Urban Warfare Essay Research Paper URBAN COMBATIt

Urban Warfare Essay, Research Paper


It s a dirty business, but somebody has to do it.

Since the Middle Ages urban combat has been a dirty business. The effect on the populace has always been traumatic, whether the people were participants or simply bystanders caught in the misery of it all. In earlier times, laying siege to a city and then taking it was the objective. Since World War II and the refinement of maneuver warfare, cities have become a restricted area that are more easily bypassed or reduced than taken. Part of the reason for this gradual change in strategy has been the cost associated with military operations on urbanized terrain (MOUT). The cost, though difficult to calculate, has been excessive and prohibitive.

Recent examples of urban combat like the Russian attempt and eventual success in Grozny (the capital of the Republic of Chechnya), demonstrate the current price of fighting under these conditions. This Russian operation was conducted unconstrained by some of the modern day concerns such as civilian casualties or collateral damage. Yet, the operation demonstrated that urban combat is demoralizing, resource draining, politically costly, and represents the least favorable option of driving the enemy out. More favorable strategies in taking a city include: cutting off the city from enemy reinforcement and supply, thereby letting the defenders collapse; reducing the city by armed force; or bypassing the city altogether and winning the war by other means. Some disadvantages in conducting urban combat are the loss of maneuver space and communications and the loss of any technological edge that U.S. forces possess. Although technology can be put to good use in this type of warfare, the loss in overall advantage seems to outweigh the gain.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the dangers of entering into urban combat operations unprepared. The Russians experienced a hard lesson at Grozny, a lesson the United States had experienced in earlier times on a large scale at Aachen, Manila, Hue and Panama, and recently on a smaller scale in Mogadishu: that urban combat operations are not and cannot be clinical operations.

This article also attempts to form a baseline of knowledge gathered through years of studying military history, from someone who is not an expert in urban combat operations. The thoughts discussed here are the result of reading historical literature, reviewing recent events in the world, and monitoring trends gathered from the various U.S. Army training centers. The Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) is attempting to observe lessons learned from MOUT that may help our soldiers in a future urban combat contingency. There are concerns by some junior leaders, voiced at the JRTC, that our soldiers are not being properly trained, equipped, supplied, and led to meet the challenges of urban combat operations.

Fact: U.S. doctrine on combat operations in urban areas is outdated.

DISCUSSION: The primary U.S. Army doctrinal publication on this subject, FM 90-10, Military Operations on Urban Terrain, (a prescription on how the Army plans to fight in the urban environment) was published 15 August 1979. Its focus was on the fast-moving European battlefield of the 1960 s, and 1970 s. An update specifically designed to provide the “how-to pieces of urban combat” was addressed in FM 90-10-1, An Infantryman s Guide to Combat in Built-up Areas, published in May 1993, and the subsequent Change 1 to that FM dated 3 October 1995. Change 1, of FM 90-10-1, provided some lessons learned from the Army s Panama, Haitian, and Somalia experience. The potential threats described in both these publications have changed the weapons and munitions in our own inventory, and tactics, techniques, and procedures. In addition, the technology present on the battlefields of the world has dramatically changed. The types and locales of cities, as well as the political and environmental limitations, city sizes, population densities, and changes in demographics in areas where the Army may be committed, need review. The equipment available to the regular infantry for executing doctrine is outdated. Moreover, the training we are using to prepare our soldiers for urban combat is not realistic enough to present the full spectrum of command and control, along with the psychological impact, close combat, and logistical problems associated with this kind of combat.

RECOMMENDATION: Tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) need to be developed as an interim measure until doctrine can be written that supports urban combat. A new publication MCWP 3-35.3, Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain, published 16 April 1998 by the United States Marine Corps and the Marine Corps current “Urban Warrior,” experiment are positive steps, which offer a different approach, and fresh review of many of the questions the Army needs to address. The Marines are conducting “Urban Warrior” over a two-year period to develop TTP and long range, over-the-horizon command and control capabilities. An Army experiment called the MOUT TF originated at the Department of the Army and was tasked to TRADOC. This effort was then tasked by TRADOC to the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Its mission is to determine what should be done about the outdated FM 90-10/90-10-1 and to develop a training strategy for urban combat in the Army. Another interesting project at Fort Benning is the Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD). This project is a joint venture with the Marine Corps and is providing some encouraging work focused on what technology can bring to the urban fight.

