Small Wars Journal

Every City is Different. That’s Why a One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Urban Operations Won’t Work.

Every City is Different. That’s Why a One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Urban Operations Won’t Work. By John Spencer and John Amble - Modern War Institute

If we are entering an era where military forces will increasingly be called upon to operate in cities (and we are), it follows logically that the Army should begin preparing for urban terrain. But a quick scan of the global contemporary operating environment reveals the extraordinary diversity of urban landscapes. So what types of cities should we focus on?

Over the last few years, there has been growing attention within the US military on megacities—cities with ten million or more inhabitants. In 2014, the Army conducted a yearlong research project on megacities, which concluded that it is “ill-prepared” to operate—essentially, to conduct any mission—in a megacity. Other scholars have argued that mid-sized or even smaller cities are more important, especially if they’re perceived as likely spots of future military action. But while both individuals and centers within the Army continue to write, conduct research, produce studies, and hold conferences on the problems associated with operating in major cities, too little effort has been directed toward examining which specific cities around the globe the US military should pay closest attention to.

Many senior military and national security leaders have acknowledged both the military’s need to prepare for major military operations in cities, big and small, and its current inadequate capabilities. The current commander of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, Gen. Stephen Townsend, believes that “we’re going to see battle in megacities and there’s little way to avoid it.” In a similar vein, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark Milley has said, “It’s obvious you can’t predict the future with certainty, but there are certain things that I feel confident that we can articulate and we know will probably be true. . . . [The world is] rapidly urbanizing. . . . We need to man, organize, train, and equip the force for operations in urban areas, highly dense urban areas, and that’s a different construct. We’re not organized like that right now.”

But the sheer diversity among the world’s cities makes such preparation challenging. Yes, they have similarities, but each has remarkably individual qualities…

Read on.

Categories: urban operations