Order of Battle: Core Task of the Intel Analyst, Part One – Forward Observer Shop

Order of Battle: Core Task of the Intel Analyst, Part One

What is Order of Battle?

A very traditional task of the Intelligence Analyst is building and maintaining the Order of Battle (OB) for adversary, neutral, and friendly forces in the given Area of Responsibility.  The Order of Battle, sometimes referred to as OrBat/ORBAT, is an intelligence product detailing the command, strength, disposition, and equipment of military units.  There’s a likely an OB product for every military in the world sitting at the Pentagon right now.  Order of Battle products are updated periodically to reflect the most current design and health of the adversary or potentially adversarial military.  The OB is one of the most important of all intelligence products when facing a known adversary, and it costs nothing but time to produce.

Typically, Military Intelligence Analysts are assigned to a particular country or region.  If I was in a unit at Southern Command (SOUTCHOM), maybe I’d be looking at a nation’s military, or maybe I’d be focusing on terrorist groups or drug cartels.  Either way, one of my first tasks would be to become intimately familiar with those forces.  I would become the subject matter expert, and when there was a flashpoint or an event that required expertise, I would be called on to answer the questions of senior-level military or political leaders.

As intelligence analysts, we’re called to be experts on the enemy… ahem, ‘to find, know and never lose the enemy’ comes directly from the Military Intelligence Creed.  It’s ingrained in intelligence analysts to be as good a subject matter experts as possible.  Without that expertise, a poor and/or incomplete analysis is likely to be created.  Poor intelligence gets some people killed; incomplete intelligence gets a lot of people killed.

We build OB products because they allow us to authoritatively estimate the capabilities of adversaries.  The more we know about an adversary’s organization and capabilities, the better we can identify his courses of action (COA).  At the same time, we can begin to remove potential COAs because they’re unfitting for those types of units, or the force is too small or too large to pursue this particular COA, or the force is too technologically limited to pursue that COA, or the force is too vulnerable to pursue this other COA.  One of the most critical parts of Intelligence is being actionable or predictive.  Using our completed and up to date OB products, Intelligence Analysts are able to determine which potential courses of action a military or adversarial force will take on the battlefield because we know their capabilities, and, therefore, we know what they’re most likely to do.  In this way, the OB product is a fundamental requirement for Intelligence Analysts to know.

Although slightly different for our needs, OB Intelligence products should be a mainstay of Patriot and Prepper Intelligence Analysts, as well.  We’re going to want to look at security forces such as local law enforcement, and any state or federal officers or agencies in our area.  That’s the conventional side.  On the unconventional side, we’re going to look at organized crime, gangs, or other organizations that potentially pose a threat to us.

In this series of articles, I’ll talk about the nine components of Order of Battle.  These are the nine requirements for building a solid Intelligence product, and by following this guideline in your own areas, you will reap you the rewards of being forearmed with this knowledge.


Nine OB Requirements:

1.  Composition

2.  Disposition

3.  Strength

4.  Tactics

5.  Training

6.  Logistics

7.  Combat Effectiveness

8.  Electronic Technical Data

9.  Miscellaneous Data


In today’ article, we’ll cover the first three components.


1.  Composition.

Let’s start with identifying the composition of your local law enforcement; specifically the County Sheriff’s Department.  Why is this information good to know?  Because as an Intelligence Analyst in a SHTF scenario, I’d like to be able to tell my group whether or not the Sheriff’s Department will be able to provide security during the emergency.  If they’re unable, then there will be threats that remain unaccounted for; and that will require extra effort on our part.

So let’s go to our County Sheriff’s website (online search), and the first thing we see is his bright, smiling politician face and the American flag.  My county sheriff’s website has a couple links that we’re looking for: Command Staff and Divisions.

