The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW




TOPIC: Terrain

DISCUSSION: Deserts of the world are not all alike. Experience in the Mohave does not necessarily translate fully to other deserts. However, there are certain aspects of terrain that are found in most deserts of the world that have an effect on maneuver.

Key Terrain.

Key terrain in the desert is largely dependent on the restrictions to movement that are present. If the desert floor will not support wheeled vehicle traffic, the few roads and desert tracks become key terrain. Crossroads are vital as they can control military operations in a large area. Desert warfare is often a battle for control of the lines of communication (LOC). The side that can protect its own LOC while interdicting those of the enemy will prevail. Water sources are vital, especially if a force is incapable of lone-distance resupply of its water requirements. Defiles play an important role where they exist. In the Western Desert of Libya, an escarpment that paralleled the coast was a barrier to movement except through a few passes. Control of these passes was vital. Similar escarpments are found in Saudi Arabia.

Reverse Slope.

The use of reverse slope takes on added importance in the desert. Concealment is hard to achieve in the open desert. Being found invites both direct and indirect fires in abundance. Use of reverse slope positions will deny the enemy direct observation of positions until he is within range of direct fire weapons. Reverse slopes can be found even on seemingly flat desert floors; an intervisibility line will provide the reference point for the establishment of engagement areas to support a reverse slope defense.

LESSON(S) LEARNED: Desert environments give special significance to the terrain aspect of METT-T. Commanders at all levels should place special emphasis on the impact of desert terrain as it relates to the other factors of METT-T.

Reverse Slope Defense in Desert Terrain Warrants Special Considerations.

Direct fire positions at maximum effective range from intervisibility line - enemy cannot see and engage with direct fire until he is within your engagement area. He can only deploy limited forces at a time. This allows you to mass fires on a portion of the enemy force at a time. He has difficulty observing and adjusting indirect fires.

Obstacles - first belt at least 500 m from intervisibility line. Enemy can't see obstacles until he is upon them. Must breach under fire.

OPs - positioned to see forward slope. Can direct indirect fires on enemy forces slowed or stopped outside direct fire range. Can inform commander of location of enemy, direction of movement.

TOPIC: The proliferation of laser range finders and designators on the battlefield creates a vastly increased visual hazard.

DISCUSSION: With the increased use of laser equipment, eye casualties will increase.

LESSON(S) LEARNED: Issue the laser-protective goggles to the fighting and observing soldiers and train them in the use of the goggles. The soldiers will then have confidence in the equipment and can perform their duties (day and night) while wearing the goggles. Also, emphasize the reporting of confirmed and/or suspected enemy laser use through some type of laser intelligence reporting procedure.

TOPIC: The primary intelligence concern for tactical commanders is early warning of hostile intent toward U.S. or allies forces.

DISCUSSION: To provide this warning, intelligence agencies must focus on the threat to deployed forces. To help focus intelligence collection, S2s and G2s should analyze the actions that a hostile force would have to take to conduct an attack on friendly forces. They should create a list of actions that the hostile force would take. This list should be used as an indicator list of hostile intent and as a basis for establishing intelligence collection.

For example, one of the primary threats toward friendly forces is a possible terrorist attack. If such an attack were to take place, terrorists would have to take several steps in planning and conducting the attack. These actions might include the following:

  • Movement of known terrorist from base locations to areas nea friendly forces.
  • Increased surveillance of friendly bases or assemble areas.
    • Reports of strangers in the area.
    • Reports of increased attempts to obtain information about friendly forces either from local nationals or U.S. military personnel.
    • Reports of movements of explosives into the area.
    • Warning to local nationals to stay away from friendly forces.
    • Theft of vehicles which might be used in terrorist attacks.
    • Communications which may be linked to possible terrorist organizations.
    • Any other indicators.

These indicators could be used as a basis for tasking collection assets. As information is obtained that one or more of the indicators have occurred, then the alert status forces would be increased as appropriate. A system of graduated increases in alert status could be tied into the number of indicators satisfied.

LESSON(S) LEARNED: That commanders set up indication and warning centers within their G2/S2 sections at battalion and higher headquarters for different threat scenarios ranging from all-out ground attack, to chemical attack, to air raids.

TOPIC: Intelligence, civil affairs, and PSYOP agencies have not coordinated well in the past.

DISCUSSION: In North Africa, the Middle East, and Central America, the forces in theater found that intelligence, civil affairs, and PSYOP units complement each other and make a significantly greater contribution to the war effort when the units act in concert under the guidance of the chief of staff at division, corps, and army echelons.

