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The IPB process allows the commander to visualize the battlefield in terms of predicting where and when the enemy will strike, and what assets he will use. The modern battlefield must be viewed in three dimensions: width, depth, and airspace. Airspace, or aerial dimension, is a constantly changing, fast-paced area of operations. FM 34-130 is the guide that explains the IPB process.

The intelligence staff must consider all the aspects of air operations and must be aware of both enemy and friendly air, airlift, airborne, air assault, air insertion, and air defense capabilities. The task force S2 is the proponent for the development of the IPB. The task force air defense officer must contribute to the IPB development by providing unique insights concerning areas of expertise. Coordination between the air defense officer and S2 about the aerial threat is critical.

Air IPB is conducted from a different perspective than that of ground IPB. The terrain and weather have an entirely different effect on air operations. Enemy forces must be evaluated in relation to weather, terrain, and friendly operations. The three threats that must be closely considered when conducting air IPB to protect the maneuver force and its assets are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and fixed-and rotary-wing aircraft. It is also important to remember that air IPB cannot be treated as a separate entity from ground IPB even though some threat air operations may not be tied directly to their ground operations.

Doctrinally, IPB is divided into four elements as they apply to the air battlefield. They are discussed in the following paragraphs.


Define the Air Battlefield Environment

Describe the Battlefield Effects (Terrain and Weather Analysis)

Evaluate the Air Threat

Determine Air Threat Courses of Action


The air battlefield, like the ground battlefield, includes an area of operations, battle space, and an area of interest.

The air area of operations is the area where the commander is assigned responsibility and authority for military operations. It is usually identical to the ground in width and depth, and extends vertically up to the maximum altitude of air defense sensors and weapon systems.

Battle space is a physical volume that expands or contracts in relation to the ability to acquire and engage the enemy. It includes the width, depth, and height in which the commander positions and moves assets over time. Battle space is not assigned by a higher commander and can extend beyond the commander's area of operations.

The area of interest is the geographic area from which information and intelligence are required to permit planning or successful conduct of the command's operations. Because the commander and staff need time to process information and to plan and synchronize operations, the command's area of interest is generally larger than the area of operations or battle space. Due to the great distances that aircraft, UAVs, and missiles can rapidly cover, the air area of interest will extend vertically and horizontally to cover the maximum service ceilings and ranges of threat aircraft, UAVs, missiles, and delivery systems, plus known or suspected threat air fields and missile sites.


The nature of airspace does not eliminate the need for terrain analysis. Air IPB focuses on the impact of geographic factors on the ability of threat air to approach, acquire, and engage a target. The analysis of the terrain for air IPB follows the same principles as analysis of terrain for ground IPB.


This relates to the influence of terrain on reconnaissance, target acquisition, intelligence collection, and engagement. In the IPB context, observation relates to optical and electronic line of sight (LOS). Many air and battlefield operating systems require LOS to effectively acquire and engage targets. These systems include radios, radars, jammers, direct-fire weapons, and airborne and ground observers. Field of fire relates to the terrain effects on weapon systems. Analyze battlefield airspace with regard to routes which provide the best protection for aircraft or UAVs entering the target area, and those which provide the best target view once the aircraft or UAV reaches the target area.


This applies to the terrain that threat aircraft or UAVs will use to avoid detection and seek cover from direct fires. Aircraft will use the terrain by loitering on reverse slopes, using pop-up tactics, using masked areas, and by using vegetation as a backdrop to enhance camouflage.


For air IPB, obstacles are broken down into three primary types:

  • Those which prevent the effective employment of air defense systems.
  • Those which restrict contour flying (below 22.8 meters).
  • Those which force an aircraft or UAV to employ a particular attack profile or route, or to gain excessive altitude.

Of particular interest are obstacles and terrain which restrict lateral movement within an avenue of approach and movement corridor which will canalize movement and restrict evasive action, and those that are above the threat aircraft or UAV's maximum operating ceiling.


Key terrain is any locality or area in which the seizure, retention, or control of same affords a marked tactical advantage to either combatant. In air IPB, these consist of terrain features which canalize or constrain air or airborne forces, terrain with an elevation higher than maximum aircraft, or UAV ceilings, airfields, LZ/DZs, and FARPs.


Air avenues of approach are evaluated using the same criteria as for ground. A good air avenue of approach will permit maneuver while providing terrain masking from surface-to-air weapon systems. A twisted arrow will be used to denote air avenues of approach. Red arrows will represent threat avenues and blue will represent friendly avenues. Ensure that each air avenue of approach is numbered.

Some common air avenues of approach are--

  • A road running down a valley.
  • A direct line from the enemy operating base.
  • A river bed.


Weather analysis for air IPB considers the effect that conditions will have on the air defenders' ability to detect, acquire, identify, and engage threat aerial platforms. These conditions are--

  • High winds.
  • Precipitation.
  • Cloud cover and ceilings.
  • Extreme temperatures and humidity.


Threat evaluation for air IPB consists of a detailed study of enemy air capabilities, organization, tactics, and doctrine to develop an air threat template of how the enemy might fight if there were no weather or terrain restrictions. It is important to remember that this template will change with each different type of threat faced; Soviet models are no longer used for evaluating the threat.

The following two steps should be used when evaluating the threat:

Step 1--Understand threat doctrine, organization, and capabilities. It cannot be overly emphasized that the air defense platoon and section leaders must have a thorough understanding of operations and capabilities, especially with regard to the threat air systems that will be operating in the forward area of the battlefield; for example, UAVs, helicopters, and a limited number of fixed-wing aircraft. Threat aircraft profiles and system capabilities will vary depending upon the origin of the equipment and the training support packages provided.

Step 2--Conduct target evaluation. Aircraft operating along the forward edge of the battlefield are probably operating against specific targets. Aircraft usually will be attacking, searching for, or collecting information on high-value targets such as troop concentrations, tactical operations centers, or artillery and logistics sites.


Determining air threat courses of action, as with ground IPB, relates the enemy doctrine and capabilities with weather and terrain to determine how the enemy will fight. This is accomplished through the development of the situation, event, and decision support templates.

The situation template integrates aircraft attack profiles with terrain, focusing on specific air avenues of approach and mobility corridors, to determine which avenues are the most capable of supporting specific attack techniques and profiles.

The event template depicts points (named areas of interest) where you expect to see certain activities of tactical significance and is used to confirm or deny an enemy course of-action. During air IPB, these named areas of interest (NAIs) are based on the terrain constraints on aircraft approach routes to potential targets and analysis of the enemy's attack profiles. Examples of NAIs include DZs and LZs, forward staging areas, and aerial choke points.

The decision support template is based on the event template and should depict--

  • Air avenues of approach.
  • Ranges of enemy targets and friendly air defense systems.
  • Target areas of interest (TAIs) for attack and reconnaissance.

Air TAIs and DPs are determined in the same manner as for ground operations. However, due to the high speeds of aerial platforms, decision points must be placed significantly farther in advance of the TAIs.

Air IPB is a quantified, step-by-step process that integrates enemy air and ground activity with terrain so that the commander and his staff can visualize the battlefield and fully understand the enemy's intentions. Preparation and continuous updates of aerial IPB are fundamental to the execution of the air defense mission on the modern battlefield.

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