Abstract. This paper analyzes new features and peculiarities of warfare in large cities (metropolises, urban agglomerations, and urbanized enclaves) amid the changing conditions of confrontation (battle space formation) in the context of gaining superiority over the enemy (advantages in areas of activity). It gives several recommendations for preparing and conducting an attack on settlements that have been transformed by the enemy into powerful fortified areas.

The modern world order is being formed amid a radical transformation of the US-dominated unipolar system of international relations that has predetermined the destruction of the fundamental foundations of strategic stability and the provocation of crises in various regions of the world. At the same time, there is a desire of the leading world powers to abandon long and exhausting military operations and to move to the use of “smart” force to secure their own interests outside their national territories.

The main technologies of the struggle for global domination under modern conditions are attempts to organize a change of power (coups), the “fight against terrorism,” sanctions pressure, and the destabilization of the domestic political situation in undesirable countries. Under this approach, the centers of power attraction are cities, which are natural conglomerates of military and political leadership and elites, their electorate, public and private capital, key institutions of power and governance, means of production (industry and infrastructure), etc. This is confirmed by the concept of hybrid warfare implemented by the US and NATO whereby targets of the use of force are mainly designated within the boundaries of large cities.

The main reasons for this trend are the litorization and networkization of the living environment: the former characterizing the growing tendency to form metropolises and agglomerations around major transportation hubs, and the latter – the ever-increasing dependence of the population, economy, and public administration on various types of network structures that are rapidly developing in urbanized areas.

Therefore, the war of the future is not a struggle on the plains or in mountains, deserts, or forests, but primarily armed struggle in megapolises and urban agglomerations, where everything is interdependent – in connection with which the use of force is preceded by the preventive identification of the enemy’s vulnerabilities, the achievement of temporary advantages in some areas of confrontation, and the development and consolidation of success in other areas through the coordinated actions of forces and assets in various combinations. This is the subject of studies on the formation and transformation of the potential urban battle space.

An analysis of the experience of modern military conflicts gives reason to consider concepts of interaction with the local population and promising approaches to gaining (securing) superiority over the enemy to be key features of power confrontation in large cities and agglomerations.

When considering interaction with city inhabitants, it is necessary to note their adaptability to the level of support for the actions of the parties’ troops. In peacetime (before the outbreak of hostilities), cities are most vulnerable to attack by irregular forces from within. The term “irregular” is usually used to refer to nonstate (informal) armed formations, such as self-defense forces, security companies, oversight bodies, cells of terrorist organizations, gangs, etc. Recently, however, it has been applied not only to participants in military (combat) actions, but also to certain forms of their confrontation, including terrorism, guerrilla actions, cyber attacks and others, conditioned by the desire to avoid direct armed confrontation with the forces of the military organization of the state.

At present, it is safe to say that the potential adversary, long before the outbreak of aggression, will intensify efforts to gradually build up the urban protest potential in the victim country by unleashing the following destabilizing activities:

• conducting information campaigns aimed at dividing the population based on living standards and discrediting the authorities

• providing extensive support to opposition and nationalist organizations

• restricting access to goods and services

• training destructive forces by allocating substantial financial resources for various organizational activities (training courses for opposition activists, constituent meetings of the country’s “democratic” forces, etc.)

• supporting mass antigovernment rallies and “protests” by the opposition that use vulnerable segments of the population: young people, the elderly, children, and the disabled

• supplying weapons, ammunition and explosives, sending in representatives of various radical organizations from abroad

• organizing mass riots with armed resistance to law-enforcement agencies, blockading administrative buildings, and other unlawful actions

• falsifying photographic and video materials about “illegal actions” of law-enforcement agencies and the “excessively brutal” suppression of “peaceful protests”

• provoking mass demonstrations in areas with dense diaspora populations, and much more.1

The successful implementation of these actions at the preliminary stage of confrontation facilitates the transition from protest to higher-level conflict actions to destabilize the domestic political situation at the regional or state level in order to trigger a domestic armed conflict. In this case, the main efforts are focused on provoking and carrying out numerous destructive activities of the following nature:

• supporting antigovernment demonstrations that escalate into mass riots with the looting of large commercial establishments, arson attacks on cars, and attempts to seize local government buildings and police stations

• organizing assassination attempts against diaspora and religious leaders and their families

• initiating clashes between ethnic diasporas and “indigenous” residents aimed at inciting ethnic and sectarian strife

• organizing terrorist attacks and fires at important economic assets under the guise of anthropogenic disasters to demonstrate the inability of the country’s leadership to meet its social obligations and control the situation

• establishing alternative authorities from among the leaders and participants of the protest movement

• expanding dialogue and developing relations with the “civil society of the region” to support supposedly “democratic” aspirations

