Warfare and armed conflict have changed over the years. Whilst regional conflicts such as that in the Ukraine are still fought between two or more armed factions, the style of modern warfare has changed considerably. Modern warfare tends to be fought on two main playing fields: between relatively small and highly mobile units battling for control of strategic locations and urban, guerilla warfare. Both scenarios are areas of conflict that demand special consideration, rapid responses and versatile, adaptable solutions.
Events across the Middle East over the past few years would seem to confirm these “conflict trends”. Across the region, from Libya to Egypt, from Tunisia to Iraq, from Syria to Israel and Gaza we are witnessing localized conflicts in which national armed forces are in conflict with guerilla groups rather than nation against nation. Rather than full scale battles between two opposing armies, we are witnessing urban warfare in which relatively small security and military units are forced into an armed struggle against terrorists or insurgents within an urban environment.
The challenges of urban warfare
Urban warfare differs from conventional combat at both operational and tactical levels. As opposed to open battlefields, urban warfare conflicts include factors such as the presence of civilians and the necessity to distinguish between them and opposing force. Another consideration is the complexity of the urban terrain. Planning and tactics are complicated by the urban environment which includes the need to find solutions for rapidly developing and changing situations and threats appearing from a number of directions.
Other factors influencing the modern urban warfare environment include the limited fields of view and fire due to the presence of urban structures and the superior concealment and cover they provide for the opposing forces. Underground infrastructures and the relative ease of laying booby traps and placing snipers add yet another level of danger that security forces must deal with.
The challenges facing security forces are significantly different in an urban environment and demand a rethinking of strategy, tactics and equipment. Nowhere is this more evident than in Israel which has, in the past 20 years been forced to fight in urban environments in Lebanon, Judea and Samaria and Gaza. Conflicts entailed fighting against highly mobile, well trained and equipped terrorists forces. These forces were not, for the most part, restricted by complex command structures nor by the need to take into consideration the welfare and safety of the civilian population or even that of their own fighters. Israeli forces, on the other hand, have a duty to do all they can to ensure that local populations are unharmed and that their own troops are protected as much as is possible. On the face of it, the terrorists would seem to have the advantage both because of their flexibility and mobility and the extremely complex and cramped urban environment that comprises the field of action.
The United States Military refers to urban warfare as Urban Operations (UO) a term that has replaced the previously used Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT). United Kingdom military uses a number of terms (some tongue in cheek) including OBUA (Operations in Built-Up Areas), FIBUA (Fighting in Built-Up Areas),) FISH (Fighting in Someone's House and FISH and CHIPS (Causing Havoc in People's Streets). These last two terms are not officially recognized but often used by troops in the field.
Mobility and adaptability
Urban warfare requires that military commanders adopt a totally different mindset, one which requires that a number of factors be taken into consideration when planning and executing military action in an urban environment.
Perhaps the most important factors influencing modern urban conflicts result from the mobility of the opposing guerilla forces and their organizational structure. This allows individual units to change tactics and locations on the fly whilst taking advantage of the urban terrain and the sometimes restrictive command structure of the security forces.
Regular military commands have been forced to rethink tactics and strategies and develop new concepts and equipment that enables their forces to engage the enemy effectively and successfully whilst maintaining their commitment to civilian safety and that of their soldiers.
Israel and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is perhaps the prime example of this shift. Since the end of the October 1973 war, Israel has been involved in conflicts fought entirely in heavily populated, built up areas against an enemy of highly mobile and well equipped terrorist forces.
The IDF calls urban warfare LASHAB, a Hebrew abbreviation for Warfare on Urban Terrain. IDF tactics include the use of heavy armored personnel carriers, armored bulldozers, UAVs for intelligence gathering and close quarters combat training specially designed for fighting in built up, crowded and restricted urban areas.
Specialized equipment for the rapidly developing urban warfare environment
In addition to heavy equipment and specialized techniques, Israel’s unique situation and the need for versatile, adaptable and rapidly deployable protective and defensive equipment has resulted in the development of unique solutions. These solutions have been designed to afford maximum flexibility to the military and security forces in actual combat situations and can also be used to monitor and control sensitive areas.
- Mobile watch towers
Intelligence and surveillance are key to any security situation. In hostile areas or sensitive spots, in addition to regular military considerations, here is often a need for a “high ground position” from which it is possible to monitor a specific area. Whilst this can often be from a rooftop, this is not always possible. The development of easily transportable watch towers that provide protection for the forces manning them and an excellent field of fire/view allows rapid deployment of intelligence gathering and monitoring positions in what is often a rapidly changing and volatile situation.
- Population movement control
In an urban warfare environment opposing guerilla forces blend in with the local population and use them as camouflage to move forces from area to area. Once again, due to urban terrain and rapidly developing scenarios, there is a very real need for effective monitoring and control of population movement in conflict areas. Additional problems include the use of suicide bombers either using vehicles wearing an explosive jacket, localized attacks on security personnel (knives, petrol bombs etc.), snipers are so forth.
These challenges have led to the development of modular solutions that can be easily and rapidly deployed to meet the operational demands of any built area and conflict.
- Modular Traffic control (road blocks)
In a conflict zone there is a very real need to monitor and control vehicular traffic in specific areas. However, as the urban conflict environment is a rapidly changing one, both in terms of terrain and threat, there is a very real need for modular traffic control systems that can be rapidly deployed and erected by regular ground troops or unskilled operatives. The various systems can be erected in a wide variety of configurations, provide effective monitoring and control capabilities and allow troops to operate in relative security.
- Crowd control
Crowd control is an essential element of any urban conflict zone. Again, any system must be highly effective, modular and capable of fast deployment by untrained personnel in a wide variety of environments. Systems developed by many security services provide such capabilities with many being based on the physical characteristics of masses of people converging on a specific location.
- Protected check points
Due to the complexity of the urban conflict zone and the ability of the enemy to merge into the general population, manned checkpoints are essential to monitor and control population movement. However, due to the tactics used by terrorists, such posts often place the security personnel in close proximity to those they are vetting and significantly increase the possibility of attack and injury or death. Transportable check points that enable operators to examine individuals whilst remaining within a relatively secure and safe environment are an essential part of the security forces arsenal.
- Protected firing positions
Check points, road blocks, crowd control and regular security details all require, apart for the security personnel operating the facility, a protective security zone manned by trained personnel who will intervene to protect the main installation and its operatives. However, these troops must also be provided protection from hostile elements that still enables them to fulfill their primary function. Once again, many such systems exist that provide guard positions with protection from small arms and rifle fire whist maintaining a full field of visibility and fire.
Mifram Security is a good example for an Israeli company that covers most of these solutions for civil protection purposes.
As already said, modern warfare increasingly takes place in an urban environment. The resources mentioned above are just a small example of the solutions constantly being developed to meet the ever changing and challenging urban security environment. This is an environment in which regular troops and security personnel are required place themselves in highly volatile and dangerous situations where their level of exposure to hostile elements, injury and even death is high.
While, unfortunately, it is given that there will always be casualties in any war, whether conventional or urban, it is the duty of higher command and policy makers to ensure that troops on the front line are provided with equipment that gives them the ability to fulfill their missions effectively but that also provides them with the maximum possible levels of safety and security.