Current assessments of the operational environment predict urban areas will challenge the ability of U.S. forces to operate cohesively, resupply, communicate, conduct reconnaissance, and achieve surprise. Densely populated areas with constricting topography and poor infrastructure, will make friendly vehicular and aerial movement more observable and easily disrupted for forces operating from or into these places. In this week’s professional reading, “Objective Metropolis: the Future of Dense Urban Operational Environments,” authors Jerome J. Lademan and J. Alexander Thew concur with current operational environment assessments and further predict, “cities of tomorrow will present new challenges where titanic populations and infrastructure density will combine with near-instantaneous flow of information to create a leviathan of complexity for the armed forces.” They argue that current Army and Joint doctrine do not address the “unique fabric of crowded urban areas of operation”. They offer four important challenges that must be considered when developing doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) for forces operating in densely populated urban terrain:
- Cities’ high-rise structures will challenge the maxim that the “high ground” presents advantageous terrain during military operations. Limited floor space and exfiltration routes may trap a unit by restricting their maneuverability. Units may quickly exhaust the manpower required to “dominate” this terrain by fighting continuously along vertical axes. Success in high-rise buildings might depend on units’ ability to co-opt local expertise.
- At street level, movement through city corridors is severely restricted and completely determined by the relative layout of buildings and roadways. The work of denying “freedom of maneuver” is half achieved by the city itself, before any opposing force is applied. High-rise structures pose similar challenges to air operations, creating an urgent need for manned/unmanned teaming to cover all dead space with observation and direct fires.
- Main weapon systems on most combat vehicles, will not be able to traverse all potential threats. The large number of avenues of approach and potential defensive vantage points will overwhelm even the most skilled target acquisition systems and techniques in current use.
- The expansive subterranean domain provided by immense networks of subway tunnels, working train lines, steam and wastewater pipes, and electrical grid substructures is wholly unique to cities. This network effectively doubles the available routes for a force to move around in, since in many major cities, there are tunnels under every street. Means of communication underground are almost invariably limited to hardline “mine phones,” or a deliberately established system of FM repeaters.
Lademan and Thew recommend that in developing doctrine and TTP’s, leaders must understand the capabilities and limitations of military action in an urban environment. They further argue that the joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational nature of city-bound operations requires interagency crosstalk, that active coordination and distribution of mission tasks across the myriad of battlefield players is vital, and critical local knowledge and experience provided by various municipal agents must be incorporated to achieve operational success. They conclude by recognizing that a the most fundamental level, cities are human domains and that no matter how complex the physical terrain of cities’ infrastructure, the US military must recognize future military objectives in urban areas will be deeply embedded in the context of relationships. And they emphasize that while the development and ongoing refinement of tactics optimized for dense urban terrain is critical, understanding the intricacies of interactions between the population, host-nation forces, local authorities, US personnel, and other actors is equally as important.
Lademan and Thew’s article is consistent with the Army Operating Concept (AOC) and the emerging Multi-Domain Battle (MDB) Concept. The AOC and MDB recognize that urban environments will degrade the ability to target threats with precision. Joint urban operations will require land forces capable of operating in congested and restricted urban terrain (to include subsurface, surface, supersurface) to close with and destroy the enemy. Perhaps most important, understanding the technological, geographic, political, and military challenges of the urban environment will require innovative, adaptive leaders and cohesive teams who thrive in complex and uncertain environments. Urban operations will require decentralized combined arms and joint capabilities at low levels. Because future enemies will act to remain indistinguishable from protected populations and infrastructure, combined arms units must possess mobility, protection, and precision firepower to fight for information, overmatch the enemy in close combat, and reduce the risk to non-combatants. Army forces also need cross-cultural capabilities that permit them to operate effectively among populations. Finally, Army forces will conduct operations in urban areas consistent with the concept of multi-domain battle – the synchronizing of cross-domain fires and maneuver to achieve physical, temporal, positional, and psychological advantages in order to achieve temporary domain dominance and allow defeat of the enemy across all domains.
Lademan and Thew’s article is relevant to the following Army Warfighting Challenges: