Find a Security Clearance Job!




Aviation Operations on Urban Terrain
by CPT John White, Military Analyst, CALL
and CW3 Michael Scheel, Doctrine Writer, U.S. Army Aviation School


The infantry, in FM 90-10-1, An Infantryman's Guide to Combat in Built-up Areas, has divided a deliberate attack on a city into five distinct phases: Reconnoiter the Objective, Move to the Objective, Isolate the Objective, Secure a Foothold, and Clear the Objective. Aviation units, attack battalions, cavalry squadrons, and assault battalions can expect missions during each phase of the attack.

Military operations on urbanized terrain (MOUT) also contain many challenges for Army aviation. Commanders, both ground and air, must keep these challenges in mind when planning for the use of aviation forces on urban terrain.

Aviation units conducting direct fire in urban terrain will find it differs greatly from open terrain. In open terrain, attack and cavalry aircraft can engage at maximum ranges, while engagements in urban terrain are usually at close range and in close proximity to friendly units.


Currently there is no aviation doctrine that specifically addresses aviation operations on urban terrain. FM 1-100, Army Aviation Operations, gives aviation units less than a page on aviation urban operations (section 3-2e, page 3-4). The only other aviation manual that addresses urbanized terrain is FM 1-112, Attack Helicopter Operations (section 3-5c (1) page 3-19), which devotes one page to the topic; The infantry, on the other hand, has dedicated a single field manual-- FM 90-10-1. A draft manual, Aviation Urban Operations, from the joint Air, Land, Sea Application Center, was used as a source of information in this article.


OBSERVATION 1: Phase One: Reconnoiter the Objective

DISCUSSION 1: The first phase of a deliberate attack on an urban area is to thoroughly reconnoiter the objective. The ground unit commanders will conduct a thorough reconnaissance with their subordinate leaders to complete the attack plan. Aviation units with their speed, flexibility, training, and systems are an essential element of this phase.

Cavalry Squadron. This phase is where the cavalry squadron is most effective. Cavalry units provide the ground commander flexibility and speed in his reconnaissance. Cavalry units can expect route (air and ground), area, and zone reconnaissance missions during this phase. FM 1-114, Air Cavalry Squadron/Troop Operations, and FM 17-95, Cavalry Operations, do not specifically cover missions on urbanized terrain, but cavalry units can apply all the fundamentals found in both manuals to the urban environment. The draft manual, Aviation Urban Operations, provides the cavalry squadron with many urban-related reconnaissance tasks. Cavalry units conducting reconnaissance during this phase can conduct the following missions:

  • Route Reconnaissance. Cavalry units can expect to conduct both air and ground route reconnaissance of routes that support the ground maneuver commander's plan. Air cavalry and ground cavalry troops must conduct a detailed reconnaissance that provides for aviation and ground integration and should include the following:
    • Determining the trafficability of the route, including routes through buildings, subterranean approaches, rooftops, elevated throughways, and walkways.
    • Reconnaissance of the terrain dominating the route, including buildings and subterranean approaches.
    • Reconnoitering any lateral routes. Inspect and evaluate all bridges, buildings, subterranean approaches, elevated throughways, and walkways.
    • Locating fords and other crossing sites on the route. Inspect and evaluate all overpasses, underpasses, culverts, and subterranean avenues of approach that can influence the route.
    • Locating and clearing mines and obstacles within the unit's capability.
    • Locating a bypass around all obstacles and contaminated areas.
    • Finding and reporting enemy forces that can influence movement on the route. Pay particular attention to buildings and towers that may provide cover and concealment to enemy forces.
    • Locating and reporting all elevated obstacles that may affect aviation movement--all wires, towers and tall buildings.
    • Assessing and reporting the impact of terrain and urban effects on sensor acquisition. Report on the effects of thermal crossover and ambient light conditions along the route.

  • Area Reconnaissance. Cavalry units may conduct an area reconnaissance of the objective or of areas leading to the objective. Units should pay particular attention to the following:
    • Composition and internal structure of buildings.
    • Avenues of approach including subsurface ingress and egress points.
    • Enemy positions on rooftops and other locations. Location of armored forces within and on the periphery of the urban area.
    • Locations of potential landing zones (LZ), forward arming and refueling points (FARP), and assembly areas (AA).
    • The location and composition of enemy counterattack forces.
    • The location and composition of obstacles in the approach to the city, within the city, and by-pass points.
    • Possible sites for the ground maneuver unit to establish a foothold during the attack.

  • Zone Reconnaissance. Cavalry units may conduct zone reconnaissance during this phase of the operation. Cavalry units can also expect to conduct a terrain-oriented reconnaissance during this phase. Here the cavalry unit will identify all of the key features that could affect the movement to and attack on the city. Considerations for a zone reconnaissance should contain those of the route and area reconnaissance and the following:
    • Reconnoitering terrain not easily accessible to ground troops.
    • Rapidly checking key points in zone.
    • Locating the flanks of enemy forces encountered by air or ground scouts.
    • Locating bypasses around obstacles and enemy positions.
    • Providing security on the far side of obstacles while ground troops clear them.
    • Coordinating joint air attack team or attack helicopter operations.

Attack Helicopter Battalion. While the attack battalion is not as well suited to perform reconnaissance as the cavalry squadron, it is an asset the ground maneuver commander can assign reconnaissance and security missions. Attack units can conduct route reconnaissance of the routes leading to and from the urban area (both ground and air), zone reconnaissance of the areas around the city, and area reconnaissance of key terrain or areas leading to the city. Attack units can also conduct hasty attacks on enemy units found during this phase of the operation. Attack units can provide security during insertion for scout and long-range surveillance teams.

Assault Helicopter Battalion. While reconnaissance of the objective is the primary mission of the cavalry squadron, the assault helicopter battalion has some key missions that support the reconnaissance effort. The assault battalion can insert ground scouts to overwatch the urban area; insert low-level voice intercept (LLVI) teams, ground sensors and ground surveillance radar teams; air move FARP to support the air cavalry mission; conduct air movement of troops and equipment to staging areas; and conduct command and control missions. Assault units can also assist in casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) and conduct combat search and rescue (CSAR).

Figure 1
Phase One: Reconnoiter the Objective

OBSERVATION 2: Phase Two: Move to the Objective

DISCUSSION 2: The second phase of a deliberate attack on an urban area is to move or position forces for the assault. The ground unit commander will move his forces on covered and concealed routes to approach gaps or lightly held areas. Reconnaissance elements will continue to detect enemy forces, positions, and obstacles and prevent them from interfering with the attack plan. Enemy forces encountered are either bypassed or destroyed. Obstacles are bypassed if possible or breached.

Cavalry Squadron. Cavalry units can expect both reconnaissance and security missions during this phase of the operation. If the movement involves an air assault, the cavalry units may conduct an area reconnaissance of both air route and landing zone/pick-up zones (LZ/PZ). Cavalry units may conduct a screen of a moving force as the ground units move along their attack routes into the urban area. Cavalry units can conduct a force-oriented zone reconnaissance to locate and defeat enemy forces along the route or in areas that can influence the ground scheme of maneuver. Enemy positions are by-passed, destroyed by the cavalry, or fixed and handed over to the attack battalion for destruction. Cavalry units can continue to identify routes or confirm that previously cleared routes are still free of obstacles. Other missions that the cavalry unit may perform include air assault security and route security.

Attack Helicopter Battalion. If the mission involves an air assault, the attack units can expect to assist and facilitate the assault battalion's movement of units to the attack position. Attack units can provide LZ/PZ security and en route security, and can act as a reserve force to counter any threat to the air assault task force (AATF). Attack units can conduct hasty attacks on enemy units and positions identified by the cavalry. Attack units can perform an area reconnaissance to locate LZs/PZs, air route reconnaissance, or coordination of passage of lines.

Assault Helicopter Battalion. Assault battalions can best assist the ground commander during this phase. The assault battalion's speed and flexibility gives the ground commander the ability to rapidly reposition his forces to assault positions. Assault battalions can expect both air assault and air movement of supplies. Assault battalions can continue to insert and reposition ground scouts, deploy Volcano minefields to fix forces located by the cavalry squadron, conduct CASEVAC and CSAR, and conduct command and control (C2) missions.

Figure 2
Phase Two: Move to the Objective

OBSERVATION 3: Phase Three: Isolate the Objective

DISCUSSION 3: The third phase of a deliberate attack on an urban area is to isolate the objective. FM 90-10-1 states "isolation of the objective involves seizing terrain that dominates the area so that the enemy cannot supply or reinforce its defenders."

Cavalry Squadron. During this phase of the attack, the cavalry squadron can assist the ground unit by isolating the objective and preventing the enemy from escaping or reinforcing the urban area. Cavalry units can expect to conduct a screen to provide early warning of incoming enemy forces that are attempting to reinforce the city. Cavalry units can develop the situation and destroy the forces or conduct battle handovers with attack aviation. Cavalry units may have the mission of area security. FM 17-95 states that area security missions are conducted to "deny the enemy the ability to influence friendly actions in a specific area or to deny the enemy use of an area for his own purpose." Area security missions may be offensive or defensive in nature and may entail establishing and occupying a 360-degree perimeter. Area security operations may focus on friendly units, the enemy, or a combination of the two.

