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Urban operations defining the environment.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Departments of the Army and Defense, or the U.S. Government.


Recent urban operations in An Najaf, Baghdad, and Fallujah have pointed to the importance of understanding urban environments and the unique challenges they pose for warfighting. This is especially true for intelligence professionals as they analyze urban areas. Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) for operations in the urban environment requires a different mindset and a different approach.

The intent of this article is to provide a summary of the different characteristics of the urban environment, followed by an analysis of the different approaches to conducting intelligence planning in urban environments. Both Army and Joint Doctrine provide an excellent review of the characteristics and considerations of the urban battlefield. Included in this analysis will be planning considerations, operational effects in urban environments, and additional considerations for urban operations.

Characteristics of the Urban Environment

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Handbook for Joint Urban Operations provides a variety of characteristics of urban environments. (1) These characteristics include:

* Rates of urbanization increases,

* Terrain, shores, and waterways challenges,

* Presence of noncombatants,

* Presence of civil government institutions,

* Presence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs),

* Presence of local and international media,

* Potential sources of host nation support (labor, construction material, and medical supplies),

* Complex social, cultural, and governmental interaction that supports urban habitation, and

* Location of key transportation hubs.

A similar list of characteristics of urban environments has also been developed by Gerwehr and Glenn of the Force Development and Technology Program at RAND's Arroyo Center. (2) These characteristics include:

* High number of noncombatants,

* High amount of valuable infrastructure,

* Presence of multidimensional battlespace,

* Restrictive rules of engagement (ROE),

* Short detection, observation, and engagement ranges,

* Many avenues of approach,

* Low freedom of movement and maneuver for mechanized forces,

* Degraded communications functionality, and

* High logistical requirements.

There are some obvious commonalities when these two lists are compared. The first is simply that there are a lot more people in urban environments, and within the population there will be a considerable number of noncombatants that must be considered. Other concerns that affect military operations include the presence of NGOs, the media, local governance, and cultural centers. From a terrain standpoint, the urban environment is dramatically different than rural areas due to dense road networks, communications infrastructure, waterways, and urban sprawl. Because of this dense infrastructure, there is decreased freedom of movement and maneuver, short detection, observation, and engagement ranges, and the need for more restrictive ROE. All of these considerations combined create greater logistical requirements to support both the population and military forces.

The JCS Handbook for Urban Operations also defines five essential characteristics of an urban area that should be considered for analysis. (3) These interdependent characteristics are depicted in Figure 1.


Joint Publication (JP) 3-06, Doctrine for Joint Urban Operations, defines three characteristics of urban environments, described as the "urban triad." (4) These three characteristics are considered to be "so intertwined as to be virtually inseparable."

* A complex manmade physical terrain superimposed on existing natural terrain and consisting of structures and facilities of various types.

* A population of significant size and density inhabiting, working in, and using the manmade and natural terrain.

* An infrastructure upon which the area depends that may also occupy manmade terrain and provides human services, and cultural and political structure for the urban area and often beyond; perhaps for the entire nation.

JP 3-06 continues by stating that the physical terrain, both natural and manmade, presents "significant challenges to military operations"--but the primary characteristic that makes urban operations fundamentally different is the impact of military operations on both the population and infrastructure. The three components of the "urban triad" create a "dynamic system-of-systems" that is composed of complex terrain, population, and infrastructure. (5)

Within the "urban triad," there are nine "significant challenges" to modern urban operations. (6) These challenges are--

* Cities reduce the advantages of the technologically superior force due to the challenges of terrain, degraded logistics, and the constraints posed by the ROE to protect civilians and infrastructure.

* Ground operations are manpower intensive because of the horizontal and vertical spaces of a city, as well as the need to secure cities building by building and room by room.

* Ground operations are decentralized because of the dispersal of units and the difficulties of command and control.

* Operations are time-consuming and usually take significantly longer than originally expected.

* Combat operations in urban areas result in large ratios of civilian to military casualties.

* Operations in urban areas are conducted under more restrictive constraints than operations elsewhere due to the presence of noncombatants and the need to preserve infrastructure.

