Order of Battle, Part Two – Forward Observer Shop

Order of Battle, Part Two

In the previous article, we discussed an introduction to Order of Battle (OB).  Today we’ll pick up in the middle of the nine OB components, four through six.  The next article will look at seven through nine.


4.  Tactics

Perhaps the best way to learn about an organization’s tactics is to look at its previous activities and current doctrine.  In the schoolhouse, we learned intelligence on a Soviet-style adversary.  Everything we expected to see from our adversary was based on doctrine and their order of battle (OB) – the recorded history of the way they did things in previous conflicts and engagements.  Everything our adversaries expect of the US military are based on our doctrine; they expect us to act in a similar fashion in future conflicts as we have in recent conflicts of the same type.

Let’s begin by looking at the most common tasks of an organization.  In the military, we call it the Mission Essential Task List (METL).  These are the handful of skills that we need to master in order to accomplish our mission.

So when completing OB, we ask, ‘What’s the mission?’  How do they accomplish that mission?  What are the things they do, and how do they do them?  We need to take a long look at their tactics because we can know what to expect based on that history.

The last thing we want to consider is, ‘Are their tactics effective?’  What was the outcome of their last engagements?  If their tactics aren’t effective, then we as Intelligence analysts can examine what they might change.  In that case, we can tell our leaders that we expect the enemy to change X or Y about their operations.  Knowing that those changes are expected, or could occur in the future, will help our leaders plan.


5.  Training

When I went to my county’s SWAT page, we learned a bit about the team’s strength, and also about the training hours each month.  In my case, this county doesn’t have a full time SWAT/Tactical Response Unit, so they provide some special training to county sheriff’s deputies.  What can we learn from these two pieces of information (training hours and strength)?  What are they training for?  Who are they bringing out to train them, or is it organic?  What are their training requirements or goals?

Once we have a good idea of an adversary’s training plan, we can begin drawing some conclusions.  What’s the quality of their training?  Are they going to be well-prepared for their next engagement?  If I’m supplying a guerrilla unit with Intelligence, I want to be sure to inform them about differences in adversary units in the field.  “They guys with the red patches have been training all year, however, the guys with the blue patches were just mobilized last week and have poor training.”  In that case, the guerrilla unit will have some realistic expectations if they get into a firefight with either of these units.


6.  Logistics

They say that amateurs argue tactics, and professionals argue logistics.  If you have 100 troops out on mission, but have to way of supplying them with the things they need then your organization won’t be as effective.  Same goes for all units, military or civilian.  So we ask, ‘How does this organization get re-supplied?’  Where are the supply depots?  What routes or channels does supply come from?  Logistics is more than just supplies; it’s how those supplies are delivered.  In many conflicts, adversaries sought to fracture supply lines in order to make adversarial forces less effective.  A rifle, when out of rounds, becomes a blunt force object.  So including Logistical and supply line information in the OB is very important.  If we can provide intelligence that weakens our adversary’s ability to fight, then we are winning in Intelligence.  And that’s why we do our homework and create an OB product before we get into a fight.

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. The crux of the situation is if you keep the same BO all the time a criminal or other element can over watch you and pick your system apart, but if you mix it up all the time don’t people just get confused trying to remember the dynamic atmosphere of consistant change? How and what you recieve for logistics can be changed to make pattern development less obvious, but changing command and control for example doesn’t it just lead to confusion?

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