Enable breadcrumbs token at /includes/pageheader.html.twig

Building Jointness In the Urban Jungle

The combatant command that develops future fighting strategies is teaming with the U.S. Marine Corps to prepare the U.S. military to fight in a battlespace that looks more like Metropolis than Middle Earth. Combining insights gleaned from current operations in Iraq with reasonable predictions about future capabilities, the two organizations are co-sponsoring a four-day war game that will explore warfighting concepts for the 2007 and 2015 time frames. While game warriors primarily will examine concepts for future conflicts, lessons learned from the event about innovative tactics could be employed in current operations.


U.S. Army soldiers from Bravo Troop, 9th Cavalry Brigade Reconnaissance Team, 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, ascend stairs while searching a house in Samarrah, Iraq. At a table-top war game later this month, the U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) and the U.S. Marine Corps will be examining techniques that can be employed in urban operations to improve effectiveness.

War game helps refine strategies for command in three-block wars.

The combatant command that develops future fighting strategies is teaming with the U.S. Marine Corps to prepare the U.S. military to fight in a battlespace that looks more like Metropolis than Middle Earth. Combining insights gleaned from current operations in Iraq with reasonable predictions about future capabilities, the two organizations are co-sponsoring a four-day war game that will explore warfighting concepts for the 2007 and 2015 time frames. While game warriors primarily will  examine concepts for future conflicts, lessons learned from the event about innovative tactics could be employed in current operations.

Although missions continue in the mountains and deserts, the armed forces increasingly find themselves moving from building to building as often as from cave to cave. However, the objectives of operations in an urban jungle are so intermingled that an effective response in one area could bring unintended—and unwanted—consequences in another. This new environment calls for different fighting techniques, improved situational awareness and innovative use of sensors.

To address the multifaceted issues commanders encounter on urban terrain, the U.S. Joint Forces Command’s Joint Urban Operations Office, Norfolk, Virginia, and the Marine Corps will explore futuristic concepts during Joint Urban Warrior 2004 (JUW 2004), a table-top war game set to take place later this month. The office is part of the command’s Experimentation Directorate (J-9), Suffolk, Virginia.

For several months, work has been underway to design an event that would give military personnel as well as subject matter experts the opportunity to plan strategies, analyze missions and propose courses of action for urban conflict scenarios. The groups will examine strategies that could be successful in both the near-term of around 2007 as well as in the more distant future of 2015. Tactics, techniques and procedures will be based in part on what the groups predict will be available in terms of technical capabilities during those time frames.

According to Maj. Gregory Cramer, USMC, action officer, Joint Urban Operations Office, J-9, JFCOM, three primary elements of urban terrain combine to create a significant challenge for warfighters. The first element is population density. The presence of large numbers of civilians can put a strain on military troops and operations, he says. The complexity of the environment is the second factor because the nature of urban terrain limits visibility and can degrade communications capabilities. Finally, existing infrastructure, such as the communications, electric, gas, water and sewerage grids, must be preserved so that order can be restored to the civilian population as quickly as possible after the fighting is over, he states. During an operation, any one of these elements can be addressed adequately; however, the real challenge is dealing with all three concurrently, he adds.

Planning and lessons-learned conferences for JUW 2004 took place late last year. Discussions at two of the conferences focused on current operations to gather insights about activity and experiences in Iraq that could be incorporated into the war game. Since that time, work has been ongoing to develop the scenarios, objectives and methodology for the event.

Based on the information from the planning sessions, the JUW 2004 coordination team devised a concept for urban warfighting that will be analyzed and tested during the war game. Maj. Cramer explains that one goal is to shift away from the conventional military approach in urban operations—which is to surround a city and fight one block at a time—and begin applying more recently developed techniques such as precision-strike capabilities.


The U.S. military has encountered military operations in urban environments in the past. During operations in Kosovo, soldiers from the Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and United Nations police conduct a house-to-house search for weapons.

Marc Halyard, concept developer, Joint Urban Operations Office, J-9, JFCOM, explains that the concept includes several components. For example, current military troops are extremely effective in open terrain; however, some of their equipment does not operate as well in an urban environment as it does in open spaces. To take advantage of this weakness, adversaries try to draw U.S. troops into metropolitan areas. One goal of the war game will be to learn how to use current capabilities and techniques in urban areas to address this tactic.

Various types of technologies could help commanders respond to this strategy. Halyard relates that intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) technologies could allow troops to gain a greater understanding of urban areas and particularly of the population. This capability is key to improving urban operations, he says.

Maj. Cramer adds that the urban warfighting concept that will be explored supports the office’s master plan, which is based on joint capabilities at the operational level. This plan was designed within a framework called understand, shape, engage, consolidate, transition (USECT). Maj. Cramer emphasizes that this framework applies not only to urban operations but also to missions in other types of environments. Military personnel should understand that it differs from the traditional linear process because it is a revolving, continuous cycle.

New warfighting techniques are required because the battlespace is changing and also because military functions in conflicts have expanded. Referring to the “three-block war,” a term coined by Gen. Charles C. Krulak, USMC (Ret.), former Marine Corps commandant, Maj. Cramer explains that future conflicts are likely to include a situation in which military personnel will be providing humanitarian assistance, holding two warring tribes apart and fighting a lethal mid-intensity battle all on the same day, all within three city blocks. The commander will have to make decisions about what action to take to support all of these efforts concurrently and will have to rely on information and analysis because actions in any single area could have ramifications that affect the others, he adds.

