The 203d MI Battalion in operation Iraqi Freedom

The 203d MI Battalion in operation Iraqi Freedom

Daniel R. Arnold

The 203d Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion is the Army’s only tactical technical intelligence (TECHINT) asset. Doctrinally, TECHINT is intelligence derived from the exploitation of foreign equipment. The TECHINT process begins when a soldier identifies a piece of new or modified equipment and takes steps to report it. The equipment is then exploited at succeedingly higher levels until a countermeasure is developed to neutralize the enemy’s technological advantage. The mission of the 203d MI Battalion is to deploy worldwide to conduct TECHINT reconnaissance, establish the Captured Material Exploitation Center (CMEC), where the captured enemy materiel (CEM) is concentrated and exploited at the tactical and operational levels, and to prepare it for shipment to intelligence production centers where it can be exploited at the strategic level. The 203d is also responsible for disseminating the resulting intelligence to combatant commanders and any other relevant parties.

Background and History

The 203d MI Battallion is the successor to the Foreign Materiel intelligence Battalion (FMIB) and the 11th MI Company, which successfully conducted TECHINT operations during Operation DESERT STORM. Following DESERT STORM, the FMIB lost the battalion flag due to downsizing.

The Army reconstituted the battalion in a new way as a combination of Active Component (AC) and Reserve Component (RC) soldiers–becoming multicomponent or “multicompo” unit–in 1998. AC soldiers formed A Company and elements of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), to include the executive officer (XO) and S3, while RC soldiers filled B anti C companies and the remainder of the HHC company, to include the battalion commander and command sergeant major.

A and C Companies perform the majority of the TECHINT reconnaissance portion of the 203d’s mission. The two AC and four RC mobile TECHINT collection teams collect and report on CEM from forward areas of the battlefield. These teams consist of experts in several fields, including foreign mobility (tracked and wheeled vehicles and rotary- wing airframes), weapons and munitions, communications and electronics, and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD). The teams provide intelligence on enemy weapons and equipment to combatant commanders and prepare CEM for further exploitation by the Exploitation Platoon (2d) of B Company. This platoon consists of experts in the same fields As that of the collection teams, but it s their job to conduct a more thorough analysis of the materiel. This includes detailed measurements, analysis of subcomponents, and assessments of upgrades to known enemy materiel.

B Company also includes a packaging and warehousing platoon that receives, tracks, and temporarily stores all CEM. The 203d not only collects intelligence for the current battlefield, it also collects for future conflicts as well. Therefore, the platoon has the ability to package and ship various weapons, missiles, munitions, aircraft, and naval vessels to production centers back in the United States or coalition countries in order to conduct more detailed testing and evaluation to combat enemy capabilities in future conflicts.

The unit prioritizes enemy-materiel collection requirements according to a national collection requirements list submitted to and vetted by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and other intelligence production centers. Using this list as a starting point, the Collection Management and Dissemination (CM&D) Platoon of B Company identifies potential targets of interest for TECHINT reconnaissance and works with the S3 in developing and coordinating TECHINT missions.


As war clouds gathered over Iraq in fall 2002, it was clear the 203d MI Battalion would have a role to play. Obviously, there was national-level interest in the kinds of equipment possessed by the Iraqi armed forces as well as their countries of origin. In October 2002, members of the battalion staff were briefed on the Coalition Force Land Component Command (CFLCC) vision of the 203d’s role in upcoming operations. The AC portion of the battalion was ready to deploy, but the RC companies were woefully understrength in terms of personnel, equipment, and training. Bringing them up to speed would be the first in a series of challenges that provided some important lessons for TECHINT in future contingencies.

On 26 December 2002, A Company received orders to deploy to Kuwait on 22 January 2003. Following transportation delays, they arrived in theater on 30 January. After training for months in the northern Kuwaiti desert, A Company crossed the berm into Iraq with V Corps and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) on 5 and 6 April 2003.

Alpha Company performed more than 100 missions from bases at Al Hillah, Al Kut, Balad, and Baghdad. A typical collection mission consisted of the following steps:

* The teams went to the sites, cleared them of unexploded ordnance and booby-traps, then conducted exploitation of the site.

* The team photographed the sites and gathered measurements and specifications of the equipment found.

