Intelligence Support to a Cavalry Squadron

Slide 1
Figure 1. Enemy CoA slide from movement-to-contact battle period. For a matrix of PIR from the movement-to-contact battle period, please click here.

In this article we will argue that being the intelligence officer (S-2) in a cavalry squadron is the most unique and challenging S-2 position in the Army because the squadron operates without as much knowledge of the enemy situation, without a complete friendly and higher plan and with 200 geographically isolated human sensors (scouts) with individual thought processes.

Operating without known enemy locations is challenging because it does not give us a known quantity to build around and forces us to focus on the enemy’s intent and scheme of maneuver, creating unique products.

With a friendly and higher plan that is still being developed and synchronized when we initiate movement, we are forced to develop priority intelligence requirements (PIR) that support specific decision points (DP) but allow continued collection as we wait for conditions to allow or require a passage of lines.

Having 200 scouts attempting to answer the same questions from different vantage points requires an efficient and methodical plan to ensure there was a common understanding of the requirements.

Mitigating these challenges would not have been possible without a solid foundation of maneuver doctrine received through additional training and with experience earned from repetitions during field training.

During the train-up for National Training Center (NTC) Rotation 14-04, the 1-7 Cavalry S-2 shop’s production cycle evolved to create a set of useful tailored tools in a time-constrained environment. For each of the NTC battle periods, we continued to refine our process and products based off the mostly positive feedback from our observer-controller team members as well as our troop leadership. While our specific products continue to evolve, our methodology was validated during the decisive-action training rotation while we successfully led 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) of 1st Cavalry Division against the 11th Donovian Armored Division.

Ambiguity mitigated

The cavalry squadron must conduct parallel planning with the brigade to deploy and report in a timely manner, so when it comes time to develop the enemy courses of action (CoA) during the squadron military decision-making process, we often have limited known data around which to build. The intelligence cavalry scouts collect in the operation’s initial phases allows the brigade and our sister units to place known locations of enemy elements and thus have greater context for templating others and refining or even answering decisions.

While tactical users of intelligence products understand that the templated enemy locations are seldom accurate, we felt that due to the added ambiguity that comes with our squadron mission, we would need to focus more on the enemy intent. The S-2 shop still created analog and digital CoAs – and we templated the enemy as specifically as possible – but what proved to be a more useful added product was a simple PowerPoint slide for each CoA that showed enemy intent through task and purpose at the decisive point.

We identified the units we believed the enemy would use as his main effort and his supporting efforts at the operation’s decisive point. Each effort (enemy unit) task and purpose, as well as the grouping of efforts for the decisive operation and shaping operations, was shown on this one slide. This allowed troop commanders to understand the enemy’s intent, which in a reconnaissance operation allowed them to understand why the indicator might or might not be where we template, and allowed quicker troop-level decision-making to either deliver effects on the identified enemy system or more efficiently orient on secondary locations to identify the enemy system. This additional product also helped realize the differences in enemy priorities between the CoAs that can assist in risk mitigation and targeting planning.

The major differences in the task, purpose, location or task organization helped us develop our PIR.

Open-ended PIR

We identified very early in the development of our S-2 processes that open-ended PIR were more effective than yes/no PIR for planning reconnaissance operations and supporting brigade decisions. While yes/no PIR are easier to answer and easier to focus collection on, they tend to serve more as triggers instead of supporting DPs that require a balance of friendly and enemy conditions in the context of time and space. The PIR “Will the enemy commit larger than a company-size element to the northern avenue of approach?” is a yes/no question that is easy to collect against and quantify and may allow a combined-arms battalion all the information required to commit its reserve. For a cavalry squadron, this PIR lacks the context required to effectively frame the problem and allow understanding for the broader and more complex brigade decisions.

The environment the cavalry squadron operates in is cloudier from both an enemy and a friendly perspective. Often the scouts deploy without knowing the brigade commander’s DPs, a refined enemy situation or more than an outline of the friendly plan. While other S-2s are identifying which dots connect to which dots, the squadron is painting on a blank canvas.

The most common DP the squadron has is when to conduct the passage of lines. Since the squadron mission is to develop as much understanding as possible for the brigade commander, it is often very difficult to determine exactly what combination of enemy composition/disposition, squadron exposure/risk and follow-on force preparedness will equal the decision to move the brigade from shaping the fight to deciding it.

