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.
Now militaries are realizing much of the fighting in future conflicts will take place in cities. Whether Russia in the Caucasus, Israel in Gaza and southern Lebanon, or the United States and its allies in Iraq, many sophisticated armies have experienced urban warfare over the past two decades.
General Mark Carleton-Smith, the head of the Army, spoke about “darkening geopolitical picture” and said warfare was moving into areas such as cyberwarfare, artificial intelligence and autonomous technology. “We need a more proactive, threat-based approach to our capability planning, including placing big bets on those technologies that we judge may offer exponential advantage because, given the pace of the race, to fall behind today is to cede an almost unquantifiable advantage from which it might be impossible to recover,” he said
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. The world’s city-dwelling population exploded from 746 million in 1950 to 4.2 billion in 2018 (which expects that total to increase by another 2.5 billion by 2050). 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. according to the United Nations
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 Institute of Economics and Peace has noted eight pillars of what it calls “positive peace”: well-functioning government, equitable distribution of resources, free flow of information, good relations with neighbors, high levels of human capital, acceptance of the rights of others, low levels of corruption, and a sound business environment.
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
Urban warfare has long been seen as the great ‘leveller’ in conflict: One of the reasons for this ‘levelling’ quality is the fact that it counters many of the advantages offered by technology in conflict. Tanks for example struggle in urban warfare without sufficient infantry support, and the multi-level, uneven terrain makes war-fighting far more difficult for even the most well-trained soldier. Not only that, but the very nature of the battlefield means it can be the site for unexpected attack from any direction and from any attacker, who may or may not be marked as a legitimate military target.
Urban terrain generally favours the defender, who can prepare defences, utilise deception, install traps and explosive charges, and monitor the attacker from a myriad of hard-to-detect locations. Even boulevards are narrow compared to open terrain, constricting mobility and channelling attackers into urban canyons overwatched by enemy snipers, ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles) and RPGs (Rocket-Propelled Grenades). The presence of civilians as human shields inhibits offensive operations (at least by those armed forces which place a premium on international law and human rights); lack of intelligence regarding opposition force dispositions is another serious threat multiplier.
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, 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.
In Iraq, the U.S. military employed “shock and awe,” demonstrating overwhelming force while using superior technology and intelligence. Strike suddenly, brutally, and with the element of surprise to sow confusion and encourage surrender and retreat—or to stage annihilation. The “double tap” approach—one strike followed quickly by a second meant to target rescue and medical personnel—that has been favored by Islamist terrorists, CIA drones, and Syrian and Russian air strikes led to devastation of civilian morale and the public’s ability to survive and recover. Soldiers avoid conventional routes, preferring “mouse-holing” by blowing holes through the walls.
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
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.
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.
High-endurance aerial sensor “platform,” such as a MQ-9 Reaper or IAI Eithan unmanned aircraft system, or a blimp or airship, carrying a Wide Area Aerial Surveillance (WAAS) payload. This payload usually consists of canoe shaped pod that has high-resolution electro-optical sensors pointed in many directions in a fixed manner. Onboard computing and software can then stitch these staring cameras’ “pictures” together, creating a continuous high resolution overall image of a large swath of land or sea below. Users can then instruct the WAAS system to send them a high-resolution live video feed of a certain area of that massive ‘fused’ picture. The WAAS system then data-links down the video of the geographical area requested by the user. Thus the user will have real time streaming video imagery of a portion of the entire area WAAS is persistently viewing at any given time.
The binocular goggles can be utilised in standard daylight mode with image intensification, or in infrared mode. Unlike previous night vision devices, the new goggles require no ambient light, so they can be used in tunnels or windowless buildings. The infrared capacity also ensures detection of enemy forces through smoke or other vision-inhibitors. The maximum visual range with the device is 1,500 metres. A blue-force overlay is wirelessly transmitted from the soldier’s digital map, preventing friendly fire incidents. A toggle allows the soldier to wirelessly transmit the picture from the digital FSW-I to the goggle display. This capability allows the shooter to remain under cover and only extend the weapon around a corner or over a barricade; guided by the display of the FSW-I’s reticle on the goggle, the soldier can aim the weapon and engage the enemy from cover. The new system is currently undergoing operational testing at the 1st Infantry Division, which received 640 sets in September 2019.
