Army wargames shape the future of urban warfare

By Audra CallowayJanuary 4, 2019

Army plans for future fights in dense urban settings
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON -- Civil unrest. Loss of communications. Narrow, congested roadways. No line of sight on the enemy.

These are some of the conditions that shape the nature of fighting in dense urban areas now and into the future.

But with technology and the world changing so rapidly, how will Soldiers operate? What weapons and equipment will they carry?

Dozens of participants, including service members, engineers, academia, and experts from numerous Defense Department and government organizations, have joined in a working group to strategically determine where best to invest in order to shape future capabilities.

The working group is the U.S Army Subterranean and Dense Urban Environment Materiel Developer Community of Practice and is led by the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM).

"For the last couple of years, we have brought both the materiel developers and the operational side of the Army, as well as the other services and other nations, together to run through a series of workshops to examine the specific complexities and challenges of fighting in a dense urban environment," explained Tony Sebasto, Center Executive Director, Enterprise and Systems Integration Center within the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC).

Sebasto is also the RDECOM directed lead for the Community of Practice.

"My end state is to be able to demonstrate to Army leadership potential near, mid, and possible far-term technologies that can provide capabilities to enhance warfighting capabilities in subterranean and dense urban environments," said Sebasto.

By examining the unique conditions of dense urban operational environments in three prior workshops, the group established the problems, conditions, and challenges of fighting in this environment.

Now, in this fourth "table top" exercise, the participants evaluated future materiel solution capabilities.


As part of the table top exercises in Washington, D.C., Soldiers and Marines were divided into friendly and enemy forces to "war game" how they would fight in dense urban areas using current equipment, compared to how they could fight more effectively when using about 48 different experimental future technologies.

The experimental capabilities were materiel solutions developed in prior workshops that the group determined could help Soldiers and Marines in dense urban environments.

For example, using sensors that can be attached to the outside wall of buildings, enabling the Soldiers and Marines to determine the interior layout.

Over the three-day, table-top exercise, varying situation exercises, which the working group specifically developed after studying tactical and operational urban problems and conditions in prior workshops, were presented in a fictitious urban city called "Solago."

Each situation exercise was broken down into a complex, myriad of unit tasks that had to be accomplished to achieve mission success.

According to the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, social scientists predict that by 2050 about 90 percent of Earth's projected population of more than eight billion people will likely live in highly dense, complex urban areas.

As a result of that demographic shift, it's probable that armed conflict will occur in those areas, which have unique challenges, such as high rise buildings that obscure line of sight on the enemy, and troops sharing limited bandwidth with the civilian populations, which will restrict communications.

"Everything that Marine formations or Army formations have to do is more difficult when you take it into an urban environment," explained Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Christian F. Wortman, Commanding General, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory; Director, Futures Directorate; and Vice Chief of Naval Research.

"Across the warfighting functions --whether its intelligence, surveillance or reconnaissance, collections, maneuver, force protection, command and control, logistics and sustainment--all of those things are complicated and challenged by the compartmentalized terrain that's present in the urban environment and the 3-dimensional nature of the urban environment, which can include the subterranean environment."

Wortman said applying new, novel technical solutions is appealing because it helps the military overcome some of the challenges associated with those complexities.

"And we know that this is an area where it's profitable to apply unmanned autonomous systems, manned and unmanned teaming, proliferated sensors, new command and control tools, new tools in terms of robotics systems and capabilities so that we can get Soldiers and Marines out of the highest hazard area and preserve the lives and well beings of our Soldiers and Marines," Wortman said.


"Overall, we've been asked to provide our subject matter expertise as it relates to dense urban environments over nine different scenarios," explained Lt. Col. Calvin Kroeger, Battalion Commander, 35th Engineering Battalion.

Kroeger served as a battalion commander for one of the blue, or friendly, teams during the exercise.

The Soldiers and Marines played out scenarios such as a high intensity fight, a traditional counter-insurgency and a security forces assisted mission, all under the conditions of a megacity.

Some issues Kroeger's team dealt with included combating enemy social media campaigns, communicating underground in a subterranean environment, and assessing the second and third order effects of engaging the enemy with lethal munitions that could impact local power, gas and water networks.

"How we employ our capabilities changes as you move from a high rise platform to urban cannons," he explained. "But you're also looking at everything under the ground as well, where you can't use a conventional means like a mortar system to shape the battlefield so that the enemy doesn't shape it for you."

While challenging, these combat environments are expected to be prevalent in the future.

"It's where we're going to be fighting in the future. We're not going to be in a flat, somewhat unrestricted desert or a mountainous environment. We're going to be in large megacity areas, where we're going to have to be able to fight into trying to defeat the enemy under those circumstances and environments," Kroeger said.

"This (exercise) will help shape and drive the materiel development of the overall way forward on solution sets that other teammates have proposed in the previous months."


"Fighting in dense urban environments and the unique challenges it presents is still not totally understood, and this study was the front-end look at identifying and defining those materiel challenges to drive where investments need to be for this operational environment," said Bob Hesse, Technical Lead Coordinator for the Community of Practice.

The results from the table-top exercise will be incorporated into real-life experiments to take place in major cities starting in 2019.

"Analysis from the table top exercise, such as participant comments about the experimental solutions, discussions about how the participants overcame challenges and observations on how frequently blue participants used a solution set, determine which capabilities appear the most needed for a dense urban fight," Hesse said.

Then, the community of practice will advertise Requests for Information from government, industry and academia to demonstrate the materiel concepts developed in the workshop series that could potentially fill the Army's future needs during experiments in metropolis locations.

"The community of practice's operational and technical subject matter experts will assist in evaluating the responses to determine how close they are to meeting the military's goals," Hesse added.

For instance, if a materiel provider has an aerial technology that could allow Soldiers and Marines to know where enemy troops are, even though the troops can't see them because of the skyline, Hesse's team will evaluate that technology to see how well it meets the Army's needs, and whether it would have to be modified.

"We will now transition from the workshop learning to live experiments and replicate the unique conditions in real venues. We're taking the materiel campaign of learning and now transforming that into action," Hesse said.

The results of the community of practice's continuing dense urban studies, will link to the National Defense Strategy and the Army's modernization priorities to create future technology requirements.

"What's our problem, how are those problems revealed, and how can we bring solutions to bear on a particular problem," explained Bradley Pippen, Director of the Training and Doctrine Command's Analysis Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

"The important part is the early blending of the researchers, the scientists, the engineers, the analysts, the capability and concept developers, and warfighters. And to partner with the Marine Corps provides us an opportunity to, with great precision, focus our efforts," Pippen added.

Related Links:

Picatinny on Facebook

Picatinny Arsenal

Army Materiel Command

RDECOM Worldwide News

STAND TO!: Army Materiel Readiness