With half the world’s population living in cities, both the Army and Marine Corps foresee intense urban combat as a likely element of future wars, leading to the publication of a new manual on how to fight those battles.
In megacities, which will be home to 70 percent of the world’s population by 2050, the U.S. military’s technological and numerical advantages count for less and more blood will be spilled than in any conflict since Vietnam, according to Army Technical Publication ATP3-06, published Dec. 7.
“The sheer number of urban areas around the world make urban operations across the continuum of military conflict highly likely, even in areas where governance or infrastructure are not the underlying causes of conflict,” the manual says. Continuous migration from rural areas to cities will make “military operations in cities both inevitable and the norm.”
The Army defines urban operations as “across the range of military operations planned and conducted on, or against objectives on a topographical complex and its adjacent natural terrain, where man-made construction or the density of population are the dominant features.” In the Marine Corps, urban operations is a military engagement “conducted where manmade construction and high population density are the dominant features.”
“Urban operations often reduce the relative advantage of technological superiority, weapons ranges, and firepower,” the manual says. “They have historically demanded large amounts of manpower, are usually time intensive, and require decentralized command and control—a trend that will more than likely continue.”
Troops fighting in cities must deal with the confined spaces created by tall buildings, which also provide cover for enemy positions. U.S. air power and indirect fire capabilities are limited in urban terrain. Threat facing soldiers and Marines on the ground include conventional enemy forces, militia or guerilla forces that can hide among the civilian population, terrorists, criminal organizations, gangs and political groups, according to the manual.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller have emphasized readying their forces for intense, high-casualty close-quarters combat in urban terrain. Fighting in megacities is a core capability requirement outlined in both the Army’s modernization strategy and the Marine Corps Operating Concept (MOC) unveiled by Neller last year.
In his primetime speech to the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual expo in October, Milley called for synthetic and virtual training systems that could replicate urban combat and train troops to fight there.
“We must improve human performance and decision making by increasing training and assessment starting at the soldier level,” Milley said. “This will require rapid expansion of our synthetic training environment and deeper distribution of simulations capabilities down to battalion and companies, with simulation capability to model combat in megacities, a likely battlefield of the future.”
The manual calls for mobile, mutually supporting units that can avoid being surrounded and wiped out by enemy forces in crowded urban terrain.
“Enemies and adversaries will attempt to isolate friendly forces using command and control by social media, unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), crowd-sourced information, and improvised explosive devices,” the manual says. “Electro-magnetic interference, denial of Internet and Global Positioning System (GPS) services, and physical obstacles may demand more reliance on decentralized command and control and mission-type orders by friendly forces.”