Overcoming Limitations: The Role of the S2 in a CA Battalion

Photo courtesy of DVIDS

2LT Brian Leppert and SGT Carlos Ramnath

What role does the S2 serve on the battalion (BN) level within Reserve Component (RC) Civil Affairs (CA) units? We will argue that the S2 does not follow a traditional model of intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) posited by MI doctrine in its support of CA units because of A) the distinct mission-set of CA and B) the methodological and presuppositional parameters of IPB – the combination of which produces several ambiguities. IPB consists of four consecutive steps: first, define the operational environment (OE); second, describe the OE effects on operations; third, evaluate the threat; fourth, determine threat courses of action (COAs). Now, the largely diplomatic nature of the CA mission inherently eschews intelligence in its clandestine goals, and second, the Army’s doctrinal model of IPB does not neatly fit into non-traditional, diplomatic mission sets due to its battlefield worldview. We will demonstrate these points by outlining the issue and by describing how the S2 can provide a definitive value-add to BN level CA planning and operations.

CA and MI as Fundamentally Separate

The definitive, diplomatic mission-set of CA presents a disparity between itself and intelligence. This disparity exists not just in a military context but also within the broader context of international relations. Foremost, the diplomatic and intelligence services lack trust and compatibility as diplomats have often viewed the clandestine nature of intelligence as detrimental to their mission.[1] Here, diplomacy has a legitimacy that intelligence does not due to the secrecy of intelligence. For example, when country A decides to conduct clandestine activities in country B while simultaneously engaging it diplomatically, the intelligence activities have the potential to destroy diplomatic progress if brought to public light.[2] This has spurred debate regarding the definition and nature of intelligence, which largely circles around intelligence’s use of secrecy.[3] These inherent differences have led authors like Manjikian to describe intelligence as having a type of “queerness” as opposed to other methods of conducting foreign policy.[4] Thus, diplomacy and intelligence operate on different grounds and in different capacities.

This disparity does not restrict itself to the strategic 3-letter agencies and the DoS; rather, it exists within the military, primarily articulated in doctrine. First, the Army’s commander-centric paradigm positions CA and MI assets as distinct support entities that operate parallel to each other.[5] Here, the Army considers both as “tools” in the commanders “kit” for planning and conducting unified land operations.[6] However, they bring different services to the table. CA provides civil information management (CIM) and analysis of human networks and MI provides IPB and analysis of pertinent threats.[7] CA conducts CIM on the “low side” in unclassified settings whereas MI conducts analysis on the “high side” within a SCIF. CA doctrine goes as far as to explicitly state that “CA must not be tasked as active collectors of threat information,” and “CAO [civil affairs operations] are an information [as opposed to intelligence]-related capability”.[8] CA assets do not participate in MI activities in order to protect their diplomatic mission, which is often codified through status of forces agreements between the US and host nations. As FM 3-57 states “If the civil component perceives that CA is acting on behalf of intelligence organizations . . . CA forces lose the credibility and access required to establish and maintain these critical relationships.”[9]

This distinction underlies the role of the S2 in CA BNs as no extensively described role exists in doctrine for S2s in CA BNs. The S2 has the potential to jeopardize the diplomatic mission of CA through clandestine activity if it actively tasks CA elements to collect intelligence.[10] Inversely, the S2 is handicapped by the CA mission set because its chief tool, IPB, does not entirely apply to CAA (civil affairs activities)/CMO.

Doctrinal Left and Right Limits

While the previous section depicted the missional difference between CA and MI, another disparity exists that presents problems to BN-level S2s. Here, IPB does not fit within the CA mission set but not because it deals with threat-related analysis (for CA does benefit from a recognition of multivariate threats); rather, it does not apply to CA because IPB methodology is restricted to battlefield considerations and a battlefield worldview.