Other sensors suitable for urban operations are being pursued. These include handheld radars which can penetrate walls and other barriers to determine whether there is a human presence or any other potential threat. Lumineye, a small technology firm located in Boise, Idaho, is already marketing such devices to civilian agencies such as police and fire departments. The US Army awarded a 250,000 Dollar development contract to Lumineye in November 2019, with the goal of adapting the firm’s tablet-sized LUX for military applications. The device sends out pulsed radar waves that can penetrate most solid materials. The LUX applies signal processing software to evaluate the returning radar signal and differentiate between humans and objects. The motion detection capacity is so sensitive that it can tell that a person hidden behind a wall is breathing. While it cannot differentiate between combatants and civilians, it does enable soldiers to prepare for resistance before entering or breaching a room or building. The device could also help locate hidden rooms, trapdoors, and other concealed spaces within a building. The effective range of the radar is 15 metres in the open; the range of detection through walls depends on the barrier’s density and composition.
AI-based surveillance, particularly persistent surveillance can offer a force the ability to know where all people are at all times and where they have come from. Such capabilities can tag and track all moving people in an area. This could be used to identify people who have visited a known terrorist safe-house, or bomb factory, but also to follow them and their interactions and conversations with other people.
Modern non-state actors are formed into networks, rather than traditional military hierarchies. This gives the ability to know possibly everyone in and connected to the network who could be targeted simultaneously. An AI system could also recognise a particular concentration of known terrorists in one place to signify a potential attack, or position to be heavily-defended.
Canadian soldiers have tested new British autonomous technology under a mock urban battlefield environment in Montreal. Known as SAPIENT, the advanced technology has been developed by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and UK industry partners. During the test, UK-built sensors demonstrated ability in autonomous decision making as they scavenged the mock urban battlefield and informed the soldiers taking part in the experiment about the potential dangers.
UK Defence Procurement Minister Stuart Andrew said: “This British system can act as autonomous eyes in the urban battlefield. “This technology can scan streets for enemy movements so troops can be ready for combat with quicker, more reliable information on attackers hiding around the corner. SAPIENT has been designed to help minimise the risk of human error while reducing the number of troops required in the operations room. The test was carried out in the Contested Urban Environment experiment (or CUE 18), which brings together Five Eyes allied nations of the Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US.
Advanced body and vehicle Armor
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.
Increased armour on individual soldiers goes contrary to a principle of urban warfare: mobility. But, using advanced body and vehicle armour could allow military forces to set up their own temporary strongholds, from which they can fight the enemy in their territory. This perhaps seems strange, but we have seen operations in Afghanistan whereby troops in remote Fire Bases were essentially used as ‘bait’ to draw out the Taliban from their homes into a more traditional battlefield environment where ISAF forces had superiority.
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.
There is an increased focus on unmanned ground systems for urban operations. This includes small-to-medium sized armed robots, remote controlled support vehicles, and logistic robots.
Several nations, including Russia, the Ukraine and Israel, have been experimenting with remote controlled armed robots ranging in size from a golf cart to a bathroom scale. These smaller unmanned systems are most relevant for urban operations. The US Marine Corps has been pursuing several models, including the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS) developed by Qinetic. The tracked robot can be armed with am M240 machine gun or a 40mm grenade weapon with lethal or non-lethal munitions. Capable of functioning up to one kilometre from the operator, the robot can be used for armed reconnaissance outdoors or within a building (the tracks enable the climbing of stairs).
