U.S. Congress and the Human Terrain System

Posted on October 4, 2009 by

To supplement the report by John Stanton, “US Congress Requests Assessment of Army‘s Human Terrain System: Independent Assessment Due from SECDEF by March 2010,” one should note the following background documents to which the request for the assessment refers.


In the committee report (H. Rept. 110-652) accompanying the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, the committee expressed support for expansion of the HTT concept, including to other combatant command areas of responsibility.

The committee is aware of anecdotal evidence indicating the benefits of the program supporting operations in the Republic of Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The committee also notes that a number of press accounts provide anecdotal evidence indicating problems with management and resourcing. The committee finds it difficult to evaluate either set of information in the absence of reliable, empirical data.

Let us turn then to the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, specifically Title XV of H. Rept. 110-652. (if you have trouble accessing the document, you can obtain it here: 9.3 Mb PDF). Quoting directly from pages 271-272 (underlining added):

Human, social, and cultural behavioral modeling advanced development

The budget request contained $9.4 million in PE 63670D8Z and $6.0 million in PE 64670D8Z for human, social, cultural, and behavior (HSCB) modeling advanced development.

The committee notes that today’s military forces are involved in a growing number of complex missions from counterinsurgency to security and stability operations. These missions are best served by a security force that understands and appreciates the individual, tribal, cultural, ethnic, religious, social, economic, and other aspects of the human terrain. The committee supports the Department’s effort to reshape their approach to research, training, and doctrine to adapt to the current irregular warfare environment. The Department’s creation and deployment of Human Terrain Teams (HTT) that employ cultural awareness and analysis practices notes one approach toward adapting to complex military operations.

In title XV of this Act, the committee notes the contributions of the prototype HTTs currently supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and believes that sound research and resulting tools are key technology enablers for success of these teams now and in the future.

The committee recommends $13.4 million, an increase of $4.0 million, in PE 63670D8Z and $8.0 million, an increase of $2.0 million, in PE 64670D8Z for the continued development, demonstration and rapid transition of key technologies supporting human terrain understanding and forecasting to include, Mapping the Human Terrain Joint Capability Technology Demonstration and the Conflict Modeling, Planning and Outcome Experimentation Program.

On page 279:

Social science research within the Department of Defense

As noted elsewhere in this title, the committee is encouraged by the effort within office of the Director for Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) to place an increasing focus on the human, social, and cultural behavior (HSCB) elements of research. The committee is further encouraged by a corresponding emphasis within the science and technology (S&T) programs of the respective services.

The committee has also been encouraged by the success of integrating social science expertise into Department of Defense operations via the Human Terrain Teams (HTT), which provide culturally relevant advice to military decision makers. As has been pointed out in recent testimony before the committee, these teams provide value added to traditional military operational planning and have been instrumental in saving lives in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The committee believes that more programs in the future should be informed by social science research.

Despite this recent emphasis on efforts such as HSCB and the deployment of HTTs, the committee is concerned about the dearth of social scientists within the Department’s S&T community and especially within program management leadership positions. The committee believes the Department should take steps to leverage social scientist expertise existing within other parts of the federal government, such as the National Science Foundation.

And on page 475:

Human Terrain Team Support

The committee supports the concept for the prototype Human Terrain Teams (HTT) currently supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. HTTs have been instrumental in saving the lives of coalition troops by reducing casualties among Afghani and Iraqi civilians. HTTs provide our warfighters with non-kinetic options in planning and carrying out their missions. The committee is aware that the first prototype HTT is credited with reducing kinetic operations by more than 60 percent during its first 6 months of deployment in Operation Enduring Freedom. HTTs are critical enablers to shaping military planning in pre-conflict environments, and are supportive of reconstruction and stabilization efforts. HTTs are currently proving their value in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the committee believes that capability would prove equally valuable in other combatant command areas of responsibility.

The committee recommends $90.6 million in Operation and Maintenance for the purpose of fielding additional HTTs to meet the current Central Command requirement of 26 teams. The committee encourages the Department to begin training, equipping, deploying, and sustaining human terrain teams with other regional combatant commands to include at least one each for Pacific Command, Southern Command, and Africa Command.

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