Case 9

Appendix C

Urban Terrain Analysis

Of all the environments in which the Army may need to conduct operations, the urban environment confronts commanders with a combination of difficulties rarely found in other environments. The distinct characteristics of the environment result from the combination of man-made features and supporting infrastructure superimposed on the existing natural terrain and the density of civilians in close proximity to combat forces. The human dimension it represents is potentially the most important and perplexing for commanders and their staffs to understand and evaluate. Commanders at all levels must make extraordinary efforts to assess and understand their particular urban environment to plan, prepare for, and execute effective civil disturbance operations.

Significant Factors

C-1. Although urban areas throughout the world possess similar characteristics, no two are alike. The sprawl of Los Angeles, for example, bears little physical resemblance to New Delhi. The most significant factors affecting the uniqueness and complexity of each area are its societal characteristics. While the terrain can be extremely complex, information about this aspect, its potential effects on operations, and how it changes over time may be determined with some degree of certainty. However, the human dimension is more difficult to understand and assess, particularly its effect on military operations. The urban environment is not neutral—it helps or hinders. The commander who can best understand and exploit the effects of the urban environment has the best chance of success.

C-2. Whether a metropolitan area or a village, each urban environment has an identifiable system of urban components that constantly change and interact. This system of components consists of the terrain, the society, and the infrastructure that provides the critical link between the two (see Figure C-1).


Figure C-1. Keys to Understanding the Urban Environment

C-3. These systems are not separate and distinct categories but instead are overlapping and interdependent. A thorough analysis of these systems contributes to the commander's situational understanding and allows him to develop COAs that apply appropriate resources to control a crowd and prevent a major civil disturbance. This understanding allows commanders to engage decisive points critical to maintaining peace or restoring normalcy to the urban environment.

C-4. The social aspects and the integrating infrastructure are the most difficult for commanders to understand and assess. These issues require greater dependence on LEAs and local governmental agencies for their information, knowledge, and expertise.

Urban Terrain Types

C-5. The physical terrain is the most basic and easily recognizable aspect of the urban area; however, truly understanding it requires comprehending its multidimensional nature, urban and street patterns, urban form and function, and size. The infinite ways in which these factors (see paragraph C-15) can intertwine make it impossible to describe a typical urban area. However, these factors provide a framework for understanding the complex terrain within an urban environment. Although the terrain consists of both natural and man-made features, the latter dominates the physical characteristics of the urban environment and has significant effects on military systems and soldiers, tactics, and operations.

Urban Patterns

C-6. The combinations of urban areas, lines of communications (LOCs), and natural terrain result in the identification of four urban patterns (see Figure C-2) that will influence civil disturbance operations. An integral part of each urban pattern is the hub or the central urban area around which outlying urban areas radiate. In SOSO, the hub is important, as it is often the economic, political, or cultural center of the surrounding area.


Figure C-2. Urban Patterns

Satellite Pattern

C-7. This pattern consists of a central hub surrounded by smaller, dependent urban areas. LOCs tend to converge on the hub. The natural terrain throughout this pattern is relatively homogenous. Outlying or satellite urban areas often support the principal urban area at the hub.

Network Pattern

C-8. This pattern represents the interlocking of the primary hubs of subordinate satellite patterns. Its elements are more self-sufficient and less supportive of each other, although a dominant hub may exist. Major LOCs within a network are more extensive than in a satellite pattern and take a rectangular rather than a convergent form. The natural terrain within a network may vary more than in a single satellite array.

Linear Pattern

C-9. This pattern is a potential subelement of the previous two patterns. It may form one ray of the satellite pattern or be found along connecting links between the hubs of a network. Most frequently, however, this pattern results from the string of minor urban areas aligning a confined natural terrain corridor such as an elongated valley, a body of water, or a man-made communications route.

Segment Pattern

C-10. When dominant natural terrain (such as a river or man-made features [canals, major highways, or railways] divides an urban area, it creates a segmented pattern). This pattern makes it easier to assign areas of responsibility to units. However, if operations are in support of the city LEA, then units should be assigned to a police precinct to avoid crossing several precinct lines, as would happen when assigning units by dominant terrain features.

Street Patterns

C-11. Patterns within the urban area result from the arrangement of the streets, roads, highways, and other thoroughfares. They are a result of the influences of natural terrain, the original designer's personal prejudices, and the changing needs of the inhabitants. The commander must understand the street patterns in the area in which his control force will operate. This will offer force protection, preventing the control formation from being outmaneuvered, flanked, or surrounded by a hostile crowd. Urban areas can display any of the three basic patterns or any combination of the three (see Figure C-3).