Other robotic projects include four-legged machines the size of a large dog. Sometimes referred to as “mules”, these systems are under consideration as reconnaissance assets or as “beasts of burden” to carry a portion of a squad’s gear while patrolling or advancing, or for resupply of units in advanced positions. In 2019, the US Army awarded General Dynamics Land Systems a contract for the first tactical logistics robot. The tracked Small Multipurpose Equipment Transport (SMET) will carry up to 450 kg worth of supplies, equipment and weapons. The first production units are expected to be delivered around 2021.
Larger unmanned systems are also already deployed. In 2018, Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) delivered the first D9T PANDA remote controlled armoured bulldozers to the IDF. The PANDA is a further development of the manned CATERPILLAR D9R and the unmanned D9N already in service. Armoured bulldozers have become indispensable for urban operations in Gaza, where the IDF has deployed them to collapse tunnels, destroy defilades and buildings, clear suspected explosive charges or overrun manned firing positions. In addition to slat armour against RPGs, the D9 family is also equipped with the TROPHY APS.
Given the dangers of physically entering cities on the ground, drones offer a safer alternative. Underwater drones can patrol seaside towns. 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.
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.
The IDF’s new combined-arms Refaim (Ghost) Unit completed its first major exercise in July 2020 in a demonstration overseen by IDF chief of staff Lt General Aviv Kochavi. A video of the exercise gives a glimpse of an unusual new drone: a quadcopter which flips over and sticks to a vertical wall and hangs there, before flying off and leaving an object still attached.
Scalable effect weapons
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. Personal incapacitation: 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)
The US Army is introducing technology which allows soldiers to fire their weapons around corners without exposing themselves, a capability which is especially valuable in urban terrain. The system involves two separate, newly developed pieces of equipment: the Family of Weapon Sights – Individual (FWS-I) which is mounted on the individual assault rifle, sniper rifle or squad automatic weapon; and the helmet mounted Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binoculars (ENVGIII).
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. Aircraft pilots can see the landscape below them via augmented-reality headsets that supply up-to-date information and instructions. On the ground, advances in facial-recognition and surveillance software would identify targets and innocents, but it could also single out specific ethnic groups, facilitating repression (or worse).
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.
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.
UK hosts international military urban exercise in Nov 2021
The UK Armed Forces already train for and conduct urban warfare, but this type of experimentation is vital to understand and adapt to the changing warfighting environment. There are many challenges to finding and dealing with threats, such as those experienced when operating in and around dense, tall buildings and within modern urban areas or ‘smart cities’, and with differences of culture and language.
The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is at the forefront of testing new technologies collaborated with industry and academia, as well as their ‘5-eyes’ partners: Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Australia. Born out of The Technical Cooperation Programme (TTCP), the 5 partner nations are testing novel technologies that seek to help our forces when operating in urban environments, including:
- highly distributed autonomous sensors that exploit artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to identify threats
- advanced technologies to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities on the ground, in the air and at sea
- advanced sensors and technologies for detecting uncrewed air vehicles used in urban environments
- understanding the city environment and the interactions of natural and human systems
- technologies that support soldiers operating in dense urban terrain by supporting navigation, detection of threats
- robotic and autonomous systems to support logistics re-supply to deliver to the frontline
- casualty evacuation and handling optimised for the complexity of an urban environment
The capabilities were tested through a combination of field experimentation and analytical techniques. The field experiment in Portsmouth was based on a scenario which involved particular military capabilities that could be enhanced by science and technology (S&T).
Christopher Briggs, Dstl’s National Lead for CUE, said: This is an opportunity for science and technology to have a major impact on military capability in urban environments, as well as enhancing our mutual reliance with our closest allies. Current thinking on future conflicts has been used to generate scenarios that show the challenges of operations in city settings against a range of potential enemies.
The first Contested Urban Environment (CUE) experiment took place in November 2017 in Adelaide, Australia, the second took place in September 2018 in Montreal, Canada, and the most recent event took place in New York City, in the US in July 2019. The technology tested then and during the Portsmouth event could be made available to military personnel by 2025.
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.
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.