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Military Operations on Urban Terrain [MOUT]

Military Operations on Urban Terrain [MOUT] are not new to the US Army. Throughout its history the Army has fought an enemy on urban terrain. What is new is that urban areas and urban populations have grown significantly during the late twentieth century and have begun to exert a much greater influence on military operations. The worldwide shift from a rural to an urban society and the requirement to transition from combat to stability and support operations and vice-versa have affected the US Army's doctrine.

It is estimated that by the year 2010, seventy-five percent of the world's population will live in urban areas. The increased population and accelerated growth of cities have made the problems of combat in built-up areas an urgent requirement for the US Army. Urban areas are expected to be the future battlefield and combat in urban areas cannot be avoided.

The acronym MOUT (Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain) is defined as all military actions that are planned and conducted on a terrain complex where man-made construction affects the tactical options available to the commander.

Urban combat operations may be conducted in order to capitalize on the strategic or tactical advantages which possession or control of a particular urban area gives or to deny these advantages to the enemy. Major urban areas represent the power and wealth of a particular country in the form of industrial bases, transportation complexes, economic institutions, and political and cultural centers. The denial or capture of these centers may yield decisive psychological advantages that frequently determine the success or failure of the larger conflict. Villages and small towns will often be caught up in the battle because of their proximity to major avenues of approach or because they are astride lines of communications that are vital to sustaining ground combat operations.

These operations are conducted to defeat an enemy that may be mixed in with civilians. Therefore, the rules of engagement (ROE) and use of combat power are more restrictive than in other conditions of combat.

Military thinkers and planners have long been aware of the pitfalls of fighting in urban areas. As early as circa 500 B.C., Sun Tzu advised that "the worst policy is to attack cities," and that advice has been echoed in military writings and doctrine to this day. However, despite that sensible advice, wars have been fought in cities repeatedly throughout the centuries, from the sack of Troy to the battles of Grozny.

The Battle for Hue, although only one of over one hundred different attacks of the Tet Offensive of 1968, had a negative impact on the will of both the American people and their political leadership. Hue marked a revolution in the coverage of war by modern mass media. It was the first time Americans could and watch an ongoing battle from their living room on the evening news. Hue was a television bonanza for almost a month. When North Vietnamese leadership directed that Hue be held for at least seven days, it was clearly not their intent to win a tactical battle, but to strike at the strategic center of gravity-in this case, the will of the American people. Although the battle for Hue was a tactical victory for the U.S., the North Vietnamese had achieved their strategic goal of making the American public question the costs associated with the war.

The battles for the city of Grozny during the Russian intervention in the Republic of Chechnya represent a recent and critically important example of large scale operations in urban combat. Combat in Grozny was characterized by a large, technologically sophisticated military force (Russian) engaging and ultimately being defeated by a small, relatively primitive irregular force (Chechen). The recapture of Grozny was a significant loss for the Russians, precipitating a general cease-fire and the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Republic. Grozny provides a number of fresh insights, and reinforcement of time honored tenets of urban warfare, across the scope of activities germane to modern urban combat. Poor small unit leadership, particularly at the NCO level, was a primary cause of Russian tactical failures in Grozny. Overall, poor Russian combat performance could be traced to a lack of training in fundamental military skills. The Russian infantry, at all levels, was inadequately trained for night operations, and lacked night vision equipment. The Chechens negated Russian supporting fires by "hugging" Russian units. The use of excessive, unrestrained firepower, and a complete lack of regard for collateral damage, finally enabled the Russians to gain control of Grozny.