The first issue is that IPB already considers cultural factors and civil considerations. According to ATP 2-01.3, “Intelligence preparation of the battlefield is the systematic process of analyzing the mission variables of enemy, terrain, weather, and civil considerations in an area of interest to determine their effect on operations”.[11] Furthermore, the intent of IPB is to foster, “. . . a holistic approach to analyzing the operational environment (OE).”[12] Yet, this holistic approach subjugates itself to, “. . . the relevant aspects of the OE as they pertain to the staff’s warfighting function. . . .” or the mission at hand as directed by the commander.[13] This conscripts IPB to the mission at hand as not all information has pertinence to tasking. Thus, IPB, while remaining a similar process across offensive, defensive, and stability operations, will prioritize intelligence as dictated by the commander and mission.

These doctrinal considerations seem to imply that the commander determines the presuppositions of conducting IPB, opening the potential to direct analysis towards civil considerations. Indeed, doctrine does describe an IPB focused on civil considerations within non-traditional environments, such as stability operations or a COIN context. As FM 3-24 states, “In a counterinsurgency environment, intelligence preparation of the battlefield/battlespace must take into account operational environment considerations,” and, “Culture is an element of the operational environment. . . .”[14] This led Catherine Bechtel to argue that “Personnel analyze and understand battlespace characteristics like demographics, culture, tribes, and clans as much as they work to understand its terrain features”.[15] Likewise, ATP 2-01.3 states that during stability operations, “Commanders and staffs should be wary of becoming too focused on enemy forces and not conducting the necessary analysis on civil considerations. A greater emphasis may need to be placed on civil considerations than on the enemy during stability tasks.”[16] Additionally, this doctrinal publication lays out a laundry list of tasks that include assessments of the civil considerations and their impact on the regional security.[17]

While IPB doctrine appears to provide for the myriad of situations that move beyond the battlefield, it assumes a battlefield worldview by conscripting non-battlefield factors (i.e. civil considerations) to the battlefield. Here, multiple MI professionals argue that IPB does not fit into the totality of military operations and that it is restrictive as an analytic model. For example, Carter claimed that IPB, “. . . is too myopic and rigid. . . .” to appropriately assess the intricacy of the current global system.[18] Here, he draws upon the example that, “. . . IPB strives to be clock-like in describing the battlefield and predicting developments, which means that those who use it may be inclined to make the false assumption . . . that everything is ‘clock-like’ and predictable in a given operational area”.[19] Even though doctrine recognizes the need for a ‘holistic’ approach to IPB, Carter’s point implies that shifting emphasis to civil considerations within IPB forces them into a “clock-like” model. Clock-like rigidity definitely fits the type of intelligence requirements of traditional warfare and battlefields, but not the fluid aspects of the civil domain. Political, religious, and social systems often do not function like “clocks,” and the task of subjugating them to a codified IPB process forces the analyst to consider them in this manner.

Going further, doctrine claims that:

The purpose of IPB in stability tasks is the same as in offensive and defensive tasks. However, the nature of these tasks and the intelligence requirements associated with them are unique. The principal difference is the focus and degree of detail of analysis required for the civil aspects of the environment.[20]

However, as Snider argued, “Simply adding more detail and including a demographic analysis does not make it adequate.”[21] The problem does not coalesce on a matter of degree, but a matter of kind. IPB fundamentally prioritizes the battlefield as its level of analysis. Shifting emphasis during the four steps does not change the worldview lens through which the staff analyzes the civil considerations. A proper analysis of civil considerations requires a different kind of analysis, not a shift in the amount of detail or priority given to them.

Furthermore, Haas argued that IPB must adapt to fighting non-traditional enemies by adopting a broader model of what constitutes the enemy and how the enemy positions itself within the OE.[22] In CAOs, this would involve looking at civil considerations in a different way, utilizing a broader analytic perspective. Likewise, McDonough and Conway contend that intelligence support to COIN requires more than the lethal framing/language of traditional IPB.[23] CAOs require non-lethal targeting frameworks, which assume a different basis than lethal targeting. Additionally, Chase claimed that IPB views actors as nation-states, and that this does not apply to current, fluid situations presented by non-state threat actors.[24] Hence, IPB exhibits a certain bias due to its task to “prepare the battlefield.” This, however, places MI staff at a proverbial fork in the road. Here, they can either rework the more fluid civil considerations to fit the rigidity of IPB, or they can rework IPB to fit the fluidity of the human context. This means going beyond attention in the degree of analysis to attention in the kind of analysis. But by doing either, the MI staff pushes the analytic boundaries of IPB, making it into something that it is not. It sets too broad left and right limits.

