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

Proxy Forces Undermine Conventional Strategy,” Army Magazine, May 26, 2020 (coauthored)

The City is Not Neutral: Why Urban Warfare is So Hard,” Modern War Institute, March 4, 2020

War Books: Preparing for Underground Warfare,” Modern War Institute, February 12, 2020

Gangs of Baghdad,” Modern War Institute, January 21, 2020

The Return of Tunnel Bombs: A Medieval Tactic on the Modern Battlefield,” Modern War Institute, December 30, 2019

The Power of Op-Eds: How to Inform and Influence,” Modern War Institute, December 5, 2019

Difficult Megacity Fight Seen in MumbaiArmy Magazine, November 1, 2019 (coauthored)

The Dangers of Distracted Fighting,” Wired Magazine, October 9, 2019

Facing Our Underground Nightmares: Casting Light On the Subterranean,” Army Magazine, August 20, 2019 (coauthored)

How our recent Medal of Honor shows a weakness in military power,” Military Times, July 15, 2019

Every City is Different. That’s Why a One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Urban Operations Won’t Work,Modern War Institute, May 30, 2019

The Destructive Age of Urban Warfare; Or, How to Kill A City and How to Protect It,Modern War Institute, March 28, 2019

My Underground Warfare Wish List,” Modern War Institute, February 19, 2019

Stealing the Enemy’s Urban Advantage: The Battle of Sadr City,” Modern War Institute, January 21, 2019

How I Discovered Writing,” Wavell Room, December 4, 2018

Why Militaries Must Destroy Cities to Save Them,” Modern War Institute, November 8, 2018

Crossing the Street: Addressing on of Urban Warfare’s Greatest Challenges” Modern War Institute, October 30, 2018

Getting Beyond Door Kicking: Four Tasks for Urban Warriors,” Modern War Institute, September 18, 2018

While the North Korean Nuclear Button Cools, The Threat of The Underground Lingers,” Modern War Institute, August 31, 2018 (coauthored)

Who will challenge and check the military now that Sen. John McCain is gone?USA Today, August 29, 2018 (coauthored)

The Simulations Road to War,” Army Magazine, August 22, 2018 (coauthored)

Investing in understanding cities is investing in national security,” The Hill, August 6, 2018 (coauthored)

The missing link to preparing for military operations in megacities and dense urban areas,” Army Times, July 20, 2018 (coauthored)

The coming cyberbattle will be worse than people think,” Fifth Domain, July 9, 2018

Prepare the Army for the Future Urban Battlefield,” Army Magazine, May 16, 2018 (coauthored)

War Books: Preparing for Urban Warfare,” Modern War Institute, April 30, 2018

The Era of Urban Warfare is Already Here,” Foreign Policy Research Institute, March 21, 2018

Ten Ways to Fix the U.S. Military’s Close Combat Lethality,” War on the Rocks, March 08, 2018 (coauthored)

A gun won’t give you the guts to run toward danger,” The Washington Post,” March 05, 2018 (coauthored)

Want soldiers to use advanced tech? Go more disposable and address accountability culture.” Defense News, February 21, 2018

Sticker Shock: The World Just Got the Bill for Rebuilding War-Ravaged Cities in Iraq,” Modern War Institute, February 21, 2018 (coauthored)

Even Realistic Videogames like Call of Duty Won’t Help Us Win Wars,” Wired Magazine, January 05, 2018 (coauthored)

A Soldier’s Urban Warfare Christmas Wish List,” Modern War Institute, December 19, 2017

How drone swarms could change urban warfare,” C4ISRNET,  December 11, 2017

How the military is making it hard to remember our wars,” The Washington Post, November 10, 2017

America’s Mumbai,” Modern War Institute, October 17, 2017

Giving military equipment to police will not lead to safer streets,” The Hill, September 20, 2017 (coauthored)

A Better Approach to Urban Operations: Treat Cities like Human Bodies,” Modern War Institute, September 13, 2017 (coauthored)

Why America Is Destroying Iraqi Cities to Save Them,” The National Interest, August 23, 2017

The City Is the Battlefield of the Future,” The Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2017

Three ‘War Hacks’ for Urban Combat,” Modern War Institute, July 03, 2017

So You Think the Army Can Avoid Fighting in Megacities,” Modern War Institute, May 16, 2017 (coauthored)

The Army Needs an Urban Warfare School and it Needs it Soon,”  Modern War Institute, April 05, 2017

We don’t need more money to defeat ISIS. We need more stats,” The Hill, March 22, 2017 (coauthored)

What an Army Megacities Unit Would Look Like,” Modern War Institute, March 08, 2017

It’s time to Create a Megacities Combat Unit,” Modern War Institute, January 31, 2017

To Help Vets, Overhaul How We Treat PTSD,” The Hill, January 31, 2017 (coauthored)

