Focusing Intelligence

Part 1 - Formulating useful PIR

In the investigation of scientific phenomenon you can't ascribe the cause of an event to supernatural or divine origins.  This doesn't mean that all scientists are atheists or agnostic.  On the contrary, the more you know about the fantastic complexity of our universe the less likely you are to ascribe it all to chance!  But explaining the motion of a falling object with "God makes it do that" doesn't lead to laws of motion, formulae for calculating ballistics, and hence to an accurate rifle that enables you to bring home the venison.  

 In the same way, ascribing the focusing of intelligence to "The commander does that" doesn't lead to an understanding of the details of the process.  Without an understanding of these details the process becomes little more than a collection of war stories about that last NTC rotation or memorable tour in Kosovo.   Further, watching a contractor write code to try to automate an ill-defined  process is like watching an Alchemist try to make gold by combining earth, air, fire, and water.    A rigorous understanding of the underlying principles of physics transformed Alchemy into Chemistry, and Astrology into Astronomy.  

 What IS "Focused Intelligence" anyway?  

 Our profession exists to produce intelligence to support decision making related to battle planning and execution.   Is it possible to produce intelligence that has no bearing at all on decision making?   Yes. . . given the current definition of intelligence: "Information or knowledge about an adversary obtained through observation, investigation, analysis or understanding" (FM 101-5-1, Sep 1997).   So, until we can fix the definition, I'll define "Focused Intelligence" as. . .

 "Intelligence required to support decision making related to battle planning and execution"

 Since we never have sufficient collectors or analysts to produce all the intelligence that might be produced, it becomes important to focus the few that we have in order to ensure we can at least produce what is required.  This article hopes to provide you with some mind tools to assist in this effort.



 The focusing effort begins when the commander and staff huddle to evaluate together all that they know and do not know about the current situation.  This process is called the Common Understanding of the Battlefield (CUB).  Since most things are NOT known, the staff starts identifying which unknowns are the most important to their specialties.  The commander identifies which unknowns are most important to him based on his judgment and experience, and thus formulates his Commander's Critical Information Requirements (CCIR).    Before we continue with the CCIR, it is important to note that there is currently no doctrinal identification for those unknowns which didn't make the CCIR varsity team.   I'll simply refer to them as information requirements.  Like CCIR they have two basic flavors: those asking about the enemy, and those asking about ourselves.  They are important because they also help focus the staff effort.

 Doctrinally, there are three categories of CCIR: Priority Intelligence Requirements (PIR), Friendly Force Information Requirements (FFIR), and Essential Elements of Friendly Information (EEFI).  Logically there are only two, as EEFI are not an information requirements at all.  They are a series of assumptions about the most dangerous PIRs the enemy might have once we have decided on the specifics of our operation.  For instance, if we are conducting an amphibious landing in Normandy, then an EEFI might be "Are the Americans conducting an amphibious landing in Normandy".   EEFI help focus deception planning and force protection efforts, but they are NOT requirements for information.  The name "EEFI" reflects the old term for PIR, "Essential Elements of Information", so logically they should be called EPIR: Enemy Priority Intelligence Requirements.  

 Once the CCIR are formulated, the staff begins to work on their Staff Estimates.  These might be formal multi-page volumes, a tactical internet web page, or they might just be quick notes in a Palm Pilot.  Intelligence Professionals use a process called Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) to create their Intelligence Estimate.  As many CCIR as possible are answered and passed to the rest of the staff via the Estimates.   

Fig 1 - The Coffee Pot Analogy
During the staff wargame, those CCIR that remain unanswered are transformed into either PIR or FFIR.   Many different analogies could be drawn, but the Coffee Pot in Fig 1 seems most appropriate for a long article on Intelligence Theory!  In fact, I'll pause for a minute while you refill your cup!!

Note that prior the wargame there are many CCIR.  Some of these can be answered, and those answers are incorporated into the formulation of Enemy and Friendly Courses of Action, and thus included in the wargame.   When the operations order is published, there are no questions called "CCIR".  Instead, you have a paragraph in Coordinating Instructions labeled CCIR, and under that you have a list of PIR, FFIR, and (unfortunately!) EEFI.   Since we have all recaffeinated, let's look at this process in detail!


Tools for Uncertainty

 The wargame will identify CCIR that cannot be answered at the time the Operations Order is written.  Maybe it will take more time to get the information, or maybe we can't know until some event occurs in the future.    These CCIR are resolved using one of four uncertainty tools.

