Chair of Urban Warfare Studies

Maj. (ret) John W. Spencer currently serves as the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute and Co-Director of the Urban Warfare Project. He previously served as the Strategic Planner and then Deputy Director of the Modern War Institute where he was instrumental in the design and formation of the institute.

He enlisted in the US Army in 1993 and retired in 2018. He began his service as an enlisted Soldier in the Infantry for eight years, reaching the rank of Sergeant First Class, before attending Officer Candidate School in 2001 where he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry.

His assignments as an officer included two combat deployments to Iraq as both an Infantry Platoon Leader and Company Commander, as a Ranger Instructor with the Army’s Ranger School, a Joint Chief of Staff and Army Staff intern, and fellow with the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group.

He holds a Master of Policy Management from Georgetown University and a Bachelor of Science in Management Studies from University of Maryland University College.

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.

Major Spencer’s publications include:

Book Chapters

“Why We Write” (contributing author), Middle West Press LLC, (forthcoming), Estimated publication date December 1, 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

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, 16 May 2018 (coauthored)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Army of sound mind and body,” NY Daily News, 8 February 2016

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

Now women need to seek those combat jobs,” USA Today, 9 January 2016

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

From Army of One to Band of Tweeters,” The New York Times, 5 November 2015

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

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

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

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

Published Interviews and Commentary

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

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

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 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

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

The Next Battlefield: Connected, Augmented and Urban,” Wall Street Journal, October 24, 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, 04 April 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conference Papers and Presentations

“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