The US Army's Field Manual 90-10, Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain, was last issued in 1979, though a revision of FM 90-10 is under way. This Army doctrine on combat operations in urban areas is outdated. The political realities of urban combat have resulted in the use of terms that tend to place limitations on the conduct of these operations. The manpower resources needed to conduct urban combat is a problem for the US Army. Under the current downsizing agenda, the Army does not have the soldiers to do the job on a scale of the Russian experience at Grozny and meet its two regional war mission. Training in villages will not prepare the Army for combat in the large metropolitan areas. US forces currently do not have the special weapons needed and lack the quantities of weapons necessary for urban operations. The weapons historically needed to do the job are in many cases either not in the inventory or not available for training in the urban environment. Quantity of supplies is another issue that the Army must be prepared to address in the urban combat situation. Previous evidence shows that urban combat uses an inordinate amount of supplies, from ammunition to bandages. Munitions now in the inventory are not suitable for urban combat. In past wars the types of ammunition in the inventory worked for all possibilities. Specialty communications equipment is now only available to special units. This communications equipment is needed now for regular infantry for training and potential combat operations. Realistic NBC hazards are not incorporated into urban combat training.

US forces lack focus in the movement to the objective, resulting in significant casualties. Units lack focus in the use of combined arms tactics, techniques and procedures for armor, aviation, and close air support for urban combat. Uncoordinated maneuver and over-watch are more common in the urban environment. Marksmanship at all levels is poor, with the exception of Special Operations Units. Units have problems with allocation of resources and positioning of fire support assets in the urban fight. Units do a poor job using restrictive rule of engagement in dealing with collateral damage and associated urban combat effects. Units are not effective in the use of counter battery fires. Units did a poor job in the use of precision munitions. There is a poor allocation of air defense artillery assets to support the urban fight overall. Attack aviation vulnerability in battle positions is not taken into consideration in the operations order planning. Focusing the correct air defense asset at the proper place and time in the battle is poor.

US forces currently do not effectively locate their command and control nodes. Leaders at all levels have problems with rules of engagement and proportionality. Sniper teams are not properly planned for or considered eyes on the objective. Wargaming and course of action development for urban combat needs work; this must be more precise. The intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) is not specific enough for the urban battle. The use of psychological operations and civil affairs operations are not planned well enough. Identification of decision points and setting conditions for success are not emphasized. Little thought is given to intelligence collection or care of civilians on the battlefield. The operations order does not properly allocate engineer resources for urban fight. Units are not effective in suppress, obscure, secure, and reduce (SOSR) at all levels. Engineers are attrited prior to the objective. Lack of eyes on the objective prevent obstacle identification. Re-supply and casualty evacuation are not conducted well. Urban specific supply items: ladders, knee and elbow pads, ropes with grappling hooks, as well as specialty weapons and ammunition need to be made available. Speed, not haste, should be the norm in urban operations.

Due to political change, advances in technology, and the Army's role in maintaining world order, MOUT now takes on new dimensions that previously did not exist. Friendly and enemy doctrine reflect the fact that more attention must be given to urban combat. Expanding urban development affects military operations as the terrain is altered. The makeup and distribution of smaller built-up areas as part of an urban complex make the isolation of enemy fires occupying one or more of these smaller enclaves increasingly difficult.

Although the current doctrine still applies, the increasing focus on operations short of war, urban terrorism, and civil disorder emphasizes that combat in built-up areas is unavoidable. These new conditions affect how units will fight or accomplish their assigned missions. MOUT is expected to be the future battlefield in Europe and Asia with brigade- and higher-level commanders focusing on these operations.

Tactical doctrine stresses that urban combat operations are conducted only when required and that built-up areas are isolated and bypassed rather than risking a costly, time-consuming operation in this difficult environment. Adherence to these precepts, though valid, is becoming increasingly difficult as urban sprawl changes the face of the battlefield.

Commanders must treat the elements of urban sprawl as terrain and know how this terrain affects the capabilities of their units and weapons. They must understand the advantages and disadvantages urbanization offers and its effects on tactical operations. The brigade will be the primary headquarters around which units will be task-organized to perform UO. Companies, platoons, and squads will seldom conduct UO independently, but will most probably conduct assigned missions as part of a battalion task force urban operation.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:31:08 Zulu