Future Urban Training

by Gordon Pendleton

The continued pace of urbanisation across the globe has ensured that any future conflict is extremely likely to be fought in the urban and urban littoral environments. The challenge then for all military forces is how to train and operate in an urban environment to defeat a complex and ever-changing range of threats that are embedded and diffused within the population, without causing catastrophic unintended damage to the functioning elements of a society or inflicting unacceptable casualties on the civilian population.

Urban environments have always been seen as complex terrain or complex systems, but the necessary understanding of these systems required to enable effective modern urban operations goes far beyond the traditional Joint Intelligence Preparation of the Battlespace process. Consequently, traditional operational and tactical training needs to be adapted to this complex environment and the dynamic, adaptive system of systems within which urban conflict occurs.

Training for urban operations is not new but what perhaps is new, is the realisation that urban warfare is central to the contemporary and future operating environment. However, provision of realistic training environments is lagging and there is currently a paucity of urban and urban littoral training estates worldwide. Significantly, most come nowhere near to representing the complexity and density of modern urban terrain and often lack subterranean, urban littoral or urban riverine features. Critically, they lack the ability to create human density and interaction, resulting in a widening gap between what is delivered through training and what is experienced on operations. Given the extreme difficulty and high cost of creating a live training environment with sufficient complexity, density, scale, and population mass to realistically represent dense urban terrains, attention has turned to modelling and simulation to fill the gap.

Ongoing efforts are underway by a number of militaries to create terrain modelling and visualisation across domain functions in a federated network. This may lead to a more realistic and improved joint simulation of urban Battlespace Management, Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), Joint Fires, Sustainment, Medical and the Human factors, and to greater understanding of the Human and Information Domains. However, these simulations will still lack the feel of the real urban environment so a combined physical and simulated approach may be needed. An example of this approach is Singapore Ministry of Defence’s new urban training facility called SAFTI City which will comprise over 70 buildings, three 12-storey blocks, simulated underground facilities and urban training structures, housed in a 107,000 sqm facility that can accommodate brigade-level training. It will be a smart facility, leveraging smart technologies to enhance training effectiveness and the soldiers’ learning experience through immersive training.

What is evident, is that a challenging and realistic urban training environment, combining a physical and simulated system, will be necessary to ensure military forces are prepared, equipped and trained for operations in the complex and multi-dimensional future urban operating environment.