Small Wars Journal

A Proposed Framework for Appreciating Megacities: A US Army Perspective

Share this Post

A Proposed Framework for Appreciating Megacities: A US Army Perspective

Mr. Michael Bailey, LTC Robert Dixon, COL Marc Harris, CSM Daniel Hendrex MAJ Nicholas Melin, SGM Richard Russo - (Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group Fellows)


Cities with populations of ten million or more are given a special designation: Megacity, a term coined by the UN in the 1970s (1). There are currently over twenty megacities in the world, and by 2025 there will be close to forty (2). This article presents a framework for assessing megacities to better appreciate the unique and unprecedented challenges and opportunities that may confront the U.S. Army in these rapidly evolving environments. The key components of this framework are context, scale, density, connectedness, and flow. These characteristics combine in varying ways, depending on the megacity. By assessing individual megacities through this framework, the U.S. Army can better understand how it might operate as part of a joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational (JIIM) force within them. Making individual megacities (vice a generic megacity) the unit of analysis will lead to better DOTMLPF (doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, and facilities) solutions, increase commander’s appreciation, and provide better options for the conduct of successful operations.


A global urbanization trend has pushed the number of megacities (a city or combination of cities with a total population over ten million) worldwide from two in 1970, to ten in 1990, to twenty-three in 2011. By 2025, the United Nations predicts there will be thirty-seven megacities (2), many of which will be in the developing world where drivers of instability will be numerous. The probability that the U.S. Army will be called upon to operate in a megacity will only increase. Although the Army has recent urban combat experience during Operation Iraqi Freedom in Fallujah (pre-war population estimate 350,000) and Baghdad (pre-war population 6 million), it has not yet conducted operations in megacities [i]. Recent writing and thinking about megacities attempt to characterize these large urban areas, explore their inherent risks and opportunities (3), and map their economic importance (4). But little has been written about how the Army might prepare itself to operate in these environments. This article seeks to add to that discussion. Our hypothesis is that megacities are a unique category of operational environments that the Army does not fully appreciate or understand; by analyzing megacities through a strategic framework like the one described here, the Army can prepare itself to operate more effectively within them. This framework, applied to specific megacities, will begin to provide the foundational understanding the Army must have to operate successfully in megacity environments.

The Army has considerable recent experience in urban environments, particularly in Fallujah and Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom. But even Baghdad, with a 2003 population of roughly 6 million, is not fully comparable to megacities that have two or three-times that population. While there are undoubtedly lessons to be learned from this and other urban operations of the past, those examples may not represent fully relevant historical models for future operations. While attempting to determine what, exactly, makes a megacity different from other urban environments, a framework emerged that has five central components: scale, density, connectedness, flow and context. These characteristics combine with each other in unique ways in several of the megacities that we examined. What emerged from our analysis is a typology ranging from cities that are highly integrated (e.g. New York City or Tokyo) with hierarchical governance and security systems, to cities that are loosely integrated (e.g. Lagos, Nigeria or Dhaka, Bangladesh) with alternatively governed spaces and security systems. Some cities exhibit a combination of the two (see Figure 1).

Highly integrated systems are characterized by strong formal and informal relationships among its component parts.  These relationships manifest as highly ordered hierarchical structures with formalized procedures and norms, and open communication among its various parts.  Highly integrated systems are inherently stable, show high degrees of resilience (ability to absorb change) and manage growth in a relatively controlled manner. Loosely integrated systems, on the other hand, lack many of the formal relationships that keep highly integrated systems stable.  Weak control and communications systems, and lack of consistent rules for interaction amongst component parts lead to low resilience and unregulated growth.  This growth, in turn, contributes more component parts that aren’t formally integrated into the system, creating a downward spiral of instability.

Drivers of instability in megacities range from glaring wealth disparity to environmental risk factors. Some megacities, particularly highly integrated cities, are capable of coping relatively well when instability arises, while others will have their service and security capabilities quickly overwhelmed. Where vital US interests are at stake, the Army may be called on to conduct operations in and around megacities to achieve strategic goals that protect those interests. Lacking relevant historical examples to base training, education and planning, we believe the Army is not prepared for operations in these unique operational environments. Entirely new concepts are needed to prepare the Army to conduct operations in the megacity environment.  A framework based on context, scale, density, connectedness, and flow is presented to encourage new thinking on the subject (see Figure 2). This framework can be used to uncover key nuances in operational environments that are incredibly complex. It is not meant to provide a model for understanding all megacities; such a thing is not possible. Nor is it meant to take the place of existing analytical tools (PMESII-PT[ii] or METT-TC[iii] for example) that help tactical planners focus their efforts, but instead can be used as a precursor to tactical planning to provide an urban-centric strategic appreciation of the megacity system.


