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Parallel Planning at the Battalion Level

by CPT Brian L. Steed, Battalion Adjutant, Norwich University
In today's fast-paced and fluid battlefield, the ability to provide the commander a look into possible future operations while simultaneously fighting the current operation is more critical than ever. It requires a trained, dedicated battalion planner to be looking at the "long-range" picture. Battalions fighting in the desert of Mojavia at the National Training Center struggle with the parallel planning issue rotation after rotation. The following article presents "a way" it was done successfully by a division cavalry squadron.


The workload on a battalion S3 section during continuous combat operations is tremendous. This load is magnified when the battalion works directly for division with no intervening brigade staff to assist with the information and orders burden. In fact, during the conduct of current operations, planning for future operations comes to a halt. Although concurrent operations and planning are critical battalion S-3 functions, the planning function cannot realistically be accomplished at current manning and training levels.

Modified Table of Organization and Equipment (MTOE).

An armor or mechanized divisional cavalry squadron is authorized five officers who control five organic maneuver units, various combat support assets, usually without habitual relationships, numbering over 750 personnel, 68 combat vehicles and 20 aircraft. The five authorizations are:

  • one major (S3)
  • one aviation captain (S-3 Air/Flight Operations)
  • one armor captain (Assistant S-3)
  • one armor lieutenant (Liaison Officer)
  • one chemical corps lieutenant

A tank battalion has basically the same officer allocation without the aviation captain. As you can see, there is no authorized planner.

Most units maintain their tactical operations center (TOC) with two shifts. Each shift has a battle captain and the necessary supporting personnel. In the case of a unit with organic aviation assets, the need to dedicate a person to Army Airspace Command and Control (A2C2) is critical. Once you add up the positions that most units actually use, it becomes apparent that the personnel required to run just the operations side of a TOC aren't resourced in the current MTOE. So WHO DOES THE PLANNING? This is one problem that becomes virtually impossible to resolve with the current MTOE configuration.

The brigade's inability to conduct plans and operations concurrently is a war-stopper.

"A WAY":

One of the base assumptions of this article is that parallel planning isn't viable at the battalion and squadron levels with the current modified table of organization and equipment (MTOE). The "way" that is discussed here is the addition of a plans section to the MTOE of the battalion (critical for a division cavalry squadron). The following is an outline of the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs ) used by a division cavalry squadron who successfully used the plans section approach.

Some units have excess officers in the battalion (e.g., captains waiting to command or lieutenants waiting to attend the advance course). Units with excess officers can use the following TTPs to assist in parallel planning. Even without excess officers, the TTPs still have use for identifying the information and products that a commander needs to make informed decisions as part of the military decisionmaking process (MDMP).

Plans Section Capabilities and Responsibilities.

Regardless whether the planner and assistants are a permanent organization or are pulled from other duties during the planning process, the following are the plans section's capabilities and responsibilities. They are not necessarily all inclusive, but provide a baseline for training:

1. Operate a plans section of the TOC -- an extension for conducting the squadron staff planning process.

2. Know the MDMP and the particular variation that the battalion uses.

3. Drive the staff planning process in the absence of the XO or S3.

4. Produce and reproduce a squadron's operations order and graphics.

5. Reduce staff planning time by conducting the majority of the mission analysis labors.

6. Establish the squadron OPORD briefing site.

7. Produce orders on the move. (This is absolutely crucial in a real-world environment where long movements are necessary from lodgment area to tactical assembly areas.)

Plans Section Criteria.

1. The critical piece in a successful plans section is the investment. For any planner to be effective, the first criterion is a solid grounding in maneuver and planning doctrine. This solid grounding may have been received in the advanced course, but if the planner is a senior lieutenant, an investment in time is required for study and mentoring. To reap the benefits of having this position, the squadron/battalion must first make the investment. As an aside note, this investment in training time and effort also applies to the mentoring of a battle captain. For the dedicated planner, or for that matter, any staff officer, to be effective in the orders process, the commander and his field grade staff must make a significant contribution in training the planner to fully understand how the commander will fight.

2. Another criterion is that the planner can take guidance from the commander, XO and S3 concerning sequels to the current operation to begin the creation of contingency plans (CONPLANs). These CONPLANs are a mission analysis (with significant assumptions) and several courses of action that the commander reviews and refines with guidance. If the planner and command group discern the battle correctly, then this CONPLAN develops into the next order that the squadron staff produces. This is the critical point of the planner's mission -- the planner must look to identify for the commander the branches and sequels that are possible and be in sync with the commander to prepare effectively for these possible operations. This probably isn't possible without modifications to the MTOE.

