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FM 34-36: Special Operations Forces Intelligence and Electronic Warfare Operations


This chapter introduces ARSOF units and the IEW system that supports them. It contains historical examples of IEW support to ARSOF. It places ARSOF IEW requirements in perspective by comparing them with the IEW requirements of conventional combat units. It also discusses the intelligence cycle and the intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) process.


ARSOF includes Special Forces (SF), rangers, special operations aviation (SOA), psychological operations (PSYOP) units, and civil affairs (CA) units -- these are discussed in Chapters 4 through 8. Figure 1-1 shows the ARSOF organizational structure based in the continental United States (CONUS). The seven primary ARSOF missions are --

  • Direct action (DA).

  • Special reconnaissance (SR).

  • Counterterrorism (CT).

  • Unconventional warfare (UW).

  • Foreign internal defense (FID).

  • PSYOP.

  • CA.

ARSOF are forces specifically organized, trained, and equipped to conduct special operations (SO) or to provide direct support (DS) to other SOF. ARSOF--

  • Provide a flexible military capability to defend US national interests.
  • Play an important part of our total defense posture and are a strategic instrument of national policy.
  • Give the National Command Authority (NCA) options from which they can choose to respond to international situations at reasonable cost and risk to US interests.
  • Deploy in regions of national geopolitical and military interest to support unified and specified (U&S) commands.
Missions are assigned to ARSOF to directly support the operational requirements of the theater commander-in-chief (CINC). These missions are integrated, vital elements of both theater strategy and national objectives. ARSOF missions and activities span the operational continuum from peacetime competition through conflict to war. Figures 1-2 and 1-3 show the operational continuum.

Commanders need properly executed and timely collection, processing, and dissemination of intelligence and combat information across the operational continuum. ARSOF commanders use the IEW system to prevent surprises and to concentrate fighting forces and combat systems where they will be most effective.

At the tactical level, the IEW mission is to support commanders with situation development, target development, electronic warfare (EW), and counterintelligence (CI). At the operational and strategic level, the IEW mission also includes indications and warning (I&W). Figure 1-4 shows the IEW mission.

The IEW system supporting ARSOF includes organizations and assets from the national level down to and including the tactical ARSOF soldier in the field. This system supports all ARSOF activities across the operational continuum.


The operational continuum is a dynamic spectrum consisting of three environments: peacetime competition, conflict, and war. Within this continuum, the US can find itself in peacetime competition with one nation and at war with another nation, while in conflict with still another nation -- all at the same time. Moreover, as recent peacetime contingency missions (such as URGENT FURY, JUST CAUSE, OPERATION DESERT SHIELD, and OPERATION DESERT STORM) reveal, the operational continuum is not a one-way street but rather a multi-path avenue which permits operations to flow in all directions.

Figure 1-3 shows how OPERATION DESERT SHIELD and OPERATION DESERT STORM flowed along the operational continuum. Initially, the US and Iraq were in an environment of peacetime competition that began at the end of the Iran-Iraq War.

The US was hoping to gain some influence over Baghdad and pull them out of the Soviet sphere. But in July 1990, Iraq massed troops on the Kuwait border and threatened to invade if Kuwait, among other things, did not cut its oil production. The US response was mostly in the diplomatic arena; however, we held some joint air defense exercises with our Persian Gulf allies which placed us on the verge of a conflict environment on the operational continuum.

When Iraq appeared to back off, the situation appeared to remain in a peacetime competition environment. However, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent execution of OPERATION DESERT SHIELD, the US and Iraq entered the environment of conflict.

Had OPERATION DESERT SHIELD succeeded in convincing Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, then it would not have been necessary to move into the next environment of the continuum -- war. However, when months of diplomatic and military maneuvering failed, the US and its allies initiated OPERATION DESERT STORM. At this point, we crossed over into the war environment.

Initially, the allies limited their actions to aerial bombing, hoping to persuade Iraq to withdraw. However, Iraq's failure to withdraw forced the allied move deeper into the war environment. After the NM-hour ground war, the allies called a halt to offensive operations but maintained forces inside Iraq -- thus moving into the conflict phase of the continuum.

Still within the conflict environment of the continuum, the situation with the Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq caused the US to initiate OPERATION PROVIDE COMFORT. This was a disaster (manmade) relief effort under the heading of a Peacetime Contingency Operation.

Although the final chapter in the war with Iraq remains uncompleted, the allied goal is to work through the operational continuum while rebuilding Kuwait and Iraq and to reestablish a peacetime competition environment. However, it is up to Iraq whether that happens. The potential exists for the US to shift backwards through conflict and war again before achieving peace.

The ARSOF SI0 must be prepared to meet the commander's intelligence requirements for any mission and be able to anticipate what new requirements might arise as the operation flows along the continuum.


Timely and accurate intelligence and unprocessed combat information can be a significant factor in operational success. Historically, the commander who has superior knowledge of mission, enemy, terrain, troops, and time available (METT-T) factors has a critical edge in combat. As the following examples show, the more information and intelligence commanders have, the greater their chances for success.

