Battlefield Intelligence: A Primer on Collection & Exploitation

This article originally appeared on American Partisan. Check the site out- a lot of great content is being posted daily, including current event sitreps, articles by subject matter experts with real world experience in all areas of preparedness.

The goal of intelligence collection is finding and reporting actionable information. The key to action is figuring out what the exploitation value of the information being found. What can I do with the information I’m finding? How do I use it? What should we even be looking for?

Information and Intelligence…same thing right? Not exactly. Information is just that…info. Intelligence has to be collected, processed, analyzed, and briefed to the guy calling the shots. We pass along what we observe in a structured format so that we don’t miss anything, even when we’re excited, cold, tired, wet, sleep deprived or otherwise not on top of our game. The best way I’ve found so far is by using a simple format called SALUTE and SALT. While there’s some overlap between the two, SALUTE is the formal, more in depth report that an observer creates when first observing activity. A SALT report is a supplemental report that fills in any changes that may have occurred since the SALUTE report was written and sent. Together, they both create a better picture for our analyst in the Analysis and Control Element (ACE). SALUTE and SALT stand for:

    • Size
    • Activity 
    • Location
    • Uniform
    • Time
    • Equipment 
  • SALT
    • Size
    • Activity
    • Location
    • Time
A still captured from a John Brown Gun Club propaganda video. What data can be compiled from what was observed? Who’s the leader? Who is his cadre? What are their levels of training? All of it is relevant.

SALUTE & SALT are the simplest, best formats I’ve found yet for rapidly sending information. It’s info until it’s developed into something someone can read and make a decision based upon. Once its refined into something we can make decisions to act upon, it becomes intelligence. The more information you can send with your report, also known as a product, the better. We have to know what to look for- for example, a trained observer will look beyond the make and model of weapon itself and look at how its outfitted. What weapons and equipment do they have? What are the capabilities of their weapons and do they have the training to employ any serious fire and maneuver? There’s a reason guys training in the Recon field memorize so much data on various weapon systems: so we can instantly know what it is when we see it as well as know its capabilities. An example of this would be having multiple elements equipped differently- one team with carbines and low magnification optics or red dots, or maybe just iron sights, another with higher magnification scopes and spotting equipment. It’d be a good guess one team is the maneuver element while another is providing overwatch and support by fire. In addition, whatever other enablers they have, ie thermal devices, night vision (NODs) and lasers indicate a level of capability beyond the norm, while indicating a necessary supply source. Who supplied them and can they continue to do so? Are they competent with their equipment? All of these are possible points of exploitation. Everything observed has a possible point of exploitation.

Not in uniform? Or is he? It depends on context. Ad-hoc militias will very likely have mixed uniform types- we have to identify what’s similar about everyone int that group, even if it’s only how they identify themselves.

Do they all match- What is their uniform? Uniforms actually provide us with much more intelligence value than you might think at first glance. Back when I first joined the Army the U in SALUTE stood for Unit. As the training began to reflect the times, that changed to Uniform- who, in an asymmetric conflict, wears a coherent uniform aside from conventional forces? Actually many groups do, they just don’t do it in the ways you think. It could be a common color, common deuce gear, a common patch or even a common way the weapons are painted (if they’re painted). Uniforms indicate a level or organization and discipline among a group. A group wearing rags and who’s gear looks aged, dirty and tattered may also have relatively low morale and might even run from a fight despite their numbers. Something as simple as worn out boots can indicate possibly low morale in a group. Likewise a unit that appears with a high level of sameness and shows discipline in their movements might put up a stronger fight. With a small team you might take the first group; with the second, you might want to hold your fire for another day.

This is a guerrilla of the FARC in Colombia. The first thing to notice is the weapon- M82 .50cal rifle with undetermined magnified optic. Then we notice the colored armband. His weapon looks well maintained and he looks healthy with a high morale. He has a significant level of training and capability that we can gather just from the photo. Now what you probably didn’t notice was the Motorola FRS radio he’s using for team communications- easily monitored, easily intercepted, easily jammed. Everyone has a point of exploitation.

A great example of exploitation value I teach in class would be their radios, antenna types, and using a communications receiver, finding what frequencies they’re on and what the encoding sounds like (if being used).  There could be multiple points of exploitation- how complicated is their equipment? Does the operating frequency work in this environment? Are they competent with their communications? What are their callsigns? How can we possibly jam them? An analyst can process this, give it to a higher echelon, meaning your headquarters team, and later develop a better method of collection to narrow down the finer details. Working with our radio example, if they’re using several different models of radios, it might be a good idea later on to figure out what each is for. This will give an idea of what force multipliers are being employed or what level of coordination the OPFOR actually has. It also gives those of a devious mind a possible avenue of attack. Electronic warfare is a very real thing that gets next to no attention when it comes to small unit skills.

Another other point of exploitation that you might want to keep in mind is identifying key leaders among the group your observing. People in groups react to one another differently based on seniority. We all do it in many ways, but especially through body language. If you’ve got eyes on a target, its a good idea to first map out who the key leaders are and note who they interact most with. A disruption of that chain of command can cause a number of problems for a small group. Depending on their level of organization and morale, that could range from first instilling confusion and a minor setback to absolutely devastating more autocratic groups. For example, Arab culture has next to no concept of middle management. There’s the guy in charge and all his jundi (soldiers). If he gets killed, there’s a certain period of confusion before a new guy steps up. The same would absolutely be true of many less disciplined or ad hoc civilian militias, and especially those not supplied past having a thousand rounds of ammo, an AR-15 and not much else.

Macro-level information should not be ignored; it provides context, and its possible that will makes the difference between linking up with or mistakenly shooting at potential but previously unknown allies. It’s good to know what’s going on in the big picture for context, and a good idea to be actively listening and observing using all of the sources available to you. Observe what else is going on…perhaps what may be brewing just outside your back yard. These days a tiny, insignificant event can escalate to a national crisis in the span of one news cycle, so it’s good to be aware of what’s going on locally. Worry about what you can actually do to better the local situation vs. what may or may not be disinformation. Finally, verify everything! Your operators in the field should each be given a means of authentication, so that you know who’s sent what. That’s another post for another day. It goes without saying that information absolutely must be verified or else it’s thrown out. Knowing the difference will make the difference.

Following through the steps of creating a valid report, while stating clearly exactly what you see, is critical to the intelligence process on the potential battlefield. When handed off to the analysts at our ACE, the entire team can create a stronger plan of action exploiting weaknesses of our opposition. Whether that’s for a small group of preppers in an uncertain future or a team of trigger pullers headed to the hot zone, the basics remain the same. Knowing and being able to competently send these reports in the real world are critical skills and it starts with training.

Wanna get training in the field? We have an upcoming Battlefield Intelligence and Surveillance Workshop. Its a one day course out in the woods, getting hands on with the concepts described here and full of hands on, practical exercises. We also have an upcoming Signals Intelligence Course, which covers the issues of electronic warfare for small groups in the article. Come on out and pick up some skills.

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