As a Marine, I had to admire the courage and discipline of the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong, but no more than I did my own men. We were both in a face-to-face eye-ball-to-eyeball confrontation. Sometimes they were only 20 to 30 yards from us. After a while, survival was the name of the game as you sat there in the semi-darkness, with the firing going on constantly, like at a rifle range. And the horrible smell. You tasted it as you ate your rations, as if you were eating death.
Cites have become lucrative targets for groups desiring to create unrest and destabilize governments. They target the urban areas because they many times represent the economic and cultural centers of national power. A successful campaign in an urban environment allows instant access to the national center of gravity, the people. Additionally, insurgencies target urban areas because they provide them with their sources of power; people, money, and social unrest. The urban environment imposes limits on our mobility and firepower, allowing the defender to control the tempo of operations. By forcing a fight in an urban area, our opponent's weaker conventional force can level the playing field. The American public will demand low casualties and low collateral damage. Desert Storm demonstrated to the world how superior the U.S. is in conventional open area warfare. Aideed's military forces in Mogadishu exposed our weakness in urban combat. It is exactly for these reasons that our opponents will force future military confrontations into the urban arena. However, an operational dilemma confronts U.S. military forces; while all trends point to a future of urban areas of operations, our training level for the urban environment is limited.
The Marine Corps doctrine for MOUT is contained in MCWP 3.35.3 Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain. The doctrinal focus is on MOUT execution by the infantry, as urban operations are infantry intensive. Aviators must also be conversant with MCWP 3.35.3 so that the GCE and Air Combat Element (ACE) can provide mutual support.
GCE Small Unit Considerations
In a close fight in an urban environment, it is extremely difficult for a company commander to maintain complete control of all the command elements necessary for successful mission completion. The urban fight is a series of close actions, involving squads and platoons. During operations in Somalia, one company commander concurrently fought his three platoons, eight Malaysian armored personnel carriers (APC's) and four Pakistani tanks - all this while passing situation reports to the battalion commanding officer, coordinating with Task Force Ranger on a helicopter crash site, and directing rotary wing close air support (CAS).
The single best preparation for urban operations is tough, realistic live fire exercises starting at the individual level and working up to the company level where indirect fire and CAS assets are integrated. A series of squad, platoon and company level live fire exercises is essential prior to deploying to an urban environment. Exercises should include a squad react to contact/attack drill, a squad enter and clear room drill, and a platoon react to contact/hasty attack drill. All must be executed during daylight and night/low visibility conditions as well as integrated with CAS and indirect fire support. Live-firing training is best when all weapon systems can be fired - 40mm HEDP, LAW, AT-4s, bangalore torpedoes, grenades, mortars, and CAS. During this training, commanders should allow weapons to be fired danger close - this allows our Marines to appreciate the sight, sound, smell, and fear of close combat weapons fire. One of the benefits of such training is the aid in allowing Marines to distinguish between hearing and receiving fire. There is a very distinctive sound (especially small arms) when enemy fire is directed at you. More importantly; when receiving fire, it is crucial to take an extra second or two to determine where it is coming from and then (based on this determination) engage the actual source. Once a target is engaged, it is difficult to find where the enemy fire is coming from. Fire control is crucial when in contact. Live-fire training will enable all concerned to perform well under enemy fire. Thousands of rounds fired down range will not do any good if they are not engaging the right targets - and friendly fire can kill our own Marines.
Targets can be marked and identified with tracer rounds, M203 smoke, HE, illumination rounds, IR pointers and such. One example is for a fire team leader to carry a 3:1 tracer mix, squad leaders to carry at least a 2:1 tracer mix and platoon leaders through company commanders to carry a 1:1 tracer mix.. Tracers are a combat tool to mark targets, day or night. It is well placed suppressive fire, not the volume of fire, that silences the enemy. When a unit is in contact, the tendency (at least initially) is for everyone to immediately return fire. Realistic MOUT training will correct this tendency and substantially contribute to individual urban situational awareness (SA) - and this contributes to a well honed urban combat Marine.
