The Human Terrain System

Thursday July 19, 2007

"Commanders and staffs [must] devote at least as much effort to understanding the people they support as they do understanding the enemy." FM 3-24, p. 3-35

What is it? The Human Terrain System is a team of experts ((Human Terrain Teams (HTTs)) at the Brigade Combat Team (BCT) with a Mapping Human Terrain (MAP HT) toolkit for conducting research and analysis to provide valid and objective information on a population's social groups, their interests, beliefs, motivating factors and leaders. A theater specific, Reach-back Research Center (RCC) in CONUS and a network of subject matter experts support these teams. Significantly, HTTs will serve as a cultural information bridge between incoming and outgoing units, thereby reducing casualties and unintended missteps from the loss of neighborhood-level cultural knowledge during Transition of Authority/ Relief in Place (RIP/TOA) operations.

What has the Army done? The Army has begun placing Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) in BCTs. The HTT team leader is an embedded cultural advisor for the BCT. The team works with the BCT staff and subordinate units to ensure all activities account for the human terrain dimension of the battlespace, providing three primary capabilities: 1) expert cultural advice based on a constantly updated, user-friendly Human Terrain database on the BCT area of operations; 2) the ability to direct focused study on cultural issues of specific concern to the commander; and 3) a reach-back link to the RRC for Tactical Overwatch. HTT tours of duty will be carefully managed to bridge unit RIP/TOA, ensuring a smooth and complete transfer of local area Human Terrain knowledge and cultural understanding.

What efforts does the Army plan to continue in the future? The Army envisions placing HTTs in all maneuver BCTs in theater.

Why is this important to the Army? Understanding the "human terrain" aspect of the battlespace is central to mission success in counterinsurgency operations, stability operations and irregular warfare--in essence, success in the war on terror. Human Terrain topics, such as local and regional political, cultural, social and economic factors, are highly specialized in the social sciences. While processes and organizations exist to assist commanders in visualizing friendly and enemy forces arrayed within the physical terrain, until now, no such system has existed for understanding the human "population-centric" terrain. The Human Terrain System (HTS) offers a means to gather, process, database, and share cultural data and knowledge with the ultimate goal of integrating this "Human Terrain layer" into the Common Operating Picture. Most importantly, it will save lives as it reduces the insurgents' ability to "hide in plain sight" among the population.


- 2007 Strategic Communication Guide - Be Army Strong, and Army Smart. Read the 2007 Army Strategic Communication Guide.


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