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What follows are three loosely related articles meant to inspire novel thought on military operations in the growing urban landscapes of the future. They were written by members of the Chief of Staff of the Army Strategic Studies Group (CSA SSG) as part of a directed research project on the future tactical, operational, and strategic implications of megacities.
These articles do not dwell on the past, nor do they speculate on contingencies which might or might not draw U.S. forces to the places we’d rather avoid. Instead, they try to move past what we “know” about policy and doctrine and deliberately take us outside our comfort zone. Our aim is to force military professionals to imagine what these environments would – will – demand of military formations.
Much of the debate about these articles will undoubtedly focus on “why we wouldn’t” or “couldn’t” or “shouldn’t” engage in large urban environments. However none of these arguments absolve military professionals from their responsibility to think about these places and provide military options to decision makers. In 2003, the Armed Forces of the United States found themselves in Baghdad, with little understanding of that environment. Over the next several years we learned, and were eventually successful in the culminating Battle of Sadr City in 2008. Our view is that the time to begin thinking about how to cope with Baghdad—or other large urban areas—is not after you are there.
We need to pull the lessons of the past decade of war forward, but also realize that the operational environment will become even more challenging and complex as the world urbanizes. The Army needs a rigorous debate on how the challenges posed by future operations in major urban centers can be met. This is a future where the Army and other elements of land power will be uniquely relevant. The concept of “Strategic Landpower” jointly developed by the Army, USMC, and SOCOM advances “the fundamental premise that people are the center of all national engagements” and that “it is equally self-evident that war, or more broadly, conflict, is also an inherently human endeavor.” We accept these premises, and the implication that a “Strategic Landpower” must have the capabilities and capacity for operations in megacities. Large urban areas are where most of the human race will reside in the future; as such they constitute the strategic high ground, while the complexity of their physical and human terrain poses the ultimate area denial challenge.
The first megacities article is the executive summary of the CSA SSG Megacities Concept Team’s final report to the Chief of Staff of the Army. The report consolidates roughly eight months of research on the military challenges presented by large urban environments. The second article, “Scenario 4,” reframes traditional notions of military operations in an urban environment. This article grossly exaggerates threat capabilities in a “worst case” scenario meant to challenge assumptions regarding the institutional and operational readiness of the Army in complex urban terrain against an unanticipated adversary. Finally, “The Gotham Division and SSG Parker” article imagines a realistic, yet profoundly different Army. This narrative is a bold assertion of what the Army could do tomorrow and ties together many of the concepts offered to the Chief of Staff of the Army by this year’s CSA SSG cohort. These articles are meant to inspire innovative, unconventional, and independent thought—and to start conversations. We believe that the future is urban—and that we are unprepared for that future.