OBSERVATION: The political realities of urban combat have created a terminology that tends to place limitations on how to conduct these operations. Terms like surgical MOUT, precision MOUT, and high-intensity MOUT are attempts at making urban combat something that it is not.

DISCUSSION: These terms tend to bring civility to urban combat operations. Based again on historical research and examples of how urban combat is fought, there is no method for this type of operation. The distinctions between one phase of urban combat and the others are not precise. The different types of urban combat descriptions give our soldiers and leaders a false sense of security that the operation they are conducting will not escalate; they do not plan thoroughly for such contingencies.

RECOMMENDATION: It is important that doctrine writers and soldiers who develop TTP currently being practiced use the correct terminology in describing the details and actions necessary in urban combat. The sugarcoated version of urban combat will not reflect the truth. Battles in a city are savage, and many times do not allow for the precautions normally taken in the field concerning refugees, civilian casualties, evacuation of friendly and enemy wounded and dead, and prisoners-of-war (POWs). The intent here is not to desensitize our soldiers to the plight of civilians or friendly and enemy soldiers, but to caution everyone that conventional concerns on the open battlefield may not apply in urban combat. Does this mean the Army cannot hold itself to a high moral code? NO. However, it does mean there is a need to be prepared for a situation where beliefs, moral code, and practices are tested beyond the bounds of current training, and to be prepared to face those challenges on a case-by-case basis.

OBSERVATION: The manpower resources needed to conduct urban combat is a problem for the U.S. Army. Under the current downsizing agenda, the Army does not have the soldiers to do the job. Any urban operation requires the infantryman, and many of them, not only to clear buildings and fight the fight, one room at a time, but to secure buildings already taken, and to guard precarious lines of communication that can be cut by a determined enemy squad. In an urban battle today, the battle for a building may take U.S. forces 24 stories straight up. Battle space cannot be considered in ground area in urban combat.

DISCUSSION: A battle fought under these conditions lessens all the advantages the U.S. military possesses on the open battlefield and requires that soldiers, not machines, fight and die for every corner, set of stairs, soda machine, and hallway. The grim reaper will collect his due, no matter what devices can be developed to improve our advantage. There are just too many corners, stairs, vending machines, and hallways along the way. To anticipate few casualties in this type of operation would not be an honest appraisal.

RECOMMENDATION: The Army needs soldiers in sufficient numbers to fight and support the urban battle and provide service support to those soldiers committed to the urban battle. A streamlined combat organization is needed that allows for easier task organization. A standard organization in combat arms units will help. Infantry units should be organized the same whether they are light infantry, airborne infantry, air assault infantry, ranger infantry, or mechanized infantry. Specialty, in organization, creates unnecessary problems in equipment, weapons, ammunition, and support. The Army in its currently reduced state does not need organizational problems complicated by one-of-a-kind and uniquely organized subordinate organizations. The “keep it simple stupid” (KISS) principle applies here, where “one organization fits all” is the best approach, then organize for combat.

Recently, the Chief of Infantry addressed this last problem. He recognized the problem in the field and reacted to “quick-fix” the organizational problem. The doctrinal development in organization will follow and unit training will adjust to the changes over time. The changes will define the basic unit of infantry and lead to its development in the task organization for combat, whether in the urban environment, in the jungle or desert.

OBSERVATION: Training in villages will not prepare the Army for combat in the large metropolitan areas. The Army has invested a tremendous amount of money and assets in developing a series of first-class MOUT sites at various training centers to help train soldiers to operate in the urban combat environment.

DISCUSSION: These sites can help a soldier polish the skills he needs to clear a room, isolate a threat, or move up a stairwell, but the present training sites are unrealistic. They suggest the urban terrain can be isolated and cut off. Only in the best of circumstances would this be the case. Cities are too large and too segmented to allow for complete encirclement, and forces are not available to accomplish this task. As in Grosny, the enemy will be reinforced and supplied with open-ended support. Gone are the days when an army can prevent these enemy activities in an urban battle. Even the best weapons in the world cannot isolate the enemy; the example of the Ho Chi Minh trail should tell all military practitioners something. If the enemy is dedicated to his cause, re-arming, re-supply, and reinforcement will be something our forces must contend with and be prepared for.