To broaden the left and right limits of IPB creates practical analytical issues. First, you run the risk of losing intelligibility and distinction, the bedrock of analysis. When you redefine a specific thing into something else, it no longer exists as the original thing, creating an equivocation and a falsehood. As Aristotle famously stated, “. . . falsity is the assertion that that which is is not or that which is not is. . . .”[25] If civil considerations exist as a different kind of category from battlefield considerations, then to reduce the former to the latter is making that which is something that it is not. For example, if you take the civil consideration of a religious leader/leadership, but place it under an IPB mold, you will view the religious leader as friend/foe, which misses various nuances of religion. The leader may not be “friend” or “foe”, but instead may be “other” as in most religious contexts spirituality goes beyond the quarrels of “this world” and aims at the divine.[26] The COAs of religious leaders and people often have different aims and motivations that do not fit into the friend/foe category, and subjecting this civil consideration to the battlefield-oriented IPB model blurs these lines. Both intelligibility and distinctions provide for analytical clarity and error-free judgment.[27] Therefore, extending the left/right limits of IPB to become a catch-all model can produce erroneous assessments.

Clearly, IPB does not provide a universal model for conducting intelligence support to operations, even though it has utility in traditional warfighting. IPB rightly restricts itself to warfighting (given the Army’s primary directive and purpose as a warfighting entity). However, CA does not conduct traditional warfighting and objective seizing, and it is easy to see from these points alone that IPB provides limited value to CA planning and operations at the BN level. CAA/CMO may not have a clearly defined enemy or really any enemy at all. While doctrine recognizes this, cautioning staff and commanders to not overlook civil considerations, this raises the question of how much IPB is required to conduct IPB.[28] The point here is not that IPB cannot concern itself with civil considerations; rather, IPB within the CA context and the CA specific use of civil considerations stretches IPB past its methodological commitments. IPB exists as an analytic model, and like any such model it has limits in its applicability.

Finally, IPB does not apply to CA BN level planning even within traditional contexts where CA would support an infantry division in a large-scale campaign. In such a situation, the CA mission does not change. CA commanders still provide the same CAA and CAO support services that they would in a stability context. They still attempt to partner with the indigenous population and provide support to the local civil administration. Additionally, the higher maneuver unit would conduct its own IPB process via its own MI staff. Why, then, have a CA BN level S2? All of these restrictions essentially handicap the S2 as its chief tool doesn’t “fit the problem.” Trying to conduct IPB in a CA context resembles trying to fit a square peg in a round hole—it doesn’t often work, and when it does, it has the potential to be erroneous. However, there are several ways to more clearly define the S2 role in a CA BN.


First, MI staff provides a “high-side” liaison capability. Here, the MI staff has access to TS/SCI intelligence that will benefit the CA mission and planning. They can pull and create products that refine and go beyond CIM while respecting the appropriate levels of classification. However, this presents difficulty for the reasons articulated previously concerning the relationship between intelligence and diplomacy. CATs cannot actively collect for MI, but MI can debrief teams after missions, putting pieces of the larger picture together and feeding strategic analysis. Even doctrine allows for this with the stipulation that all soldiers are sensors.[29] Likewise, CATs can utilize tactful awareness of the MI mission-set to become better passive collectors of information. The MI liaison role works both ways to assist the larger JIIM enterprise and the CA mission at the BN level.