Every megacity is unique and must be understood within its own historical, cultural, local, regional and international context. Politics and geography further complicate the human terrain and leave military planners with a potentially overwhelming problem set. Knowledge of the rate and characteristics of a megacities’ growth may enrich our contextual understanding, as will knowledge about certain drivers of instability, including the geographic complexities which might increase the likelihood of environmental catastrophe.

In 1950 there were 2 megacities, New York and Tokyo. Today there are nearly 30. Some have grown very rapidly (Table 1), while others have grown slowly and methodically. The pace and nature of a city’s growth are essential to understanding context. Economic and environmental forces drive migration from rural areas to cities resulting in either slow, gradual growth, or explosive growth depending on the nature of work being done there (5). There is a difference between large, complex, economically essential megacities that came to be through well-understood economic processes and megacities that are just as large and economically essential but grew into what Jacobs terms ‘economic grotesques’ which are simpler economies based on dependency and exploitation (6). Growth of this kind is rapid, largely unchecked, and relies on people and resources from surrounding rural areas to migrate to the city, which in some cases can create instability in both areas. New York City’s growth, for example, happened because it was an engine of diverse economic growth. People migrated to New York City gradually, creating an economic base from which to develop infrastructure at a reasonable pace. Rural areas were able to keep pace with the gradually increasing demand to supply the urban center with food and other resources (7). But less integrated cities, such as Dhaka, are growing at a pace that the formal system cannot cope with.  Rapid growth of this kind can lead to a rise in informal economic activity which can destabilize the labor market (8). In the case of Lagos, Nigeria, the urban center attracts rural migrants because of insufficient opportunities in the rural areas, not because of inherent, stable economic opportunities within the city itself (9). The nature of the growth is therefore fundamentally different, which shapes the nature of the relationship between migrants and city itself.

Additionally, places like Lagos and Dhaka will continue to grow despite the fact that the government provides neither services nor, in many cases, economic opportunity to migrants. Megacities in the developing world risk becoming gathering places for the dispossessed to a greater extent than they already are, and not magnets for opportunity as one might hope they would be. Another concept worth understanding is the primate city, one that “stands alone in a different order of magnitude and significance from those of all other cities…” (10) .  A primate city is an order of magnitude larger than other cities in the country and its economy is essential to the entire nation. Primate cities are often the home of national governments and security forces, and central hubs for business. The security and stability of the city has a direct impact on the security and stability of the nation. London and Paris are examples of Western primate cities. Lagos and Dhaka are examples of primate cities in the developing world. They are not simply big cities. They are places of such significance that any military effect may be magnified many times over due to their regional and international importance.

New York City has a rich history dating back to the mid-16th century. It has been a focal point in American history from its founding and its cultural significance is perhaps unparalleled in history. New York City is a local, regional, national and international economic superpower. While it is not a capital city, one could reasonably make the case that it is one of the most important places on earth. By virtue of its great wealth and highly integrated structure, New York City reaps the benefits of layers upon layers of government entities and service providers that are effectively resourced to deal with whatever problems may arise there, whether infrastructure, governance or security related. This will not be true of many megacities because they did not all grow out of similar processes.

Rio de Janeiro is also a culturally significant global city. Rio grew by a largely separate process than New York City. Its favelas, or slums, make up a significant portion of the city, and grew somewhat unintentionally in the late 19th and early 20th century when disaffected veterans and freed slaves essentially squatted in areas around the city (11). This context provides some understanding of how these places, kept at arm’s length by the government while the rest of the city grew, evolved separately and were populated by people without strong ties to the local or national government. Knowing this, it is perhaps not surprising that during a recent favela clearance operation government forces planted a national flag in the center of the favela, as if they were claiming some foreign territory(12). Understanding political and social nuances like this will be essential for Army leaders hoping to engage effectively with local partners in future operations.

