Small Wars Journal

Reverse IPB: A Whole-of-Staff Approach to Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield

Tue, 03/12/2013 - 4:25am

Getting a Brigade Combat Team (BCT) Headquarters (HQ) to conduct the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP) as a coordinated and synchronized team is a very tough thing to do.  One key to integrating the whole staff as a unified planning team may start with Reverse Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (Reverse IPB).  Army Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (ATTP) No. 5-0.1 states clearly that under the S2’s direction, the entire staff should participate in IPB.[1]  Many commonly refer to this whole-of-staff effort as Reverse IPB, where each staff section conducts analysis on his respective counterpart on the opposing force. 


There are three major benefits to employing Reverse IPB: first, it links the staff together in a unified cause right at the very beginning of the MDMP, providing a nesting of efforts, while simultaneously enhancing a shared understanding of the Operational Environment (OE); second, it helps the staff officer frame his own problem with respect to his war-fighting function (WfF), helping to ensure that his assets are utilized effectively during the Course of Action (COA) Development and Wargaming Phases; and third, it produces a much more comprehensive IPB product for use by the commander and staff during later stages of the MDMP. Ultimately the goal of not only IPB, but Mission Analysis (MA) as a whole, is achieving shared understanding.[2]  The commander and staff participate in an integrative process by which shared understanding of the mission variables is achieved.[3]  This process should eventually become continuous within the headquarters – so that as mission variables change, the relevant staff officers are updating their running estimates which include those applicable mission variables related to Reverse IPB.

Figures 1, 2 and 3 below show a possible format for a BCT staff officer or NCO to use when developing a Reverse IPB product for his WfF.  (These PowerPoint (PPT) charts are only guides.  Using Command Post of the Future (CPOF) for these Reverse IPB products would most likely be much more useful than using PPT.)  At the center is a sketch showing in time and space how the applicable counterpart forces and threats will operate within the OE.  It would be prudent for the S2 to provide a baseline threat template sketch, right at the very beginning of the process, for use by the entire staff participating in Reverse IPB -- this would allow for the generation of common and transferable sketches by each staff section.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Across the top of the sketch are the mission variables – Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops, Time and Civilians (METT-TC).  Cognizant of the fact that the achievement of shared understanding centers on the METT-TC mission variables, boxes atop the sketch are designed to assist the staff officer/NCO in drafting or refining his IPB.  Green color coding signifies that that element of the mission variables has been addressed.  Black signifies that the element was not addressed.  Amber would be partially addressed.  Red would signify significant gaps in knowledge which would prevent a reasonable analysis.  The purpose of the mission variable graph is to remind the staff officer to continuously address all applicable elements of the mission variables during his analysis.  It also shows the XO or Commander immediately what areas have and have not been addressed during the analysis.    

Down the row on the right side of the template, the staff officer/NCO will start with listing the opposing force Assets or Threats and the corresponding Capabilities.  Staffs should strive to provide information or knowledge rather than mere data when presenting this portion.  Figure 4 is the “knowledge pyramid” displaying the levels of knowledge through which the staff officer conducting planning should strive to climb.  For instance, the assumption that the enemy force likely will have a company(-) of engineers is not as good as describing what he can do with these engineer assets in terms of quantifiable/measurable mobility, counter-mobility, and survivability tasks over a given time period.  As another example, providing information regarding the types and quantities of enemy surface-to-air missiles is mildly interesting; but laying out how and when they likely will employ these assets is much more useful for planning.

The next field on the right side row of the template calls for either Limitations or Risks related to the opposing force or threats.  Limitations are the likely projected capability shortfall that the enemy may have during the upcoming operation.  Risks are areas in time and space where the opposing commander may likely chose to expose a tactical weakness or vulnerability in order to achieve an advantage someplace else.  Using the Engineer and Air Defense fields as examples again, an opposing force in the defense will require a certain amount of blade assets, Class IV materiel, and time to properly prepare a defense given the characteristics of the terrain and the composition of the forces available for the defense.  Any element of shortage to establishing a proper defense may be considered a limitation.  The Engineer Officer during Reverse IPB should note this limitation along with an assumption of specifically (where, when, and how) this limitation will affect the enemy commander’s defensive position.  (Furthermore, the Engineer Officer should recommend Priority Information Requirements (PIR) related to this limitation, to confirm or deny the assumed vulnerability in the defense.  

Regarding assumed Risk, an opposing force arraying his Air Defense assets will often attempt to weight or concentrate his firepower or radars to protect a certain asset or area rather than balance or spread out his firepower and radars to cover his entire Area of Operation (AO).  Assuming Risk may provide for a tactical advantage in one place, while at the same time expose vulnerability somewhere else.  Areas of Risk such as these are important elements of Reverse IPB and should be noted by the BCT’s Air Defense officer.  (Likewise, the Air Defense officer conducting Reverse IPB should develop PIR related to likely Risks to confirm or deny the areas of assumed vulnerabilities.)  

