down to the lowest level, and collectors can be so overwhelmed that they disregard the entire plan. The art in this portion of ISR is determining how much is enough and including nothing more.

Step 4: Refine the ISR Plan. The G2/S2 should reevaluate the SORs on a regular basis and "report as observed" SIRs based on collection results. The amount of intelligence collected and how dynamic the environment is will help to determine the frequency of reevaluation. In OIF, I did this weekly. Roll up all the answers to the SORs for the period and make an assessment about those SORs. Did the collectors answer them, do they need modification, or should they remain open as they are? Do analysis of the reporting and produce a product summarizing the reporting and your analysis, and disseminate this product both horizontally and vertically. Develop and disseminate the new ISR plan.

Step 5: Action. Two things may lead to this step: that golden nugget of intelligence that falls into your lap or, more likely, analysis resulting from intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) using known information has given the commander enough situational awareness of to act. This is when you may want to develop and disseminate new PIRs. Determine the one or two pieces of information (collection requirements) that the commander absolutely must know to make a decision and be very specific. For example, "Is the target personality at his residence at grid MB12345678?" You may already have answers to SIRs about what time the target is usually at home, but you do not want to raid the target's home unless you know he is really there. Once the collectors answer the very specific PIR, the commander can then say, "Go" or "No Go."

Again, you should have very few PIRs. When a collector receives a new PIR against which to collect, this should be the final piece of the puzzle. Because it is a "priority" intelligence requirement, the collecting unit knows that everything else should take a back seat to answering this requirement and that they should report it as soon as the tactical situation permits because it is imperative information.

Application of the New Methodology

Now take the scenario above and apply this methodology. The commander wants to know who is conducting attacks against convoys. This becomes your collection emphasis. Here are some IRs that you can derive and an assessment of them:

[] Who is conducting the attacks? This is the overarching question, and should later become the only recommended PIR, with the rest as IRs. SIRs for this PIR may include, "What anti-U.S. organizations have influence in the AO?" or "What individuals are spreading anti-U.S. rhetoric."

[] Where is the threat constructing IEDs? You determine the most likely place is in the mosques. You may want to develop SIRs or SORs as subsets of this IR. Task collectors to report each mosque's location, key personalities, faith, and attitude towards the OIF coalition. This is a good place to start and this collection can begin immediately.

[] Who are the suppliers of materials and training? Since this is a very difficult IR on which to collect information, make it "report as observed."

[] Where do most IED attacks happen? Units report this as friendly force information requirements (FFIRs) and the analysts can then conduct pattern analysis to determine what locations have a high probability of attack. This can help to focus collection and drive operations and force protection measures.

[] What TTPs are attackers using? During patrol debriefs after attacks, focus hard on the TTPs used. This can tell you a lot about how the attackers do business and may help to predict or deter future attacks. This information is critical during IPB and you can help to develop indicators of impending attack.

Once you have a volume of reporting, you can start modifying the ISR plan. Reports about the mosques suggest that the town has two suspect mosques. Refine your ISR plan to focus more collection on those sites. If pattern analysis has determined that most attacks occur between certain hours and have similar terrain characteristics, task collectors to observe avenues of approach to and from likely IED locations. You can recommend to the commander some kinetic weapons overwatch on these avenues of approach. (Do not forget applying good old-fashioned IPB for any recommendation, including terrain analysis and enemy courses of action).

After weeks of reporting and analysis, you have determined that a Sheik working out of a particular mosque is training insurgents to build IEDs in that mosque. You know where he lives and his patterns. Recommend a PIR to your commander asking "Is the target at his residence?" and disseminate the approved PIR. All elements tasked to collect this PIR will understand the importance of it and will make it a priority. Once the collectors report the affirmative PIR answer, the commander can make the decision.

"Is the target at his residence?" is certainly an SIR. However, in this context and by doctrine, it can be a PIR. By calling it a PIR, you are giving it the importance and priority it deserves.

After a successful or unsuccessful raid, do not forget the most important part of the mission, site exploitation. Before the mission, generate another list of IRs for site exploitation and plug those into your ISR plan, and the cycle of intelligence keeps on rolling.