* Specific reports, called complementary technical intelligence reports (COMTECHREPs or COMTECHs), were compiled to send to higher echelons and requesting national agencies.

* Finally, after-action reviews (AARs) were conducted to determine what went right and wrong on the missions, how to improve operations the next time, and to report their results if the mission objectives were met.

Key Observations

During their six months in Iraq, the A Company soldiers made several key observations. TECHINT doctrine was for a conventional battlefield, not the asymmetrical battlefield in OIF. Because the Iraqi Army disintegrated so quickly, A Company was collecting in Phases III and IV of the conflict.

The biggest problem affecting A Company was the looting of materiel by local Iraqis. Looting of weapons and equipment of intelligence value by local Iraqis was the most frustrating part of this deployment, according to the noncommissioned officers (NCOs). “The most frustrating thing was going and finding something worthwhile, but finding that it had already been stripped by Iraqis,” observed the First Sergeant. Another senior sergeant added, “We just needed to get across the berm sooner than we did.”

Despite these setbacks, A Company found several interesting pieces of equipment, including a home-built laser-warning device mounted on a T-72 tank, a modified artillery piece, naval mines, and suicide vests.

While A Company was training in Kuwait, the RC portion of the battalion mobilized on 4 February 2003; it was a massive undertaking. Resourced at 25 percent strength as of October 2002, the Army was slowly transferring soldiers involuntarily into the 203d in anticipation of its mobilization. After 4 February, the cross-leveling reached a fever pitch. The time from mobilization to deployment was two and one-half months, due exclusively to personnel and equipment shortages.

By the time the RC companies and part of HHC deployed at the end of April, a full two-thirds of their personnel had not been members of the battalion before October 2002. The battalion commander, XO, S3, and one company commander were new to the battalion, and all the company commanders were new to their positions. Given the unique nature of the 203d’s mission, integrating and training so many new soldiers on their new missions was a significant challenge.

TECHINT analyst positions in the 203d are filled by NCOs with experience on U.S. equipment. For example, a rotary-wing aircraft mechanic might fill a rotary-wing aircraft analyst slot in the 203d. The battalion expects them to learn about the threat’s counterpart equipment with their assignment to the 203d. It takes time to bring a new TECHINT analyst up to speed on the threat equipment. With time being so short to train so many new soldiers, they received abbreviated training. “Instead of trying to make the soldiers TECHINT experts, we concentrated on basic tactical soldier skills, leader tasks, and the TECHINT reporting process,” according to the C Company Commander.

The 203d MI Battalion mobilized at its home station at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, a fact that offered some advantages to offset personnel and training challenges. The 203d shares a facility with the Materiel Operations Division, National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC). The battalion was able to tap their experts to provide briefings and hands-on training on threat equipment.

Additionally, the battalion staff was able to operate from its own headquarters. This allowed the CM&D section to use its secure facility to begin developing TECHINT targets before the bulk of the battalion deployed. CM&D spent its time at the mobilization site culling warfighter order of battle (OB) databases for Iraqi targets of TECHINT interest, developing target folders that contained all relevant intelligence on the targets, and firming up standard operating procedures (SOPs).

HHC, B, and C Companies finally deployed to Kuwait at the end of April. The battalion consolidated at Camp Udairi in early May. At this point, perhaps the most critical decisions regarding the 203d’s deployment were made.

HHC and B Company arrived in Kuwait without their organic equipment, which was coming by sea. C Company flew with their equipment. The battalion could either wait in Udairi for the equipment to arrive, or borrow enough to move into Iraq and begin collecting. The battalion commander described his decisionmaking process at the time:

“First, the sooner we get started, the sooner we will finish. Second, the security situation is reasonable now but may deteriorate over time as the resistance elements get more organized. Third, the looting is severe and any equipment that is out there and on our collection list could well be lost two months from now. Also, Charlie Company has its equipment and since we obviously have to collect the material before we do anything else, I can see them running missions for a couple months, collecting enough equipment to give Bravo a good amount of work to do once the balance of the equipment arrives.”

However, to move at all, B Company and HHC needed vehicles and basic life support. The commander described how he obtained it in his diary.