LESSON(S) LEARNED: Set up and reinforce coordinated actions of intelligence, civil affairs, and PSYOP units under the control of the chief of staff at each echelon.

TOPIC: Operational security assessments in the desert are different from the temperate zone.

DISCUSSION: Because the threat is considerably different from which most units have trained against in the past, commanders should consider a top-to-bottom review of security procedures. For example, in most conventional settings, the primary target for enemy rear area operations may be headquarters or POL storage areas. The most critical target for the desert environment might well be the water supply. Therefore, a commader might want to put more effort in securing water points than POL points.

LESSON(S) LEARNED: That commanders review their current OPSEC procedures in light of the current threat and, if at all possible, assign a soldier to each company/battery and scout platoon who speaks the language of the local populace. The soldier may question local inhabitants and/or direct prisoners of war. Additionally, issue to each soldier or squad English-Arabic dictionaries and phrase books and foreign area handbooks covering the history, customs, and psychological makeup of the local populace.


Although there are historic examples of terrorism dating as far back as the Trojan War (the Trojan Horse, 1184 BC), terrorism directed against U.S. servicemen and women became a critical force protection issue with the waves of violence in the early 80s and was highlighted by the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, October 1983. There are several terrorist groups operating in the DESERT SHIELD area with long-standing intentions of imposing their will on others. The U.S. presence in the region will provide these groups additional motivation to act. These lessons learned from examining past terrorist events will reduce the collective and personal vulnerability to such attacks.

TOPIC: Installation Security

DISCUSSION: As commanders establish base camps areas and move into work facilities, they must balance their security measures with the type and level of threat posed by the terrorist groups in their area. This will apply both in the relative security of forward operating bases and at assigned work facilities within city limits. Security problems/shortfalls described below contributed to the failure of force protection programs during terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East since the 1983 Beirut bombings.

  • Barrier systems were unreliable; vehicle access controls were inadequate. Added security measures, such as the use of blocking vehicles along high speed avenues of approach, were not employed.
  • Perimeter security was provided solely by host nation personnel.
  • Critical physical security improvements were not made because of a lack of adequate funding. Reliance was placed on one security band (such as one fence) rather than on providing defense in depth--using additional barriers to screen high-risk targets.
  • The principal deterrent to attack was the threat of lethal force. However, guards did not fire until their weapons were largely ineffective against the attacker.
  • Sensitive work areas were located in portions of buildings vulnerable to bomb attack. "All eggs in one basket."
  • The intelligence system provided an overwhelming volume of threat data; commanders were not fully briefed concerning the general threat; the intelligence system was unable to identify the specific threat.
  • Emergency response procedures were inadequate. When attacked, many failed to heed basic security procedures--moved to the sound of gunfire rather than seeking cover. Commanders failed to rehearse plans for unit actions following terrorist act.
  • Leaders ignored threat information ("cry wolf" syndrome).
  • Communication to the smallest unit is essential. Smaller units equated to more vulnerable units while remaining political plums for the terrorist. Getting word to everyone about threat or security changes is paramount.
  • Commanders must maintain unit awareness by reinforcing the THREATCON system.

TOPIC: Personal Awareness

DISCUSSION: The single most proactive antiterrorism measure is individual awareness--by soldiers on guard, on leave or pass, while moving near or within the cantonment area, and even while operating as a part of a unit FTX. Soldiers must look for things out of place--packages left unattended, the same car parked near the front gate, the same tourist with his camera daily by the gate, etc. When combined with appropriate physical security measures, individual awareness and actions will defeat the terrorist plans. The following procedures have proven effective in other areas where a significant terrorist threat exists:

  • Reinforce individual security awareness by reminding soldiers to report suspicious activities and out-of-place objects.
  • Utilize tactical versus administrative posture during off- post movements for convoy and individual travel.
  • Limit the access to information about planned events, to include personnel movements and recreational activities (OPSEC).
  • Employ security measures in unpredictable, random fashion, including security checks outside perimeters.
  • Design installations and camps to provide standoff protection for critical facilities, dispersing personnel and equipment to reduce collateral damage from a successful attack.
  • Maintain an adequate response force.
  • Ensure soldiers understand their rules of engagement (ROE); ensure commanders promote ROE awareness among all personnel.
  • Impose substantial limitations on off-post travel.
  • Employ helicopters, particularly during hours of darkness, to conduct randomly scheduled patrols along base perimeters.
  • Ensure soldiers remain alert, overcome routine, and keep a low profile.

Table of Contents
AirLand Battle: Maneuver

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias