Urban environment and war
Throughout the history of war some leaders have had the foresight to see beyond the conventional wisdom of their era & employ their forces in an unexpected manner, often with resounding success. King Henry V of England destroyed the army of King Charles VI of France at Agincourt with his innovative use of the long bow, which marked the demise of the mounted warrior in the West for over 500 years. Heinz Guderian's acceptance & refinement of the then-radical concepts of JFC Fuller & BH Liddell-Hart coupled with technical progress in mechanization, led to the development of blitzkrieg & the re-emergence of the mounted warrior as the decisive element on the battlefd.
Traditionally, military planners have viewed urban areas as “centres of gravity”. Urban areas are population centres, transportation hubs, seats of government, sources of wealth, centres for industry & key nodes for communication netwk. These characteristics are likely to remain as important in the future as they have been throughout history & will perhaps grow even more imp as human society becomes increasingly reliant upon the technologies which are the trademark of city life. It is thus evident that as urbanisation increases, the military significance of urban areas will likewise increase.
Large Built Up Areas have the potential of being used as the “forts” of the modern era. These forts will not have one large wall but an endless series of city blockwalls that provide defense-in-depth. Rather than fighting a powerful modern army on the battlefd, future opponents may offer to fight man-to-man in such BUAs. This kind of warfare can be classified as asymmetric warfare. The advantages that accrue by fighting urban warfare in an asymmetric manner are that a populated area becomes extremely difficult to capture. In addition, the media is available to ‘play up' the ‘atrocities' committed by the ‘aggressor'. An urban area is a lot easier to defend, as by lanes, the sewage system & buildings can be used to fight a low intensity or insurgent kind of battle. As collateral damage is to be avoided, it is difficult to declare all out war in an urban area. Clear examples of this are the battles being fought in the BUAs in Iraq. No tankman is comfortable with the thought of FIBUA. There is however, a growing concern that if we do not adapt to the changing battlefd scenario we would be ignoring history & would be ill prep for the battles of tomorrow. The Indian Army must break out of current moulds of thinking & look for new ways to emp armr in the urban battlefd utilising the conventional combined arms team concept. Achieving armr dominance in this demanding envt would ensure significant improvements in combined performance & provide the ability to cont op tempo.
Challenges for Emp of Mech Forces in BUAs / Urban Areas
Urban warfare poses a different set of challenges than those that most of the armies have confronted for nearly 40 years. During the Cold War, the US military prepared to fight a numerically superior foe in armoured warfare on relatively open terrain with long range precision weapons. In urban terrain by contrast, engagements occur at short-ranges, manoeuvre & command & cont are difficult. Battles are typically fought at the sub unit level w/o substantial coord or fire support from higher echelons. Finally, urban operations raise political risks which were less-relevant in a Cold War scenario.
In the Indian context, the only first hand experience that the Mech Forces have had so far was in Sri Lanka (IPKF). The terrain in Jaffna was anything but tank country as, apart from BUAs, lagoons restricted freedom of maneuver. Tanks, therefore, had to be employed in the direct firing role to blast opposition in BUAs that was holding up the infantry. On a few occasions, tanks were also employed to extricate infantry that had been surrounded. In all cases, armour was employed in penny packets contrary to conventional wisdom but this was a terrain constraint as move of tanks en-masse was just not possible. Further, owing to communication inadequacies, imperfect battle drills between armour & infantry & the restrictions imposed on speculative fire to avoid civilian casualties, the losses of tanks were heavy in the initial stages. As the battle drills were refined over a period of time & infantry secured flanks before tanks arrived on the scene, tanks were able to perform more effectively w/o suffering unnecessary losses. ICVs too, could not be emp in the conventional & ideal role due to similar constraints as tanks. The main role for the Mechanised Infantry should have been to operate dismounted, providing close protection to tanks & ICVs & utilising the ICVs in a direct firing role like the tanks. The proclivity, in the initial stages, of mechanised infantry riding into battle resulted in severe losses through the ICVs going over LTTE IEDs & the sticks suffering avoidable casualties. Some of the common threats to MF unique to urban warfare were IEDs, ATGMs, SA/Sniper fire & impaired all round vision.
