1-3: Operational Variables

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1-3. When Infantry forces are alerted for deployment, redeployment within a theater of operations, or assigned a mission, their assigned higher headquarters provides an analysis of the operational environment that affects operations at that higher level. From that higher-level operational environment analysis, a platoon leader or squad leader can draw any information relevant to his particular part of the higher headquarters operational environment. This allows him to use the limited resources available to collect and analyze additional information that applies only to his more specific operational environment. Analysis of operational environment at all levels of command uses the common framework of the eight operational variables and associated subvariables. The term PMESII-PT is used as a memory device. (Refer to JP 3-0 for more information.) The following is a list of the operational variables, their definitions, and examples (in parentheses) of questions a platoon leader or squad leader might need answered about each variable:

  • Political. Describes the distribution of responsibility and power at all levels of governance—formally constituted authorities, as well as informal or covert political powers. (Who is the tribal leader in the village?)
  • Military. Exposes the military and paramilitary capabilities of all relevant actors (enemy, friendly, and neutral) in a given operational environment. (Does the enemy in this neighborhood have antitank missiles?)
  • Economic. Encompasses individual and group behaviors related to producing, distributing, and consuming resources. (Does the village have a high unemployment rate?)
  • Social. Describes the cultural, religious, and ethnic makeup within an operational environment and the beliefs, values, customs, and behaviors of society members. (Who are the influential people in the village? For example, religious leaders, tribal leaders, warlords, criminal bosses, or prominent families.)
  • Information. Describes the nature, scope, characteristics, and effects of individuals, organizations, and systems that collect, process, manipulate, disseminate, or act on information. (How much access does the local population have to news media or the Internet?)
  • Infrastructure. Comprises the basic facilities, services, and installations needed for the functioning of a community or society. (Is the electrical generator in the village working?)
  • Physical environment. Includes the geography and man-made structures as well as the climate and weather in the area of operations. (What types of terrain or weather conditions in this area of operation favor enemy operations?)
  • Time. Describes the timing and duration of activities, events, or conditions within an operational environment, as well, as how the timing and duration are perceived by various actors in the operational environment. (For example, at what times are people likely to congest roads or conduct activities that provide cover for hostile operations?)

1-4. Upon receipt of a warning order (WARNORD) or mission, leaders filter relevant information categorized by the operational variables into the categories of the mission variables used during mission analysis. The mission variables consist of METT-TC.

1-5. Incorporating the analysis of operational variables into METT-TC ensures leaders consider the best available relevant information about conditions that pertain to the mission. Input from the operational variables often emphasizes the operational environment civil aspects. This emphasis is most obvious in civil considerations, but it affects the other mission variables of METT-TC as well. The platoon leader analyzes civil considerations in terms of, areas, structures, capabilities, organizations, people, and events (ASCOPE). (Refer to ATP 2-01.3 for more information.)

1-6. The Infantry platoon interacts with people at many levels. In general, the people in any area of operation can be categorized as a threat, an enemy, an adversary, a neutral, or a friend. One reason land operations are complex is all categories are intermixed, often with no easy means to distinguish one from another. Threat, enemy, adversary, and neutral are defined as—

  • Threat. Any combination of actors, entities, or forces that have the capability and intent to harm U.S. forces, U.S. national interests, or the homeland. (Refer to ADRP 3-0.)
  • Enemy. A party identified as hostile against which the use of force is authorized. (Refer to ADRP 3-0.) An enemy is a combatant and is treated as such under the law of war.
  • Adversary. A party acknowledged as potentially hostile to a friendly party and against which the use of force may be envisaged. (Refer to JP 3-0.)
  • Neutral. A party identified as neither supporting nor opposing friendly or enemy forces. (Refer to ADRP 3-0.)
  • Host Nation. A nation which receives the forces and supplies of allied nations and NATO organizations to be located on, to operate in, or to transit through its territory.

Next: 1-7: Threat

Go Back To: U.S. Army FM 3-21.8: The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad