Malleable COIN Targeting

A Pentagon Plan for Flexibility in Processes

Editor's Note: Some commenters criticized yesterday's F3EAD article about targeting for promoting a one-size fits all targeting solution.  Does the Pentagon Plan provide a more flexible answer?

Today’s planning officer faces many decisions on a daily basis, not the least of which is what process to use to get necessary answers to the questions of battlefield commanders. Often, units plan their operations using a plans officer, a fires officer, and an intelligence officer. Other personnel are certainly involved, but these three officers are responsible for the decision making process leading to the design of unit operations. D3A (Decide, detect, deliver, and assess) normally forms the blueprint for larger operations, and F3EA (Find, fix, finish, exploit and assess – sometimes disseminate is used as well, but for the purposes of this article, disseminate is not necessary. Disseminate can be considered an additional step in the process, but it can be assumed that the next step after complete intelligence operations is to “hand out” or disseminate the results.) is used for precision operations, which are usually kinetic in nature. Combining these two processes might seemingly form a process that is good enough to get operations planned and across. Good enough is not enough for today’s warfighter.

In the graphic below, D3A is represented by the orange diagram. F3EA is designated by the blue diagram. The standard scientific method is designated by the green diagram. The brief MDMP process is designated by the red diagram.

This combined diagram displays how all three processes overlap. Different processes stress different attributes. The scientific method tends to be heavy on interpreting the results, while the MDMP process is heavy on decision making upon decision of action. The D3A process seemingly spaces out all the steps made in that decision making process, but also can omit a large number of aspects, while F3EA is almost omitting the entire process of making a decision on some sort of target. The processes are overlapped in this diagram to display how in this comparison there are four different decision making methods which all stress different areas.

            There are two processes that need to lay the groundwork for a D3A/F3EA comparison, ASCOPE and PMES-II. ASCOPE (Area, Structure, Capabilities, Organizations, People, and Events) is a product of the intelligence preparation of the battlefield, and seemingly the only product of IPB (Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield) that gets used – thus the importance. Noting that this is the only process that gets used sounds very disingenuous, but while in a ground level intelligence shop, the attributes of the society are a majority of what combatant commanders immediately need upon mission receipt. ASCOPE covers the typical data that a standard fighting size element (platoon or squad) would be briefed on prior to a mission. PMES-II (Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure, Information) deals primarily with the same elements that ASCOPE addresses, but it is meant for higher echelons than a conventional battalion PMES-II assessment is dedicated to strategic level threats. Both processes need to be considered, and the data then needs to be implemented in whichever data inclusion process that is decided upon. As such, the ASCOPE and PMES-II data has to be categorized and applied/updated on a patrol or sensor collection on a targeting cycle time frame. This process usually takes one week for conventional military ground units.

In “The Targeting Process: F3EAD and D3A”, Chief Jimmy Gomez, an author of a previous article concerning the F3EA and D3EA planning processes for Small Wars Journal, describes the D3A and F3EA processes as F3EA being a time sensitive subset of D3EA. While Chief Gomez may be correct in his assumption - and I generally agree, there is no need to have subsets of a larger targeting process. With the already week long process to collect information from ground units and sensors, possibly creating a few different command-read intelligence and information products can take a small bite out of possible gains to be achieved due to time constraints. How many changes occur in a day? A week? A month? Combatant commanders are frequently at a thirst for information, and for an intelligence shop to give an answer of “waiting on an RFI (Request For Information) to come back” is unacceptable.

Drawing inspiration from the Department of defense’s largest building, but in assessing the initial diagram displayed in the beginning of the article, it is quite clear that there are five distinctive thought steps. Most military and scientific models start at the top with a find, detect, or form hypothesis/decide question type of phase. Considering the large volume of data that has already been collected on counter-insurgency and guerilla warfare, it seems disingenuous to continue to refine and use models that start at a slate scrubbed clean while units and planning officers attempt to “define a question” or “detect” the enemy. With resources available to an intelligence officer (Agencies, reach back sources, open networks) at least a modicum of data should be collected on an area. Of course, Middle East theaters are well categorized and researched. Fighting in a remote location may present itself with a problem of a lack of information for an element on the ground, but at the very least some sort of order of battle or intelligence asset can be leveraged in the meantime to collect even the most macro of pictures.

