Soldiers Train For Urban Terrain

February 2003
By Maryann Lawlor
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Focus shifts from destruction to reconstruction.

Military doctrines about fighting in cities and towns are evolving, and the U.S. Army is turning to high technology systems to teach and evaluate how warfighters will adapt to the new objectives in an emerging battlespace. The service is examining tactics, techniques and procedures and developing concepts that support maneuvers that can transition from offense and defense to stabilization and support.

Concepts of operations have changed dramatically in military operations on urbanized terrain (MOUT) since World War II. During that conflict, munitions were employed to destroy a town, acquire real estate and capture the enemy. However, today’s goal is to enter a city with precision and shut down the enemy with the least amount of collateral damage and civilian casualties.

According to Col. Paul Melody, USA, director, Infantry School, Combined Arms and Tactics Directorate, Fort Benning, Georgia, four principles guide missions in urban operations: assess, shape, dominate and transition. The assessment phase is key. Detailed information allows soldiers to know the terrain almost as well as the area’s residents, which facilitates new fighting techniques, he says.

Although the military’s operational objective today continues to focus on displacing an adversary, an equally important goal is to use controlled methods. Humanitarian agencies then can help rebuild the town without relocating residents.

In the past, the Army did not have a precise and holistic doctrine to address urban operations. However, realistic, high technology training facilities available today have changed this, the colonel says.

“Urban terrain offers you certain advantages. If you don’t use it well, it also can take away your advantages. You become fixed and vulnerable to attack and destruction. To shape means to do preliminary things, and that’s not to shape just through weapons effects but also through information operations, psychological operations, working with coalitions to start to set those conditions prior to actual offensive or defensive actions,” Col. Melody explains.

“We are able to use information to help us analyze and assess and to gain insights into what is the best way to approach these missions to a degree that hadn’t existed in the past,” he says. Advanced communications technologies allow soldiers to share information down to the lowest levels, he adds.

“In World War II, we did a lot of good training, but we didn’t have the ability to videotape the exact mistakes that were made. Right now, when you go to the JRTC [Joint Readiness Training Center] or any of our training centers, you’ll see, for example, where a platoon must clear a building, and they come in and they don’t do it well. That’s captured on video. Professional observer controllers go back through and ask, ‘What happened? Why did you do this?’ And they get to practice it again and again and again,” Col. Melody relates.

At the JRTC, Fort Polk, Louisiana, warfighters train the way they will fight with two major differences—they use nonlethal weapons, and a multitude of cameras record their every move. The MOUT complex features an eight-building airfield and a five-building military installation, but the centerpiece is a mock village called Shughart-Gordon.

Maj. Perry Beissel, USA, executive officer, Live Fire Division, JRTC, explains that during training sessions, 25 cameras record troops as they move throughout the town. Every room in each building has two daylight/thermal cameras and associated microphones that capture footage of the soldiers as they sweep the rooms.

Cameras and special effects are operated from a control room, which Maj. Beissel describes as the brains of the system, that is housed in a structure that looks like a water tower. Observer controllers (OCs), who travel with the units, relay information to personnel in the control room so they can trigger effects such as explosions and monitor the troops as they execute their plans.

During force-on-force exercises, units of training soldiers face an opponent that Maj. Beissel describes as the best opposing force in the world. The adversary controls at least one section of the town. Weapons are outfitted with laser emitters, and soldiers wear receivers so they know when they have been hit and by what type of weapon system.

“The force-on-force exercise provides the leadership with an opportunity to employ all the combined arms assets in an urban setting. Commanders and soldiers from each of the battlefield operating systems must work together to defeat an enemy who’s had time to fortify the town. Commanders and soldiers soon learn how uniquely difficult a challenge it is to fight in an urban environment,” Maj. Beissel says.

The combination of technologies that monitor and record warfighters’ movements during the exercises enhances the learning experience at the JRTC, the major says.

Anteon Corporation, Fairfax, Virginia, installed the original video and audio equipment. Dick Coltman, vice president of training systems for the company, explains that video and audio data is digitally integrated and stored in a 2.5-terabyte tape archive. The system rides on a fiber optic backbone that allows 100-megabit-per-second duplex data transfer. Video from more than 900 cameras is transmitted through this fiber channel technology, and a high-speed medium transfers the video file at an eight-to-one ratio.