Employment Dynamics & Likely Tasks for Mech Fores in Urban Areas in Conventional Ops
MF are designed to op in conventional conflicts wherein they exploit their fire power, mobility & protection. However, armies which are successful in creating asymmetry in the battlefield either through new technology or innovative employment of existing technology will always have an edge over their adversary. Taking a cue from history on employment of MF across the conflict spectrum, MF in the Indian context can play a meaningful role in u/m operations albeit with modifications in tactical & equipment profile :-
* Conventional Operations.
* Counter Insurgency (CI) / Counter Terrorism (CT) Operations.
* Out of Area Operations.
* Internal Threats.
The geographic & demographic changes in the last two decades due to sustained economic growth, have brought about vast changes in the type of BUAs & the living pattern of villagers on both sides of the borders. The villages that were a cluster of mud houses have given way to brick / stone walled houses surrounded by perimeter walls. The unguarded tube-wells have been brick walled & small village ponds of yester years at many places have been enclosed by outer walls which are of an immense value to the defender.
In the light of the changing terrain characteristics, the following terrain & tactical ramifications are likely to accrue :-
* The BUAs are likely to provide islands of resistance to the defender & thus will require more time for reduction / capture.
* Provide flexibility to the defender to exploit the defense potential of a BUA in a fast & fluid battle.
* Maneuver space for MF will be restricted & channelised.
* BUAs in the forward Zone are likely to be occupied as Protective Patrols / Forward Zone Defended Localities & will require to be reduced at the earliest.
* BUAs in the immediate depth of the obstacle system will be included in the bridge Head operations & will have to be neutralized at the earliest.
* BUAs will be used for 4GW & Asymmetric Warfare by irregular militias & regular troops.
* BUAs in the depth, between the two obstacles, are likely to be held as contingency positionns initially & will require a deliberate operation for their reduction or capture.
* The enemy will be very sensitive to the value objectives in depth. These will be heavily defended. Size & layout of these BUAs will preclude classical Isolation due to paucity of resources at the terminal stages of the battle.
* Investment & fighting through BUAs in the inter & depth Zone would be fiercely resisted leading to extremely high casualty rates.
Emp of MF in Defensive Operatios. Tanks & ICVs should be employed to take advantage of their protection, long range fire, secondary armament, self-generating smoke & mobility. MF provide a commander with a strong mobile force to respond quickly to enemy threats on different avenues of approach. In defensive operations, MF can be employed gainfully in the following manner :-
* Armoured vehicles located on likely approaches to take advantage of their long range.
* Armour & anti tank weapons should be employed where the maneuver space is the largest. This is usually on the flanks of a BUA.
* Tank / ICV positions are selected & developed to obtain the best cover, concealment, observation & field of fire while retaining the vehicle's ability to move.
* The hide posns cover & conceal the tanks & ICVs, until it is time to move into position for engagement of targets. An observer must be used at a vantage point to alert the crew while in a hide.
* Tanks are normally retained under centralised control to provide flexibility in meeting armour threats on avenues of approach.
* Infantry should always be positioned to provide armour with security against close anti tank fire & to detect targets for the armour.
* An important additional mission for tanks in the defense of BUAs is their employment in over-watch of barricades & obstacles along the periphery of the BUA & in depth.
* ICVs are employed in areas that maximise their missile capabilities & use of cannons which can fire at high angles.
* Control of tanks is generally retained at the Combat Team level & only in exceptional cases are tank troops attached to platoons. Tanks may be gp with inf for Counter Attack / Counter Penetration or eviction tasks.
Emp of MF in Offensive Operations. FIBUAs is marked by a series of close quarter encounters at sub-unit level. The outcome of these small scale infantry fights in all three phases is influenced by the support provided by MF fighting alongside in the following manner :-
* Armour supported by infantry is best suited for isolating a BUA. The strength of troops employed for this task will depend on the size of the BUA, enemy strength, terrain & location of reserves.
* For Gaining a Foothold. Armour may be employed to lead the assault or support the infantry in capture of a foothold.