Figure C-3. Basic Internal Street Patterns


C-12. Societies of highly concentrated religious or secular power often construct urban areas with a radial design with all primary thoroughfares radiating out from the center of power. Terrain permitting, these streets may extend outward in a complete circle or may form a semicircle or arc when a focal point abuts a natural barrier such as a coastline or mountain. To increase mobility and traffic flow, societies often add concentric loops or rings to larger radial patterns.


C-13. The most adaptable and universal form for urban areas is the grid pattern (lines of streets at right angles to one another forming blocks similar to the pattern of a chessboard). A grid pattern can fill in and eventually take over an original radial pattern. Most urban areas, regardless of the original intent, plan, or vision, emerge from successive plans overlaid on one another. Areas are well planned to fit with previous plans and others a haphazard response to explosive urban growth. The results may mix different patterns, blend patterns in symmetric combinations, or have no discernable geometric pattern (the irregular pattern).


C-14. Irregular patterns can be specifically designed for aesthetic reasons (as in many suburban housing developments). They are sometimes used to conform to marked terrain relief.

Urban Form and Function

C-15. Throughout the world, urban areas have similar form and function. In form, urban areas contain like characteristics, readily divisible into distinct sections or areas. Functionally, they tend to be the center of population, finance, politics, transportation, industry, and culture.

·         Core. The core is the heart of the urban area, the downtown, or central business district. Relatively small and compact, it contains a large percentage of the urban area's shops, offices, and public institutions.

·         Core Periphery. As the name implies, the core periphery forms the outer edges of the core of the urban area. Generally, it has undergone less change than the core, resulting in buildings of uniform height (generally two to three stories in towns and five to ten stories in larger urban areas).

·         Industrial Area. Industrial areas generally develop on the outskirts of the urban areas, where commercial transportation is easiest (along airfields and major sea, river, rail, and highway routes). The open/dispersed pattern of the buildings provides sufficient space for large cargoes, trucks, and materials-handling equipment.

·         High-Rise Area. High-rise areas consist of multistoried apartments, commercial offices, and businesses separated by large open areas such as parking lots, parks, and individual one-story buildings. The automobile, mass transit systems, and improved road networks encourage these areas to grow and function further from the urban core.

·         Residential Area. Residential areas can be found dispersed throughout the urban area; however, large suburban areas (or sprawl) normally form on the outskirts. The combined population of surrounding suburban areas often outnumbers that of the urban area. Proper and specific suburbs tend toward homogeneity based on ethnicity, religion, economics, or some other social aspect.

·         Commercial Ribbon Area. Commercial ribbon areas are rows of stores, shops, and restaurants built along both sides of major streets that run through urban areas. These same types of areas often develop along the roads that connect one urban area to another (strip areas).

Urban Society

C-16. Although complex, understanding the urban terrain is relatively straightforward in comparison to comprehending the multifaceted nature of urban society. As urban areas increase in size, they generally lose homogeneity; therefore, commanders must understand and account for the characteristics of a diverse population whose beliefs may vary. The behavior of civilian populations within an urban area is dynamic and poses a special challenge to commanders.

C-17. The center of gravity during an urban operation may be the civilian inhabitants themselves. The side that enjoys the support of the population has many advantages. To gain and retain this support, commanders must first understand the complex nature and character of the urban society. Second, they must understand and accept that every military action (or inaction) may influence the relationship between the urban population and Army forces, and by extension, mission success.

C-18. The identification of groups helps commanders focus on specific segments of the urban society to determine their beliefs and needs and how those beliefs and needs motivate them to future action (or inaction). Groups may be categorized based on race, religion, national origin, tribe, clan, class, party affiliation, education level, union memberships, occupation, age, or any other significant social grouping.

C-19. Commanders should consider political, economic, and historical factors in this analysis. These factors usually affect all groups to some extent and often provide the basis for many of their beliefs, needs (actual or perceived), and subsequent behavior. In most cases, training and discipline, grounded in cultural understanding and sensitivity, will help mitigate many of the potential adverse effects resulting from military and civilian interaction.

Urban Infrastructure

C-20. Urban infrastructures are those systems that support the inhabitants, their economy, and their government. They provide the link between the physical terrain and the urban society. Hundreds of systems may exist. Each system has a critical role in the smooth functioning of the urban area. All systems fit into the following five broad categories: communications and information, transportation and distribution, energy, commerce, and human services.