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Reimagining the Character of Urban Operations for the U.S. Army: How the Past Can Inform the Present and Future

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[Technical Report, Research Report]

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The history of human conflict suggests that the U.S. Army will likely be fighting somewhere in the world in the not-too-distant future. The rise of urbanization - and all of the complexity it entails - increases the likelihood that at least some future conflicts will take place in cities. Enemies of the United States will move to urban areas where they can evade American long-range strike capabilities and establish bases for their own operations. A deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities that exist within the confines of the city landscape can help reduce the magnitude of the challenges associated with an urban environment to the point where military forces can exploit rather than be exploited by local nuances to operational effect. Indeed, in urban warfare, the local drivers of conflict, the tactical firing positions of urban dwellings, the will of the civilian population, or the neighborhood itself can become the Army forces greatest ally or worst foe. To help the U.S. Army prepare to fight in urban terrain, RAND conducted a historical analysis of the ways in which militaries have deployed light and mechanized infantry during close urban combat. The objective was to examine the comparative advantages and costs of this warfighting approach and to identify the lessons that might be gleaned from these experiences. The study brings into sharp relief how different military approaches have managed to shrink the problems inherent to urban combat down to dimensions that are solvable with the capabilities of the available force. Such lessons can inform how the U.S. military might confront similar foes in complex, urban environments in the future.


Subject Categories:

  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

Distribution Statement:

[A, Approved For Public Release]