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Determining distance is the most common source of error encountered while moving either mounted or dismounted. There may be circumstances where you are unable to determine distance using your map or where you are without a map. It is therefore essential to learn methods by which you can accurately pace, measure, use subtense, or estimate distances on the ground.

a.   Pace Count. Another way to measure ground distance is the pace count. A pace is equal to one natural step, about 30 inches long. To accurately use the pace count method, you must know how many paces it takes you to walk 100 meters. To determine this, you must walk an accurately measured course and count the number of paces you take. A pace course can be as short as 100 meters or as long as 600 meters. The pace course, regardless of length, must be on similar terrain to that you will be walking over. It does no good to walk a course on flat terrain and then try to use that pace count on hilly terrain. To determine your pace count on a 600-meter course, count the paces it takes you to walk the 600 meters, then divide the total paces by 6. The answer will give you the average paces it takes you to walk 100 meters. It is important that each person who navigates while dismounted knows his pace count.

(1)   There are many methods to keep track of the distance traveled when using the pace count. Some of these methods are: put a pebble in your pocket every time you have walked 100 meters according to your pace count; tie knots in a string; or put marks in a notebook. Do not try to remember the count; always use one of these methods or design your own method.

(2)   Certain conditions affect your pace count in the field, and you must allow for them by making adjustments.

(a)   Slopes. Your pace lengthens on a downslope and shortens on an upgrade. Keeping this in mind, if it normally takes you 120 paces to walk 100 meters, your pace count may increase to 130 or more when walking up a slope.

(b)   Winds. A head wind shortens the pace and a tail wind increases it.

(c)   Surfaces. Sand, gravel, mud, snow, and similar surface materials tend to shorten the pace.

(d)   Elements. Falling snow, rain, or ice cause the pace to be reduced in length.

(e)   Clothing. Excess clothing and boots with poor traction affect the pace length.

(f)   Visibility. Poor visibility, such as in fog, rain, or darkness, will shorten your pace.

b.   Odometer. Distances can be measured by an odometer, which is standard equipment on most vehicles. Readings are recorded at the start and end of a course and the difference is the length of the course.

(1)   To convert kilometers to miles, multiply the number of kilometers by 0. 62.


16 kilometers = 16 x 0. 62 = 9. 92 miles

(2)   To convert miles to kilometers, divided the number of miles by 0. 62.


10 miles = 10 divided by 0. 62 = 16. 12 kilometers

c.   Subtense. The subtense method is a fast method of determining distance and yields accuracy equivalent to that obtained by measuring distance with a premeasured piece of wire. An advantage is that a horizontal distance is obtained indirectly; that is, the distance is computed rather than measured. This allows subtense to be used over terrain where obstacles such as streams, ravines, or steep slopes may prohibit other methods of determining distance.

(1)   The principle used in determining distance by the subtense method is similar to that used in estimating distance by the mil relation formula. The field artillery application of the mil relation formula involves only estimations. It is not accurate enough for survey purposes. However, the subtense method uses precise values with a trigonometric solution. Subtense is based on a principle of visual perspective—the farther away an object, the smaller it appears.

(2)   The following two procedures are involved in subtense measurement:

  • Establishing a base of known length.

  • Measuring the angle of that base by use of the aiming circle.

(3)   The subtense base may be any desired length. However, if a 60-meter base, a 2-meter bar, or the length of an M16A1 or M16A2 rifle is used, precomputed subtense tables are available. The M16 or 2-meter bar must be held horizontal and perpendicular to the line of sight by a soldier facing the aiming circle. The instrument operator sights on one end of the M16 or 2-meter bar and measures the horizontal clockwise angle to the other end of the rifle or bar. He does this twice and averages the angles. He then enters the appropriate subtense table with the mean angle and extracts the distance. Accurate distances can be obtained with the M16 out to approximately 150 meters, with the 2-meter bar out to 250 meters, and with the 60-meter base out to 1,000 meters. If a base of another length is desired, a distance can be computed by using the following formula:

Distance = 1/2 (base in meters)
Tan (1/2) (in mils)

d.   Estimation. At times, because of the tactical situation, it may be necessary to estimate range. There are two methods that may be used to estimate range or distance.

(1)   100-Meter Unit-of-Measure Method. To use this method, the soldier must be able to visualize a distance of 100 meters on the ground. For ranges up to 500 meters, he determines the number of 100-meter increments between the two objects he wishes to measure. Beyond 500 meters, the soldier must select a point halfway to the object(s) and determine the number of 100-meter increments to the halfway point, then double it to find the range to the object(s) (Figure 5-9).

Figure 5-9.  Using a 100-meter unit-of-measure method.

Figure 5-9. Using a 100-meter unit-of-measure method.

(2)   Flash-To-Bang Method. To use this method to determine range to an explosion or enemy fire, begin to count when you see the flash. Count the seconds until you hear the weapon fire. This time interval may be measured with a stopwatch or by using a steady count, such as one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, and so forth, for a three-second estimated count. If you must count higher than 10 seconds, start over with one. Multiply the number of seconds by 330 meters to get the approximate range (FA uses 350 meters instead).

(3)   Proficiency of Methods. The methods discussed above are used only to estimate range (Table 5-1). Proficiency in both methods requires constant practice. The best training technique is to require the soldier to pace the range after he has estimated the distance. In this way, the soldier discovers the actual range for himself, which makes a greater impression than if he is simply told the correct range.

Factors Affecting Range Estimation Factors Causing Underestimation of Range Factors Causing Overestimation of Range
The clearness of outline and details of the object. When most of the object is visible and offers a clear outline. When only a small part of the object can be seen or the object is small in relation to its surroundings.
Nature of terrain or position of the observer.

When looking across a depression that is mostly hidden from view.

When looking downward from high ground.

When looking down a straight, open road or along a railroad.

When looking over uniform surfaces like water, snow, desert, or grain fields.

In bright light or when the sun is shining from behind the observer.

When looking across a depression that is totally visible.

When vision is confined, as in streets, draws, or forest trails.

When looking from low ground toward high ground.

In poor light, such as dawn and dusk; in rain, snow, fog; or when the sun is in the observerís eyes.

Light and atmosphere

When the object is in sharp contrast with the background or is silhouetted because of its size, shape, or color.

When seen in the clear air of high altitudes.

When object blends into the background or terrain.

Table 5-1. Factors of range estimation.

Scale and distance
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The 'Land Navigation' section of this site is based on 'Map Reading and Land Navigation', a public domain work published by the U.S. Department of Defense that is available for sale at Amazon.com.

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