Battle Lab: Recon & Intel in Wargaming, Deep Dive on COA Development

Brant Guillory, 14 May 2019

originally published at GrogNews.com

Note that this is a companion piece to the original column on recon & intel in tabletop wargaming.

In the tactical world, we have several different tools we use to ensure that we get the right data at the right time.

One of the key methods involves the use of map graphics. We use transparent overlays on standard-size military maps (1:50k) and use graphics to indicate enemy actions: locations of units, routes for movement, places we expect them to attack or defend, etc.

For every operation we draw at least two sets of these graphics. The first is the most likely course of action (COA), based on our knowledge of how the enemy fights. That knowledge may come from doctrine, observed behavior, or (best of all) an inside source. The second course of action is usually what we call the “most dangerous” and is based on what we think the enemy would do if they had perfect knowledge of us and our plans.

For these examples, we’re using a hex-grid version of the central corridor at Fort Irwin, the US Army’s National Training Center.

Enemy COA 1

1COA1

Enemy COA 2

2COA2

as always, click to enlarge the images

Once we have two sets of graphics drawn out, we take the two overlays and lay them one on top of the other. This lets us visualize where the differences/similarities are between the courses of action. Where the COAs diverge are areas that we need to target with some form of observation, to try and identify which course of action the enemy is pursuing.

In a time-constrained environment, these graphics will often become the basis of our own plan, where the divergent points become the focus of recon efforts, and the similarities become target reference points or engagement areas, since we expect the enemy to appear there regardless of COA.

NAIs – Where to look for differences

3COA-Compare-NAI

Targeting/Engagement Areas – Where you expect to find the enemy

4COA-Compare-Target

as always, click to enlarge the images

Once we’ve identified where we need to look, the next step is to identify when we need to look there, since some information is time-specific. When I say “look” I don’t just mean literally “a guy on a hillside with binoculars and a radio.” It can be a variety of sensors: ground surveillance radar, JSTARS, UAVs, counter-battery radars, or other sensors. We determine when we need to have what type of coverage based on (a) what we are looking for, and (b) how easy we can get the appropriate sensors in place. Sometimes the best we get is a satellite overflight from the NRO, but we have to take what we can get.

Those NAIs are important because they give us clues to the enemy’s expected course of action.  If we identify the airborne units in the mountain passes on the north side of the battlefield, then we would expect the enemy to commit to something similar to COA1.  If we find them closer to town, then we’re looking to confirm the enemy following COA2.

In the end, we have our list of Named Areas of Interest (NAIs) and what indicators we are looking for there. Then we assign at least 2 sets of sensors to each. Some may be duplicative; some may only be backup measures. The commander may also give us some guidance on his priorities, and require that we have three or even four sets of eyes on certain things, if they’re deemed critical. Based on what we find in each of the NAIs, the commander may trigger certain actions among our forces to react to the new info.

Depending on the amount of time available to (a) plan and (b) execute, we may develop more than two COAs, but we virtually always develop at least 2. We may also alter the amount of analysis we do during the mission of before the mission. NAIs are often based on analysis conducted before the mission, where we project certain indicators and the meaning of those indicators. If the indicators are triggered, then that adds to the overall picture we can confirm/deny.

This is pretty specialized, I know. But it’s also pretty important, and we practice/refine/rehearse this a lot.

Here’s some random annoying guy explaining all of this, using graphics that look awfully similar to what’s up above.

 


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Battle Lab: Recon & Intel in Wargaming, Deep Dive on COA Development

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