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Human Terrain Systems (HTS)

What is it?
The HTS was developed in response to identified gaps in commanders' and staffs' knowledge of local populations and cultures. It includes understanding the impact of population and culture on operational decisions, and poor transfer of specific socio-cultural knowledge to follow-on units.

The HTS approach places the expertise and experience of social scientists and regional experts, coupled with reach-back capability to resources located outside the theater of operations and open-source research, directly in support of deployed units engaging in full-spectrum operations. The HTS objectives are:

  • Provide brigade/regimental commanders with relevant, socio-cultural information and knowledge and the dedicated expertise to integrate that understanding into their military decision-making process.
  • Minimize loss in continuity between unit rotation and replacement.
  • Research, interpret, archive, and provide cultural information and knowledge to enhance operational effectiveness.
  • Maximize effectiveness of operational decisions by harmonizing courses of action with target area cultural context.

What is the Army doing?
The HTS currently supports Joint urgent operational needs statements from Multi-National Force-Iraq and the deployed Combined Joint Task Force in Afghanistan. The HTS is much more than the deployed human terrain teams (HTT). The complete system has the following interdependent components:

  • Human Terrain Teams. The HTT's are located at the brigade/regimental-level and human terrain & analysis teams (HTAT) are found at division, corps, and combined/Joint task force-level. Fully integrated into unit staffs, HTTs conduct field research among the local population and represent the "human terrain" in planning, preparation, execution and assessment of operations. There are currently 27 teams deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Reachback Research Center (RRC). The RRC provides direct support (tactical overwatch) research and analysis capabilities to the deployed teams. The RRC consists of social scientists, as well as uniformed and civilian analysts, organized in regionally-focused cells. The Afghanistan cell is at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; the Iraq cell is at Newport News, Virginia and is co-located with the HTS project office.
  • Subject Matter Expert-Networks. Consists of on-call, micro-regional focused academic and other civilian sector experts providing specific RRC support.
  • "Map-Human Terrain Toolkit." Consists of hardware and software sets provided to deployed teams and RRC that enables field and open-source research and provision of usable products to supported units.
  • Social Science Research and Analysis. Provides operationally relevant, empirical, qualitative, and quantitative social science research conducted in the area of operations, generally in support of HTAT and operational-level commands. On July 1, 2008, HTS deployed Social Science Research and Analysis (SSRA) capability to Afghanistan in support of the theatre and deployed HTTs. On November 1, 2008, HTS deployed SSRA capability to Iraq.
  • Program Development Team. Is a team composed of HTS staff and external subject matter experts who are tasked with examining operational performance, doctrine, tactics, procedures, and refinement of HTT requirements.
  • Training and Support base. The HTS trains and supports deployable teams at Fort Leavenworth. The training cycle is a four and a half month process at Fort Leavenworth prior to deployment.

What continued efforts does the Army have planned for the future?
The near term demand from Iraq will continue at current levels while the demand for teams in Afghanistan is increasing; with the potential of adding 12 additional teams in the next two years. The HTS has a request for support from Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa and additional requests from United States Forces Korea and United States Pacific Command.

Why is this important to the Army?
The conditions of irregular warfare, counter-insurgency operations, and stability operations have placed a premium on the mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops, time available, and civil considerations. Civil considerations focus on the socio-cultural aspects of the local populations that commanders and staffs must consider in the military decision-making process. This reality is well documented in Office of the Secretary of Defense studies and analyses, Army doctrine and concepts, and in operational requirements and feedback from commanders in the field. Social science research and analysis will continue to be a critical capability in both Phase IV operations and in Phase 0 peacetime engagements.

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