“I gave the group about four days to get used to the heat and the time change before moving into Iraq. Since we did not have most of our equipment, we are significantly handicapped, but one of my fellow battalion commanders is a friend from Georgia. His unit has spent the entire war at Udairi and is anxious to help in any way. He agreed to loan us about 15 vehicles and trailers and a mobile kitchen until our equipment arrives. I also got the [513th MI] Brigade to agree to provide me 54 of their long-range surveillance (LRS) platoon soldiers–all excellent infantrymen–to serve as security elements during movement and missions. This is the first of many handshake deals with friends that will prove to make up the backbone of our logistical support going forward.”

Our commander sought the addition of the LRS soldiers because he believed the 203d had neither the training nor heavy weapons required to adequately serve as security elements in the current semi-permissive environment. The 203d’s doctrine anticipated performing collection missions in a non-permissive conventional battlefield. Collection teams would follow the warfighters and evaluate captured equipment for TECHINT value once it had been secured. Since the 203d arrived in country after the major combat but during the insurgency phase, its collection teams would be roaming the country independent of the warfighting units in a semi-permissive environment. The attachment of the LRS soldiers from H Company (Long-Range Surveillance), 221st MI Battalion, provided proficient infantrymen who understood intelligence collection. They accompanied almost every joint CMEC (JCMEC) collection mission.

The second important decision was to establish a combined and joint CMEC (C/JCMEC) Forward at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). This decision shaped TECHINT operations in Iraq for the duration of the 203d’s deployment. Early in the conflict, Tallil Air Base (AB) was the designated theater collection point for captured enemy materiel. However, the Iraqi units with the most advanced equipment melted away in and around Baghdad. For this reason, the battalion commander decided to establish a presence at BIAP in addition to the presence in Tallil mandated by CFLCC.

On 11 and 12 May, B Company and HHC moved to Tallil AB to establish the C/JCMEC. Its primary mission was to pack and ship the CEM concentrated there by British and U.S. Navy TECHINT elements that had already moved forward to BIAP. B Company, 3d Platoon (Warehouse) was the primary element that carried out this mission, while its 2d Platoon (Exploitation) conducted some local collection and exploitation missions. HHC worked hard to provide life support and morale, welfare, and recreation in the windy and dusty environment that characterized Tallil AB.

After accompanying the move to Tallil, the battalion commander, portions of the operations and intelligence staffs, CM&D, a slice of HHC, and C Company established the C/JCMEC Forward at BIAP. The 203d soldiers collocated with the British TECHINT experts already there. The 203d staff began planning and coordinating operations with their coalition partners. There were literally hundreds of weapons cache sites in the immediate Baghdad area, the task fell to CM&D to evaluate them for TECHINT value and to prioritize them. The $3 then decided which ones warranted a visit and began planning the missions.

Meanwhile, C Company established its headquarters in another walled compound further up the road and prepared for the collection missions that the staff was planning. While the staff worked feverishly to get operations running, the NCOs worked diligently to improve the quality of life for all since there were few, if any, amenities left in the buildings due to looting and combat. The NCOs and soldiers found ice, air conditioners, refrigerators (working or not), and lighting and plumbing fixtures. They built showers, installed fans and air conditioners, and strung lighting.

By the end of May, the C/JCMEC forward had the beginnings of a battle rhythm. CM&D would identify potential targets and bring them to the staff’s attention. The section would also assemble what intelligence it could on the target and include it in a target folder that helped the staff and the collection team plan the mission. The staff would then schedule missions and organize C Company teams and coalition colleagues for a reconnaissance or collection mission. Every evening after dinner, the commanders and staff gathered to hear briefings on the next day’s missions and the $2 would brief the latest enemy situation.

Each morning, the commander rose for an 0500 briefing by CM&D analysts on any changes to the threat situation that might change his mind about allowing a mission to go forward. Soon after this threat briefing, the mission convoys would begin to assemble outside the compound, usually consisting of two to six vehicles, always accompanied by a few “gunships” from the LRS detachment of the 221st MI Battalion providing additional force protection (FP). In the early days of C/JCMEC Forward, three or four missions would go out early each morning.

June 2003 was a significant month in the history of the 203d BI Battalion and the C/JCMEC. During this month, we consolidated the 203d and C/JCMEC at BIAP and the combined element came under command of the newly formed Iraqi Survey Group (ISG).

