Closing the Intelligence Gap in the OMFTS Concept

by Major Harry E. Jones, II

When I took a decision or adopted an alternative—it was after studying every relevant—and many an irrelevant—factor. Geography, tribal structure, religion, social customs, language, appetites, standards—all were at my finger ends. The enemy I knew almost like my own side.

—T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of   Arabia), 1933

America’s Naval Services have taken an aggressive step towards revolutionizing the nature of amphibious operations with the development of complementary concepts called Operational Maneuver from the Sea (OMFTS) and Ship to Objective Maneuver (STOM). These concepts envision a host of emerging technologies such as tilt-rotor aircraft, the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV), and precision fires enabling Marine and Navy forces to strike swiftly inland at ranges up to 200 nautical miles from the shoreline. This is the vision of OMFTS/ STOM; however, the Naval Services have paid insufficient attention to the requirement for precision intelligence to support OMFTS.

Without changes in current planning doctrine and more aggressive funding of intelligence systems, the Marine Corps may never achieve the OMFTS vision. This article will analyze some of the intelligence requirements and shortfalls associated with OMFTS and will provide solutions to address the current challenge.

OMFTS: An Overview

Throughout history, including the massive assaults at Normandy and on the island of Okinawa, amphibious commanders had to wait for a ponderous buildup of materiel and supplies ashore prior to striking inland. This buildup of supplies created an unavoidable operational pause, which in turn created a window of opportunity for an aggressive opponent to counterattack the beachhead and mass fires on following echelons of assault craft maneuvering ashore. In the near future, amphibious operators employing OMFTS/STOM technologies may launch directly from a ship lying over the horizon, cross the beach flying nap of the earth at well over 200 knots, and assault an objective before the defender even knows that he is under attack.  

As envisioned, OMFTS/STOM will decrease the risk to the amphibious task force by keeping vulnerable ships out of the range of most land-based anti-ship missiles. Additionally, according to OMFTS/STOM proponents, maneuver from the sea can generate operational tempo beyond the enemy’s capability to respond effectively. With OMFTS/STOM, the enemy’s coast becomes an exposed flank along which he must extend his defense to counter an amphibious assault. Forced to sacrifice depth and unable to judge where best to position a counterattack force, the enemy commander is left with a host of poor options to defend against U.S. maneuver from the sea.

The Role of Intelligence in OMFTS

While much good thought has gone into the OMFTS/STOM concept, the intelligence battlespace function has received remarkably little attention. Arguably, there can be no OMFTS/STOM without accurate, timely, relevant intel- ligence. In the rush to develop enabling technologies like the AAAV and MV-22, OMFTS/STOM proponents have ignored a simple truth: one cannot maneuver against an enemy who is unlocated and whose most likely course of action (COA) remains darkly shrouded in the fog of war.

Writing in “Operational Maneuver from the Sea—A Concept for the Projection of Naval Power Ashore,” OMFTS/STOM proponents express the opinion that OMFTS requires that intelligence be provided to decision-makers with a minimum of delay. Technology that permits the rapid dissemination of intelligence products will play an important role in this effort. However, the key to effective intelligence support of OMFTS lies in the orientation of intelligence specialists. In particular, intelligence specialists must be capable of rapidly making educated judgments about what the enemy is likely to do."

This vision for intelligence is not adequate. Several essential pieces are missing, the first of which is the role of intelligence in planning. The draft Marine Corps planning process promulgated by the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Staff Training Program does not require a credible effort up front by the intelligence officer. The critical output of the intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) process—viable, aggressive enemy COAs—is virtually ignored until the operators have completed mission analysis and initiated friendly COA development.  

The Army has learned, after years of calamitous failures at the Service training centers, that intelligence must drive operations. Specifically, early in the mission analysis process, the intelligence officer must develop realistic, viable, aggressive enemy COAs which are inherently dangerous to friendly mission accomplishment. Only then can the operators develop feasible friendly COAs. The first step to realizing the OMFTS/STOM vision requires closing the intelligence gap in draft Marine Corps planning doctrine. It is unrealistic to expect intelligence specialists to “rapidly [make] educated judgments of what the enemy is likely to do.” Those same specialists have had little or no initial input to the planning process and have not been held account- able for playing the thinking, learning, aggressive enemy commander in COA development and analysis.

To enable intelligence to fully support OMFTS/STOM, Marine Corps doctrine must recognize the importance of intelligence and fully integrate it into the various Marine planning processes. In staff planning, the intelligence officer must arrive at the initial mission analysis working session armed with a current situation update, most likely and most dangerous enemy COAs, and an initial analysis of the battlespace—the area of operations and the area of interest, and the effect the terrain and weather will have on friendly and enemy operations. Essentially, this officer must complete the four IPB steps before the balance of the staff begins mission analysis.