* For Fighting in BUA. In heavy house-to-house fighting, tank sub-units are placed in direct support of infantry companys.
* Neutralising Strong Points. Tanks provide covering fire to the infantry & are invaluable in knocking down enemy strong points & bunkers. HESH ammunition is particularly useful for creating holes in walls which provide passage for infantry to move into the buildings.
* Creating a Breach. The best way to enter a concrete structure is to breach a hole by using a tank firing HEAT ammunition.
* Drive Through with Speed. When the BUA is lightly defended, the tanks / ICVs should attempt to drive through or into the town as rapidly as possible to seize terrain, buildings & ingress routes to the town.
* During an attack on a BUA, tanks over-watch the initial assault by the infantry, until an entry into the area has been secured.
Employment of MF in Counter Terrorism (CT) Operations
Armour came into existence to fulfill a tactical role on the high intensity battlefield. Since World War II, this role has been well understood & continues to drive the development of armour organisation, equipment & tactical doctrine. Since 1945, however, wars of low intensity have increased in frequency. Unlike high intensity wars, armour's role at the lower end of the conflict spectrum has not been so well understood.
Both the US & the Russians have gained tremendous experience in employing armour in Low Intensity Conflict (LIC). In each case, the expectation of armour's role on the low intensity battlefield was different from the tactics finally hammered out in the field. For example, the planners in the US Mil Asst Comd in Vietnam originally saw no need for tanks for deploy. The arrival of tanks in Vietnam in 1965 was by accident. In fact, when informed that American tanks had been deployed, the Ambassador to Vietnam, Maxwell Taylor, was upset that such equipment “not appropriate for CI Ops” had been sent. Despite the apprehension of the planners & having proved its value, the number of armour units in Vietnam steadily increased. By the end of the war, 24% of the combat maneuver units deployed in Vietnam were either mechanised infantry, armour, or armoured cavalry.
In addn to LIC the aspect of Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) & Asymmetric W has given a new dimension to the battlefield. Exponents of both 4GW & Asymmetric Warfare address similar issues i.e, use of NBC weapons, cyber warfare, info warfare, terrorism, LIC & use of urban areas by irregulars / militants. It is feasible to employ 4GW & Asymmetric Warfare alongwith Conventional Warfare in order to improve & increase the effectiveness of Conventional Warfare. The recent Lebanese conflict is a good example.
On 12 Jul 06, the Hezbollah carried out a raid near the village of Zarat along the Israeli Lebanon border kidnapping two Israeli soldiers & killing three. Five others were killed on the Lebanese side of the border during a misson to rescue the two captured soldiers. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel declared the attack as an act of war & launched Op JUST FREEDOM. Early on 13 Jul, the air strikes started which were followed up by a full fledged invasion of Lebanon to destroy the fighting potential of the Hezbollah & negate their capability to fire rockets or launch strikes against Israel.
The Israelis with their advanced systems, sophisticated weaponry, US support & a tough, well-trained army could not wipe out the Hezbollah. This changed not only the mosaic of the Middle East but also the dynamics of modern conflict. It emerged that large state armies cannot easily counter this 4GW waged by small, decentralised non-state groups. The weapons & tactics used by IDF were to fight a conventional war, however, Hezbollah carried out a 4GW & more than held its own.
In the Indian context, while the Army has been fighting asymmetric threats over a prolonged period, it is a moot point whether these would classify as newly emerging fourth generation threats. Counter insurgency / terrorism ops in a number of our border states have been a regular feature of army ops even before this new generation threat was internationally defined. Infantry has been grappling with these operations over a prolonged period. The emp of MF in such operations would be a rare exception because of the nature of adversary, imperatives of minimum force & centrality of avoiding collateral civilian damage. While lethal in conventional battle, MF are handicapped in CT ops in many ways. Notwithstanding that, even in these situations extenuating circumstances could lead to employment of armoured platforms for force protection, area clearance & strike operations for a limited period as witnessed in Sopore in 1994 where mechanised infantry was used for regaining control over the town.