Second, MI staff can bring SME analytic expertise. This requires the MI staff to thoroughly understand the CMOC and the CIM cycle.[30] Although IPB doesn’t fit CA planning and operations, having an additional perspective always helps recognize biases and shortcomings. Inasmuch as IPB holds a commitment to the battlefield, CIM likewise holds a commitment to civil considerations. The S2 must bridge the gap between the two disciplines. Because MI staff primarily focuses on threats, they can rightly understand when a specific actor moves from being a religious leader to a jihadist leader. Furthermore, the S2 can identify when key nodes in the civil domain, such as a dam, may be targeted by a threat actor in the AOR. The S2 works with the CMOC and CIM cell to turn civil information into intelligence to feed the JIIM. Nevertheless, MI staff must become accustomed to operating under the DoS Conflict Assessment Framework (CAF) and/or Joint Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment (JIPOE).[31] Additionally, the MI staff’s access to “high-side” intelligence grants them the ability to understand the broader implications of CIM and allows them to provide contextual and strategic awareness to the CA elements (i.e. liaison capabilities).

Acting as SMEs, it benefits the S2 to draw upon a diverse set of educational backgrounds and professional experiences. The author’s S2 shop has analysts with expertise in International Relations (IR) Theory, anthropology, sociology, theology, and the medical field as well as having diverse intelligence experience across the traditional “INTs” (intelligence disciplines such as human, signal, or open source intelligence). Having a broad set of educational backgrounds and experiences allows the shop to cognitively bridge the gap between the specific civil considerations and the strategic intelligence picture of the unit’s AOR. By drawing upon these backgrounds, the S2 can cross-train with the CIM cell, refine BN products, and improve their use of more conventional analytical domains. This can include cross-training on the CIM and intelligence cycles, given their similarity, but it can also include classes on IR Theory, anthropology, theology, etc. Regarding the latter, RC BNs have an opportunity to leverage civilian educational and professional skills that the active component does not have access to. However, given the diversity and disparity of civilian backgrounds in the RC, this may not transfer neatly across units.

Third, while the S2 does participate within the MDMP process, it cannot do this without familiarizing itself with the CMOC and the CIM cycle. Here, the S2 will work to develop civil-based area studies and assessments of threats to friendly forces, drawing upon the methods utilized by the CMOC. The S2 must learn and become fluent in the specifics and differences of CA planning and operations. This, though, does not negate bringing IPB-based products to the table if the CA unit has attached itself to a larger, traditional force. The CA S2 does not conduct IPB; rather, the S2 pulls the generated intelligence from the conventional unit’s IPB process as the conventional unit rightly concerns itself with the traditional enemy COA development. Furthermore, in a situation like this, the S2 will utilize its liaison capability to help bring and integrate the CIM products into the traditional unit’s IPB process as CIM does the legwork for analysis of civil considerations.[32] Nevertheless, the question at hand concerns the role of the S2 in support of the CA BN, not the general role of CA.


MI staff faces several unique challenges while supporting civil affairs. CA presents unique challenges given A) its diplomatic mission set and B) its distinct planning process and operations within non-traditional environments. The MI staff must remain flexible and willing to adapt, and it cannot become “bogged down” in trying to fit and/or rework certain considerations to the rigidity of IPB.

About the Authors

2LT Brian Leppert currently serves with a RC CA BN as a 35D/AS2. He holds a B.A. in Historical and Theological Studies and an M.A. in Government and National Security Studies, with a thesis titled A Systematic Application of Thomistic Epistemology to Intelligence Analysis. He currently works in law enforcement.

SGT Carlos Ramnath also serves with the same CA BN as a 35F Intelligence Analyst NCO. He has deployment experience in the CENTCOM AOR where he worked on a targeting team. He has prior experience as a 68W Medic and 68C Nurse. He is currently completing a B.S. in Healthcare Leadership and Advanced Patient Care.

Standard Disclaimer. The opinions, conclusions and recommendations expressed or implied above are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of any organization or any entity of the U.S. government.

