Characterizing urban terrains and building types to protect Soldiers on the battlefield

September 11, 2013

Story Highlights

  • Military has need to better understand weapons effects against urban building types
  • Prior to 2005, there was no standard method of describing buildings as targets
  • Urban Terrain Building Types publication is oriented to serve the needs of the Warfighter by aiding in the development of weapon system requirements against urban targets

With a dramatic increase in military operations in the urban terrain, the Army recognized the importance of being able to effectively operate in a variety of urban environments. With the desire to better understand and characterize these environments, and the building types found in the urban environment, it led to the discovery that there is a need to better understand weapon effects against these building types.

But, how do you approach this huge characterization and weapon effects task? That is where researchers from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and other Department of Defense entities have focused their attention in characterizing the urban environment, and understanding weapon effects to allow Soldiers a much improved situational awareness when entering urban combat operations.

"The first step was to establish the standard military operations in urban terrain target and testing board," said David Fordyce with ARL's Survivability/Lethality and Analysis Directorate and chairperson of the Standard MOUT Target and Testing Board. "The board's primary goal is to establish DoD-wide standards for MOUT testing, target construction, test procedures, modeling and simulation and product guidebooks."

Fordyce added that researchers from ARL and other entities within the Army have played a key role in reaching the board's goals to include standardization of building target designs, improvement or development of standard lethality measures in urban environment, development of methodology and data for inclusion into models, and simulation and experimentation programs, "by feeding effort with basic research data (penetration and secondary debris) and develop 'best practices' test methods."

Prior to 2005, when a weapon system was under development and the targets were being accessed, there was no standard method of describing buildings as targets. Building types were generally not specified, and if they were, there was no linkage to real world structures.

That is when Fordyce identified voids in how urban terrains and building types were defined and characterized. He defined a path-forward to fill this analytical gap.

"With a goal of improving structural analyses and establishing standards for describing buildings and their urban environments, I, along with nationally recognized subject matter experts, used a multidisciplinary approach, which meant drawing upon mechanical engineering, civil and structural engineering, geography, architecture and satellite imagery analysis to blaze a path through this uncharted territory," explained Fordyce.

Resulting from their research and publication efforts, Fordyce and Ellefsen established the Urban Terrain Building Types (UTBT), second edition, ARL technical publication (ARL-TR-4395a), which is the de-facto standard for establishing, describing and documenting urban terrain and building standards.

"This now well recognized publication is widely used by weaponeers, battle damage assessors, munition designers, munition evaluators, modeling and simulation analysts and by live-fire testers," said Greg Mannix, acting branch chief, SLAD's advanced systems and lethality branch.

The UTBT is managed through the SMTTB with the goal of supporting the Warfighter.

"It is oriented, first and foremost, to serve the needs of the Warfighter by aiding in the development of weapon system requirements against urban targets," said Fordyce. "Using a precise and comprehensive set of standard geotypical building descriptions as a baseline eliminates a significant variable in estimating weapon effects and enables the various user communities to establish a common ground for their efforts."

The UTBT contains 44 different structures, which are indexed using the urban terrain zone system.

"Usually, these structures are ubiquitous in the geographical area considered," said Fordyce. "Several factors were considered when selecting the 44 building types, such as making certain all major worldwide structure types were represented and that the selection met the SMTTB's purpose to present to the broader urban operations community building types that match the interests of a wide variety of users."

The document has propagated throughout the DoD, the Department of Energy, Homeland Security as well as internationally.

"The UTBT has been successful in fulfilling its purpose," said Fordyce. "In addition, the document is also being used as a go-to reference in the development of another DoD program, the joint urban test capability. The JUTC effort is developing an urban test range to support evaluation of radio frequency and other electronic propagation of systems under test."

Fordyce said the JUTC urban test range will eventually be used to support the semi-annual Network Integration Experiments and is expected to be available in fiscal 2017.

"With the increase in urban operations, UTBT standardization is a potential business-growth area," said Dan Plefka, SLAD's munitions effects team leader. "As the standards for describing UTBT progresses, the end result is more meaningful ballistic analyses against urban structures. This offers a great opportunity to support our Soldiers by providing building, terrain and live-fire target documentation and standards."

According to Fordyce, the team is also planning to index weapon effects information to building types, based on results from tests that ARL and others have performed. The results will be available to appropriate organizations and listed as a separate annex in the Urban Terrain Building Types publication.


Last Update / Reviewed: September 11, 2013