RECOMMENDATION: The U.S. Army needs to work with city governments to train under as realistic conditions as acceptable to those cities. Offers of cooperation, funding, and sharing of experiences that could otherwise never be gained with local law enforcement agencies and other emergency services can create an exercise that will benefit all concerned.

OBSERVATION: U.S. forces currently do not have the special weapons needed and lack the quantities necessary for urban operations. The weapons historically needed to do the job are in many cases either not in the inventory or soldiers are not available for training in the urban environment.

DISCUSSION: In our world today the concern of what weapon is appropriate for the incident may affect our ability to fight successfully in urban combat. The enemy can use whatever ruthless means he has at his fingertips to engage our forces, yet due to the prevailing attitude with our image, the press, and concern for the local population, the Army may be prevented from using the most effective weapons. In an historical example (Aachen), the use of 155-mm artillery in direct fire mode offered a tremendous equalizer, yet today it would create unacceptable collateral damage. Another weapon consistently used in city combat is the flame-thrower. When faced with a bunker or basement where all the firepower in the world is available yet not effective, it has historically been the flame-thrower that got the job done. This weapon, like no other, produces a tremendous amount of psychological effect on a trapped enemy, yet this weapon is not considered an acceptable substitute for firepower. The M202 Flash is the latest generation of flame weapon; however, few infantrymen have trained with this weapon. At present, we are not sure the system is available to regular infantry. This weapon is much safer than the previous flame-thrower apparatus and easier to train with and store. Why is this weapon, better described as a round (actually 4 tubes), not used in training or available in quantities necessary for urban combat? If safety is still an issue, technological improvements in binary weapon my help in the development of an advanced flame-thrower.

RECOMMENDATION: Develop weapons based on the need to defeat the threat, not on political considerations concerning whether such a weapon would be used in a given situation. The concerns for weapons “use” should be: 1.) Will it be effective? 2.) Is it safe for our troops to use? 3.) Will it have the desired effect? Finally, the weapon must be available in sufficient quantities for use in realistic training and for combat.

OBSERVATION: Quantity of supplies is another issue that the Army must be prepared to address in a urban combat situation. Previous evidence shows that urban combat uses an inordinate amount of supplies, from ammunition to bandages. This usage is in conventional supplies only. It does not account for specialty equipment such as grappling hooks and rope (described as essential for every soldier) nor for the high use of fragmentation, white phosphorus, thermal, and smoke grenades necessary for every move.

DISCUSSION: A lack of sufficient supplies and specialty equipment will force our troops to use alternatives and “work-a-rounds” to clear the enemy from certain positions. These work-a-rounds will be applied with the loss of certain weapons from our inventory that may be considered unnecessary. Because these work-a-round weapons are not supported, they are not in the inventory and will not be available for training or available when needed for urban operations.

RECOMMENDATION: Screen weapons for use in the urban environment, and make weapons effectiveness, easy use, and safety (rather than political acceptability) priorities in determining needs.

OBSERVATION: Munitions now in the inventory are not suitable for urban combat. In past wars the types of ammunition in the inventory worked for all possibilities. Today, this is not the case. Due to the cost of maintaining ammunition stores and the doctrine that U.S. forces expect to employ, the ammunition is designed to emphasize high-speed maneuver battles (tank-on-tank, infantry fighting vehicle-on-infantry fighting vehicle), with little concern about the effects current types of ammunition will have in urban combat.

DISCUSSION: Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) rounds will not explode against masonry, and armor piercing ammunition will not have the desired effect against brick and wood. The need for a greater selection of ammunition for all our weapons in urban combat is necessary. Infantry operations alone will not succeed. As demonstrated in previous engagements, indirect fires must be used to isolate strong points, and a combined arms team has the best chance of success. The destructive power of tanks, anti-tank, and direct fire artillery weapons can create a foothold in an enemy position that will allow the infantry to close with and destroy them. The ammunition currently in the inventory will not fit the bill. It is designed for a different type of warfare, and to assume it will do the job is a mistake.