Plans Section Products.

The following list is a series of items that the plans section and staff need to complete in the process of creating an order. During the actual planning of an operation, the plans section is augmented by the Squadron Chemical Officer, S3 Air, LO, and others from the operations section as necessary. The plans group includes the S2, S4, Squadron Engineer, FSE, and other staff members as available.





Cdr's Guidance on CONPLAN(s)NotesPlans OIC
Mission Analysis
(S2/S4 participate as much as current operations allow)Facts Plans Group
AssumptionsPlans Group
LimitationsPlans Group
Battle Update Brief (BUB)S-3 Operations
Implied TasksPlans Group
Specified TasksPlans Group
Essential/Critical TasksPlans Group
(LO assists in preparation based on location)Time Distance NumbersPlans Group
Battlefield GeometryPlans NCOIC
Route LengthsPlans NCOIC
Passing TimesPlans NCOIC
COA Sketches (include Recon/Counter-recon) Plans OIC
COA Statements (include Recon/Counter-recon) Plans OIC
Coordinate with Staff SXO, S2, Eng, FSO, ADO
Finalize sketches and statements Plans OIC
Take COAs to Cdr for approval Plans, CO, S3
Refine COA Sketch and Statement Plans OIC
Initial Graphics Plans OIC
WARNO No. 1 Preparation Plans OIC
Sync Matrix Shell Preparation Plans OIC/S2
Receive Division WARNO LO/Plans OIC
Copy Division WARNO Plans NCOIC
Base R&S Plan S-2
Initial Annex Preparation ALL





Receive Division OPORD LO/Plans OIC
Copy Div OPORD Soldier
Refine Mission Analysis Plans OIC
Essential TasksPlans OIC
Adjust COA Sketch and StatementPlans OIC
Complete WARNO No. 1 Plans OIC
COA Sketches (Copy)Soldier
Area of Operation GridsSoldier
Reproduce WARNO No. 1 Soldier
Distribute WARNO No. 1 Plans NCOIC
Fax WARNO No. 1 to FTCP Ramp NCOIC
Initial Squadron Graphics Plans OIC
Copy Graphics Soldier
Diazo Graphics Soldiers
WARNO No. 2 Preparation Plans OIC
Set up Plans Venue Plans NCOIC
Mapboard with Graphics, Wind Arrow and Friendly LocationPlans NCOIC
Battlefield GeometryPlans NCOIC
Facts (Butcher Board)Plans OIC
Higher Mission and Intent BoardCHEMO/S-3 Air
Adjacent Unit BoardCHEMO/S-3 Air
Task Organization BoardCHEMO/S-3 Air
Friendly Critical Events BoardPlans OIC
COA Brief to Staff
Planning TimelinePlans OIC
General Situation (Map)Plans OIC
Enemy SituationS2
Friendly COA Sketch by PhasePlans OIC
ProductsBase COA Sketch with GraphicsSoldier
Sync Matrix - For InputLO
Mission Analysis
Add'l Time/Distance Comp.Plans OIC/NCOIC
Continue WARNO No. 2 Preparation Plans OIC
Mission Analysis/COA Brief
Requests for Information (RFIs) CHEMO
Finish WARNO No. 2 Plans OIC
Synchronize Recon/Counter-recon OrderS2, S-3 Air, Plans
Reproduce WARNO No. 2 Soldier
Distribute WARNO No. 2 Plans NCOIC
Reproduce SITTEMP S-2
Prepare for Wargame
Mapboard on TableSoldier
Base R&S PlanS-2
Initial TargetsFSE
Critical Events ListPlans OIC/S2
Blank Acetate on TopSoldier
Micro-Armor in PositionLO/S2
Relative Combat Power ChartPlans OIC/S2
Copy of WARNO No. 2Soldier
Sync Matrix (Partially Complete)Soldier
Fill out Sync MatrixPlans OIC
Note Tasks in WARNO No. 2 CopyPlans OIC
WARNO No. 3 (Sqdn Graphics)
Maneuver GraphicsLO/NCO
Decision Points (Blue and Red)Plans OIC
Fire Support GraphicsFSO
Air Corridors/A2C2S-3 Air
Engineer GraphicsEngineer XO
WARNO No. 3 Approval S3
WARNO No. 3 Reproduction Soldiers
OPORD Production
Write Base Order Plans OIC
Review Order Plans OIC, S3
Crosswalk Annexes Pl. OIC/S3/SXO
Set up Brief Plans NCOIC
Map Board SetSoldier
Higher Mission/IntentSoldier
Adjacent Units, Mission, IntentSoldier
Task OrganizationSoldier
Critical Events ListSoldier
Butcher Board with Agenda SetPlans OIC/LO
Sync Matrix (Not yet complete)Soldier
Chairs for SCO, SXO, S3, CSMPlans/TOC
Brief SCO, SXO, S3 Plans Group
Make Corrections Plans Group
Order Approved S3
Reproduce OPORD Soldier
Distribute OPORD Plans NCOIC
Complete Sync Matrix Plans OIC/LO
Reproduce Sync Matrix Soldiers
Prepare OPORD Brief Site
Map Board SetSoldier
Higher Mission/intentSoldier
Adjacent units, Mission, IntentSoldier
Task OrganizationSoldier
Critical Events ListSoldier
Butcher Board with Agenda SetPlans OIC/LO
Sync MatrixSoldier
Complete Rehearsal KitTOC/Plans/Staff
OPORD Brief S3
Scribe/Sync MatrixPlans OIC
Butcher Board ScribeS-3 Battle CPT