  • In January 1945, timely and accurate intelligence enabled the 6th Ranger Battalion to rescue 511 American and Allied prisoners from a Japanese prisoner of war (PW) compound near Cabanatuan in the Philippines.
  • During the Korean War the intelligence community identified enemy vulnerabilities for exploitation by psychological warfare teams. These efforts were very successful in lowering the morale, reducing combat effectiveness, and encouraging desertion and defection of communist troops. In summary, it is estimated that 65 percent of more than 150,000 communist PWs said US psychological warfare had some influence on their decision to surrender.
  • In South Vietnam, the combined intelligence center's imagery interpretation (II) photographic study program provided valuable intelligence that helped SF units set up camp and hamlet security. Often these camps became isolated strongpoints astride communist infiltration routes and were a constant thorn in the side of the North Vietnamese.
  • In Panama, timely and accurate intelligence enabled US forces to achieve all mission objectives within a short time. While this intelligence resulted in a quick end to the fighting, gaps in the intelligence support to post-hostilities operations (population resource control, military government) slowed the transition from combat to nation building.
  • In Iraq, superb intelligence support resulted in an overwhelming victory over the Iraqi armed forces. Intelligence also played a key role in dealing with the Shiite Muslims in occupied southern Iraq. However, in northern Iraq, the US had to play catch-up to determine the direction the Kurdish rebellion was taking and was reconnoitering for suitable sites for refugee camps. This occurred only days before the camps were to be established.
What history tells us is that the intelligence community does an excellent job of supporting combat operations. However, it is incumbent upon both the IEW system and ARSOF to identify intelligence requirements for operations across the operational continuum to include pre- and post-hostilities phases.


Combat information is unevaluated data. It is gathered by ARSOF elements during any combat operation or wartime environment. This information is provided directly to the ARSOF commander which, due to its highly perishable nature or the criticality of the situation, cannot be processed into intelligence in time to satisfy the user's intelligence requirements.

Information becomes intelligence once it is collected, evaluated, analyzed, integrated, and interpreted. In other words, the distinction between combat and intelligence is in how the information is processed and used. When information must be processed and analyzed, or if it needs to be integrated with other data and then analyzed and interpreted, it is intelligence and not combat information. Information may be both combat information and intelligence, but in sequence. (See FM 34-1, Chapter 2.)

Unevaluated information collected by ARSOF units during target specific operations is considered combat information. It can be combined later with other intelligence or information as part of the all-source intelligence product. Only after the data is validated, analyzed, and processed does it become intelligence. (See FM 6-20-10.) There are two types of intelligence products: single-source and all-source.


If the sources of an intelligence product are from only one intelligence discipline, the final product is called a single-source intelligence product. The following are SOF-related examples of each intelligence discipline:

  • Human intelligence (HUMINT) is intelligence derived from information collected and provided by human sources. ARSOF units provide the IEW system with HUMINT through SR and debriefings of units after operations. SR is explained in detail in Chapter 4. MI units support ARSOF with HUMINT through controlled collection and tactical interrogation operations. (See FM 34-60, Chapter 5; and FM 34-52, Chapter 3.)
  • Signals intelligence (SIGINT) is intelligence that includes all communications intelligence (COMINT), electronics intelligence (ELINT), and foreign instrumentation signals intelligence (FISINT). ARSOF units use SIGINT to prepare for and conduct infiltration and exfiltration; to locate actual or potential threat positions; and to analyze possible courses of action (COAs). ARSOF units can collect limited COMINT with organic assets. (See FM 34-40, Chapter 4.)
  • Imagery intelligence (IMINT) is intelligence derived from the exploitation of products from visual photography, infrared sensors, lasers, electro-optics, and radar sensors. ARSOF units use IMINT for targeting, infiltration and exfiltration, and general reconnaissance or area orientation. (See FM 34-55, Chapters 1 and 2.)
  • Technical intelligence (TECHINT) is intelligence concerning foreign technological developments, and the performance and operational capabilities of foreign materiel, which have or may eventually have a practical application for military use. ARSOF use TECHINT products to exploit foreign weapons. Since ARSOF units operate deep in hostile or denied territory, they are often first to discover, identify, and provide information concerning new or previously unidentified material. (See FM 34-52, Chapters 1, 3, and 4.)
  • Measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) is a highly sophisticated application of state-of-the-art technology and processing techniques to detect and identify specific foreign weapon systems based on inadvertent signatures. This identification aids in determining capabilities and intentions. ARSOF units use MASINT for developing target data.

All-source intelligence can be a combination of combat information, intelligence from more than one intelligence discipline, or even data from previously completed all-source intelligence products. To be called all-source intelligence, it must contain information from at least two of the intelligence disciplines.


Today, ARSOF commanders depend even more on timely, accurate intelligence and combat information than did their historical counterparts. ARSOF commanders must be able to exploit METT-T factors to their advantage and to capture and keep the vital element of surprise throughout the operational continuum.

