MOUT: The Show Stopper

By Robert E. Podlesny

These two documents further identify four core concepts, which are seen as the basis of full-spectrum dominance: dominant maneuver; precision engagement; full-dimensional protection; and focused logistics.

These concepts may prove inadequate in an urban setting. According to the Concept for Future Joint Operations only two of JV2010's operational concepts, dominant maneuver and full-dimension protection, strongly support MOUT. This same document states that the concept of precision engagement provides only moderate support, and the concept of focused logistics does not even apply to MOUT. It is becoming obvious that MOUT operations do not lend themselves readily to any of JV2010's four operational concepts.

Domestic and foreign terrorism, urban conflicts, and regional unrest are increasing. Weapons of mass destruction—including nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons—are suspected to be available for purchase. The Secretary of Defense, William S. Cohen, recently wrote, ". . . potential adversaries believe using these weapons against our troops in the field or our people at home provides their only real means of taking on America, given our military superiority. We should expect more countries and terrorist groups to seek—and to use—such weapons." 3 World events have proved that the "bad guys" can strike anywhere, anytime. Their most likely targets are probably going to be located in an urban setting. Recent historical precedents (e.g., Hue, Beirut, Belfast, Sarajevo, Mogadishu and Chechnya) illustrate clearly the hazards of urban campaigns.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps has written that future adversaries will not try to "match us tank for tank and plane for plane, fighting the kind of high-technology, industrial-age war we saw in Desert Storm; adversaries will target our vulnerabilities: ports, airfields and fuel systems." 4 Future threats can be expected to employ the same type of selective targeting the United States executed during the Instant Thunder campaign of Desert Storm. As conceived by Colonel John Warden, U.S. Air Force, Instant Thunder was designed to kill, overthrow, or isolate Saddam Hussein by attacking 84 key targets over a six-day period. 5 Key targets included leadership, production facilities, and basic infrastructure. The world's cities host financial markets, transportation hubs, and communications nodes, and will definitely be embroiled in what Lieutenant General J. M. Garner, U.S. Army, has labeled as ". . . asymmetric niche warfare." 6 The JV2010 force we are currently building is small, depends on almost omniscient C4ISR, and requires rapid mobility. Asymmetric warfare—encompassing counterdrug operations, counterterrorism, insurgencies, etc., set in large urban environments—is not a proper mission for such a force.


The first and most obvious challenge MOUT poses to Joint Vision 2010 is one of command and control. JV2010 demands yet-unattainable levels of battlespace knowledge. The technical and operational roadblocks are formidable. The technology used by our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems is best employed in open expanses, such as deserts. The moving-target indicators and look-down radar employed during Desert Storm have little value in urban canyons. Multi-pathing and masking can play havoc with electronic signals. Even GPS signals are subject to such phenomena.

Our ability to attain dominant battlespace knowledge and to conduct precision engagement is severely limited in urban areas. Urban warfare is an infantryman's fight. Relevant and reliable information must be provided to the on-scene decision maker whenever it is needed. ISR technology that has the ability to sense the threat inside of a multistory building or in subway tubes is needed. What roles can space-and sea-based sensors play in MOUT? Can these systems support troops deep within the bowels of a major city effectively? Thermal, acoustic, magnetic, seismic, and optical technologies need to be developed and adapted. Coordination with the special operations, civil law-enforcement, and emergency management communities is needed to ensure that appropriate technology is available for operational units at the scale required.

Precision engagement will not occur without the ability to target and to conduct battle damage assessment. The need to find specific individuals within a mob or stream of "refugees" is yet another ISR requirement. Telling the good guys from the bad guys requires old-fashioned, hard detective work. Technology is not likely to solve this problem anytime soon.

The challenges to operational command-and-control tactics, techniques, and procedures are just as daunting. Controlling small and large units that are out of sight—and not in electronic contact—obviously is difficult. Fighting within a city is a decentralized, three-dimensional battle. Fighting can occur at street level, on rooftops, in skyscrapers, in sewers, in subways, or in basements.

