Navigation in Different Types of Terrain - Mountain Terrain

Mountains are generally understood to be larger than hills. Rarely do mountains occur individually; in most cases, they are found in elongated ranges or circular groups. When they are linked together, they constitute a mountain system .Light forces (infantry, airborne, and air assault forces) can operate effectively in mountainous regions because they are not terrain limited. Heavy forces must operate in passes and valleys that are negotiable by vehicle.

a. Major Systems. Some of the major systems include the following:

b. Minor Systems. Some other systems are in Antarctica, Hawaii, Japan, New Zealand, and Oceania. Mountain systems are characterized by high, inaccessible peaks and steep slopes. Depending on the altitude, they may be snow covered. Prominent ridges and large valleys are also found. Navigating in this type of terrain is not difficult providing you make a careful examination of the map and the terrain.

c. Climate. Because of the elevations, it is always colder (3° to 5° per 300­meter gain in altitude) and wetter than you might expect. Wind speeds can increase the effects of the cold even more. Sudden severe storms and fog are encountered regularly. Below the tree line, vegetation is heavy because of the extra rainfall and the fact that the land is rarely cleared for farming.

d. Interpretation and Analysis. The heights of mountainous terrain permit excellent long­range observation. However, rapidly fluctuating weather with frequent periods of high winds, rain, snow or fog may limit visibility. Also, the rugged nature of the terrain frequently produces significant dead space at mid­ranges.

(1) Reduced mobility, compartmented terrain, and the effects of rapidly changing weather increase the importance of air, ground, aerial photo, and map reconnaissance. Since mountain maps often use large contour intevals, microrelief interpretation and detailed terrain analysis require special emphasis.
(2) At first glance, some mountainous terrain may not appear to offer adequate cover and concealment; however, you can improve the situation. When moving, use rock outcroppings, boulders, and heavy vegetation for cover and concealment; use terrain features to mask maneuvers. Use harsh weather, which often obscures observation, to enhance concealment.

(3) Since there are only a few routing options, all-round security must be of primary concern. Natural obstacles are everywhere, and the enemy can easily construct more.

e. Navigation. Existing roads and trails offer the best routes for movement. Off­road movement may enhance security provided there is detailed reconnaissance, photo intelligence, or information from local inhabitants to ensure the route is negotiable. Again, the four steps and two techniques for navigation presented earlier remain valid in the mountains. Nevertheless, understanding the special conditions and the terrain will help you navigate. Other techniques that are sometimes helpful in mountains are:

(1) Aspect of slope. To determine the aspect of slope, take a compass reading along an imaginary line that runs straight down the slope. It should cut through each of the contour lines at about a 90° angle. By checking the map and knowing the direction of slope where you are located, you will be able to keep track of your location, and it will help guide your cross­country movement even when visibility is poor.
(2) Use of an altimeter. Employment of an altimeter with calibrations on the scale down to 10 or 20 meters is helpful to land navigators moving in areas where radical changes in elevation exist. An altimeter is a type of barometer that gauges air pressure except it measures on an adjustable scale marked in feet or meters of elevation rather than in inches or centimeters of mercury. Careful use of the altimeter helps to pinpoint your position on a map through a unique type of resection. Instead of finding your position by using two different directional values, you use one directional value and one elevation value.