Sunday, January 2, 2011

Chile's Army and the Need for a New Urban Warfare Doctrine in 2012

“Wars tend to draw troops into urban areas. Cities have historically played an important role in military campaigns because roads and rail lines usually intersect in cities, and ports and airfields are frequently located near major metropolitan centers. Movement into a theater through ports and airfields, or within a theater on roads or rail, requires the control of major cities.”
-- Urban Warfare: Options, problems and the future. Daryl G. Press, January 1999 (MIT Security Studies Conference.)

By Jose Miguel Pizarro
It appears that MIT was quite right. Today more than 60 wars are being fought around the world and few of them are between nation states. Ninety percent of these conflicts are between irregular or guerilla forces fighting asymmetrically against traditional or conventional units inside cities, villas and other populated areas. Irregular warfare therefore is irregular not in the sense that it is uncommon (it is exactly the opposite) but in the literal sense that irregular warfare it is against the rules of war. And since these rules of combat are set by formal governments and their military establishments -- to favor their high-tech equipment and doctrine of operations -- irregular warfare is likely to remain the preferred choice for non-state armed groups and others who have nothing to gain from “playing by the rules.” Especially when those rules were specifically designed to crush them and to only favor their adversaries. Kind of logical, right?
Yet to my surprise current Chilean Army doctrine largely ignores the urban environment except within the context of small-scale, platoon- and company-level stability and support operations. Not urban warfare. When it does address it, existing Chilean doctrine primarily examines the tactical level of warfare and presents urban conflict in isolated pamphlets that essentially describe urban warfare as a series of irrelevant squad-unit actions designed to seize individual rooms -- or lightly defended buildings -- in the outskirts of a small villa. It seems to be a side-show designed to capture some “colorful” guerrilla leader purely for PR purposes. Little or no attention is given to the conduct of large-scale land operations on complex urban terrain or to the need for joint and institutional doctrine and the obvious integration requirements associated with it.
Then, why would the army of a modern and wealthy country like Chile ignore this reality?
Between now and the year 2020 the military forces of Chile will almost certainly find themselves involved in combat against one or more of its neighbors. Such involvement will come (initially) in the form of a major conventional conflict but then will gradually evolve into a series of simultaneous campaigns against irregular and guerrilla forces seeking battle inside urban areas. Urban warfare is a deadly business and a growing prospect for future conflicts as global urbanization trends continue to spiral out of control. Furthermore, fighting in the streets is a lucrative tactic for third-world nations and irregular factions who are incapable of fighting more conventionally against a large opponent armed with advanced weaponry and mechanized forces.
Generally, we all know that tanks have a number of characteristics that limit their use in confined areas. Their weaponry is not situated for a close-in fight, particularly to the sides and rear, where they cannot engage targets. The main guns are often too long to traverse fully in narrow streets, and the small vision blocks severely restrict target acquisition. Armor is often thin on the top, flanks, and rear, and extremely thin on the undersides. The latter makes tanks exceptionally vulnerable to mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) so common in a city fight. Therefore, the very design that makes a tank a feared weapon on the open battlefield renders it vulnerable in the close confines of a city. When using this extremely risk-adverse mentality it is no wonder why civilian leaders and military planners want to avoid committing large armor forces to urban battles. But then again, if you think like that, why are we sending dismounted infantry troops into battle? Could some of them get hurt? Instead, why don’t we put every single soldier inside of an armored vehicle and avoid any possible engagement with enemy troops inside urban areas? I know, it is absurd. But absurd is also the decision of the Chilean army not to train and prepare for urban warfare.
The duty of a soldier is to fight the enemy under our terms, use our firepower and technology in a smart way and to deny our opponent the access to urban areas, where he can control the population. Despite all of the previous restrictions, modern armies have successfully employed tanks in cities over the years. That's because despite their potential shortcomings, the tank is still the most effective all-weather weapon system capable of bringing precision heavy ordnance to a target. Meaning? In plain English: That’s a 120mm high explosive (HE) round usually achieving 100% destruction with the first hit and within seconds of acquiring the target. It certainly beats getting into the net and waiting 15 to 30 minutes for the air force to drop a bomb -- usually in the wrong building.
The battle for Fallujah was a fine example of using tanks to support the infantry in the urban fight. By November 2004 the U.S. Marine Corps infantry forces were veteran troops, and although not specifically trained for urban operations, these forces had developed the necessary tactics and skills to attack the fortifications of a guerrilla force entrenched deep inside a city. But remember, this was no ordinary urban battle. The Marine forces faced a formidable adversary equipped with more than 6,000 fighters armed with everything from anti-tank weapons, sniper rifles and AP mines to mortars and rockets. But Marine commanders were lucky. They were leading probably the finest and best trained infantry units in the western world, and within a few days they had a plan to capture the entire city. Tank and mechanized forces were also adept at cooperating with supporting infantry and fire support (i.e; antitank helicopters and 155mm field artillery) at that stage of the war. These combined experiences were quickly and successfully adapted to the city fight. The command and control displayed by the U.S. Marines was methodical, extremely organized but effective in coordinating the battle. The vulnerable M1A1 tanks and the LAVs were effective as long as their infantry support shielded them from the dreaded RPG-7s. The isolation of the guerrilla defenders and the rapid movements of the marine rifle companies disrupted the insurgent defense and hastened the conclusion of the fight for Fallujah. The battle for Fallujah is perhaps the most successful example for the use of heavy armor in an urban environment. Well-led veteran forces were able to crush quickly their opposition by boldly using tanks and IFVs to spearhead the assault. The shock and speed proved great enough to disrupt the enemy defense, which was never able to recover to make a coordinated stand.
Ideally, the preparation for urban combat begins during peacetime. The need to revolutionize the way the Chilean Army train for urban operations is almost universally acknowledged by younger officers. Accordingly, we need to develop the capability to conduct large-scale, joint urban operations on a scale similar to the exercises conducted at the end of the year during division-level maneuvers. Given the current impracticality of creating several large, realistic urban training facilities for every single division, the army should plan on creating a national training center for urban operations in the north of the country. We should be willing to commit the resources necessary to create a large scale urban training center that uses advanced training technologies to integrate live, rifle-company-level, combat-in-the-cities training with realistic battalion and brigade level exercises under the direction of a joint command and control center. Also, to properly prepare for urban combat in the 21st century the Chilean army must study and truly understand the various scenarios, options, constraints, limitations, legal factors, and city characteristics of each potential battlefield. Political leaders and military planners must remember that each urban operation will be unique and there is simply no standard urban operation as no two cities are alike.