JUW 2004 will help evaluate techniques that, in part, will address this situation. It will focus on the dynamics, conditions and demands that must be addressed in planning and conducting the three-block war and particularly the characteristics and demands of operations to establish stability, ongoing support, civil government and humanitarian relief. In addition, the JUW 2004 war game will concentrate on the influence of the desired political end-state on the planning and execution of three-block war operations and future tactical and operational links between JFCOM and joint force components. Other goals include assessing and refining the Joint Urban Operations Concept, defining operational effectiveness in joint urban operations, and identifying issues that may be of interest in homeland security efforts.

The war game will take place at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia, and will involve blue-cell teams that plan tactics; a dedicated red cell that examines blue cell techniques then tries to defeat them; and a white control cell. In addition to these groups, other participants will play the part of non-combatants. All of the elements that would be on the battlefield will be represented in the event, Maj. Cramer relates.

Blue-cell planning groups will be presented with tactical- or operational-level problems within scenarios set in both the 2007 and 2015 time frames, and they will employ capabilities that are expected to be available by that time. One of the groups will examine the urban warfighting scenarios using today’s technical capabilities. The teams will conduct a mission analysis to assess the situation, determine the tasks that must be accomplished and decide what types of materiel and subject matter expertise will be required to succeed. In addition, the blue cell will evaluate its own strengths and weaknesses to determine what can and cannot be done. It then will propose one or more courses of action and proceed to execute the plan while the red cell tries to impede progress and success. Subject matter experts will adjudicate each move and assess the courses of action of both the blue and red cells. The insights gained from this process will then be used to help refine the Joint Urban Operations Concept.

Because the teams will rely in part on future technologies, they must be able to envision what types of capabilities will be available. Maj. Cramer says that prototyping efforts have been underway for several items, and he predicts that some of the key tools will be in the knowledge management and collaborative planning fields. “The understanding piece of urban operations is very difficult because of the complexity of the terrain and the number of items moving around on the battlefield. So we’re looking at collaborative information tools that we’re trying to use to understand the environment,” Maj. Cramer says.


Military personnel serving in operation Iraqi Freedom speak with Iraqi students at a ceremony celebrating the re-opening of the Baghdad University Museum of Natural History and Internet Cafe. Military leaders recognize that urban operations transcend combat and include restoring stability in an area. 

Halyard uses advances in medical technology as an analogy. “Ideally, we want unimpeded secure communications. If you want to try to relate it to the medical world, we want to be able to, through ISR and other technologies, conduct an MRI on the city so that the operational commander—that is to say the surgeon—can look in, find out what the problem is, diagnose it from a knowledge-enabled understanding gained from an assessment-type tool, then go in and conduct the operation to eliminate the disease or the problem,” he says. The technologists are responsible for creating the tools, while groups like the Joint Urban Operations Office develop the concepts that will make the best use of them, and this requires a concerted effort, he adds.

Maj. Cramer says that one of the top priorities must be technology that helps commanders understand the battlespace because that is one of the toughest problems to solve, and it requires a two-part solution. First, commanders and combatants need to be able to see inside buildings, to track movement in an urban area of thousands of entities and then synthesize that information using a knowledge management tool so the commander understands what he sees, Maj. Cramer says. “If that could be achieved, it would go a long way to giving us equal capabilities in an urban environment that we currently have in the desert,” he says.

Assessments of current operations in Iraq have not resulted in many surprises in terms of what the military expected when moving into an urban warfighting situation, the major maintains. While this does not mean the military has been able to solve all the challenges it has encountered, military forces anticipated the problems, and current tactics, such as combined arms support, have been very effective. Defining targets in an urban environment is difficult, but it is a problem that is being examined by many organizations, he notes.

Maj. Cramer also points out that the military must prepare for operating in regions of the world where the culture differs greatly from that in the United States. “There’s a huge cultural disparity between Western culture and Arab/Muslim culture, and there are a lot of challenges that come with that. What solution is there to, all of a sudden, taking an 18-year-old soldier or Marine and his leaders and getting them to understand the radical shift in dynamics that they’re going to operate in? That’s tough. That’s hard. You can’t just take our entire lifestyle and get them to understand Arab culture unless you have a dedicated training effort and technology effort, like a pocket translator. There’s just no silver-bullet fix for an issue like that. It’s training; it’s leadership; and it’s understanding the environment that you’re operating in. It’s a huge challenge, and we know that. But knowing that and being able to successfully do it are two different things,” he explains.

To address this issue, the major explains, Marines about to deploy to Iraq dedicate considerable time and energy to preparing for the cultural differences they will encounter in the area of operations. This groundwork is one of the ways the United States can win the minds and hearts of the Iraqi people, which can lead to long-term success, Maj. Cramer notes.

JUW 2004 is the first war game of a JFCOM and Marine Corps partnership called Joint Urban Warrior, a move toward joint and combined urban operations concept development and experimentation. Current plans call for the program to include a recurring major war game as well as associated workshops, seminars and planning events. Plans for the 2005 war game will be developed based on the results of this year’s event. A post-war-game assessment is scheduled for April and May 2004, and results of JUW 2004 will be reported to JFCOM leadership as well as to other applicable organizations.

Additional information on Joint Urban Warrior 2004 is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.wargaming.quantico.usmc.mil/JCD/InfoPaperJUW.pdf