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Urban and Hybrid Warfare are top future security threat, requires new tactics and technologies

Cities have become the new battleground and Hybrid or Urban Warfare the greatest threat being waged by ISIS to Boko Haram to Hamas to Ukraine rebels.  Boko Haram is carrying out its urban terror campaign against the Nigerian Army and its allies. In the Paris attacks, two teams of lightly armed jihadists using armed assault, police executions, hostage taking, and barricade standoffs terrorized Parisians for 72-hours. “I would place [the Paris attack] into the ‘urban warfare’ model of attacks,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

A U.N. report released last July, in fact, found that the Taliban had shifted their tactics from improvised explosive devices to gun battles in heavily populated areas. This is one major reason for the recent increase in civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Security agencies of Europe and the United States are concerned foreign fighters radicalized by the Islamic State will return home to conduct terrorist attacks. Urban conflicts arising from transnational criminal activity account for 88% of the lethal violence that countries are experiencing today.

The terrorists and other groups resort to Asymmetric Warfare that tries to counter technological superiority by exploiting the limitations and vulnerabilities of high-tech weapon and platforms, with relatively simple, low-cost countermeasures, tactics and solutions like dispersion and concealment tactics.

Building Resilience Against Terrorism has four mutually reinforcing elements: prevent individuals from engaging in terrorism; detect the activities of individuals and organizations who may pose a terrorist threat; deny terrorists the means and opportunity to carry out their activities; and respond proportionately, rapidly and in an organized manner to terrorist activities and mitigate their effects.

Technology can help understand the causes of radicalization, protect the national infrastructure, reduce the vulnerability of crowded places, protect against cyber terrorism, improve analytical tools, identify, detect and counter novel and improvised explosives and understand and counter chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive threats (CBRNE)


Urbanization and urban terrorism

The world is undergoing the largest wave of urban growth in history, with more than half of the world’s population now lives in towns and cities. According to the United Nations, approximately 3 million people move into cities worldwide every week, a trend that is continuously escalating. The UN forecasts that, by 2050, 70% of all people will be living in urban areas. The massive urbanisation trends  pose both opportunities as well as risk.


The National Security Council’s Global Trends 2030 posits that megacities present not only economic opportunity but also potential vulnerability due to their inherent need for security, energy and water conservation, resource distribution, waste management, disaster management, construction, and transportation. Many global security challenges are increasingly seen as being linked to urban life, be they of a technological nature, involving infrastructure breakdowns; biological, involving viruses and infectious diseases; social/political, involving organised crime, violence and terrorism; or ecological, involving climate change and resource shortages, writes Kristin Ljungkvist.


The Rand Report “The urbanization of Insurgency” noted: The likelihood of urban insurgency is increasing as the dual demographic trends of rapid population growth and urbanization continues to change the face of the developing world. Whereas cities once provided a relatively better standard of living for people migrating from the countryside, they are now overcrowded and overburdened. Generations are growing up in the slums that surround the capital cities of many of the world’s developing countries, and infrastructures are proving incapable of serving the massive urban populations. Urbanization will result in an increase in crime and social friction due to inequality and alienation. The greater socioeconomic and socio-political friction shall generate a greater chance of conflict.


The panel at the Association of the US Army (AUSA) conference considered “The growth of cities and slums” as one of the top three threats that the US military faces in the “deep future”. With cities growing quickly, “You just don’t have the governance structures to keep up with that,” says Kathleen Hicks, former principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy. This in turn will result in a “very high potential for lack of governance.” Such a “hyper-pressurized, compact environment” could fuel criminal organizations, much like the narco-gangs of Central America. It could also create alternative means of governance, such as Hamas-like organizations, to meet the daily needs of the people.


Challenges of urban warfare

The Iraqi-led coalition forces’ advance slowed after Iraqi Security Forces entered Mosul in Nov 2016, a densely populated urban environment where troops have had to fight street-to-street battles against deeply entrenched militants. “In its desperate attempt to cling on to territory it controls in Mosul and Ninevah areas, Daesh has been employing the most vicious tactics, using civilian homes as firing positions as well as abducting and forcibly moving civilians, effectively using them as human shields,” the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, said in a statement.


According to Petri Mäkelä, ISIS manned the outer settlement of Mosul by less reliable jihadists and allowed attacking force to take them over with relatively light resistance. But in the densely built areas, where the Iraq army was forced to send its motorized light units, ISIS used pre-planned booby-traps and obstacles to funnel these Humvee convoys into kill zones, where they were subjected to intense assaults by ISIS forces using IEDs, VBIEDs, RPGs and small arms fire.


