Chair of Urban Warfare Studies

John W. Spencer currently serves as the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute, Co-Director of the Urban Warfare Project, and host of the Urban Warfare Project podcast.

He served over twenty-five years in the Army as an infantry soldier having held ranks from Private to Sergeant First Class and Second Lieutenant to Major.

His assignments as an Army officer included two combat deployments to Iraq as both an Infantry Platoon Leader and Company Commander, a Ranger Instructor with the Army’s Ranger School, a Joint Chief of Staff and Army Staff intern, fellow with the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group, Strategic Planner and then Deputy Director of the Modern War Institute where he was instrumental in the design and formation of the institute.

His research focuses on military operations in dense urban areas,  megacities, urban and subterranean warfare.

He is an international recognized subject matter expert in urban warfare that regularly consults for United States Army Forces Command units, Training and Doctrine Command, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), United Nations, and many others military and national security organizations.

He holds a Master of Policy Management from Georgetown University.

His writing has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, LA Times, NY Daily News, Wired Magazine, Politico, The Hill, Foreign Policy Magazine, Defense One, Army Magazine, and many other publications.

He lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his wife and three children.  He looks forward to connecting via Twitter @SpencerGuard.

John Spencer’s publications include:

Book Chapters

“Gangs of Baghdad,” In: Strategic Notes On Third Generation Gangs, Xlibris US, 2020

“The Power of Op-Eds: How to Informa & Influence,” In: Why We Write, Middle West Press LLC, 126-128, 2019

“What the Walls of Westeros Teach Us about War and Warfare,” In: Winning Westeros: How Game of Thrones Explains Modern Military Conflict, Potomac Books, 108-118, 2019

“Urban Warfare Studies” foreward for the book Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities, 2019

“Why the Jedi Won Fights, Not Wars,” In: Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Conflict (contributing author), Potomac Books, 178-184, 2018

Journal Articles

Using Digital Textbooks to Improve Student Learning: Lessons for Military Educators,” Journal of Military Learning, October 1, 2018 (coauthored)

Putting Concepts of Future Warfare to the Test,” Military Review, March 1, 2018 (coauthored)

Professional Articles

Four Transformational Steps The US Army Should Take To Get Serious About Urban Operations,” Modern War Institute, July 21, 2020

Want police reforms? Then, ask the hard questions,” Newsday, July 13, 2020


A Senior Enlisted Perspective on Combat in Megacities,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, June 12, 2020

Attacking the City of Razish,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, May 29, 2020

Fighting ISIS in the City,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, May 15, 2020

Is Urban Combat The Great Equalizer?,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, May 1, 2020

Published Interviews and Commentary

How America’s Adversaries Are Using Hybrid Warfare to Capitalize on Civil Unrest,” Coffee or Die Magazine, June 8, 2020

The Army Combat Fitness Test is Exactly What the Army Needs – As Long As These Challenges are Addressed,” Modern War Institute, June 8, 2020

Dave Dilegge, the ‘grandfather of urban warfare studies’ has died,” Military Times, May 6, 2020

Pentagon Asks for More Cash to Cut Down Civilian Deaths,” Foreign Policy Magazine, April 24, 2020

Can America Continue to Defend Europe From Russia Amid COVID-19?,” The Daily Signal, April 14, 2020

À l’école de la guerre urbaine [In the school of urban warfare],” Le Figaro, February 28, 2020

A one on one special about Subterranean warfare with Maj. (Ret) John Spencer and CSM (Ret) Joe Vega,” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT). February 26, 2020

War with robots: how battle bots will define the future of ground combat,” Army Times, February 13, 2020

Would the Coronavirus Quarantine of Wuhan Even Work,” Wired Magazine, January, 22, 2020

The world doesn’t realize the extent of the tunnel threat,” Israel Hayom, December 31, 2019

US airstrikes hit pro-Iranian militia in Iraq,” BBC World Service, December 30, 2019

Combat Urbain Et Technologie,” Defense Technology Magazine [French publication], November 1, 2019

“‘Vulnerable from Above’: Rising Drone attacks drive new technology, tactics,” Army Magazine, October 25, 2019

Why US troops ‘flattened’ Raqqa and Mosul, and why it may herald an era of ‘feral city’ warfare,” Military Times, April 30, 2019

Syria force takes IS bastion, ‘caliphate’ wiped out,” The Independent, March 23, 2019

 “The Air Force’s struggle to fight subterranean warfare,” Air Force Times, March 11, 2019

The US military is getting ready to fight underground — here are 10 things it’ll need for subterranean combat,” Business Insider, February 26, 2019

The subterranean battlefield: Warfare is going underground, into dark, tight spaces,”Military Times, February 25, 2019