Attack Helicopter Battalion. The attack battalion is best suited to this phase of an attack on a city. Attack units can assist the ground maneuver commander in isolating the objective and in preventing enemy forces from reinforcing or resupplying the urban area. FM 1-112 states, "The attack helicopter battalion (ATKHB) is well-suited for employment on the outskirts of an urban area, attacking forces that are attempting to bypass, envelop or reinforce the built-up area." Attack units can expect to conduct both deliberate and hasty attacks on enemy forces around the city or any enemy counterattack forces attempting to counterattack into the city. The attack units can expect battle handovers from the cavalry squadron. They can also contribute to the isolation of the city by performing security missions, screening areas around the city, or conducting an area security mission in conjunction with the cavalry squadron. Attack units can augment the squadron or conduct a screen that supports the isolation of the city.

Assault Helicopter Battalion. Using conventional air assault techniques, the assault battalion can assist in the isolation of the objective. Air assaults to the flanks, rear, and forward of the urban area can assist in the isolation and prevent enemy forces from reinforcing or retreating from the city. Volcano minefields, placed by assault units, can further isolate the objective and prevent enemy movement. Assault units can move artillery, anti-tank guided missile crews, and mortar crews to further isolate the objective and provide support to the attacking force. Assault units can expect to conduct CASEVAC and CSAR during this phase.

Figure 3
Phase Three: Isolate the Objective

OBSERVATION 4: Phase Four: Secure a foothold.

DISCUSSION 4: The fourth phase of a deliberate attack on an urban area is where the ground maneuver commander begins his assault on the city. FM 90-101-1 states, "securing a foothold involves seizing an intermediate objective that provides cover from enemy fire and a place for attacking troops to enter the built-up area." Aviation units can greatly assist the ground unit commander during this phase.

Cavalry Squadron. Once the foothold area is designated, cavalry units can conduct an area reconnaissance of that area to determine possible enemy forces, weak points, flanks, and enemy composition. Cavalry units can conduct battle handovers with attack units so they can mass their fires and assist the ground units with establishing a foothold. Cavalry units will continue to conduct area security, reconnaissance, or other security missions to maintain the isolation of the urban area.

Attack Helicopter Battalion. The attack unit's fires can greatly assist the ground unit commander in securing a foothold in the urban area. Attack units can occupy attack by fire (ABF), support by fire (SBF) or battle positions (BP) to provide suppressive fires that support the friendly breech point. Enemy armor on high-speed avenues of approach into the city are likely, and the attack unit's precision fires can destroy this asset. A joint air attack team (JAAT) may be used to destroy armored forces securing the breech point. Attack units can coordinate with the JAAT and provide laser identification of targets. Attack units can also continue to provide security for assault units that transport ground forces to the area and continue to conduct reconnaissance, security, and hasty attacks to maintain the isolation of the city.

Assault Helicopter Battalion. The assault helicopter unit continues to conduct air assaults to further isolate the objectives adjacent to the urban area. Light infantry may be inserted to assist in securing the foothold. Aircrews must maintain close coordination with the ground units during this phase. Air assaults in close proximity of the urban area require extensive coordination with ground units to suppress enemy air defense fires. Aircrews can expect air defense fires from both the ground and buildings that overwatch the air avenues of approach. Ground units must suppress these fires to enable the assault units to land. Assault units can insert sniper or counter-sniper teams, assist civil affairs movement, assist psychological operations forces, conduct command and control missions, as well as conduct CASEVAC and CSAR.

Figure 4
Phase Four: Secure a Foothold

OBSERVATION 5: Phase Five: Clear a Built-up Area

DISCUSSION 5: This phase of the operation is the most dangerous for both ground and air units. The phase is characterized by systematic house-to-house fighting as ground forces attempt to force the enemy from the city. Aviation units are best suited to continue the isolation of the city, but units can also expect to support the ground commander's scheme of maneuver within the city.

Cavalry Squadron. Cavalry units can expect to continue the isolation of the urban area and may also conduct reconnaissance and security operations in the city in support of the ground units in contact. Air operations in the city are best performed by small units/lead wingman teams. Cavalry units that assist units in contact must have an understanding of the weapons system's effectiveness against urban targets. Units in contact must accurately mark their location and the target's location during both day and night conditions. Cavalry units can continue to screen outside the city to prevent reinforcements from arriving or the enemy resupplying the city. Cavalry units can also conduct reconnaissance within the city that supports assault units repositioning forces or conducting aerial resupply.

Attack Helicopter Battalion. This is the most dangerous phase of the operation. Attack forces can expect to assist units in contact by performing deliberate and hasty attack missions with units in contact. These missions are best carried out by teams of attack aircraft under control of the unit in contact. The risk of fratricide is great, and units in contact must have effective means of identifying targets as well as themselves. It is critical that the attack units have communications with the unit in contact. Aircrews must thoroughly understand the rules of engagement and the effects of their weapons systems. Aircrews can expect short engagement ranges and must limit collateral damage. Attack units may also support assault units by providing security as they move and reposition throughout the city or conduct aerial resupply missions. Attack units will also continue to provide attack support to keep the city isolated and prevent enemy forces from escaping or reinforcing the city.

Assault Helicopter Battalion. Casualties to ground forces are extremely high and the consumption of ammunition is also high during this phase. Infantry units can expect to expend great amounts of small-arms ammunition, mortar ammunition, and grenades. Assault units can expect to conduct resupply operations and air movement of troops as replacements for the wounded. Landing zones and pickup zones may be located outside the urban area or, as the fighting progresses, inside the city. Assault units can expect LZs in large parking lots, city parks, athletic fields and even on buildings. Landing zones on buildings may already exist, or the crew may be required to land next to a building or conduct fast rope operations to the roof tops. As the fighting moves into the city, assault units may conduct air assault operations to clear pockets of resistance throughout the city. Fighting in urban terrain is intense and is characterized by high casualties. Assault units can expect CASEVAC missions and must be available for CSAR.


  • Incorporate these missions into training scenarios at Home Station and include fighting in the urban environment into all unit SOPs.
  • Train as teams in conducting attacks within close proximity to friendly units. Develop strong unit SOPs that cover target identification and marking, friendly units' identification, and weapons effects on urban targets.
  • Train on reconnaissance in the urban environment.
  • Assault units must coordinate closely with ground units to provide suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) fires to support air assault operations.
  • Assault units can expect extensive aerial resupply and air movement of replacements due to the high volume of casualties and high demand for ammunition that characterizes urban fighting.


OBSERVATION 6: Mission Planning Factors

DISCUSSION 6: Current and future/draft aviation doctrine identifies planning factors and challenges aviation units face when conducting operations on urban terrain. Both ground and air commanders must realize these factors exist and consider them when planning aviation mission in the city. FM 1-112 contains the following list of planning factors:

  • Urban areas directly affect weather, especially wind patterns.
  • The numerous buildings and streets and few map references complicate navigation over built-up areas. Flight routes over urban terrain may increase employment time and fuel consumption.
  • Buildings limit maneuverability and engagement ranges.
  • Urbanized terrain may limit FARP size, location, and response times.
  • Extensive urban sprawl and high buildings degrade communications and may require extensive relay and retransmission sites.
  • Urbanized terrain masks intelligence and electronic warfare acquisition capabilities.
  • Landing and pickup zones may be severely limited; operations from rooftops may be required.

FM 1-100 also lists challenges that aviation units face when operating on urbanized terrain.

  • Aviation units will face increased hazards to flight operations--towers, wires, antenna hazards.
  • Foreign object damage to aircraft from flying debris.
  • Operations in areas with a high concentration of civilians.
  • Collateral damage of property.
  • Night-vision system degradation due to city lights and thermal imagery challenges in the city.
  • Degraded communications.
  • High risk to aircraft from close-range, small-arms fires complicated by the close proximity of both friendly forces and non-combatants.
  • Degraded visibility and possible toxic fumes when flying near or through smoke and dust.

Another list of rules for aviation operations in urbanized terrain is found in the unpublished draft of FM 1-130, Army Aviation Operations in MOUT. This manual contains the following "rules to live by" for aviation MOUT.

  • Avoid urban areas. Operate in urban areas only when the mission dictates it. When the mission requires urban operations, avoid unnecessary flight over built-up terrain.

  • Get in and out quickly. Minimize time spent over urbanized terrain. Ingress and egress the area by routes which minimize the duration of flight over urbanized terrain. Fly at medium to higher airspeeds, depending on altitude and hazards, to decrease the opportunity for engagement by ground weapons.

  • Do not be predictable. Alternate flight routes and checkpoints. Plan egress and contingency routes, rally procedures, and back-up navigation techniques.

  • Minimize your signature. Take maximum advantage of flight profile options and existing conditions to lessen the risk of acquisition and engagement. Plan and execute the mission with maximum emphasis on aircraft signature reduction.

  • Know the current situation. Insist on the most current information available regarding friendly forces, the enemy, and hazards. Update information prior to takeoff, en route to the objective, and continuously during the mission.

