Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Top 5 Intelligence Analysis Methods: Intelligence Preparation Of The Battlefield/Environment (#4)

Part 1 -- Introduction
Part 2 -- What Makes A Good Method?
Part 3 -- Bayesian Analysis (#5)

Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) is a time and battle tested method used by military intelligence professionals. Since its development over 30 years ago by the US Army, it has evolved into an increasingly useful and sophisticated analytic method. (Note: If you are interested in the Army's Field Manual on IPB, it is available through the FAS and many other places. We teach a very simplified version of IPB to our freshmen and you can download examples of their work on Algeria and Ethiopia (They are .kmz files, so you will need Google Earth to view the files).)

IPB is noteworthy for its flexibility. Its success in the field led to a variety of modifications and extensions of its basic concepts. The Air Force, for example, expanded IPB to what it has called Intelligence Preparation of the Battlespace and I know that, several years ago, the National Drug Intelligence Center developed a similar method for use in counter-narcotic operations. Today, the broadest variation on the IPB theme seems to be what NGA calls Intelligence Preparation of the Environment (IPE or sometimes Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment -- IPOE).

IPB/IPE/IPOE reminds me a bit of Sherlock Holmes in the The Sign of the Four: "Eliminate all other factors and the one which remains must be the truth." The fundamental concept of IPB – using overlapping templates to define a physical or conceptual space into go, slow-go and no-go areas – can clearly be applied to a variety of situations. It is obvious that this method is particularly useful in situations where geography is important. Mountains, rivers, etc. restrict movement options while roads and the like facilitiate movement. Overlaying weather effects and opposing forces' doctrine on top of this geography (combined with several other factors) can give a commander a good idea of what is possible, impossible and likely.

Simplify the concept even more (and remove it from its traditional military environment) and it begins to look like a Venn diagram with intersecting circles useful in any situation that can be thought of, either concretely or abstractly, as a landscape. Imagine, for example, a business competitor in which we are interested. We suspect that it is preparing to launch a new product. How would we translate IPB into this environment? Perhaps we could see the various product lines where our competitor operates as "avenues of approach". The competitor's capabilities could be defined by its patent portfolio and financial situation. The competitor's "doctrine" could be extrapolated, perhaps, from its historical approach to new product launches. The validity of this and other similar approaches in other fields is, however, largely untested.

By defining, in advance, the relevant ways to group the data available for analysis, IPB is able to effectively deal with large quantities of both strutured and unstructured data. While these groupings are typically quite general, they are finite and it is possible for relevant data to fall through the cracks between the groups. Likewise, as the relevant groupings of data begin to proliferate, the method quickly moves from one which is simple in concept to one which is complex in applicaton (The US Army's IPB manual is 270+ pages...).

For me, the research challenges here are straightforward. The military has a clear lock on developing this method within its environment; there is little value added for academia here. Beyond the military confines, however, the research possibilities are wide open. Does this method or some variation of it work in business? How best to define it in law enforcement situations? Could it work against gangs? In hostage situations? Crime mappers, in particular, might be able to utilize some of these concepts to further refine their art.

Tomorrow: Method #3...


Unknown said...

Hmm, interesting summary. I've been taught it as IPB and IPOE, each relating to different situations, (IPB conventional and IPOE insurgency/asymmetric). The difficulty I have found is despite it's flexible nature, to conduct my own IPB/OE in the time and manner given to me is near impossible. Let's hope we can iron the wrinkles out before game-time.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...


I agree that IPB can be a time-consuming method (needlessly so in many cases in my estimation). The IPB concept of restricting the geographical options through the application of reasonable constraints makes a good bit of sense to me, though. I think that the process can be streamlined but is still a fundamentally sound process in the end.

Thanks for the comment!


Anonymous said...


No question IPB is still a sound method and has useful applications to today's contemporary operating environment. And yes it has been adapted by inter-agencies and law enforcement as well. However, it is not a comprehensive solution.
IPB was developed to fight the Soviet bloc forces in the Fulda Gap of northern Europe. Its predictive/estimative value (most likely/most dangerous course of action) was derived from the Red Army's rigid adherence to published doctrine. By extention Soviet advisors proliferated this dogmatic approach to doctrine to client states, proxies and weapons customers. The Gulf War destroyed adversarial faith in Soviet doctrine, leaving many adversary states and non-state actors to develop their own unpublished doctrine.
Todays military intelligence analysts lack the corporate knowledge to develop a doctrinal template of a modern conventional threat and adapt it to a situational template. This has resulted in a deplorable situation where commanders want to know everything about every square micro portion of the battlespace at any given time and the false expectation that intelligence collection capabilities can provide it.
I liken modern IPB to trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle (in which you do not know what the end state picture is suppose to look) under a time-limit while looking through a soda straw with the lights going on and off.

Semper Fidelis,