Drawing: Cobra helicopter Drawing: Cobra helicopter
Chapter 13 - Page 1



To survive and evade in arid or desert areas, you must understand and prepare for the environment you will face. You must determine your equipment needs, the tactics you will use, and how the environment will affect you and your tactics. Your survival will depend upon your knowledge of the terrain, basic climatic elements, your ability to cope with these elements, and your will to survive.


Most arid areas have several types of terrain. The five basic desert terrain types are —

Desert terrain makes movement difficult and demanding. Land navigation will be extremely difficult as there may be very few landmarks. Cover and concealment may be very limited; therefore, the threat of exposure to the enemy remains constant.

Mountain Deserts

Scattered ranges or areas of barren hills or mountains separated by dry, flat basins characterize mountain deserts. High ground may rise gradually or abruptly from flat areas to several thousand meters above sea level. Most of the infrequent rainfall occurs on high ground and runs off rapidly in the form of flash floods. These floodwaters erode deep gullies and ravines and deposit sand and gravel around the edges of the basins. Water rapidly evaporates, leaving the land as barren as before, although there may be short-lived vegetation. If enough water enters the basin to compensate for the rate of evaporation, shallow lakes may develop, such as the Great Salt Lake in Utah, or the Dead Sea. Most of these lakes have a high salt content.

Rocky Plateau Deserts

Rocky plateau deserts have relatively slight relief interspersed with extensive flat areas with quantities of solid or broken rock at or near the surface. There may be steep-walled, eroded valleys, known as wadis in the Middle East and arroyos or canyons in the United States and Mexico. Although their flat bottoms may be superficially attractive as assembly areas, the narrower valleys can be extremely dangerous to men and material due to flash flooding after rains. The Golan Heights is an example of a rocky plateau desert.

Sandy or Dune Deserts

Sandy or dune deserts are extensive flat areas covered with sand or gravel. "Flat" is a relative term, as some areas may contain sand dunes that are over 300 meters high and 16 to 24 kilometers long. Traffic ability in such terrain will depend on the windward or leeward slope of the dunes and the texture of the sand. Other areas, however, may be flat for 3,000 meters and more. Plant life may vary from none to scrub over 2 meters high. Examples of this type of desert include the edges of the Sahara, the empty quarter of the Arabian Desert, areas of California and New Mexico, and the Kalahari in South Africa.

Salt Marshes

Salt marshes are flat, desolate areas, sometimes studded with clumps of grass but devoid of other vegetation. They occur in arid areas where rainwater has collected, evaporated, and left large deposits of alkali salts and water with a high salt concentration. The water is so salty it is undrinkable. A crust that may be 2.5 to 30 centimeters thick forms over the saltwater.

In arid areas there are salt marshes hundreds of kilometers square. These areas usually support many insects, most of which bite. Avoid salt marshes. This type of terrain is highly corrosive to boots, clothing, and skin. A good example is the Shat-el-Arab waterway along the Iran-Iraq border.

Broken Terrain

All arid areas contain broken or highly dissected terrain. Rainstorms that erode soft sand and carve out canyons form this terrain. A wadi may range from 3 meters wide and 2 meters deep to several hundred meters wide and deep. The direction it takes varies as much as its width and depth. It twists and turns and forms a mazelike pattern. A wadi will give you good cover and concealment, but do not try to move through it because it is very difficult terrain to negotiate.


Surviving and evading the enemy in an arid area depends on what you know and how prepared you are for the environmental conditions you will face. Determine what equipment you will need, the tactics you will use, and the environment's impact on them and you.

In a desert area there are seven environmental factors that you must consider —

Low Rainfall

Low rainfall is the most obvious environmental factor in an arid area. Some desert areas receive less than 10 centimeters of rain annually, and this rain comes in brief torrents that quickly run off the ground surface. You cannot survive long without water in high desert temperatures. In a desert survival situation, you must first consider "How much water do I have?" and "Where are other water sources?"

Intense Sunlight and Heat

Intense sunlight and heat are present in all arid areas. Air temperature can rise as high as 60 degrees C (140 degrees F) during the day. Heat gain results from direct sunlight, hot blowing winds, reflective heat (the sun's rays bouncing off the sand), and conductive heat from direct contact with the desert sand and rock (Figure 13-1).