  • Establish communications with all players. Determine net information for all participating and supporting elements. Establish communications with ground maneuver elements as soon as possible en route to the objective. Understand the ground commander's intent and current situation, and coordinate all actions at the objective. Establish and maintain continuous contact with airspace authority for the battlespace you are in or transitioning through.

  • Think before you shoot. Fratricide prevention is paramount. Develop a clear understanding of the friendly situation before you engage targets. Ensure identify friend and foe (IFF) and aircraft survivability equipment (ASE) is working, and know the purpose and demarcation lines for IFF and ASE. Communicate clearly with all elements, and consider your weapons limitations and effects prior to trigger pull.


  • Incorporate these planning factors in unit SOPs and consider them when planning for aviation operations in urban terrain.
  • Ensure aviation liaison officers know these factors and can assist the ground unit commander in planning for aviation in the city.

OBSERVATION 7: Area Sketch

DISCUSSION 7: The area sketch offers both the ground commander and the aircrew a means of identifying both friendly and enemy locations. The sketch is an excellent planning tool and an excellent tool to use for unit coordination. The area sketch is best used for smaller towns and villages, but can be applied to a certain engagement area or specific area of operations in a larger city. The area sketch simply captures the natural terrain features, man-made features, and key terrain in that area, and designates a letter or numeral code to each. Buildings are coded and each corner of the building is coded. This gives the aircrews an accurate way to either target specific buildings as requested by the ground unit commander or to identify friendly locations. Units must ensure they are both using the same area sketch to affect coordination.

Figure 5

OBSERVATION 8: Aviation route planning and navigation.

DISCUSSION 8: Navigation and route planning on the urban environment poses many challenges to the aircrew. Routes and navigation up to the city are usually planned and executed in relatively open-wooded terrain. Once in the city or over the urban sprawl surrounding the city, the navigation challenges become apparent. Aviation units must develop strong TTPs to navigate in the city.

Navigation in the city can be overwhelming because of the over abundance of visual cues. Aircrews must train to distinguish cues that are pertinent to their route. Aircrews can use vertical and linear references to distinguish en route checkpoints. Radio towers, tall buildings or unique city features (parks, malls) can assist the aircrew with their navigation. Towers and buildings are easily visible from many miles away and give the aircrew a reference on their position. Linear cues such as roads, highways, and rivers through a city can also assist the crews with navigation.

If possible, obtain the proper maps with the proper information on them. This is critical for both navigation and synchronization with the ground maneuver elements. Units can use an area sketch for target areas or objectives. The area sketch simply identifies the natural and man-made features in the area and codes them with letters, numbers, or code words. Identification of both targets and friendly unit location is much easier with both air and ground units using the same area sketch.

Units can convert civilian maps to the military grid reference system (MGRS) by a set formula that converts the scale of the map to a system of grid lines that coincide with the 1:50,000 scale. The civilian maps also include names of streets and key buildings, locations, and terrain within the city. Once aircrews are familiar with an area, they can use local landmarks for navigation.

Navigation in the city is also affected by the abundance of lights which degrade night-vision devices. Aircrews must have a system of routes that follow easily identifiable features. Units must plan for threat en route planning and attempt to fly in the lowest threat areas or areas that are under the control of friendly units.

If there has been much fighting in the city, the familiar landmarks may disappear, become covered with rubble, or obscured by smoke and dust. Wide spread conflagration can affect instruments and degrade night-vision devices. Should a city's drainage system and water supply be damaged, large areas of the city may be under water, making navigation even more difficult.

The "spider web" concept found in the Air, Land, Sea Application Center's draft manual of Aviation Urban Operations provides the unit and aircrews with a simple-to-construct route structure throughout an urban area. The air control points (ACP) are placed on easily identifiable features and then linked together to form the route. The spider web concept provides for many different routes and variations of routes using established checkpoints. This ability to vary routes adds unpredictability to flight missions.

Figure 6
Spider Web Route Structure


  • Area sketches and civilian maps are a way to assist navigation and target/friendly unit navigation.
  • The spider web concept is a way to portray a route structure in the city that is easily used or changed and is unpredictable to enemy forces.

OBSERVATION 9: Landing Zone (LZ)/Pickup Zone (PZ) and Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) Selection

DISCUSSION 9: Terrain in the urban environment is severely limited, and suitable LZ, PZ, and FARP locations are rare. Aviation units, especially assault and lift units, can expect to land in the city to conduct air movement/air assault operations, resupply, and casualty evacuation. A high percentage of casualties and a high consumption rate of ammunition characterize fighting in the city by ground units. Lift aircraft provide the fastest way to resupply units, replace lost soldiers, and evacuate casualties.

Aviation units must take a detailed look at the city and locate potential sites for these critical elements of attack, assault, and cavalry aviation. Aviation planners must look at all available products to find suitable sites for LZs, PZs and FARPs. City maps, overhead imagery and even reconnaissance flights will help the unit select proper sites. Units should consider the use of city parks, parking lots, stadium fields, and athletic fields. Major highways and large multi-lane roads offer potential LZ, PZ, and FARP sites if civilian traffic is not using them. Units may even be forced to use rooftops as LZs if the mission dictates. Lighting at the LZ is also a factor. If the city is not blacked out, the city lights will affect the night-vision goggles used by the pilots. If the LZ is large or has multiple turns, aviation planners may consider using pathfinders or air traffic services to control the PZ or LZ.

When using such man-made sites for landing, units should make a detailed study of the area. This study should look for hazards to aviation operations that are found at the site. Antennas, light poles, debris, wires, and enemy locations all are hazards at the landing site. Winds may change direction because of buildings and built-up areas. Tall buildings also may funnel winds through the streets causing a much higher wind condition than briefed.

Single LZs large enough to support multi-ship operations may not be found in the city. This lack of large LZs may force units to use multiple LZs in close proximity to each other. Units must ensure strict flight discipline and coordination when using multiple LZs. Control measures, both positive (air traffic control, pathfinder) or procedural (routes, limits of movement), must be established to control the aircraft as they work in close proximity.

Rooftop LZs may offer the only place to insert troops in a critical area. Some buildings have an established LZ, but many do not. Aviation and ground unit commanders can plan for the use of existing rooftop LZs. Aircrews can remain light on the skids/wheels or hover over rooftops for insertion, or use rappelling or conduct FASTROPE insertions. Rooftops contain many hazards to flight including antennas, wires, smokestacks, and exhaust vents.

LZs and PZs close to enemy forces must have suppressive fires to allow aircraft to land. Attack aviation can expect an air assault or air movement security mission to protect the lift aircraft. AH-64 aircraft can use the 30mm gun to suppress enemy air defense assets on rooftops and also flechette rockets to clear enemy air defense from rooftops. Friendly units on the ground must also suppress nearby buildings that may contain threats to landing aircraft.


  • Urban terrain does not offer many suitable LZ, PZ, and FARP sites. Units must plan and do a careful selection process. Units must consider any open area in the city as a potential site and identify the hazards associated with it
  • Close coordination with attack aircraft, units on the LZ, and assault aircraft are necessary to suppress air defense fires in the LZ.

OBSERVATION 10: Direct fire planning

DISCUSSION 10: Urban terrain is severely canalized which causes severely limited fields of fire. The streets tend to limit target views to a narrow corridor along the street or from high angles over the buildings. Enemy forces may utilize the near sides of buildings, putting them out of view of the attack helicopters. Engagements of rooftop targets can come from all angles. Expect targets to move rapidly from cover to cover and require quick engagement.

Attack aircraft can operate from battle positions (BP), attack-by-fire positions (ABF) or support-by-fire positions (SBF). Areas within the city that are secured by friendly forces may support stationary fire from BPs, ABFs, and SBFs. The threat to aircraft is lessened when firing from the friendly side of the battlefield. When forced to fight and fly over areas where the enemy has not been cleared, the risk to aviation forces becomes extremely high. Aircrews can expect to be engaged from both the ground and from the upper floors of buildings. When these conditions exist, it is better to keep the aircraft moving and make it a harder target to hit. Aircrews may consider conducting running fire engagements from an initial point (IP), engaging the target, and returning to a safe area to regroup for another attack. The lead wingman concept is excellent for this type of attack where the wingman can suppress the target after the lead man's engagement and "cover his break." Coordination should be made with the ground units to suppress the enemy's fire to protect the aircraft during their attack. The 30-mm on the AH-64, .50-cal on the OH-58D, and the 2.75-inch rockets fired by both aircraft are ideal for this attack.

Precision-guided weapons, such as the Hellfire missile, can be used in congested urban terrain; however, their capabilities are limited. Maximum stand-off ranges may not be available, and the altitude the aircraft must obtain to see over buildings and structures masking the target may put it at great risk. Aircrews can expect short-range Hellfire engagements and may have to reposition many times and seek out the best angle for attack.

Aircrews can plan for both running fire and hover fire engagements. Running fire generally offers better aircraft survivability and keeps the aircraft from becoming a stationary target. If hovering fire is used, aircrews can unmask both laterally and vertically from behind the cover.

Figure 7

When using running fire, aircrews must prevent overflight of friendly units and ensure their attack runs do not produce casualties to friendly units from their fires or effects from their fires.

