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December 2015 Online Exclusive Article

Global Demographic Trends and Security:

Implications for the U.S. Army (part 2)

By Lt. Col. Shavce, U.S. Army

Article published on: 14 December 2015

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Night view from the Bund, Shanghai

The Debate.

A healthy debate over the future of warfare in heavily populated urban environments has emerged in recent years. Two major schools of thought seem to have emerged concerning the role of the U.S. Army in densely populated urban environments. The first is that operations in this environment are unavoidable and that the U.S. military should prepare. The second opinion is that large urban environments present challenges that the military cannot overcome, and that the U.S. forces should avoid them altogether.

The first group advocates for preparing the military to operate in a megacity environment. It sees these areas as becoming more strategically significant and that the United States will inevitably find itself committing forces there. Studying past urban operations could provide some utility in developing the capabilities necessary to succeed in large urban areas. Some authors offer Stalingrad in 1942-1943, Mogadishu in 1993, Grozny in 1995, and Baghdad and Fallujah in 2003-2004 as case studies.1 Although these examples are not megacities by today’s standards, they still offer useful lessons for preparing the future force.

Some commentators are less willing to commit forces to these heavily urbanized areas. They argue that urban combat, even in smaller settings than the aforementioned megacities, is bloody and costly to both combatants and noncombatants. The Army would need a major overhaul in its organization, doctrine, and technology to fight in a megacity. Instead, some argue, the Army should look at shaping the environment in such was as to not require the commitment of forces in the urban setting.2 They even argue that the sheer size of megacities render the lessons learned in historical case studies useless because it is impossible to “scale” from a Fallujah-sized city to a modern megacity with more than 10-million inhabitants.3

The U.S. Army appears to have decided where it stands on the heavily populated urban operating environment argument. The Army Operating Concept identifies urban areas as being likely to have a significant impact on operations and the need to understand how to operate in these environments.4 Events, such as Unified Quest 2014, also indicate that the Army is gaining an understanding of how to operate in the future urban environment.

Recommendations for Army Leaders

Given the lack of preparedness to operate in heavily populated urban environments, the U.S. Army should begin to emphasize readiness for this challenge. Specifically, it should examine its leader development, doctrine, and training models to ensure they prepare leaders and units for the challenge of operating in this setting.

First, urban planning and sociology instruction should become part of the institutional domain of the Army’s Leader Development Model. Officer candidates should consider developing this knowledge through coursework in sociology, psychology, and urban planning. After commissioning, officers could continue growing their knowledge base in these areas as part of the self-development domain. The Army, or the Joint Force, should offer online or resident training and coursework incorporating the latest lessons learned from academia and contemporary military operations in these areas. All leaders should familiarize themselves with the systems needed in a functioning city, such as utilities, law enforcement, health care, communications, etc. While it is not necessary to have an in-depth knowledge of these systems, a basic understanding could guide the development of plans to operate in such an environment.

A reexamination of Army urban operations doctrine may also be necessary. The Army published its current urban operations doctrinal manual, Field Manual 3-06, in 2006. That manual does not adequately address large urban areas. For example, the doctrine highlights the need to physically and psychologically isolate the threat from the noncombatant population.5 Lagos, Nigeria, is a metropolitan area that covers over 260 square kilometers.6 Its estimated population was 21 million in 2014.7 Physical isolation of a megacity of this size is nearly impossible. Given the interconnectedness of such a city with the global economy and with nearby rural areas, isolation may also be undesirable, as it would likely cause adverse impacts on the urban system itself, creating unintended consequences such as the disruption of food supplies, the population’s livelihoods, and other essential services. Much of the doctrine attempts to transpose combined arms tactics and concepts, developed for maneuver on an open battlefield, to an urban environment. The diagrams depicting forms of the offense look very similar to diagrams of brigade attacks in other manuals.8 The Army should redefine decisive, shaping, and sustaining operations in new ways that reflect the complexities of urban areas.

Leaders at battalion-level and above should also incorporate collective training for operations in this environment. While it may not be feasible to build a large urban area to train units, the use of tabletop exercises, terrain walks, and virtual and constructive training could help prepare unit leaders to operate in large urban settings. Leveraging organizations such as the Training Brain Operations Center to replicate the operational environment with its complexities and multitude of actors would enhance the training experience. Training scenarios would need to represent multiple threat and friendly actors, urban systems, and the resource scarcities likely to exist in large cities.

Smaller units, such as squads, platoons, and companies, would still be able to use the urban training environments available at most installations to hone their skills. These formations must maintain proficiency in their core skills and mission-essential tasks. Specific tasks, such as entering and clearing buildings, remain relevant. Units must close with and destroy the enemy in close combat and should continue to train those skills as a primary function. No matter the environment, urban or other, the Army must always maintain its ability to win the nation’s wars and dominate the land domain.


Current demographic trends, especially rapid population growth, urbanization, and an increasing youth bulge, will dominate the security environment in the future. These trends are most prevalent in the developing world, especially in states already prone to insecurity and conflict.

The Army should assess its preparedness for operations in such an environment. Refining existing doctrine to account for operations in large urban environments is necessary. Leader development should help leaders in understanding the context, both social and physical, of these cities. Army exercises should also include operations in such environments.

Large, heavily populated urban areas will likely be the battlefields of the future. The world’s population is growing exponentially, with much of this growth occurring in the world’s large urban areas. Many of these areas are in countries plagued by ineffective governance. Many already experience instability and conflict. The U.S. Army should prepare to understand and operate in such areas.


  1. David Shunk, “Mega Cities, Ungoverned Areas, and the Challenge of Army Urban Combat Operations in 2030-2040,” (January, 2014), 22 March 2015,
  2. Daniel Goure, “Why Is The Army Planning To Fight In Megacities?,” (May, 2014), 7 June 2015,
  3. J. Brad Hicks, “The Army’s Strategic Studies Group is Scaring Me to Death,” (July, 2014), 22 March 2015,
  4. U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, The U.S. Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World 2020-2040, (Ft. Eustis, VA: Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2014) 9-10.
  5. Department of the Army, Field Manual 3-06 Urban Operations, (Washington: Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2006) 7-15.
  6. “Lagos Facts, information, pictures,”, 25 June 2015,
  7. Unknown Author, “Lagos Population 2015,” (October, 2014), 4 May 2015,
  8. Department of the Army, 2006, 7-8 – 7-9.

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Shavce is the Deputy G3 at the 32d Army Air and Missile Defense Command at Fort Bliss, Texas. He holds a BS from the United States Military Academy, an MS from American Military University, and an MMAS from the School of Advanced Military Studies. He deployed for Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and served in various positions with the 2d Infantry Division, 82d Airborne Division, 4th Infantry Division, 25th Infantry Division, and the Mission Command Training Program

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