In the two previous chapters the environment
and its effects on personnel and equipment and preparations for
desert operations were described. This chapter describes desert
operations and is divided into three sections.
The key to success in desert operations is mobility,
and this was clearly evident in ground operations in Desert Storm.
The tactics employed to achieve victory over Iraq were wide and
rapid flanking movements similar to those Rommel and Montgomery
executed in North Africa.
Trafficability and cross-country movement become
critical to desert operations when using these tactics. Trafficability
is generally good in the desert and cross-country movement is
a lesser problem, but not always. Salt marshes can create NO-GO
conditions during the rainy season. Sand can also bog down traffic
and make foot movement slow and exhausting. The steep slopes of
dunes and rocky mountains can make vehicular movement a NO-GO.
The wadis create cross-compartmented terrain. The banks of these
stream beds can be steep and unconsolidated. Then, when it rains,
it becomes a torrent of dangerously rushing water, leading to
flat lake beds that can create NO-GO mud conditions. Rock quarries
and mining areas can also adversely affect mobility and trafficability.
Often these areas are not reflected on maps. Satellite imagery
can be helpful in identifying these areas, as was the case in
Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm. In rocky terrain, tires
can easily be punctured by sharp angular debris; however, overall
movement is mostly uninhibited. Given ample fuel, water, and other
resources, units can go around natural and man-made obstacles.
Movement can easily be detected because of sand and dust signatures left due to the loose surface material. In an actual engagement, this may not be all that bad because a unit is obscured from direct fire while advancing, but the element of surprise may be lost. Moving at night becomes the logical choice. The dust is still there, and vehicles (which should be widely spaced) can get separated. But at night, reflection of the sun's rays from glass, mirrors, or metal, which can give away movement and positions up to 20 kilometers away, is not a concern.
Using the ability to make fast and wide flanking
movements, a unit can encircle and cut off enemy forces. The Israeli
forces under General Ariel Sharon did just that to the Egyptian
Third Army in the 1973 War, and the British did the same to the
Italians in North Africa in January 1941. In Desert Storm, the
night-fighting AH-64 helicopters, combined with field artillery
fires, made for an unbeatable team in this regard.
Land navigation is a challenge during movement
in the wide expanses of many arid regions. There are few landmarks
to key on, and maps and even photos can become dated quickly,
especially in the sandy deserts where dunes migrate. The global
positioning system (GPS) with the small lightweight GPS receivers
(SLGRs) is a major aid for desert operations.
Refuel and resupply operations require periods
in which forces assume the defense, but only temporarily. The
flat sandy desert topography that is characteristic of Saudi Arabia
is not conducive to defense, compared to rocky plateau topography.
In mountains and canyons, a defensive posture can be favorable.
Controlling the passes, as mentioned earlier, can essentially
close off vast areas to an attacker and make it extremely costly
While a unit is in the defense, it needs both
ground and air reconnaissance to detect enemy movement at long
range. Obstacles must be placed in all types of topography, primarily
to slow advances and channel columns. Neglecting these security
measures in the flat sandy regions can lead to disaster.
MILITARY ASPECTS OF THE
The following paragraphs describe how terrain
affects tactical operations in the desert. This discussion follows
the outline of the terrain analysis process summarized by the
factors of OCOKA.
Observation and Fields
Observation and fields of fire are generally
excellent in most desert areas. The atmosphere is stable and dry,
allowing unrestricted view over vast distances, but this can also
be a problem. Range estimation by "gut feeling" is subject
to error. The effective ranges of weapons can easily be reached,
and a correct estimation of maximum ranges is critical for all
weapons, especially for wire-guided munitions.
Flat desert terrain permits direct-fire weapons
to be used to their maximum range. Open terrain and a predominantly
clear atmosphere generally offer excellent long-range visibility;
but at certain times of the day visibility may be limited or distorted
Two primary considerations in the desert environment
are longer range observation, and fields of fire at the maximum
effective ranges for weapons. However, rapid heating and cooling
of the atmosphere hinder these factors and cause distortion of
ranges to the aided and unaided eye. Mechanical and electronic
means must be used to verify estimated ranges such as GSR and
laser range finders. Boresight and zero more frequently at standard
The desert is not absolutely flat, so weapons
are sited to provide mutual support. Dead space is a problem.
Even though the landscape appears flat, upon closer inspection
it can be undulating with relatively deep wadis and depressions.
These areas must be covered by indirect fire.
When on the offense, attacks should be initiated
with the sun at or near one's back whenever possible. This eliminates
most shadows that degrade optical weapon guidance and makes visual
target acquisition difficult.
When there is no usable dominant terrain available,
the only means of observation may be from an aeroscout, or limited
to short-range observation by the vehicle commander. Other visibility
problems are caused by heat distortion. Heat waves at the desert
surface cause images to shimmer making positive identification
difficult and degrade depth perception. Ranges to targets may
be distorted from heat rising from the desert surface. Use range
finders to verify correct distances. Be prepared to use bracketing
techniques with large adjustments to hit an enemy target with
Radars are unlikely to be affected by heat haze
so they could be valuable on flat terrain during midday heat if
optical vision is hopelessly distorted; however, they arc almost
useless in sandstorms. Image intensification is of limited value
in sandstorms, and depends on the phase of the moon at night.
If there is no moon, use artificial illumination outside the field
of view of the system.
Since thermal imagery devices depend on the difference
between ambient temperature and equipment temperature, they are
more useful at night than in the day. Because of the distinct
advantages of thermal sights, they should be used as the primary
sighting systems for vehicles so equipped.
Correction of field artillery fires, especially
those of larger pieces, may be complicated by dust hanging in
the air following the impact of ranging rounds. Forward observers
should consider placing initial rounds beyond a target rather
than short of the target. Observation of fires, especially direct
fires by tanks, may be difficult due to dust clouds, so wingmen
may have to observe direct fires.
Cover and Concealment
Cover and concealment are generally scarce in
the desert. The flat sandy deserts provide little if any natural
cover or concealment, especially from aerial attack or reconnaissance.
Ground concealment and protection from fire can be found behind
dunes or in wadis. Troops must be aware of the potential for flash
floods when using wadis for ground concealment.
Some arid regions have vegetation that can provide
limited concealment from ground observation. In rocky, mountainous
deserts, cover and concealment are best found behind boulders
and in crevices. Daytime vehicular movement eliminates nearly
any possibility of surprise, as dust trails created by the traffic
can be spotted for miles. At night noise and light discipline
is critical, as both sound and light travel great distances because
of the unobstructed flatness of the terrain and atmospheric stability.
Camouflage can be effectively employed to improve on natural cover
and concealment. See Appendix E for additional information on
concealment and camouflage.
Natural obstacles do exist in the desert, and
arid regions are well suited for man-made obstacles. The wadis
and steep slopes of escarpments, mountains, hills, and dunes hinder
cross-country movement. Sand dunes may stretch for miles and prevent
direct movement across their length. These sand dunes are often
more than 100 feet in elevation and consist of loose sand with
high, steep downwind faces that make vehicular traversing next
to impossible. Aerial reconnaissance immediately before any large
movement is advisable because sand dunes migrate with shifting
winds and they may not be where maps or even photographs show
In the Desert Storm area, the salt marshes have
a crust on the top that can deceive a vehicle driver. These dry
lake beds can become obstacles, especially in the wetter seasons
when the water table is higher. A top crust forms on the surface,
but below the crust the soil is moist, similar to marsh conditions.
The surface may look like it has good trafficability, but the
crust will collapse with the weight of a vehicle, and the vehicle
becomes mired. The high premium on fuel and time makes it costly
to go around these natural obstacles.
Sandy deserts are ideal for employing minefield.
Although windstorms can reveal previously buried mines, these
mines can still channel movement and deny access to certain areas.
The battles of the Bi'R Hacheim Line and El Alamein were influenced
by minefield. Other obstacles include ditches, revetments, and
barriers, such as the Bar Lev Line along the Suez Canal, made
by bulldozing sand mounds or by blasting in rocky mountainous
areas to close passes.
Key terrain in the desert can be any man-made
feature, mountain pass, or source of water, and of course, high
ground. Because there are few man-made features in the desert,
those that do exist can become important, perhaps even key.
Passes through steep topography are also likely
to be key, again because they are so few. The North African campaigns
of World War II focused on the control of passes, specifically
the Sollum and Halfaya. In the Sinai Wars between Egypt and Israel,
the Mitla, Giddi, and Sudar passes were key. In Afghanistan, control
of the mountain passes provided the Mujahideen safe haven from
the Soviets. Oases, where wells exist, become important for water
resupply. The high ground in desert terrain is usually key terrain.
The relative flatness and great distances of some deserts, such
as in Iraq, make even large sand dunes dominant features.
Avenues of Approach
Avenues of approach are not clearly defined in
arid regions. The vast, relatively flat areas permit maneuver
from virtually any direction. This point became obvious to units
establishing defensive positions in Desert Storm. Wide envelopments
are possible, as demonstrated in the Desert Storm ground campaign.
Modem sensor technology, limited natural concealment, and improved
observation make the element of surprise a challenge. Yet, surprise
was achieved during Desert Storm-Iraqi commanders were shocked
when they discovered US tanks in their perimeters.