Aviation planners must consider different methods of targeting the enemy. Most engagements will come from attack units supporting ground units in close contact with the enemy. Aviation and ground units must have strong and workable SOPs that deal with urban area targeting. The Air, Land, Sea Application Center's draft manual of Aviation Urban Operations gives both ground and aviation units three common techniques to urban targeting.


  • The urban targeting grid system divides up the urban area into specific grid sectors. Each building should be identified by a number or letter. Planners may also code the corners of the buildings to facilitate rapid fires. The target handover to the aircrew is simply the location from the grid system and a brief target description. Both the aircrew and the ground unit must have the same urban targeting grid for effective coordination to occur.

    Figure 8
    Urban Targeting Grid

  • Bulls-eye targeting gives the aircrew a specific point and reference target locations from that point. The "bulls-eye" must be a point that is easily recognizable for both the unit in contact and the aircrew flying the attack mission. The bulls-eye may be pre-planned or given to the aircrew on-site. As long as the aircrew and the ground unit are working from the same map or both are familiar with the area, bulls-eye targeting is very effective. The target handover to the aircrew is simply a distance and direction from the bulls-eye and a target description.

    Figure 9
    Bulls-eye Targeting

  • Target reference points (TRPs) are tools that both air and ground units can use to coordinate fires. TRPs are easily recognized points on the ground (either natural or man-made) used to initiate, distribute, and control fires. TRPs are designated by maneuver leaders to define sectors of fire or observation. TRPs can also designate the center of an area where the commander plans to converge or distribute the fires of his weapons rapidly. The target handover is similar to the bulls-eye targeting: a distance and direction from the TRP and a brief target description.

    Figure 10
    Target Reference Points

OBSERVATION 11: Aviation Weapons Effects

DISCUSSION 11: Attack and cavalry aircrews are all familiar with what their weapons systems will do to their primary targets. Aircrews are trained to select the appropriate weapon system for the appropriate target. Aircrews know that if the target is a tank, it must be destroyed with either a tube-launched, wire-tracked, optically tracked weapon (TOW) or a Hellfire missile. Lightly skinned armored vehicles or trucks are engaged with 2.75-inch rockets or 30-mm or .50-cal guns. Operations in urbanized terrain present the aircrews with a much different target array. Aviation units must know the effects of their weapons systems on these targets.

The Air, Land, Sea Application Center's draft manual, Aviation Urban Operations, gives aviation planners a list of considerations when choosing a weapons system for urban targets.

  • Urban targets are usually hard, smooth and contain flat surfaces. Rounds fired from the air strike the surfaces at an angle and tend to ricochet. This can cause impact-fused weapons to not detonate. Aircrews must consider this ricochet risk when engaging in close proximity to friendly units.

  • Targets rarely present themselves for extended periods of time. Aircrews can expect short target exposure and rapid engagements. Aircrews must be constantly on the lookout for targets and be ready to engage rapidly. Expect enemy-held structures to be covered by fire. Ground units can suppress the enemy fires while the attack helicopters unmask to engage.

  • Expect dead space within urban areas. Large, tall buildings and narrow streets create dead space that aircrews cannot engage.

  • Smoke from burning buildings, dust from the city, shadows, and rubble may mask targets.

  • Engagements may be in close proximity to friendly units. Ground and air units must have specific and workable SOPs for marking both targets and friendly positions. The risk of fratricide is extremely high from direct engagements on the wrong target, from ricochet, or from effects from rockets or missiles.

  • If enemy units are in buildings, the buildings must be attacked first to get to the soldiers inside. Weapons that can break through walls must be used.

The weapons found on attack aircraft are designed to destroy vehicular targets and troops in the open. These weapons systems are also effective in the urban environment. TOW, Hellfire, and 2.75-inch rockets will produce effects on structures found in the city. Precision-guided munitions, TOW, and Hellfire give the aircrew the ability to target specific windows, floors, or sections of a building. Rockets also produce effects on structures and are also effective on troops in open streets. HE rockets produce the best effects on buildings, but aviation planners should consider the use of other types of rockets. Smoke rockets can be used to mask friendly movement, and flechette rockets are ideal for clearing rooftops or attacking troops in the open. The gun systems on attack aircraft are also effective when used to clear rooftops and troops in the open, or fired on the front of buildings and into windows.

Aviation planners should consult the Joint Munitions Effectiveness Manual (JMEM) for information regarding the effect of weapons on targets. This manual contains information on the type of weapon to use and in what quantity to achieve the desired results. Aircrews should also be familiar with this information to determine what weapon to use on the appropriate target.


There are unique aviation considerations during urban combat. Detailed planning is vital to the effective employment and continued survival of aviation in the urban environment. Armed helicopters can carry a mix of weapons. The commanders must choose the weapons to use on a specific mission based on their effects on the target, employment techniques, and the target's proximity to ground forces. Planners must consider proportionality, collateral damage, and non-combatant casualties.

OBSERVATION 12: Hover-fire engagement is not recommended in urbanized terrain.

DISCUSSION 12: During a recent rotation to the JRTC, the OPFOR shot down four aircraft that were using hover-fire techniques to engage OPFOR soldiers shooting from a building. Because of the target masking common in urban terrain, the aircrews had to maneuver within 2,000 meters to get "eyes on" the target.

Continuous movement minimizes exposure time to surrounding terrain and ensures survivability. If the enemy has established a stronghold in the urban area, the risk to aviation assets dramatically increases. The close infantry battle will become increasingly difficult to support with helicopters.

As enemy elements seize key features (particularly vertical structures), the air defense threat escalates within the urban area. Helicopter movement must be swift and unpredictable. The devastating fires of the OH-58D and AH-64 provide tremendous advantages in any engagement.

TTP: A unit that recently trained at the JRTC uses a technique it calls "close combat attack (CCA)." This is a unit-specific SOP technique that could be used by other aviation units. CCA is a procedure that is very similar to running or diving fire. CCA procedures ensure aviation fires destroy the enemy with minimal risk to friendly forces. By conducting CCA maneuvers, aviation attack teams of two or three OH-58Ds or AH-64s are able to engage targets with a greater degree of accuracy and protection than they could with hover fire.

When a maneuver unit requests armed helicopter support, the helicopter attack team air mission commander coordinates with the leader on the ground who can best identify the target. The two leaders positively identify the target and coordinate the attack timing and direction. The aircrews fly at nap-of-the-earth (NOE) altitudes at airspeeds of 80-100 knots. Approximately 300-1000 meters out from the target, the aircrews execute a cyclic climb to an altitude of 100-300 feet. At the specified altitude (threat/terrain dependent), the aircraft is "nosed over" and the aircrews immediately engage the target with 2.75-inch rockets or machine-guns.

After employing their weapon systems, the aircrews have three options available to them: break left, break right, or fly straight-ahead. If the aircrew breaks left or right, they are exposing the larger side profile of the airframe to enemy fire. If the aircrew flies straight-ahead, they may fly through the effects of the ordnance they just fired or they may overfly previously undetected enemy forces. Depending on the tactical situation, it is probably best for the aircraft to break hard to one side and return to NOE flight immediately.

Each of these CCA engagements is executed as part of a team. The fires from the second helicopter as it begins its firing run aids the first helicopter's egress from the target area by forcing the enemy to keep their heads down. To work properly, this technique requires aviators and soldiers to understand it and drill it frequently. CCA should not be conducted without positive identification of friendly or enemy forces.

Figure 11
Close Combat Attack

OBSERVATION 13: Attack aviation support to ground maneuver requires some simple, clearly understood procedures.

DISCUSSION 13: A scout/weapon team was ordered to launch immediately and conduct a hasty attack to support an infantry company that was attempting to destroy an enemy stronghold in the city's railroad station.

The infantry company was conducting a movement-to-contact under the cover of darkness when it came under heavy machine-gun fire. When the OH-58D/AH-64 attack team arrived on station, its task was to suppress enemy fire from the railroad station. This would allow the infantry unit leader to break contact with the enemy and reposition his platoons.

Throughout the mission, there was excellent air-to-ground communications. The aircrews engaged the enemy on the second floor of the railroad station with 125 rounds of 30-mm high explosive (HE) and numerous 2.75-inch rockets. Timing of the attack was perfect; the infantrymen were ready to move just as the helicopters began to fire. The results were dramatic: 11 enemy killed in action and 2 wounded, with only 3 friendly wounded. The infantrymen were able to reposition to a much better position and continue their attack.

Effective coordination between light infantry and attack aviation can maximize the capabilities of attack helicopters while minimizing the risk of fratricide.

TTP: This unit developed some techniques and procedures for enhancing the effectiveness of coordination between light infantry engaged in close combat and attack helicopters conducting hasty attacks in the same area. The key to success for enhancing air-ground coordination and the subsequent execution of the tasks involved begins with standardizing techniques and procedures. The endstate is a detailed SOP between air and ground maneuver units that addresses hasty attacks in a close combat situation.

Effective integration of air and ground assets begins with the ground maneuver brigade. When the aviation task force receives a mission to provide assistance to a ground unit engaged in close combat and planning time is minimal, the initial information provided by the brigade should be sufficient to get the aviation attack team out of its own assembly area. The assembly may be in a holding area in the sector of the infantry battalion involved in close combat. The holding area must be a concealed position that allows for final coordination between the attack team leader and the infantry unit leader before the attack begins. It must be located within frequency modulated (FM) radio range of all units involved. Alternate holding areas, along with ingress and egress routes, must be designated if occupation is expected to last longer than 15 minutes.