• provoking protests and acts of sabotage and organizing strikes at large industrial enterprises with further escalation into political actions aimed at changing the leadership

• establishing training centers for “resistance forces” – essentially illegal armed groups and subversive terrorist groups composed of members of radical politicized organizations

• stepping up the activities of national minority organizations, missionaries of religious communities and destructive sects, as well as nationalist organizations with the participation of a significant share of young people

• training aggressive forces, increasing the number of underground antigovernment organizations, creating and preparing bases (arms depots) for illegal armed groups and terrorist organizations

• spreading information and calls for the creation of illegal armed groups, urging “discontent” segments of the population to join their ranks in order to protect themselves and their loved ones from the “inaction” of the authorities through the mass media, the Internet, various forums, and printed materials

• spreading rumors about the illegality of the use of the armed forces against their own people and the deterioration of the economic situation

• unleashing provocations involving the use of firearms and accusations against the military and political leadership and law-enforcement agencies

• hacking into information resources with the aim of causing anthropogenic disasters, paralyzing the work of government agencies, spreading provocative messages on social networks, using firearms, and making accusations against the military and political leadership and law-enforcement agencies

• posting provocative allegations on social networks about the inaction of the authorities and calling for their replacement

• spreading inaccurate or deliberately distorted information to strengthen nationalist ideas among the local population, etc.2

These destructive actions will lead to disruptions in the functioning of socially significant institutions and organizations, a rise in crime, growth of social tensions, the escalation of mass riots into armed clashes with law-enforcement agencies, and finally, open armed confrontation of “all against all,” undermining and destroying vital aspects of the life of the region and the state as a whole through the development of internal disagreements and the destruction of the economic and governance system.

Such a scenario will serve as a favorable basis for the consolidation of efforts by opponents of the incumbent government to organize resistance to state power structures and to establish explicit or shadow control over key infrastructure (critical facilities).

At the same time, the integration of large cities into the defense system as supporting (nodal) elements and independent objects of confrontation with the advanced militarization of the active part of the population and its steering toward confrontation with the opposing side in the conflict (the legitimate government) turns them into a kind of fortress that necessitates an assault with the accompanying risk of situation escalation.

In addition to regular combatants, threats to the urban space include paramilitary formations, territorial defense forces, terrorist organizations, criminal groups, religious sects, gangs and looters, rebel groups, as well as discontented masses of the local population, anthropogenic disasters, hunger, poverty, and epidemic diseases.

Therefore, when assessing prospects for interaction with urban residents, special attention should be paid to the adaptive projected risks of the perception of the population’s potential within the framework of socialization, religion, national identity, and loyalty toward (support of) the actions of troops in their interconnections and interdependence with segmentation with respect to the urban space.

Social enclaves, diasporas, political (primarily opposition) parties and public organizations, industrial collectives, government and law-enforcement agencies, social services, informal leaders, mass media, and other agents of social relations are primarily the subject of study and analytical expertise.3 At the same time, social aspects of their cooperation and joint activities with the army, as well as psychological aspects of coercion by force, are of particular relevance.

Interaction with the population is designed to ensure the concealment of ongoing activities, disinformation, demonstrations, situation monitoring (situational awareness), the engagement of local resources, weapons guidance, subversive activities, sabotage, diversion, disruption of the sustainable functioning of production facilities, the creation of an underground (organized opposition), etc. Its successful implementation requires recruitment, bribery, blackmail, threats, information influence, provocation, training, infiltration, provision of resources, etc. The main technique of resistance in this case is deterrence of the enemy in the interest of preventing (prohibiting, limiting the possibilities of) destructive (undesirable) actions.

At the same time, it is important to consider the potential negative outcomes of engaging with the population through internal filtering tactics and external coercion. Such actions may disrupt the balance of interests among the involved parties and require additional efforts to restore stability. The most important of these are the destruction of residential buildings and the death of residents, a shortage of water and food, the disruption of electricity and heating, disease and pollution, power struggles, violence, looting, plundering, and so on.

To avoid these negative consequences, it is advisable to use military force selectively and in a targeted manner, with priority use of high-precision weapons and weapons based on new physical principles against key facilities of the defense-industrial complex, energy and utilities services, as well as communication and navigation systems.

The aforementioned peculiarities provide for flexible integration into the ground operations of groups of troops (forces) of the following forms of application of forces and assets: information and psychological operations (actions, campaigns), counter-propaganda, measures to deceive the enemy, electronic warfare, network operations and attacks, protection and monitoring of information networks, information security, countering misrepresentation, assassinations, counterintelligence, joint civil-military activities, public relations, etc.

Thus, the balance of interests of the parties to ensure a threshold (acceptable) standard of living for the people serves as a “red line” or basis for interaction between the conflicting parties and the local population in order to achieve and maintain at least their neutral status and, as a priority, cooperation.