FRAGO No. 1 Plans OIC/LO
Prepare for Rehearsal
Map Board SetPlans
Higher Mission/IntentPlans
Adjacent units, Mission, IntentPlans
Task OrganizationPlans
Critical Events ListPlans
Butcher Board with Agenda SetPlans OIC/LO
Sync MatrixPlans
Chairs for SCO, SXO and CSMPlans/TOC
Complete Rehearsal KitTOC/Plans/Staff
Rehearsal of Rehearsal S3, Plans, Staff
Rehearsal S3
Scribe/Sync MatrixPlans OIC
Butcher Board ScribeS-3 Battle CPT
FRAGO No. 2 Plans OIC/LO
Consolidated Graphics S3, P1. OIC/LO

As you can see, it is quite an exhaustive checklist. Many tasks are the responsibility of the other staff officers, but were included to identify where the planner fits into the entire picture.

Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) for a Battalion-Level Planner.

The following addresses each of the previously mentioned desired capabilities and responsibilities of the plans section, and presents possible solutions.

1. Operate a plans section of the TOC -- an extension for conducting the battalion staff planning process.


  • Use either attached or freestanding SICPs. When two SICPs are placed either side by side or end to end, there is enough room for an entire battalion-level staff.

  • Use a GP small.

2. Know the MDMP and the particular variation that the battalion uses.


  • This should be standing operating procedure. The orders development process is a staff battle drill and must be completely understood by the battalion planner.

  • In a garrison training environment, the planner should be the primary driver of the staff orders process. This both develops the planner and introduces the staff to the concept.

3. Drive the staff planning process in the absence of the XO or S3.


  • During training, the planner should serve as the S3 or XO during the wargame. Many times in an actual operation, either one or both will be pulled away by higher headquarters, current operations or maintenance difficulties, and the planner should be able to step in.

  • The planner should be in "sync" mentally with the commander and empowered by the commander to make tactical decisions as necessary. This saves hours in rewrites and also prevents confusion during orders and rehearsals. This is a difficult task and requires a commitment by the commander to train the planner in his tactical philosophy.

4. Produce and reproduce a battalion's operations order and graphics.


  • Know the size and type of order the battalion is producing.

  • Know how many copies are required.

  • Know what reproduction means are being used (e.g., copier, mimeograph, etc.)

  • Because of a high-tempo environment, the decision support matrix/template (DSM/DST) is often not accomplished. A planner can begin this process early in the cycle and be developing the product throughout, since a complete DSM/DST deals with branches and sequels as well. This will assist the planner's preparation for the next anticipated order.

5. Reduce staff planning time by conducting the majority of the mission analysis labors.


  • Use the higher WARNOs. The LO often provides critical information about the upcoming order. Much of the order is decided prior to WARNO distribution so much of the mission analysis can begin.

