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Urban Warrior

Over the course of 18 months, the Urban Warrior experiment looked into nearly every facet of military operations in the urban environment to make streetwise Marines for the Corps of the future. It was part two of the Corps' five-year experimentation plan known as Sea Dragon. Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Charles C. Krulak conceived the Sea Dragon process to enhance naval and joint expeditionary capabilities, develop military innovation while meeting current commitments, and insert science and technology into the warfighters' arsenal.

In the past 50 years, a variety of factors have forced millions of people into the world's cities. According to a 1996 report from the World Health Organization, more than 60 percent of the world's population is expected to live in cities by 2025, compared to less than 45 percent in 1995. Nearly 70 percent of these cities are near the coastline or surrounding areas, known as "littorals," within reach of sea-based forces.

Exactly how Marines can best fight amidst innocent bystanders among the concrete jungles and steel-girded cliffs of the world is what Urban Warrior is all about. While diverse city populations continue to grow and well-financed "bad guys" can easily purchase lethal weapons systems and high-end off-the-shelf technologies at a whim, the warfighting lab's job is to find out what Marines need to accomplish their mission. Marine Corps strategists do this by testing theories in realistic situations.

Urban Warrior began where the lab's first experiment, Hunter Warrior, ended in 1997 in Southern California. The first advanced warfighting experiment sought to increase a Marine expeditionary unit's area of influence and effectiveness. It looked at enhancing methods and technologies needed for Marines to shape the battlefield and reach their objective in low- to mid-intensity conflicts against a larger force.

The Urban Warrior experiment is the Corps' attempt to catch up with the wave of urbanization. Current tactics, doctrine, and technology emphasize the traditional, open battlefield with limited time spent in the "city." In contrast, of the 20 occasions where U.S. forces were committed abroad since 1977, 55 percent involved cities or combined rural and urban areas. Some major challenges facing the lab in Urban Warrior deal with the dense urban infrastructure, which limits mobility, communications, and fire support, and makes location identification extremely difficult.

Like a science lab, the warfighting lab develops hypotheses, sets up experiments, collects data, analyzes results, and reports findings. But military experimentation rides the line between science and art with the inclusion of factors normally unwanted in controlled experiments; knowing the impact of human factors like creativity, innovation, and unpredictability is essential to military operations.

The Urban Warrior experiment takes on a world that has become increasingly urban and dangerous. Most of the urban littoral will contain the classic ingredients for conflict. There will be social, cultural, religious, and tribal strife. Many areas will deal with scarce resources, including food and shelter. As populations grow and resources shrink, the chances for conflict will naturally rise. The World Health Organization says we can expect overcrowding and increased homelessness, accompanied by increases in alcohol and drug abuse, violence and aggression, and suicide.

Easy-to-acquire, user-friendly technology will add fuel to the fire. Lethal weapon systems today can be acquired by anyone with the money to buy them and the will to use them, according to Lasswell. Added to this is the explosion of easy-to-use advanced technologies. Urban Warrior acknowledges up front that potential foes, even in the most poverty-stricken parts of the world, may have very dangerous weapons, backed by very good technologies to use against Marines.

One of the keys to training Marines for the "concrete jungle" is teaching them to deal with the many events that can occur in a short period of time in an urban environment, what Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Charles C. Krulak calls the "Three Block War." Recent operations called on Marines to be peacekeepers in some situations, offer humanitarian assistance in others, and, just a few blocks away, engage in combat with well-armed enemies.

The lab looked at five broad areas:

  • - Combat in cities;
  • - Seabasing (keeping support out of harm's way);
  • - Fires and targeting (using air and naval gunfire support with civilians nearby, where collateral damage can affect non-combatant support);
  • - Aviation (getting Marines in and out, providing fire support, and avoiding bad guys with hand-held missiles); and
  • - Information, communication, and associated technologies.

Urban Warrior will examine these areas in two phases.

Phase I ran through Fall 1998, mainly on the East Coast, where the lab had already begun developing the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), specialized capabilities, and technologies required for urban operations. This included three limited objective experiments (LOEs) and a culminating phase experiment. The LOEs are building blocks for the culminating experiments. For example, the first LOE, which took place at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., explored the effectiveness of ground combat tactics in the urban environment, as well as specific gear such as a hand-held camera that "looks around corners." It also looked at new ways to resupply forces from a sea base, and improve aviation help for combat and combat service support operations. The second LOE, in April 1998 at Camp Lejeune, focused on penetrating the city via air, surface, and subsurface means; seizing objectives, engaging the enemy, and sustaining the force. That sustainment includes medical support and evacuation. Using extensive information operations, LOE-3 tested isolating and influencing the enemy and non-combatants in the city early in June 1998.

The culminating phase experiment explored the combined effectiveness of the three LOEs by integrating them in a series of experiments resulting in taking control of the objective city. As Urban Warrior moved to the West Coast for Phase II, the lab further refined its Phase I findings. It also experimented with the new and improved enhanced combat operations center (ECOC); the first evolution proved promising during the Hunter Warrior experiment.

The Marines initially proposed staging Urban Warrior inside San Francisco's Presidio, a United Nations Biosphere. The exercise was to included five ships, 6,000 sailors and marines, fighter jets, helicopters, and four days of simulated combat. But the National Park Service, which oversees much of the land earmarked for the exercise, turned down the Marines' request for a permit to conduct the exercise because of environmental and safety concerns.

During the urban combat phase of Operation Urban Warrior, US Marines took cover and moved out in Oakland, Calif., 16 March 1999. The urban combat phase was designed to prepare Marines for the type of conflict they may encounter during 21st century battles in foregin lands. More than 6,000 Marines on land and stationed on ships off the northern California coast took part in the operation. The US Navy and Marine Corps "Urban Warriors" sailed, hovercrafted, and humveed themselves into the San Francisco Bay Area March 15-21.

Friends of the Sea Otter (FSO) strongly opposed the Department of Navy's proposed Urban Warrior Advanced Warfighting Experiment planned for Monterey on March 13, 1999. Based upon FSO's review of the Navy's Environmental Assessment (EA), the Navy failed to adequately address the impacts that this exercise will have on the southern sea otter. The southern sea otter is listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Navy failed to prepare a biological assessment as required by the ESA when a listed species may be impacted by a federal agency's proposed project. The southern sea otter's 11 percent population decline in the last three years places the otter precariously close to being reclassified as "endangered." Any activity that may have potential effects on sea otters needs to be thoroughly reviewed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as required by the ESA.

In spite of weeks of organized protests by local activists, a few city council members, and the birth of the Coalition Against Urban Warrior-as well as a takeover of the Oakland mayor's City Hall office by a group of local high school students, which resulted in about 20 arrests-the exercises commenced as scheduled. The Marines held a week-long military warfest in the Oakland area, which included some 14 waves of hovercraft landings, 40 aircraft overflights, and the detonation of 60 "flashbang" grenades and 24,000 rounds of extremely loud machine gun fire.

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