END NOTES [1] John D. Stempel, s.v. “Diplomacy and Intelligence,” Oxford Research Encyclopedias: International Studies, accessed June 14, 2020, https://oxfordre.com/internationalstudies/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190846626.001.0001/acrefore-9780190846626-e-151. [2]Ibid. [3] For an overview and framework for understanding this debate, see Giangiuseppe Pili, “Toward a Philosophical Definition of Intelligence,” International Journal of Intelligence, Security, and Public Affairs 21, no. 2 (2019): 162-190, https://doi.org/10.1080/23800992.2019.1649113. [4] Mary Manjikian, “Intelligence Activity as ‘Queer Politics’: Applying the Insights of Queer Theory to Describe the Role of the Intelligence Community in International Relations,” Journal of European and American Intelligence Studies 1, no. 1 (2018): 83. [5] Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 3-57: Civil-Military Operations (2018); Headquarters, Department of the Army, FM 3-57: Civil Affairs Operations (Washington, DC, 2019). [6]JP 3-57, 1-1-1-2 FM 3-57, v-vi; Headquarters, Department of the Army, ADP 2-0: Intelligence (Washington, DC, 2018), 1-1, 1-10, 1-12. [7]FM 3-57, 2-4; ADP 2-0, 2-7-2-8. [8]FM 3-57, 1-7. [9]Ibid. [10]Ibid. [11] Headquarters, Department of the Army, ATP 2-01.3: Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield/Battlespace (Washington, DC, 2019), 1-1. [12] Ibid., 1-1. [13] Ibid., 1-2. [14] Headquarters, Department of the Army, FM 3-24: Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies (Washington, DC, 2014), 8-2. [15] Caroline Bechtel, “What the Army’s Return to Large-Scale Operations Means for the Intelligence Warfighting Function,” Modern War Institute, May 8, 2018, https://mwi.usma.edu/armys-return-large-scale-operations-means-intelligence-warfighting-function/. [16]ATP 2-01.3, 7-6. [17]Ibid., 7-12. [18] Donald P. Carter, “Clouds or Clocks: The Limitations of Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield in a Complex World,” Military Review 96, no. 2 (2016): 37, accessed February 20, 2019, https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.regent.edu/docview/1780820441/fulltextPDF/746206C5D9C643A8PQ/1?accountid=13479. [19] Ibid., 38. [20]ATP 2-01.3, 7-6. [21] Lauri Snider, “An Assessment of Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield Doctrine for Humanitarian Assistance Operations,” (monograph, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 1995), 3. [22] Eric H. Haas, “Fight the Enemy You are Fighting: IPB in a COIN Environment,” Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin 37, no. 3 (July-September 2011): 46-51. [23] William G. McDonough and John A. Conway, “Intelligence Support to Nonlethal Operations,” Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin 36, no. 3 (July-September 2010): 7-13. [24] Eric C. Chase, “Intelligence Preparation of the (Asymmetric) Battlefield,” Marine Corps Gazette 93, no. 2 (February 2009): 20-23. [25] Aristotle, The Metaphysics, trans. Hugh Lawson-Tancred (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2004), 107. [26] Broad consensus across the theological spectrum demonstrates that religion and spirituality primarily concerns itself with the experience of the divine, and secondarily with ethics, culture, politics, etc., and serves a unique role in both personal and public life. This includes theologians and philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Paul Tillich, and Karl Barth, all of which had widely distinct theological commitments. [27] For more on the importance of distinctions and how to arrive at them, see Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic, 3.1 ed. (South Bend, ID: St. Augustine’s Press, 2008). [28] ATP 2-01.3, 7-6. [29]FM 3-57, 1-7. [30]Ibid. [31] USAID, Conflict Assessment Framework Version 2.0, 2012; Joint Chiefs of Staff, JP 2-01.3: Joint Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment (2014) – interestingly enough, while this resembles IPB in its four steps, it’s inherent strategic commitments lends itself more accurately to broader, civil considerations as it prioritizes the OE rather than the battlefield. [32]FM 3-57, 2-4-2-5.

1 comment
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Instagram

CAA Members, do we have your most up to date contact info? Email us if you are not sure


Subscribe to Our Site