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by Lester W. Grau, Military Analyst, Foreign Military Studies Office

The author recently witnessed a heavy-light brigade attack at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, Louisiana. The main attack was a reinforced battalion attack against the 29-building hamlet of Shugart-Gordon. The attack disclosed that despite their many differences, the American force experienced several of the same problems that the Russian Army encountered initially during their battle for Grozny in late December 1994 and early January 1995.

The Russian force that entered Chechnya and struck at the capital city of Grozny was not ready for combat. There had not been a single regimental or division exercise for two years, and very few battalions had more than two weeks' field training during the same time. There was not a single ready division in the entire Russian Army. In desperation, the Russian planners assembled composite units with elements from all over Russia. The commanders had no time to train this force, and important combat, combat support, and combat service support systems were missing when the Russian Army moved into Chechnya. The battle for Grozny would prove long and bloody, but eventually the Russian Army forced the Chechen combatants out of the ruined city.

On the other hand, the American force that entered Shugart-Gordon was well trained and equipped. However, its light and heavy components did not have a traditional affiliation and integrated for the first time at the Intermediate Staging Base in Alexandria, Louisiana. The composite force only had a few days to work together before they were committed to the attack.

The situations were clearly dissimilar. Grozny covers over 100 square kilometers, while Shugart-Gordon's 29 buildings cover a little over a square kilometer. The Chechen combatants had a large variety of antitank weapons, while the OPFOR lacked any antitank weapons except for a few antitank mines. The Russians used a lot of artillery in the direct fire mode, while American artillery stayed well back from the fight. The initial Russian entry was a rapid, high-tempo, reckless push into the city, while the American effort was agonizingly slow, methodical, and predictable. Still, there were some striking similarities:

  • A common first step in urban combat is to surround the urban area and seal it off to prevent the enemy from reinforcing, escaping, or extending his maneuver space. Both the Russians and the Americans failed to seal off their objective before entering the urban area.

  • Modern urban combat has demonstrated that leading with pure armor can lead to disaster. Both the Russians and the Americans entered the urban area leading with tanks and separated from dismounted infantry.

  • The primary role of armor in urban combat is to follow and support. Both the Russians and the Americans continued to lead with tanks and, once infantry had linked with armor, allowed opposing action to separate them again.

  • Clean drinking water is vital for force well-being. During the winter months, 15 percent of one Russian brigade was sick from viral hepatitis-a condition that resulted from inadequately treated drinking water. It took the American force four days to produce its first gallon of clean water. There were no hand-washing facilities near the American latrines.

  • Movement along streets is highly hazardous; movement should be conducted by blowing holes in walls and moving between buildings. Both the Russians and the Americans moved along the streets initially. The bulk of Russian and American casualties were on streets and in the open areas between buildings. The chief casualty-producers were mortars and snipers.

  • Refueling and ammunition resupply are difficult in a constricted city. Withdrawing tanks can panic supported infantry. The Russian forces had initial difficulty handling these resupply tasks. The American tanks ran out of fuel and ammunition in the city at a critical point of the fight. This was due to the exceedingly slow American advance. The force was at a loss as to how to rearm and refuel tanks under fire.

  • Communications between the infantry and tanks was sporadic at best in both the Russian and the American units. This was particularly evident between the American heavy and light forces and attached non-divisional assets.

  • Both the Russians and the Americans used helicopter gunships for close-air support. The Russians kept their helicopters over their own force, and these helicopters hovered behind tall buildings, popping up to engage targets. The American helicopters, which were not instrumented for MILES, were far more aggressive and free-ranging.

  • Scouts in both forces had a difficult time getting eyes on the objective and determining what was really going on.

  • Both the Russian and the American main attacks were defeated, and the units were combat ineffective within four hours of first entering the urban area.

Any comparison between an actual battle and an exercise is not valid, but it can surface common problems. The purpose of training and exercises is, after all, to address those common problems so that soldiers do not have to pay the ultimate price while units play "catch up" on the real battlefield.

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btn_prev.gif 1.18 KAppendix F: Simple Marking Devices for Urban Operations
btn_next.gif 1.18 KAcknowledgements

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