Finally, contextualizing megacities according to geography is important. The global urbanization trend is being accompanied by a trend towards littoralization (13), or movement towards the coasts, where they are more vulnerable to severe weather events including flooding (Kilcullen, 2013). A recent study analyzed economic (coastal population growth), institutional (uncontrolled planning zones) and natural (severe weather event frequency, river discharge, soil subsidence, and others) factors in an effort to identify cities at increased risk of flooding. Shanghai (pop. 22M), Dhaka (pop. 14M), Calcutta (pop. 14M) and Manila (pop. 22M) were found to have the highest Flood Vulnerability Index ratings (14). The populations of those cities are at high risk from severe weather events. Other natural disaster risk factors include earthquakes; numerous megacities (Tokyo (pop. 37M), Los Angeles (pop. 15M), Tehran (pop. 13M), and Mexico City (pop. 20M) to name a few) are located on active geological fault lines (15).

Economic, cultural, historical, and geographical context amplify drivers of instability. Understanding a megacity’s context is essential for military planners and leaders tasked to operate in there. Appreciating context provides insight into the needs of the population, their receptiveness to foreign military assistance, and the Army’s ability to affect real change. Context is an essential component of the commander’s appreciation and must be central to considering operations in any megacity.


The scale, or relative size, of megacities differentiates them from other urban environments and presents a fundamental challenge to the Army’s doctrine and force structure.  Scale can be expressed in multiple ways; one is the scale of population. By 2025 cities with populations at or near 20 million will be more common; places like New York (23.6 million), São Paulo (23.2 million), Dhaka (22.9 million) and Lagos (18.9 million) (2). New places will be added to the list of megacities including Kinshasa (14.5 million), Bangalore (13.2 million), and Bogota (11.4 million). To put these numbers in context, the entire population of the country of Afghanistan, where U.S. forces have operated over the last decade, is 28.9 million (16). Another way of understanding scale is in terms of land area.  New York City’s five boroughs cover 301 square miles (17). This does not capture, however, the entire megacity area. When the area of shared infrastructure and industry that surrounds New York City’s urban core is included the metropolitan area expands to 4,495 square miles, and crosses from New York State into New Jersey and Connecticut (18).

The scale of the economic impact of megacities also places them in a separate category from other cities.  New York City’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is on par with Canada and larger than South Korea(19). Lagos’ GDP is as large as that of the country of Kenya (20). In many cases megacities have more in common with nations than with smaller urban environments.  For military strategists, megacities may have more in common with operational theaters than with areas of operation.

Although all urban environments can be understood better by examining their density, connectedness, flows and context, within a megacity these characteristics manifest themselves on a far greater scale.  Take, for example, the scale of density.  While it might not be evident on the surface, the cities of Macau, China and Karachi, Pakistan share a common characteristic; they both have similar population densities: Macau 61,400/km2, Karachi 59,100/km2.  Macau packs its 553,000 people into twenty three square kilometers, while Karachi’s has nearly twenty million people spread over 945 square kilometers (18).  Macau is dense, but within an area that could potentially be manageable to a military force using existing doctrine. Karachi’s population, on average, is equally dense over an area far too large to manage with current doctrine and available force levels. This example illustrates how each of the characteristics detailed in this study is magnified and made unique by the sheer scale of these urban environments.

The scale of megacities challenges the underlying tenets of force sizing (methodology and doctrine) for urban operations. The Army’s methodology for tailoring the size of the force for an operation is based on historically derived ratios.  However, the Army lacks relevant historical examples that adequately apply to mega urban environments.  Simply scaling historical ratios quickly exceeds capacity by orders of magnitude.  Based on analysis of counterinsurgency campaigns such as British operations in Malaya and Northern Ireland, US Army Field Manual (FM) 3-24 Counterinsurgency advises that the counterinsurgent force possess a minimum strength of 20 to 25 soldiers per every 1,000 people in an area of operations (21).   Likewise, the foundational ratios utilized in major combat operations, as presented in the Army’s premier doctrine for operations, Unified Land Operations (22) and shown below (Table 2) originate from analysis originally conducted by the German General Staff during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 (23).

The usefulness of these ratios is called into question by the scale of megacities.  Execution of counterinsurgency operations in a large urban environment with a population of 20 million would require 400,000 Soldiers according to the ratio defined in FM 3-24.  That number is exclusive of support personnel and assumes the operating environment is isolated from its surroundings.  This surpasses the largest commitment of U.S. and allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan (195,100 Soldiers, Airmen and Marines in November 2007), and approaches the current end strength of the entire active component of the U.S. Army (25). Thus, some current force planning factors are obsolete when considering megacity environments.


