Defense News recently published an article about how the U.S. Army sees megacities. From the article:
When the US Army looks to the future, it sees cities. Dense, sprawling, congested cities where criminal and extremist groups flourish almost undetected by authorities, but who can influence the lives of the population while undermining the authority of the state.
And the service is convinced that these “megacities” of 20 million or more people will be the battleground of the future.
The problem from a military strategists’ point of view, however, is that no army has ever fought it out in a city of this size. So in thinking through the issue of what to do about the coming age of the megacity, the US Army’s Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) got together with US Army Special Operations Command, the chief of staff’s Strategic Studies Group and the UK’s Ministry of Defence in February to explore these types of urban operations.
“There is no historical precedent” for these kinds of operations, Brig. Gen. Christopher McPadden, ARCIC’s director of concept development and learning directorate, said on Aug. 28. “We really have to figure out the scope and scale of the kind of operations we’ll have to participate in.”
... The team of Army officers and civilian academics continued that “the problems found in megacities (explosive growth rates, vast and growing income disparity and a security environment that is increasingly attractive to the politically dispossessed) are landpower problems. Solutions, therefore, will require boots on the ground.”
So in its annual Unified Quest war game, the US Army gamed out a scenario in which it would put boots on the ground.
The Army team fought through what it envisions a battle in a massive city would look like around 2030. The impetus for US action was a humanitarian disaster caused in part by the breaking of a dam, which broke down critical parts of the local state apparatus, while armed groups jumped into the fray to further destabilize the situation.
The Red Team representing these groups did several things to test the players representing the US Army, including evading US technological superiority by using anti-access techniques, conducting malware-like and electronic warfare attacks, and “expanding these battlegrounds into other contested spaces like organized crime and politics,” said ARCIC chief Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
McMaster said one of the primary aims of the game was to generate ways to “extend the reach of the [infantry] squad so the squad can see and fight over a wider area” than it can now. That tracks with other Odierno initiatives in recent years to make infantry squads more lethal and more autonomous.
McMaster said that by 2030, the Army wants to provide infantry squads “access to aviation and air support and full-motion video, [along with] the ability to overwhelm the enemy during chance contact.” One of the key things is the firepower of the squad, particularly “shoulder-fired weapons capabilities, counter-defilade capabilities, as well as flying munitions and combined arms … mobile protected platforms capable of precision firepower.”
Army gamers also explored potential directed-energy capabilities that “would allow us to have direct-fire capabilities with significant logistics reduction, and to counter enemy long-range missile capability,” McMaster said.
Recent lessons learned in the Israeli fight against Hamas in Gaza and the sweeping advance of the extremist Islamic State group across eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq have also got the Army thinking, and McMaster said there are lessons for the US there, as well.
According to the general, the two fights show that there is only so much that airpower alone can accomplish, and to truly compel an enemy, it takes humans in contact with other humans.To say there is no precedent is not entirely true. Although not involving "mega-cities," WWII saw plenty of urban combat in the European theaters of war on both the eastern and western fronts. What the Army is looking for is a means of conducting operations in urban environments that eliminate (or at least further minimize) collateral damage. The Israeli's experience in Gaza incontrovertibly shows why it is largely an impossible goal.
First, and foremost, is that it is the nature of such conflict that an enemy will take the low ground, morally, and use human shields. The Germans, during WWII, would construct or locate military targets in and around schools, hospitals, etc. Hamas, as we just recently saw, will locate military targets in schools and under hospitals.
Second, when a population is intermixed with fighters, it is impossible to fully separate the two to avoid collateral damage. You cannot always distinguish between the civilian and the insurgent. Explosions do not distinguish between the enemy and an innocent standing next to each other, or perhaps sharing a common wall or floor/ceiling.
I would also suggest that it is, to a certain extent, an undesirable goal. For one thing, the military's focus appears to be on counter-insurgency, without considering that they may be called to oppose a modern and competent armed force. Yes, a future war in a megacity may be more like Stalingrad and less like Falujah. But perhaps more importantly, there is no bright line demarcation between the enemy and "innocent civilian." Insurgents and guerrillas rely on the native population to provide support. Thus, the native population may not be so innocent. Thus, it may be desirable to target the native population under certain circumstances, particularly where a majority support the conflict.