The major limitation with respect to avenues
of approach may be fuel. The great distances a unit must travel
to outflank enemy positions require significant amounts of fuel
and complicate resupply. In mountainous and canyon topography
avenues are much more limited, and the wadis and valleys are likely
to be the only possible access routes. Any roads that do exist
are probably in the valleys. Nevertheless, none of the considerations
outlined above are reasons to disregard flanking movements.
Army operations are ideally suited to desert
environments. Its thrust of securing and retaining the initiative
can be optimized in the open terrain associated with the desert
environments of the world. In that environment, the terrain aspect
of METT-T offers the potential to capitalize on the four basic
tenets of the doctrine initiative, agility, depth, and synchronization.
Israeli efforts in 1967 and initial Egyptian
assaults in 1973 clearly illustrate the effects of initiative
in the desert environment.
The Egyptian success in 1973 was negated by their
failure to ensure agility. Conversely, the Israeli actions on
the flanks of the Egyptian force demonstrated the effects of a
force capable of rapid and bold maneuver.
Depth does not necessarily relate to distance.
In the nonlinear battlefield offered by the desert, depth often
equates to an agile reserve force of sufficient size to counter
enemy efforts into flanks and rear areas. Depth is also a concept
of all-around defense for forces-the ability to fight in any direction.
To a large measure, the German successes against
the British in the Western Desert were due to their ability to
synchronize their operating systems. More recent events illustrate
this tenet between and internal to, operating systems. Heavy/light
operations have demonstrated that light forces can be key to achieving
tactical and operational momentum. The Israeli airmobile assault
against supporting artillery in the 1967 battle of Abu Ageila
is a good example of the effective use of light forces in this
type of environment.
Maneuver must be at the maximum tactical speed
permitted by the terrain, dust conditions, and rate of march of
the slowest vehicle, using whatever cover is available. Even a
10-foot sand dune will cover and conceal a combat vehicle. Air
defense coverage is always necessary as aircraft can spot movement
very easily due to accompanying dust clouds. In some situations
movement may be slowed to reduce dust signatures. Rapid movement
causes dramatic dust signatures and can reveal tactical movements.
Another consideration during maneuver is dust
from NOE flight, which can be seen as far as 30 kilometers. This
is especially true when the enemy is stationary. Aeroscouts must
use caution to avoid blundering into enemy air defense weapons.
To achieve surprise, maneuver in conditions that
preclude observation, such as at night, behind smoke, or during
sandstorms. In certain circumstances, there may be no alternative
to maneuvering in terrain where the enemy has long-range observation.
Then it is necessary to move at the best speed possible while
indirect fires are placed on suspected enemy positions. Speed,
suppressive fires, close air support, and every other available
combat multiplier must be brought to bear on the enemy.
Tactical mobility is the key to successful desert
operations. Most deserts permit good to excellent movement by
ground troops similar to that of a naval task force at sea. Use
of natural obstacles may permit a force to establish a defensive
position that theoretically cannot be turned from either flank;
however, these are rare. Desert terrain facilitates bypassing
enemy positions and obstacles, but detailed reconnaissance must
be performed first to determine if bypassing is feasible and will
provide an advantage to friendly forces.
Dismounted infantry may be used to clear passes
and defiles to eliminate enemy ATGM positions prior to the mounted
elements moving through.
Avenues of approach of large forces may be constrained
due to limited cross-country capability of supply vehicles coupled
with longer lines of communications. The limited hard-surface
routes that do exist are necessary for resupply.
Reconnaissance is especially important in desert
environments. Reconnaissance is a mission undertaken to obtain
information by visual observation, or other detection methods,
about the activities and resources of an enemy, or about the meteorologic,
hydrographic, or geographic characteristics of a particular area.
The desert environment may influence any or all of these techniques.
The environmental effects on troops and their equipment may also
influence observation techniques, or the frequency of vehicle
and equipment maintenance that is required. Reconnaissance produces
combat information. Combat information is a by-product of all
operations, acquired as they are in progress. Reconnaissance,
however, is a focused collection effort. It is performed prior
to or in advance of other combat operations, as well as during
that operation, to provide information used by the commander to
confirm or modify his concept. Cavalry is the Army corps or division
commander's principal reconnaissance organization.
Surveillance is a primary task of Army cavalry
during reconnaissance operations. Surveillance is the systematic
observation of airspace or surface areas by visual, aural, electronic.
photographic, or other means. Scouts, ground and air, are the
principal collectors of information. Scouts and their associated
equipment are particularly affected by the environmental aspects
of deserts. They require equipment that enhances their senses
allowing them to conduct mounted and dismounted surveillance with
stealth, at long-range, and in limited visibility, all of which
can be adversely influenced by the desert environment.
Security operations obtain information about
the enemy and provide reaction time, maneuver space, and protection
to the main body. Security operations are characterized by aggressive
reconnaissance to reduce terrain and enemy unknowns, gaining and
maintaining contact with the enemy to ensure continuous information,
and providing early and accurate reporting of information to the
protected force. Security operations may be affected by various
aspects of the desert environment including the sun, wind, sand,
vegetation, sandstorms, terrain, and heat. Security operations
Counterreconnaissance is an inherent task in
all security operations. Counterreconnaissance is the sum of actions
taken at all echelons to counter enemy reconnaissance and surveillance
efforts through the depth of the area of operation. It is active
and passive and includes combat action to destroy or repel enemy
reconnaissance elements. It also denies the enemy information
about friendly units.
COMMAND, CONTROL, AND COMMUNICATIONS
The following paragraphs describe command, control,
and communications considerations when operating in a desert environment.
The effort to synchronize battlefield operating
systems during the planning process can be negated by the failure
to continue the synchronization effort during the preparation
phase of a mission. This is especially true in the construction
of engagement areas for defensive operations. Direct fire, indirect
fire, and obstacles are linked, and the adjustment of one requires
the adjustment of all. The commander must know and have a feel
for what his unit can do, how long his unit takes to accomplish
a mission, and what he really wants his unit to accomplish.
Adjustment of the elements of the battlefield
operating systems can unravel the focus of a commander's intent.
This is especially true in open terrain. Tactical commanders should
personally direct the synchronization of engagement areas. Obstacles
should be positioned, indirect fires adjusted, and direct fires
rehearsed under the personal supervision of the commander. The
commander controls operations using a highly mobile command group
located well forward. He personally directs the battle, but must
not be drawn into personally commanding an isolated segment of
the force to the detriment of the remainder of the command. As
previously mentioned, dry desert conditions can sometimes reduce
radio signal strength and create unforeseen blind spots, even
in aircraft operating nap of the earth.
Units may employ either a jump TOC or retransmission
stations to facilitate communications with rear areas, as maneuver
units are unlikely to be in one place very long. (If wire is used
it should be buried to a minimum depth of 12 inches to avoid damage
from track vehicles or shell fire.) There must be plenty of slack
in the line to allow for sand shift and accurate map plots of
buried wire should be kept. If overhead wire must be used, it
should be mounted on posts erected in the form of tripods to avoid
falling during severe weather.
Air or vehicle mounted liaison officers can be
used if units are stationary or under listening silence. They
should be proficient in navigation and sufficiently equipped to
facilitate parallel planning. Liaison officers are highly effective
and should be employed at every opportunity.
Continuous operations are affected by a number
of factors in a desert environment. Fatigue is probably the foremost
degrader of performance. Performance and efficiency begin to deteriorate
after 14 to 18 hours of continuous work and reach a low point
after 22 to 24 hours. Most tasks involving perceptual skills begin
to show a performance degradation after 36 to 48 hours without
sleep. Soldiers/marines cease to be effective after 72 hours without
sleep. Performance decreases dramatically in an NBC environment
and sleep becomes more difficult in MOPP gear. Sleep deprivation
coupled with the environmental factors of the desert and the stresses
of combat can significantly affect mission accomplishment.
The two categories of personnel who can be expected
to show signs of fatigue first are young immature soldiers/marines
who are not sure of themselves and seasoned old soldiers/marines
upon whom others have relied and who have sustained them at cost
to themselves. Commanders and leaders often regard themselves
as being the least vulnerable to fatigue. Tasks requiring quick
reaction, complex reasoning, and detailed planning make leaders
the most vulnerable to sleep deprivation. Leaders denying themselves
sleep as an example of self-control is extremely counterproductive.
These factors are complicated by the environmental aspects of
desert operations and should be considerations for operational
Clear identification of engagement areas is necessary
to facilitate the massing and distribution of fires. In the absence
of identifiable terrain, target reference points (TRPs) can be
created with damaged/destroyed vehicles that are moved into required
locations at the direction of commanders invested with the responsibility
for specific engagement areas. Other types of TRPs could be used.
For example, marker panels, visible and infrared chemical lights,
flags, and white phosphorus/illumination rounds could be used.
The construction or fabrication of TRPs must be resourced and
well planned in order to be effective. For example, how will TRPs
be replaced for subsequent defensive operations? Another common
problem is TRP proliferation, which makes TRPs difficult to identify
when each echelon of command has allocated too many TRPs.
Pyrotechnics are usually more effective in desert
climates than in temperate climates; however, heat mirages and
duststorms may impair or restrict their use. Even heliographs
(signal mirrors) may be useful as they are directional and therefore
can aid security. Sound communications are usually impractical
due to distance, vehicular noise, and storms, but can be used
for local alarm systems.