  • Battlefield Operating System (BOS) managers provide the remainder of the mission analysis on very specific and technical items. The following elements for a running staff estimate can be used as a checklist for identifying the critical pieces of information required by the commander:

    S-3 Air:

    • Assets
    • AH/OH/UH
    • Fighter Management
    • Air Corridors
    • Higher
    • To support the Squadron COA.
    • Deep Attacks by higher
    • Times
    • Routes
    • Targets
    • SEAD plan
    • DRT/COLT Insertion Plan
    • Time
    • Location
    • SEAD plan
    • "Piggyback" off higher insertions?

    Fire Support - FSO:

    • Assets Available
    • Quick-Fire Channel
    • Direct Support
    • OPCON
    • No. of bn x six available.
    • DPICM
    • High Explosive
    • No. of Copperhead available.
    • Minutes of Smoke available.
    • CAS Sorties
    • Battery Locations
    • Current
    • Proposed
    • Battalion Movement Plan
    • Coord with S2/Engineer for target location.
    • Targets to support COA
    • Task - Purpose of each target.
    • Observer Plan
    • COLT Insertion Plan
    • Time
    • Locations
    • SEAD Plan
    • Communications

    Mobility/Counter-Mobility/Survivability - Engineer:

    • Assets Available
    • Engineer Squads
    • MICLICs - meters of breaching.
    • Volcanos
    • ACEs
    • Coordinate with S2/FSO.
    • Terrain
    • Enemy obstacles/maneuver plan.
    • Enemy breaching timeline.
    • Target placement.
    • How many lanes in obstacle?
    • How many meters of breaching capability?
    • How many obstacles by type, by time?
    • Disrupt
    • Turn
    • Fix
    • Block
    • UH-60 with engineer squad and mines?
    • How many two-tiered fighting positions?
    • How many one-tiered fighting positions?

    Air Defense - Air Defense Officer:

    • Assets Available
    • ADA Systems
    • Missiles
    • Number of threat aircraft expected.
    • Time aircraft expected.
    • No. of missiles required.
    • Coordinate with S2 about expected threat.
    • Work with S2 to determine ADA seam.
    • Identify critical coverage areas and times.
    • ADA "maneuver" plan.
    • HIMAD coverage.
    • FAADs coverage.

    NBC - Chemical Officer:

    • Assets Available
    • Decon
    • Squadron organic assets
    • Attached or OPCON assets.
    • Higher and adjacent unit assets.
    • Time for assets to react and move.
    • Recon
    • Smoke
    • Weather Analysis/Effects
    • Wind Direction
    • Wind Speed
    • Temprature
    • Coordinate with S2 about enemy chemical threat and templated chemical targets.
    • Identify templated threat.
    • Decon Site locations
    • Link-up grids
    • Water assets available
    • 5k Tankers
    • Decon Platoon
    • Time to move to and establish.
    • Time to complete operational decon.
    • Time to complete thorough decon.
    • Coordination with higher.
    • Direct coordination with assets.

    Combat Service Support - S4/S1:

    • Assets Available
    • FLE Composition
    • UH Support
    • Personnel
    • Expected Casualties
    • Squadron Aid Station Throughput
    • Main Aid Station Throughput
    • Forward Aid Station Throughput
    • Expected Replacements
    • Supply
    • Last LOGPAC
    • Next LOGPAC
    • LOGPAC Focus
    • Maintenance
    • Current Runners
    • Projected Runners
    • 12 hours
    • 24 hours
    • 36 hours
    • 48 hours
    • FARP
    • Location of Heavy FARP
    • Location of Light FARP
    • Arming Focus
    • Arming capabilities -- how many turns?
    • Triggers to move and make hot/cold.

    C2- Signal Officer:

    • Assets Available
    • How many retrans teams?
    • How many nets can the Squadron retrans?
    • Time/distance analysis and movement table for C2assets.
    • Distance the retrans team can retrans.
    • Retrans locations and nets.
    • TOC/TAC locations and movement plan.
    • Higher C2locations and movement plan.
    • RAU locations.
    • Node center locations.
    • EGRU locations.
    • Frequency management issues.

    S2/S3 Planner (Augment Planning Workload):

    • Movement times
    • Blue and Red Timeline
    • COFM
    • ADA Seam
    • Enemy windows of vulnerability.

  • Another option is to have the planner also be the LO with plans vehicle and equipment at the higher headquarters. This allows the process to truly be conducted concurrently. The drawback is the lack of communication between the planner and the battalion commander.

6. Establish the squadron OPORD briefing site.


  • Many of the products present at the briefing site are those used during the orders production and, therefore, already in the possession of the planner.

  • At this point, the individual who best understands the plan is the planner.

