F3EAD vs. F3EA
Some organizations utilize the acronym “F3EA” instead of “F3EAD.” While the processes are essentially the same except for the last letter of the acronym, the difference between the two involves more than mere semantics. The argument for F3EA is that the “D,” dissemination, is an “understood” part of the process and does not need to be specifically designated as an individual component. This thinking is in error. “Exploit” and “analyze” were added to the legacy find-fix-finish (F3) process because those functions required specific emphasis in order for the process to realize its maximum potential.
The same holds true with dissemination; without emphasizing it as a specific and essential part of the targeting process, SOF runs the risk of creating “stovepipes of excellence” that deliberately or inadvertently compartmentalize information, thereby inhibiting the effective fusion of operation and intelligence functions and bogging down the targeting process. Emphasizing “dissemination” as a formal part of the process ensures that practitioners keep the dissemination element in mind as a continuous part of the process.
The Way Ahead for F3EAD
It might be tempting for some to look at the F3EAD process through the lens of legacy targeting techniques and their own limited experiences and say, “nothing new here.” That view is extraordinarily shortsighted. While it is true that F3EA and F3EAD have been in existence for years, and that F3EAD incorporates familiar components of legacy doctrinal targeting methodology, F3EAD represents nothing less than a revolution in the way SOF conduct lethal and non-lethal targeting. More than a conceptual model, F3EAD reflects a fundamental change in thinking and makes the concept of “operations/intelligence fusion” a reality. Through F3EAD, commanders ensure that “operations/intelligence fusion,” “operations directs intelligence,” and “intelligence drives operations” are more than trite buzzwords. Additionally, F3EAD creates the kind of unity of effort and generates the potential for an operational tempo that has arguably never been seen in modern combat. The success of the SOF units utilizing F3EA/F3EAD serves as validation of the efficacy of the process.
Recognizing the potential of exploitation and analysis phases of F3EAD, institutional training has arisen within the SOF community in order to capitalize the lessons learned from the field in terms of the utility of F3EAD. The 6th Battalion at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS), for example, now boasts 11 courses that stress ops/intel fusion and the F3EAD process as part of the curriculum.
Several of these courses were begun as partnerships between SWCS and the Joint Special Operations Command’s Intelligence Brigade (JIB), ensuring the dissemination of SOF ops/intel best practices throughout the joint and combined SOF communities. 6th Battalion, officially activated on 27 June 2011, already trains both operations and intelligence personnel in a variety of exploitation tactics, techniques, and procedures. For its part, the JIB ensures joint SOF operability and provides joint doctrine for SOF personnel employing F3EAD in Overseas Contingency Operations and other locations throughout the world.
The F3EAD targeting methodology can be successfully utilized by any organizational echelon, with any level of resourcing. As previously mentioned, SOF are not the only forces that are capable of utilizing the F3EAD process. Indeed, F3EAD has been effectively utilized by general-purpose forces and U.S. allies and is incorporated into doctrine. But more still can, and should, be done. F3EAD should become standard practice not only for SOF but for joint and combined doctrine, which is currently characterized in some cases by poor operations/intelligence fusion and joint/interagency cooperation, and encumbered by multiple and often conflicting tactics, terms, and procedures. The utility of the methodology and the efficacy of the process are clear; F3EAD is successful for SOF and with proper execution, it can be successful for the entire force.
At the time this article was written, MAJ Charles Faint was a Military Intelligence officer, and MAJ Michael Harris was a Special Forces officer. Between the two of them, they held various leadership and staff positions in the Joint Special Operations Command, the 7thSpecial Forces Group, the 5th Special Forces Group, the 75th Ranger Regiment, and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. They also served a combined total of at least 11 combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.