The Army does not have a school for learning how to operate in dense urban terrain. Beyond simply training soldiers for such a complex setting, one of the reasons the Army should establish such a school is to create a laboratory for innovation. Units in an urban warfare school, trying to solve this challenging environment’s unique tactical and operational problems, could spawn a wide range of new solutions across the DOTMILPF-P spectrum (Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership and Education, Personnel, Facilities, and Policy).
Solutions can come in the form of integrating new technologies, developed in the Defense Department’s various research and development agencies, or they may come from combining old things in new ways or employing them in ways never imagined before. Lifehack is a term coined to define a tool or technique that makes some aspect of one’s life easier or more efficient, thus saving time, minimizing chaos, and avoiding stress. Warhacks could be the lifehacks for combat. And warhacks for urban operations would emerge from learning and experimentation at an Army urban operations school.
I wrote about one urban operations warhack in a recent article explaining how large, cloth sheets and climbing anchors fired from a grenade launcher can be used to provide emergency concealment for soldiers in urban environments. Here are three more:
Warhack #1 – Night vision goggle mount and a rifle scope
The clutter and complexity of combat operations in the urban environment creates a sort of layered battlespace from a small unit’s perspective. Alongside the tight quarters and short distances inside and between buildings there are long distances (e.g., down roadways) requiring soldiers to magnify objects frequently. Is there something in that window? Is that person carrying a weapon? Is that object on the side of the road a bomb?
Most infantry soldiers don’t carry Army-issued binoculars, for a range of reasons—they are too big or too heavy, they’re just another item to worry about losing, they awkwardly dangle around your neck when you’re dismounted, or they take up too much space when mounted. The standard M22 binoculars weigh 2.7 pounds, have seven power magnifications, and are bulky and cumbersome. They are not ergonomically suited to operating in urban combat. Furthermore, a light infantry platoon of forty soldiers only has a few binoculars to share.
Instead of binoculars, infantry soldiers routinely use their rifle scopes to magnify distant objects. The scopes are mostly the Advanced Combat Optical Gun (ACOG) sight or its replacement. the M150 Rifle Combat Optic (RCO), which weighs 16.2 ounces and provides 4x magnification. They’re light, but more importantly, the scopes are readily available; an infantry platoon has multiple ACOGs/RCOs in each squad. To get a magnified view of their surroundings soldiers point their weapon at what they want to see, including civilians and in some cases, other soldiers.
This clearly presents a tactical problem, though, potentially instigating civilians on the battlefield, possibly violating rules of engagement, and creating an unsafe degree of weapon control.
A warhack solution? Combine the AN/PVS14 Monocular Night Vision Device (MNVD) mount with a device similar to the soldier’s rifle scope.
Soldiers are used to mounting their night vision devices (the PVS14 weighs 1.2 pounds) on their helmets for night missions. Mounting a day sight won’t be unnecessarily cumbersome, then, and with about the same weight, each soldier can have 4x magnification—and more importantly, a tactically sound tool—available.
Warhack #2 – Whaling harpoon gun, winch cable, and a military vehicle
In an urban environment, the advantage is with the defender. The terrain allows a defender to easily integrate hasty obstacles with the physical terrain and manmade structures. Obstacles can include almost anything—tires, concrete barriers, vehicles, and rubble from destroyed buildings. And they can be rapidly emplaced to block the movement of US tactical vehicles.
The Army does have both doctrine and equipment for removing large obstacles, but many common practices are not useful in dense urban terrain. Clearing obstacles often makes soldiers and vehicles vulnerable to fire from enemy overwatch positions. Many of the obstacle-clearing techniques (such as large explosives) also create more obstacles by destroying nearby buildings or risk harming civilians. Soldiers also have limited concealment assets to aid their clearing of obstacles.
A warhack solution? Combine a civilian whaling gun, large grappling hook, vehicle winch cable system, and a military vehicle.
With the grappling hook at the end of a cable, the harpoon gun could launch it over the obstacle, and then, using the power of the vehicle, could pull the obstacle out of the way without exposing the vehicle or soldiers to close fire. This would also prevent or reduce the number of single-purpose vehicles like the D9 dozers that are often used in urban combat today—and the risk to them.
Warhack #3 – Infantry Fighting Vehicle weapons system, WiFi, and an Apache helmet
Buildings have a lot of dead space—areas where soldiers can’t see or can’t cover with direct fire weapons. This challenge is magnified by tall buildings often present in dense urban terrain. When infantry soldiers dismount their M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), they often lose the support of their vehicle’s weapons systems, because the gunners on those vehicles cannot see the dismounted soldiers or the enemy.
A warhack solution? Use the computer-integrated weapons systems on the Bradley with an AH-64 Apache Aviator Integrated Helmet.
The M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting vehicle is armed with a 25-millimeter M242 Bushmaster chain gun and an M240C 7.62-millimeter machine gun. Both of the Bradley’s gun systems are computer-linked to its integrated sight system.
The AH-64E Apache Aviator Integrated Helmet is a part of the Apache Integrated Helmet and Display Sight System (IHADSS) that enables Apache crews to “slave” on-board weapons to the helmet. With the helmet, the pilot can aim the helicopter’s weapons simply by looking at targets.
