Tier One Targeting: Special Operations and the F3EAD Process
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Small Wars Journal back in 2012, and is re-posted here with the permission of the primary author. The article is old, but as recent headlines reveal, the doctrine is still valid.
by Major Charles Faint (Military Intelligence) and Major Michael Harris (Special Forces)
Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze, and Disseminate (F3EAD), pronounced “F-three-e-a-d” or “feed,” is a version of the targeting methodology utilized by the special operations forces (SOF) responsible for some of the most highly-publicized missions in support of overseas contingency operations. F3EAD is a system that allows SOF to anticipate and predict enemy operations, identify, locate, and target enemy forces, and to perform intelligence exploitation and analysis of captured enemy personnel and materiel.
Central to the F3EAD process is the functional fusion of operations and intelligence functions throughout the SOF organization. In F3EAD, commanders establish targeting priorities, the intelligence system provides the direction to the target, and the operations system performs the decisive operations necessary to accomplish the SOF mission.
The most significant aspect of F3EAD is the establishment of a true symbiotic relationship between the operations and intelligence warfighting functions. In F3EAD, operations constantly directs the overall intelligence effort, and intelligence in turn feeds operations with the information necessary to enable the successful accomplishment of the mission. This kind of synchronization is crucial because on the modern battlefield the two functions are becoming fused; indeed, some may now say that “intelligence is operations.”
The goal of the operations/intelligence fusion and rapid pace of the F3EAD process is to enable commanders at all levels to plan and execute operations against the enemy faster than the enemy can react. When utilized successfully, the process allows SOF to get into the enemy’s decision cycle and simultaneously direct operations against several parts of the network. This results in the ability of friendly forces to dictate the operational tempo, and sets the conditions for the friendly operations.
F3EAD is a natural evolution of targeting, combining aspects of the conventional intelligence cycle and doctrinal operational planning with best practices and emerging tactics, techniques, and procedures forged in worldwide overseas contingency operations.
Although SOF is best positioned to utilize F3EAD due to their inherent organizational adaptability, specialized training, and unique resourcing, F3EAD is neither new nor unique to SOF. Indeed, conventional targeting doctrine now supports F3EAD as a part of the targeting process, and F3EAD has become part of the institutional training programs at places such as the Military Intelligence Officers Basic Course.
F3EAD in Conventional and SOF Doctrine
Some SOF units diverge from conventional doctrine in that a version of F3EAD is the exclusive targeting methodology in those units while conventional targeting doctrine as reflected in Field Manual 3-60 shows F3EAD subordinate to the legacy “decide-detect-deliver-assess” (D3A) process. The same manual also describes “Find, Track Target, Engage and Assess” (FT2EA). Looking at the doctrinal overlay of F3EAD into D3A (Figure 1, below), D3A looks almost superfluous because F3EAD can accomplish the exact same thing as D3A, while improving the overall targeting process by increasing the input of intelligence.
If that is so, then it may make sense to replace D3A and FT2EA with F3EAD. Additionally, conventional doctrine also seems to focus almost exclusively on the manhunting or “High Payoff Target” (HPT) aspect of F3EAD. While F3EAD is indeed very well suited for manhunting and operations against HPTs, it is equally effective in other types of targeting, including those seeking non-lethal effects. Finally, while doctrine views F3EAD as a hasty decision process, many units utilize F3EAD in deliberate planning as well.
Figure 1: F3EAD as a Function of D3A. Source: FM 3-60.
There are some other important distinctions between the ways SOF and conventional forces implement F3EAD: 1) the degree to which the process is understood and implemented within the SOF community; 2) the emphasis placed on the process by SOF commanders, and 3) the degree success the process achieves for the SOF units who utilize it. In SOF units effectively utilizing F3EAD, operational leaders at all levels took responsibility for the intelligence effort, developing lines of communication and direct contact with the intelligence personnel supporting them at all levels throughout the intelligence community.
This interaction allowed intelligence enablers to better understand and anticipate operational needs, and facilitated the development of useful, long-term professional relationships between intelligence and operations personnel. Additionally, units which successfully utilize F3EAD often possess organizational adaptability that facilitates the conscious incorporation of personnel, assets and capabilities that are not always considered as part of the warfighting enterprise. Specifically, the inclusion of law enforcement personnel and their investigative, forensic, and information-sharing capabilities were critical in the process of turning intelligence into evidence, which became more and more important in the non-lethal capabilities of F3EAD as the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan evolved.
(Continued On Next Page)