The squadron S-2 shop very quickly learned that to use yes/no PIR to answer this single DP would either limit our focus or create too many PIR. We learned that we must create a PIR that is never completely answered to facilitate continued collection if the situation permitted. The PIR “How will the enemy attempt to breach the 1st ABCT defensive belt?” was a broader question that gave the squadron a framework to better understand the DP while adding flexibility to continue to refine the brigade’s situational awareness. The realization that we required open-ended PIR forced us to further refine that PIR using a doctrinally modified information-collection matrix.

Information-collection matrix

While the information-collection matrix in Army Doctrine and Training Publication 2-01 is a doctrinal tool for developing a collection plan, it is often not used below the brigade level. This tool is designed to assist in economically using the array of collection platforms and matching them to an observable indicator while also identifying the possible cuing, mixing and redundant opportunities for the targetable or priority indicators. For us, it provided a tool that could be handed directly to any organic scout or shared with any potential ad hoc asset to communicate in very simple terms exactly what enemy equipment or activities mattered to our commander and his boss.

This also helped simplify the complexity we created by deciding to use open-ended PIRs by compartmentalizing the broad question into understandable elements for each unit that was responsible for answering. Often, the squadron answered PIRs, the troop answered specific information requirements (SIRs) and the scout and platoon identified and reported on the observable indicators. This product was useful in breaking down our macro-intelligence gaps into refined categories and then specific indicators, while simultaneously tying them into DPs and battlefield time and space. In planning, we would work left to right to provide troops with a simple focused list of tasks, and then – if done correctly – during an operation, troop reports would allow us to work right to left to provide squadron and brigade with understanding to make decisions. Troops could report presence of or lack of an indicator by named area of interest (NAI) in a systematic and simple process using a product all echelons understood and referenced.

During NTC, the enemy was preparing a defense. Our primary PIR was “How will the 113th Brigade Tactical Group attempt to develop their engagement area?” This PIR was broken down into SIRs, one of which was “Where will the enemy emplace counter-mobility obstacles?” We identified that an indicator was visual presence of engineer equipment, but our scouts did not observe any emplacing mines or digging tank ditches. We identified that visual acquisition of disturbed earth was an indicator of tank ditches, but none were reported. We also identified that Ground Moving-Target Indicator (GMTI) radar returns of slow-moving linear vehicles were an indicator of obstacle emplacement and communicated this to the brigade collection manager.

As daylight broke, we received a report that GMTI had picked up our indicator of slow-moving linear movement inside one of our NAIs overnight. The troops starting reporting indicators of enemy fighting positions in other locations, but the obstacle NAI had no presence of disturbed earth. This negative report, mixed with the GMTI report, helped us assess an exact location of an enemy minefield that proved accurate. While in hindsight it seems a logical conclusion, during the high tempo of reports that morning and without use of the matrix, the minefield would have gone unreported to the follow-on battalion and the result of the attack might not have been so successful.


Doctrine provides us with guidelines on how to conduct intelligence support to tactical commanders and staff processes, but not every tool is as useful in all echelons and organizations. For an S-2 shop to be incorporated into the organization, it is important to provide simple functional tools that reduce the complexity of the variables and not just add pages of data.

For the cavalry squadron, we identified the key products we were able to create in a time-, information- and resource-constrained environment that still allowed troop commanders to maintain situational awareness and support the squadron and brigade decisions. We still provided the four steps of intelligence preparation of the battlefield and produced our portions of the operations order, but within the tabs of Annex B were the tools that really provided the benefit. Consistently providing these tools for every new mission reduced friction during both planning and operations at both troop and squadron level.

Due to the unique mission and required tactical knowledge needed to support the planning and operations of a cavalry squadron, MAJ Gregory McLean insisted that CPT Jeremy Bovan and his assistant S-2 attend the Cavalry Leader’s Course prior to their field training in preparation for NTC Rotation 14-04. This foundation of maneuver doctrine was essential in the incorporation of the S-2 shop into the cavalry operations process. Without it, we would not have been able to identify and modify the core products required to justify our relevance in the reconnaissance process. With it, we were able to mitigate the complexities of being in the unique and most challenging S-2 position in the Army.

PIR matrix from movement-to-contact battle period