A major characteristic of urban environments is density, or quantity per unit area. Density comes in several forms, and will impact any operation in a megacity. The challenges associated with managing population density is one form, but there are others (e.g. vehicle density leads to traffic congestion, structural density limits growth and maneuverability, and electronic signal density presents myriad problems in terms of bandwidth congestion and confounds signal-based targeting). Joint doctrine describes density as an overriding aspect of the urban environment and Army doctrine recognizes the difficulty of maneuver in urban environments (26). But even these descriptions fall short of describing the impact that urban density at scale has on an Army’s ability to operate.  Under the pressure of extreme density, effects begin to blur and coalesce between specific urban patterns as the scale of the urban environment increases (27). This limits a formation’s ability to mass its formations, and causes a disaggregation of combat power.

Increased vehicle density in large urban areas can result in congestion on surface roads and reduces the potential approach speeds of maneuver elements (28). Population density can, intentionally or unintentionally, disrupt flows on fixed capacity lines of communication in and around the urban environment.  In highly integrated megacities increases and fluctuations in population can be forecasted and planned for. On the island of Manhattan, for example, workforce commuting causes the population to expand from 1.6 million on weeknights to 4 million during weekdays (29). This is an example of a daily fluctuation, but similar changes occur on other timelines in other places. For example, the mass migration of people throughout east Asia during the Chinese Lunar New Year results in what has been called “Traffic Armageddon” as billions of commuters and migrant workers journey home for the holiday (30).

Population, structural, and signal density in the urban environment produce physical and virtual clutter which reduces the effectiveness of intelligence collection and complicates target acquisition. Market saturation of cell phones and other web-enabled devices produce a signal-dense environment which complicates target acquisition and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) collection (31). Further, the three dimensional maneuver spaces in urban environments present a departure from the horizontal target engagement Army maneuver forces are accustomed to.

“… the high density of urban areas affects every level of operations.  At the tactical level mental and physical exhaustion is exacerbated by the high noise levels reflecting off hard surfaces.  More infrastructure, people and activity means situations change rapidly so more decision are needed, but the time available for decision is contracted.  Density’s cumulative negative effects can also create a scenario of sensory and capability overload.  Activities at the operational and strategic level are complicated because a single area can soak up manpower and other resources.  Density, like the linked notions of tempo and fragmentation, thus represents a way of understanding the dynamics of operations.  For the result of density, vibration and increased temp is magnification; everything becomes intense, expensive and noisy. (32).”


Now more than ever it is obvious that cities don’t exist in isolation: not only are they part of a region or state, but modern, highly integrated cities are players on the global stage. The relationship between the city and its environment (local or global) is a product of the connections between them.  In systems terms, the connections describe the city’s external connectedness, and it reflects the myriad interactions to various places around the world.  These interactions take the form of trade (goods or services), information, economics and finance, entertainment, social, etc. and form the basis of the city’s function and purpose.

The complex web that describes modern cities’ connectedness is integrated in more and faster ways than ever before.  Instantaneous information transfer, robust international shipping on the surface and in the air, and mass migration (legal and illegal) connect the cities around the world in ways undreamed of only decades ago.  The ability of a shopkeeper in Brazil, for example, to instantly contact a supplier in Beijing and receive a package the next day is a commonplace expectation.

Robust and redundant external connectedness makes isolating a modern city nearly impossible.  Indeed, recent attempts at shutting down social media in Turkey (33), Egypt and Libya (13) illustrate how resilient modern communications systems are becoming.  This robust connectedness can be used to great advantage see and understand the system, even from remote locations. An example of a global network leveraged to understand and inform a tactical situation is the work of a group of disaster response experts know as Crisis Mappers.

“Crisis Mappers leverage mobile & web-based applications, participatory maps & crowd sourced event data, aerial & satellite imagery, geospatial platforms, advanced visualization, live simulation, and computational & statistical models to power effective early warning for rapid response to complex humanitarian emergencies. As information scientists we also attempt to extract meaning from mass volumes of real-time data exhaust (34).”

In the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Crisis Mappers members based in Boston and supported by volunteers around the world used real time data enabled through social media and SMS messaging to dynamically map crisis response needs.  This dynamic map was used by US Marine Corps and US Coast Guard personnel on the ground to locate and rescue hundreds of earthquake victims (35).

Real-time global news coverage of events is another form of connectedness that solidifies global connectedness.  This dynamic serves to flatten the strategic-operational-tactical hierarchy and increase the impact of seemingly local events.  Instantaneous worldwide communication of news appears to be reliably consistent, so much so that terrorists attacking Mumbai in 2008 used news feed from global media sources as their primary feedback mechanism to their control center in Pakistan (13).

