U.S. Army Sees ‘Megacities’ As Future Battlefield

U.S. Army Sees ‘Megacities’ As The Future Battlefield

Paul McLeary, writing in the August 30, 2014 edition of DefenseNews.com, writes, “when the U.S. Army looks to the future, it sees cities. Dense, sprawling, congested cities, where criminal and extremist groups flourish almost undetected by authorities, but who can influence the lives of the population — while undermining the authority of the state.”

“And, the service is convinced that these “megacities,” of 20 million or more people…will be the battleground of the future.”

“The problem, from any military strategist point of view, however is…no army has ever fought in and out of a city of this size,” writes Mr. McLeary. “So, in thinking through the issue of what to do about the coming age of the megacity, the U.S. Army’s Capabilities and Integration Center (ARCIC) got together with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Chief of Staff’s Strategic Studies Group; and, the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense in February [2014] to explore these options.”

“There is no historical precedent,” for these kind of operations,” Brig. Gen. Christopher McPadden, ARCIC’s Director of Concept Development, and Learning Directorate, said on August 28, 2014. “We really have to figure out the scope and scale of the kind of operations we’ll have to participate in.”

But, “it’s not about pouring brigade after brigade into a megacity; they’ll just get eaten up,” said Col. Kevin Felix, Chief of the Future Warfare Division, at ARCIC. “While there may be many more than the current 24 megacities in the coming years, “there will be some that we care about, and some that we don’t,” depending on economic impact, distance, and a range of local factors.”

“The United Nations estimates that such massive cities will increasingly become part of the worldwide landscape by 2030, when the current, urban, global population of 3.6B will likely hit about…5B…meaning that 60 percent of all humans will be living in cities,” Mr. McLeary wrote.

“Looking at those numbers such as those,” Mr. McLeary writes, “Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Ray Odierno’s Strategic Studies Group delivered a report to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in May, claiming “it was inevitable that at some point, the United States Army will be asked to operate in a megacity; and, currently, the U.S. Army is ill-prepared to do so.”

“The team of Army officers and civilian academics continued that “the problems found in megacities (explosive growth rates, vast and growing income disparity, and a security environment that is increasingly attractive to the politically dispossessed) are land-power problems. Solutions, therefore, will require boots on the ground.”

“The Army team fought through what it envisions a battle in a massive city would look like in 2030. The impetus for U.S. action was a humanitarian disaster, caused in part, by the breaking of a dam, which broke down critical parts of the local state apparatus, while armed groups jumped into the fray to further destabilize the situation,” Mr. McLeary added.

“The Red Team, representing these groups, did several things to test the players representing the U.S. Army, including evading U.S. technological superiority…by using anti-access techniques, conducting malware-like; and, electronic warfare attacks, and, “expanding these battlegrounds into other contested spaces like organized crime and politics,” said ARCIC Chief, LTG. H.R. McMaster.

McMaster added that “one of the primary aims of the game was to generate ways to “extend the reach of the [infantry] squad, so the squad can see to fight over a wider area” than they can now. That tracks with other Odierno initiatives in recent years to make infantry squads more lethal, and more autonomous.”

McMaster said that by 2030, the Army wants to provide the infantry squads, “access to aviation and air support; and, full-motion video, [along with] the ability to overwhelm the enemy during chance contact.” “One of the key things is the firepower of the squad; particularly, shoulder-fired weapons capabilities, counter-defilade capabilities, as well as flying munitions and combined arms…mobile protected platforms, capable of precision firepower.”

“Army gamers also explored potential, directed-energy capabilities, “that would allow us to have direct fire capabilities with significant logistics reduction, and to counter enemy long-range missile capability,” McMaster said.

“Recent lessons learned from the Israeli fight against Hamas in Gaza; and, the sweeping advance of the extremist Islamic State group across eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq have got the Army thinking,” and McMaster said there are lessons for the U.S. there as well.”

“According to the General, the two fights show that there is only so much that airpower alone can accomplish; and, to truly compel an enemy…it takes humans in contact with other humans.” “There’s a belief that complex problems can be solved from standoff range,” he said. “But, what can you do from a standoff distance are mainly punitive things, and positive things that have to be done in this environment — have to be done on the ground by human beings — for human beings.”

“Strikes from the air, or from long distances, leave “decision-making in the hands of the enemy…only on land can you compel an outcome,” McMaster insisted. “And it’s not only the U.S. Army that is convinced these cities represent the battlefields of the future,” Mr. Mcleary wrote. “In April, the Australian Army released its “Future Land Warfare Report,” which came to many of the same conclusions, and voiced the same concerns as its American partner.” The Australians wrote that in the future, “the environment in which the land force will operate will most likely be the urban littoral.”