The Engineer Officer assessing enemy Risk may look at areas such as the prioritization of engineer assets over space and time.  For instance, when templating a given enemy force in the defense, and based on calculations of assumed assets and time available, the Engineer Officer may predict that counter-mobility projects in the defense will mean a shortfall in survivability positions.  Again, PIRs should relate to these assumptions and assessments, so that the enemy’s true disposition can be validated over time.  

In the “Concept of” section the staff officer conducting Reverse IPB should provide a general concept or scheme for the employment of the enemy’s resources.  This should at a minimum include the priorities of support of that given asset and also a general scheme detailing with when, where, how and why the assets will be employed.

The final two sections are reserved for recommending initial High Value Targets (HVTs) and PIRs.  In the HVT section, the staff officer conducting Reverse IPB will list those enemy assets, or elements of another specified OE threat, which he thinks should be targeted by the BCT.  In the PIR section, the staff officer should, as discussed above, attempt to define PIR which will support his commander’s mission by better defining the enemy and threat arrayed against it. 

The formats discussed above and as outlined in Figures 1, 2 and 3 cannot be used as replacements for running estimates.  Staff officers use running estimates to compile data related to their WfF.  The accumulation of this data is essential and will become the base source for creating charts similar to Figures 1, 2 and 3.  Remembering the Knowledge Pyramid, however, staff offices should not use running estimates as routine briefing products.  Running estimates, filled with useful data, are bad briefing charts and usually poor products for MDMP collaboration.  They are tools for creating proper briefing products, like Figures 1, 2, and 3.  

Making Reverse IPB a part of routine MDMP within a headquarters will provide great dividends over time.  To the extent that Reverse IPB is considered a novelty or an unpracticed skill within the headquarters is problematic on several levels.  Remember ATTP 5-0.1 states that IPB is a process for the entire staff.  Making it an “entire staff” process is critically important to achieve that shared understanding of the various mission variables.  Routine use of Reverse IPB will get the staff cooperating better and earlier in the MDMP.  Ultimately, and especially if used regularly as part of updating running estimates, Reverse IPB serves to better frame the problem for the commander, and to better allocate friendly assets and resources.

[1] ATTP 5-0.1 page 4-6

[2] FM 6-0 page 1-3, paragraph 1-16

[3] FM 6-0 pages A-5 – A-6


About the Author(s)

Lieutenant Colonel Rob Rouleau is assigned to Operations Group Charlie, Mission Command Training Program, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 

Lieutenant Colonel Andy Attar is an U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery officer, on active duty for 19 years.



Fri, 06/26/2015 - 2:26pm

In reply to by Vicrasta

Good points, Vicrasta. You should definetely write something up.

Staff officers are also their own worst enemies. We tend to focus on the failings of the commanders or the COSs/XOs, but staff officers tend to be untrained and ill-prepared in how to integrate themselves into IPB, Targeting, and MDMP as a whole. Often times the learning curve is too great if the only time to train and develop these skills is during a major exercise. Not only do all staff officers have to become true experts in their own fields, but they must understand the scheme of maneuver and the underlying basic tactics, before any significant integration during planning can happen.


Fri, 06/26/2015 - 1:20pm

In reply to by andy_attar


I'm glad this article and subject popped back up. IPB is something that I have been dealing with recently as it relates to Unified Land Operations in a Decisive Action Training Environment (DATE 2.2) involving students from multinational staffs.

You make some excellent points about "facilitate and innovate and experiment with ways of improving integration across the staff." I also agree that the "burdens of integration outweighs the benefits", but have seen some progress in staff integration and unity of effort during comprehensive network engagement training involving support, influence and neutralize activities during offensive, defensive and stability operations. To use another buzz phrase..the "shared consciousness" is improving from my vantage point.

I'll put some more thought into this and re-visit this post.

"Think about our thinking" is spot on IMO.


Fri, 06/26/2015 - 9:22am

In reply to by kansasintelguy


I just saw your comment!

the gist of what you say is a common theme that I see on these threads: namely, "this is what doctrine calls for already, so why the need to discuss it or elaborate on it? Just do what doctrine already says."

I should be readily apparent to all of us that planning in general is dysfunctional throughout the Army. specifically "integration" (the ability of the staff to work as one integrated entity) is virtually nonexistent.

rather than limiting ourselves to appealing to existing doctrine and then shrugging our shoulders when staffs continue to fail to integrate, we need to, in a sense, "think about our thinking." And facilitate and innovate and experiment with ways of improving integration across the staff.