Integration with the ISG was instrumental in bringing together all of the elements of the C/JCMEC. At its peak, the C/JCMEC consisted of 450 individuals from:

* All four branches of the US. Armed Forces.

* The United Kingdom’s Army, Navy, and Air Force.

* The Australian Army and Air Force.

* The National Air Intelligence Center, Missile and Space Intelligence Center, Office of Naval Intelligence, NGIC, DIA, and others.

Although the ISG assumed command of the C/JC-MEC on 1 June 2003, it did little to modify the missions the C/JCMEC was already doing, except to “broaden its scope,” according to the commander. Although its command changed and the C/JCMEC fell under the command of an Australian Brigadier, the mission of the consolidated 203d and C/JCMEC did not alter.

Also in June, the bulk of the battalion consolidated at BIAR B Company and HHC moved up from Tallil, and A Company came from Al Hillah. The battalion’s equipment arrived at the same time. These events precipitated a shift in mission for 2d Platoon of B Company. Doctrinally, the 2d Platoon works in the CMEC doing detailed exploitation of equipment in order to provide timely intelligence on threat equipment capabilities to battlefield commanders. Since major conventional combat operations had ended in early May, there was no need for 2d Platoon to do its exploitation in theater. Exploitation of most of the CEM was slated for conduct in the United States by the intelligence production centers. By this time, CM&D had identified approximately 150 sites worth TECHINT missions, so the 2d Platoon contributed to the collection effort.

Several senior sergeants from B Company’s 2d Platoon received training in commanding a TECHINT mission from A Company’s NCOs. They received training in FP from the LRS soldiers under operational control of the 203d. DIA experts provided training for the 2d Platoon soldiers on equipment identification. By the end of the deployment, the 2d platoon had conducted more than 70 collection reconnaissance missions.

By the end of August, the C/JCMEC staff was confident it had identified and visited every site of potential TECHINT interest in Iraq. B Company’s 3d Platoon was packaging the last of the 300 tons of materiel collected by the C/JCMEC for shipment to the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. They had run more than 400 collection missions, resulting in only four combat casualties. It was the largest U.S. TECHINT collection effort since World War II.

Final Thoughts

The 203d MI Battalion’s experience in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM brought to light several crucial lessons.

* Foremost is the need for TECHINT elements to be in theater in force well before hostilities begin. The CEM with the greatest intelligence value will be found early in the conflict, and it is important for one headquarters, the CMEC, to track and coordinate the early collection efforts.

* A corollary to the first point is that it is imperative that a unit with a mission as unique as that of the 203d be a priority as far as personnel resourcing and equipment so that they get to the theater in a timely fashion.

* Establishing the CMEC forward where the majority of the collection is taking place is imperative. It gives the staff a better understanding of the security situation and provides for better command and control.

* FP needs to be more of a consideration in the battalion’s doctrine and modified table of organization and equipment (MTOE) because of the future likelihood of operating in a semi-permissive environment without the benefit of escort from combat arms units. Either the 203d needs heavy weapons, armored HMMWVs, and significant training time devoted to FP, or some provision has to be made for the attachment of soldiers proficient in that kind of work upon deployment.

A final comment is in order here. I have discussed some of the doctrine above, quoted a few soldiers, and pointed out many problems that we overcame. What truly made the 203d’s time in Iraq a success were the NCOs and soldiers of the 203d who exemplified our Army values. Specifically, the NCOs built solid teams with soldiers who for the most part had met just a few weeks before deployment. All the soldiers remained patient and committed despite a difficult mobilization and a deployment filled with challenges, adversity, and on-the-job training.

Second Lieutenant Daniel R. Arnold, USAR

Second Lieutenant Daniel Arnold joined the Army Reserve as a 96B (Intelligence Analyst) in 1996 and is currently the Platoon Leader of the CM&D Platoon, 203d MI Battalion. He deployed with the 203d MI Battalion in OIF as a Sergeant in the CM&D Platoon. He received a direct commission as a Reserve MI Officer in April 2004 and is a graduate of the MI Officer Basic Course. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and International Affairs from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. Readers may contact the author via E-mail at and telephonically at (520) 234-0597.

COPYRIGHT 2005 U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group