Small Wars Journal

Reimagining the Character of Urban Operations for the U.S. Army

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 2:46pm

Reimagining the Character of Urban Operations for the U.S. Army by Gian Peri Gentile, David E. Johnson, Lisa Saum-Manning, Raphael S. Cohen, Shara Williams, Carrie Lee, Michael Shurkin, Brenna Allen, Sarah Soliman, and James L. Doty III, RAND Corporation

Urban environments pose significant challenges for ground forces and have traditionally been avoided when at all possible, but increasing urbanization of the world's population seems to ensure that urban combat is in the Army's future. This report provides a historical analysis of the ways in which militaries have deployed light and mechanized infantry with armored forces during close urban combat, looking specifically at the U.S. Army in Mogadishu in 1993, the Russian Army in Grozny in 1994 and in 1999, the U.S. Army in Baghdad in 2003, the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army in Fallujah in 2004, and the U.S. Army in the Sadr City suburb of Baghdad in 2008. The authors assess the advantages and costs of this warfighting approach and identify lessons that can inform how the Army might confront similar foes in complex, urban environments in the future.

The authors find that urban combat operations have historically been among the most arduous challenges an army can face and that there are important gaps in the U.S. Army's capabilities to succeed in urban combat. The authors specifically discuss the critical role that effective intelligence plays in urban combat, and they offer broad recommendations on the implications of urban operations for Army warfighting challenges and for Army doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, and facilities.

Key Findings

Mobile Protected Firepower Is an Important Necessity in Urban Operations but Does Not Guarantee Success

  • Armored ground forces enable freedom of movement in urban areas, providing the basis for shrinking the operational problem of a large urban area down to a neighborhood.
  • Mobile protected firepower will face challenges in urban operations. For example, the high lethality of artillery fire used by the Russian Army in the Ukraine will demand a combined arms approach that integrates ground maneuver with joint fires.

The Importance of Intelligence in Urban Operations

  • Urban operations will demand innovative forms of intelligence, including new sources and methods of collection, particularly open source information from nonmilitary sources.
  • The principal challenge for intelligence in urban operations will be to integrate and make sense of data from a plethora of sources.
  • In some but not all cases, sufficient intelligence may help the Army to reduce the relevant operational area to a scope that it actually has the resources to handle.

Forces Need to Be Creative and Adaptive in Their Employment

  • Each city poses different challenges. A constant for troops engaged in urban combat is to shrink the problem to a manageable size, but how to do so varies considerably depending on the city and the enemy confronted.
  • The key to reducing the challenge of urban combat to a manageable scope is creative thinking by military leaders who can think outside of established methods and norms of operations.

Read the entire report.