Combat in urban areas can be the most destructive due to densely populated terrain, military weapons not suitable for urban warfare, close quarter battle (CQB), hand to hand combat and ruthless behaviour of nonstate forces who do not believe in rules of engagement
Earlier battles were fought in open terrain but since World War II, urban warfare (UW) has become increasingly dominant and decisive. The reasons for this are many like a weak defender’s attempts at overcoming the asymmetric advantage of a more powerful opponent, insurgency (revolution) and shift of population from rural to urban area. Combat in urban areas can be the most destructive due to densely populated terrain, all military weapons not suitable for UW, close quarter battle (CQB), hand to hand combat and ruthless behaviour of non state forces who do not believe in rules of engagement. A quote from Vietnam War indicates the nature of urban warfare, “it became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” In the Iraq and Afghanistan war many towns held by ruthless terrorist organisations had to be destroyed to save the innocent population from further harm. Urban fighting increases the attrition rates on people and equipment through enemy action, environmental wear and tear and non-battle injuries. It includes looting, civil disturbances, insurgences, and other levels of conflict where military forces may be sent to conduct stability operations, such as counterterrorism, counterinsurgencies and peacekeeping.
The US census defines an individual urban area as one with 50,000 or more residents but this will differ from country to country. No one city is the same and so will be the tactics required to be followed. Similarly equipment may also differ depending on the type of terrain, opposition and population. Sometimes dictators like Hitler cause genocide and urbicide while taking control of cities. Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq are two examples of urbicide in modern times. Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, was reduced to rubble during the nine-month battle to reclaim it.
Urban terrain differs from city to city. It may include well embedded opposition with sympathetic population. It may have airports, railway stations, utilities like electric power stations, radio and TV stations which require good planning with prioritisation of targets to be cleared and captured. US infantry and platoon levels train in 14 basic drills like ‘entering and clearing a room; clearing a bunker, urban assaults’ and so on. It is required to train fighting inside a room as much on the street. Training is required to overcome and breech the obstacles specially laid to impede the operations or there will just be debris of destroyed buildings or destroyed tanks. At times in UW it is necessary to fight for every step forward and every block. Soldiers are taught to avoid open areas, deploying smoke to conceal troop movements and providing suppressive fire to carry out movement. Reaching at the objective and fighting to get to the building are often challenging. It is required to train in off-loading vehicles under fire and using the vehicles as cover. An essential part of training is clearing bobby traps and IEDs. Engineers can be called but infantry should also be trained in this aspect due to criticality of time. In conjunction with practicing urban movements, soldiers should train to conduct hasty obstacle reduction and breaching. While typically this is a core function of engineers, the ability to rapidly reduce obstacles in urban terrain is a skill every soldier should practice. Urban terrain is uniquely suited to adversaries’ emplacement of street-blocking obstacles; burning tires or wood piles; concrete walls or parked vehicles with the aim of impeding movement or channelising the soldiers into an ambush. The density of cities also means that both friendly and enemy artillery and air strikes produce unplanned obstacles in the form of rubble. Train friendly civilians if possible to provide warning, intelligence of terrain and any other suitable task. Other aspects of training are riot control; detect and annihilate snipers; prevention of bank robberies; kidnapping and suicide attacks.
As brought out earlier UW will differ from place to place and whether the UW is taking place within own country or in another country. Troops now have advanced precision weaponry allowing them to target a single floor of a single building of a crowded block that minimises collateral damage; drones for aerial surveillance and weapons delivery; military satellites for signal intelligence and electronic warfare and even cyber offensive and defensive capabilities.
Whaling harpoon gun and winch cable. This is to pull away destroyed or incapacitated vehicles to clear routes.
Equipment for opening doors or breaching walls. US forces use picks and shovels to rip open doors; ropes with grappling hooks and explosives to punch through walls. Combat engineers would move in to destroy key targets and infrastructure, using bulldozers if required. Vehicles can be selectively fitted with ploughs to clear debris and routes.
Helicopter-style helmet for Infantry Fighting Vehicle weapons systems and selected soldiers. This provides instant situation awareness.