Why is this important? Because having the G2’s or S2’s analysis of the enemy’s COAs will drive how the staff frames their subsequent efforts. It also allows the staff’s duty experts to aid the G2 in refining the IPB effort as they conduct their functional analyses. If, for example the G2 envisions a significant rear area threat, the G3 (operations), G4 (logistics), and G1 (personnel) officers need to know this information, as it may affect the size and capability of the tactical combat force, the security posture of the units in the rear, and a variety of other factors. If the G2 envisions potential humanitarian disasters occurring as a result of enemy action, then responding to these crises may become branches to the current plan or sequels to be executed at change of mission. Finally, and perhaps most critically in mid- to high-intensity operations, the result of the IPB effort will drive mission taskings to reconnaissance and security forces, who will then begin the critical fight to gather, and deny the enemy’s ability to gather information. Knowing what the G2 believes the enemy’s moves will be provides a critical framework for friendly mission planning. IPB must occur early, and it must be accurate and continuous. Most importantly, it must precede mission analysis.

As a corollary, Marine intelligence specialists must rise to the challenge and drive operations with valid IPB products. These same specialists must have command support to do their jobs well. A seasoned infantry brigade commander in Germany in the early 1990s referred to the IPB process as commander’s preparation of the battlefield. He took personal interest in the S2’s efforts, trained him on what was expected, and held his S2 accountable for leading the staff’s IPB efforts. The net result was an intelligence section capable of producing valid, usable IPB products that enhanced operational planning, and a battlestaff for whom it was unthinkable to begin planning any operation without the S2’s initial IPB.

Amending current Marine Corps planning doctrine and putting the onus on intelligence officers to drive operations with valid IPB products early in the mission analysis step is a relatively inexpensive and rapidly achievable solution. Training intelligence staffs to meet this new requirement will take some time, but the payoff, as the Army has learned, is worth the effort.

Intelligence Systems’  Support to OMFTS

A second area in which OMFTS/ STOM falls short in the intelligence function is in the fielding strategy for collection systems. The Marine Corps is purchasing some capable systems, including the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) Common Ground Station (CGS) but they are slow in arriving to the fleet, and in some cases are of insufficient quantity to adequately support a deployed MAGTF. In the case of the JointSTARS CGS, the Marine Corps plans to buy only two systems. These systems are scheduled to arrive in the Fleet Marine Force in the third quarter of fiscal year 1999, with one system each to I and II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). While the Joint STARS system has limitations, the CGS provides a very powerful capability for a deployed commander to access moving target indicator (MTI) data, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery, signals intelligence (SIGINT), and secondary imagery from a variety of sources and display all this data on a single screen. The CGS requires a single high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV), so it requires little space aboard amphibious shipping.

Consider this vignette: a friendly objective lies 200 nautical miles inland. A motorized rifle battalion defends this objective onto which the friendly forces intend to maneuver from the sea. The enemy is dug in to turret defilade with overhead cover. Dense vegetation negates the optical sensor suite on the friendly force’s UAVs, rendering them useless. Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery from a high-altitude UAV picks out amorphous shapes, that may be camouflaged fighting vehicles, but the imagery is of insufficient granularity for targeting of precision long-range fires.

 With communications wire between positions, the enemy commander has not used his radio in several hours, rendering friendly communications intelligence (COMINT) ineffective. Aggressive enemy patrols have forced friendly reconnaissance teams to pull back. A Joint STARS aircraft detects some vehicle movement, but lacking a Joint STARS CGS, the Marine commander must wait for his intelligence section to “pull” the moving target indicator (MTI) data from the higher headquarters operations center where the CGS is located. Scanning the fire sack to his front, the enemy commander waits expectantly for the relatively soft-skinned Ospreys and AAAVs to appear.

In his combat operations center (COC) afloat, the friendly commander grows more anxious by the hour. The S2 had predicted infantry in platoon-sized elements near the objective—but as H-Hour approaches, with AAAVs beginning to warm up their engines in the well deck, the picture grows no clearer. The very capable naval tactical missiles and naval surface fire support systems remain silent, rendered impotent by a lack of accurate enemy locational data.

Alternatively, imagine a peace- keeping scenario where a MAGTF commander’s mission is to establish a zone of separation (ZOS) between former warring factions. As the Marines begin to occupy the ZOS, a Predator UAV images a faction patrol moving an armored vehicle toward the Marines in the ZOS, a clear violation of the recently signed peace accords. Unable to receive the Predator imagery in near-real time, the MAGTF commander is unaware of the threat and therefore is powerless to stop what has become a movement to contact with potentially disastrous results.


Such a scenario is impossible, OMFTS/STOM proponents will argue. Is it? An experienced, aggressive adversary can mitigate many of our most powerful capabilities to locate and target him. To counter this, commanders now, and in the future, will rely on advanced multidiscipline (human intelligence (HUMINT), SIGINT, imagery intelligence (IMINT), and measurable signals intelligence (MASINT) sensor packages capable of linking together and correlating disparate pieces of data in real time, with critical enemy intelligence then broadcast to multiple echelons simultaneously. This level of intel- ligence requires intelligence specialists who understand their commander’s intent and the friendly mission, understand IPB’s inseparable link to effective planning, and who can rapidly assimilate disparate pieces of data into intelligence using information sys-