Megacities also serve as physical conduits through which goods, services and traffic flow.  Sea ports and international airports serve both the city itself and the surrounding region.  New York City’s port, for example, is the largest port on the East Coast of the United States, serving 35% of the country’s population. Its three airports account for 25% of the nation’s air imports and almost 20% of its exports. Regional and national road and rail networks also converge on these large urban environments acting as conduits for traffic to and through the city.  For example, over 1.1 million vehicles pass through New York City each day, making it the most active traffic hub in the Northeast between Boston and Washington, D.C. The ramifications of interrupting this flow are so profound that cities across the region established an agency, Transportation Operations Coordinating Committee (36), to continually monitor the traffic conduits through New York City and issue alerts so that outlying areas can react to the effects of even one highway closing in the city within hours of its occurrence (37).

Interrupting the conduits of physical connectedness is likely to complicate military operations, as seen during the responses to urban areas in the 2010 Haiti Earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013.  While neither affected a megacity, the cases illustrate the potential for widespread devastation. The Haiti earthquake, which demolished over 100,000 structures and damaged 200,000 more, devastated not only the internal physical connectedness of Port-au-Prince but also the national transportation grid.  With a devastated port, marginally functional international airport and rubble-blocked roads, responders discovered that their ability to provide relief to the rural periphery could not proceed until these connective functions were restored (38).

Cities are also connected internally to their own structure.  The relationships and flow systems that connect the various component parts of a city are the primary factors in defining the structure and behavior of the city.  In viewing cities as complex systems, it is often easiest to notice the elements of the system because they are thought to be visible, tangible things [iv]. But a system cannot be understood absent an understanding of the connections between them.  Some of the interconnections in the system are actual physical flows, such as roads, power lines or waterways.  But non-physical flows of information are increasingly becoming the primary connective tissue that holds cities together.  Information-based relationships are difficult to see in most systems, but are essential to understanding the city (39).  But the increasing proliferation of mobile communications is making internal connectedness more robust at the personal level.  The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) expects the number of cell phone accounts to rise from 6 billion now, to 7.3 billion in 2014, compared with a global population of 7 billion.  Over 100 countries have more cell phone accounts than people (40).  However, non-digital information flows remain an important form of internal connectedness, and are more difficult to see than digital systems.  In many cities, information is still spread by word of mouth: in the market, on the street, or from the pulpit.

Military operations in the urban environment will continue to become more transparent with deeper mobile communication penetration.  Cell phone capabilities (voice, text, and data (cameras)) may deny us the element of surprise during operations; the density of information and communication technologies (ICT) may slow the ability to identify actionable intelligence; and as developing countries gain parity in ICT, our ability to influence an adversary may be restricted.


Flow is the movement of people, resources or things into or out of a megacity. Just as a living organism relies on flows in (food, air and water), and flows out (waste) to stay alive, a city also requires flows. Vast amounts of energy and other vital goods must flow into the megacity, these goods must circulate throughout the urban space, and waste must flow out if the megacity is to remain healthy. The quality and efficiency of these flows are often referred to as the metabolism of the megacity, relating the importance of internal and external flow to its health. Some of these “lifeline” commodities are obvious: water, food, electricity and the removal of trash and sewage.  Current Army doctrine outlines what technical infrastructure information should be collected, including the above areas plus others such as transportation networks, fuel distribution, and communications (41). The economic impact of even temporary interruption of flow can be significant: the interruption of internet service in Egypt in 2011 for five days, for example, resulted in an estimated economic loss of $90 million (3-4% of GDP) (42).

Internal flow systems emerge naturally throughout the city to enable every moveable thing (goods, people, ideas, electricity, information, etc.) to flow in an increasingly efficient manner. While some flow systems (e.g., road networks, digital network architecture, and subways) are relatively static, the patterns of use of these systems are shaped by the nature of what travels along them.  Absent constraint, flow systems continually evolve to increase efficiency, and new flows self-generate where necessary.  This constant change in flows results in complexity that can be both challenging to understand and difficult to map (43). This complexity makes it difficult to predict the consequences of even minor, temporary interruptions to flow, and gives rise to non-linear effects that confound analytic prediction.

