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The Top 10 Things I Learned as a Battalion S2 at the National Training Center

by Kaleb Castillo

Editor’s Note: Throughout this week, we have been running a series of articles from 4-70 AR on their lessons learned at the National Training Center (NTC). Each article is unique in that it presents a different perspective from the organization’s key staff members. Our hope is that these articles will help prepare you for success in your current or future roles in your organization.

During my unit’s recent deployment to the U.S. Army National Training Center (NTC), I learned several invaluable lessons as a combined arms battalion (BN) S2. In an effort to share those important lessons with fellow service members and any other interested parties, I will provide a list of the top ten things I learned.

  1. Fight Aggressively to Establish & Maintain Communications

As a BN S2, you must aggressively focus on ensuring you possess the ability to communicate up, down, and laterally. What is the intelligence warfighting function’s communication plan (PACE) in your unit? The answer to that question will assist you in determining the maintenance priority across lower and upper tactical internet (T/I) communication platforms. Starting with lower tactical internet, consider the following, prioritize Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBCP) training and maintenance, ensure your frequency modulation (FM) radios are transmitting / receiving through a capable power amplifier and antenna, and produce an S2 shop internal communications security custodian. In terms of upper tactical internet, ensure Capability Drop-1 (CD-1) systems have the proper map data, acquire accounts on the tactical server, and take full advantage of communication exercises- validate access to chat features and all secret databases. Furthermore, I highly recommend training at least three analysts to set up and utilize the one station remote video terminal (OSRVT). This system can be fully assembled in your combat vehicle; use a long Ethernet cable when connecting the tablet to the transceiver, allowing for rapid employment on the main command post (MCP) floor. Lastly, create and distribute laminated cards with all usernames and passwords for the various systems across your intel PACE.

  1. Set the Equipment & Manning in the MCP & Tactical Command Post (TAC) Early in your Training Progression

Properly outfitting the MCP & TAC as far as equipment and personnel will enable the S2 shop to provide accurate and timely intelligence regardless of which command node “has the fight.” If you have a competent and trained assistant S2, I recommend having him or her fight with the TAC. This concept allows for the BN S2 to maintain communications with the brigade S2, maximize MCP upper T/I resources and better manage the current operation (CUOPS) to future operations (FUOPS) transition. Your AS2 needs to be properly equipped (OSRVT, battle damage assessment tracker, map board, information collection (IC) products, etc) and in a vehicle with FM communications and JBCP. Additionally, consider sending an analyst with your AS2. This is particularly relevant in an ABCT formation as the TAC is employed for longer periods of time due to the extended operational reach of an armor unit. At the MCP, I recommend the BN S2 and S2 NCOIC split efforts between day & night shifts with support from one analyst. All other available S2 personnel support MCP life support functions such as security, re-supply operations, and kitchen preparation.

For MCP systems, maximize the use of OSRVT, CD-1, Command Post of the Future (CPOF), JBCP, High Frequency, and FM communications. Carefully consider how the S2 can augment the common operating picture (COP); my unit used diamond shaped push pins to annotate enemy actions and hung all IC & weather products on the map board. Additionally, an internal S2 map board was utilized in the S2 section of the MCP to reference the enemy situation template and other applicable products. Lastly, as the S2, do your best to see the bigger picture; allow your analysts to receive information and update the COP, enabling you to make holistic assessments.

  1. Drill the S2 Section’s Transition from Plans to Current Operations

Failing to plan for a deliberate CUOPS to FUOPS transition will lead to incomplete intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) products and even less rest at the NTC. The AS3 planner will be ready to begin steps one and two of MDMP upon receipt of the order, however, the S2 is usually knee deep in the CUOPs fight. So, how do you strike an effective balance? First, prepare prior to deployment by pre-filling IPB shells tailored to the enemy in the offense and defense. Several aspects of IPB can be started without specifics from your higher headquarters such as, terrain / weather, light data, civil considerations, enemy decision points, common priority information requirements (PIR), order of battle, etc. Second, have your E-5 (intel sergeant) begin the IPB process or take the CUOPS fight depending on priority. Lastly, take every opportunity to lean forward and parallel plan with brigade. Do not procrastinate!

  1. Be Prepared to Battle Track on the Move

Maneuver formations move rapidly! This requires the MCP to jump locations multiple times. My BN MCP jumped over 15 times throughout our NTC rotation. From an equipment perspective, be prepared to battle track on the move. The S2 has to be in a vehicle with good FM communications and a JBCP. I also recommend having a map board, battle damage assessment chart, and IC synchronization matrix accessible while moving to a new site. The goal is to hit the ground running at the new MCP site in order to be an asset to the commanders and relieve pressure off the TAC.

  1. Effective Intelligence Products Must be Provided to BN Scouts and Maneuver Commanders

Have the “fighting product” conversation with your BN S3, XO, and Commander well before the NTC rotation. Fighting products are unit-specific deliverables from the MDMP process that leaders use to command and control the fight. There should not be any confusion as to the exact products the S2 section produces throughout the MDMP process. In my BN, following mission analysis, the S2 shop disseminated the following products to BN scouts- PIR with indicators & latest time the information is of value, enemy situation template overlay, named area of interest description table with overlay, and IC synchronization matrix. For the operations order brief, my team provided a copy of the products mentioned above to all commanders and the S3. Start copying overlays as soon as possible and bring multiple printers and copy machines!