Drawing: Figure 13-1. Types of heat gain.

The temperature of desert sand and rock averages 16 to 22 degrees C (30 to 40 degrees F) more than that of the air. For instance, when the air temperature is 43 degrees C (110 degrees F), the sand temperature may be 60 degrees C (140 degrees F).

Intense sunlight and heat increase the body's need for water. To conserve your body fluids and energy, you will need a shelter to reduce your exposure to the heat of the day. Travel at night to lessen your use of water.

Radios and sensitive items of equipment exposed to direct intense sunlight will malfunction.

Wide Temperature Range

Temperatures in arid areas may get as high as 55 degrees C during the day and as low as 10 degrees C during the night. The drop in temperature at night occurs rapidly and will chill a person who lacks warm clothing and is unable to move about. The cool evenings and nights are the best times to work or travel. If your plan is to rest at night, you will find a wool sweater, long underwear, and a wool stocking cap extremely helpful.

Sparse Vegetation

Vegetation is sparse in arid areas. You will therefore have trouble finding shelter and camouflaging your movements. During daylight hours large areas of terrain are visible and easily controlled by a small opposing force.

If traveling in hostile territory, follow the principles of desert camouflage —

Before moving, survey the area for sites that provide cover and concealment. You will have trouble estimating distance. The emptiness of desert terrain causes most people to underestimate distance by a factor of three: What appears to be 1 kilometer away is really 3 kilometers away.

High Mineral Content

All arid regions have areas where the surface soil has a high mineral content (borax, salt, alkali, and lime). Material in contact with this soil wears out quickly, and water in these areas is extremely hard and undrinkable. Wetting your uniform in such water to cool off may cause a skin rash. The Great Salt Lake area in Utah is an example of this type of mineral-laden water and soil. There is little or no plant life; there-fore, shelter is hard to find. Avoid these areas if possible.


Sandstorms (sand-laden winds) occur frequently in most deserts. The "Seistan" desert wind in Iran and Afghanistan blows constantly for up to 120 days. Within Saudi Arabia, winds average 3.2 to 4.8 kilometers per hour (kph) and can reach 112 to 128 kph in early afternoon. Expect major sandstorms and dust storms at least once a week.

The greatest danger is getting lost in a swirling wall of sand. Wear goggles and cover your mouth and nose with cloth. If natural shelter is unavailable, mark your direction of travel, lie down, and sit out the storm.

Dust and wind-blown sand interfere with radio transmissions. Therefore, be ready to use other means for signaling, such as pyrotechnics, signal mirrors, or marker panels, if available.


Mirages are optical phenomena caused by the refraction of light through heated air rising from a sandy or stony surface. They occur in the interior of the desert about 10 kilometers from the coast. They make objects that are 1.5 kilometers or more away appear to move.

This mirage effect makes it difficult for you to identify an object from a distance. It also blurs distant range contours so much that you feel surrounded by a sheet of water from which elevations stand out as "islands."

The mirage effect makes it hard for a person to identify targets, estimate range, and see objects clearly. However, if you can get to high ground (3 meters or more above the desert floor), you can get above the superheated air close to the ground and overcome the mirage effect. Mirages make land navigation difficult because they obscure natural features. You can survey the area at dawn, dusk, or by moonlight when there is little likelihood of mirage.

Light levels in desert areas are more intense than in other geographic areas. Moonlit nights are usually crystal clear, winds die down, haze and glare disappear, and visibility is excellent. You can see lights, red flash-lights, and blackout lights at great distances. Sound carries very far.

Conversely, during nights with little moonlight, visibility is extremely poor. Traveling is extremely hazardous. You must avoid getting lost, falling into ravines, or stumbling into enemy positions. Movement during such a night is practical only if you have a compass and have spent the day in a shelter, resting, observing and memorizing the terrain, and selecting your route.

Page: 1  2 Next Page >>

Back to The Home Page Bact To The Survival Table Of Content Your Free E-Mail Log In Page

Web Aircav.com
Updated: 12 January 2008
Born on 03 November 1999