Since the MF will primarily work with light forces, operations with dismounted infantry on & around the vehicles will be common. Employment considerations must including communications with other elements of the Task Force & actions on contact with the enemy. The lost art of using the main gun as Arty may become useful. Sniper tanks, armour ambushes, road blocks, & building clearance operations should all be a part of the MF tactics. The inherent shock effect of any armoured vehicle, even a light one, can be a valuable part of a psychological operations plan. The mobility edge of the MF is useful in route clearing, convoy escort & recovery operations. The specialised equipment being used by the MF can greatly assist infantry, which is incapable of carrying them in a rucksack. Thermal sights, dual radios, the commander's independent thermal viewer, Laser Range Finder, pioneer tools & the invaluable storage brackets are examples of things the MF can contribute / share with the infantry. The MF provide infantry with a strategically & tactically mobile system with plenty of firepower & edge.
Although the infantry is the decisive arm to win engagements in CT operations, its effectiveness can be complemented by ensuring its protection & survival till it gets to the proximity of the enemy in a BUA. This is where MF can assist infantry in a big way, besides optimising its firepower & mobility for other tasks. Likely tasks for MF during CT operations could be as follows :-
* Close support to infantry by precision engagements.
* Isolation / cordon of BUA including objectives within the BUA to deny freedom of move by effective use of technology & fire power.
* Probing action to draw enemy reaction.
* Closing in with the enemy snipers / RPG dets.
* Suppression & / or destruction of enemy inside a building.
* Creating entry / exit pts in buildings.
* Breaching obstacles in a direct fire mode.
In order to be potent & swift, these Combat groupings need to be flexible & capable of splitting into smaller sub units of upto half a squadron of armour & two platoons of mechanised infantry along with other elements.
Drills & procedures for various operations of war will have to be revised at all levels keeping in mind the fact that future conflicts are likely to be urban centric. Modifications to our tactics & procedures for combating conventional & sub-conventional threats (in the 4GW realm) in an urban environment is an absolute necessity. Innovative tactical application of troops & resources is a pre-requisite for effective employment of MF in both conventional & CT operations. Some important tactical imperatives for employment of MF in BUAs / urban areas are as follows :-
* Force Composition. The attacker must organise his Task Force to facilitate operational maneuver appropriate to the urban environment.
* Isolation of Objective Area. The central tenet of urban operations is to isolate the adversary from support or reinforcement followed by the fight to secure the main objective.
* Armour Reserve. The combined arms commander will also need to maintain a reserve to meet contingencies. The reserve would usually consist of a robust armoured reaction force.
* Preparatory Degradation. Mechanised columns would enter BUAs after a comprehensive degradation of the target area with the help of Arty (incl smk) / AHs / Air coupled with the employment of Precision Munitions.
* Use of Air. Airpower can have a profound psychological effect on the defender, besides isolating the urban threat & shaping the battlefield to facilitate the entry of tactical ground forces.
* Recce, Intelligence & Surveillance. Real time battlefield intelligence provides commanders with the flexibility of precision fires by air & arty.
Warfare of the next generation is already upon us, 4GW is being waged across the globe by non-state actors who are taking on larger, better organised & equipped armies & more often than not getting the better of them by waging an irregular war of slow bleed. Perhaps, one of the major reasons for the ascendancy of insurgent groups is that while they are successfully waging 4GW, the response of the regular armies opposing them is still mired in the concepts, organisations & equipping policies of the third & even second generations, as was evident in the Israel - Lebanon conflict. Both sides in this war claimed victory, the eventual result is inconclusive, in fact it can be said that victory has gone to the Hezbollah, in spite of the tactical gains made by Israel. The Hezbollah definitely won the moral, media & psychological victory. It is likely that Israel's security concerns have been increased rather than resolved by their invasion. Israel will have to rethink its strategy & more so, armies across the world will have to give serious thought as to how their tactics are to be evolved to counter unconventional warfare.
The need of the hr is to seriously view this form of warfare as inevitable & prep a doctrine for fighting in BUAs / urban areas by MF. The doctrine should emphasise on combined arms grouping, their integration, modernisation of eqpt & weapon platforms. The training needs to be realistic, covering aspects of technological, physical & psychological training.
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