  1. Get Organic Information Collection Assets in the Fight…Early…and Always

At the BN level, organic information collection assets are limited and leaders should employ them in a calculated manner.  Combined arms battalions maintain a rapid tempo. So, the window for organic collection is somewhat narrow yet critical to shaping the fight. Starting with BN scouts, aim to employ them as early as possible while respecting the cavalry squadron’s area of operations (embedding the BN scouts with brigade recon elements is an option). While in the offense, our scouts conducted reconnaissance in support of breaching operations, finding potential threat anti-tank systems in-zone, providing obstacle intelligence, and determining the composition of the threat’s main defensive element. In the defense, we often tasked scouts to identify the enemy reconnaissance element’s objective and composition, the fixing force’s primary avenue of approach, and engineer assets.  Also, do not overlook the fire support vehicles in your organic collection plan.  Coordinate with the BN Fire Support Officer (FSO) to understand each fire support element location on the battlefield. Lastly, ensure assigned Ravens (UAVs) are accounted for in the collection plan.  We found success by employing the platform in the defense and in support of urban objectives.

  1. Work to Enable the Fires Element in your Formation

Prior to the NTC, I was unaware of the reliance fires and intelligence have on one another. It became extremely apparent when the air force representative approached me and asked, “Do you have targets? Fixed wing aircraft is on station.” At that moment I realized we did not have the proper systems in place. After that engagement, I policed up the S2 shop’s record keeping and worked with the battle captain to display a running list of active targets on the shared COP. Also, in an attempt to consolidate intel and fires products, the BN Fire Support Officer and I worked to include the fire support plan in the Annex L and named area of interest overlay. This reduced the number of products BN scouts had to reference while operating in the turret of a Bradley. Also, take a close look at the BN and brigade high payoff target list (HPTL) – we found that the brigade HPTL was significantly different from ours. This discrepancy created a lot of frustration with regards to expectations for cannon artillery support. In the latter portion of the exercise, my team developed an understanding of which fires platforms would prosecute which targets. This allowed the S2 shop to make informed targeting recommendations.

  1. The BN S2 is a Critical Player in the BN Combined Arms Rehearsal (CAR)

How does the BN S2 section effectively contribute to the BN’s CAR? For my unit, this was an iterative process throughout the collective training cycle. Towards the end of the training exercise, we had a set of inputs that differed based on the type of operation (offense vs defense). Regardless of operation type, the S2 should briefly cover the enemy situation at the opening of the rehearsal. From there the S2’s role varies by operation type. When blue forces (BLUFOR) are rehearsing the offense, we found it beneficial to have S2 soldiers execute the “step drill” method with the enemy recon elements, fixing force, breach force, and exploitation force. So, we essentially walked the enemy in by echelon and provided a brief task, purpose, and timeline, which allowed maneuver commanders to visualize probable lines of contact and enemy sequencing. In the defense, we found it best to have the S2 or AS2 verbally call out the assessed enemy actions as friendly units move their pieces on the terrain model. Additionally, it is highly advised to provide realistic enemy actions throughout the rehearsal. This allows BLUFOR to work through contingency planning and the synchronizing of contact drills prior to SP.

  1. A Deep Understanding of the Friendly Scheme of Maneuver Enables Relevant Assessments

In my opinion, the S2 has to understand BLUFOR’s capabilities, tactics, and scheme of maneuver prior to making an informed enemy assessment. BLUFOR’s actions will most certainly impact the enemy’s counter action and vice versa. Furthermore, your ability to anticipate on the battlefield is greatly enhanced by understanding the details. I was able to establish credibility with the commanders in my BN by describing assessed enemy actions in relation to their specific schemes of maneuver. You can get after this through a few different methods- become very familiar with how your BN fights in the offense and defense (“tactics, techniques, and procedures”), update operational graphics with fires targets on your personal map board, include the BLUFOR synchronization matrix in your accessible fighting products, and constantly communicate with your S3 and Company Command Teams.

  1. Submit Raven Restricted Operating Zone (ROZ) Requests Early in the Planning Timeline

Throughout the NTC rotation, my team submitted over 12 Raven ROZ requests and only three were approved. The request can get held up as it is routed through brigade and division aviation elements. With respect to the planning timeline, I assess the war game to determine the best time to establish ROZ locations. In the later phases of the war game, have an analyst submit the request to brigade in accordance with the PACE plan. For ROZ dimension, circular is not always the best solution as they often tie up more airspace. Therefore, consider polygon shaped ROZs as well. 

In conclusion, the NTC was an extremely beneficial experience that made my team and I better intelligence professionals. The lessons learned will remain with me throughout the duration of my military career. It was a pleasure to capture this information and share it with those interested in my experience!


CPT Kaleb Castillo is an active duty Army Officer currently serving as the senior intelligence officer within a Combined Arms Battalion.

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