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fontman
07-24-06, 09:20 AM
Building blocks of urban warfare
July 24,2006
CHRIS MAZZOLINI
DAILY NEWS STAFF

The new Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility resembles a giant set of beige Legos.

And that description of the so-called "Mobile" MOUT is accurate on more than one level. Because not only do the 40-foot containers resemble the popular plastic building blocks that occupied many a childhood, they can also be disassembled and rearranged.

And the Marine Corps, which is building the new MOUT at Camp Lejeune, believes that's the perfect training tool to teach Marines to fight in dense and hostile urban environments where everything is unfamiliar and anything could be deadly.

Compared with the wide boulevards and faux European décor of the current MOUT facility, the mobile MOUT is stripped down to utilitarian purity. But that has benefits in functionality and flexibility, said Mark Maloney, the range development program manager.

"The mobile MOUT is a more randomly dense and packed location," he said. "You don't have alleys and avenues to follow. They are not laid out in that nice suburban model."

And that chaotic mish mash of structures is a better simulation for the conflicts of the 21st century: the sprawling Third World cities, like Mogadishu or Baghdad, or the secluded village somewhere in the middle of Anbar province, Iraq.

Thus the mobile MOUT plunges a Marine unit into a variety of simulations that reflect this. The building sizes don't match. In other words, all the buildings in one section won't have the same number of stories. Tall buildings will surround shorter ones, obstructing views and presenting opportune places for an enemy ambush. Courtyard walls will provide obstacles Marines must navigate through and over.

Interiors will have a variety of stairways, some spiraling, others straight and all offering different tactical challenges. Trap doors and secret rooms will offer enemies a place to hide or a secret vault for weapon caches. Marines must contend with doors they can kick open like the real thing, and windows provide enemy firing positions.

When the Marines get used to the design and set-up, the whole thing can be rearranged. Because each building consists of one or more containers, the buildings and their insides can be shifted around and connected to different containers. From as little as a few buildings to the entire town can be altered, Maloney said.

"It allows us to reconfigure the buildings," he said. "We can actually pick it up and move it."

The base is hoping to start sending Marines through the new MOUT sometime this fall, and construction continues in earnest. As it's being initially designed, the MOUT will have 69 buildings and almost 7,000 feet of courtyard walls. A tank-capable road will run through the city, so ambushes and other convoy training can be taught.

Military officials will also build two areas that are particularly applicable to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. One, dubbed "The Farm," is a farmhouse and a barn made of containers that are also connected via an underground tunnel complex.

The other is an outdoor marketplace that will simulate a densely packed Middle Eastern bazaar.

"Our intent is to add tables and baskets where people sell their wares, the kind you would see in 90 percent of the world," Maloney said.

Five of the buildings in the facility will also be live-fire capable, allowing Marines the most realistic scenario for clearing rooms.

In addition to a new training environment, Maloney said the MOUT will also double the training capacity. With the current situation, the old MOUT often splits time between basic MOUT courses and the desire for unit commanders to take their Marines through it. The new MOUT can fit a battalion, and allows more training opportunities.

"If they had a course, then captain can't go train his guys," Maloney said. "What this will allow is instead of either-or, we can do both."