* Physical terrain changes weapons and munitions effects because of target masking by structures. The composition of buildings and surrounding structures will also change weapons effects.

* Logistic support requirements are different and often more demanding in urban areas due to increased ammunition expenditure and increased requirements for supplies.

* Urban areas provide advantages to defenders, insurgents, and terrorists, providing asymmetrical benefits to those who use the civilian population and infrastructure.

Planning Considerations in Joint Urban Operations

The Joint Chiefs of Staff Handbook for Joint Urban Operations provides a number of planning considerations when considering Urban Operations. These planning considerations are important for all planners, including Military Intelligence professionals, to consider prior to conducting operations in cities and urban areas. (7) These planning considerations include--

* The Characteristics of an Urban Area as previously discussed.

* Information/Intelligence Required for Joint Urban Operations, including sources that include a combination of human, electronic, and archival data, as well as other nontraditional human resources available such as civil affairs (CA), psychological operations (PSYOP), special operations forces (SOF) personnel, terrain analysts, military patrols, military engineers, NGOs, United Nations (UN) military observers, and others who may have direct contact with the indigenous population.

* Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C41SR) in Joint Urban Operations, considering some of the implications of urban operations, such as urban area features may impose communication limitations; urban infrastructure may offer opportunities to facilitate telecommunications; aerospace assets offer unique C41SR capabilities; and SOF may be able to offer unique C41SR capabilities.

* Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) defense operations which present unique challenges in an urban area, including the decontamination of infrastructure, the decontamination and possible relocation of the civilian population, and the decontamination of joint forces.

* Civil-Military Operations (CMO) due to the increased importance of noncombatants and the likelihood of media presence during urban operations.

* Public Affairs (PA) due to the complex relationship among information, the public (international and domestic), and policy formulation in urban areas.

* Interagency Communication and Coordination to address needs that are beyond the capabilities of military forces; such coordination may include that with the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and a variety of NGOs, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

* Multinational Coalitions and Urban Operations and the considerations of doctrinal, cultural, and language differences that challenge coordination of the mission and the ability to achieve unity of effort.

* Operating as a Joint Team in urban operations requires detailed planning, training, using the most appropriate combination of joint assets; and cooperating with all relevant military, government, and nongovernmental agencies.

* Rules of Engagement (ROE) considerations due to the proximity of forces, number and location of noncombatants, media presence, and other factors that can rapidly alter tactical and operational conditions.

* Legal Issues in urban operations are likely to involve significant legal issues, such as curfew, evacuation, forced labor, civilian resistance, and protection or use of property.

* Logistics in urban operations includes the concept of sustainment to "push" supplies and material to employed units until the urban objective is secured, then transition to a "pull" concept whereby engaged units obtain required replenishment stocks from designated sources of supply, and finally, to transfer responsibilities to a logistics civil augmentation program (LOGCAP) as soon as possible.

Analysis of Urban Environments

The challenge for intelligence professionals is to analyze all of the characteristics and considerations for urban operations and make sense of it all. There are two approaches that could be used for this analysis--an adapted IPB and the System-of-Systems Analysis (SoSA).

Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield. The RAND study, Street Smart: Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield for Urban Operations, addresses intelligence analysis in urban areas using the traditional IPB methodology. The general conclusion from the study was that while IPB was "a sound methodology for assessing the difficult operational and intelligence challenges of urban operations," the "IPB tools, techniques, and assumptions need to be augmented and modified to accommodate the additional complexities posed by urbanized terrain." (8)

Street Smart identifies a number of additional procedures for urban analysis that complements traditional IPB. (9) These procedures include--

* Enhancing population analysis, including both demographic analysis and cultural intelligence.

* Developing population analysis to identify the characteristics of each population group and subgroup to determine how it will act and interact within the area of operations and associated area of interest.

* Paying greater attention to integrating the role of media and information operations and the tools, audiences, and messages when conducting IPB.

* Having a greater understanding of the perceptions of each of the population groups.

* Clearly defining and identifying threats and other influences based on each population group's interests, intentions, and capabilities and the vulnerabilities of the friendly force.

* Investigating the relationships and interconnectivity between population elements, infrastructure, buildings, and the underlying terrain.