The audio is more complex than the video system, Coltman explains. Digitally generated sound effects such as emergency announcements can be piped into any specific floor of any building discretely on the entire site. In addition, messages from the OCs’ radios and the tactical channel, used by the warfighters, are recorded.

Anteon installed and has maintained the recording technologies at Fort Polk since construction began in the 1990s. Under a contract awarded last November, Raytheon Company, Reston, Virginia, will provide continued life-cycle support for tactical engagement, instrumentation and range training devices and systems for the live training program. According to Coltman, Anteon will work at several other sites, including Germany, Korea, Alaska and Kentucky.

Audio and video recordings are two critical ingredients to effective training at the MOUT site. Maj. Beissel explains that at the conclusion of each exercise, an after action review (AAR) is composed. OCs examine the audio and video and compile 10 to 15 minutes of footage that they analyze with the units.

The AAR demonstrates, in living color, that oftentimes soldiers are not fully aware of their movements during an assault in an urban environment. “We get them together, ask them to tell us their plan and tell us what they think they did. Then we watch the videotape. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a million words,” the major relates.

Soldiers take the videotape back to their home station so they can review it, which is a form of continuing education, Maj. Beissel states. Currently, the AAR videos are in VHS format; however, JRTC personnel are exploring a move to a DVD format so the videos can be viewed on laptop computers, eliminating the need for a television and VCR.

But video and audio are not the only technologies that help soldiers train for MOUTs at Fort Polk. Tracking instrumentation from Cubic Systems, San Diego, focuses on three-dimensional data, says Gary Washam, program manager for MOUT operations, Cubic Systems.

Using the company’s multiple integrated laser engagement system 1 (MILES 1), soldiers use real rifles that emit a laser transmitter that is registered on the vest of troops representing opposing forces. While MILES 1 does not offer recording capabilities, Cubic Systems’ newer product, MILES 2000, does, and Washam contends that moving to the new system would reduce costs and allow the training staff to monitor soldiers as they move inside buildings in a way that is more efficient than video.

Standardization is the biggest hurdle that must be overcome, Washam points out. The concept of MOUT training began when video capabilities were the best technology. However, global positioning system technology available today is more effective and less costly. Militaries in the United States and abroad are attempting to develop a standardized approach so that equipment is interoperable and investments can be made in a cost-effective manner, he says. NATO recently chartered the Urban Combat Advances Tactical Trainer group to address these issues, he adds.

Anteon’s mobile MOUTs are the newest addition to the training family. These 8-foot by 40-foot sea-land containers use the same technologies as those available at MOUT sites; however, they are transportable via flat-bed trucks. The goal is to bring training to deployed warfighters who cannot travel to the fixed sites, Coltman explains. Military leaders requested the capability, he adds.

The inside of the containers can be designed to look like any type of facility that would exist in an urban environment such as a post office, police station or restaurant. They feature movable walls so that a single container can be redesigned to offer warfighter training in a different setting. Furniture, booby traps and pop-up targets also are housed within the mobile MOUTs, and several units can be connected to form a multiple-room training facility.

The audio and video technologies within the mobile units are as comprehensive as those used at permanent MOUT sites, Coltman says. The equipment is linked via telephone wires to a nearby AAR facility, so soldiers can review videotapes and learn from their training session.

The mobile units can be used for scheduled training or for mission rehearsal, Coltman points out. By incorporating intelligence gathered about a specific site, the containers can be constructed to resemble the environment of an upcoming mission.

According to Coltman, several organizations have expressed interest in purchasing the mobile MOUT. In addition to the military, law enforcement, special weapons and tactics teams, medical evacuation teams and emergency personnel involved in disaster relief can rehearse missions in the units, he relates.

To ensure that the mobile MOUTs can be used by a variety of organizations, they were developed to meet common training instrumentation architecture standards and are compliant with new systems.


Additional information on the Joint Readiness Training Center is available on the World Wide Web at, on Anteon Corporation at and on Cubic Corporation at

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