En route to the holding area, the attack team leader contacts the infantry battalion on its FM command net to verify the location of the holding area and to conduct additional coordination. The attack team leader receives information from the infantry battalion on the enemy and friendly situations. The battalion also verifies communications information regarding the unit in contact. By this time, the infantry battalion has contacted the infantry unit leader to inform him that attack aviation is en route to conduct a hasty attack.

NOTE: Following is an example of a TTP being reviewed for possible inclusion into future doctrine.

"Bulldog 06 this is Wolfpack 48, over"
"Wolfpack 48 this is Bulldog 06, L/C (loud and clear) over"
"Bulldog 06, Wolfpack 48 en route to HA (holding area) at grid VQ 98454287, request SITREP (situation report) over"
"Wolfpack 48 this is Bulldog 06, enemy situation follows, break, platoon size element has Hardrock 36 pinned down at grid VQ 96204362, break, contact Hardrock 36 on FH (frequency hopset) 478, over"

Upon receiving the required information from the infantry battalion, the attack team leader drops to the infantry company's FM command net to conduct final coordination before launching his attack. Coordination begins with the infantry company commander and ends with the leader of the lowest level unit in contact.

"Hardrock 36 this is Wolfpack 48 on FH 478, over"
"Wolfpack 48 this is Hardrock 36, L/C over"

The attack team leader provides the infantry unit leader with the attack team's present location, which is normally the attack team holding area; the composition of the attack team; the armament load and weapons configuration; total station time; and the night-vision capability of the attack team.

The composition of the attack team includes all aircraft types and numbers, to include scout observation aircraft. The armament load includes the types of weapons on board and the number of rounds available. The infantry key leaders consider the effects of these various weapons carried by the attack aircraft.

Normally, the attack team will engage enemy forces during a hasty attack with area fire systems. These include the gun systems and the 2.75-inch rockets. These area fire weapon systems pose a danger to friendly soldiers who may be in the lethality zone of the rounds or rockets. The attack team may be called on to deliver more precise fire with TOW or Hellfire missiles. In this case, the leader on the ground must be very precise in describing the target he wants the aircraft to hit.


"Hardrock 36, Wolfpack 48 is currently holding at grid VQ 98454287, break, 2 Kiowa Warriors with 7 rockets, 900 rounds of .50 cal, 2 Hellfires, break, 1 and a half hour station time, all aircraft are NVG capable, over"
"Wolfpack 48, Hardrock 36, stand by, over"
"Wolfpack 48, roger"

The infantry unit leader, in turn, succinctly provides the attack team leader with his maneuver plan. This includes updates on enemy composition, disposition, and most recent activities, particularly the location of air defense weapons. He also provides an update on the friendly situation--to include the composition, disposition, and location of his forces and supporting artillery or mortar positions. He then updates the attack team, outlining the concept of his ground tactical plan. The infantry unit leader also describes his method for marking friendly positions.

The ability of the aircrews to easily observe and identify ground signals is a critical factor in reducing fratricide and maximizing responsive aerial fires. The signal or combination of signals is based on items commonly carried by the infantryman, must be acquirable by the night-vision or thermal imaging systems on the aircraft, and must be recognizable by the aircrew.

The infantry unit leader then provides a concise description of the target and its location. If necessary, the ground unit uses geographical terrain features and smoke rounds from artillery or mortars, ordnance already impacting on the target area, illumination or tracer rounds, or other ground fires to provide a reference mark on the target.

"Wolfpack 48, Hardrock 36, stand by for update, break, enemy platoon size element is 800 meters due north, break, there has been sporadic heavy machine-gun fire to our position, break, fire appears to be coming from second floor of train station, break, negative knowledge on disposition of enemy ADA, over"
"Hardrock 36, Wolfpack 48, request update on position of friendly forces, over"
"Roger Wolfpack 48, negative friendly forces due north of our position, break, my entire platoon is pinned down on the south side of the concrete wall at grid VQ 96204362, break, I will mark our position with IR strobes, over"

The attack team leader then informs the infantry unit leader of the battle position, attack-by-fire position, or the series of positions his team will occupy that provides the best observation and fields of fire into the engagement or target area. The battle position or attack-by-fire position is a position from which the attack aircraft will engage the enemy with direct fire. It includes a number of individual aircraft firing positions. It may be pre-planned or established as the situation dictates. Size will vary depending on the number of aircraft using the position, the size of the engagement area, and the type of terrain. The battle position or attack-by-fire position is normally offset from the flank of the friendly ground position. This ensures that rotor wash, ammunition casing expenditure, and the general signature of the aircraft does not interfere with operations on the ground. The offset position also allows the aircraft to engage the enemy on its flanks rather than its front, and lessens the risk of fratricide along the helicopter gun target line.

The attack team leader then provides the infantry unit leader with his concept for the team's attack on the objective. Only on completion of coordination with the lowest unit in contact does the flight depart the holding area for the battle position. As the attack team moves out of the holding area, it uses NOE flight to mask itself from ground enemy observation and enemy direct fire systems. The attack team leader maintains FM communications with the infantry unit leader while he maintains internal communications on either his very high frequency (VHF) or ultra-high frequency (UHF) net.

"Hardrock 36, Wolfpack elements will attack from the southeast, break, turn on IR strobes at this time, break, keep your heads down as we will be firing over your position during our attack run, over"
"Wolfpack 48, Hardrock 36, strobes on at this time, over"
"Roger Hardrock, Wolfpack has your position, break, commencing attack, over"
"Hardrock 36, roger"
"Hardrock 36, Wolfpack 48, engagement complete, break, building destroyed, over"
"Wolfpack 48, Hardrock 36, return to base, thanks for the support, over"

NOTE: This scenario was written as though in perfect conditions. Grid locations will be difficult for the infantry due to rubble and building damage, and actual FM communications between the ground and air may not work this well. In summary, when an attack team is committed to execute a hasty attack, mission success requires detailed coordination between the attack team and the infantry unit already engaged in close combat.

  • The maneuver brigade provides the aviation task force with the information available on locations, routes, and communications before the attack team's departure from its assembly area.
  • The holding area is a concealed position where final coordination is made with the infantry unit in contact before the attack team launches its hasty attack.
  • The attack team coordinates directly with the lowest level unit in contact on the infantry company FM command net.
  • The infantry leaders must understand the ground effects of the attack team's area fire weapons systems.
  • Final coordination with the infantry unit includes agreeing on a method of identifying the friendly and enemy positions.
  • The means of identifying friendly positions should take advantage of the forward looking infrared (FLIR), thermal imaging system (TIS), and NVG capabilities of the attack team.
  • The battle position or attack-by-fire position should be offset from the infantry unit to maximize the effects of its weapons and to minimize the risk of fratricide.

Successful integration of Army attack aviation and infantry requires considerable coordination and communication. The key to success begins at Home Station with intense, realistic training focused on developing and testing a variety of techniques and procedures. These techniques and procedures will differ from unit to unit, given the differences in personnel and equipment as well as the mission of the units involved. Once established, these techniques and procedures must be standardized as unit-level battle drills and trained to standard on a regular basis. Only in this way will the integration of attack aviation assets with light infantry units maximize the capabilities of both elements to defeat the enemy on today's battlefields.1



OBSERVATION 14: During urban combat, clear marking of targets and friendly positions is critical. Aircrews require positive identification of the target and friendly positions prior to releasing ordnance. Methods employed must be adapted to the conditions prevalent at the time.

DISCUSSION 14: Accurate and timely information of friendly and non-combatant locations is critical to expedient target engagement. This is especially true for sizable conventional forces operating in an urban environment. Numerous factors can limit visual, electro-optical, and electronic identification and tracking of targets and friendly positions. Several of these factors are particularly prevalent in an urban environment and include electric lighting, fires, smoke, haze, smog, and man-made structures.

TTP: All aircrew and battle planners should understand strengths and weaknesses of available sensors and equipment in urban conditions. They need to choose the appropriate equipment or equipment combinations for the conditions at hand. This section addresses several factors operators should consider when using target-marking equipment and sensors. The equipment covered includes target-marking devices, night-vision goggles (NVGs), forward-looking infrared (FLIR), thermal imaging system (TIS), TV/electro-optical (EO), electronic beacons, and laser designators. The discussion is generic and is applicable to fixed wing fighter type aircraft, fixed-wing gunships, and rotary wing aircraft.

  • Determine all required identification and marking procedures before starting a mission. Accurate and detailed maps, charts,or imagery facilitates aircrew orientation to the friendly scheme of maneuver. Aircrews must continue to work closely with the ground forces to positively identify friendly positions.