Industrial foam thrower. Instead of having to enter and clear tunnels and holes prevalent across the urban terrain, soldiers could seal entrances with a quick-drying sealing foam.
Communications. Each soldier should be able to communicate with each other for quick response. Building debris will cause obstruction in communication thus there should be means to overcome this.
EW and Jamming. This is essential to jam the opposition’s communications, bobby traps and IEDs.
Robotics. Can save casualties by removing booby traps and IEDs. Can also assist in logistic support.
UAVs. Specially designed UAVs, rotary UAVs and disposable UAV swarms can be of immense help in gathering intelligence, snooping around high rise buildings, disrupting insurgent operations or indicate what lies ahead.
Intelligence gathering. Acoustic, seismic, electro-magnetic, and video sensors are now small enough and sufficiently rugged to be deployed in UW.
Protection for the soldier. Suitable gear should be provided to protect the soldier but it should also not impede his mobility.
Weapons. US has an expeditionary force thus they have maximum experience in UW spanning from Vietnam to Kosovo to Middle East, however every army has its own requirement. Some examples are:
M16 assault rifle /M4. The US infantry carries the M16 assault rifle or the M4, a newer, shorter variation. Like the Iraqis’ counterpart — the AK-47 – the M16 can deliver rapid bursts of automatic fire. It has a superior sighting system which is simple to handle- hitting a target is a matter of simply lining up two dots and firing or, at night, projecting the dot onto a target and pulling the trigger. On the other hand AK-47 aimer must manually line up a target in the sights. It is easier for an M16 to shift from safety to semi-automatic mode, which allows for greater accuracy than the long bursts of automatic fire from AK-47. M16 can be used with an attachment that fires 40mm grenades which are effective in engaging buildings or other close-in targets. M6 is the latest version.
FN P90. FN P90 is designed and manufactured by FN Herstal in Belgium for counter terrorism and is currently in service with military and police forces in over 40 nations.
PP-90. The PP-90 is a Russian 9mm folding submachine gun, developed by the KBP Instrument Design Bureau for use with special units for CQB.
Corner Shot. The Corner Shot’s shooting range is claimed to be accurate and effective to 100 m in 9×19mm, 0.40 S&W, and 0.45 ACP pistols, and is claimed to be effective to 200 m with a 5.7×28mm pistol. The device is available in several variations, including the Beretta 92F. It can also mount various accessories such as detachable cameras, audio/video transmission kits, visible and IR lasers and tactical flashlights, suppressors and rubber bullets.
Urban terrain differs from city to city. It may include well embedded opposition with sympathetic population and is uniquely suited to adversaries’ emplacement of street-blocking obstacles
Heckler & Koch G36C. It is ultra-short assault rifle with the dimensions of a submachine gun and terminal ballistics of the 5.56mm NATO round. Developed for special tactical applications by police and military special forces.
Rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). RPGs are a hand held anti-tank weapon but very effective in UW. It has been used effectively in all major UW operations.
Special weapons and tactics (SWAT). UW also use close-range weapons and tactics used by SWAT teams, city police and firefighters, especially when it’s desirable to minimise civilian casualties. SWAT weapons are Assault rifles, AR15s such as M4A1, CQBR, and Colt Commando guns, Shotguns, Submachine guns and Semi-automatic pistols.
Grenades. Apart from 40mm grenades the US also use blasts of smoke, phosphorus or explosive noise designed to confuse, blind or stun, a tactic used by SWAT teams in hostage situations.
Tear Gas. Although banned in some countries it can be effectively used to flush out the insurgents.
Ballistic shields. Can be used where armed threat exists as most shields can withstand 7.62mm bullet.
Psyops. Psychological operations is very effective in carrying out propaganda and playing mind games with the opponents.
In India the focus is on Jammu and Kashmir where terrorist take refuge in houses with the tacit support of the population. Clearing operations are hampered by the locals. Terrorists also incite the local population to carry out insurgency and crowd then resort to agitation and stone pelting. Indian security forces try not to use lethal weapons against own civilians and terrorists take advantage of this. Use of rubber bullets has caused injury and blindness and adverse comments. Security forces also have to move through the streets in mine resistant and ambush protected vehicles. This scenario is not a classic UW environment.