As for gaining (ensuring) superiority in the urban confrontation by achieving advantages in various types of activities, the priority in this case should be technological, information, and technical aspects, providing, first of all, for preempting the enemy in the implementation of the cycle of command and control of troops (forces) and weapons.

In our opinion, the main area for achieving technological advantages in conducting hostilities in urban enclaves and agglomerations is the introduction of the most promising systems for positioning, navigation, and precise timing; sensor detection and communication; data collection and processing; control of communication lines; reconnaissance and destruction of the enemy using small unmanned various-purpose robotic complexes (capable of operating in both a controlled and autonomous fashion individually and in groups (swarms)), as well as biotechnologies, the latest pharmaceuticals, etc.

Considering navigation from the standpoint of achieving advantages in weapons control, it seems promising to widely introduce technologies for integrating and reconfiguring employed multi-sensor navigation systems, as well as navigation by visual landmarks, which makes it possible to simultaneously create a map of the area and track the position of potential targets on it.

The information advantage in conducting hostilities in urban enclaves and agglomerations is ensured by maintaining greater real time situational awareness of command and control bodies and personnel than the enemy. Currently, this is achieved by introducing automation (software and hardware) systems for managing integrated reconnaissance and destruction assets in a single information space with variable distribution of access, the creation of wireless self-organizing communication networks using unmanned aerial vehicles and space satellites, as well as situation monitoring assets.

To achieve this advantage, it is necessary to form a single information space with the integration and synchronization of communication and control systems, reconnaissance and destruction assets, high-speed automated information processing, data distribution and transmission, information influence, and battle space virtualization.

The technical advantages are designed to facilitate the transition from attack to noncontact fire tactics of selective impact on critical enemy targets, including infrastructure, to reduce the potential of all types of its support, and to limit the tactical and operational mobility (maneuverability) of deterrence and confrontation forces.

These advantages should be achieved in each specific case not by increasing the number of troops (forces), but by increasing their mobility and the capabilities of their weapons. In this regard, mini- and micro-UAV, including loitering munitions, and various-purpose robotic systems operating both independently and in self-organizing swarms should be considered a priority for the development of weapons and military and special equipment (WMSE) used in dense urban areas.

The aforementioned weapons should be used for the search and identification of enemy assets, their neutralization or targeting, fire correction, communication retransmission, jamming, the creation of dummy targets, protection, and logistics. In the future, they will be able to independently make tactical decisions during battle and coordinate their own actions without the operator’s participation in the selection and selective destruction of targets.

In addition, there is a growing tendency to expand the range of weapons based on new physical principles (electromagnetic, laser, infrasound, cyberweapons, etc.), as well as special nonlethal agents, compounds, and formulations used in urban areas.4

The battlefield in urban agglomerations is generally transformed into a fragmented operational battle space in which distributed autonomous military formations (groups), noncombatants, paramilitary organizations, organized civilian detachments, functioning life support facilities of the population, etc., operate.

The focal development of the situation, in turn, causes a chaotic penetration and mixing of types and methods of combat operations and tactical methods of using forces and assets. In this case, the main principles of armed confrontation become omnidirectionality, synchronization, limited objectives, unlimited measures, asymmetry, autonomy and self-sufficiency, comprehensive coordination, total control, and rapid response to changes in the situation in order to force the enemy into submission.

With these principles in mind, success in urban warfare is determined by implementing the following critical measures and actions:

• preventively identifying enemy vulnerabilities

• ensuring secrecy in the use of forces and the plausibility of false intentions

• preempting the enemy’s actions, seizing and maintaining the initiative to control key life-support facilities and critical infrastructure in the zone of the forthcoming deployment of troops (forces and assets)

• isolating (blockading) urban space in all physical and operational environments, limiting the enemy’s ability to accurately position, navigate, and determine time

• controlling logistical support, primarily by denying the enemy’s troops (forces) supply routes

• achieving a high degree of real-time situational awareness

• deceiving the enemy about the potential capabilities of his troops (forces and assets) and plans for their realization

• reducing (limiting) the prospects of involving the population in the confrontation on the side of the enemy or as an independent force

• creating “organized chaos” in the enemy’s communication and control networks, including critical infrastructure facilities

• creating and maintaining corridors (routes) for the evacuation of civilians and the withdrawal (surrender) of enemy formations

• noncontact selective reducing of the enemy’s combat potential through functionally integrated search-and-destroy (fire, radio-electronic, opto-electronic, etc.) systems

• disrupting the integrity of the enemy’s defenses, interaction (coordinated use) of elements of his combat order, their stable functioning and organized movement

• taking control of urban areas of strategic and operational importance

• building up and shifting efforts in a timely manner to areas of success (temporary advantages) in certain areas of the confrontation

• developing and consolidating the achieved results through the coordinated actions of forces and assets in various combinations