 The Assumption If we are certain of the answer, and the consequences of being wrong are minimal, we can just specify what the answer will be.   Assumptions can be powerful focusing devices!  "Assumptions  are the mother of all Folly" is only true if you forget they are assumptions and start treating them like verified fact.  If we are planning a defense, we might assume that the enemy will attack.  If not, we must plan something else; the important thing is that we focus on the defense.   CCIR seldom translate into assumptions unless the commander is very inexperienced. . . or was very tired when he formulated them.   This is NOT a good tool  to eliminate all but one enemy course of action!

The Commander's Intent Although this usually ends up being a "Reader's Digest" version of the operations order, its primary purpose is to provide guidance on how to deal with all the things that will happen in the battle that the operations order didn't anticipate.  This allows soldiers to deal with both opportunity and crisis in a way that will facilitate the overall plan. 

The Decision Point If the staff can determine when in the operation they will know the answer to a CCIR and what they will do given the range of possible answers, they can create a Decision Point.  Decision Points consist of a decision and two or more alternative actions, triggered by the answer to the CCIR.   If the decision is triggered by the status of a friendly unit, the CCIR becomes an FFIR.  If the decision is triggered by the status of an enemy unit, the CCIR becomes a PIR.  In either case, the CCIR is rewritten to be as specific as possible in order to make the execution of the Decision Point unambiguous.   Note that Enemy Decision Points are a superb tool for describing enemy courses of action!  

The High Payoff Target (HPT) -   During IPB, a number of enemy assets were identified as being critical to the enemy commander's operation and were designated High Value Targets (HVTs).  As the wargame unfolds, a subset of these is identified as being important to the friendly mission.  These are designated High Payoff Targets.   Sometimes a High Payoff Target is identified as being critical to friendly mission success.   If there is any uncertainty associated with this HPT - for instance, we don't know where it is! then it is likely that the commander formulated a CCIR about that uncertainty.  If the uncertainty will exist until we decide to conduct the attack, then this CCIR is converted into a PIR for the purpose of effectively attacking the target.   HPTs are really just a special type of Decision Point.



 The Grunt to Analyst Interface!

 Let's look closer at how a CCIR is transformed into a PIR.  It happens during the wargame. . .

 The enemy has a reserve which can be used to counterattack into either Objective BOB or Objective JOHN.   The initial CCIR was "Where will the enemy counterattack with his reserve?".    During your IPB you might identify the details about that reserve (it's the 1-23 Tank Battalion, etc), but you won't know WHERE it will attack until it actually starts to move.  During the wargame the staff realizes that the effect of this enemy action is significant enough that it will require the commander to make a decision on the use of attack helicopters.   This  becomes a Decision Point, and the CCIR is transformed into the more specific PIR: "Will the 1-23 Tank Battalion counterattack into Objective BOB or JOHN (between 0830 and 1330 hours)?"  Note that in order to qualify as a PIR you need three items: 1) A Single Question concerning an enemy status;  2) A link to a Decision Point (High Payoff Targets are just specialized Decision Points);  3) A specific time interval that the Question is related to the Decision.

 During the same wargame, another CCIR, "Will the enemy destroy the bridge at Smithville?" is regarded as non-essential because that bridge is no longer essential to the friendly plan. . . we decided not to go that way!  Although no decisions will be made based on the bridges status, we decide to monitor its status anyway.  Didn't make the "PIR Varsity Team", but we'll allocate collection and analytical effort as long as it doesn't interfere with the answering of PIR.    It becomes an Intelligence Requirement.   

Figure 2 Intelligence Requirements
This is more than a picky point.  It's best to think of a Priority Intelligence Requirement as just an Intelligence Requirement which received a temporary promotion because it is used to trigger a Decision Point or a High Payoff Target.   It might be Priority for just a short period of its overall life.  In the above example, suppose that we might have to cross the Smithville Bridge if 1-61 Infantry runs low on fuel.   It is a PIR. . . until we decide that 1-61 Infantry will not cross the bridge.  Then it reverts to just an IR.  In Figure 2, the shaded portion of the IR shows when it is a PIR. . . and why.

Although this relationship is not specified in doctrine, it is very useful when thinking about and using PIR.  And it becomes a powerful programming tool when you automate the entire focusing process: instead of two separate categories of questions (one called PIR and one called IR) you have a single category. . .   just check the "It's a PIR" block as needed!     An automated "Build A PIR" form might look like this:

Intelligence Requirement

Start DTG  
End DTG  
DP/HPT #  
Start DTG  
End DTG  
PIR# (Opional)  

PIR constructed this way focus the intelligence effort because they are automatically linked to the most essential aspects of the operation.   When we say "The Commander Drives Intelligence", this is the method. 


. . . and FFIR

  The sleeping giant!