RECOMMENDATION: A high-level review of the ammunition necessary in urban combat must be conducted. The use of high-explosive, high-explosive plastic, white phosphorus, and flechete rounds need to evaluated and considered for re-introduction into the inventory in sufficient quantities for effective training. Satchel charges, explosives, and bangalore torpedoes should also be re-evaluated for use in urban conditions. There are numerous cities and towns abandoned along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers due to the Corps of Engineers buyout in flood plain programs that could serve as perfect targets for experiments of different types of munitions and their effectiveness. Recently, a MOUT Conference was held at Fort Benning, Georgia, and members of CALL witnessed a demonstration of new munitions under consideration by the Infantry school for forced-entry in urban combat conditions. These promising munitions, each with their own unique capabilities, will go a long way in solving some age-old problems for infantrymen in urban combat. The next step is to obtain these munitions as soon as possible and provide them to the field, along with instruction and training devices that give our soldiers the tools needed to train.

Also, a new type of multi-purpose tank ammunition for the 120mm gun is currently under development. Hopefully, this ammunition is being examined for a role in urban combat.

OBSERVATION: Specialty communications equipment is now only available to special units. This communications equipment is needed now for regular infantry for training and potential combat operations.

DISCUSSION: The communications equipment available over-the-counter in the U.S. can sustain a tactical squad of any police department in America in force entry operations. Yet, the U.S. infantryman must rely on systems designed for the open battlefield. The right equipment for conducting urban combat is available, but if that equipment is on the shelf, it is not providing our soldiers with the tools they need to train and fight in an urban combat contingency.

RECOMMENDATION: Communications problems that can occur during combat in a city environment must be detected and fixed during training NOW. These potential communications problems are not on-the-site problems; they represent a series of complex problems found only in a segmented urban battlefield with electronic interference, dead spots, and anomalies that hinder command and control. The U.S. Army must train with the equipment, weapons, communications, soldiers, and leadership to develop the doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) needed to win in urban combat.

OBSERVATION: Realistic NBC hazards are not incorporated into urban combat training.

DISCUSSION: The recent examples of chemical use in Tokyo by a terrorist group should have sent a shock wave throughout our military. This action makes the use of NBC operations in urban combat inevitable. The enemy our forces are likely to face will be technologically inferior, and, despite our best efforts, will attempt to negate our advantages in conventional weapons and combat operations. NBC represents a tremendous equalizer for any potential foe. The very terrain presented by a city begs the use of these potent weapons in isolated “no-win” skirmishes as the enemy tries to escape to fight again in the next block or around the next corner. Urban combat creates an opportunity to fight to allow separation and escape to fight again. In some cases, the sacrifice of forces, by the enemy, to create a catastrophic loss on an opponent will probably be a choice. The more friendly forces committed to a fight in a particular building allows a determined foe more options to use all the weapons at his disposal. One dreaded enemy option is to neutralize the building using NBC, and create catastrophic loss for U.S. forces.

RECOMMENDATION: The U.S. Army must take the threat of NBC in urban combat seriously. This threat is real and presents a dilemma to any force trying to conduct urban operations. The Army needs to conduct liaison operations with all related government and intelligence agencies to gain a better understanding of the threat and to incorporate that intelligence threat into urban combat scenarios, with other government agencies participating.


In the research effort necessary for this article, and as the result of separate discussions with observer controllers in round-table discussions at the Joint Readiness Training Center, a number of recurring trends were identified. These trends are supported by observations submitted over time to CALL for inclusion in the CTC trends publications published semi-annually. The recurring trends are listed below and are grouped by the battlefield operating system (BOS).


The intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) is not specific enough for MOUT.

Lack of a decision support template and timeline preparation hinder the planning process.

There is limited intelligence focus on the routes to the objective.

The force ratio analysis is rarely done, if done at all.

Identification of key terrain and fields of fire is not effective.

Intelligence gathering and development of input for the planning process is not complete.

Use of psychological operations and civil affairs operations are not planned.

Identification of decision points and setting conditions for success is not emphasized.

Units fail to get eyes on the objective to confirm the intelligence template.

Little care is given to collection from and care of civilians on the battlefield.


The movement plan to the object is usually not well done.

There is a lack of focus in the movement to the objective, resulting in significant casualties.

Casualties in the movement prevent units from achieving mass on the objective.

Units do not achieve mass at other decision points.

There is a failure to isolate the objective and protect the force from counter-attack.

A lack of combined arms TTP for armor, aviation, and close air support for urban combat.