  • Visual signaling or marking positions helps determine the disposition of friendly forces. During building clearing, the progress of friendly maneuver elements (both horizontally and vertically) may be marked with spray paint or bed sheets hung out of windows. Often, the simplest methods are the best. Traditional signaling devices, such as flares, strobes, and signaling mirrors, may be quite effective. Target marking, or orientation on enemy positions, may also be accomplished by signaling. Common techniques include the use of smoke, laser pointers, or tracers. Other devices are available which aid in the recognition of friendly forces and equipment where the fluid tactical situation, intermingling of forces and urban terrain make identification difficult. The use of glint tape, combat identification panels (CIPs), and infrared beacons assist in the clear identification of friendly ground forces, on urban terrain, though ground lighting, thermal contrast, and intermediate structures influence the effectiveness of these devices.

  • The proximity of friendly forces to targets requires positive identification and makes marking of friendly units and targets critical. Procedures must be clearly understood and all participants must be issued the appropriate devices. The fire support assets must be familiar with the friendly marking system. Friendly positions and targets require positive identification/marking in urban terrain. The methods to do this are limited only by the creativity of the ground forces and aircrews. Commanders should use this as a reference but not limit themselves to only these methods. Aircrews require positive identification of the target and friendly positions prior to firing. Methods employed must be adapted to the conditions prevalent at the time. Positive air-to-ground communications are essential to coordinate and authenticate marks. (Figure 12 lists the relative common marking devices and describes merits and shortcomings of each.)

  • When working with a terminal guidance controller or other friendly ground troops in an aviation support scenario, aircrews and ground parties should attempt to follow normal JCAS and J-Fire procedures. Fixed wing gunships and rotary wing aircraft should expect detailed continuing directions, including reference points to the target in addition to standard range and bearing.

  • Aircrews and terminal guidance controllers must become familiar with the roof outline of buildings before a mission, as this will often be the first characteristic used for identification by aircrew. Flat roofs, pitched roofs, domed roofs, roofs with towers or air conditioning units on top will aid in acquisition, visually and thermally. Additional structural features revealed in imagery will aid in confirmation. This method of terrain association will prove invaluable for engagement or reconnaissance, since structures are often too close for relying on mere grid coordinates.

  • Expect to see significant visual urban shadowing from buildings both during ambient high-light and low-light level conditions when electric lights are on. Shadows will hide personnel or vehicle targets from both the terminal guidance controller and the aircrew. Shadows will hide non-thermally significant targets, but thermal targets should still be seen. A combination of sensors will have to be used to acquire and identify the target; therefore, a sensor handoff plan must be thoroughly briefed. The use of any aircraft with an integrated global positioning system (GPS) will expedite the time to locate the target area. Time permitting, inputting a target grid into the GPS/inertial navigation system (INS) will provide fire control cues (range, heading, time) to the target which will aid in quicker target acquisition and help distinguish friendly from enemy. Because CAS missions may be "danger close" with short firing ranges, expect minimum tracking time and thus minimum time to optimize the sensor.


SMOKED/NALLGOODGOODEasily identifiable, may compromise friendly position, obscure target, or warn of fire support employment. Placement may be difficult due to structures.
GOODGOODEasily identifiable, may compromise friendly position, obscure target, or warn of fire support employment. Placement may be difficult due to structures. Night marking is greatly enhanced by the use of IR reflective smoke.
ILLUM GRND BSTD/NALLN/AGOODEasily identified, may wash out NVDs.
SIGNAL MIRRORDALLGOODN/AAvoids compromise of friendly location. Dependent on weather and available light and may be lost in reflections from other reflective surfaces (windshields, windows, water, etc.).
SPOT LIGHTNALLGOODMARGINALHighly visible to all. Compromises friendly position and warns of fire support employment. Effectiveness is dependent upon degree of urban lighting.
GOODMARGINALVisible to all with NVGs. Less likely to compromise than overt light. Effectiveness is dependent upon degree of urban lighting.
(below .4 watts)
GOODMARGINALEffectiveness dependent upon degree of urban lighting.
IR LASER POINTER (above .4 watts)NALL
GOODGOODLess affected by ambient light and weather conditions. Highly effective under all but the most highly lit or worst weather conditions. IZLID-2 is the current example.
VISUAL LASERNALLGOODMARGINALHighly visible to all. Risk of compromise is high. Effectiveness dependent upon degree of urban lighting.
N/AGOODHighly effective with PGM. Very restrictive laser acquisition cone and requires line of sight to target. May require pre-coordination of laser codes.
TRACERSD/NALLN/AMARGINALMay compromise position. May be difficult to distinguish mark from other gunfire. During daytime use, may be more effective to kick up dust surrounding target.
EXCELLENTGOODIdeal friendly marking device for AC-130 and some USAF fixed wing (not compatible with Navy or Marine aircraft). Least impeded by urban terrain. Can be used as a TRP for target identification. Coordination with aircrews essential to ensure equipment and training compatibility.
STROBE (OVERT)NALLMARGINALN/AVisible by all. Effectiveness dependent upon degree of urban lighting.
GOODN/AVisible to all NVDs. Effectiveness dependent upon degree of urgan lighting. Coded strobes aid in acquisition.
FLARE (OVERT)D/NALLGOODN/AVisible by all. Easily identified by aircrew.
GOODN/AVisible to all NVDs. Easily identified by aircrew.
GOODN/ANot readily detectable by enemy. Very effective except in highly lit areas.
GOODN/AProvides temperature contrast on vehicles or building. May be obscured by urban terrain.
VS-17 PANELDALLMARGINALN/AOnly visible during daylight. Easily obscured by structures.
POORN/AEasily masked by urban structures and lost in thermal clutter. Difficult to acquire, can be effective when used to contrast cold background or when a/c knows general location.
SPINNING CHEM-LIGHT (OVERT)NALLMARGINALN/AProvides unique signature. May be obscured by structures. Provides a distinct signature easily recognized. Effectiveness dependent upon degree of urban lighting.
MARGINALN/AProvides unique signature. May be obscured by structures. Effectiveness dependent upon degree of urban lighting.

Figure 12

Television/Electro-optical (EO)

TV/EO sensors are subject to many of the same limitations as the naked eye, particularly TVs with no low-light capability. Aircrews may not be successful in acquiring a target and achieving lock-on if smoke, buildings, or other urban factors repeatedly interrupt line of sight (LOS). Low-light or all-light TV/EO sensors may require frequent gain and filter changes to accommodate varying light levels in urban target areas. Normal means of target and friendly identification many prove ineffective. IR strobes or even overt strobes normally visible to TV/EO sensors may be lost in the light clutter. Laser pointers will suffer the same type of degradation. TV/EO resolution is typically not sufficient at medium and extended ranges to discriminate between a friendly position or a target and its surrounding urban features. Ground personnel may need to utilize more aggressive and overt means of identifying their position and that of the target if TV/EO sensors are to be used to identify, track, and engage targets on urban terrain.

Laser Designation

One of the greatest challenges on urban terrain is achieving and keeping LOS with a target or friendly position from a moving aircraft. Laser designation requires uninterrupted LOS to identify and engage a target. Rotary wing aircraft may use hover capabilities, but only in the most permissive environments. This may mean the lazing platform has to be very near the target, often within danger close distances or weapon arming distances, to keep the spot on the target until ordnance impact. Smoke from burning buildings or other fires may drift across the laser to the target line causing laser dispersion. While this is also true on a rural battlefield, urban areas typically contain more potential smoke sources, and sources for heavier smoke, than found in natural terrain.

Most laser designating platforms cannot actually see their laser spot on a target. Lasers are often boresighted to other supporting sensors like FLIR/TIS or TV/EO. If the supporting sensor cannot see a target, then the laser cannot effectively mark the target. Further, even though a FLIR/TIS may "see" a target, the laser may not be capable of guiding ordnance against it, since smoke invisible to the FLIR/TIS may attenuate the laser energy. For the wavelength of the laser, the most important contributor to this nonselective scattering is, once again, water vapor or absolute humidity. The impact of humidity on FLIR/TIS performance is greater than its impact on the laser. In other words, if you can detect the target in clear air, then the laser should provide sufficient laser energy for seeker acquisition. A rule of thumb is if you detect a target with a supporting sensor and consistently determine a range to it with a laser range finder, then you can likely designate it satisfactorily for a laser-guided weapon. As an additional consideration, many CAS targets are relatively small and may be acquired at relatively short range. For low and medium threats where a great amount of time is available to use the FLIR/TIS to point the laser, the methods are simple. As the threat escalates and the time available for target acquisition shrinks, targeting with the FLIR/TIS becomes more difficult, and laser munitions deliveries may prove impossible if the aircrew does not practice this highly demanding mission.


OBSERVATION 15: Threat considerations.

DISCUSSION 15: Threat intelligence will be difficult to obtain and more difficult to accurately update. Lines of battle and areas of control can change rapidly and may be confused most of the time. Planners must anticipate rapid changes in the threat and incomplete information. Every building and structure in an urban area is a potential enemy position. The presence of snipers increases the vulnerability to ambush, and the difficulty in distinguishing combatants from non-combatants places participants under additional psychological stress.

Establish reconnaissance operations early, using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with data linked video as the first tier of reconnaissance. Manned aircraft with multiple systems such as low-light television (LLTV), FLIR, radar, and night-vision systems provide commanders a directed telescope of specific areas. These visual systems, coupled with voice intercept, direction-finding platforms networked with ground-based systems, civil affairs, special operations forces (SOF), and ground patrols, provide a real-time picture of the urban environment. Snipers can also provide a valuable data source for aviation planning. Gathering detailed information during the planning phase of an aviation operation provides planners and aircrew with detailed information concerning known threat positions, movement routes, and known weapons in the area.