 The preserve stage concerns itself with building on previous gains. This can be described and carried through in lethal, non-lethal, and strategic planning methods. Starting with the lethal method, this stage is most likely used to assess intelligence value from detainees or sensitive site exploitation through reactionary human intelligence source information or collected signals. The goal is to preserve the current (hopefully successful) targeting method in order to continue the cycle. A non-successful targeting method will bring additional issues and concerns. Whether the issue is a lack of asset availability, a unit focus which does not contain the ability to conduct direct action, or just a lack of qualified intelligence personnel to complete the task to standard, any of these issues can be either solved or masked over with a Pentagon Plan. Taking a risk by possibly skipping a stage, for example the preserve stage, is an option due to a strive to complete the ultimate goal of organizing a targeting process. The theory of skipping a step due to operational constraints should be to pick up that step on the next targeting cycle. Keeping continuing cycles throughout hand-offs with replacing units or rotating personnel is key to keeping all the steps of a targeting cycle intact.

 A non-lethal example of the preserve stage is the game of preserving hearts and minds. Frequently, a unit will entertain the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, or CERP requests for funds and approve projects, only to check on them once or twice and continually ask for more information on additional processes. (Commonly the funds are used to build bridges, wells, and roads – although can be used for large scale ($500K+) projects as well.) A better approach might be to preserve the current projects periodically and take opinions of the townspeople to “get our money’s worth”. Non lethal gains are the most important to hold, as they have the longest lasting impact to the cycle as a whole. Kinetic activities, while disruptive, create easily replaced personnel and a gain in which the best way to preserve it is though more kinetic actions.

 Making sure that those gains are preserved smartly without rapid expansion is key. A strategic planning process will benefit the greatest from a properly executed preserve stage. No military officer likes to rehash the wheel, right? A notification system throughout a combat area educating planning officers on which specific tactics are sufficiently successful would be extremely beneficial.  An example of non-lethal preservation from my personal experiences in Operation Iraqi Freedom 7-9, 1/87th Infantry, 1st BCT, 10th Mountain Division in Hawijah, Iraq (~50 miles west of Kirkuk, Iraq), was “cleaning house” through strict interpretation of the F3EA philosophy. 1/87 Infantry was one of the first units to stand up the concerned local citizens program, or “sahwa/awakening” in wake of extremely successful precision targeting operations – thus closing the insurgent vacuum by offering the non-lethal programs at the exact right time. I often wondered if other units to the north in Mosul or to the south in Diyala (who, judging by activity, were not doing as well) were receiving any specific details on our success. As the other areas’ situations did not turn around until much later, I assumed not. Now, there are other contributing factors to this – independent of a targeting cycle. Whether or not the paid citizens were armed, marked properly, or even being paid is subjective to the area – but being a fly on the wall at 500 feet, as opposed to ten thousand feet, significant activities concerning small arms attacks and Improvised Explosive Devices dwindled in Salah al Din province, IZ, but continued in Mosul/Diyala as noticed by reading bordering reporting at the time.

The proposal phase could be categorized as the phase at which most other targeting cycles begin. The issue with the nature of those plans is that a military or intelligence planner is rarely going to go into a battlefield-type situation with two things. One, some sort of previous intelligence estimate from any source, and two, some sort of an intelligence preparation product that has been created either organically to the unit or by some sort of echelon above/below. Chances are very good that the preparation of the battlefield is completed and that planner is going to do some sort of battle handoff with a preceding unit. In times of those bad chances where there is little information to gain from a preceding unit, there are always intelligence assets available to the Intelligence Community as a whole leveraged on most dark corners of the world. Not to speak completely in generalities, but there are the one percent situations where a unit is “flying blind”. The Pentagon Plan is not recommended for standing up information networks and collecting completely raw data about infrastructures and populations.

