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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 9 – Military Aspects of Terrain (OAKOC)

Now that we have set the conditions for terrain analysis (the past 8 steps), it is time to put it together and answer the so what.  The best way to conduct this analysis is through OAKOC (discussed in detail in articles 1 and 12 of the series).  As mentioned in these articles, each type of environment (desert, woods, urban terrain etc.) provides different variables. Certainly, a solid case can be made that urban terrain provides the most unique variables. Before we give you some tidbits to think about using OAKOC in the urban environment, let’s review some definitions.

Obstacles – Any natural or manmade terrain features that stop, impede, or divert military movement (both ground & air).        


Avenue of Approach – an air or ground route of an attacking force of a given size leading to its objective or to key terrain in its path.                    
Key Terrain – Any locality or area the seizure or retention of which affords a marked advantage to either combatant.    
 Decisive Terrain is:
• Key terrain that has an extraordinary impact on the mission;
• Relatively rare; will not be present in every situation;
• Successful accomplishment of the mission depends on seizing or retaining it;
• Commander designates to communicate its importance

Observation and Fields of Fire
• Observation – the ability to see the enemy either visually or through the use of surveillance.
• Fields of Fire – the area that a weapon or group of weapons may effectively cover with fire from a given position.

Cover and Concealment
• Cover – Protection from the effects of direct & indirect fires.
• Concealment  – Protection from observation.

Let’s look at some things you may want to consider under each aspect.

• Rubble (either emplaced or caused by indirect or direct fires) is a constant impediment.
• Disabled vehicles (either emplaced or caused by indirect or direct fires) can hinder vehicle maneuver.  Although nothing much can stop an M1!
• Ensure you know weight classifications for bridges.
• Underpasses and tunnels can have narrow passages or may be destroyed.
• Developed road networks may have concrete medians or steep embankments.
• As we know from current operations, roads can be a haven for improvised explosive devices.
• Power lines can significantly effect air mobility.
• Buildings can be set on fire to use as obstacles. The subsequent smoke can greatly hinder dismounted maneuver.
• Nothing can be a bigger obstacle than a crowd of people.
• Don’t neglect the man-made obstacles.  Smart opponents always tie them into the existing terrain.
• Many urban areas have rivers running through them which can become significant obstacles.

Avenue of Approach   
• Remember you have airspace, surface, supersurface, and subsurface avenues of approach.
• Related to above, ensure any bridges can hold weight of vehicles.  If a bridge can’t hold the 60 tons of an M1, it is not a viable avenue of approach for your tanks.
• Review your street patterns to identify potential ambush points along your avenues of approach.
• Identify power lines and building heights that could hinder air avenues of approach.
• Analyze rivers for width, water flow, depth, fordability, and bank grade.
• Identify possible locations for helicopter landing zones 
• An urban areas system of lighting (street lights) can effect avenues of approach (mounted and dismounted).
• Subway and sewer systems can make for an excellent avenue of approach.  This is especially if you have the intelligence on how the system is composed.
• Be careful on the composition of railways systems.  Raised track can hinder mobility.

Key Terrain
• There are certainly numerous potential locations for key terrain in an urban area.  Again, it is critical to narrow the focus to those locations that enable you to isolate the area if you are attacking.  Conversely, you must determine those locations that assist your opponent in isolating you if you are defending.
• Study your patterns and determine key intersections.  These could be key terrain.
• Locations of cultural, economic, political and society significance could be key.  They are important to the populace and their support could be critical.
• A dominant building in your area of operation could be key terrain.
• If an area possesses highground, it could be key terrain.
• The possession of radio and television stations is critical in information operations. 
• Identify choke points and narrow streets   
• Be cautious of protected buildings or locations in an urban area.  Some opponents will utilize these locations for military operations.

Observation and Fields of Fire
• An urban area is filled with dead space which greatly effects weapons capabilities.
• The urban environment is a hotbed for smoke and dust which severely hinder observation.
• The lights of an urban area can all but negate any night vision advantage you may have over an opponent who may not have that technology.
• Rubble will effect fields of fire.
• The engagement ranges in the urban environment are greatly diminished.  Included in this are your minimum safe distances to fire certain weapons and backblast areas.
• Consider your elevation and depression of weapons.
• Ricochets are always a factor in urban fighting.
• As discussed in the last article, an urban area greatly effects the use of indirect fires. 
• Units who use laser technology may find certain areas can effect their usefulness.
• Civilians on the battlefield will effect fields of fire.
• Street patterns will offer many potential ambush sites.

[continued on next page]

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