To Win at War, Make America Fit Again,” The Hill, January 12, 2017 (coauthored)

To Understand PTSD, Send Scientist to War,” Wired Magazine, January 12, 2017

Grenade Launchers and Bed Sheets: An Invisibility Kit for Urban Combat,” Modern War Institute, December 12, 2016

Ranger School is Not a Leadership School,” Modern War Institute, December 06, 2016

The Most Effective Weapon on the Modern Battlefield is Concrete,” Modern War Institute, November 14, 2016

If We Really Want Women in Combat, Men Must Do More,” Los Angeles Times, October 12, 2016

Unplug, Soldier! Too Much Online Time is Hurting the Army,” Defense One, September 27, 2016

Going Off-Duty Doesn’t Protect Online Behavior,” Army Magazine, August 2016, (coauthored)

How to rethink the U.S. military’s troop deployment policy,” Politico, July 27, 2016

No, Actually Transgender Soldiers Make Us A Stronger Military,” The Huffington Post, July 13, 2016

The Softer American,” Modern War Institute, July 05, 2016

The Challenges of Ranger School and How to Overcome Them,” Modern War Institute, April 12, 2016

Horse Soldiers in Afghanistan and the Cost of War,” Modern War Institute, April 11, 2016

What is Army Doctrine?Modern War Institute, March 21, 2016

Wanted: Bullet Stopping Breakthroughs,” Modern War Institute, February 17, 2016

An Army of sound mind and body,” NY Daily News, February 08, 2016

Right Question, Right Tools,” Modern War Institute, January 18, 2016

Now women need to seek those combat jobs,” USA Today, January 09, 2016

The military’s real problem: Fewer Americans are joining,” Politico, December 15, 2015

From Army of One to Band of Tweeters,” The New York Times, November 05, 2015

It’s not ‘a man, man’s world’ and neither is war: Gender integration in the Infantry,” Foreign Policy Magazine, September 15, 2015

General, Tear Down that Wall: Gender and the Infantry,” War on the Rocks, August 31, 2015

Cadets discuss subterranean environments with NYC firefighters,” The Pointer View, March 12, 2015

Challenging Army Force Design,” Small Wars Journal, September 22, 2014



If the Army is going to conduct urban warfare, they should train for it.” Federal Drive podcast, September 3, 2020.

Smart Cities and the Military,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, September 4, 2020

Urban Policing 101,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, August 21, 2020

Multi-Domain Operations at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, August 7, 2020

Understanding Global Cities,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, July 24, 2020

Attacking the City of Dara Lam,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, July 10, 2020

A Talk With The US Army’s Underground Warfare Expert,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, June 26, 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

Feral Cities, Pandemics, and the Military,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, April 17, 2020

When War Goes Underground,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, April 3, 2020

Preparing the Military for the Complexity of Megacities,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, March 20, 2020

The Battle of Sadr City, March-May 2008,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, March 6, 2020

Protecting Civilians in Urban Combat,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, February 7, 2020

Contact, Contact, Contact!” The Spear podcast, Modern War Institute, January 15, 2020

Army Doctrine and The Urban Battlefield,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, January 1, 2020

Out of the Mountains, Revisited,” Urban Warfare Project podcast, Modern War Institute, December 13, 2019

Cities: A System of Systems,” SOFspot, Global Special Operations Foundation, July 09, 2019

Dr John Sullivan and MAJ John Spencer – The Complexity of Modern Urban War,” The Break It Down Show, June 27, 2019

Urban Warfare,” LoopCast, May 24, 2019

John Spencer Goes to Town on Urban Warfare,” The Live Drop, January 29, 2019

Modern War & Global Conflict Threshold Management,” The Break It Down Show, January 8, 2019

The Next Battlefield: Connected, Augmented and Urban,” The Future of Everything podcast, Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2018

Combat Stories from the Invasion of Iraq,” The Spear podcast, Modern War Institute, July 26, 2017

Published Interviews and Commentary

 “Hybrid Warfare,” Break it Down Show podcast, September 2, 2020

Police Have Learned the Wrong Lessons From the Military,” Slate Magazine, September 2, 2020 

Mortars: Room for Improvement?,” Land Warfare Magazine, August 28, 2020

 “Contested Urban Futures and the Role of Militaries,” All Things Cities, August 17, 2020.

Policing in the United States and Abroad,” Break it Down Show, August 11, 2020 

We Discuss Urban Warfare with John Spencer,” Circle of Insight-Foreign Affairs podcast, August 1, 2020

An interview with John Spencer,” The Forever War Project, University of Pennsylvania Political Review, June 29, 2020

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

 “Cities in the Age of Complex Challenges,” presented virtually at the University of Tokyo, August 6, 2020

“The Return of the City Attack: Challenges of Large Scale Combat Operations in Dense, Populated Urban Terrain,” presented virtually at the Royal Military College Canada, August 4, 2020

“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