Generally, FM communications within the company level are sufficient - due to the close proximity of the communicating units - but communications with battalion may be difficult unless the battalion can move its command post closer behind or in between the companies. Oftentimes, incoming or outgoing fire will severely degrade the communications capability of the person on the receiving end of the radio due to the sound volume.
Pre-mission planning between the GCE and ACE is a must whenever possible. However, when units become lost in a city, or the GCE and ACE must deviate from the original plan due to an unexpected turn of events, then the plan must be highly flexible. When the area of operations (AOR) changes to an area without an established urban grid, then a hasty TRP should be used based on a distinctive urban feature that is visible to the aircrew and also assist ground units in target orientation (360 degrees). The hasty TRP may be selected dependent on day or night operations. Even with the above tools, amidst the chaos of urban operations, ground units may experience disorientation. Unit may lose track of which building that they are located within. When inside a building, they should provide to CAS aircraft )or other appropriate agency) a running commentary. For Example: "We are exiting the building on the east side, heading north. We are crossing the street and going into the building on the corner. I can see the Bank of Panama 100 meters south." Be alert for the enemy to direction find (DF) excessive communications. If the GCE is moving, either on foot or vehicle, they may use IR strobes to mark themselves. Turn on the strobe or "rope" periodically (as an example, turn on the strobe every minute for five seconds) so aircrews monitoring friendly movement ca continue to track. Urban operations are characterized by extremely high operational tempo even though the distance covered in an engagement is measured in feet, both horizontally and vertically. An over reliance on communications is dependent on having a communication link with a unit inside a building or below ground structure; though possible, atmospheric and structural limitations may occur.
The GCE commander will decide who has priority of air and surface fire support via the Air Officer, Fire Support Coordinator (FSC) or in the absence of the Air Officer, the FAC. The GCE must be on the same urban grid, TRP, or building numbering system if the mission is preplanned. This common map system must include all units from the battalion down to the squad and fire team levels as urban operations often dissipate into very small unit actions - independent but synchronized. Both the GCE and ACE must plan for control measures outside the primary area of responsibility because a ground unit may be, either ordered or drawn into an area of operations not originally planned for. Direct fire support, even from just a block away, is very difficult to control. All units must have routine techniques for conspicuously marking cleared rooms, floors and buildings as they progress through an urban area. Marking procedures must be automatic, practiced, and discernible at night and during daylight hours. The marking system must be observable to both ground and air combat elements. Examples include cutting open chem lights, VS-17 panels, thermal tape, engineer tape, sheets, and flags - these are but a few of the tools to mark secured/cleared buildings.
When the GCE is in the defense, attack helicopters may be used to cover tank approaches or provide visual reconnaissance. They may be positioned to engage enemy tanks in anti-tank kill zones.
Doctrinal defensive and offensive frontages are shown below, however, the density of buildings and other conditions will impact on actual frontages and depths. For example, if an urban grid was developed for a platoon's two block defensive frontage and then the platoon was ordered to move two blocks forward, then no urban grid would exist. As a rule of thumb, map measurements should extend double beyond the expected area of responsibility for the unit being supported. Avenues of approach are dictated by the urban pattern and the mission. Urban avenues of approach will cover unusually narrow frontages, and when possible, multiple avenues will be employed to permit flanking and rear area attacks in support of the main attack.
Unit Size - Defensive Frontage - Depth
Battalion or Task Force - 4-8 blocks - 3-6 blocks
Company or Co Team - 2-4 blocks - 2-3 blocks
Platoon - 1-2 blocks - 1 block
Note: An average city block has a frontage of about 175 meters. These minimum figures apply in areas of dense, block-type construction and multi-story buildings.
Battalion Avenues of Approach - Width in Meters
Dense, Random Construction - 150-200
Close Orderly Block - 200-300
Dispersed Residential Areas - 300-400
High Rise Areas - 300-500
Industrial/Transportation Areas - 400-600
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