Regardless of the type of operation, militaries operating in large urban areas are necessarily affected by their myriad flow systems, and this will be especially true in megacities.  Among them are the flow of the population, friendly and enemy forces (maneuver, mobility, and logistics), information, and lifeline commodities (food, water, electricity, sewage, etc.).  Many of these systems will compete for the same physical and electronic terrain.  Commanders must, by necessity, seek to make sense of the various flow systems, and identify where flow systems are potentially in conflict. In fact, increasing flow system efficiency may be a central mission in a megacity environment. 


Current Army doctrine acknowledges that “The dynamic relationships among friendly forces, enemy forces, and the other variables of an operational environment (PMESII-PT and METT-TC) make land operations exceedingly difficult to understand and visualize (22).” In a megacity it may not be possible to fully understand the complex and dynamic environment. Developing a robust strategic appreciation that considers the city as a holistic entity existing within a specific context is the most viable tool for military planners and commanders to begin making sense of the operation. Here we present a city-centric framework that acknowledges that any given megacity may not be fully understandable using a general analytical process, and may not be responsive to traditional doctrinal methods. This framework, if used in advance of any operational or mission planning, updated as frequently as possible, and used to inform DOTMLPF [v] requirements, may help Army planners and commanders prepare for operations in highly complex megacity environments.

Current doctrinal approaches are underpinned by two fundamental assumptions:  the Army will have the ability to isolate the urban environment, and ground forces will be able to utilize ground approaches from the periphery for maneuver into the city (27).  For megacities, both of these assumptions may be badly flawed.  By virtue of their scale, density, connectedness, flows and context, isolation of a megacity (or even significant portions of it) either physically or virtually may not be possible or desirable.  Attempting to physically control an urban population of tens of millions of people spread over hundreds of square miles either ignores the force ratios defined in doctrine or demands massive mobilization.  In the future, optimal force ratios may have to be determined in real time based on dynamic circumstances in a megacity, and must include innovative use of external (non-US) forces. The flexibility to man, train and equip a force rapidly enough to deal with such an environment will be essential.  Virtual isolation of a megacity is even more improbable given that cell phone saturation in urban environments worldwide is already approaching or even exceeding 100% and global interconnectedness through the World Wide Web and satellite technology is ubiquitous.  Ground maneuver from the periphery is also unrealistic.  The congestion of ground avenues of approach combined with the massive size and density of the megacity environments make even getting to an objective from the periphery questionable, let alone achieving operational goals.

The very nature of megacities, coupled with the increasing likelihood of their being the key terrain of the future security environment, demands new thinking and new operational approaches. Megacities are a fundamentally new operating environment where traditional approaches are unlikely to work. It will not be possible to attack the problem one neighborhood at a time. The Army must endeavor to view the system as a whole, like a living organism, and understand its context, density, connectedness, and flow, all at an unprecedented scale. The Army must learn to shape itself to this environment. One size will not fit all in these places, and developing a one-size-fits-all Army will lead to failure in megacities. Increasing our understanding based on the framework discussed here may enable the Army of the future to operate effectively in these highly complex environments.


Thank you to Dr. David Johnson and Dr. Christopher Rice, Director and Deputy Director of the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group (SSG) for valuable guidance and review and to our colleagues in the other SSG Concept Teams for their input and ideas. This work was done as part of a one year fellowship at the SSG during which Fellows seek to provide the Chief of Staff of the Army with Independent, Innovative and Unconstrained ideas about future Army challenges.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.


1. IRIN. In-Depth: Disaster Reduction and the Human Cost of Disaster. [Online] June 2005. [Cited: April 3, 2014.]

2. United Nations. World Urbanization Prospects, 2011. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. New York : s.n., 2012.

3. Hazel, G. & Miller, D. Megacity Challenges, A Stakeholder Perspective. Munich : Siemens AG, 2006.

4. Dobbs, Smit, Remes, Manyika, Roxburg, Restrepo. Urban World: Mapping the economic power of cities. s.l. : McKinsey Global Institute, 2011.

5. Jacobs, Jane. Cities and the Wealth of Nations. New York : Vintage, 1984.

6. Taylor, P.J. Mega-Cities in Theoretical Perspective. Leicestershire, UK : s.n., Feb 28, 2011. GaWC Research Bulletin 373.

7. Hughes, Jonathan and Cain, Louis. American Economic History. New York : Harper Collins, 1994. pp. 169-171.

8. NRC. Population Growth and Economic Development: Policy Questions. Working Group on Population Growth and Economic Development, National Research Council. Washington, DC : National Academy Press, 1986. pp. 70-73.