The political challenge:
Political leaders must remember the “remarkable trinity” of Clausewitz’s theory of war and keep in mind that combat in urbanized areas is both costly and time consuming. For Clausewitz the government, the military and the people form a triangular relationship in which all three sides are equally relevant – and in which all three must be kept in balance if war is to succeed. Let’s use the Chilean case for instance.
The Government: (Get smart on modern warfare) In urban warfare the presence of a noncombatant population provides concealment for indigenous combatants or disruptive elements that can seriously restrict the employment of heavy weapons. Whether the mission is one of humanitarian aid, peacekeeping, or combat, urban terrain favors the use of ground forces, especially infantry, because the use of mechanized forces is often politically restricted. A political leader who doesn’t understand the type of war he or she is fighting will allow the enemy to win the war by simply ordering the Chilean army not to enter the cities.
The Military: (Train for the next war… not for the last one) Urbanized terrain tends to complicate the employment of armor, artillery, and close air support. If poorly trained in MOUT operations a modern and well equipped mechanized force like the Chilean army can be easily slaughtered in the streets and alleys of a small town or medium-size city. Poorly equipped, badly trained and lightly armed the logistical units and support columns are especially vulnerable to this type of fight.
The People: (Keep them informed) Moreover, and because of the compartmentalized nature of the terrain, an urban battlefield can absorb much greater numbers of troops than open terrain. In urban warfare combat tends to take place at extremely short range between small units, leading to greater reliance on small-unit leadership and proficiency. As a result, if poorly informed regarding the type of war the army is fighting, the Chilean people could very quickly turn against the war when seeing the numbers of troops being deployed from only 30,000 exploding to more than 120,000 in less than one year. Then, surprise could easily turn to rage if casualties start mounting to 1,000 men or more per month. Especially when the Chilean people were told that this was a short and an easy war.
The Nature of future urban combat:
The past 20 years of urban combat shows that the mobility of tanks and armored vehicles, along with their protective armor, allowed the delivery of their heavy firepower into the fight for the cities. Maintaining mobility is vital to the effectiveness of tanks and to their survival. The obvious tactic is to provide a robust combat engineer effort to clear debris, rubble, and armor hulks, and to eliminate mines and improvised explosives from the paths of advancing armor. The most graphic example of the failure to do so was the Russians in Grozny. Once trapped in the narrow streets, even the advanced T-80 tanks were vulnerable to the simple RPG-7. If stationary, even the most capable tank becomes a pillbox with limited angles of fire in narrow streets and alleys. The fight for Fallujah is a dramatic example of a rapid armored advance that disrupted the enemy's defense and allowed a rapid victory. For the Chilean army an effective means to maintain mobility of its Leopard 2 formations is to disrupt the enemy's fire plan by the application of maneuver, firepower, or obscurants. A high operational tempo would also challenge an enemy's ability to react and engage. These methods require an intimate knowledge of the capabilities of units and weapons on urban terrain. Chilean commanders and staffs must understand the advantages and disadvantages urbanization offers to mechanized formations and its effects on tactical operations. An operation based on maneuver could avoid one based on an attrition strategy and prevent heavy friendly losses. But to reach these conclusions history reminds us that an army requires prior operational experience and years of training.
Logistics… logistics… logistics…
Conducting a high-tempo operation over a sustained period will require a massive logistical effort, particularly in the resupply of ammunition. In a “target-rich environment” like urban combat ammunition goes fast. Fuel is also of great concern, as the consumption rate of the Leopard 2 engines is notoriously high. In some urban battles the attacking force had no such plan and was forced to withdraw tanks from the front lines to refuel and rearm. Just for a few hours. The infantry units fighting their way to the center of the city keenly felt the temporary loss of this combat power. Flexible command and control and an effective intelligence operation are also vital elements in a highly fluid battle for the streets.
Regardless of our personal feelings, military operations in large cities will continue to be more common as the world urbanizes, and extremely more deadly with the introduction of new fourth-generation weapons. Accordingly, Chilean planners will need to make do with the Leopard 2 tanks, as there is nothing more effective right now in the Chilean inventory to bring precision heavy fire into the cities. Simultaneously, it is unlikely that a single technology or system will emerge in the near future that will dramatically swing the balance to the attacker in the cities. Instead, an effective solution to the urban fight will only be attained through the integration of strategic concepts, doctrine, operational needs, technological advances, force design, and the appropriate organization of command, control, training, and education. There is no doubt in my mind that tanks and armored vehicles will play a vital role in the urban fights of the future. In consequence we need to radically modify the way we train and fight.
However, to do this right and to properly prepare the Chilean army for urban warfare we need to accept that there are no shortcuts, easy rides or “golden bullets”. Chilean army doctrine and combat unit training require addressing a specific set of skills to fight in the cities and urgently define a new doctrine of operations to fight in urban areas that doesn’t even exist in our training manuals. The challenge of this new doctrine? It must also be a doctrine of operations that is flexible enough to adapt quickly to a host of possible urban situations. Considering historical trends, the fight for the streets is often decided at the crew and platoon level. We are talking corporals and second lieutenants. Yet there exist political considerations, legal limitations, infrastructure, and evolving enemy methods that are beyond the ability of the junior Chilean army leaders to research and incorporate into their training and operations. Our duty is to help them during peace time with realistic training but a training process based on a robust doctrine of operations.
Understanding the nature of urban warfare is a difficult task for any army, and the tasks required to sufficiently sustain or support urban combat are enormous. But with one possible exception. All of the examples in modern warfare show mechanized armies attacking cities without extensive training in urban operations. Each of the attacks was ultimately successful, either because of a high degree of skill or experience in small unit tactics or due to a large application of heavy firepower. To bridge the gap between peacetime training and commitment to the battle on the street, the Chilean Army must fully embrace the concept of using armor in urban warfare and prepare accordingly.  But they need to do it right now, before it is too late. Remember, the clock of history is ticking. 

