Magazine article National Defense

Urban Warfare: Army, Marine Corps Prepare to Fight in Megacities

Magazine article National Defense

Urban Warfare: Army, Marine Corps Prepare to Fight in Megacities

Article excerpt

The bloody battles of Stalingrad in World War II, Hue City in Vietnam and Fallujah in Iraq conjure up images of infantrymen fighting in the streets of major cities. In the future, the U.S. military may have to fight in similar environments that will present soldiers and Marines with a slew of challenges.

In a report by the Atlantic Council's Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, "The Future of the Army: Today, Tomorrow and the Day After Tomorrow," researchers said the rise of megacities will have major ramifications for the Army.

By 2030, over 60 percent of the world's population will live in urban areas. Additionally, there will be approximately 41 megacities with populations that surpass 10 million people, said authors David Barno and Nora Bensahel.

"The Army has traditionally sought to avoid the intense demands of operating in urban areas wherever possible, preferring the less problematic challenges of open terrain, but this demographic reality means that urban operations will increasingly dominate land warfare," the report said.

The service will have to beef up its capabilities in urban offense, defense, mobility and protection to successfully operate in environments with large civilian populations, the report said.

"Urban operations in the 21st century are not just another type of operation; they will become this century's signature form of warfare," the report said.

The Army is already planning for such a future, said Tom Pappas, director of Army Training and Doctrine Command's G-2 Futures division.

"The places that we've studied as typical megacities have been in Asia and have been in Africa," he said.

Culture plays a "huge role" in any megacity, irrespective of its location, he said.

"Culture tends to define the megacity. And then when you reach down into that, one of the challenges that we have... is [acquiring] the capability to help to understand that area, to understand the groups that operate within it," he said.

As Pappas looks toward 2030 he sees a number of significant challenges. The first is gaining situational awareness.

Jerry Leverich, a senior analyst with the futures office, said that will be particularly difficult in cities, as troops will face buildings that are dozens of stories high as well as subterranean structures, such as subways.

TRADOC is looking at technologies "that would enable terrain mapping," he said. "Radars of course would assist that significantly."

The Army would also likely employ unmanned aircraft or robots to peak around corners, Pappas said.

Another challenge would be communication, he said. Cities even today are known to have spotty cell phone reception, caused by what is known as the "urban canyon" phenomenon. The service will need to invest in technology that can operate in such conditions, he said.

One of the reasons that enemies move into cities is because they provide cover for insurgents, Pappas said.

"They can then move into populated areas and it creates a significant, multi-dimensional challenge for any armed force operating within there," he said. "When you have to attack... a 10-story building, that's significantly different than having to attack in an open and rolling terrain that we had envisioned in the past.

"If I was going to have to fight the U.S. or a superior foe, I would definitely go there just as a simple matter of protection, especially if I didn't have the capabilities, the precision, the communications infrastructure and logistics capability that the U.S. forces have," Pappas said.

Another reason cities give adversaries an edge is because they often have home field advantage, said Peter W. Singer, a strategist and senior fellow at New America, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Cities are "the home turf for warring groups," he said. "It's their Sherwood Forest. …

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