Colored flags with prearranged meanings can be
used as a means of communication in the flat open terrain of the
desert. Colored flags tied to antennas may also assist in vehicle/unit
recognition during limited visibility operations and offensive
As previously described, the desert offers excellent
fields of fire. Tanks and heavy antitank weapons should be sited
to take advantage of their long range and accuracy. Firing first
and accurately are the most important considerations in desert
Target identification is the recognition of a
potential military target as being a particular object (such as
a specific vehicle, by type). At a minimum, this identification
must determine the potential target as friendly or threat (identify
friend, foe, or neutral [IFFN]). Because it is easy to become
disoriented, it is often necessary to mark sectors of fire on
the ground with poles or rocks, if available.
Communications support is also adversely affected
by high temperatures. The heat causes anomalies in radio and other
electrical transmissions, and radio battery life is reduced. Radio
range is shorter during the day than at night. At night, range
improves but static electricity may cause interference. FM communications
range can be reduced by as much as 50 percent because of high
temperatures. HF ground wave propagation over the dry sandy soil
Night communications make communications security
a concern, as it always should be. Experience in Desert Shield
and Desert Storm indicates vastly expanded ranges of FM radios.
Communications between units 40 to 50 kilometers apart was not
unusual. Communications obviously affect command and control as
well as intelligence collection and dissemination, and their importance
must not be underestimated.
A force operating in the desert must be a balanced
force with combat support and combat service support--it must
be a combined arms team. While principles of combat support operations
are found in doctrinal manuals dealing with a specific arm of
service, there are some techniques that must be modified or emphasized
in the desert.
The relative importance of intelligence sources
may vary from that expected in more conventional areas. Enemy
prisoners of war require immediate interrogation as the flexibility
of operations will rapidly make their information outdated. Information
given by civilians encountered in desert operations should be
treated with caution unless corroborated. Military intelligence
teams located in the area of operations can determine if these
EPWs and civilians are in fact what they say they are, or infiltrators
sent to harass the rear area and commit acts of sabotage. Electronic
support measures are a major source of intelligence in desert
warfare. Enemy activity, or the lack of it, is a good source of
information; so punctual, accurate reports by all sources, both
positive and negative, are necessary.
The Allies in North Africa in 1942 found that
placing small field artillery units in support of small maneuver
units gave the units a sense of security, but produced limited
results. Field artillery was effective only when massed (battalion
or higher) and only when continued for some time because of the
protective posture and mobility of the target. Typically, the
control of massed fires was the responsibility of the division
The Allies in North Africa in 1942 experienced
heavy casualties from Axis units overrunning the artillery positions
after penetrating the armor and infantry positions. Often, the
Axis units would attack from the east at one time, from the west
later, and from several directions simultaneously. At first, the
Allies simply emphasized direct fire. Later, the Allies attached
antitank gun units to the artillery battalions to increase the
artillery's antitank ability.
When armor and infantry units move, the artillery
must move with them. The most useful technique is for the artillery
to move in a formation with a lead vehicle so that, immediately
upon stopping, the artillery is in a position or formation to
deliver fire in any direction and simultaneously defend the position
from any direction. The Allies in North Africa in 1942 and units
in Desert Shield/Storm found that the armor and infantry units
would outdistance the artillery unless the artillery moved with
them. The artillery moved within 2-3 kilometers of the leading
troops to provide responsive fires. The armor and infantry provided
protection for the artillery. The whole group moved in one cohesive
formation, sometimes in a large box or diamond formation.
Due to the fluid nature of desert operations
and the possibilities for excellent enemy observation, close and
continuous field-artillery support for all levels of the force
is necessary. Field-artillery pieces should be at least as mobile
as the force they are supporting. Crews must be proficient in
direct fire and prepared to defend against a ground attack.
Due to the threat of immediate counterbattery
fire, field artillery units must be prepared to move into position,
fire, and rapidly displace to another position. A battery should
be prepared to displace several times a day.
Field artillery units employed in desert operations
should be equipped with the most sophisticated survey devices
available. Manual systems are slower and not necessarily as accurate,
thus affecting tactical employment and reducing response time.
Aerial observation may often be extremely difficult
due to enemy air defense, so most adjustment is by ground observers.
How the environment affects observation of fires was described
previously in this chapter in the paragraph, "Observation
and Fields of Fire." Recompute weather conditions frequently
as weather conditions can change rapidly from the morning to the
evening, and thus affect the accuracy of fires.
Fires are planned as in temperate climates. When
there are no significant terrain features along a route of advance,
targets are planned using coordinates.
A moving force in a desert is at a disadvantage
in comparison with a stationary unit due to lack of concealment
and the presence of dust clouds. The defender may engage with
missiles from an unexpected direction or from terrain features
of no apparent significance. The attacker must be prepared to
rapidly shift fires to suppress unforeseen targets. Tactical aircraft
may be used to suppress or destroy targets. Targets for aircraft
can be marked with indirect- or direct-fire smoke. White phosphorus
or illuminating rounds set for low-air burst are also effective.
Indirect fires are used to slow the enemy advance,
to suppress enemy weapons and observers, and to conceal movement
between positions using smoke. Defensive operations in deserts
are characterized by long-range engagement with tanks and ATGMs.
Identification of friend or foe is difficult.
Throughout the entire theater of operations there will be numerous
weapon systems that are common to both sides of the conflict.
The individual soldier/marine is going to be faced with the monumental
task of separating friend from foe by more than just from the
recognition of the manufacturer or silhouette of a piece of equipment.
This will be true of both air and ground systems. This
identification problem will be compounded by the nonlinear battlefield
where the focus of operations will not be separated by a line.
The desert is an outstanding environment for
employing aircraft. Every unit must be extremely proficient at
passive and active air defense. The Allies in North Africa and
the Israelis in the Middle East found that dispersion limited
the effects of air attacks, and small arms air-defense techniques
were effective. Almost every weapon in North Africa had a secondary
antiaircraft or antitank mission.
Emphasize to each unit that, when in position,
units must disperse very widely making a less lucrative target.
When moving in column and under air attack, units must move at
least 40 to 50 meters off the road because aircraft normally have
nose guns trained on troth sides of the road. A vehicle on the
road or on both sides of the road will die.
Because of the wide open spaces characteristic
of many deserts and the relatively large areas associated with
desert operations, forces fighting in the desert should be reinforced
with additional air-defense weapons. Still, there may not be sufficient
dedicated air-defense systems to fully cover the force. When this
is the case, commanders must be especially careful when establishing
air-defense priorities in view of relatively long lines of communication
and the tendency to maneuver over relatively large areas. In any
event, all units must include a scheme for countering air attacks
in their battle plans using both active and passive measures.
Although Army armored and mechanized infantry
division air-defense weapons are tracked, this does not necessarily
apply to corps medium-altitude air defense units. However, Army
corps surface-to-air missile (SAM) units have considerably greater
ranges and are equipped with more sophisticated early warning
and control systems. Some corps units should be employed well
forward. These weapons will have to displace by section to ensure
Air-defense units should be located close to
elements of supported units to provide for ground defense. When
the supported unit moves, the air defense unit must also move,
which requires careful coordination to ensure that movement of
the supported unit is not delayed. Airspace management difficulties
are compounded in the multinational environment. SOPS should be
exchanged among multinational forces to lessen the confusion of
Engineer operations in the desert are similar
to those in temperate climates although there are fewer natural
terrain obstacles to be crossed. Depending on the terrain anticipated
in the operations area, a dry-gap crossing capability may have
to be obtained from corps support units. Important tasks for engineers
in desert operations include--
- Mobility/countermobility/survivability support,
including construction of obstacles, logistics facilities and
routes, field fortifications, airfields, and helicopter landing
- Water supply.
- Topographic support (map-making).
The vastness of the desert makes mobility a prime
concern. Roads are usually scarce and primitive. Cross-country
mobility is possible in some areas, but trafficability is poor
in soft sand, rocky areas, and salt flats. Engineers assist maneuver
by reducing slopes, smoothing rock steps, and bridging dry gaps.
Expanded engineer reconnaissance capability will
be needed to identify routes, existing obstacles, and minefield
locations. Flat, open areas provide good sites for aircraft landing
strips; however, in most cases the soil must be stabilized. Normally,
desert soil produces extensive dust and has limited weight-bearing
Engineers use various agents to alleviate severe
dust conditions (diesel, JP4, or oil mixtures for example). This
is particularly critical in reducing engine wear in areas supporting
rotary wing aircraft. It is also important along heavily traveled
roads and in cantonment areas. Engineers also use soil-stabilization
techniques to increase soil-bearing capacity for airstrips and
The application of the fundamentals of breaching-suppress,
obscure, secure, and reduce-and the organization of the force
in terms of supporting, breaching, and assaulting elements, are
even more important in the desert due to the enhanced observation
and fields of fire. However, the desert does offer greater opportunities
to bypass enemy obstacles because of the greater range of mobility afforded by desert terrain. Caution must be exercised when choosing
to bypass enemy obstacles since the bypass may lead the force
to the enemy's kill sack.
The increased mobility in the desert makes it
easier for the enemy to counterattack exposed flanks of attacking
forces. Plan obstacles to protect flanks during offensive operations.
