Small Wars Journal

So You Think the Army Can Avoid Fighting in Megacities

So You Think the Army Can Avoid Fighting in Megacities by John Amble and John Spencer, Modern War Institute

“The Army will never need to fight in a megacity.”

Over the past few months, MWI has published several articles exploring combat in megacities and examining the Army’s preparation for such an operating environment. The response these articles have produced has brought into the open a debate—ongoing and almost shockingly intense—not about whether the Army is prepared for the unique complexities of dense, urban terrain, but about whether there would ever be a reason for the Army to even consider entering a megacity. A not insignificant minority—including some very smart and experienced people—has voiced some variation of the opinion above in comments sections, on social media, and in direct conversation. Although these opinions are at odds with the views of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley—who has said that the explosive growth of megacities gives him “very high degrees of confidence” that the Army will be fighting in urban areas in the future—they are typically thoughtful and always well-meaning. But they are also wrong.

The arguments that the Army need not devote time, manpower, or money to better preparing to operate in megacities are not uniform in their objections. But they do share a series of assumptions on which they’re based, the flaws of which become apparent on closer examination…

Read on.


I have gotten to sit in on a few megacities working groups and table-top exercises over the past three years, or so. The discussions are worth having; however, the elephant in the room which always seems to be dismissed is: capacity.

Complex/ity is mentioned in this article approximately 17 times. Capacity is not mentioned at all. There has been, and will continue to be a tremendous capacity-devouring nature to urban combat.

"Mega" seems to be fascinating, while exponential requirements for plain, old, simple, capacity seems to be a boring assumption (ironically not listed as an assumption in this article).

I suggest adding the study of the inherent capacity requirements of urban combat/operations to any serious discussion about megacities. It is too simple of an issue to be left out of a conversation about a complex problem.

Mr. Ed