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Posted on Nov 10, 2007 in Front Page Features, Tactics101

Tactics 101: 021 – Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield in Urban Operations

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

Step 6 – Lines of Communication

You must identify all lines of communication within the urban area.  These include key road networks, airports, rivers, canals, rail networks, communications networks (radio, tv, phone, etc.), power facilities, and subways. Each of these can have an immense impact on the operations within an urban area.

Step 7 – Multi-Dimensional Space

This is one of the most critical aspects of urban terrain. It is multi-dimensional space and large civilian populations that really sets urban IPB apart from traditional IPB.  Unlike the conventional battlefield, a commander must plan to fight above ground, ground, or below ground.  If he neglects one area, the results could be catastrophic for his unit.  Within an urban area we divide it into the following dimensions:  urban airspace, supersurface, intrasurface, surface, and subsurface.  Below you will find a sketch of these dimensions followed by a discussion of each.



Urban Airspace – This enables both sides a rapid avenue of approach into and out of an urban area.  As history has shown this avenue has a great deal of risk associated with it (of course, Somalia quickly comes to mind).  In analyzing airspace, you must identify power lines, towers, sign poles, and billboards for aviators. The congestion of the city also makes it a haven for forces to shoot down aircraft (rotary and fixed wing).

Supersurface – This is the area at the tops of buildings (roofs, apex, etc.).  The first thing that comes to mind with the supersurface is that it is preferred location for snipers.  Other possibilities for use on the supersurface are the placement of your hand held air defense systems, the ability to shoot down at armor vehicles, and concealing your observation posts. 

Intrasurface.  This is the interior of buildings and includes the floors from the ground to the roof.  Depending on the height of the building, personnel can be concealed near windows to provide the same functions as in the supersurface.  Fighting inside the intrasurface is perhaps the most intense of the any environment.   

Surface.  This includes the ground, street and water level.  Because of this, this is the primary space for almost all maneuver.  In most definitions this also includes the ground floor of buildings.

Subsurface.  These are all the areas below the surface area (both subterranean and underwater).  This includes sewers, subways, cellars, tunnels, drainage systems, etc…. These generally are very restrictive maneuver routes, but can be highly effective if the opponent has discounted their use.

Step 8 – Structural Types

A factory is harder to ‘take’ than a grocery store yet a grocery store might collapse on you while you fight for it…  All buildings are not created equal.  The way a building is constructed determines how you approach it.  Before we take a look at construction we must always remember a few generalities or truisms: Hospitals are normally No-Fire Zone (protected under the provisions of the medical facilities Geneva Conventions). Other NFZ’s may also exist.

Sewers, subways, and other underground systems may provide covered infiltration and small-unit approach routes.  Elevated systems and mass transit routes provide mobility between city sectors.  Utility facilities are key targets and their destruction can hinder the capabilities of defending forces.  Stadiums and sports fields provide excellent civilian and POW holding areas or artillery firing positions.  They may also be used as interrogation centers, helipads, and sheltered ammunition storage areas.  Public baths and swimming pools can serve as an alternate water source for drinking, washing, or other sanitary needs.  Construction sites can provide lumber for fighting positions and can serve as repair and obstacle construction facilities. Knowing the structural type is key in determining the method of combat you may use in the urban operation and the types of weapon systems utilized.

Let’s look at some characteristics of mass and framed buildings.

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