If dismounted soldiers could be equipped with a similar helmet, electronically connected to the weapon system of their vehicle fire support, they could maintain the powerful fire support capability of the weapon systems on the vehicle and engage targets even if they aren’t easily visible by the vehicle’s mounted crew.
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Operating in urban environments is full of uncertainty. One thing we do know, though, is that urban terrain will bring with it a number of unique challenges for forces conducting the full range of military operations. These warhacks are tactical innovations aimed specifically at addressing problems experienced by soldiers who are deployed today. An Army urban warfare school could be the laboratory where experimentation and innovation ensure our soldiers are prepared for the future.
Image credit: Pfc. Phillip Adam Turner. US Army
Love your ideas and the fact that you've take the care to have written them down and published them. I think FBNC's range 37 is closest to the practical side of the MegaUrban education system you seek. I love your idea of a flipdown 4X (co-witnessed) but only selectively integrated with PV4 14s (which I prefer). Expanding the control of a chaingun to a team or squad leader via a network which can be hacked is a challenge, but not insurmountable. The best mid ground between the soldier and the system is the 203 based obscurant (of vantablack or thermally responsive material) to stretch the assault maneuver to get those guns on target. We need these types of innovations so please keep it up!
Pro Govt Armed Elements in Syria are already using integrated teams consisting of one squad of infantry (including RPGs) complete with 1xSmall Drone and operator, 1x MBT, 1xDB9 armoured bulldozer and UA-77 Breaching vehicle in dense urban terrain. https://youtu.be/QdgYBbVdsog
This is a similar concept to Pro Russian Forces operating in Ukraine. These micro combined arms platoons are a modular unit in the larger Battalion Combat Group formations.
On a macro technical level, fitting AFVs with multiple 360 degree FoV cameras and linking them to a Microsoft Hololens integrated into a crew helmet would give a 'see through' capability like the F22/F35 helmet but for a fraction of the cost. Combining the Hololens reticle to the turret slaving mechanism and you have your apache look and shoot capability but in a hatches down posture – essential in Urban terrain full of snipers
Night Vision, Scopes? Wrong, you need a whole new rifle, as the expensive special ammunition and magazines the Army current uses is going to be inadequate for covering up the M4's deficiencies. An interim combat rifle will be required if war breaks out before the LSAT program is finished.
A harpoon gun? What is this, WW1 movie time? No, you just need to issue some plastic explosives and Bangalore blades to each platoon.
The Turretless Bradley already has an improved version of IHADSS. Putting an the Kongsberg MCT-30mm on the new Bradley would make it more effective than the old model.
Great ideas! War hacks is the way to go! I think hacking (the technique) should be taught so people start imagining how to use things beyond its original intent.
A few more ideas:
1) What about using the bomb defuse robot for other ops? Like, Inf support in dangerous places (bring ammo, or even fire weapons)
2) How about add large radar domes (like the AH-64Ds) or scopes (like the Kiowa ones) in robots / drones / smaller vehicles?
3) Should think about inverse integration between vehicles and infantry as well. Some powerful sensors (like FLIR) can help see thru building obstacles, but high caliber weapons are not the best. So if we integrate what those sensors see and pass to troops, they can use their guns to take target down.
4) A high speed high impact remote small car / vehicle with a ram could be use to clear paths, bust doors / walls etc.., Might be an alternative to the hook where there is little space to bring a larger vehicle.
Sorry, but the Apache's helmet has to be inside the environment of the cockpit, with its associated position sensors mounted around the perimeter of said cockpit, in order to function.
1. If a ground force is not taking the time to properly ID targets prior to engagements, that is not an equipment failure, that is poor training that lacks emphasis on target id before weapons release and/or a morally corrupt PL/SL/TL. You can easily see 250-300M with current NODs. Even if you have a NOD that can see past that, how will you effectively engage it? Has that unit done marksmenship training past 300M? My guess is no. Instead of adding a sensitive item to a weapon, take the boys out to mout site and conduct target ID training similar to the former RSLC test on armored vehicle id.
2. Interesting idea, however, something that is not a dedicated nonlethal might be of more use on already limited space on a vehicle. A weapon system that is capable of multiple different munitions would probably be of more use to infantry/sapper units. Design something to work with the 25mm or TOWs.
3. This is unnecessary if the PL/GFC is doing their job, particularly in light of the penetration capability of a bushmaster in an urban environment. I'm all for lethality (as it should be the primary focus of infantry units), however taking the extra time before letting that rip is probably a good thing. If you think not, does that SL have the frame of mind to think about air space deconfliction? Are they abreast of the FLOT of other PLTs/COs? Will that weapon produce target overkill? Again, I don't think the force needs a toy like this, that money would be better spent automizing systems and taskings which take away from unit training, junior officer and junior nco development
The United States Marine Corps has already figured out urban warfare and demonstrated this proficiency throughout multiple campaigns during the Iraq war. Marine Infantry trained and prepped and planned and perfected MOUT for years before OIF ever kicked off. The War Fighting Lab in VA is a perfect example. No need to rewrite the book. The Marines have already provided you one.
Sir, we are about to see urban warfare in the cities of Myanmar…do you have any advise for civilians caught up in the fight ?…and also for the people defence forces who will be fighting against the brutal military regime who have been the biggest oppression over decades….my email is "firstname.lastname@example.org"..Thank you.