Last days of the Caliphate and why ‘defeating’ ISIS could mean a catastrophic rebirth,” The Mirror (UK),February 15, 2019

John Spencer Modern War and Geopolitics,” Reddit Geopolitics, December 31, 2018

Guerra urbana: las batallas del future,” Muy Interesante México, June 30, 2018

Army Maj. John Spencer: More emphasis needed on close combat resources,” Federal News Radio, April 04, 2018

The future battlefield: Army, Marines prepare for ‘massive’ fight in megacities,” Military Times, March 06, 2018

How U.S. Soldiers Are Using Their “Warhacks” To Transform Combat,” Fast Company, October 09, 2017

Interview with Major Spencer about the future of urban warfare in megacities: “Stalingrad was a very rare episode!,” Global Review, September 30, 2017

Mosul Victory Marks Win for Pentagon Training Plan,” Agence France-Presse (AFP), July 13, 2017

Fort Drum Shooting Raises Questions About Army Recruitment Process,” All Things Considered, NPR, July 13, 2017

Women in the infantry: How the Army is growing its first female enlisted grunts,” The Army Times, May 21, 2017

How is Mosul Being Liberated?BBC Inquiry, BBC World Service, March 07, 2017

The Most Effective Technology in Modern War Is Concrete, Argues Military Scholar,” Vice, November 21, 2016

Opening Shock: Four Combat Jump Veterans Tell Their Stories,” West Point Center for Oral History, July 21, 2016

Big Picture Science Radio Show – Look Who’s Not Talking,” Big Picture Science, NPR, December 15, 2015

Conference Papers and Presentations

“Rules of Modern Urban Warfare,” presented virtually at the University of New South Wales, April 27, 2020

“Innovation in Modern Urban Warfare” presented virtually at the US Army War College, April 2, 2020

“Military Challenges with Major Urban Areas in Africa” presented virtually at the University of Washington, March 30, 2020

“Tunnel Bombs,” keynote address at the Subterranean Challenges in War and Peace conference Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, December 15, 2019

“The Challenges of Modern Urban Warfare,” during MWI War Council “Counter-Terrorism in the Philippines,” West Point, NY, November 6, 2019

“The Challenges of Modern Urban Warfare,” at the United Nations Vienna Conference on Protecting Civilians in Urban Warfare, Vienna, Austria, October 1, 2019

How do We Rebuild Cities After War,” presented at the New America Future of War Security Forum 2019 conference, Washington, DC, April 29, 2019

“Adapting to Urban Warfare,” presented MORS Analysis of Urban Warfare Special Meeting, Marine Corps University, Quantico, VA, April 3, 2019

“The Future of Urban Warfare” at the Microsoft Thought Leadership Series: Technology & the Future of Urban Warfare, Washington, D.C. May 29, 2019

“The Battle of Sadr City, 2008,” presented at Warwick University during the “War in the Global City,” urban warfare conference, December 7, 2018

Urban Operations: The Future is Here,” presented at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Camberley, UK, May 1, 2018

“An Urban Lens: A Call to Arms for New Ways to Look at the World,” presented as the keynote at the 2017 Arizona State University Dense Urban Area Curriculum Workshop, Tempe, AZ, February 28, 2018

“If Warfare Has Moved into Cities, Why is the Military not Preparing,” presented at Center for Strategic Studies and the International Security Program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, MA, February 26, 2018

“The Need to Train, Organize, and Equip Armed Forces to Operate in Cities,” presented at the 2017 United Nations OCHA Global Humanitarian Policy Forum on the Protection of Civilians in Urban Warfare, United Nations Headquarters, New York City, New York, December 20, 2017

“Consideration for Military Forces Operating in a Megacity” presented at the 2017 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Leadership Offsite, Fort Hamilton, NY, September 19, 2017 (featured panelist with Dr. David Kilcullen and COL Pat Mahaney)

“Challenges of Military Operations in Cities.” presented at the 2017 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Stockholm Security Conference, Secure Cities in an Insecure World, Stockholm, Sweden, September 15, 2017 (featured panelist)

“Combat in Hell’ Revisited: Training For Urban Combat.” presented at the 2017 Sandhurst Conference, Training to Win Tomorrow’s Wars, United States Military Academy, West Point, NY, April 3, 2017

“Training and Education with Digital Technology.” presented at the 2016 Sandhurst Conference, Preparing our Future Leaders for Modern War, United States Military Academy, West Point, NY, April 4, 2016

“Operating in the Red: An Army Officer’s Autobiographical Account of Resilience from the Front Lines,” presented at the American Psychological Association, annual convention, Washington, DC, August 8, 2014