FO Summary: Combat Commanders Handbook on Intelligence – Forward Observer Shop

FO Summary: Combat Commanders Handbook on Intelligence

Combat Commanders Handbook on Intelligence
ST 2-50.4 (FM 34-8)
U.S. Army Intelligence Center
September 2001
75 pages

Description: This manual is written primarily for combat commanders and their staffs involved in planning and executing operations in combat zones. Its purpose is to inform combat commanders of the options available to them regarding intelligence assets.

Much of the information contained in this manual is of no use or interest for community security planning, therefore information pertinent to low intensity conflict and community security will be outlined and summarized for your understanding.


Notes for ‘Chapter 1: The Intelligence Challenges for Commanders’

– Intelligence is an invaluable tool available for commanders to help them plan operations and project force into an area or onto an enemy.

– The purpose of an intelligence element is to provide timely, relevant, accurate, specific, and predictive or actionable intelligence to a commander. Armed with this intelligence, the commander is better able to make good decisions. (The intelligence element is the team or cell responsible for producing the intelligence.)

– ISR refers to Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. Combat commanders must be able to understand ISR platforms — things like sensors and drones — and be able to plan and approve ISR operations so that these sensors can collect the information required to make a decision. (For instance, the commander who wants to move a platoon across a river might task ISR assets to find a bridge or suitable crossing point, if not already known.)

– The commander who receives accurate intelligence and continuous information from ISR assets is more likely to understand the operating environment (weather and terrain, for instance) and the threat environment (the enemy situation). Commanders who don’t have incoming intelligence will be blind to these changing conditions.

– To facilitate this, the commander should plan and expect the intelligence element to do the following tasks:

  • Inform the commander of both the operating and threat environment:
    • Perform Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB), which helps the commander understand battlefield conditions.
    • Perform Indications & Warnings (I&W), which provides the commander with early warning intelligence and helps prevent enemy surprises.
    • Perform Situation Development, which allows the commander to understand the latest available information on the threat and their potential courses of action (COA).
  • Inform the commander with intelligence to effect targeting of the threat:
    • Perform Targeting, which refers to either kinetic or non-kinetic (violent or nonviolent, respectively) actions in order to effect change on a threat. For instance, kinetic targeting could result in a kill or capture of an enemy, while non-kinetic targeting might influence a threat or potential threat to stop threatening activities.
    • Perform Counterintelligence, which seeks to identify and disrupt enemy intelligence gathering capabilities. Identifying and countering enemy ISR assets — whether human or mechanical — will reduce the enemy’s understanding of friendly operations, resulting in a higher likelihood of mission success.
  • Integrate ISR plans to increase the commander’s situational understanding:
    • Develop Priority Intelligence Requirements, which outline intelligence gaps (required information we don’t already have), and prioritize them so that the information can be collected.
    • Analyze Requirements and Resources Available, which refers to the management of intelligence collection. For instance, a commander who wants to confirm or deny that a bridge has been destroyed might approve of an ISR plan that sends overhead assets (like a drone) out to put ‘eyes on’ the area where the bridge is. But if the commander doesn’t have an available drone, then he must analyze his available assets and choose a suitable alternative (such as a reconnaissance/scout element). As is often the case, there are too many intelligence requirements for available ISR assets to satisfy. In that case, our requirements have to be prioritized so that we are satisfying the most critical intelligence requirements first, and then secondary or less important intelligence requirements later.
    • Develop ISR Plans, which refers to identifying suitable flight paths or other operational requirements, as in the case of sending out a reconnaissance or scout element. Availability, suitability, and survivability are among several considerations required prior to approving an ISR plan.


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.

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