Mr. Pizarro, 42, is a former Chilean Army artillery officer with an extensive operational background in both the Latin American region and with the U.S. armed forces. He also served in the U.S. Marines and later as a senior security advisor/contractor for four years in the Middle East. Mr. Pizarro also worked for CNN en Español as a military analyst. He lives in Washington, DC, with his family. E-mail:


Anonymous said...

I was thinking, the situation in northern Iraq, the conflict between Kurdish rebels and and the Turkish armed forces might be an important case study for the Chilean military to follow. The two militaries are similar: the Turks have a tough, high tech army capable of fighting a major ground war against a well equipped opponent, but have been vigorously adapting their tactics to fight irregular forces in open terrain.
The effectiveness of the Turkish forces (I think) has been quite satisfactory for them. They seem to trade soldiers with the guerrillas on a 10 to 1 ratio in close combat which is required to win such a campaign. However they also make intense use of Cobra gunships. In order to fix the situation you've mentioned the Chilean military might want to expand on their new found cooperation with the Turks and base a COIN strategy on some of their experience.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant idea! I hope our Generals will soon reach the same conclusion. Turkey can provide us with superb prior operational experience on COIN operations.

JM. Pizarro

Anonymous said...

The main article and the first posting both refer to the use of attack helicopters in support of the combined arms urban operation. If the Chilean aviation brigade had a platform capable of employing Hellfire missiles, would it revise its doctrine to incorporate these assets into the fight? U.S. Army, Apaches and Kiowa helicopters have a crucial role in supporting troops in contact. It seems to me that even a light attack helicopter, ballistically tolerant and with redundant systems, would be valuable tool for the Chilean Army

Rick said...

Upon reading your article it came to me that you might be espousing that the chilean military start preparing for the next coup detat. Geographically and politically the tensions and fighting that might ensue between Peru, Bolivia and Chile typifies a war of the most traditional nature. Unless Chile the most polished military in South America collapses and allows invasion of some hundreds of miles to reach urban areas your argument of Peruvian insurgents just does not hold water. Preparing for a home grown insurgency does.
Turbo prop planes have similar deficiencies as fighter jets in urban areas. Attack helicopters with wire guided missles are very effective and provide ability to stay on station.

Anonymous said...

this "former chilean army officer"
is a meseenger of hell like all the
war criminals that are the chilean
of defenseless women,men,children.
peru and bolivia and argentina only
want to live in peace but with this
country chile that holds the demon
of war is difficult, i hope that a
real earthquake erase soon those
dreams of destruccion for others and became a nigtmare for chile, i
pray that GOD give chile and there
LOVE FOR WAR what they deserve in
destruction that they dream for
others that only want to live in