* Compiling a comprehensive set of urban adversary tactics in order to reduce the vulnerability of the friendly force to surprise.

* Including all relevant population groups and effects that reach beyond the typical action-reaction-counteraction approach to wargaming during COA development.

System-of-Systems Analysis. An additional approach to analysis that can be adapted for the urban environment is the SoSA. SoSA is a process that views an adversary as an interrelated system of PMESII systems (political, military, economic, social, infrastructure, information). SoSA attempts to identify, analyze, and relate the goals and objectives, organization, dependencies and inter-dependencies, external influences, strengths, vulnerabilities, and other aspects of the various systems. The objective is to determine the significance of each PMESII system and its various elements to the overall adversary system in order to assess the systemic vulnerability of the various elements and how we can exploit them to achieve desired effects. (10)

The SoSA approach is part of Operational Net Assessment (ONA), a process which is designed to synthesize large amounts of analyzed, fused information and convert it into actionable knowledge captured in a specifically designed database application, which functions as the ONA database and supports an Effects Based Operations (EBO) planning tool. ONA uses intelligence and information to enable the effects-based planning process and is an operations planning tool. (11) The methodology from ONA and SoSA that is particularly useful for urban operations is the analysis that relates the PMESII (political, military, economic, social, infrastructure, information) components.

Operational Effects in Urban Environments

In addition to defining the characteristics of an urban area and addressing the considerations for urban areas, there are a number of effects that are unique to urban areas. The JCS Handbook for Joint Urban Operations defines five specific operational effects on urban areas. (12) These effects are--

* Isolating an urban area. Employing joint forces in a manner that isolates or cuts off an enemy force inside an urban area from other enemy forces or allies.

* Retaining an urban area. A defensive action in which the fundamental objective is to prevent an urban area from falling under the political and/or military control of an adversary.

* Containing an urban area. Actions taken by joint forces to prevent an adversary's forces inside an urban area from breaking out.

* Denying an urban area. Defensive action taken outside the boundaries of an urban area in an effort to prevent approaching enemy forces from gaining control of the urban area.

* Reducing an urban area. Essentially an offensive action intended to eliminate an adversary's hold over all or part of an urban area.

It is critical to fully understand the specific effect that is desired in an urban environment. For example, it is obvious that there are completely different analytical requirements for a force that desires the effect of isolating an urban area from a force that desires the effect of reducing an urban area. The planning and execution of either of these two missions have significant implications for noncombatants, ROE, and the other characteristics and considerations of urban areas.

Additional Considerations for Urban Environments

An excellent study by the RAND Corporation entitled Urban Battle Command in the 21st Century suggests a number of additional considerations for urban environments. These considerations provide a common sense checklist for intelligence analysts and operations personnel when planning for urban operations. (13) These considerations are--

* Look deeper in time and beyond military considerations during the backward planning process.

* Consider second- and higher-order effects during planning and wargaming.

* Doctrine asks lower-echelon leaders to look two levels up. Higher-echelon commanders need to consider the limits and perspectives of same nation (and other) subordinate headquarters and units. Commanders at every echelon need to be conscious of the situation as it impacts those at higher, lower, adjacent, joint, multinational, and interagency levels.

* Account for the language, cultural, procedural, and other differences that will impede the tempo and level of understanding when dealing with some coalition member units and other agencies.

* Be aware that urban densities compress the operational area and can result in more incidents of fratricide.

* Get the ROE right as quickly as possible.

* See the forest and selected trees (focus both on individual points of particular mission importance and the bigger picture).

Analysis of urban operations should also closely examine the Principles of War--which are increasing in Joint Doctrine from the traditional nine (objective, offensive, mass, economy of force, maneuver, unity of command, security, surprise, simplicity) to twelve Principles of War. (14) The three "new" Principles of War (restraint, perseverance, and legitimacy) have particular relevance to urban operations:

* Restraint. A single act could cause significant military and political consequences; therefore, judicious use of force is necessary. Restraint requires the careful and disciplined balancing of the need for security, the conduct of military operations, and the desired end state.