Beyond conventionally emplaced minefield, FASCAM, which includes
artillery-delivered mines, GEMSS, and air-delivered Gator munitions,
are all systems that lend themselves to situational development.
FASCAM and conventional minefield may be appropriate, but consider
the time required to employ FASCAM when selecting this option.
Artillery-delivered FASCAM does not deploy well in soft sand and
removes a majority of your indirect-fire assets from the fight.
Due to the mobility inherent in desert operations,
obstacles must be extensive and used in conjunction with each
other and with any natural obstacles, and covered by direct and
indirect fires. Isolated obstacles are easily bypassed.
Mines are easily emplaced in a sand desert, and
blowing sand will effectively conceal evidence of emplacement.
However, the following potential problem areas must be considered
when emplacing mines:
- Large quantities of mines are required for
- Sand can cause malfunctioning.
- Shifting sand can cause mine drift.
- An excessive accumulation of sand over the
mines can degrade performance.
- Sand may be blown away and expose the mines.
In suitable terrain, antitank ditches that exceed
the vertical step of enemy main battle tanks may be used. Because
antitank ditches cannot be conceded, they must be dug so they
do not outline a defensive front or flank. They have the advantage
of not requiring as much logistic support as minefield. They must
be covered by observation and fire to prohibit enemy infantry
using them as ready-made trenches.
Because of limited off-road mobility of most
combat service support vehicles, considerable engineer efforts
may be necessary to construct and maintain routes forward to maneuver
units. Local resources, such as salt-marsh mud laid on sand can
be used. Track vehicles should not use these routes since they
could easily ruin them.
Most desert regions have a natural terrain structure
that restricts maneuver such as sandy dunes, rocky plateaus, mountains,
and wadis. These structures must be interpreted rapidly and correctly,
and then reinforced with obstacles to fix, turn, or disrupt enemy
movement, according to the commander's plan.
Minefield and antitank ditches are the primary
means of creating obstacles in the desert. Antitank ditches require
extensive preparations, but they are effective when adequate preparation
time is available. Many desert villages have irrigation ditches
that can be used tactically. Other countermobility methods are
generally not effective. Road craters, for example, are usually
easy to bypass. In sandy areas, ditches can easily be filled in,
so they are not good obstacles. Opportunities for bridge destruction
are rare, and local materials for expedient obstacles are scarce.
Engineers and combat forces should coordinate
the siting of planned obstacles to support the defensive concept.
In defensive operations the effectiveness of obstacles requires
Desert terrain varies from region to region.
Generally, however, observation is excellent and concealment is
difficult. Deserts provide little cover and concealment from ground-based
observers and even less from aircraft. These conditions make modem
weapon systems more lethal in deserts than in any other environment.
In the desert, hull and turret defilades for
tactical vehicles are essential. This allows the defending force
to take advantage of their long-range weapon systems in the face
of enemy fires. Dispersion and frequent moves are other survivability
techniques that can be used.
The preparation of fortifications in the desert
is difficult. Fortifications in sandy soil often require revetments.
In rocky plains or plateaus it may be impossible to dig. To counter
this problem, build up emplacements with rocks and use depressions.
Camouflage is very effective when properly employed;
however, patterns and techniques must be carefully selected to
match the local desert environment. Camouflage nets should be
provided for all equipment. See Appendix E for additional comments
on desert concealment and camouflage.
Desert Survivability Positions
Defensive positions are very vulnerable to offensive
fire due to long-range observation and fields of fire in the desert.
This, coupled with a lack of natural obstacles, may lead the commander
to invest the bulk of his engineer effort into survivability positions.
Survivability positions enhance the ability of all direct-fire
elements to survive indirect-fire and to return fire on the enemy.
Survivability positions are normally more important than antitank
ditches, especially in open terrain. See
Figures 3-1 through 3-6,
for examples of survivability positions. The following are some
things you should or should not do when preparing survivability
The commander's responsibilities during construction
of survivability positions are to--
- Protect troops.
- Continuously improve and maintain unit survivability.
- Provide materials.
- Periodically inspect.
- Plan and select fighting position sites.
- Get technical advice from engineers, as required.
In a combat situation, it may be necessary to
improvise construction of a survivability position by using materials
not normally associated with the construction. Some examples of
field-expedient materiel are-
Overhead Cover Stringers
Wall Construction (Building
The following is a suggested inspection checklist
to follow when preparing survivability positions:
- Location is sited tactically sound.
- Low profile is maintained.
- Materials are of structural quality (standard
- Excavation-walls are sloped.
- The setback for overhead is a minimum of 1 foot
or 1/4 the depth of cut.
- Are firmly on a structural support.
- Have lateral bracing emplaced along supports.
- 2" x 4" or 2" x 6" stringers
are used on the edge; the strength is on the depth of the lumber.
- Stringers are firmly on supports.
- Supports extend past the excavation by 1/2 the depth of cut.
- Quality of construction is checked.
- Sheeting is supported by pickets.
- Pickets are tied back.
- Overhead cover-
- Quality of structural layer is inspected.
- Quality of dust layer-plywood or panels-is inspected.
- Layer is cushioned at least 18 inches deep.
The one-man fighting position is the individual's
basic defensive position. The one-man fighting position with overhead
cover (see Figure 3-1) provides protection from airburst weapon
fragments. A good position has overhead cover that allows the
soldier/marine to fire from beneath it. Stringers extend at least
1 foot on each side of the position to provide a good load-bearing
surface for overhead cover.
Generally, the two-man fighting position is preferred
over a one-man position since one soldier/marine can provide security
while the other is digging or resting. The position can be effectively
manned for longer periods of time; if one soldier/marine becomes
a casualty, the position is still occupied. Further, the psychological
effect of two men working together permits occupation of the position
for longer periods. Overhead cover also improves the position's
effectiveness; it is made as described for the one-man position
(see Figure 3-2).
Fighting positions for machine guns are constructed
so the fires are to the front or oblique; the primary sector of
fire is usually oblique so the gun can fire across the unit's
front. The position is shaped so the gunner and assistant gunner
can get to the gun and fire it to either side of the frontal direction.
Overhead cover is built over the middle of the position (see
Figure 3-3). It is constructed as described for the one-man position.
Protective shelters and fighting bunkers are
usually constructed using a combination of the components of positions
mentioned thus far. Protective shelters are primarily used as
command posts, observation posts, medical aid stations, supply
and ammunition shelters, and sleeping or resting shelters.
shows an example of a command bunker.
The Dragon position requires some unique considerations.
The soldier/marine must consider the Dragon's extensive backblast
and muzzle blast, as well as cleared fields of fire. When a Dragon
is fired, the muzzle extends 6 inches beyond the front of the
position, and the rear of the launcher extends out over the rear
of the position. As the missile leaves the launcher, stabilizing
fins unfold. Therefore, the soldier keeps the weapon at least
6 inches above the ground when firing to leave room for the fins.
A waist-deep position will allow the gunner to move while tracking
a target. Because of the Dragon's above ground height, soldiers/marines
should construct frontal cover high enough to hide the soldier's/marine's
head and, if possible, the Dragon's backblast. The soldier/marine
must dig a hole in the front of the position for the biped legs.
If cover is built on the flanks of a Dragon position, it must
cover the tracker, missiles, and the gunner. Overhead cover that
would allow firing from beneath it is usually built if the backblast
area is clear (see Figure 3-5).
A fighting position for the dismounted TOW must
not interfere with the launch or tracking operations of the weapon.
As with Dragon and LAW positions allowances for backblast effects
are necessary. Backblast and deflection requirements restrict
the size of overhead cover for the weapon. See Figure 3-6.
Designers of fighting positions and protective
positions in desert areas must consider the lack of available
cover and concealment. Fighting positions should have the lowest
profile possible, but mountain and plateau deserts have rocky
soil or "surface chalk" soil which makes digging difficult.
In these areas, rocks and boulders are used for cover. Because
target acquisition and observation are relatively easy in desert
terrain, camouflage and concealment, as well as light and noise
discipline, are important considerations during position construction.
Indigenous materials are usually used in desert
position construction. However, prefabricated structures and revetments,
if available, are ideal for excavations. Metal culvert revetments
can be quickly emplaced in easily excavated sand. Sandbags and
sand-filled ammunition boxes are also used to prevent side walk
of positions from collapsing.
FM 5-103 discusses vehicle fighting positions
in detail and should be consulted for more information. Figure 3-7 provides specifications for vehicle survivability defilade
positions that can be dug by the D-7 dozer.
Logistics areas (BSA/DSA) require additional
survivability support. Desert operations require that logistics
concentrations such as BSAs and DSAs be given additional considerations
for survivability support. These sites are large, relatively static,
and difficult to camouflage. As a result, these support areas
are vulnerable to enemy interdiction. Military vans or connexes
should be covered with sandbags to improve protection. Additionally,
if they are covered with heavy plastic, with plastic drapes over
the entrances, protection against NBC effects can be improved.
Engineer digging assets, such as bulldozers,
should be tasked to provide survivability support to these sites
with particular emphasis placed on hardening ammunition and fuel
storage locations. Caution should be used when digging foxholes
and tank hide positions since some areas have a tendency to cave
Water supply is the most important mission of
engineers in the desert. The search for water sources requires
continuous, intensive reconnaissance. Water may be obtained by
drilling beds of dry water courses, or by deepening dry wells.