As long as the burdens of integration outweighs the benefits, S2s will continue to carry the exclusive burden of conducting IPB and S3s will almost exclusively draft the plan. (And things like Targeting and Risk Management will always be distant after-thoughts within MDMP.) Staffs are acting rationally, not irrationally, when they chose not to integrate during MDMP. The burdens simply outweigh the benefits. The challenge is to make the burden of integration much lighter, and to increase the benefits of integration to IPB and Targeting and to the whole plan.


Mon, 09/01/2014 - 1:41pm

I know it's been a long time since anyone posted, but this has been tearing me up for a long time. First, some background ...I, like LTCs Rouleau and Attar was an observer / trainer for OPS Group C about 10 years ago (on the enlisted side). As an intel "weenie" I dealt with, on an every exercise basis the slipshod manner every other BOS (then, now WFF) participated in IPB. When FM 2-01.3 came out in 2009, (after I left) I thought a lot of the problems would be alleviated. I was wrong, they had just started.

FM 2-01.3 defines "reverse" IPB. Because of that, we can't arbitrarily assign another definition to it (especially if it is an incorrect definition). Reverse IPB, according to FM 2-01.3 is, "a technique to account for the effect of friendly dispositions or the threat’s / adversary’s perception of friendly dispositions when determining the COAs the threat/adversary believes are available."

"Reverse" IPB isn't what the good authors of this document think it is. What they are talking about, like Outlaw 09 inferred is IPB. While the authors were quick to point out (doctrinally) that IPB is a staff responsibility and process, they failed to point out that steps 2, 3 and 4 have requirements for the remainder of the staff as well as the S-2 section. What they also failed to point out is that at all echelons, the intelligence section has begrudgingly been saddled with the maneuver portion of IPB as well as the intelligence portion. The S-3 section doesn't provide input to the S-2 about the composition, disposition, nor capabilities of the threat.

In order for this to work, staffs must perform IPB. That means each staff section and WFF must provide input to the S-2 for their counterparts capabilities and tendencies in order for the S-2 to be able to effectively develop comprehensive threat courses of action.

It's in the book!!

So ... let's call it what it is ... IPB.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 03/13/2013 - 2:29pm

jholm----interesting comment. Here goes a deeper anaylsis that many do not want to discuss due to the current culture---or some of us call it poking the bear in the stomach---and it goes to the heart of this article and why MCTP does not handle the "fuzzies" which are the heartbeat of mission command---dialogue, communication, team building and the huge elephants in the room TRUST and micromanagement.

Take a standard BN staff---composed of approx 4-5 LTs, 3 CPTs, 1 MAJ.

The LTs have had little to no MDMP training as well as the CPTs unless they have been to CCC, and the MAJ maybe rusty in MDMP if he is out of ILE---by the way ILE is shortening their classes and the MDMP cycle in the CPTs Career Course is also being reduced.

Now all officers will argue that they have done MDMP becuase of the countless deployments---my response is yes they have gone through the motions BUT do they really understand the WHYs behind each of the seven steps--not really. Do they really understand that without a thorough mission analysis nothing works well--how many staff officers/staff NCOs have really done a thorough MA-and how many actual sub steps are there in MA.

The authors of this article dance around the core issue of why staffs do not collaborate-if one accepts mission command and the premise of what drives the art of cpommand then it is the responsibility of the commander to build his team ie mentor, train, nudge, the staff all the while building Trust and fostering dialogue/collaboration---becuase if there is a lack of Trust within the staff, between the staff and the commander, between NCOs/enlisted and Officers---absolutely no communication will ever occur---no dialogue will occur.

Without Trust there is no "discipline initiative" or what the GOs are calling "decentralized control"---without Trust there can be no effective commander's intent and or mission orders nor will the subordinates pay attention to the mission orders because they have not bought into them.

There is where the problem lies---not in how good a staff gets at RIPB.

Would really like to see the MCTPs get out of the bushes and into the weeds in the art of command---especially where the commander is or is not building his team---is or is not mentoring/fostering Trust, dialgoue and communication/collaboration and is both the staff and the commander fully understanding the cognitive hierarchy and how knowledge and understanding flows inside the CP. AND that includes a serious relook at the impact of Powerpoint on the cognitive hierarchy and how the COP is built if PPT is the single tool being used.

The authors need to rethink the article and then reopen the conversation around the "fuzzies" and start "poking the bear in the stomach".

Much of what I have been blogging about on mission command and the "fuzzies" on Tom Rick's Foreign Policy site has been incorporated in the Senior Leader recommendations to the CSA on 5 March on how to institutionalize mission command or as they stated in their last slide---mission command is now the "forcing function" in changing the current culture in the Force.

The GOs are getting and driving mission command top down---surprised it has not been picked up on by the MCTPs maybe because they have been so mission command systems focused for so long---facilitating a staff/commander in a deep disucssion on the "fuzzies" takes a deeply grounded facilitator who is totally confident in himself and the "fuzzies".