Assets may be required to deny, retain, secure, or monitor each dimension of the fighting. The forward edge of the battle area will be noncontiguous, and the forward line of troops will be extremely hard to distinguish. Urban features will reduce weapons-employment and target-acquisition ranges greatly. Command-and-control support tools will have to provide a visual, common operational picture in several dimensions. To be useful tactfully, displayed areas of uncertainty must be reduced to the sub-meter range. Enforcing rules of engagement and fire constraints are disciplines that may be sorely tested in the heat of an urban conflict, in mixed crowds of friend and foe.

Intelligence-gathering, data-collection, and analyses procedures also need to be reconsidered. "Micro-infrastructure" data bases will need to be built and maintained. These data bases will contain information on cities, (e.g., streets, parks, hospitals, public safety sites, train, subway, airports and seaports, water, power, and communications utilities), and on specific buildings within these cities, (e.g., floor plans, type of construction, utility runs, elevator, and ventilation shafts). Such data must be readily available for not only bad-guy sites, but for good-guy and neutral locations as well. These data are costly to acquire, maintain, and format for operational use. The amounts of data will be staggering. Technology and operational techniques will need to be mutually supporting-to ensure that the fire team leader crouched in an alley can get relevant data as needed. These data bases may reside in theater at an enhanced combat operations and information center, or may be accessed from a U.S.-based support agency.

Precision fires are another MOUT challenge to JV2010. Today's arsenal contains many weapons that may not be fully effective in urban terrain. Ordnance with arcing flight trajectories is of limited value in cities with multi-story buildings. Direct-fire weapons also may have limited value, because of restricted fields of fire. The back-blast from recoilless weapons could endanger friendly forces and civilians. Urban structures also may mask satellite signals, thereby increasing the circular error probable for the global positioning system (GPS), which may in turn decrease the accuracy of GPS-guided munitions and increase the likelihood of collateral damage.

Weapons effectiveness and penetration capabilities also must be reconsidered. It is a given that concrete and pavement must be penetrated to engage subterranean targets, but the ability to limit penetration also is needed. Aluminum and glass building facades and the extensive use of internal modular construction techniques—or even shanty construction—may enable rounds to pass completely through a structure.

Underground tunnels may be adjacent to waterlines or below the water table, especially in coastal cities. The wrong weapon could cause unwanted flooding. The need to implode designated structures and to knock specific-size holes in walls must be developed. Kinetic weapons such as vertical-attack "concrete" bombs and portable "bunker-busters" need to be developed. Nonlethal weapon technologies, such as foams, aerosols, and acoustic devices need to be investigated further to increase their ranges and their ability to affect targets inside of buildings.

Precision engagement in an urban setting means exactly that. Current, long-range, sea-based fire support development programs must be rethought to ensure that their CEPs, lethality, flight trajectories, affordability and projected inventories will in fact support shore-based MOUT.

Dominant maneuver is another MOUT challenge to JV2010. The ability to move where you want, when you want—in order to make best use of your own force, while constraining your opponent's force—is an ideal goal. Conducting operations in an urban setting within confined operating areas—strewn with debris and experiencing unpredictable air currents—may impede any attempt to maneuver. Three-dimensional operations also demand the ability to move vertically, as well as underground. Thorough knowledge of supporting infrastructures is required to support maneuver planning and execution.

The ability to conduct above-the-ground-inter-building movement is another challenge. 7 This capability may be needed during an assault or during tactical retrograde operations. Penetrating a threat stronghold on the 20th story through an entry point other than a traditional portal may enable U.S. forces to achieve surprise and to control the tempo of operations. Rubble, debris, and craters will limit wheeled and tracked vehicle movement, mandating alternative modes of transportation. Historically, most casualties result from flanking enfilade fires, while moving between buildings. This fact, combined with the nature of the terrain requires transportation with extensive armor around the entire vehicle. Manned and unmanned aircraft will have to deal with severe up- and downdrafts and with swirling winds in confined spaces. Will airport and seaport facilities be available and operational? Will alternative landing sites support the commander's intent and scheme of maneuver?