Once found, water must be made potable and stored or transported.
Since water purification trucks may be high-priority targets and
barely sufficient for the task, any force operating in the desert
must be augmented with water supply units (including well drilling),
water purification and water distillation teams, and transportation
teams. Another possible water source is the reverse osmosis water
purification unit (ROWPU). This unit is an IS0 frame-mounted,
portable water purification system capable of purifying water
from almost any shallow well, deep well, and surface water or
raw water source. The ROWPU is capable of removing NBC contaminants,
minerals, and biological impurities. The single greatest benefit
of the reverse osmosis process is the ability to desalinate sea
water. The ROWPU is capable of producing potable water at a rate
of 600 gph. The ROWPU is powered by a 30-kilowatt generator set.
Topographic Support (Map-making)
Large areas of the world's deserts are not covered
by maps of any useful tactical scale. Existing maps are frequently
inaccurate and increase the difficulties of navigation. Therefore,
engineer topographic companies must augment the force by preparing,
printing, and distributing up-to-date maps of the operational
area. USAF, Army, and Marine aviation support can be used to produce
gridded maps from aerial photography of the area forward of the
line of contact.
Combat support provided well forward by military
police will continue in desert operations, although over increasingly
extended distances. MP tactical and physical security will be
of special importance over extended lines of communication, such
as petroleum pipelines and viaducts transporting water over long
distances. Protection of these critical items demands both active
and passive measures, including overflight by returning aircraft
or overwatch by convoy movements. The storage sites for water,
food, POL, and ammunition have historically been principal targets
for enemy action, and consequently must receive augmented security.
The indefinite conditions and number of roadways
will require increased circulation control points to direct traffic,
redirect stragglers, and provide information so that throughput
forward to the fighting elements will be expedited. Military police
are especially valuable when the combat commander must employ
concentration or economy of force in the face of the enemy to
gain a favorable combat ratio. MPs can secure the roadways, enforce
priority movement, and prevent any delay of the elements undertaking
passage of lines to blocking or defensive positions. MPs can also
assist in the handling of EPWs.
US AIR FORCE SUPPORT
US Army and Marine forces fighting in the desert
can expect to be supported by USAF tactical fighter-bomber and
airlift aircraft. Close air support by USAF tactical fighter bombers
is more important in desert warfare in view of lack of concealment,
relatively large areas of operations, and mobility of forces employed
by each side. Air support in a desert environment has advantages
over more temperate areas of operations. For example, it is easier
to locate targets; visual observation is normally far superior
to that in temperate climates; and ground movement is more readily
Air attacks can be handicapped by lack of covered
approaches, but increased visibility permits engagement from standoff
ranges. When flying close air support missions it is important
for pilots to be able to differentiate between enemy and friendly
forces. Use panels or other visual or electronic identification
means to assist in identification.
Because of the extended lines of communication
likely in desert operations, USAF tactical airlift should be used
whenever possible. This is particularly true of resupply operations
conducted from a lodgement area to forward trains areas when considerable
distances are involved.
Planning for air support must be as detailed
as time permits to determine mission and armament requirements,
time over target, and method of control. The joint air-ground
operations system (AGOS) used to request and coordinate the use
of US Air Force tactical air support is described in FM 100-26.
US NAVY SUPPORT
When the force is being supported by US Navy
gunfire, or Navy or Marine aircraft, elements of a Marine air
and naval gunfire liaison company (ANGLICO) are attached to Army
ground forces. The mission of the company is to support an Army
division by providing control and liaison agencies for employment
of this support.
ANGLICO platoons and teams can advise commanders
on the capabilities, limitations, and employment of naval gunfire,
and USN or USMC air support. Platoons are normally placed with
brigades or higher headquarters, and air and gunfire support teams
placed with battalion task forces. Although the company has organic
vehicles and some combat services support capability, its elements
generally require additional administrative and logistical assistance
from the supported unit. In order to communicate with Army/Marine
units, additional communications equipment may also have to be
provided. Additional information on ANGLICO employment can be
found in FM 31-12.
COMBAT SERVICE SUPPORT
Combat service support for desert operations
is described in detail in Chapter 4. When planning a desert operation
it is necessary to consider the following factors:
- The speed of supply may be slowed and lines
of communication can be vulnerable due to the distances between
units. Except for Class V and sometimes Class III, resupply should
beat night for reasons of security.
- A great demand for water can tie down large
quantities of transport and may involve laying pipelines. Water
is vital, so consider the water situation during every operation
- Increased maintenance is required due to heat,
sand, and dust damage to equipment. This not only increases the
repair work load, but also increases demand for replacement items
due to increased wear.
Offensive operations in this environment may
involve considerable expenditure of ammunition and high POL consumption.
Units must carry maximum combat supplies, and plans for resupply
must be widely disseminated and clearly understood. Use every
opportunity for resupply.
Due to the importance of combat service support,
attacking the rear will be more immediate y effective at lower
levels of command in the desert than in temperate climates. In
the case of water, for example, the enemy must be able to obtain
resupply. Degradation of the enemy's trains places him in a situation
where his troops must maneuver against the attacker regardless
of the planned scheme of defense.
Combat service support must be reliable and timely,
using vehicles that can travel over difficult terrain to reach
combat units. In the desert, more than anywhere else, the commander
must ensure that he has support that is capable of maintaining
his unit for a specified period of time, even if the logistic
line of communication is temporarily broken.
The mobility and freedom of tactical maneuver
are tied to the ability of the logistic chain to supply maneuver
units. Two alternatives are available: increase the rate of supply,
probably requiring more vehicles, or prestock, which ties units
to the stocked area. Some important supply considerations are
- Class I. It is often impractical to supply
hot rations from mess trucks, especially when the unit is subject
to enemy air reconnaissance or target acquisition devices. T rations
and B rations are the usual method of troop feeding.
- Class III. Daily requirements for POL in desert
operations can be expected to be high. Estimates for POL requirements
should take into consideration large-scale maneuver inherent in
- Class V. Estimates of ammunition requirements
should reflect the high level of commitment that can be anticipated
in desert operations.
Disabled vehicles are vulnerable targets. Both
disabled vehicles and the maintenance vehicles used in working
on them must be concealed during the day, and strict light and
sound discipline imposed at night. Maintenance contact teams should
carry Class IX supplies that have a quick turnover.
This section discusses offensive operations as
they are modified by desert terrain.
The main purpose of offensive operations in desert
terrain is to destroy the enemy, Operations may be undertaken
to secure key or decisive terrain, to deprive the enemy of resources
or decisive terrain, to deceive and divert the enemy, to develop
intelligence, and to hold the enemy in position. Destruction of
the enemy can be accomplished by concentrating friendly forces
at a weak point in the enemy's defense and destroying enemy combat
units, or by driving deep into the enemy's rear to destroy his
combat service support and cut his lines of communication. No
force can survive in the desert for long without combat service
An imaginative commander is not bound by terrain
constraints in seeking and destroying the enemy. Due to the scarcity
of key terrain in the desert, normally the only constraints placed
upon a maneuvering force is its ability to maintain the only constraints
placed upon a maneuvering force is its ability to maintain responsive
combat service support and to protect its combat service support
from enemy attack. The longer the lines of communication become,
the more susceptible they are to being cut.
In most deserts, the scarcity of large areas
of defensible terrain means that an enemy force has at least one
flank open to attack, The attacking force must seek this flank
and attempt to maneuver around it into the enemy's rear before
the enemy can react and block the envelopment with mobile reserves.
Successful offensive operations depend on rapid,
responsive, and violent maneuver, seeking a vulnerable enemy flank
while exposing none to the enemy. The enemy, realizing the danger
of remaining stationary in this terrain, may choose to conduct
spoiling attacks or to counterattack. The resulting meeting engagement
between the two attacking forces will often be a series of flanking
actions and reactions with success going to the one who can find
the other's unguarded flank first.
Attacking forces may conduct or participate in
movement to contacts or hasty or deliberate attacks. Within a
division, lead elements of forward units may be conducting a deliberate
attack on the enemy's weak point or flank to open a gap for following
units to move through and exploit success. Lead units of the exploiting
force will be conducting a movement to contact and hasty attacks
to overcome pockets of enemy resistance. Regardless of the type
of operation being conducted, attacking units use the fundamentals
for offensive operations described in FM 100-5/FMFM 6-1 and other
tactical manuals, modified to suit the terrain.
FUNDAMENTALS OF THE OFFENSE
The attacker must conduct active and aggressive
reconnaissance to the front, flanks, and rear, not only to locate
and identify enemy obstacles, units, weak points, and flanks,
but also to give early warning of threats to his flanks and combat
service support elements. A moving force is at a disadvantage
in the desert due to a lack of concealment. Therefore, it is necessary
to push reconnaissance units as far out from the main body as
possible to allow early warning and to deny the enemy close-in
Information gathered by this reconnaissance must
be passed promptly to all units. In the desert, a negative report
may be as important as an enemy sighting. Commanders and staffs
must avoid the two extremes of either passing too little information
or overwhelming their subordinates with useless trivia. Similarly,
reconnaissance units must also avoid extremes. There is a very
real possibility that extensive reconnaissance in one area will
alert the enemy of intended operations in that area. Therefore,
the need for reconnaissance must be tempered with the need for
deception. In fact, reconnaissance may even serve as a deceptive
measure to draw the enemy's attention away from the real objective
or area of operations.
