How to Become an Effective Battalion S2

by Captain Jeffrey E. Jennings

To be an effective battalion S2, you must be well founded in doctrine and where you fit into the staff planning process, understand the threat, understand your commander, and trust in your subordinates to do their jobs. Your job is to predict what the enemy will do so your commander can prepare. This means you write a viable enemy plan based upon your adversary's doctrine, weapons and abilities.

Doctrinal Foundation and Staff Planning

The staff planning process is the meat and potatoes for you as the battalion S2. A fundamental understanding of what your unit does in combat is crucial. Know your unit's mission and get a feel for your commander early. The best way to get this knowledge is to first read and comprehend the doctrine in the 34-series field manuals. These are available in every S2 shop. FM 34-130 Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield, is one of your most important tools. IPB is the foundation of everything you do. Your understanding of IPB is the basis of your success, no matter what type of battalion you support. This basic knowledge of your doctrinal tools and your unit's mission can be easily obtained and understood. Sit down with the battalion (or brigade) XO and discuss the missions for which you will plan. The XO is your closest link to the commander and the most experienced officer on staff (after the commander).
As an S2, you have a wealth of information available to you within the staff itself. As you prepare the threat picture, consult closely with the special staff which includes the Air Defense Officer, Engineer, Fire Support Officer (FSO), and Battle Captain. These subject matter experts can give you keen insight into what the enemy can do and may do. Each has a unique understanding of the systems within their battlefield operating system (BOS). Examples of how to use these experts' knowledge in the process include the following.
As you conduct initial IPB (a process which never ends), consult often with the S3. You are the enemy commander, the S3 will be your best expert with whom to fight the battle. This process of talking through the fight with the S3 allows you to fine tune the enemy battle against an opponent, and will get the S3 into the enemy plan early. This process is formalized during the wargaming which comes later in the planning process. The exchange between you and the S3 will turn into the operations order when the process is complete. As you work through the battle with the S3 and special staff, the assistant S2 and intelligence analyst are preparing the IPB products. These include the modified combined obstacles overlay, the situation template, the event template, and so forth. It is critical to work closely with the S3 and staff, as well as keeping your subordinate commanders and S2s (if brigade or higher) informed during this process so they all have a common picture of the enemy situation. Remember, the next higher S2 has done this process earlier, and you will have those products when you begin to plan.

Know the Threat

The second critical part of your job is to understand the threat. This learning never ends. You must be current on the abilities of possible enemies within the theater of operations your unit will support. Your brigade and division will furnish you with threat information. The division Analysis and Control Element (ACE) has the most up-to-date information. Periodically, go to the ACE and get an update on thetop five potential contingency countries for your unit. Without an understanding of how your potential enemies fight, it is hard to put on the "red hat" and give your commander a viable enemy COA against which to plan. You cannot know every existing threat model, so seek guidance from your commander, the brigade S2, and the division G2.

Understand the Commander

The third important function is to understand your commander. Though this takes time and experience with your boss, the XO can be your key to success. He is also a senior combat arms officer with a wealth of knowledge and experience, and will give you great insight into your commander's information needs. As a primary on the staff, you have access to the commanderdo not hesitate to ask him what he wants. Within your unit, there are also subordinate commanders who are the recipients of you products. They will execute the order which comes from your enemy predictions. Talk to the company commanders about the kind of information they need to enable them to attack or defend successfully. Filling their information requirements is one of the most important things you do.

Trust Your Subordinates

As a battalion S2, you will never have the time you need to do all there is to do. Your assistant S2 and intelligence analyst are critical to your success. Train them. They are experts in IPB so give them direction and trust them to complete their tasks. Take time each month to sit down with them and go through pieces of the planning process until they understand the way you think. Make sure your analyst and assistant are also up on the most current threat. They too must know and understand the latest technology available to you. If these individuals are not up to speed during long field exercises or operations, you will get no rest and not be useful to your commander.


As we approach the 21st century, we are becoming more and more sophisticated. Using the All-Source Analysis System and its remote work station will continue to make your job easier. These new tools will add more science to what we do in MI. Keep current with technology. Your divisions will have many of the new tools, so get your hands on them. Do not wait until your battalion or brigade goes through its new equipment training.
Finally, your commanders expect you to give them the enemy COAs. You will not always be perfect and few commanders will expect you to be. You are, however, the unit's expert on the enemy and how he fights. Know and understand him, use the tools described above, then give the commander a viable enemy COA against which to plan.

The author wishes to thank Captain Michelle Schmidt for her assistance in writing this article.

Captain Jennings currently serves as Major General Charles W. Thomas' aide-de-camp. He has served as the S2, 2d Infantry Brigade, 25 Infantry Division. Captain Jennings has a bachelor of arts degree in History from Grand Canyon College. He can be reached at (520) 533-1150, DSN 821-1150, and via E-mail at jenningsj@