Typically, a battle handoff will mean that the slate is full, and the planning process is in motion – so the propose stage will build off those already in place events of the preserve stage. Planning can be difficult to build based on extracted information, but several techniques can be used to make planning less of a hit or miss scenario and more of an educated guess. An intelligence officer can use intelligence assets at their disposal, either signal or human, to construct a canvas on an operating area. Planning officers should use this information to plan either kinetic or static operations using the organic intelligence assets consulted to perform this survey. Using organic assets carefully – i.e. not burning them out, will create benefits in the long run after networks are completed and disassembling of insurgent populations is in motion. 

The position stage can be used in the general “cycle” method or in a current situation – meaning if a unit comes upon a situation in which the position phase is in place and the preserve stage has not been accomplished. An example of this would be a hasty unit move upon a strongpoint seizing tactical advantage. If a platoon size element has the chance to capture a key ridge upon ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) analysis of enemy forces, that element will move, and then the planning process will begin a position with the weapons systems (organic weapons, wife support, etc.) or ISR assets currently in the area. The position phase is implemented through active posturing. Examples of active posturing can be: staging air mobile assets, confirming an ISR matrix, or preparing a foot patrol for movement. Positioning is simple only if the appropriate enablers are either organic to the controlling unit, are requested in advance, or not necessary due to any factor.

The proact stage is mostly about giving the elements on the ground (or air) the correct tools to be successful. These tools should come from planning shops. Being proactive in the context of “the Pentagon Plan” means making operational graphics and emplacing specific assets for either current action or after-action collection. These operational graphics should consist of some sort of grid reference guide. This reference guide will be an actual classified imagery shot of the location with military grid reference identifiers. This graphic will enable linkup of the tactical element on the ground, provide extremely advanced situational awareness for the command element, and enable air to ground interaction to an extremely high degree. Another significant element to the proact stage is the intelligence setup of assets, and making sure that those assets are set to receive data to continue a planning cycle. Establishing assets to take advantage of the results of the planned operation is crucial to receive follow on intelligence. A common way to establish this is to change the direction of intelligence assets and re-route ISR elements to support a particular mission, even if the tasking for that asset was not included in the planning phase. Not every mission will result in success, but those that can stir up the enemy, will provide the intelligence for the mission that does result in success.

The provide is the most straightforward and varies between units and assets. Conducting an action on objective well depends on the organic assets to the element. For example, an infantry battalion will often use air assets to travel to a location, or they may use light vehicles and dismount towards the objective. A kinetic operation may use a solely lethal force coming from an unmanned drone or manned tactical aircraft. A planner must take into account collateral damage estimates, how the target fits into the overall “network”, and the availability of non-organic assets if needed. The reason why this stage is referred to as “Provide”, and not “kill”, or “action”, is that “Provide” can cover the non-lethal spectrum as well. Units on a battlefield can use the provide stage to deliver a highly specialized type of food to a targeted impoverished area or build a civic project such as a well, sewer system, or bridge. Implementing these types of operations may be easier than a kinetic strike operation, but just as important.

The key aspect to take away from the pentagon plan is not the name or the specific instances in which it is used; the key is that it is a malleable planning process that can involve everyone and start at any stage in an operation. Often units may get involved in a plan of higher echelons late in the planning process, and if those two plans from each echelon are synced then hopefully no data will be lost or catch-up on planning needed. F3EA and D3A are great for what they do – but a flexible plan across all echelons for all planners may be a way to go, especially in a military where manpower could be severely limited in the coming years.


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Not to denigrate the hard work and thoughtful essay by Mr. Miller, his work spurs me to make my usual criticsm on the use of terminology and acronyms:

The battle of the buzzwords, catchphrases and jargon continues. We spend more time thinking up names for concepts and threats rather than spending the intellectual capital to understand problems and then determine feasible strategies and develop campaign plans to achieve US objectives and protect US interests.

Of course there is some irony (and perhaps double meaning) in the use of the word "pentagon" in this process.