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Urban Operations

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Commanders conducting major urban operations use their ability to visualize how doctrine and military capabilities are applied within the context of the urban environment. An operational framework is the basic foundation for this visualization. In turn, this visualization forms the basis of operational design and decisionmaking. To accurately visualize, describe, and direct the conduct of operations in an urban environment, commanders and their staffs must understand the basic fundamentals applicable to most urban operations.

Urban Operations

The compartmentalized nature of urban terrain, limited observation and fields of fire, and the vast amounts of potential cover and concealment mean that defenders can disperse and remain undetected. (Ref: SUTS2 – The Small Unit Tactics SMARTbook, 2nd Ed./ www.TheLightningPress.com).

Urban areas present the most complex environment for military operations. This complexity is derived from numerous factors such as location, history, economic development, climate, available building materials, the natural terrain on which they are built, the cultures of their inhabitants, and many other  factors. Operations in urban areas may occur within the context of a campaign or major operation. These operations may take place entirely within a city or may include multiple urban areas and may be influenced by interconnected surrounding areas.

Fundamentals of Urban Operations

The impact of the urban operations environment often differs from one operation to the next. However, some fundamentals apply to urban operations regardless of the mission, geographical location, or level of command. Some of these fundamentals are not exclusive to urban environments. Yet, they are particularly relevant to an environment dominated by man-made structures and a dense noncombatant population. Vitally, these fundamentals help to ensure that every action taken by a commander operating in an urban environment contributes to the desired end-state of the major operation.

• Maintain close combat capability

• Avoid the attrition approach

• Control the essential

• Minimize collateral damage

• Preserve critical infrastructure

• Separate noncombatants from combatants

• Restore essential services

• Understand the human dimension

• Create a collaborative information environment

• Transition control

Urban Operational Construct

The five essential components of the urban operational construct are described below.

1. Understand
Understanding requires the continuous assessment of the current situation and operational progress. Commanders use visualization, staffs use running estimates, and both use the IPB process to assess and understand the urban environment. Commanders and staffs observe and continually learn about the urban environment (terrain, society, and infrastructure) and other mission variables. They use reconnaissance and security forces; information systems; and reports from other headquarters, services, organizations, and agencies. They orient themselves and achieve situational understanding based on a common operational picture and continuously updated CCIR. The commander’s ability to rapidly and accurately achieve an understanding of the urban environment contributes to seizing, retaining, and exploiting the initiative during UO.

2. Shape
Reconnaissance, security, and inform and influence activities are essential to successful UO. These shaping operations set the conditions for decisive operations at the tactical level in the urban area. Isolation, decisive action, minimum friendly casualties, and acceptable collateral damage distinguish success when the AO is properly shaped. Failure to adequately shape the urban AO creates unacceptable risk. Urban shaping operations may include actions taken to achieve or prevent isolation, understand the environment, maintain freedom of action, protect the force, and develop cooperative relationships with the urban population. Some shaping operations may take months to successfully shape the AO.

3. Engage
In UO, the BCT engages by appropriately applying the full range of capabilities against decisive points leading to centers of gravity. Successful engagements take advantage of the BCT’s training; leadership; and, within the constraints of the environment, equipment and technology. Engagement can be active or passive and has many components, but it is characterized by maintaining contact with the threat and population to develop the situation. Successful engagements also require the establishment of necessary levels of control and influence over all or portions of the AO until responsibilities can be transferred to other legitimate military or civilian control. Engagements may range from the overwhelming and precise application of combat power in order to defeat an enemy to large-scale humanitarian operations to HN security force assistance characterized by information and influencing activities.

4. Consolidate
Forces consolidate to protect and strengthen initial gains and ensure retention of the initiative. Consolidation includes actions taken to eliminate or neutralize isolated or bypassed enemy forces (including the processing of prisoners and civilian detainees) to increase security and protect lines of communications. It includes the sustainment operations, rapid repositioning, and reorganization of maneuver forces and reconnaissance and security forces. Consolidation may also include activities in support of the civilian population, such as the relocation of displaced civilians, reestablishment of law and order, humanitarian assistance and relief operations, and restoration of key urban infrastructure.

5. Transition
When planning UO, commanders ensure that they plan, prepare for, and manage transitions. Transitions are movements from one phase of an operation to another and may involve changes in the type of operation, concept of the operation, mission, situation, task organization, forces, resource allocation, support arrangements, or mission command. Transitions occur in all operations. However, in UO, they occur with greater frequency and intensity, are more complex, and often involve agencies other than U.S. military organizations. All operations often include a transition of responsibility for some aspect of the urban environment to (or back to) a legitimate civilian authority. Unless planned and executed effectively, transitions can reduce the tempo of UO, slow its momentum, and cede the initiative to the enemy.

Key Tactical Considerations

Commanders and planners of major operations must thoroughly understand the tactical urban battle as well as the effects of that environment on men, equipment, and systems. The complexity of urban environment changes and often compresses many tactical factors typically considered in the planning process. These compressed tactical factors include—

• Time

• Distances

• Density

• Combat power

• Levels of war

• Decision making


SUTS2: The Small Unit Tactics SMARTbook, 2nd Ed.This article is an extract from “SUTS2: The Small Unit Tactics SMARTbook, 2nd Ed. (Leading, Planning & Conducting Tactical Operations)” by The Lightning Press. Download a free PDF sample and learn more at: SUTS2: The Small Unit Tactics SMARTbook, 2nd Ed. (Leading, Planning & Conducting Tactical Operations).

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