Complicating factors in urban warfare include the presence of civilians and the complexity of the urban terrain.Tactics are complicated by a three-dimensional environment, limited fields of view and fire because of buildings, enhanced concealment and cover for defenders, below-ground infrastructure, and the ease of placement of booby traps and snipers.


The terrorists resort to Asymmetric Warfare exploiting the limitations and vulnerabilities of high-tech weapon and platforms, with relatively simple, low-cost countermeasures, tactics and solutions. Some civilians may be difficult to distinguish from combatants such as armed militias and gangs, and particularly individuals who are simply trying to protect their homes from attackers.


Jerry Leverich, a senior analyst with the futures office, said gaining situational  will be particularly difficult in cities, as troops will face buildings that are dozens of stories high as well as subterranean structures, such as subways. Another challenge would be communication, Tom Pappas, director of Army Training and Doctrine Command’s G-2 Futures division said. Cities even today are known to have spotty cell phone reception, caused by what is known as the “urban canyon” phenomenon. The service will need to invest in technology that can operate in such conditions, he said.  “When you have to attack … a 10-story building, that’s significantly different than having to attack in an open and rolling terrain that we had envisioned in the past.


Urban Warfare Operations

Urban counterinsurgency requires a unique combination of Doctrine training and equipment appropriate for military operations on urban terrain ( MOUT); effective use intelligence, civic action, psychological operations(PSYOP) and population protection could help prevent counterinsurgency. Intelligence both technical battlefield and human intelligence (HUMINT) are important.


Urban Warfare technology

Cities are installing computerized CCTV and biometric surveillance systems around financial districts, embassies, tourist hotspots, sports arenas, and shopping malls. In the event of urban siege, such surveillance systems help provide the situational awareness necessary for fast-response teams to intercept the targets


New air, ground and sea based platforms are desired that have capabilities of accurately engaging targets in urban terrain with low collateral damage. The size of projectiles and weapons need to be miniaturized so that they can be employed in helicopters and small UAVs, while enhancing their lethality and engagement ranges to defeat even concealed targets.


US Special Operations Command

The U.S. Special Operations Command has issued a Request for Information to identify effective technologies for urban and unconventional warfare and get them into the field as quickly as possible.


Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)

This includes ground ISR for urban environments made up of sensors, video and tags, command and control and a low probability of detection (LPD). Technologies to allow hidden chamber detection in buildings, see through the wall and tool that instantly creates a map of a room, as well as situational awareness tools that allow operators in a tactical environment to use mission planning data, GPS data, handheld radios and other intelligence products in one device.



Communications technologies with a low probability of detection / low probability of intercept (LPI/LPD) data and communications to and from urban environment. Another item on its list is a wearable omnidirectional antenna technology for dismounted soldiers.


Unmanned Systems

Lightweight active selective jamming payloads that allow user to remotely program jamming frequencies and notch filters to deconflict with other onboard sensors. Smart antennas ( analogous to software defined radios) that allow users to remotely tune the antenna to selected frequencies in real time. Lightweight rapidly rechargeable UAS power sources for air vehicle propulsion and/ or mission payloads.


Scalable effect weapons

Personal incapitation: subdue and/or incapacitate ( not kill) single or multiple targets in closed or open environments.


Vehicle interdiction: stop/disable moving vehicle, up to high rates of speed, without harming vehicle occupants ( kinetic technologies are not excluded)



Urban Warfare also requires training facilities. Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has built  facility, at the Tze’elim army base,  that is meant to simulate urban operations of the kind the Israelis have so often faced in their conflicts with Palestinian and Lebanese militants.


Known as “Baladia” (Arabic for “city”), the core of this facility is indeed a small city — or large town — of some 600 buildings of a range of types, including five mosques, several cafes, a clinic, a town hall, a casbah, an eight-story apartment building, a cemetery, and a “youth club,” all arranged in Middle Eastern fashion with narrow winding streets, alleys, and passageways running higgledy-piggledy throughout.


Continuous Technology Refreshment for the Integrated – Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain Training (MOUT) Systems (I-MTS)

The intent of I-MTS is to provide urban training solutions which fulfill specified aspects of individual, collective, and combined arms training requirements. I-MTS also addresses other-than-war operations (such as peacekeeping missions), homeland defense and anti-terrorism scenarios.

I-MTS supports both fixed permanent and non-permanent structure facilities and allows for the addition or expansion to existing facilities and the integration across sites and mission domains (Live, Virtual, and Constructive). I-MTS will immerse the training participants into the realism of the event. I-MTS environment must allow and support flexibility and changing scenarios to prevent learned responses vice learning benefit. I-MTS must include unexpected events for the training audience.