7. Produce orders on the move. (Absolutely crucial in a real-world environment where long movements are necessary from lodgment area to tactical assembly areas.)


  • Most plans vehicles are either trailers or trucks and, therefore, are not safe to plan in during movement.

  • An M997 (HMMWV ambulance) modified with cabinets and shelves is an excellent planning vehicle. It has just the right amount of space and, when fitted with a power inverter, it generates the power necessary to run a laptop computer on the move.


Most squadron-sized units do not utilize a planner, usually because of personnel constraints or allocation. During NTC rotation 96-07, one unit established this dedicated position and tested the concept with marginal success. The following elements were found to be necessary to ensure the successful use of a battalion planner:

1. Adequate, authentic preparation. During the trainup for NTC, the squadron was unable to conduct a major squadron-level exercise that lasted longer than a day (a major range fire was a significant deterrent). The squadron planner and TOC had never truly practiced the process of developing CONPLANs prior to receipt of a follow-on mission. During the rotation, the unit had difficulty understanding how to orchestrate the use of the planner during the current fight and when he should move forward to the TAC to gain approval. This could easily be remedied by conducting CPXs where a portion of the multi-echelon training is focused on the development of the CONPLAN.

2. Well-drilled and rehearsed planning section. The squadron took four personnel in the plans section to NTC. Only one of these understood completely the squadron planning process and most had only rudimentary understanding of the troop-leading procedures. During their Home-Station CPXs, all of the plans section were rarely present, resulting in confusion at the NTC. The solution is to identify all personnel in the plans section and allow them to train together in as many CPXs as possible to build the plans team.

3. Orders reproduction. The squadron used seven photocopiers during the course of the rotation. This was only possible because of the maintenance contracts that exist at Fort Irwin, CA. Vibration and dust caused numerous mechanical and toner problems. Thus, a dustproof environment is important for all electronics. Whenever possible, design the cabinets with cushion or shock absorber to protect your equipment. Most important, have a "stone-age" method of reproduction available (such as carbon paper) and rehearse it. In most developing nations, there be no readily available maintenance contractor.

4. Tasks in Warning Order 1. WARNO 1 always included sketches of the COA, a detailed timeline and rehearsal tasks. These tasks outlined for the subordinate units the rehearsals the squadron commander wanted them to rehearse prior to the squadron rehearsal. This was very useful in focusing subordinate unit commanders on the next fight.

5. Warning Order 2. The squadron did an excellent job in producing a very detailed WARNO 2. This provided task-purpose and was basically an unsynchronized OPORD. This provided subordinates with enough information to begin significant planning. The final hard-copy OPORD usually only included a few additional tasks, but all the critical maneuver tasks were in WARNO 2. During the trainup, the squadron actually rehearsed executing an operation off a WARNO 2. This is useful, since it is always possible that the timeline will change and, therefore, force the unit to execute without a completed OPORD.

6. Decision Support Matrix (DSM). The plans section improved in this area during the rotation with help and advice from the Cobra Observer/Controller Team. The squadron entered the rotation using decision points, sometimes based on friendly action, and a rudimentary DSM that only included an enemy action and squadron commander decision columns. By the end of the rotation, the squadron produced the following example:

A good DSM and DST allows the commander the flexibility to alter the plan as the enemy changes from the most likely COA to another COA that was identified as either a potential branch or sequel.

7. M997 ambulance as a plans vehicle. The M997 was the ideal vehicle for the job. It has a relatively smooth ride and provides more dust protection than a trailer or M109 van. Several NCOs worked to build cabinets and a seat inside to store the plans library, critical electronics and reproduction means. In addition to the vehicle, the squadron had two SICPs that were carried on top (secured by cargo straps). This was the perfect venue for plans. On page 34 is a sketch of the established plans cell:


The use of a plans section, and specifically a plans officer at the battalion level can ease the process of conducting continuous operations and parallel planning. The addition of this sub-staff section might be problematic for some units, but those who can do it are sure to benefit from the addition. The addition of a plans section becomes necessary for a division cavalry squadron working directly for the division staff. This requires an investment of capable personnel by the squadron/battalion commander and investment of training time and resources by the S3. In the end, the investments have been shown to pay off as the squadron/battalion provides more information to subordinate commanders more rapidly and allows the unit to gain time and initiative on the enemy. This process has been used during an NTC rotation and, although not without flaws and difficulties, it proved useful and was a contributor to the squadron's success.

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