ARSOF commanders need IEW support because it is crucial in assisting the commander to make informed decisions during the decision-making process. All IEW disciplines are ARSOF operational multipliers. Each discipline provides the accurate, sensitive, and timely intelligence and combat information commanders need to complete their missions successfully. IEW supports ARSOF commanders as they plan and execute effective maneuver, firepower, force protection, and leadership.

SIGINT and EW are operational multipliers because these assets provide ARSOF commanders with passive and active means to protect C3 systems. SIGINT and EW are employed by combining both offensive and defensive operations, as well as tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP). Assets and products from disciplines like HUMINT and IMINT are also valuable combat multipliers because they provide information or intelligence that cannot be obtained otherwise.

Each intelligence discipline supports the final product by confirming or denying the validity of information collected by the other disciplines. IEW products are gathered and integrated into all-source intelligence products to support the commander's concept of operations.

ARSOF commanders and their staffs must understand how the IEW system works and how to integrate IEW assets and products, along with the principles of integration, synchronization, and interoperability, to support their concept of the mission. The environments and types of operations will, of course, vary. The key to effective ARSOF intelligence support is for ARSOF to fully use the intelligence system. To do this, ARSOF operators must work with supporting intelligence agencies to sensitize the intelligence community to ARSOF requirements.


The ARSOF SIO is the ARSOF commander's link to the total IEW system. The commander relies on the SIO to provide intelligence and combat information when needed. The ARSOF commander directs the IEW process by establishing the commander's critical information requirements. These requirements consist of the commander's priority intelligence requirements (PIR) and information requirements (IR) and the operational requirements for the staff.

The SIO must know the composition of the IEW system, the ARSOF SIO's place in it, and how to use it; otherwise, the SIO cannot answer the commander's PIR and IR. Figure 1-5 shows SOF IEW requirements.

The SIO plans, supervises, and coordinates collection and analysis efforts to make sure the commander and staff elements get timely combat information and intelligence products. Using the intelligence cycle and the IPB process, the SIO develops and maintains an intelligence data base.


The existing intelligence cycle is tailored to meet ARSOF IEW requirements. The intelligence cycle is used by the SIO to ensure the commander is supplied with pertinent, timely, and continuous intelligence products and combat information.

As its name implies, the intelligence cycle is continuous. It has no true beginning nor end and, although each step is done sequentially, all phases are done concurrently. The intelligence cycle, which is shown in Figure 1-6, consists of four steps: directing, collecting, processing, and disseminating and using. Supervising and planning are inherent in all phases of the cycle. Chapter 2 discusses the intelligence cycle in detail.


The SIO uses the IPB process to provide answers to the commander's PIR and IR. IPB gives the commander and staff a continuous picture of METT-T and other operational factors. They use this information as a guide to determine where and when to use available resources. The IPB product is continually updated and briefed to the commander, who uses this information when making decisions. Figure 1-7 shows the IPB process. The TTP of IPB to support SOF operations are in Chapter 10. Details of IPB process are in FM 34-130, Chapter 4.


All MI officers maintain a general data base for their commander's assigned AO as well as for potential contingency areas. This data base contains information on threat, weather, terrain, sociology, polities, training, economies, psychology, and other factors. The mission and the commander's direction define the parameters of the data base.

ARSOF commanders and their staffs also maintain intelligence data bases, but these bases are three-tiered pyramidical bases; they consist of generic data, durable data, and perishable data, as shown in Figure 1-8.

Generic data, shown at the bottom of the figure, is information common to or characteristic of a whole group or class rather than an individual or specific target; for example, fundamental, critical components of thermal power generation that are found at any thermal power generation plant anywhere in the world.

The middle tier contains site, system, or area specific data that are not time perishable. This includes durable information about existing natural and synthetic terrain features, installations, equipment, and personnel. It also includes imagery blueprints, layout diagrams, flow charts, maps, demographics, biographies, and other data that will not change significantly for as long as such features, installations, equipment, or personnel exist. (Both the lowest and middle tiers of data are assembled before a warning order is issued and address what may be targeted by ARSOF.)

The top tier contains site, system, or area specific real time or near-real-time (NRT) data that are time perishable. This includes transitory information about existing installations, equipment, and personnel. It is assembled after a warning order is issued and focuses on the actual locations and status of people, places, and things that will be targeted by ARSOF. Examples of data in this tier include guard routines, locations of hostages, operational status of special weapons, and transport and delivery systems during the ARSOF targeting window.

The ARSOF commander and staff use this data throughout the mission planning process. Figure 1-9 shows how the commander's guidance and interpretation of the operation plan (OPLAN) set the parameters of the data base and support operational and logistical planning.


The intelligence cycle directly correlates with the command, intelligence, operations, and logistics processes for ARSOF mission planning. Figure 1-10 shows how the SOF commander keys the directing step of the intelligence cycle and defines the parameters of the intelligence data base. The development and maintenance of the SOF intelligence pyramid falls within the collecting and processing steps of the intelligence cycle. The dissemination step of the intelligence cycle ensures that the ARSOF operations and logistics elements receive the intelligence they need to plan, equip, and execute the operation.

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