The defending force normally has the advantage of familiarity with the terrain. The civilian population of the area may play a role in the defense. The larger the civilian population remaining within the area, the more influence it has on military operations. Indigenous forces may have the support of the people. This provides enormous advantages in intelligence, logistics, security, and perhaps a paramilitary capability.

Aircraft are more vulnerable to low-tech weapons in urban combat. Planners must expand their view of what constitutes a threat for aviation operations. Missions requiring landing operations must consider ground threats such as artillery, mortars, or snipers into account. Orbits, weapon's employment, and landing approaches increase aircraft vulnerability and limit defensive options. Urban terrain may also contain anomalies that may cause difficulties for certain aircraft defensive systems. The nature of the terrain may also limit suppression options. The cluttered environment (i.e., lights, fires, smoke, dust) makes identification of missile launches/gunfire much more difficult. Established ROE during some operations can even limit the ability to employ specific defensive measures (i.e., deployment of flares over cities and populated areas).

Urban terrain provides excellent cover and concealment for a variety of weapon systems. Coupled with the restrictions on airspace available for maneuver, this makes these weapons a more significant threat to aircraft than they normally are in open terrain. Some of these weapons include:

  • Tank Main Gun. Modern fire control systems permit effective aircraft engagement by tanks with their main gun. Tanks are equipped with precision fire control systems and laser-range finders, providing a high probability of first round hits on moving targets, day or night. The development of effective anti-helicopter ammunition, such as the U.S.-fielded MPAT (multi-purpose anti-tank round), include an air/ground fuse. In the ground mode, this round performs like a high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round. In the air mode, it uses a millimeter wave (MMW) proximity fuse and an expanding rod warhead. This allows the round to be effective even with a near miss, extending its maximum effective range beyond that of standard ammunition. Russia also developed an MPAT round with several different fuses. Some Russia tanks can fire laser-guided anti-tank guided munitions (ATGM) from their main guns.

  • ATGMs. Most ATGMs have effective range between 3,000 and 5,000 meters and can engage helicopters in the same way they engage ground targets. ATGMs are a threat to rotary wing aircraft in an urban environment due to the restriction and compression of airspace and operating closer to potential threat positions.

  • Anti-armor rockets. Anti-armor rockets such as the light anti-tank weapon (LAW), AT-4, rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), etc., are readily available, inexpensive, and normally standard equipment at the small unit level even in irregular forces. They are unguided and have effective ranges less than 500 meters, but can become a real threat to rotary-wing aircraft, as demonstrated in Somalia and Afghanistan with the effective use of RPGs in an anti-aircraft mode.

  • Medium Cannons. Many armored personnel carriers (APC) and infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) carry rapid-fire cannons ranging from 20-mm through 40-mm, and are effective against rotary-wing aircraft. Although older vehicles have less sophisticated fire control systems, all can use rapid fire, burst-on-target techniques that are effective from 2,000 to 3,000 meters. Recent developments in medium cannon ammunition permit linking the burst of the round, at a predetermined range, to a laser-range finder, further increasing the effectiveness of these systems.

  • Small arms and machine-guns. Small arms and machine-guns can also become a more significant threat in an urban environment. Generally, 5.56-mm and 7.62x39-mm rifles are effective out to 500 meters, 7.62-mm machine-guns and sniper rifles of similar caliber are effective to 1,000 meters, and .50-cal/12.7-mm machine-guns and sniper rifles are effective to 2,000 meters. Another consideration is that these weapons can be placed on the upper floors of buildings above the helicopters to fire down on the helicopters. Since these are small, light weapons, they can be easily moved to unexpected positions easily.

OBSERVATION 16: Environmental considerations.

DISCUSSION 16: The commander must establish minimum weather requirements before conducting operations. Weather conditions affect the employment of all aircraft and weapons systems. Poor weather conditions adversely affect weapons accuracy and aircraft survivability by obscuring targets and reducing standoff ranges. Adverse weather may reduce the performance of radar systems, UAVs, GPS, FLIR/TIS, laser, and infrared (IR) weapons.

  • Ceilings. Low ceilings affect all aircraft, especially fixed-wing fast movers. Low ceilings can obscure high-rise rooftops. The presence of high-rise buildings and low ceilings decreases the effective above-ground level (AGL) operating area. As an example, an 800-foot building under a 3,000-foot ceiling only leaves 2,200 feet of airspace to operate in.

  • Visibility. Aircrew performance decreases as visibility decreases. Reduced visibility increases target acquisition time and threat exposure. Smog buildup from industrial areas and vehicle exhausts also reduce visibility. The reduction in visibility degrades weapons sensors; even laser-guided weapons are severely affected.

  • Winds. In urban areas, the city structure affects wind patterns. Wind patterns are "broken up" and funneled down streets and alleys. While the wind may be calm along one end of a block, it can be turbulent at another. City structure also influences the location of turbulence, making predicting turbulent areas difficult. Turbulence affects aircraft performance and weapon's delivery.

  • Temperatures. Thermal heating is affected by the proximity of other buildings and structures. Urban temperatures are generally higher than rural areas, and can be 10 to 20 degrees higher than the surrounding rural area. Thermal heating can adversely affect thermal sights on aircraft.

Command, Control, and Communications (C3)

Understanding the commander's intent is imperative for all operations. In urban environment, with its increased challenges, it is critical. Maintaining communications despite the interference caused by man-made structures inhibiting electrical line of sight and absorbing or reflecting transmitted signals is difficult. This increases the reliance on decentralized command and control for operations. Detailed mission orders and briefings aid in conducting operations.

A detailed, flexible, and redundant C3 plan is essential. Aerial or rooftop retransmission systems and the use of remote antennas may overcome some of these problems. Pre-mission exercises are required to test the communications plan and minimize the adverse effects of the terrain. Airborne C3 support systems may alleviate some of these difficulties. Platforms such as the Airborne Battlefield Command and Control Center (ABCCC), Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), and JACKPOT-equipped C-130/C141s should be considered during planning for urban operations.

Procedural control measures may also be required for air operations. This is especially true in situations where airborne C2 assets are unavailable or unable to communicate due to interference. Visual signals are also affected. Vertical development blocks visual markings or signals. The normal urban clutter makes it harder to differentiate these signals from their background.

A common language for all units facilitates rapid transfer and understanding of information. Specific information concerning multi-service procedures for air-to-air, air-to-surface, and surface-to-air brevity codes is found in service manuals FM 90-38, MCRP 3-25B, NWP 6-02.1, and AFJPAM 10-228.

Airspace Control

Compressed airspace and a unique three-dimensional environment characterize urban flight operations. These factors increase planning and execution problems, especially when in close proximity to friendly forces and non-combatants. The compressed urban airspace brings separate and diverse missions into close proximity. For example, an airdrop of supplies to a unit could be performed at the same time as CAS missions protecting these units are conducted. Knowledge of other missions tasked for the same general area is vital to avoid hazardous interference.

Developing positive and procedural control measures for specific airspace assists in de-conflicting missions, but may not consider ongoing host nation or foreign military airspace requirements. Establishing a restricted operating zone (ROZ) or high-density airspace control zone (HIDACZ) over the area of operations that stacks aerial platforms with coordinating altitudes maximizes the simultaneous employment of aerial platforms. Specific information concerning multi-service procedures for integrating airspace command and control (ICAC2) are found in service manuals FM 100-103-1, MCRP 5-61, NWP 3-52.1, and AFTTP (I) 3-2.16.

Night-Vision Devices (NVD)

Aircrews must pay careful attention to the color, location, and intensity of lights to include the moon angle along the flight route and objective area. Night imagery of the area is an important tool for effective analysis and mission planning. Detailed analysis of the objective area is necessary to determine when and where to use NVGs, image intensifier or infrared sensors. Is the target in a lit ballpark or an unlit vacant lot? Aircrews should prepare to make frequent and rapid transition from aided to unaided flight. One technique is for the aircrews to fly with their NVGs positioned higher than normal on their helmets, looking under them most of the time, but allowing them to dip their heads and look through the tubes for detail in areas of interest.

The FLIR/TIS can be a significant aid in target engagements, particularly at night. It can detect targets through battlefield smoke and camouflage and many targets; for example vehicles, armor, and artillery present good infrared signatures. However, successful use of the FLIR/TIS is still contingent upon basic air-to-ground assumption. It is reasonably safe to operate with an unobstructed line of sight to the target for the entire engagement window. Friendly personnel may wear strips of "No Power Thermal Target Material" known as "cold sky" as thermal signatures to friendly FLIR/TIS-equipped aircraft to identify them as friendly forces. The cold sky is visible from 1-2 miles depending on altitude and LOS interference. However, if some type of identification device is not worn, then FLIR/TIS can be difficult to identify friendly from enemy or non-combatants.

