Friday, September 21, 2018

It's in There: Rethinking (?) Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield in Megacities/Dense Urban Areas

March 2, 2016
Authors: Richard Wolfel, Amy Krakowka Richmond, Mark Read, Colin Tansey


Military operations are challenging in densely populated urban areas or larger cities. The authors explain there are three fundamental concepts for this complexity in modern cities. First, the cities are multidimensional. Second, cities are interconnected through globalization, with social media and other methods of communication or information sharing. Third, cities are uncontrollable due to increased connectivity, an increase in the black market or an informal economy, an ineffective government mismanaging run-down but significant areas that are vulnerable. The constant change in highly populated areas, influences the interaction between the area of interest (AI) and the operator. This process is referred to as Duality of Structure, by Anthony Giddens.

To execute an operation in the heavily populated areas, it is crucial a leader knows the environment and the uncontrollable elements they are operating in. Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) are used as a visual representation of the operating environment. IPB is a traditional intelligence method which helps improve situational awareness. Unfortunately, traditional methods do fall short and leave gaps that new science and technology developments can fill. A development includes, the ability to track individuals or groups in 3-D space. To avoid detection, individuals will move to maintain security and to gain tactical advantage.

The military intelligence (MI) doctrine provides a base to explore the complexity in the densely populated urban areas or cities, to increase situational awareness. Often, mission variables are recognized and are perceived as unchanging when planning a mission. These are variables are to be considered changing variables. When the mission is to apprehend a terrorist group, the movement of the group from one area to another will likely effect societal characteristics in the AI. In 2008, the attacks on Mumbai, the terrorist interplay between the terrain and vulnerability in civil society, this allowed the terrorist group to go undetected and strike. The relationship between the terrain and vulnerable society, increased situational awareness of the field of operation.

The question is asked, “Should intelligence analyses be conducted as the Area of Influence or Area of Interest level? How do we define these spheres? How do we isolate regions that cannot be isolated from outside influences?”

A challenge paramount of importance, is the connectivity and complexity of contemporary globalization when establishing a discrete Area of Operation (AO). Urban Triad is a term Wielhower uses to explain this complexity; natural terrain is altered by manmade infrastructure and large populations. Cities are also globally connected through culture, social media, economics, etc. IPB serves as cross border threats. Social media has changed the nature of warfare by uploading videos, interaction, and other factors difficult to control. Social media analysis is a way of determining how different movements or ideas influence people.

Lastly, the authors address ways to exercise overlapping threats. Using IPB and modeling scenarios to prepare for insurgencies, is a realistic way of informing and training the operations forces, especially in highly dense areas. It creates an understanding of the situation, develops strategies, and prepares for anticipatory changes in the event or possible outcomes.


The authors of this article brought to my attention the difficulties in operating in large cities or dense urban areas. It was insightful learning the obstacles faced when planning an operation. Considering the constant change in the different types of manmade or natural influences on an environment makes the job more complex.

The fundamental concepts are key to promoting greater situational awareness. Connections between the three fundamental concepts for each AI must be analyzed before conducting the task. Revision of the plan before employing it is crucial due to the perpetual changes in cities.

Obviously, IPB’s have impacted outcomes when exercising insurgencies. Although highly populated areas of interest are more difficult to facilitate around, scenario planning seems to provide a deeper understanding to create successful solutions for operations forces in such dense urban environments. Other analytic tools are useful when planning operations that involve human lives at stake, but in particular, the IPB approach creates a visual that provides information and a unique outlook, essential for intelligence operators to successfully execute the task.


  1. I really like IPB as a tool for enhancing situational and spacial awareness, but you and the authors bring up a good point-- especially in densely populated cities, there's more to contend with than just terrain. It's like when you take a picture of Times Square-- you don't get a picture of just the buildings in the area. You also get a picture of all the vehicles and people. Times Square is always more than just the buildings. All cities are more than just their buildings. FOr me, one of the most useful things about IPB is that you can use it zoomed in on an extremely small scale (think: intelligence preparation of the grocery store) and you can use it zoomed out to mapping country terrain. I think making considerations for unique elements of the areas in question is something that can enhance the utility of an IPB model. For urban areas specifically, adding the element of time passage with bus/metro schedules, rush hour, when special events let out, etc. would be a particularly useful layer to add to an IPB. I'm interested to read some other useful "layers" of information you can think of for IPB.

  2. Your post highlights the importance of IPB and understanding of the operational environment in urban warfare. In James Kitfield's book Twilight Warriors, he discusses how Iraq experts were unaware if the small towns and villages along the 101st Airborne's route to Mosul were majority Shiite or Sunni Islam due to a large focus being on Baghdad (Kitfield, 2016). A more thorough IPB could have left ground force commanders better informed.

    Kitfield, James. (2016). Twilight Warriors: The Soldiers, Spies, and Special Agents Who Are Revolutionizing the American Way of War.

  3. The article you used makes me wonder how useful IPB may be outside of a military sense, for agencies such as the Red Cross and FEMA in disaster relief efforts. New Orleans, Puerto Rico, Houston, Haiti, New Jersey; we constantly see the effects of both successful and unsuccessful disaster relief plans for urban areas with dense populations. With the projected increase in the number of superstorms, the importance of fusing urban planning with intelligence is an interesting concept.

  4. Chelsie,
    I thought the role of social media in applying IPB was a unique challenge I didn't expect for urban populations, but it makes sense. With a dense population that is readily able to document and expose operations as they happen in real-time, this could be challenging to execute a military operation discretely in unfriendly territory. To account for this threat, perhaps monitoring population movements and executing the attack at times when fewer people are around to document the operation may be helpful. Would you agree?

    1. Tom, I can definitely agree with that. The difficulty in that is in bigger cities, there usually is constant movement. That's why I believe many operations are conducted at night when there is less movement.