“The emergence of unregulated cities, or zones of disadvantage where traditional rule of law models do not apply, within otherwise functional cities, provides a potential haven for organized crime, terrorists, and insurgents, from which they can organize and launch operations,” the analysis concluded.

Some Thoughts/Observations

I am not really surprised by these observations — though somewhat disappointed. Yes, we are likely to have megacities along the coasts as author David Kilcullen so elegantly forecasts in his thoughtful book, Out Of The Mountains: The Coming Age Of The Urban Guerrilla. Mr. Kilcullen described a future where populations increasingly move away from the remote and rural terrain on which guerrilla warfare has often been fought; and, into densely populated, feral cities, (75 percent of the world’s population by mid-century) highly-networked, under stress, in the real, as well as virtual worlds.

Kilcullen’s overall thesis is a compelling one: remote desert battlegrounds and impenetrable mountain tribal areas are not, in fact, where we will encounter the violence of tomorrow. For Kilcullen-indeed, for many military theorists writing today-the war in Afghanistan was not the new normal, but a kind of geographic fluke, an anomaly in the otherwise clear trend for conflicts of an increasingly urban nature.

Frank Hoffman, writing in the October 10, 2013 edition of Small Wars Journal, “Into The Cities: Dark, Damp and Dangerous,” writes, “urban conflict has been a routine working context for the American military for some time (Beirut, Los Angeles, Panama City, Baghdad, Fallujah, Kabul, etc) although it is often ignored in defense planning scenarios. Numerous studies have recognized the simple reality that the world’s population is increasingly migrating to cities. Both the Joint force development community and the Marine Corps used to have urban warfare centers focused on this potentially troublesome battlefield.

“Kilcullen’s central argument,” writes Mr. Hoffman, “is not about the kinds of threats we may face in the future (the “who”). He acknowledges the limits of prediction and the near certainty that all forms of human conflict will continue to exist. However, the real threat will come from the environment and context itself, not any particular group or actor (the “where”). Our future security environment will be shaped by four megatrends that Kilcullen defines as having a significant impact on our collective future, including conflict. These include rapid population growth, extensive urbanization, littoralization (the congested clutters along coasts and waterways), and high levels of connectivity. This rapid urban growth in coastal, underdeveloped areas overloads economic, social and governance systems, strains city infrastructure and overburdens the carrying capacity of cities. In Kilcullen’s words,”:

…the trends are clear: more people than ever before in history will be competing for scarcer and scarcer resources in poorly governed areas that lack adequate infrastructure, and these areas will be more and more closely connected to the global system, so that local conflict will have far wider effects.”

“Thinking through these effects and their impact on the character of potential contingencies that might involve U.S. forces is sorely needed,” Mr. Hoffman concludes. These far wider effects could influence policymakers into direct U.S. involvement, as it has in the past.”

I guess what also bothered me was a lack of recognition or discussion in Gen. Odinero’s study with respect to non-lethal means of use of force. One only has to look to Ferguson, Missouri to understand that in the future — densely populated, highly-networked environments isn’t the ideal setting to be displaying overt military might. The kind of future that Odinero and Mr. Kilcullen envision…may also lend themselves to an ancient tactic made famous by Julius Caesar — the siege of Alesia — perhaps this Great Captain’s greatest battle.

The Future Of Warfare: Small, Many, Smart; Versus Few And…Exquisite?

T.X. Hamres, writing in the July 16, 2014 in the journal, Commentary, contends “Western forces should not assume they will have the technological edge when deploying to a conflict zone. The higher standards for target discrimination will inhibit their fielding of autonomous lethal but cheap drones. In this field, they should expect to the non-state or less ethical state to be the first to field such systems.”


“The convergence of technologies and techniques is already producing small, smart, cheap, and long-range drones capable of carrying significant payloads,” Mr. Hamres notes. “Fuel gels and nano-explosives will increase the range and lethality of these commercially available systems. Additive manufacturing will dramatically reduce the costs. The Pentagon needs to rethink the exquisitely capable but extremely expensive weapons procurement programs it is pursuing. While these systems were a major factor in the tactical successes of the last 24 years, the United States needs to think hard about the shift from exquisite and very few to cheap and very many.”

The Army needs to give more thought to non-lethal means for dealing with the densely populate, highly-networked, feral cities of the future that their study says may be “the next conflict.”

And, the outbreak of the Ebola virus and our inability to contain it; and/or, stop its trajectory — should remind us all — that there may well be occasions in these densely populated cites of the future — where the Army will be called upon to quarantine an area (including highly populated ones) in order to mitigate the chances for a global pandemic The kind of densely populated cities of the future they describe, will be ideal incubators to facilitate the next “big one.” More thought needs to be dedicated in this area — in my opinion.

Much to think about. V/R, RCP

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