Concentrate on overwhelming combat power. Mass
is achieved in both time and space. Units must be able to rapidly
concentrate at a given time and place, and then disperse just
as rapidly to avoid offering a lucrative target to the enemy.
Concentration does not necessarily mean that vehicles and men
are massed in a small area, but that units have the ability to
place an overwhelming concentration of fires on the enemy.
Mutual support is as important in the desert
as in temperate climates. Due to the large distances covered by
maneuver in the desert, mutual support does not mean that any
one unit is always in position to fire against an enemy threatening
another unit. However, units must be capable of maneuvering in
support of one another without disrupting the scheme of maneuver.
Concentration requires movement, and possibly
weakening of forces facing the enemy in another part of the zone.
Due to the enemy's observation capabilities, movement should take
place at night or in conditions of limited visibility whenever
possible. Deception measures play an important part in concentration,
either to mislead the enemy as to the strength or true intentions
of the opposing forces, or their avenues of approach. In this
environment of negligible concealment, deception cannot be overemphasized.
The enemy's objective is to stop and destroy
the attacking force by direct and indirect fires, obstacles, and
counterattacks. The attacker must in turn suppress enemy weapon
and surveillance systems to degrade their effects and their intelligence-gathering
Attack helicopters and high-performance aircraft
are extremely useful due to their ability to maneuver and apply
firepower over a large battlefield in a short time. So, suppression
of enemy air defense has a high priority during offensive operations.
The destruction of enemy antitank capabilities must also have
a high priority due to the shock potential of armor in the desert.
No target that has a long-range antitank capability should be
disregarded. Good gunnery and well-planned fire distribution are
In featureless desert terrain, the requirement
to shock, overwhelm, and destroy the enemy demands accurate reconnaissance
to identify actual positions from false positions, and excellent
navigation so that a commander may be certain of the deployment
of his forces. Reconnoiter to find a gap or assailable flank (without
alerting the enemy that the area is being reconnoitered) and concentrate
the main body to go through or around it with suppressive fires
on the flank(s). A gap must be wide enough to allow one unit to
bypass another unit that could be stalled. Obstacles are likely
to be placed so that attempts to go around them will often lead
the attacker into a tire sack. Equipment capable of breaching
obstacles must be located well forward.
As a general rule, a force attacking in daylight
should try to wait until the sun is comparatively low and position
behind it. This enables enemy targets to be plainly seen without
their shadows, while the defenders are handicapped by glare, mirages,
and haze. It is not always possible (nor essential) for the sun
to be directly behind the attackers. To rely on this leads to
a stereotyped method of attack which could become evident to the
defenders. The commander of a maneuver force should attempt to
keep the sun somewhere on a 3,200-mil arc to his flanks or rear,
giving a wide choice of angle of attack.
Dust is an observational hazard to a maneuvering
force, especially where there is little or no wind. Teams should
move in echelon with overmatching elements on the upwind side,
and observers and attack helicopters should operate well to the
flank. Since it is impossible to disguise movement during daylight,
the assault should be as rapid as possible to minimize enemy reaction
The decision to move through a sandstorm will
depend on the unit's distance from the enemy, trafficability,
the presence of minefield, and the direction and density of the
storm. If the advancing unit is caught in a storm blowing from
the enemy's direction, the safest alternative is to halt until
it abates, although this may not always be possible. In some situations
it may be possible for platoons to form close column, using taillights
only, and continue movement. When the storm is blowing toward
the enemy it is possible (and extremely effective) to conduct
an attack immediately behind the storm.
In certain circumstances equipment or positions
that are camouflaged and are less than 1 meter from the ground
are invisible to an observer at the same height out to approximately
2,000 meters. At the same time, mirages allow observation of objects
below the horizon, although these may be distorted, enlarged, or
fuzzy to the point of being unrecognizable. These effects often
depend entirely on the angle of the sun to the observer and are
best combated by-
- Maintaining observers as high above the desert
floor as possible, even if only in hull-down positions behind
- Allowing a vehicle's crew on one side of a
position to warn a crew on the other side of a possible threat
to his front by crews observing over wide areas.
Many offensive operations take place at night.
Observation in these conditions varies according to the amount
of ambient light. During nights when the moon is full or almost
full, the clear desert sky and ample ambient light allow good
observation, both with the naked eye and with night observation
devices. Maneuvering units using night-vision devices must continually
scan the surrounding terrain to pickup enemy activity that normally
would be acquired by peripheral vision in the daylight.
The desert night is extremely dark when there
is little or no moon. Under these conditions passive-vision devices,
with the exception of thermal imagery, are of little value unless
artificial light is used. Active light sources will have to be
relied upon. Employment of artificial light must be strictly controlled
by the headquarters directing the operation to maintain surprise.
As a general rule, direct-fire weapons should not illuminate their
target themselves, as their vision will be obscured by debris
kicked up due to muzzle blast. Following contact, when some targets
should be on fire, passive devices can be used.
If the terrain permits masking of maneuvering
units, and trafficability is good, normal fundamentals of fire
and maneuver are used. Trafficability may be restricted by rocky
terrain as in the Golan Heights, or the ground may be so flat
that the defender has total observation of the area. Movement
in these circumstances requires speed of maneuver, deception,
and considerable suppression to degrade enemy observation and
fires. Frontal attacks should be avoided, especially in conditions
of restricted trafficability. It is preferable to maintain pressure
on enemy units in unfavorable terrain, while other forces find
enemy weaknesses in terrain that is more favorable for an attack.
Lack of clearly defined terrain features complicates
navigation and phased operations. Units conducting an enveloping
maneuver are apt to lose direction unless routes have been carefully
reconnoitered by the maximum number of leaders.
This section discusses defensive operations as
they are modified by desert terrain.
It is unlikely that a US force will be fully
deployed in a desert country before an enemy attack. The more
probable situation, assuming a secure lodgement area, will be
that part of the force will be in position supporting an allied
force, while the remainder is moving in by air and sea. Tactically,
the allied force will be outnumbered, so the initial mission will
be to gain time until the entire force is present in the operational
area. This will require a defensive posture initially, but a defense
undertaken so aggressively as to convince the enemy that his offensive
action will be too costly in personnel and equipment to be worth
maintaining. The enemy will be well aware that US forces are arriving
in the area, and will make every effort to conclude his operation
successfully before the force is fully prepared for combat operations.
The force may conduct defensive operations during
subsequent stages of the operation for any of the reasons described
in FM 100-5/FMFM 6-1. Portions of the force may be required to
defend the important types of terrain described below:
- Man-made features such as ports, key logistic
installations, roads, railroads, water pumping stations, airfields,
- Natural features, such as mountain passes,
or dominating ground, such as Mount Hermon on the border of Syria
and Israel, or the Sollum escarpment near the sea between Libya
- Key or decisive terrain that need not necessarily
be a major feature, but one whose loss will inhibit the force
in some manner. For example, the loss of terrain relatively close
to a lodgement area may hinder the planned rate of buildup.
With the exception of the above cases, the retention
of desert terrain normally makes little difference to the final
outcome of battle. This does not mean that a commander has complete
discretion to move his force wherever and whenever he wishes,
as this movement will affect the dispositions of other US forces
or allies. It means that possession of terrain is less important
than the destruction of enemy forces. Although it will be necessary
to dominate certain terrain or retain freedom to maneuver in large
areas of the desert, there is no more sense in permanently occupying
such areas than occupying a patch of sea. Assuming equal equipment
capabilities for both opposing forces, the critical factor in
defense will be the force ratios involved and the state of morale
and training of the opposing forces.
A defense using aggressive maneuver at all levels
is the best way to destroy large numbers of enemy without being
destroyed in the process. If the defending force fails to remain
mobile and active, the enemy will easily outflank it and strike
directly at vital targets, such as the lodgement area. It is almost
certain that one flank or the other will be open as were the south
flanks of the British and German forces in Egypt and Libya in
1940-43. Since it will not be possible to maintain an unbroken
line between strategic obstacles, air and ground security forces
must be positioned in width and depth to guard against an enemy
trying to outflank the defender.
Obstacles, both natural and artificial, are used
to slow, contain, or isolate enemy units in order to defeat and
destroy his units one at a time. Forward units block the enemy
and canalize him into one or two avenues where he can be engaged
from the flank. A reserve can then counterattack to destroy any
Mutual support is normally a factor of time rather
than weapon range due to the large areas to be covered. Gaps in
initial positions may have to be accepted between and within task
forces; although the ideal is to site units in such a manner that
forces in at least two positions can engage an enemy maneuvering
on any one of them. This greatly reduces any possibility of defeat
in detail. When gaps exist they must be kept under surveillance.
The defensive plan must include provisions for maneuvering to
fire on any part of a gap before the enemy can move through it.
A unit's area of responsibility must be defined by higher headquarters
and should be clearly identifiable on the ground, which, due to
the absence of significant terrain features, may require marking
by artificial means.
FUNDAMENTALS OF THE DEFENSE
The fundamentals of defense are described in
FM 100-5/FMFM 6-1 and in doctrinal manuals appropriate to each
level of command. The following paragraphs discuss some points
to remember in desert operations as they apply to the fundamentals
Reconnaissance and security units and force surveillance
systems must focus on--
- What is the enemy's short-term objective?