• establishing the civil and military administration of activities in liberated areas

• exercising comprehensive influence on enemy troops and their supporting population in order to prevent maneuvers, reduce resistance capabilities, and force the surrender or abandonment of territory

• dividing the integral combat space into isolated units with subsequent blockade (encirclement) of enemy forces and their piecemeal liquidation

• engaging in collective activities to stabilize the situation and ensure the sustainable functioning of life support systems for the civilian population and troop operations in controlled agglomeration areas

• responding promptly to changes in the situation, adapting to emerging hazards and threats.5

Considering the peculiarities of preparing and executing operations to storm cities, first of all, we note that under modern conditions, in our opinion, it is not always necessary to completely surround them, but it is important to achieve complete control of the perimeter and “critical points” inside – in particular, power plants, transportation junctions, elevated areas, etc.

To break through defense in the city, the most preferable types of maneuvers are bypass (or envelopment) with simultaneous destruction of enemy troops (forces) and the capture of objects in his rear, forcing him to abandon his positions, as well as penetration (more precisely, covert penetration with the implementation of measures to divert the enemy’s attention) with simultaneous capture of advantageous areas (lines) in the depth of his combat orders and forming a wedge in the sector of the front least protected by the enemy.

One of the most important factors of success in this process is to conduct information operation(s) to deceive (mislead) the enemy beforehand. In addition, it is necessary to search for “critical points” of the enemy that can be impacted to significantly reduce his resistance capabilities. Attacks on those points should be carried out as synchronously as possible from various directions and with various weapons.

Assault detachments (groups) should be based on small self-sufficient infantry and engineer units supported by armored, artillery, and reconnaissance formations capable of conducting autonomous assault operations around the clock on a front of about 175 m (the standard width of a city block), even under conditions of limited visibility, with shifts every few hours.

The process of storming a city (settlement, quarter, etc.) should ideally be a set of coordinated and interrelated measures and actions of troops (forces and assets) to isolate enemy areas (facilities) and formations from the main forces, to hold key infrastructure, to contain surrounded enemy forces, to prevent their support from the outside, and to weaken (terminate) their control over the surrounding space.

Conditions in the urban environment (battlefield) that limit the actions of troops include building density, poor visibility, fires and destruction, closed positions, rugged terrain, the critical nature of infrastructure and life support facilities, and more. Therefore, situational awareness is paramount. The main sources of intelligence information are geospatial, radio, and radio-technical reconnaissance and agents. Space and air reconnaissance complexes (systems) can also be used, and at the tactical level – reconnaissance teams, UAV, sensors, detection devices, and other means and methods linked into a single system.

Uninterrupted comprehensive support of the group of troops (forces), even in the absence of operational pauses, and the control of communications play an important role in urban combat. Protection of the latter must remain a priority, even if this leads to a reduction in the ability of troops (forces) to perform primary missions. It is also important to provide the civilian population in controlled areas with food and basic necessities in a timely manner, taking into account their needs. This is the responsibility of civil-military (civilian) administration liaison officers.

The problem of assaulting cities is now exacerbated by the lowering of the threshold of acceptable collateral damage. It is not possible to simply “wipe a city off the face of the earth” with massive bombing and shelling operations, since the attitude of the local population is critical to the overall success of the operation and represents a valuable resource for both the offensive and defensive sides in terms of multiple support roles and as a deterrent to the use of weapons.6

Thus, the results of an analysis of the experience of armed confrontation in urbanized areas presented in this paper give reason to believe that at present there are no universally effective methods and techniques for assaulting cities. Even the mass use of UAV, high-precision weapons, and robotic systems does not guarantee unconditional success. An assault, as before, is a series of bloody close-quarters battles requiring a significant number of general military formations.

At the same time, the growing arming of the armed forces of economically developed states with nontraditional and advanced types of WMSE is gradually changing the nature and character of armed confrontation, when instead of the physical destruction of the enemy, priority is given to the possibility of temporary incapacitation (neutralization). In this regard, it is important to realize that relying solely on traditional ideas about armed struggle in urban agglomerations can make one completely unprepared to act under the new conditions.

To prevent that from happening, it is necessary to conduct in-depth and comprehensive research on the experience of combat operations in Syria and, even more so, during the Special Military Operation [in Ukraine], the results of which should become the basis for the development and creation (modernization) of effective patterns of WMSE maximally adapted to urban combat, as well as for the research, testing, and implementation of new methods and techniques of storming populated areas that the enemy has turned into powerful fortified strongholds.


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2. A.A. Bartosh, Konflikty XXI veka. Gibridnaya voyna i tsvetnaya revolyutsiya [Conflicts of the 21st century. Hybrid warfare and color revolution]. Goryachaya liniya – Telekom Publishers, Moscow, 2020, 281 p.

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