FFIR should be constructed in a similar way as PIR.   For instance. . .

The combat power of the lead battalion after taking Objective BOB will not be known for sure until after the objective is actually taken.  The commander indicated that this information will result in a decision: will that battalion hold BOB,  or proceed to the next objective?   This becomes a Decision Point.  The initial CCIR is transformed from a generic "What will the lead battalions strength be after taking that hill?" into the more specific FFIR:  "What is 1-61 Infantry Battalion's strength after securing Objective BOB?"   

A current weakness in doctrine is that there is no mechanism to focus "Blue" information.  FFIR lack the specificity of PIR.  At present they don't need to be linked to a Decision Point. . . or even a decision!  They need not be precise in their wording or linked to a specific time interval.  There is no system to differentiate FFIR that ARE related to a Decision Point from those that are not.  There is no analytical process where FFIR are broken down into the friendly equivalent of Indicators and Specific Information Requirements, and there is no system in place to produce "Blue Intelligence".   This is a critical shortfall!   As we push high-bandwidth connectivity down to the individual vehicle and soldier, there will be LOTS of information flowing back from these entities.  Some of it will be about the enemy, the rest will be about ourselves.    Perhaps some day FFIR will be as critical to the operation as PIR!


Maintaining Focus

The wargame is over, you are happy with your Decision-Linked PIR. . .   and the commander walks up and says "Add a PIR about the enemy use of Weapons of Mass Destruction".    Or "I'm real concerned about my left flank, make sure you watch it!"    Or "Make sure you keep track of enemy Battle Damage Assessment during the fight".  

Now what?  None of the above are linked to ANYTHING!  Should you just do it? 

This is where you find out how much credibility you have with the Boss!  You must probe his mind to discover why he wants to know this stuff, and what he'll do with it when you give it to him.  In other words, you must engage in a small, informal wargame.   Here are some rationales that might be useful: 

1.  Tired and forgetful.  If the commander envisions using the information to make a decision that will involve resources or time, and he forgot to tell the rest of the staff , then there is a good chance there won't be an option when you give him the requested intelligence.  For instance, he was the only one who envisioned using attack aviation against a flank attack. . . but because it wasn't coordinated by the staff, the assets were elsewhere when needed.  

 2.  Over tasking analysts.  We still call it Collection Management, but there is also a need to conduct Analyst Management as well.  After all, there is only so much analytical energy in any Intelligence Staff.  Every PIR and IR costs time and resources!  We understand when a Scout can't be two places at the same time, but we haven't yet captured the intelligence production costs for the analyst.   Tracking BDA might look cool, but if it isn't tied to a decision then it is probably draining resources from answering a critical PIR.   Remember how the Combat Engineers prioritize their effort by Mobility, Counter-mobility and Survivability?  Categorize your PIR by the Intelligence Functions (IPB, Force Protection, Situation Development, Targeting, BDA, Indications & Warning) and then brief the commander on the Collection/Analysis Effort given the existing set of PIR:  







Force Protection



Situation Development









Indications & Warning



* Note that this refers to the production of intelligence, not the production of the Intelligence Estimate!  Our over-use of the NTC has gotten us out of the habit of IPB-related PIR; for example, whether or not the desert to the west of Kuwait will support the weight of armored forces.

3.  Intuitive Commanders.  Most Army leaders are NOT intuitive. . . their perceptions are primarily based on what they see and hear, and they will act decisively on this perception.   However, you may have a commander whose perceptions are based on how his observations stimulate his intellect. . .   and who prefers to see how things will develop before committing to a decision.  This is the rare intuitive boss!  Intuitive commanders crave PIR that peer into the inner workings of the enemy operation, for the purpose of formulating a very creative and unusual battle plan that often catches the enemy totally off guard.   Since most analysts are also intuitive, you likely get along very well!   Ensure he understands the first two rationales, then compromise.  You will certainly end up with some PIR that are only linked  to portions of the Commander's brain.  The payoff is that he will be more likely to listen to the analytical reasoning behind your conclusions, and use the intelligence in ways you didn't expect!

Finally, always remember that PIR are your essential tasks for an operation!  You must ensure that they ask for intelligence that you can reasonably produce, and provide answers that are critical to the conduct of the fight!



Caught off guard by the revelation that PIR were essential to focusing intelligence?   Hope not!  However, knowing the mechanics of the process will help you apply the principles when the situation isn't "normal". 


In Summary. . .




to Focus


which Drives


which Produces

DPs and HPTs

each Requiring


which become Essential Tasks  for

Collectors and Analysts


Neil A. Garra
Copyright 2001, The S2 Company, all rights reserved.