Uncoordinated maneuver and overwatch are more common in the urban fight.

An unclear doctrinal base confuses units about correct procedures for clearing rooms.

Marksmanship at all levels is poor with the exception of some special operations units.

There is confusion among units as how to delineate inside from outside battlespace.


Use of restrictive Rules of Engagement and dealing with collateral damage and effects.

Units have problems with allocation of resources and positioning of fire support assets.

Units poorly use precision guided munitions.

Suppression of enemy air defense for assembly areas is poorly planned.

Units do not use counter battery fires effectively in urban conditions.

Q36 are not being effectively used against enemy mortars.


Unit movements to their objective is not well done.

The plans do not properly allocate engineer resources for the urban fight.

There is usually little unity of the engineer effort.

Units are not effective in suppress, obscure, secure, and reduce (SOSR) at all levels.

Engineers are attrited prior to the objective.

Lack of eyes on the objective (scouts/aviation) prevent identification of obstacles.


There is a lack of synchronization across in the battlefield operating systems.

Units do not effectively locate their command and control nodes.

Battalion taskforce is overloaded with requests from higher.

Wargaming and course of action development for urban combat need work.

Leaders are unsure how to effectively fight once in the city.

Communications problems in urban conditions are a major challenge.

Leaders at all levels have problems with Rules of Engagement and proportionality.

There is poor use of Judge Advocate General in the brigade combat teams.

The fight needs to be defined and clear to each unit level of responsibility.

Units fail to get eyes on the objective (scouts/aviation) to shape the battle.

Sniper teams are not properly used in planning and nor considered eyes on the objective.

Confirmation of intelligence template is denied when no one can observe the objective.


Allocation of assets to support the fight in the urban fight is poor.

Re-supply and casualty evacuation in the urban fight are not conducted well.

Urban specific supply items: ladders, knee and elbow pads, and ropes with grappling hooks.

Units do not plan for urban combat and the high died of wounds rate.

Speed, not haste, in the tempo of urban operations is the norm.


There is a poor allocation of ADA assets to support the urban fight overall.

Focusing of the right ADA assets at the proper place and time in the battle is poor.

Attack aviation vulnerability in battle positions is not taken into consideration in the plan.


The world in which the Army will fight in the 21st century is even more politically complex and dangerous than just a few years ago. There is a dramatic increase in the lethality of weapons available to hostile elements. The United States must cope with advanced technologies that re-invent themselves in hours, days, and weeks. The Army now faces a dangerous world without a defined foe. The enemy is nebulous, and the Army is caught between a highly successful, but increasingly outmoded doctrine and the desire to prepare to meet future adversaries. Urban combat will be a small piece of any new doctrine. The Army cannot wait for the next revision of FM 100-5, Operations, to be completed. Possibly the best approach is to develop new TTP for future contingencies and conflicts now. Developing and formalizing the TTP may generate broader thought that will lead to the new doctrine.

The Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) is attempting to develop current TTP to provide a stopgap measure until doctrine is updated and distributed. This method requires the support and contributions of soldiers in the field. CALL is not a doctrine writing organization. CALL has the mission to support the deployed unit, provide assistance to the follow-on unit, and provide the Army as a whole with the lessons learned from these experiences. These lessons in the form of TTP can be the first step in revising doctrine, or the first step in recognizing that the Army has a potential problem.

The Army, as an institution, needs to be straightforward in dealing with its leadership, its soldiers, and the American people in addressing these problems, and must begin NOW! Positive leadership is the key ingredient toward success of urban combat operations. The casualties, resource requirements, and collateral damage of urban combat are now and will always be unacceptable and will remain so unless the Army addresses this subject and prepares for this contingency. Ignoring urban combat simply leaves the American people to pay the butcher s bill.

The intent of this article is to inspire a healthy debate and dialogue that will eventually improve our readiness for urban combat. The question may arise as to the need for a specific urban combat doctrinal manual, or whether urban combat operations can be considered a combat condition. If this later approach on urban combat is accepted, then should urban combat be incorporated into field manuals as an appendix or annex or incorporated into the text to address the “how to fight doctrine” for each discipline within the U.S. Army? The problems discussed are real. Those who believe urban combat can be clinical are wrong. The hard truth about urban combat operations is that “it is a dirty business, but somebody has to do it.”


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