Other technologies

Common visual augmentation device that can be worn as a pair of eye/sun glasses to display visual data while allowing normal vision. Language translators that are in the form of either lightweight handhelds or wearable devices, Automated interview transcripts.


Standoff weapons/explosive detection devices to enhance force protection and Lightweight armor for ground mobility vehicles. Concealable soft body armor with improved ballistic protection and visually undetectable from a close range. Area denial technologies and systems


Friendly force tracking / remote health monitoring, assessment tools. Friendly and host-nation force handheld tracking devices capable of receiving Iridium and GSM data from other handheld devices; Credibility assessment. Technologies to analyze physical credibility indicators in order to perform remote assessment of individuals


Social network analysis tools that allow prediction of group-level actions, algorithms / models that can identify relevant social media trends.


3‐D table/holographic visualization for command and control; and 3D technologies that provide a multidimensional view of an area of interest.


Nano UAVs

The latest and newest kind of UAVs is Micro, Mini & Nano UAVs. Nano drones are the smallest and they usually have the same dimensions as insects. They provide situational awareness to a small group of soldiers by flying several stories above them for 10-20 minutes at a time before placed back into a pocket to recharge.  These will be used to carry out tasks in urban environments, such as counterterrorism,, surveillance, and search and rescue.


DARPA programs

The Virtual Eye

DARPA, in cooperation with Nvidia, has developed a way to capture an environment that may be a preview of how VR cameras of the future could work.  DARPA’s “Virtual Eye” uses two cameras that each capture not only light but also depth information.  By combining the data from the two cameras, the Virtual Eye can reconstruct a 3D model of the environment. In a true VR image, the perspective adjusts according to up, down, forward, backward, left or right  movements of the  user..


The Virtual Eye, enable soldiers or police to throw a couple of cameras into a building to “digitally map” a room before they enter. They can literally check the interior of a room for number of people, weapons they are carrying, where they are hiding and their activites before barging inside,  before they’re even detected by the people in the room.


Trung Tran, DARPA program manager, says “I can do all this without having a soldier endanger himself. Especially when you have adversaries like ISIS who are trying to set booby traps to, in fact, harm the soldiers when they come in just to do the room clearing.” What is interesting about the Virtual Eye technology is that it does not require exotic cameras.  Indeed, the demo appears to use two Xbox 360 Kinect cameras (which use infrared to sense depth)


In DARPATech 2004, DARPA elevated urban warfare to the level of a strategic thrust.

DARPA has announced its “Aerial Dragnet Program” seeking innovative technologies that provide persistent, wide-area surveillance of all UAS operating below 1,000 feet in a large city.

“Commercial websites currently exist that display in real time the tracks of relatively high and fast aircraft — from small general aviation planes to large airliners — all overlaid on geographical maps as they fly around the country and the world,” said Jeff Krolik, DARPA program manager. “We want a similar capability for identifying and tracking slower, low-flying unmanned aerial systems, particularly in urban environments.”

While Aerial Dragnet’s focus is on protecting military troops operating in urban settings overseas, the system could ultimately find civilian application to help protect U.S. metropolitan areas from UAS-enabled terrorist threats.


The Z-Man project includes several programs to provide the combat troops spider-man-like climbing abilities for urban warfare. A new technology, developed by Cambridge Massachusetts’ Draper Laboratory under DARPA’s Z-Man initiative, allows a person to climb a flat surface using two hand-held devices

DAPRA  had earlier demonstrated a 218-pound man toting a 50-pound load  climbing up and down a 25-foot wall of glass using only a pair of hand-held paddles with a sticking power based on the gecko. The paddle used Geckskin-like material called MicroHold.

Draper has also developed a SpineHold system, which attaches to rough surfaces like concrete through insect-inspired tiny claws that hook into minuscule crevices, and MagnetoHold, which can hold 500 pounds on a magnetic wall. “Each one attacks a different climbing challenge — for scaling glass, brick, concrete, metal, and many other surfaces, ” William McFarland, one of the lead developers at Draper, told Vocativ. He is confident that all three of these systems will one day be available in a single device.

Z-Man program manager Matt Goodman said in a statement. “The challenge to our performer team was to understand the biology and physics in play when geckos climb and then reverse-engineer those dynamics into an artificial system for use by humans,” he said.


Fast, Lightweight Autonomy Program (FLAP) aims to develop new types of unmanned aerial vehicles, which will have the ability to fly inside structures, maneuver through tight spaces, and operate autonomously from human controllers, all at speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour. The drones are specifically designed to mimic the flight capabilities of the goshawk, a bird species.



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