NVGs and FLIR/TIS are affected by the composition and surface conditions of urban terrain. A rural battlefield has a somewhat homogeneous composition where man-made objects contrast sharply. However, in an environment that consists primarily of manmade objects, there is very little consistency in the thermal/visual scene. High-light levels in urban areas create special problems. The volume and irregular patterns of ground lights in urban areas affect NVG operations. FLIR/TIS is an excellent identification aid for terrain features and hazards in brightly-lit areas. Brightly-lit cities can be navigated unaided, but discerning detail in darkened areas or shadows require using image intensifiers or infrared sensors. Relatively dark areas, such as large city parks, are readily identified and make good navigation references at night. Cultural lighting will often wash out NVGs, making them ineffective. Very bright city lights can "shut down" NVGs and render them useless. In a less bright but still well-lit environment, aircrews may not be able to see details of the target area or the friendly position because the details are "washed out" due to the lighting. For example, consider the effects of lighting and aircrew coordination requirements to compensate for such things as a rotary-wing hover next to an irritating strobe on top of a tower or landing in a brightly illuminated area.

Operations involving twilight, dawn, or dusk may also present problems. The rapid changes in the illumination during these periods make it difficult for aircrews to observe the ground and see other aircraft. FLIR devices are not affected by artificial light and are generally effective navigation and targeting systems during this period. Depending on the equipment used by the ground commander, aircrews may or may not be able to detect laser pointer devices. Infrared sensors work well in urban areas because they are not vulnerable to the overwhelming light levels that affect NVGs. Like NVGs, however, they are subject to being overpowered by intense sources within the field of view. Very hot areas such as factory stacks or fires burning on the ground make details of lesser thermal contrast very difficult to discern. Hostile elements may attempt to degrade the effectiveness of thermal systems by lighting bonfires, buildings, cars, tires, etc., in the area of activity.

FLIR/TIS thermal clutter occurs when there are a number of objects in the scene with approximately the same thermal signature. These objects can be "cool," leading to an overall dark image, or can be "hot" enough to cover an image, leading to an image saturated with bright spots. Overlapping hot spots result in overall reduced image quality. Using the gain function can enhance FLIR/TIS imagery enough to highlight man-made features. Hand-held smoke or diesel smoke will not affect the FLIR/TIS performance. A rule of thumb is that if you can detect a target with a FLIR/TIS and consistently laser range-find or designate it, then you can likely designate it satisfactorily for a laser-guided weapon. Generally all buildings will be seen and recognizable on the FLIR/TIS. Building roofs will present a different signature from walls due to the material emissivity, and this may act as another cue aiding target acquisition. Typically the rooftops will be much darker than the walls. If aircraft are forced to operate less than 200 feet, then the low slant angle will make building acquisition difficult and personnel and vehicle target acquisition more difficult. Slight variations in construction material for either roads or structures can alter the image enough to inhibit target acquisition and tracking.

Thermal reflections can produce odd signatures making target identification difficult. Smooth or glassy surfaces such as windshields, unpainted metal surfaces, or water are examples of thermal reflectors. They can reflect IR radiation images, impinging on them from other sources. They may appear very dark because they reflect the low radiant temperatures from the night sky. Most buildings constructed from concrete or brick will have high thermal mass, meaning their rate of temperature gain will be slow during the day (until noontime) and rate of temperature loss will be slow during the night. Urban structures viewed midday should be distinctly different after having been heated throughout the day. As late afternoon approaches, heat dissipates quickly; structures of plywood or aluminum lose heat quickly and contrast with their background. Heat loss occurs more rapidly in winter than summer. In the morning, objects facing the sunrise will heat up more quickly, appearing hotter than the other three walls. Air conditioning or heating units on buildings can produce localized hot spots. Windows will appear very dark when reflecting the night sky temperature. However, in a combat zone, as was seen in Bosnia, many building windows will be broken out.

Urban areas can have significant concentrations of carbon dioxide, with a degraded affect on FLIR/TIS performance. In practice, this factor is usually not important. FLIR/TIS visibility through diesel fog or oil smoke is very good, but phosphorous smoke or flares significantly hinder thermal transmission. However, being able to see phosphorous smoke in certain situations may be desirable. The atmosphere can attenuate transmission of IR energy through refraction, absorption, or scattering. Water vapor or absolute humidity is responsible for the majority of IR absorption.

Rotary-Wing Operations

A typical rotary-wing urban flight profile consists of modified low-level and contour techniques. Aircrews must evaluate obstacles, ambient light levels, and available navigation cues, as well as types and locations of threat sources, to determine the optimum altitude and airspeed. Maintaining higher airspeeds may minimize exposure time. To limit exposure to heavy antiaircraft weapons, the preferred method of ingress and egress may be a low, swift flight profile. However, slower flight speeds may be necessary to allow enough time to precisely identify and navigate to the objective area. Aircrews should avoid true NOE, as it exposes the aircraft to potential engagements. Slow speeds coupled with low altitudes may put the aircraft and aircrews at greater ground threat risk (small arms, RPGs, etc.). A low density of structures or extensive enemy use of high rooftops may diminish the masking advantages of low flight profiles. Task Force Ranger in Mogadishu tragically emphasized the danger of a low, slow flight profile. To buffer obstacle and hazard clearance, flight at 300 to 500 feet AGL over a city, day, or night, may be necessary. Flight at higher en route altitudes exposes the aircraft to observation as it approaches the objective and makes it far more vulnerable to engagement during the descent for landing. This may expose aircraft to a shoulder-launched SAM threat, but the trade-off may provide a better margin of safety from more formidable hazards of unlit towers, cranes, and power lines that blend into the urban landscape and are more difficult to detect. If a degraded threat level and higher illumination allow it, significantly higher altitudes above 500 feet AGL are recommended.

Multi-ship rotary-wing operations are more difficult and may require "stack-down" rather than conventional "stack-up" formations to prevent the loss of visual contact with other aircraft among ground lights. Planning must include formation break-up and rendezvous procedures if visual contact is lost within the flight or ground fire requires evasive maneuvering. When multiple aircraft are operating together, consider greater formation spacing to facilitate flexible maneuvering ability while still providing mutual support for other aircraft in the flight. Wingman vertical position from the preceding helicopter may not allow a traditional vertical "stack up." Maintain a position that compensates for the illumination pollution but avoids jeopardizing the aircraft by greater exposure to obstacle hazards or increases formation collision potential.

CAUTION: If stacking low, pay strict attention to disk spacing and have a pre-briefed formation break-up plan. Formation break-up from a stack-low position is more dangerous than from a stack-high position.

Attack helicopters may be employed for en route or LZ security missions. Both the assault and security elements must clearly understand the complete mission. Specific issues to be resolved between the assault and security elements include:

  • Flight coordination and communication between elements
  • En route actions on contact
  • Objective area target reference procedures
  • Fire distribution and control measures
  • Fratricide prevention
  • Downed aircraft procedures
  • Ground tactical plan/scheme of maneuver

Experiment with aircraft external lighting to best accommodate the mission, otherwise follow the SOP. If overt external lighting is required, use the flash position to better distinguish aircraft from static light sources. In brightly lit areas, covert lights may not be visible. Weigh mission lighting needs and conveniences with susceptibility. Aircrews must weight optimal visual contact with their wingman against the possibility of visual detection by the enemy. During Operation JUST CAUSE, reflective tape was placed on all friendly aircraft to assist in identification during ingress and egress. Bright ambient illumination can be favorable at times. During Operation EASTERN EXIT, evacuees commented that in the darkened landing zone, they could hear the helicopters but did not see them until they were already on the ground. During Operation JUST CAUSE, Panama Defense Force soldiers stated they could only see the cockpit lights of two UH-1s after they landed in a blacked-out prison courtyard.


Many airfields are located in or near urban areas, and planning for aviation operations in urban terrain should include an assessment of available airfield facilities. Airfield operations in urban terrain are a challenge for forces tasked with operating and securing them. The airfield location is a known and easily identified location.

On the ground, aircraft come under the threat of surface-to-surface threats such as artillery, mines or booby traps, and mortars. The proximity of urban structures to either the approach or departure routes or the airfield itself complicate security issues when using these facilities. Planners should also anticipate the presence of major roads and industrial facilities in and around the airfield and include them in the assessment.

Consider the following when planning airfield operations:

  • Arrival/departure routing and maneuver limitations.
  • Size of useable runways (length/width/obstructions).
  • Turn-around areas and the capability for emergency departure.
  • Taxiways and obstructions to taxi routes.
  • Parking areas, on/offload sites, access to each.
  • Ground access routes and securing them.
  • Security of airfield buildings and the perimeter.
  • Hazardous terrain, towers, buildings, wires, etc., near flight areas.



1. Portions of this section were taken from a previously published article in the U.S. Army Aviation Digest, Mar-Apr 95, "Air-Ground Coordination in the Hasty Attack" by LTC Davis D. Tindoll Jr. and CPT Michael J. Negard. This article can also be found at the CALL website at (CALL Products/Combat Training Center Bulletins & Trends/CTC Related Articles).

btn_tabl.gif 1.21 K
btn_prev.gif 1.18 KChapter 8: Combat Health Support
btn_next.gif 1.18 KAppendix A: The Platoon Urban Operations Kit

Join the mailing list