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/14/2013 - 5:38am

In reply to by jholm

jholm---an interesting point-- at no time does a MCTP team or a CTC OC team during an AAR focus on the "fuzzies" ie trust, opne fear free dialogue, communication/collaboration, teqam building, commander mentoring, staff interatcion/cross talk which goes to the core of team building and again to the core of the art of command.

What we have 2003 are young officers growing up in a culture that does not condone open fear free dialogue, does not condone trust and is heavy on micromanagement and when they reach LTC/COL or become BN/BCT commanders it is simply not in their DNA.

An open question for the SWJ blog might be "how often have you seen a BN/BCT commander truely extend trust to the entire staff in the last six/seven years"?

WHY becuase they cannot---in order to make the next promotion ie for BCT commander that one star---failure is not an option so automatically we force commanders into a massive miscromangement role so the promotion possibility can exist.

If one goes back over comments, slides, white papers from Generals Dempsey, Cone and Luck since 2012---they recognize the problem and are creating a cultural change via mission command (forcing function).

If one goes to the Company Commanders Forum from Jan 2013 and reads the comments by Company commanders--it is an eye opener but speaks to the current culture and reality of the younger officers.


Wed, 03/13/2013 - 4:08pm

In reply to by andy_attar

Thanks for your thoughts. I'm sure MCTP provides feedback to units along the lines of what you've mentioned in points 3 and 4. I'm curious about points 1 and 2, though. I sense that institutional inertia is a powerful force. I assume that the suggestions of streamlining and re-organizing the staff or establishing BN CDRs as "Chiefs" of a specific function have been met with resistance or inaction from the units you have seen to date. Have any units implemented these concepts?

I'm also curious about Outlaw's comments regarding trust and dialogue. How much does MCTP hone in on "the art of command." I think he is correct that these notions are "fuzzier" and more difficult to measure, but they are certainly critical to mission command. I would be interested to hear your thoughts.


Wed, 03/13/2013 - 1:01pm

I can offer some thoughts on why we don't integrate better as staffs, but like you said, it requires a lot more discussion and analysis..

1) Commanders don't invest enough time developing and organizing (designing) their staffs.

2) XOs don't know how to effectively manage the huge BCT staffs. (One thing to perhaps consider when organizing the staff for better integration is to relook staff structures. Ensure that Special Staff sections work through designated Coordinating Staff sections. This would reduce the amount of personnel that the XO would have to directly manage and integrate. But would require the coordinating staff to step up. So for instance, the XO goes to the S3 for Counter-Mobility issues and the S4 for info on dirty route planning, rather than the Engineer and the CHEMO. Separely increased employment of the R&S, BSB, Fires and BSTB battalion commanders as Chiefs of Recon, Sustainment, Fires, and Rear Area Management or Blades,etc. would help to divide labor and integrate planning.)

3) Spend more time on MA. Units tend to rush MA.

4) Stop focusing obsessively on the outputs slides going in front of the BCT commander. A lot of important staff work which will never make it into MA Briefs or other key briefings to the boss still needs to happen in order for a successful MDMP. Units tend to myopically focus on the final outputs slides to the boss at the expense of staff integration and planning which is less glamorous and only becomes important when something goes wrong.

I agree, I'm unclear what the difference is between the proposed RIPB products above and the staff running estimate since the running estimate seems to include many of the RIPB considerations plus weather, terrain, friendly, and civil considerations. The last paragraph makes it sound like RIPB products would be a component of the staff estimate.

I would've liked to have seen more discussion on how to better incorporate the whole staff. Regardless of how you format IPB, RIPB, staff estimate products, the danger is always in stove-piped, desynchronized staff efforts.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 03/13/2013 - 7:23am

This is a great example of just how far we as staffs and commanders have gotten from "right".

If in fact the staff is doing what is should be doing during mission analysis they should be at some point stepping into the staff process commonly referred to as the "staff estimate and or running estimate"---at the same time the more tradiitonal S2 shop is doing it's IPB.

If one looks at the running estimate format it in fact covers what here is being call the RIPB. Each staff section should be doing the following format as addressing their individual staff section concerns and covering; 1. Situation and Considerations which follows more or less the METT-C method and includes a Characteristic section which includes Enemy/friendly and civilian considerations, 2. Mission, 3. COAs, 4. Analysis, 5. Comparision and 6. Recommendations and Conclusions.

Now the core staff problem kicks in---just how often does each staff section update their original estimate and do they really update it? Moreover do they really understand the WHY behind the running estimate and how it fits into the cognitive hierachy.

While the article is interesting we do need to really look at staff interactions and ask why staffs have gotten away from "running estimates".

This brings us around to the interesting question of where is the Art of Command and the Science of Control if we are going in reverse to do RIPB because it appears RIPB is the only way to get a staff to dialogue/communication---to get them to trust is not even being asked here.