9. Falola, Toyin. Violence in Nigeria. The Crisis of Religious Politics and Secular Ideologies. Rochester : University of Rochester Press, 1998. p. 148.

10. Jefferson, Mark. The Law of the Primate City. Geographical Review. April 1939, Vol. 29, 2.

11. Martin, Molly. Mega-Cities & Mega-Events: Lessons from Favelas for the Future. [Online] Spring 2012. [Cited: Feb 25, 2014.]

12. Domit, Myrna. Brazilian Forces Claim Victory in Gang Haven. New York Times. November 28, 2010.

13. Kilcullen, David. Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerilla. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2013.

14. Balica, S.F. A flood vulnerability index for coastal cities and its use in assessing climate change impacts. October 2012, Natural Hazards, Vol. 64, pp. 73-105.

15. Achenback, Joel. Under the world's greatest cities, deadly plates. Washington Post. February 23, 2010.

16. Goode, Steven. A Historical Basis for Force Requirements in Counterinsurgency. Carlisle : US Army Strategic Studies Institute, 2009-2010.

17. New York City Official Guide. [Online] 2014. [Cited: March 5, 2014.]

18. Demographia. World Urban Areas. [Online] 2013. [Cited: March 5, 2014.]

19. Florida, Richard. If U.S. Cities were Countries, How would They Rank? The Atlantic. [Online] July 21, 2011. [Cited: March 5, 2014.]

20. Economist. The Economist. [Online] April 13, 2013. [Cited: March 5, 2014.]

21. HQDA. Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency. Dec 2006.

22. —. Army Doctrine Reference Publication 3-0. Washington, DC : s.n., 2012 йил.

23. Mearsheimer, John. Assessing the Conventional Balance: The 3:1 Rule and Its Critics.. Spring 1989, International Security, Vol. 13, p. 59.

24. Zanella, James. Combat Power Analysis is Combat Power Density. Fort Leavenworth, KS : School of Advanced Military Studies, 2012.

25. Belasco, Amy. The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11. Washington, DC : Congressional Research Service, 2011.

26. HQDA. FM 2-91.4. [Online] Mar 2008. [Cited: Feb 25, 2014.]

27. —. Field Manual 3-06. [Online] 2006 йил. [Cited: 2014 йил 25-Feb.]

28. Does Accessibility Require Density or Speed? Levine. Spring 2012, Journal of the American Planning Association, pp. 157-172.

29. Moss, M.L. & Qing, C. The Dynamic Population of Manhattan. New York, NY : Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, Wagner School of Public Service, NYU, 2012.

30. Huang, G. [Online] Feb 5, 2014. [Cited: Feb 25, 2014.]

31. Moore, M.R. Regional and Broadband Wireless Technologies. Oak Ridge, TN : Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 2008.

32. Hills, Alice. Future War in Cities: Rethinking a Liberal Dilemma. New York : Frank Cass, 2004.

33. Rawlinson, Kevin. Turkey blocks use of Twitter after Prime Minister attacks social media site. The Guardian. 2014 йил 20-March.

34. CrisisMappers. CrisisMappers: The Humanitarian Technology Network. [Online] 2014. [Cited: April 10, 2014.]

35. Meier, Patrick. How Crisis Mapping Saved Lives in Haiti. National Geographic. July 12, 2012.

36. TRANSCOM. Transportation Operations Coordinating COmmittee. [Online] 2014 йил. [Cited: 2014 йил 24-March.]

37. Ascher, Kate. The Works: Anatomy of the City. New York : Penguin Books, 2005.

38. Cecchine, Gary. The U.S. Military Response to the 2010 Haiti Earthquake: Considerations for Army Leaders. Washington, DC : The RAND Corporation, 2013.

39. Meadows, Donella H and Wright, Diana. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction : Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

40. SiliconIndia. World to have more cell phone accounts than people by 2014. [Online] January 2, 2013. [Cited: March 4, 2014.]

41. HQDA. FM 3-3 4.170, Appendix C, Engineering Reconnaissance. Washington, DC : s.n., 2008.

42. Young, Mirae. The Collision of Social Media and Social Unrest: Why Shutting Down Social Media is the Wrong Response.. Fall 2013, Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property.

43. Bejan, Adrian. Design in Nature: How the Constructual Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organization. New York : Doubleday, 2012.

