Our Soldiers, Their Cities

Major Ralph Peters of the US Army writes about the future of combat in 1999.

He believed that urban operations will be the primary locus of military action in coming years.  The US soldier is un-prepared for such battlefields though. Chiefly, because such battlefields are not part of our own military history and thus we have not designed our weapons or tactics for such wars. In fact this is problematic because:

At the broadest level, there is a profound spatial difference. “Conventional” warfare has been horizontal, with an increasing vertical dimension. In fully urbanized terrain, however, warfare becomes profoundly vertical, reaching up into towers of steel and cement, and downward into sewers, subway lines, road tunnels, communications tunnels, and the like. Even with the “emptying” of the modern battlefield, organizational behavior in the field strives for lateral contiguity and organizational integrity. But the broken spatial qualities of urban terrain fragments units and compartmentalizes encounters, engagements, and even battles. The leader’s span of control can easily collapse, and it is very, very hard to gain and maintain an accurate picture of the multidimensional “battlefield.”

Major Peters then delves into a bit of design fiction exploring the types of tools/weapons and technology that would be needed for such operations. More interestingly though is his final proposal. These new battlefield challenges will require a new sort of training methodology. Rather than training for tank combat in lowlands as in a Fulda Gap, Cold War scenario, the military will need to train in and for the urban context. Rather than building new faux urban battlegrounds (as has been done at great cost) for training sites, Major Peters suggests that the military partner with local governments around the country in an unique form of urban revitalization.

But none of the sample measures cited above is as important as revolutionizing training for urban combat. The present approach, though worthwhile on its own terms, trains soldiers to fight in villages or small towns, not in cities. Building realistic “cities” in which to train would be prohibitively expensive. The answer is innovation. Why build that which already exists? In many of our own blighted cities, massive housing projects have become uninhabitable and industrial plants unusable. Yet they would be nearly ideal for combat-in-cities training. While we could not engage in live-fire training (even if the locals do), we could experiment and train in virtually every other regard. Development costs would be a fraction of the price of building a “city” from scratch, and city and state governments would likely compete to gain a US Army (and Marine) presence, since it would bring money, jobs, and development–as well as a measure of social discipline. A mutually beneficial relationship could help at least one of our worst-off cities, while offering the military a realistic training environment.

More in Parameters, Spring 1996 (here)

Via demilit (here)

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