- What are the enemy's avenues of approach, and
what force is employed on each of them?
- Are the apparent movements real or feints?
As soon as these questions have been answered
the commander will be able to maneuver to destroy the enemy. Until
they are confirmed he can do nothing more than react to enemy
initiatives, This is dangerous in any circumstance and doubly
so in the desert as the side with the greatest potential for maneuver
is more likely to win.
Direct-fire weapons must be used to their maximum
effective range both by day and night. Limitations in night-vision
equipment cannot be allowed to reduce depth or frontages; so plans
for field artillery or mortar illumination are made for defense
during limited visibility.
It is essential that all elements of a force
retain their tactical mobility and efficient communications so
that they can immediately react to changes in the commander's
plans. Each individual weapon must be sited in a number of firing
positions, even though vehicular movement may be exposed to air
attack. Infantry fighting vehicles must remain in positions where
they are concealed, capable of giving fire support to the dismounted
squad, and available for immediate remounting.
Combined arms teams are essential to give the
commander the capability he requires to fight the defensive battle.
Defending forces orient on primary enemy approaches but units
must also be prepared for attack from any other direction. Itis neither possible nor necessary to have maximum firepower in
all directions, provided weapons can be moved to threatened areas
before the enemy reaches them. Air cover or an air defense umbrella
is necessary for a successful defense.
It is rare to find positions where any substantial
part of the unit area of operations can be protected by natural
obstacles. This require extensive use of artificial obstacles,
depending on time, personnel, and combat service support available.
Obstacles are used to divide the enemy force to improve local
force ratios, and to slow the enemy's advance, thus permitting
a flank attack. Conventional minefield must be clearly marked
on the friendly side and recorded to avoid unnecessary losses
if friendly forces later maneuver over the area.
Strongpoints are rare in desert warfare; however,
they may be necessary to defend an oasis, mountain pass, or other
key terrain essential to the defender's scheme of maneuver. When
it is necessary to deny terrain to an enemy force, it is far better
to initiate the defense well forward of the terrain feature, conduct
the defense in depth, and destroy the enemy or force him to break
off his attack before he reaches the critical feature.
In some cases the level of fortification and
the deployment of the enemy may be a function of time, or the enemy's
intention and his understanding of what our forces are intending
to do. The effectiveness of these strongpoints depends on the
range of fires, the level of fortifications, and the decision
of the opponent to attack them.
Deeply dug and well-prepared strongpoints surrounded
by a minefield and having underground accommodations are usually
used in the desert. Although these strongpoints may be neutralized
by air or artillery fire and bypassed, eventually they will have
to be assaulted. If they have been carefully sited and are well
defended they can be quite effective. Variations of the strongpoint
defense are used in rear operations. Combat service support units
will use this method in perimeter defenses or base-cluster defenses.
See Figure 3-8
for an example of a strongpoint and
for an example of a strongpoint holding key terrain.
REVERSE SLOPE DEFENSE
The use of the reverse slope defense takes on
added importance in the desert. Concealment is hard to achieve
in the open desert. Detection of a unit's location invites both
direct and indirect fires in abundance. The use of reverse slope
positions will deny the enemy direct observation of positions
until he is within the range of direct-fire weapons. Reverse slopes
can even be found on seemingly flat desert floors; an intervisibility
line will provide the reference for the establishment of engagement
areas to support a reverse slope defense. A common misconception
is that the desert is flat, when in fact, deserts are normally
very uneven, with large breaks in the terrain.
Desert environments give special significance
to the terrain aspect of METT-T. Commanders at all levels should
place emphasis on the impact of desert terrain as it relates to
the other factors of METT-T. The reverse slope defense in desert
terrain warrants special considerations.
Direct-fire positions should be placed at the
maximum effective ranges from the intervisibility line. This is
where the enemy cannot see or engage a force with direct fire
until he is within its engagement area. He can only deploy limited
forces at a time. This allows the defender to mass fires on one
portion of the enemy force at a time. The attacking force will
have difficulty in observing and adjusting indirect fires. Obstacles
may not be seen by the enemy until he is upon them and force him
to breach under massed frees. Observation posts (OPs) positioned
forward to see the advance of the enemy can influence the fight
through indirect fires. The OPs can direct indirect fires on enemy
forces that are slowed or stopped outside direct-fire ranges.
This defensive technique may be used in all defensive
missions. Light infantry units use the reverse slope for protection
against enemy long-range fires and to reduce the effects of massive
indirect fires (artillery and close air support). The reverse
slope defense brings the battle into the defender's weapons' ranges.
Use of the reverse slope provides an opportunity to gain surprise.
The goal is to cause the enemy to commit his
forces against the forward slope of the defense, resulting in
his force attacking in an uncoordinated fashion across the crest.
A reverse slope defense is organized on the portion of a terrain
feature or slope that is masked from enemy direct fires and observation
by the topographical crest, and extends rearward from the crest
to maximize the range of the defender's weapon systems. See
for an example of a reverse slope defense and
for the organization of the reverse slope defense.
A disadvantage may be that the maximum ranges
of weapon systems may not be employed due to the terrain available.
The desert may be the best environment for the reverse slope defense.
It may allow the use of weapons at maximum ranges as well as facilitating
advantages. The following are advantages of a reverse slope defense:
- It hinders or prevents enemy observation of the
- Attacking forces will not be able to receive
direct-fire support from following forces.
- Enemy long-range antitank fires will be degraded.
- Attacking enemy forces will be silhouetted on
the crest of the hill.
- Engineer work can be conducted away from direct-fire
and observation from the enemy.
- Pursue offensive opportunities through surprise
and deceptive actions, with the intent of stealing the initiative,
imposing the commander's will on the enemy, and breaking the enemy's
- Afford the defender a variety of options in
positioning his troops, with each option designed to draw the
enemy into unfamiliar terrain.
- Enhance light infantry effectiveness and survivability.
A hasty or deliberate reverse slope defense may
be considered when any of the following conditions exist:
- When the forward slope lacks cover and concealment,
and effective enemy fire makes that position untenable.
- When the terrain on the reverse slope affords
appreciably better fields of fire than those available on the
- When it is desirable to avoid creating a distortion
or dangerous salient in friendly lines by relying on forward slope
- When it is essential to surprise and deceive
the enemy as to the unit's true defensive positions or main effort.
- When seeking to gain protection from the enemy
as he is massing fires.
DELAY OR WITHDRAWAL
When it is necessary to delay or withdraw, a
desert offers many advantages to the defender. Long-range fields
of fire allow engagements at maximum effective range of direct-fire
weapon systems, and disengagement before the defender's position.
However, dust clouds created by a moving force make it necessary
to disengage under cover of smoke or darkness. Even a sandstorm
can be used to the advantage. Field artillery, US Air Force fighter
bombers, and attack helicopters can also be used to allow
a ground maneuver unit to disengage and move
rapidly to the next position.
When it is necessary to trade space for time,
often a counterattack to destroy enemy advance units will do more
good than trying to defend longer from an intermediate position.
Commanders at all levels should clearly understand
the scheme of maneuver concept of the operation, and what it is
they are expected to do, especially if communications should fail.
Plans must include provisions for alternate means of communication.
Routes should be clearly marked and reconnoitered to the maximum
Due to the distances involved and constantly
changing task organization, passage of lines is more difficult
to coordinate and control. Pay extra attention to the identification
of vehicles, routes of passage, signals, and coordination of movements.
Deception should be a part of all desert retrograde
operations. The object of deception is to conceal the fact that
a retrograde operation is taking place and that units are thinning
out. Smoke and dummy positions can be used, false radio messages
transmitted, and even dust clouds used to deceive the enemy.
In the desert it is necessary to modify the techniques
of defense as described in doctrinal manuals applicable to each
level of command and according to the mission, the fundamentals
described in the preceding paragraph, and to the environmental
considerations that are described in the following paragraphs.
The enemy will try to attack when the sun is
low and behind him so as to dazzle the defender. The defender's
observers must be as high as possible above the desert floor to
see the advancing enemy as soon as possible.
Active light sources can be detected from great distances, especially during nights with low ambient light. Positive control of active light sources must be maintained until the battle is joined. Even then, the force equipped with passive devices will have the advantage over the force that is not equipped with these devices.
Heat from combat vehicles can give an enemy using
thermal imagery devices a complete picture of the defensive scheme.
So, combat vehicles should not prematurely occupy battle positions
Sandstorms may be used by the enemy to hide an
offensive operation especially if the storm is blowing from the
enemy's direction. When this is the case, units should immediately
occupy their battle positions before the storm arrives. The unit
should remain there until it ends, ready to fire and maneuver
against the attacker after the storm abates. If vehicle patrolling
is possible, a scout platoon or similar unit should cover all
gaps, preferably moving in pairs, and on straight lines in view
of navigational difficulties.
From the point of view of a defending brigade
or battalion task force commander, avenues of approach will often
seem unlimited. Long-range observation must be maximized and scouts
employed well forward to offset this problem. Radars should also
be used extensively to provide early warning. It is necessary
to identify the enemy's main effort early in order to move to
Lack of concealment, especially from the aerial
detection, prohibits units from occupying firing positions until
just before engaging the enemy. Combat vehicles must displace
immediately after engagement or risk destruction. Because of frequent
displacement, mutes between battle positions should be reconnoitered
and marked when possible, without revealing the scheme of defense.