Figure Legends

Figure 1: Proposed Megacity Typology ranging from Highly to Loosely integrated. Highly integrated megacities have centralized, formal systems of governance and security systems, high quality physical and technical infrastructure, and an ability to regulate the flows of people, resources and economic activities. Loosely integrated megacities have decentralized and informal governance and security systems, low quality physical and technical infrastructure and have considerable difficulty regulating the flow of people, resources and economic activity. Moderately integrates megacities exhibit combinations of these two. It is also worth noting that this is a general typology and does not fully describe the environment. Even the most loosely integrated megacities will have pockets of highly integrated systems, and conversely highly integrated megacities will have pockets of loosely integrated systems.

Figure 2: Proposed analytical framework of Context, Scale, Density, Connectedness and Flow. Based on initial analysis these elements, and sub elements are important factors to achieve a strategic appreciation of a megacity environment, but this list is not all-inclusive. Each analysis will likely result in other elements and sub-elements that will add to understanding and appreciation.

End Notes

[i] Population estimates vary widely depending on source data.  Whenever possible we used population data from United Nations Statistical Division available at

[ii] PMESII-PT analysis can be used to examine the following operational variables: political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure, physical environment and time.

[iii] METT-TC analysis is done upon receipt of a warning order or mission. It is used to explore the following mission variables: mission, enemy, terrain and weather, troops, time available and civil considerations.

[iv] Elements of complex systems do not have to be physical things: intangible elements in social systems such as solidarity, factionalism, and belief systems can be very important elements to the system.  See Meadows, p 11-15.

[v] DOTMLPF: Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership, Personnel, Facilities


About the Author(s)

The authors are Fellows in the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group. This team was tasked with exploring the complexities of megacities in the deep future, and developing ways to help the Army prepare for this emerging environment. Mr. Bailey is an Army Civilian Microbiologist, LTC Dixon and MAJ Melin are part of the Army Corps of Engineers, COL Harris is a Signal Officer, CSM Hendrex is a cavalryman, and SGM Russo is an Intelligence Analyst.



Fri, 04/25/2014 - 6:01pm

In reply to by mikebailey42


I have seen at least two public references to the exercise in Southampton. One is a footnote in David Ucko's recent book, but the cited link to the official British Forces Broadcasting Station no longer works. It gives the date as October 2011. The other I think was in a RUSI Journal article that I cannot now identify.

Anyway I pressed on and searching found a working link. The exercise was called 'Exercise Urban Warrior' (No.3), with US observers:…

More details:…

There is more in this RUSI publication, although the name changes to 'Agile Warrior' and covers more than one theme:

A defence academic, Anthony King, as a commentary which refers to the exercise and the British Army trying to learn and implement lessons learnt:…

I am sure you will find official contacts should be able to help more, especially on the operational details.


Thu, 04/24/2014 - 9:44am

We appreciate the comments.

JIH, your comment on resilience is an excellent one. There is some debate on this matter. Clearly cities have a resilience that we need to understand better. There is also new research coming out that explores what factors make certain cities more or less resilient than others, and what aspects of the cities exhibit resilience, and which don't. Very interesting stuff.

davidbfpo, thanks for the feedback. We've looked at the recent favela ops, and certainly there is a lot to study there. Do you have a link to the UK MOUT exercise that you refer to? We'd love to learn more about that.


Wed, 04/23/2014 - 8:34am

I can understand why this research has been undertaken and published, but surely the way ahead is to advise political and military decision-makers that anything but welcomed humanitarian assistance is very UNWISE?

I understand that the military often plan and prepare assuming the 'worst case' situation will occur. Talking to a military historian yesterday I was reminded that two DIVISIONS were required in Stalingrad to take a factory. A recent MOUT exercise in the UK found soldiers could not carry all the ammunition required to take a single towerblock.

Just to be topical look at the situation in the favelas of Rio yesterday and weeks before a global event, the World Cup. See:

My recollection in the 'Cold War' era in then West Germany it took all the NATO armies a long time to adjust to the changing geography, spreading urbanisation and to a lesser extent woods. No doubt many factors were involved, one would expect West German politics and the public came to the fore.

Only in NATIONAL EXTREMIS should national coercive military action be considered in megacities. It is hard to imagine circumstances when and where that would apply.

Great article! Your research is pretty phenomenal. Who knew NYC had the comparable GDP to Canada and more than ROK? The challenges our Army would face in a Megacity are formidable and it's a good thing we're thinking about this. This article is a terrific introduction to those challenges.

One little historical note -- megacities must be resilient to some degree. Tokyo got firebombed in 1945, and in 1950 it was still one of two megacities on the planet. That's remarkable.

All in all, great article!