Logistics is once again an overlooked challenge and may well be the one least likely to be addressed adequately. The basic combat service support missions the military is most familiar with will demand innovative thinking. Rearming a variety of widely distributed units within a megacity may have to be addressed by caching or other novel means. The real challenge will be dealing with new problems created by the scale of the urban environment itself and by the changing nature of the mission. Responsibilities will include such tasks as: tending to the medical needs of military and civilians; conducting large-scale civil engineering; providing public services; and housing and feeding the masses.

The nature of injuries also will be different. Injuries such as cuts, bruises, internal hemorrhaging, and toxic inhalation resulting from shattered glass, falls, and burning plastics need to be considered. The need to handle injuries from chemical and biological weapons is a Pandora's Box that must be opened. Treating and evacuating our wounded in and from tunnels or skyscrapers complicates this challenge further. Indigenous infrastructures such as power plants, telecommunication switches, and water and sewage systems must be exploited, both offensively and defensively. From the defensive perspective, small units may need to tap into local communications and energy networks. Portable adapters and transformers will need to be acquired to support this modern foraging. From the offensive perspective, the United States will be faced with rebuilding and or restoring basic public services after successfully conducting network-centric warfare against enemy centers of gravity. Police and fire services also must be considered. How many Marines are trained to put out fires—especially conflagrations that consume entire city blocks?

The care and feeding of hundreds—or hundreds of thousands—of refugees is a likely responsibility. A sea-based logistics plan that calls for limited shore-based combat service support will be overwhelmed by the need to manage a massive population in an urban environment.

Will the Navy provide the requisite shipping? Will other government agencies provide expertise during combat? Organizational modifications must be made. Civil-affairs units will need to be reorganized, or have their responsibilities integrated with combat forces that are already overburdened. Operations-and-maintenance budgets will need to include line items addressing many of the nontraditional issues. The logistics requirements of urban warfare in the 21st century need to be contemplated in an entirely different dimension.

As noted by Mr. Williamson Murray ". . . chance, accident, ambiguity, and complexity. . ." all play obvious roles in Clausewitz's concept of war where ". . . war is the realm of uncertainty; three-quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog...” 8 The massive scope of the problems presented by MOUT should not prove so daunting that they inhibit the need to prepare.

Several steps can be initiated that will help address these challenges and disperse this urban-warfare fog: Leadership needs to make choices. An understanding of what MOUT really are must be developed within the Defense Department. An operational baseline of today's capabilities should be established to design and build future forces. Support tools and training also will need to be developed.

Leadership at the service, joint, and National Command Authorities levels has to decide what roles the military can support, across the continuum of conflict. The National Command Authorities must identify what is expected of each component and office in the Defense Department. These expectations must be conveyed clearly throughout the Defense establishment. Will the services be expected to support every mission within the full range of military operations, regardless of the operating environment? What are our priorities? It is doubtful that any of the components, separately or jointly, has the ability to conduct the full range of military operations, let alone manage the day-to-day functions of a 21st-century megacity.

The service components need to understand urban operations fully. The Marines and Army both are planning limited and advanced MOUT-oriented advanced-warfighting experiments. The Office of Naval Research, which is managing the Extending the Littoral Battlespace Advanced Concept and Technology Demonstration, has tied its field demonstrations to the Marines' Urban Warrior experiment, in hopes of identifying needed technologies. What is missing is an approach to support General Krulak's driving concept behind Operational Maneuver From the Sea, which requires mission planners to address strategic, operational, and tactical issues in a holistic manner. This same approach is needed to help understand the overall challenges:

  • What are the missions?
  • What can we do today in terms of organization, doctrine, and technology?
  • What is needed tomorrow?
  • How do we build, train and maintain the needed force?

Working from today's baseline capabilities, these experiments should be able to catalog the effectiveness and limitations of today's tactics, techniques, procedures, organizational structures, and technology. These initial experiments should illustrate the value of various weapons in today's inventory to MOUT. They also should help evaluate systems that are already in the pipeline that may need to be readdressed to ensure their worth in MOUT. These experiments should help identify holes where research and development funds should be invested. Today's hierarchical command structures also need to be revisited. Operations in urban terrain may well preclude the exercise of today's chain of command. The observe-orient-decide-act loop will be very short in many tense urban scenarios, where thousands of people are involved and life-or-death decisions are needed quickly.

