Small Wars Journal

Military Operations in the Growing Urban Landscapes of the Future

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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.

About the Author(s)

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.



Having successfully operated, undertaken operations, and navigated through many cities classified as 'mega-cities', it is difficult for me to read (begin to read) much of this material. Imagine how frustrating it is to learn that for some unfathomable reason, neither the DoS nor the CIA have sincerely engaged in 'information sharing' with the DoD. That you haven't received full disclosure, and that those (and I presume other) entities have misled their OWN military commanders regarding the extent of THEIR liabilities and THEIR failures… as it seems clear from the simple existence of this strategic working group. This inter-agency/departmental… perhaps bureaucratic or cultural… practice/habit of civilian entities refusing to engage with their military counterparts in good faith… utterly disgusts me.

Due to my current (non) status, it's impossible for me to openly or even (I think) legally work for my own Government, nor am I comfortable committing myself to an active working group on a particular problem in an official capacity while my legal status remains vague/in limbo. Hopefully you'll understand that this doesn't reflect any preference of my own, but rather seems prudent given past disputes/operations/liabilities which remain unresolved and ongoing in my particular case. Put simply, someone somewhere stamped 'disposable asset' on my forehead, and much to their chagrin I've proven much more difficult to 'dispose' of then they (and many others) imagined… well, I'm from Detroit, and in my little corner of America, we aren't in the habit of apologizing for surviving other peoples bad intentions or misbehavior.

I post here under my own name. While I have no idea what's written in my dossier (which I've never read or seen), and so can't confirm or deny what is or has or hasn't been attributed to me… I assure you there IS a METHOD, a PROCESS that can be adapted for use by MI use in mega-cities relating to US military engagement/operations. It isn't theoretical, or hypothetical, or experimental or etc. And best of all, it works…

Alexander Scott Crawford

Move Forward

Sat, 06/14/2014 - 11:37am

The linked Sergeant Major's article with the fictional future vision was particularly interesting. The alien invasion of NYC was a bit too fictional as have been past uses of zombies by other groups. The sole reason U.S. federal troops would be in NYC is in the aftermath of a WMD terror attack or other major disaster. NYC and other major cities generally have large police forces that do not require training. Therefore, perhaps the articles should take the advice of the new FM 3-24 and let the host nation police and military take the lead in megacities.

A few observations based on the Sergeant Major's article:

* Lots of independent squad actions don't appear to be a strategic solution to megacities with 20 million folks spread out over many hundreds of square kilometers. Likewise the Army's eventual ground combat vehicle would appear far too heavy, fuel inefficient, and tracked for city streets which was why Iraq went to MRAPs.

* Strykers seem to fit the urban environment. Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV) also seem appropriate. Build more V-hull Stryker variants, improve them with active protection, and field lots of JLTV?

* In a city of 20 million, chasing individual insurgents ala F3EAD and facial ID seems non-strategic and a needle in a haystack exercise. Insurgents are likely to hang out in diaspora neighborhoods with ethnicities and religious views that accept them. The solutions of 2008 Sadr City with T-barriers and larger combined arms actions to segregate neighborhoods would appear a possible solution to reduce haystack size. Use facial recognition at a few checkpoints into and out of the trouble area.

* Cities like NYC and London already have many surveillance cameras we could tie into. Additional perch and stare octo-copters, unattended sensors, telescoping sensors, and aerostats would add to the information collection. High overhead remotely piloted aircraft can fly well above the MANPAD envelope.

* The spider or horse-like unmanned ground vehicles the SGM speaks of has already been tested and certainly is an option. Not certain that riding atop one is that essential or safe in terms of five exposed troops on one open-air target. Why not optionally manned armored all-terrain vehicles (ATV) for two men. These rather than an unmanned aircraft could evacuate your prisoners and ambulatory CASEVAC patients with an ATV manned escort.

* The tube-launched unmanned system also is already a reality and planned future improvement. Someone I knew years ago suggested that a 2.75" launched UAS with fold-out wings is another possibility to add information collection endurance and eventual attack using prop power instead of a rocket. The attack pilot above and ground troops below could monitor the UAS video.

* The remotely piloted CASEVAC and prisoner-recovery idea is a possibility, however it would most likely only move casualties to an out of city to a safe LZ area where a manned MEDEVAC rotorcraft could transport casualties with onboard care to aid stations. A long flight without a medic or other humans would send many into shock and let others expire en route. Not sure that using a winch to move casualties up stairs with multiple stairwell turns would work. Troops can carry casualties.

* Megacities have far too large a need for water, sewage, and food to believe our troops could begin to address the problem of restoring essential services. Locals can drink local water that would make allied Soldiers sick without the logistically difficult attempt to move/distribute potable water. Unmanned helicopters potentially could drop water bottles onto roof tops and open areas at night but 20 million folks is a lot of bottles daily. Think 20 million pounds each night to 20,000 different LZs?

* The idea of an obscurant-fuel-air grenade detonated by another grenade would work but what if non-combatants are in the same apartment? What if explosives are in the apartment that could detonate. We just saw police send a robot into an restroom where an assailant was cornered rather than risk men. The hydraulic door opener might work only to detonate an IED on the other side. It also seems many boots running up lots of stairs would not be much of a surprise. Again this sounds like a tactical small-scale solution to a strategic problem of tens of thousands of bad guys in a city of 20 million.

* Why would any President or Congress send divisions to a megacity given the current administration's reluctance to resend even small ground Soldier SF/SOF units back into Iraq, Syria, or the Ukraine? It would appear a megacity response primarily works for disaster assistance and probably in cities near the sea. Bangladesh and other areas logistically difficult to reach seem like unlikely scenarios particularly when Islamic extremism is involved.

* Why not use palletized loading system and load handling system trucks to drop off flatrack joint security stations throughout the city. These racks could include a 8' wide by 14' long armored Squad shelter with concertina and empty HESCO on the end of the same rack to be expanded and filled by local labor using rubbled concrete. Add a telescoping sensor and remote weapon system and powerful generator able to power local power grids. Put these near local police stations or areas where host nation police and military will live with a ratio of one U.S. squad/A-team per platoon of police or host nation troops. Add one Stryker vehicle or JLTV for mobility and additional firepower.

* Use parks and soccer stadiums as LZs for hub and spoke manned and unmanned aircraft sustainment and link up with CASEVAC unmanned aircraft. Manned aircraft survivability equipment has advanced against MANPADs while guarded soccer stadiums coupled with night flights would protect against direct fire of RPGs and small arms. USAF GPS air drops into the same stadiums would be another safe alternative vs. having parachute loads hitting civilians and rooftops.