Link diagrams are an excellent tool to use to determine interrogation questions during sensitive site exploitation. Be prepared to ask the target about any individual or organization that analysts have linked to the target.


Intelligence synchronization on a nonlinear battlefield is not that much different from a linear battlefield, but it is more difficult because there is so much that is unknown. Determine what you know, then focus on what is unknown. Commanders understand that you will not always have all the answers; moreover, they are depending on you as an intelligence professional to provide enough clarity or assessment for planning operations. This starts with a solid ISR plan, ongoing analysis using IPB, and the most important ingredient, intuition.

Doctrinal Solutions

Captain Gellman's article highlights several crucial issues and procedures that recent doctrinal publications should solve.

FM 2-0, Intelligence, published May 2004, incorporated many of the recommendations included in the article. FM 2-0, defines "priority intelligence requirements (PtRs)" in paragraph 1-32 as--
 "... those intelligence requirements for which
 a commander has an anticipated and stated
 priority in his task for planning and decision-making.
 PIRs are associated with a decision
 based upon enemy action or inaction or the
 battlespace that will affect the overall success
 of the commander's mission."

Based upon the new definition, PIRs are what the commander needs to know about the enemy or environment. They focus the unit's intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) plan in order to support the commander's situational understanding. Doctrine ties PIRs to a decision, not to a decision point.

PIRs still focus the unit's overall ISR plan and higher echelons use them in developing their overall schemes of intelligence support. Greater use of intelligence requirements those requirements for the Intelligence battlefield operating system (BOS) to fill a gap in the commander's and staff's knowledge or understanding of the battlespace or threat--better focus the intelligence support. During stability operations and support operations, these intelligence requirements have greater importance and emphasis.

FM 2-0 provides additional ISR guidance. Chapter 1 details Intelligence synchronization. This section explains staff participation within the synchronization process and the S2/G2's role within the synchronization and ISR integration processes.

FMs 3-0, Operations, 6-0, Mission Command: Command and Control of Army Forces, and 5-0, Army Planning and Orders Production, all follow this thread. Units, leaders, and soldiers must incorporate these FMs into their section and unit standing operating procedures (SOPs) in order to benefit from this latest doctrine.


(1.) "Intelligence synchronization" was formerly known as "collection management (CM)"; this terminology changed with publication of FM 2-0, Intelligence, FM 7-15, The Army Universal Task List, and other updated field manuals.

(2.) Editor's note: Doctrine currently considers "nonlinear" and "asymmetric" synonymous. According to FM 3-0, Operations, dated 14 June 2001--

"Asymmetry concerns dissimilarities in organization, equipment, doctrine, capabilities, and values between other armed forces (formally organized or not) and U.S. forces. JFCs [joint force commanders] arrange symmetrical and asymmetrical actions to take advantage of friendly strengths and enemy vulnerabilities, and to preserve freedom of action. Engagements are symmetric if forces, technologies, and weapons are similar; they are asymmetric if forces, technologies, and weapons are different, or if a resort to terrorism and rejection of more conventional rules of engagement are the norm. In one sense, there are always asymmetries between forces: differing circumstances lead to differing military structures. Asymmetry becomes very significant, perhaps decisive, when the degree of dissimilarity creates exploitable advantages. Asymmetric engagements can be extremely lethal, especially if the target is not ready to defend itself against the asymmetric threat. Asymmetry tends to decay over time as adversaries adapt to dissimilarities exposed in action. In a larger sense, asymmetric warfare seeks to avoid enemy strengths and concentrate comparative advantages against relative weaknesses." (See paragraphs 4-110 through 4-113 for examples of asymmetry.)

Captain Brian Gellman is currently serving his second tour in OIF. He is the S2 for 3d Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group Alpha. He deployed to OIF after graduating from the MI Officer Transition Course and MI Captains Career Course. His earlier assignment was a branch-detail to the Infantry with the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Light). CPT Gellman has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of Texas at Arlington. Readers may contact the author via E-mail at
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Article Details
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Author:Gellman, Brian
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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