Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Importance of Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB)

One of my major failings as a virtual commander is that I'm so eager to get maneuvering and comes to grips with the enemy that I often fail to sufficiently plan and prepare for the engagement. In my younger days of primarily playing RTS style games this was fine. As I graduated to playing more serious conflict simulations though the cost of this recklessness was more and more lost games and failed scenarios.  The more I gravitated toward simulations actually used for training people responsible for fighting real wars, the more obvious it became that a "jump in and charge" approach wouldn't work.

Over the past few years I've tried to learn through reading and observation.  Recently, I've been fortunate enough not just to benefit from the experience of fellow bloggers, but to read Bil Hardenberger's excellent Battle Drill blog.  Bil has done a series of posts recently about recon, which culminated in a guest post from his friend Lieutenant Colonel Scott Coulsen, a serving armor officer in the US Army.  I should also mention the excellent advice of LTC Mark Gibson, also a serving officer in the Royal Australian Armored Corps.

Perhaps the most important thing I've learned from reading what these gentlemen have written is the importance of taking the time before the engagement to prepare by closely examining the terrain and developing an idea of the various courses of action that the enemy might use to reach his objectives.  Then, develop plans to discover and validate which plan he is executing, and only then develop a plan to counter his moves.  Unlike my standard approach of charging in, guns blazing, this means taking plenty of time up front to think things through, and then conducting thorough reconnaissance aimed at developing as full a picture of the enemy's movements and positions as possible prior to committing one's main effort.

Units from KG von Bassler conduct recon and screening for 14 Panzer near Taganrog

I think I'm really beginning to understand the concepts of Named Areas of Interest (NAI) and Targeted Areas of Interest (TAI), and why they're important.  Grasping those concepts naturally led me to improved planning for attacks and defense, since using them more effectively provided me with a much clearer picture of the enemy's forces and activity.  "Gaps and surfaces" suddenly made sense.

1980's era Panzer brigade recon elements moving to get "eyes on" an NAI
My worst efforts in the past were an undisciplined charge, while my best were an amateurish attempt at "command push."  I get what "recon pull" means now, at least as much as someone that have never and will never sit in an actual tank can.  In turn, that's helped me to better understand how and when to concentrate units and arrange them to be more effective in supporting each other on the defense.

The consequences of bad planning and poor recon
Suddenly, I'm winning a lot more often, and by a much greater margin.  Sure, sometimes I still lose, or end up with a marginal victory thanks to some desperate and probably unrealistic shuffling of units around the battlefield.  More importantly I have a much better understanding of why things played out the way the did.

The result of good Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield
I'm probably being a little harder on myself than warranted; in all honesty I've always been a decent tactician when it comes down to understanding how to position units once engaged.  I've understood how to employ different weapon systems and formations more or less effectively.  What I wasn't good at was understanding how to shape the battlefield through good preparation and reconnaissance so that I held the advantage and controlled as much as possible the timing and circumstances of the engagement.  I'm starting to get that, and I want to thank all of those who have provided the information and guidance to help me along.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to head to bed and do some more reading in FM 34-130.


  1. Great blog Doug! This has got me thinking about how I can employ more recon in my gaming.

    1. Thanks Chris! Just read your SOW post. Very interesting and I think I'll need to give that a try this weekend. The constraints in terms of speed and sighting ranges are so different in a Civil War situation I'm eager to see how the entire intelligence prep process (which I'm sure was a lot less formal in 1862!) is different.

  2. Something to look into:

    second link includes a video with a very rough outline of the process.

    If you can make it to Origins this summer in Columbus, you can check out the Staff Wargaming events we'll be running. The video was shot at one of those back in 2011.

    1. Hey Brant! I actually watched that video the other day, and have watched your other Origins Staff Wargaming events a couple of times. I found them originally when looking for something to help me with Decisive Action (can't get my head around that game). Thanks for the article links, they're very useful.

      In case it hadn't clicked, I'm panzerde on Grogheads.

      I didn't realize that Origins was in Columbus. If everything goes according to plan, I'll be in Normandy, France that week. If we end up not going I'm definitely going to make Origins plans. Columbus is my home town!

    2. It clicked after I posted this. My brain isn't always fully engaged :)
      As cool as I think Normandy is, I hope you can join us at Origins in Columbus!