Support tools and training need to be improved across the board. The Joint Staff and the Unified Commanders-in-Chief need to develop better MOUT analytical and planning tools. TacWar, the warfighting model currently in vogue, is a piston-driven, Lanchester-based tool, which has little, if any value when considering asymmetrical warfare and simultaneous operations in most urban scenarios. The few tactical-level analysis and planning tools used by special forces and small units—such as the Joint Tactical Simulation—need to be aggregated or modified to address an entire campaign in and around a major city. Models are needed to address large-scale communications and navigation problems in urban areas. They also are needed to prepare for the possible release of chemical or biological weapons, and to understand how they may or may not permeate throughout an urban environment. Tools that can predict, analyze, and evaluate the performance of the electromagnetic spectrum in extreme masking and multi-pathing environments need to be matured, understood, and exploited. MOUT are highly decentralized and are extremely demanding on individual's endurance and skills. The role of small unit leaders is paramount. The training of noncommissioned officers (NCOs) needs to be revamped, especially for infantrymen. Infantry NCOs must be developed and treated as the true professionals they are. Career-level infantry schools and syllabi need to address all of these challenges. In the not too distant future, a Marine corporal or sergeant most likely will be the one who is forced to interpret and implement national diplomatic and military policy. These responsibilities will fall on them while they lead a handful of teenagers in the face of a riotous, starving mob, amidst the squalor of some Third World megacity. Have they been prepared?

Training areas and techniques also need to developed. Most combat villages are woefully inadequate. These sites are extremely small and fail to replicate a major urban center. Such tools as paint ball, chalk rounds, and tear gas can be used to help make training exercises more realistic. Ignoring communications failures during training exercises in order to meet the schedule does no one any good. The age-old adage "you play the way you practice" is still appropriate.

Military operations on urban terrain present major obstacles to JV2010, especially when considered in the context of the continuum of conflict. Force structure and technology currently is being molded to fight the last war. Future operations most assuredly will take place in urban environments. The MOUT environment is human intensive, and historically has required heavy commitment of resources. The benefits of network-centric warfare-such as attacking centers of gravity, a la Desert Storm-become questionable in many MOUT operations. Can the military really execute all missions across the continuum of conflict in a MOUT environment? Can non-DoD agencies and contractors provide the basic public services during MOUT? Is a multiagency task-force approach to national security needed? The Department of Defense and National Command Authorities need to identify their MOUT expectations across the board, so the service components can begin to build the force that will be required for success.

1 FM 100-5, Operations, HQ Dept. of the Army, Washington, D.C., t4 June 1993, p. 2-I.

2 Van Riper, Lieutenant General Paul K., "A Concept for Future Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain," Marine Corps Gazette, October 1997, pg. A-1.

3 Cohen William S., Secretary of Defense, "In the Age of Terror Weapons," The Washington Post, Wednesday November 26, 1997, pg. AI 9

4 Krulak, General C., "Operational Maneuver From the Sea," Naval Institute Proceedings, January 1997, pp. 27.

5 Pape Robert A., Bombing to Win, Air Power and Coercion in War, Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY. 1996. Pg. 222-223.

6 Garner, Lieutenant J. M., "The Next Generation of Threat to U.S. Military Superiority...'Asymmetric Niche Warfare."' PHALANX, The Bulletin of Military Operations Research. March 1997, pg. 1.

7 FM 09-10, Military Operations on Urban Terrain (MOUT), HQ Department of the Army, Washington, DC, IS August 1979, Chapter 1. 'Murray, W., "War, Theory, Clausewitz, and Thucydides: The Game May Change But the Rules Remain," Marine Corps Gazette, January 1997, pg. 64.

Robert Podlesny is an electronics engineer at the Naval Surface Warface Center, Dahlgren, Virginia. He works on battle management C4ISR issues related to littoral and expeditionary warfare, special operations, and missile defense.



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