The Command Staff link gives us the senior-level leadership, and the Divisions link gives us the branches of the department.  I’m going to start building an organization chart and ‘mapping’ out the department’s leaders and divisions. (* Be sure to find the link for the county SWAT or Tactical Response Unit.  This page shows how many officers are on the team and their monthly training requirements.  I can probably draw some accurate conclusions about their capabilities from this intelligence information.)

We’re going to identify the composition of ALL security and threat forces in our area.  So, by necessity, we’re going to be building several OB products; one for each agency, department, or group.


2. Disposition.

By ‘Disposition,’ we mean location.  Where are the headquarters, stations, or sub-stations of the agencies or departments?  Are there regular patrols, and, if so, what areas get regularly patrolled and when?  Our intent here is nothing nefarious, but answering these questions will give us a much better idea of the security picture for our area.  It’s important to know what a regular law enforcement presence looks like, so we can determine spikes in traffic or activity.  These indicators may signal that a critical event is occurring or about to occur.


3.  Strength.

We’ve already identified the structure of the Sheriff’s Department, and now it’s time to start answering questions about strength.  How many full-time, part-time, and volunteer deputies are employed?  How many deputies are on duty at any given time?  If necessary, how many additional officers can be recruited and put in the field during an emergency?  What vehicles, including war/combat vehicles, does the department have, and how many?  What types of weapons are available, and how many?


There’s your homework for this week.  In the next month, I’d like to have everyone complete their OB product on local law enforcement to give you better situational awareness.  Chances are good that you’ll learn a lot in the process, and, as always, forewarned is forearmed.

Don’t forget to generate your Intelligence Requirements.  And keep this information in the same document so it can be printed and distributed.

Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.


  1. SC. Don’t forget the local publications like the Newspaper. The activities of the local police and sheriff can be easily digested by reading about them through interviews (Put a camera on them and they become HAMS). Some are braggarts though, so digest carefully. Small municipalities usually have their vehicles and weapons worked on by someone local. These mechanics and armorers may become disinchanted with the local lawmen and become a wealth of information also. Intel is always needed and should never be overlooked till the last minute. Always cross-verify any info you gain or gather to support your hypothesis. The Cold War was valiantly won by those in the intelligence community providing our leaders with the necessary intel to make informed decisions and drive the train!

    1. “…The Cold War was valiantly won ..” If we look at todays headlines, it would be very hard to believe the cold war ever ended at all. The West certainly did not ‘win” anything. The communists have gained the upper-hand on the EU and right here in the US. While our sitting pResident is playing golf with his red diaper buddies.

  2. Where do they keep the MRAPS and other toys?
    I know of one large City PD that stores them in an unlocked pole barn by a closed up landfill.
    Just a padlock and chain across a gravel road.
    Ah the things I see as a local delivery driver.

    Figuring out the neighbors I can trust and any local crime syndicates is going to be tougher than spying on local government facilities. Heck I have some family members that need to sharpen up or they will meet a Darwinian fate.

    Some threats can be right under your own roof.
    Don’t ignore the obvious.

  3. Another good source of Intel are Police Union websites. You can reveal much info on them. If you have specific “marks’ a 30 dollar background search is worth it.

  4. How does an OB for leaderless resistance and or a potential insurgency based on a generally non violent nascent resistance pan out?
    For instance as a thought experiment, being the imponderables of a popular armed uprising and defiance of the federal government by a liberty movement, if an OB was to be generated by the US military, there must be many unknowns, though many hypothetical ‘s, an OB as such must have to include a lot of estimates and educated guesses?
    Maybe statistical data culled from the enormous volume of spying on the population by the NSA and such?
    As an inverse, the above OB must be a treasure trove of the intents and strategies of the US government in the advent of a civil insurgency?
    How much or what components of a federal OB on the population would be shared with state and local law enforcement?

  5. “One of the most critical parts of Intelligence is being actionable or predictive.” I’ve noticed that generally accepted accounting principles in business are VERY similar to the order of battle principles lined out in the intelligence article – turning relevant data into usable information. Good stuff.

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