Evolving Trends in Urban Warfare

Urban warfare refers to combat in built up urban areas. The urbanized terrain has its own set of challenges since the combat units take position at strategic locations within a city and wait to ambush invading forces.  It is challenging for the invading forces to locate the hostile troops. Urban warfare typically depends on factors such as covered routes, observation, concealment and dispersion. A layered defense is established where units attach and fall back to send line of defense if the first line of defense is breached. Strategic locations such as bridges and railroads are heavily defended to slow down the advance of the attacking forces and also deny them backup support.

 The first significant instance of urban warfare begun in 1940 at Calais when the British forces tried to defend the city against invading German forces. In 1943 allied forces fought at Seaforths in Italy. The British allied forces were up against the well placed and well concealed German positions in the city. The allied forces quickly learned that they will have to smash through German position at various built up areas across Europe and strived hard to master urban warfare with infantry, paratroopers and highly mobile and well armored vehicles mechanized divisions.   

Post World War 2, Mogadishu in 1992 saw one of the most grueling urban warfare. The country was torn by conflict between rebel groups and the U.S stepped in for humanitarian supplies. The militia men managed to shoot down two UH – 60 helicopters with RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenades). RPG were predominant among these militia men and they threatened almost all helicopters including assault helicopters. At the end of the bloody two day conflict there were 21 deaths on UN side consisting of U.S, Malaysian and Pakistani forces. The use of RPG were considered to be were deadly against armored vehicles as well. Because of the proliferation of RPGs it has become increasingly difficult to deploy tank battalions in urban environments.

A single shot to the less armored side profile of the tank could blow up the tank killing all its crew. Use of attack drones has significant advantages. Attack drones can not only engage hostile targets but also provide situational awareness as well as friend and foe identification for units on the ground. Concealed hostile units can be identified using thermal imaging equipment. Laser designators also play a critical role in highlighting hostile targets and call in air strike on hostile locations. Laser designators aid by calling air strikes for neutralising heavily defended zones that are typically too hostile for engagement by the infantry units. One of the predominant threats for the infantry men engaged in door to door search and destroy operations is highly concealed hostile units.

Communication systems is the core of any urban warfare for coordination between platoons in the confined fighting environment. The modern communication system comprises of 4G tactical radio systems, self-forming and self-healing networks. The MANET network is formed on the fly, soldiers are moving the network along with them without moving the physical infrastructure. The decentralized self-forming and self-healing characteristics of MANET network is resilient to jamming by hostile forces. The communication system also reduces the burden of the soldiers by helping them instantly engage in battle immediately after deployment rather than engaging in time consuming process of establishing communication network.

The use of  composite materials reduces the overall additional weight the soldier is subjected to by means of armor and helmet. Light weight composite armors such as Kevlar is as robust as traditional armor. Helmets are also made of lightweight composite material to reduce fatigue and increase the operational potential. Despite using night vision and other thermal imaging equipment, U.S forces in Afghanistan and Iraq found it difficult to identify and engage hostile behind closed doors and had a significant threat of IED (Improvised Explosive Devices). IED were used by hostile entities to destroy armored vehicles and deter advance of the U.S forces.  There were significant casualties due to IED explosion that were placed in road that were frequently used the U.S forces and also in building where door to door searches were taking place. ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) were used to for detection of IEDs. ROVs helped in detecting IEDs at particular area of concern and friendly forces can neutralise them, this reduced casualties due to IED explosions.

Autonomous robots are expected to function as attack platforms as well as load carrying mules. Soldier exoskeleton system is already being tested around the world and it is expected to increase the soldier’s operational effectiveness and act as a passive force multiplier.

These urban warfare will continue to evolve with emerging threats. The key technologies which are expected to strengthen the urban warfare capability of a country are lethality, communication, survivability and fatigue control.


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