* Perseverance. Prepare for measured, protracted military operations in pursuit of the desired end state. The patient, resolute, and persistent pursuit of national goals and objectives often is a requirement for success.

* Legitimacy. Legitimacy is based on the legality, morality, and rightness of the actions undertaken as well as the will of the US public to support the actions. The purpose of legitimacy is to develop and maintain the will necessary to achieve the desired end state. (15)


The urban environment presents dramatically different characteristics and considerations for intelligence professionals. We would be wise to study carefully the lessons of urban warfare in the past--including Stalingrad, Hue, Mogadishu, Groznyy, Jenin, and Fallujah. All of these battles have significance and are worthy of study. In 2002 Max Boot described in The Savage Wars of Peace how important this is for the U.S. Army:</p> <pre> The Marines know that the world is becoming heavily urbanized and realize they had better develop a strategy for urban warfare; otherwise they will suffer as heavily as the army did in Mogadishu. The army by contrast takes the approach

that it doesn't "do" cities; it prefers to go around, rather than

through, urban areas. Just as in earlier days the army preferred

not to "do" counterinsurgency. (16) </pre> <p>Our doctrine and practice--both in the U.S. Army and in the other services--has come a long way since 2002, but we still have a way to go. As military intelligence professionals, we have to lead the way. Always Out Front!

Doctrinal Note. You can find FMI 2-91.4, Intelligence Support to Operations in the Urban Environment, June 2005, on AKO under U.S. Army Organizations--Intelligence.

Physical information is the most basic characteristic for defining an urban area

Infrastructure, Residential, and Commercial information may or may not affect one another

Socio-economic information impacts some portion of all other urban area characteristics and is critical to understanding the urban area


(1.) Joint Chiefs of Staff, Handbook for Joint Urban Operations, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2000), I-8.

(2.) Scott Gerwehr and Russell W. Glenn, The Art of Darkness: Deception and Urban Operations (Santa Monica: RAND, 2000), 9.

(3.) Handbook for Joint Urban Operations, III-2 to III-3.

(4.) Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 3-06, Doctrine for Joint Urban Operations (Washington: Government Printing Office, 2002), I-2.

(5.) Ibid., I-3.

(6.) Ibid., I-7 to I-9.

(7.) Handbook for Joint Urban Operations, EX-4 to EX-10.

(8.) Jamison Jo Medby and Russell W. Glenn, Street Smart. Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield for Urban Operations (Santa Monica: RAND, 2002), 133.

(9.) Ibid., 134-136.

(10.) Joint Forces Command, The Joint Warfighting Center Joint Doctrine Series Pamphlet 4 (JWFC Doctrine Pam 4), Doctrinal Implications of Operational Net Assessment (ONA) (Suffolk: Joint Warfighting Center, United States Joint Forces Command, 2004), 5.

(11.) Ibid., 22.

(12.) Handbook for Joint Urban Operations, II-10 to II-11.

(13.) Russell W. Glenn and Gina Kingston, Urban Battle Command in the 21st Century (Santa Monica: RAND Arroyo Center, 2005), xi-xii.

(14.) Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 3-0 Revision Second Draft (JP 3-0 RSD), Joint Operations (Washington: Government Printing Office, 2005), II-1-II-2.

(15.) Ibid., A-1 to A-4.

(16.) Max Boot, The Savage Wars of Peace (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 335.

Jack Kem, (Colonel. U.S. Army. Retired) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Joint and Multinational Operations at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Foal Leavenworth. Kansas. Mr. Kem served as a Battalion S2, G2 Plans Officer. DTOC Support Element Chief, and Battalion XO in the 82d Airborne Division; as a Brigade S2 in the 3d Infantry Division; as a Company Commander and Battalion S3 in the 3d Armored Division. and as the Battalion Commander of the 319th MI Battalion, XVIII Airborne Corps. Mr. Kern graduated from MIOAC, the Army Command and General Staff College, the Air Command and Staff College, the Joint Forces Staff College, and the Army War College. He holds a BA from Western Kentucky University, an MPA from Auburn University at Montgomery, and a PhD from North Carolina State University. Readers may contact the author via E-mail at jackie.
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Author:Kem, Jack D.
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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