Improving Intelligence Support to Combat Aviation

by Captain Jeffrey A. Steel
The S2s in AH-64 Apache battalions have clear-cut, critical roles during mission planning through intelligence preparation of the battlefield and time analysis. However, they often play little or no role during mission execution. During the battle, they tend to remain in the rear at the tactical operations center (TOC), attempting to listen in on the forward fight. By taking a more active part in the mission, and actually flying in the air tactical command post (ATAC) in a UH-60 command and control (C2) aircraft, they can provide better support to the mission and play a key role in its execution.

Command and Control

Attack aviation units use several techniques for C2. This article focuses on those techniques using an ATAC. It does not argue whether "commander in the cockpit" or "commander in the ATAC" is better. Consider three common methods of C2 using an ATAC:
All three methods provide for depth in operational control and mission expertise at every C2 node. Unfortunately, many units seldom implement the same careful thought when dealing with intelligence and employ the S2 on the ground far to the rear.1

The Issue

In most attack aviation battalions, the S2 stays behind in the TOC. He attempts to monitor the battalion operations and intelligence (O&I) net, fire support nets, and his higher headquarters' O&I net. The S2 also consolidates, processes, and disseminates information forward and to higher headquarters. This may sound like quite a bit, but very little actually occurs until gun-tapes processing when the aircraft return.
Several problems exist in this method of S2 employment. The S2 cannot monitor many C2 and flight operations radio nets because most TOCs currently have no ultrahigh frequency and very-high frequency communications capability. Even if adequate radios are available, the distances and terrain involved often take the aircraft out of radio range, especially when the unit does not dedicate a helicopter to relay functions.
The commander and S3 on the ATAC, along with his fire support officer (FSO), often have trouble monitoring all the radio nets they should. Frequently the unit cannot spare a channel for use as an O&I net. These difficulties result in the S2's failing to contribute more than simple battle damage assessment (BDA) and information transfer to the mission after take-off. When the commander and S3 need S2 assistance, they must call to the rear for an analysis based on what is most often incomplete data.2

The Solution

While undergoing the challenges of the Combat Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) near Hohenfels, Germany, the 2-1 Aviation Battalion overcame the problems described above by placing S2 assets as far forward as possible.3 Full employment of intelligence personnel is the basis for this technique. The S2 section noncommissioned officer (NCO) in charge (NCOIC) remains in the ground-based TOC, fills the role of the S2, and monitors the "big picture." The S2 flies with the fire support officer (FSO) and commander or S3 in the ATAC. Fully integrated and trained threat officers (pilots) fly with the companies.4,5

Expertise in the Right Place

When the Apache battalion S2 accompanies the ATAC forward, communications and teamwork improve. Most importantly, having the S2 in the ATAC places intelligence expertise where it makes a difference. The S2's expertisecontributes timely assistance where and when the units need it the most. FM 101-5, Staff Organization and Operations, states "The most important function of the staff is to provide the commander timely, accurate, and critical information. The integration of staff functions will assist the commander in synchronizing combat power at the right place, at the right time during the course of battle."
By having the S2 in the ATAC, the commander has his expertise where he needs it most, contributing timely assistance directly to the commander and the S3 during the battle. The S2 processes information on the spot and can confer directly with the commander, S3, and FSO.
During any mission, the S2 is immediately on hand to advise the unit on the meaning of reports and where best to concentrate flight information collection assets. If the S2 is on the ground in the rear, he can only compile the selected reports that overworked flight crews have time to send back. The S2 cannot process data and track aircraft movements without a constant stream of transmissions in both directions. This becomes just an extra burden on the command structure.6,7

Improved Communications

From his forward position, the S2 has better communications with all elements concerned. Due to radio monitoring options of the ATAC, the S2 requires no O&I net and the unit can conserve a radio frequency. The S2 can get his information first hand by monitoring any or all flight nets.
Not only can the S2 fulfill his own communication and information needs but he can also act as a second set of ears for the commander and S3. They may have to monitor up to four nets on a standard UH-60 configuration, or up to seven on a special C2 aircraft. Often it is beyond human ability to monitor and fully comprehend so many simultaneous transmissions. The S2 can assist with monitoring and identifying key pieces of information.8
Finally, it reduces the number of transmissions because the S2 can process data in the ATAC, only transmitting critical information to the rear.

Depth and Survivability

Redundancy and duplication of skills assure depth for function and survivability. With the S2 forward, the S2 section members are active at all levels and at all C2 nodes:
There are always intelligence experts present when and where an echelon requires their skills. The loss of any one C2 node, even the ATAC, will not fatally cripple the unit's intelligence capability.9

Team Building

Team building is another advantage of fully employing the S2 section that goes beyond the tactical arena. Too often in aviation units, ground personnel develop a different group identity from that of flight personnel. Another group separation occurs between the planners and the executors. Whether the S2 is an aviator or not, this procedure draws the S2 section closer into the mission it spends so much energy planning. S2 personnel will have better knowledge of the air crews' information requirements and realize what intelligence the crews are capable of providing.
When S2 section members accompany a mission, they gain intimate insight into the concerns, problems, and methods of the flight crews. Simultaneously, the S2 personnel now become accessible team members to the aviators. They inevitably will feel closer to the mission and the persons flying it. Crews will appreciate the more personalized service. They will not see the S2 as simply a staff officer, locked in the TOC with no knowledge of the real mission.10


The attack aviation battalion S2 can contribute significantly during flight mission execution by placing himself forward with the commander and S3 in the ATAC. By doing so, the unit gains significantly in communications, teamwork, depth, and synchronization. Communications will not hamper the S2's information. His location will make access to his expertise easy for the unit. Overall, the S2 will be a key member of the team. Endnotes: 1. FM 1-112, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for the Attack Helicopter Battalion, February 1991.
2. Major Mark Valentine, Executive Officer, 2-1 Aviation Battalion, 1993-1995, interviews by author.
3. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver H. Hunter III,
Commander, 2-1 Aviation Battalion, 1993-1995, interviews by author. 4. Chief Warrant Officer Two Steve Middaugh, Senior Threat Officer, 2-1 Aviation Battalion, 1993-1995, interviews by author.
5. Sergeant First Class Francis Rhiel, S2 NCOIC, 2-1 Aviation Battalion, 1992-1995, interviews by author.
6. FM 101-5, Staff Organization and Operations, May 1984.
7.FM 34-8, Combat Commander's Handbook on Intelligence, September 1992.
8. Hunter, interviews with author.
9. FM 100-5, Operations, June 1993.
10. FM 22-102, Soldier Team Development, March 1987.
Captain Steel is currently the Chemical Branch Assistant Team Chief at the U.S. Army Readiness Group-Pittsburgh in Oakdale, Pennsylvania. He previously served as the battalion S2 for the 2-1 Aviation Battalion in Katterbach, Germany. He attended three CMTC rotations and evaluated the S2 section of the first 24-ship Apache Aviation Restructuring Initiative Battalion. Readers can contact him at (412) 777-1267 or DSN 242-1267.