Smoke must be used frequently to conceal movement.
TACTICAL DECEPTION OPERATIONS
Analysis of desert operations from World War
II to the present day indicates that tactical deception and surprise
are clearly linked to the ability to move and mass forces during
periods of limited visibility.
Operational planning should emphasize night movement
of units. To minimize the problems of dust and to enhance deception,
movement should be accomplished using multiple routes. Place priority
on training to support this requirement. Associated with night
movement is the requirement for night passage through lanes in
minefield and forward passage through friendly forces.
In every modem desert war, deception has played
a major role. The lack of concealment leads commanders to believe
that with a reasonable reconnaissance effort they can gain an
accurate picture of the enemy's dispositions. Reconnaissance by
German, British, Israeli, Egyptian, and Syrian forces in modern
desert warfare has been sufficient to detect the presence of combat
forces in the desert. Deception has been successfully used in
each of the modem desert conflicts to mislead commanders. .
Since the desert environment makes it difficult
to hide forces, the alternative is to make them look like something
else--trucks and plywood made to look like tanks, and tanks made
to look like trucks.
The movement of personnel and equipment and the
placement of logistic support installations are normally indicators
of a force's intent. The movement of empty boxes or pallets of
ammunition and the establishment of fuel storage areas with real
or dummy assets can deceive the enemy as to planned offensive
actions. Use minimal actual transportation assets and make numerous,
visible trips to simulate a large effort.
There are many examples of successful deception
efforts by US forces from World War II In September 1944, the
43rd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Reinforced) occupied a 23-mile
fronton the left flank of XX (US) Corps on the Metz Front. This
squadron portrayed an armored division for several weeks and was
so successful that the German Order of Battle Maps showed the
14th (US) Armored Division (AD) to be in the area. The 14th AD
was not even in Europe at the time. Expertise in deception operations
is critical to success.
Deception plays a key part in offensive operations
and has two objectives: the first objective is to weaken the local
defense by drawing reserves to another part of the battlefield.
This may be done by making a small force seem larger than it is.
The second objective is to conceal the avenue of approach and
timing of the main attack. Some deception methods that can be
used in offensive operations are--
- Using dummy units and installations.
- Using phony radio traffic.
- Using movement and suppressive fires in other areas
timed to coincide with the real attack.
- Using small convoys to generate dust clouds.
- Filling ration boxes with sand and stacking them at landfills.
- Moving trucks into and out of the area giving
it the appearance of being a storage facility or logistic base.
- Emulating damage to induce the enemy to leave
important targets alone. For example, ragged patterns can be painted
on the walls and roof of a building with tar and coal dust, and
covers placed over them.
- Stacking debris nearby and wiring any unused
portions for demolition. During an attack, covers are removed
under cover of smoke generators, debris scattered, and demolitions
blown. Subsequent enemy air photography will disclose a building
that is too badly damaged to be used. Troops using the building
after an attack must guard against heat emissions after dark and
care must be taken to control electromagnetic emissions.
- Using phony minefield to simulate live minefields.
For example, disturb the ground so that it appears that mines
have been emplaced and mark boundaries with appropriate warnings.
- Making a real minefield to appear as phony or
camouflaging it. For example, once a real minefield is settled,
a wheel or a specially made circular wooden tank track marker
can be run through the field, leaving track or tire marks to lure
the enemy onto live mines. Antipersonnel mines should not be sown
in such a field until the track marks have been laid. Another
method is to leave gaps in the mechanically laid field, run vehicles
through the gaps, and then close them with hand-laid mines without
disturbing the track marks.
- Using decoys to confuse the enemy as to the strength
of friendly forces and the unit's identity, or to conceal unit
movement by being sited in a position after the real unit has
moved. For more information on deception operations, see FM 90-2.
Desert characteristics affecting LRS operations
are: lack of water (a major problem), scarcity of vegetation,
extensive sand areas, extreme temperature ranges, brilliant sunlight,
and usually excellent observation. Movement using animals, vehicles,
or by foot may be considered and is generally restricted to darkness.
More training in land or air navigation and terrain orientation
procedures may be necessary.
AIR ASSAULT OPERATIONS
An air assault task force provides commanders
with truly unique capabilities. They can extend the battlefield,
move, and rapidly concentrate combat power like no other forces.
An air assault task force uses the helicopter
to move to and close with the enemy. Initial assault elements
must be light and mobile. They are often separated from weapon
systems, equipment, and materiel that provide protection and survivability
on the battlefield. Thus, an air assault task force may be particularly
vulnerable in a desert environment to enemy-
- Attack by aircraft and air defense weapon systems
during the movement phase due to differences in desert effects
on observation and fields of fire.
- Attacks (ground, air, artillery) during the
loading and unloading phases and at other times when the infantry
is not dug in.
- Small arms fire that presents a significant
threat to helicopters.
- Artillery or other fires that may destroy helicopters
and air assault forces during PZ (pickup zone) or LZ (landing
Air assault operations are discussed in greater
detail in FM 90-4. Marine Corps assault support ensures the rapid
buildup of combat power and facilitates the quick maneuver of
ground forces. See FMFM 5-35 for more information.
The airborne division is organized to rapidly
deploy anywhere in the world. It is the only US Army division
with a rapid, strategic, combined arms, forced-entry capability.
It will most likely be the initial force deployed for contingency
operations. It is ideally suited and primarily designed to seize,
secure, and repair airfields in order to provide an airhead for
follow-on forces and to delay, disrupt, and reduce enemy forces.
Airborne operations can be adversely affected
by various environmental considerations of the desert. High winds,
sandstorms, and heavy rainfall or thunderstorms may impact on
mission accomplishment. Planning considerations for combat service
support are complicated by the fact that airborne forces will
be the first Army forces in an immature and austere desert theater.
For more information on airborne operations, see FM 90-26.
MARINE AIR GROUND TASK
Marine operating forces are organized for combat
as Marine air ground task forces (MAGTFs) composed of command,
ground combat, aviation combat, and combat service support elements.
The MAGTFs are closely integrated combat forces capable of rapid
response to any crisis or contingency. Their Naval/Marine Corps
expeditionary nature makes them ideal for immature and austere
environments as was seen in Operations Desert Shield/Storm (Southwest
Asia) and Restore Hope (Somalia).
A variety of types of MAGTFs may be formed in
support of national strategy and rapid crisis response. The Marine
expeditionary force (MEF) is the Corps' principal organization
for combat and peacetime readiness, and is formed from the legislated
division and aircraft wing teams. These MEFs provide a reservoir
of integrated combined arms combat power that can be task organized
to simultaneously execute a wide range of global missions. The
MAGTFs are mission tailored and range in size from very powerful
MEFs, capable of prosecuting operational campaigns against the
most capable potential threat through rapidly deployable and employable
Marine expeditionary units (MEUs), to small special purpose forces
(SPMAGTFs) formed for specific missions or crises. In the early
moments of Operation Desert Shield, a MEF provided the nation
a powerful combined arms combat force to stand against aggression,
while US forces and equipment and supplies were being assembled
in Southwest Asia. For more information on MAGTF operations, see
The maritime pre-positioning force (MPF) gives
the nation an added dimension in mobility, readiness, and global
responsiveness. The MPF program involves 13 ships, organized in
three squadrons. Maritime pre-positioning squadron one (MPSRON-1)
operates in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, MPSRON-2 in the Indian
Ocean, and MPSRON-3 in the western Pacific. The MPF, when called
upon, provides equipment and 30 (days of supplies for a 16,000-man
Marine expeditionary brigade (MEB). The MEB's personnel and selected
equipment can be airlifted quickly using roughly 250 airlift sorties
to an objective area to join with its equipment at a secure site.
Equipment and supplies can also be selectively off-loaded to support
smaller MAGTFs. During Operation Desert Shield/Storm, all three
MPFs were off-loaded in Southwest Asia providing immediate support
to deploying forces. During Restore Hope, one MPF supported operations.
For more information on MPF operations, see FMFM 1-5.
ARMY SPECIAL OPERATIONS
To meet our nation's global commitments, the
Army maintains a balanced force of armored, light, special operations,
and support forces for use across the operational continuum. Army
special operation forces (ARSOF) are an integral part of the total
Army force. ARSOF have five elements: special forces, rangers,
Army special operations aviation (ARSOA), PSYOP, and civil affairs.
These forces offer significant capabilities to the desert theater
of operations. Details of ARSOF capabilities are discussed in
MILITARY OPERATIONS ON
URBANIZED TERRAIN (MOUT)
Because there are few man-made features throughout the expanse of the desert, those that do exist can become important, perhaps even key. Key terrain in the desert can be any man-made feature. Settlements (where a logistics base may be established), road junctions, shelters, and airfields, all become important, simply because they are so few in number. Growing villages and settlements straddle these lines of communication, and small villages may exist near water sources and other key terrain. It may be necessary to conduct MOUT operations to control these areas. In areas involved with Desert Storm, paved roads and even dirt roads were considered key terrain for both high-speed movement and for providing clearly defined directions and locations. Commanders must be prepared to fight on terrain that is constantly being modified by man. More information on conducting MOUT can be found in FM 90-10.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|