The ACE Blog: Introduction to the ACE

Welcome to the Analysis & Control Element (ACE) Blog. In the military, the ACE is the brain of intelligence operations and guides the tactical operations center on the enemy situation. For our purposes, the ACE is the brain of the emergency command center or our community security effort. The ACE is simply a collection of people doing the work of intelligence. And that’s why we started this project — because we do expect people to use this information during an emergency.

Consider how you make decisions, and think of the ACE like this: information from your senses are delivered to your brain, and then your brain interprets these signals, then you form conclusions, and then you make plans or decisions. Whether in a time of war or just planning for community security, the ACE works a lot like your brain.

We call this process the OODA Loop. An idea first developed by U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd, the OODA Loop represents the way in which we make decisions. First we Observe what’s going on, then we Orient ourselves to this new information, then we Decide on a course of action or how to respond, and then we Act. After that action, the OODA Loop starts all over again — in fact, it never really stops. We are always observing, orienting, deciding, and acting. And generally whoever can complete that loop the fastest is going to win a conflict.

When it comes the OODA Loop, we’re actually looking at two different processes: intelligence and operations. In the military, the two are separate functions. There are those responsible for intelligence and those responsible for operations, and the two work hand in hand. In fact, you may have heard the maxim “Intelligence Drives the Fight”. And that’s best described through the OODA Loop.

Observe and Orient (OO) is the function of intelligence. Observing describes intelligence gathering and Orienting describes intelligence analysis. We have to be good at both of those things, and in later posts we’ll jump into this concept in further detail. But after we Orient — or in our case, after we produce intelligence — we pass it on to decision-makers.

Decide and Act (DA) is a function of operations. As intel people, we advise the commander or decision-makers on what the situation is, but we don’t actually call the shots. We support planning, but we don’t plan. And there’s a very good reason for this: because as the intel guys, we’re called to be experts on the enemy. We alert the commander to where the enemy is, what they’re doing, and what they might do next — something we refer to as the enemy situation.

But it’s the commander who actually decides what to do in response. The commander and his staff plan (or Decide) the operations, and then the operators execute (or Act).

To recap: the role of the ACE is to receive and process incoming information for intelligence value, and then analyze that information to produce actual intelligence. We pass that intelligence on to Operations, who then starts making the decisions regarding what to do about it.

That’s a brief introduction to the ACE, the namesake of both this blog and the show on Forward Observer Radio.

Samuel Culper is a former military intelligence NCO and contract Intelligence analyst. After 39 months of deployment time to Iraq and Afghanistan, he's now the conflict and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

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