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Various combinations of weather and topography give certain qualities to an area. These qualities, known as the MILITARY ASPECTS OF TERRAIN, must be closely evaluated by each unit leader. These qualities determine to a large degree how he employs his forces and weapons. You can remember these military aspects of terrain by using the acronym KOCOA.

K - Key terrain features

O - Observation and fields of fire

C - Cover and concealment

O - Obstacles

A - Avenues of approach


Key terrain is any locality or area that provides the possessor a marked advantage over the enemy. Usually, the factors that make a feature or an area key terrain are superior observation and fields of fire. Obstacles may be considered key terrain when their possession by one force prevents the movement of the opposing force. In some areas, such as mountains and jungles, where movement depends on established roads and paths, routes of communications could be key terrain. A bridge over an unfoldable river could be key terrain, particularly when its seizure eliminates the need for an assault crossing. An airfield could be key terrain when its seizure facilitates the success of local operations or serves as a base to support future operations. In selecting key terrain, the unit leader is beginning to tie his mission to the ground. Inasmuch as key terrain features offer an advantage to one or both combatants, it is apparent that the defender will strive to retain them while the attacker tries to seize them. For this reason, key terrain is often assigned as the objectives of attacking units; conversely, key terrain aids the defender in disposing his forces to best maintain his battle position.

Selection of key terrain features varies according to the mission. In the attack, the unit leader selects key terrain features forward of the line of departure. In the defense, the terrain that must be held to maintain the integrity of the battle position is designated as key terrain.

Selection of key terrain also varies at the different levels of command. For example, at force level, a large city may offer a marked advantage as a communications center or as a base for supply and maintenance facilities. At division or regiment level, high ground dominating the city may be important for observation and fields of fire. At battalion, company, and lower echelons, key terrain might be hills and valleys within the general high ground around the city.


OBSERVATION of the battlefield is essential to bring effective fire on the enemy, to control maneuvering of your troops, and to prevent being surprised by the enemy. Observation is classified as either long or short range. Long-range observation is that which provides observation in excess of the effective range of small-arms fire (usually over 400 meters). Short-range observation covers the immediate foreground and extends to the effective range of small-arms fire. Observation is limited or denied by such factors as fog, heavy precipitation, heat refraction, darkness, vegetation, cultural features, and relief. FIELDS OF FIRE are areas into which your weapons can be fired effectively. An ideal field of fire for the defense would be gentle sloping ground, fitted to the trajectory of your weapons, and on which the enemy can be seen with no protection from your fire. This situation is rarely encountered. However, you can improve the natural fields of fire by cutting or burning weeds, grass, and crops; by clearing brush and trees; by demolishing buildings; and by cutting lanes through woods. The commander must exercise caution in ordering such work, since obviously constructed fire lanes can disclose the location of your positions to an observant enemy.

Observation and fields of fire are so closely related that they are considered together. They are not synonymous, but fields of fire are based on observation, since the enemy must be seen to bring effective fire on him. These aspects are particularly important to the defender. The primary considerations for choosing a defensive position are maximum observation and long fields of fire.


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