The information, concepts, and skills already presented will help you to navigate anywhere in the world; however, there are some special considerations and helpful hints that may assist you in various special environments. The following information is not doctrine.


About 5 percent of the earth's land surface is covered by deserts (Figure 13­1). Deserts are large arid areas with little or no rainfall during the year. There are three types of deserts--mountain, rocky plateau, and sandy or dune deserts. All types of forces can be deployed in the desert. Armor and mechanized infantry forces are especially suitable to desert combat except in rough mountainous terrain where light infantry may be required. Airborne, air assault, and motorized forces can also be advantageously employed to exploit the vast distances characteristic of desert warfare.

a. Desert Regions. In desert regions, terrain varies from nearly flat to lava beds and salt marshes. Mountains deserts contain scattered ranges or areas of barren hills or mountains. The following are some of the world's major desert regions and their locations.

b. Interpretation and Analysis. Many desert maps are inaccurate, which makes up­to­date air, aerial photo, and ground reconnaissance necessary. In desert mountain areas contour intervals are generally large, so many of the intermediate relief features are not shown.

c. Navigation. When operating in the broad basins between mountain ranges or on rocky plateau deserts, there are frequently many terrain features to guide your movement by. But, observing these known features over great distances may provide a false sense of security in determining your precise location unless you frequently confirm your location by resection or referencing close-in terrain features. It is not uncommon to develop errors of several kilometers when casually estimating a position in this manner. Obviously, this can create many problems when attempting to locate a small checkpoint or objective, calling for CAS, reporting operational or intelligence information, or meeting CSS requirements.


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 (Figure 13­2). 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.

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:


These large geographic regions are found within the tropics near the equator (Central America, along the Amazon River, South­Eastern Asia and adjacent islands, and vast areas in the middle of Africa and India) (Figure 13­3). Jungles are characterized as rainy, humid areas with heavy layers of tangled, impenetrable vegetation. Jungles contain many species of wildlife (tigers, monkeys, parrots, snakes, alligators, and so forth). The jungle is also a paradise for insects, which are the worst enemy of the navigator because some insects carry diseases (malaria, yellow fever, cholera, and so forth). While navigating in these areas, very little terrain association can be accomplished because of the heavy foliage. Dead reckoning is one of the methods used in these areas. A lost navigator in the jungle can eventually find his way back to civilization by following any body of water with a downstream flow. However, not every civilization found is of a friendly nature.

a. Operations. Operations in jungles tend to be isolated actions by small forces because of the difficulties encountered in moving and in maintaining contact between units. Divisions can move cross­country slowly; hut, aggressive reconnaissance, meticulous intelligence collection, and detailed coordination are required to concentrate forces in this way. More commonly, large forces operate along roads or natural avenues of movement, as was the case in the mountains. Patrolling and other surveillance operations are especially important to ensure security of larger forces in the close terrain of jungles.

b. Interpretation and Analysis. The jungle environment includes dense forests, grasslands, swamps, and cultivated areas. Forests are classified as primary and secondary based upon the terrain and vegetation. Primary forests include tropical rain forests and deciduous forests. Secondary forests are found at the edges of both rain forests and deciduous forests and in areas where jungles have been cleared and abandoned. These places are especially overgrown with weeds, grasses, thorns, ferns, canes, and shrubs. Movement is especially slow and difficult. The extremely thick vegetation reaches a height of 2 meters and severely limits observation to only a few meters.

c. Navigation. Areas such as jungles are generally not accurately mapped because heavy vegetation makes aerial surveys difficult. The ability to observe terrain features, near or far, is extremely limited. The navigator must rely heavily upon his compass and the dead reckoning technique when moving in the jungle. Navigation is further complicated by the inability to make straight-line movements. Terrain analysis, constant use of the compass, and an accurate pace count are essential to navigation in this environment.


Arctic terrain includes those areas that experience extended periods of below freezing temperatures. In these areas, the ground is generally covered with ice or snow during the winter season. Although frozen ground and ice can improve trafficability, a deep accumulation of snow can reduce it. Vehicles and personnel require special equipment and care under these adverse conditions.

a. Operations. Both the terrain and the type and size of unit operations will vary greatly in arctic areas. In open terrain, armored and mechanized forces will be effective although they will have to plan and train for the special conditions. In broken terrain, forests, and mountains, light forces will predominate as usual. However, foot movement can take up to five times as long as it might under warmer conditions.

b. Interpretation and Analysis. Both the terrain and cultural features you may confront in winter may vary to any extreme, as can the weather. The common factor is an extended period of below­freezing temperatures. The terrain may be plains, plateaus, hills, or mountains. The climate will be cold, but the weather will vary greatly from place to place. Most arctic terrain experiences snow, but some claim impressive accumulations each season, such as the lake­effected snow belts off Lake Ontario near Fort Drum, New York. Other areas have many cold days with sunshine and clear nights, and little snow accumulation.

c. Navigation. Special skills may be required in arctic terrain, such as the proper use of winter clothing, skis, and snowshoes; but this does not affect your navigation strategies. There are no special techniques for navigating in arctic terrain. Just be aware of the advantages and disadvantages that may present themselves and make the most of your opportunities while applying the four steps and two techniques for land navigation.


The world continues to become more urbanized each year; therefore, it is unlikely that all fighting will be done in rural settings. Major urban areas represent the power and wealth of a particular country in the form of industrial bases, transportation complexes, economic institutions, and political and cultural centers. Therefore, it may be necessary to secure and neutralize them. When navigating in urban places, it is man­made features, such as roads, railroads, bridges, and buildings that become important, while terrain and vegetation become less useful.

a. Interpretation and Analysis. Military operations on urbanized terrain require detailed planning that provides for decentralized execution. As a result of the rapid growth and changes occurring in many urban areas, the military topographic map is likely to be outdated. Supplemental use of commercially produced city maps may be helpful, or an up­to­date sketch can be made.

b. Navigation. Navigation in urban areas can be confusing, but there are often many cues that will present themselves as you proceed. They include streets and street signs; building styles and sizes; the urban geography of industrial, warehousing, residential housing, and market districts; man­made transportation features other than streets and roads (rail and trolley lines); and the terrain features and hydrographic features located within the built­up area. Strategies for staying on the route in an urban area include: