US Army prepares for dangers lurking in ‘deep future’ megacities

By on Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Within about two decades, roughly 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, particularly megacities of more than 10 million, according to a recent National Intelligence Council projection.

Some of those inhabitants will be bent on terror and destruction of the regional and global community and the Army must be prepared to deal with that threat, according to Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, speaking at a media roundtable today.

The roundtable was part of Exercise Unified Quest, which was conducted Aug. 17-22, which included a megacity disaster scenario set in what McMaster termed the “deep future,” 2030 to 2040. Constructive simulation, using computers, was used to create a fictitious environment, weapons, and red, blue and green players, meaning enemy, friendly and host-nation military, he said.

Academia, members of the other military services, coalition partners, and experts on future global events participated in the exercise.

The scenario was plausible, but extreme in nature, in order to stress the capabilities of the Army, which operated against an adaptive insurgency, criminal element, failed government and humanitarian crises. The emergency was caused by a dam bursting with an ensuing flood and a disease outbreak.

There were some key takeaways from the exercise.

“You can’t just pour brigade after brigade into a megacity. They’ll just get swallowed up,” said Col. Kevin Felix, chief of the Future Warfare Division, who also participated in the media roundtable.

By being swallowed up, he meant operating in a dense urban landscape where command and control becomes problematic and where the enemy hides itself and its weaponry among the civilian populace. Some of that weaponry in the scenario turned out to be biological and chemical.

The red players, or enemy, “surprised us as well. They did less fighting than expected,” Felix said. “They focused on the long game, keeping their heads down,” waiting for the government to fail and the right time to set their plans in motion.

Felix compared their tactics to the Japanese during the Battle for Okinawa. The Americans in 1945 were allowed to land on the beaches relatively unopposed, while the enemy hid in well-concealed and protected caves in the hills farther inland, bidding their time.

To operate in a deep future megacity, the Army is preparing its Soldiers today to have a better understanding, respect and appreciation of cultural differences as they train with regionally aligned forces worldwide. Felix said relationships can make a big difference in the outcome of a megacity intervention.

Also, he said Soldiers who can adapt, understand complexities, ask the right questions, and have a knowledge of group dynamics will be the ones who succeed.

McMaster pointed out that the Army cannot take technological superiority for granted in future conflicts. It is becoming increasingly easy for non-state actors to acquire sophisticated technologies and that is expected to be an increasing concern. These technologies include cyber capabilities, new types of weaponry and devices that can disrupt the electromagnetic spectrum.

If anything, new technologies will make the future battlefield an even more complex and chaotic environment, where Soldiers will have to be able to make split-second decisions and be comfortable operating in ambiguity, he said.

Because of the stress of uncertainty and potential violence and the high cognitive load placed on them, Soldiers will need to be especially resilient. Their training must reflect this and be as realistic as possible, McMaster continued.

Because of the confined spaces, Soldiers in a future megacity operation will likely operate in small groups. The danger is that some of these groups could become isolated and pinned down, he said. Therefore, these groups must be mutually supported and linked closely with combined arms assets and joint capabilities.

The Soldiers also need to have improved equipment such as lighter weaponry and ammunition and autonomous systems, he said. Operational energy will increasingly be important to reduce the logistics footprint as lines of supply become extended. Operational energy includes such things as fuel and battery efficiencies, lighter materials, advanced engine and transmission systems and non-petroleum fuels such as solar.

But while maintaining the edge on new technologies is vital, “the most intelligent and capable system will always be our Soldiers and leaders,” McMaster stressed.

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