|Armor in Urban Terrain: The Critical Enabler|
|Peter W Chiarelli, Patrick R Michaelis, Geoffrey A Norman. <Armor>. Fort Knox: Mar/Apr 2005.|
Task Force Baghdad's adaptation to fighting in the urban canyons of Al Tharwa and the cemeteries of An Najaf has been both remarkable and significant. Here, Chiarelli et al describe the importance of tanks to the 1st Cavalry Division's combat operations in the cities of Najaf and Baghdad in overwhelming and defeating enemy forces.
"...tanks and mechanized Infantry face problems in confines of urban areas that place them at a severe disadvantage when operating alone. Only together can these forces accomplish their mission with minimal casualties..."1
Task Force (TF) Baghdad's adaptation to fighting in the urban canyons of Al Tharwa (Sadr City) and the cemeteries of An Najaf has been both remarkable and significant. It has proven the reality of urban combat - we can win and we can win decisively.
The new fight brings to light a cautionary message to the force - be wary of eliminating or reducing the option of heavy armor; it has proven decisive and has been the critical enabler that allowed TF Baghdad to win every fight, everyday. The enemy we fight in streets and crypts is not connected by a vast suite of electronics packages; instead, they use proven kinetic techniques, such as the rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), the command-detonated improvised explosive device (IED), the mortar, and the AK47 in an asymmetric fashion, using the concrete valleys of the cityscape to their advantage.
This evolution in warfare is not a side note in history; it is a foreshadowing of operations to come. The mass migration of humanity to cities and the inability of third-world nations to keep abreast of basic city services relative to growth, breeds discontent. It is a harvesting ground for fundamentalist ideologues.
This article should serve as a note of concern to the force. Eliminating or reducing heavy armor systems from inventory will remove valuable assets that prove decisive when moving from a maneuver war to a street war.
AI Tharwa: The Sadr City Box
During the April-June and August-October 2004 Shia uprising of Muqtada Al Sadr's militia in Al Tharwa (Sadr City) and An Najaf, it became clear that the ultimate task organization of choice depended on the enemy threat. Patterns of employment of the combined arms team that both solidified and challenged existing doctrine were also made clear.
The grid-like pattern of Al Tharwa presented an interesting tactical challenge to the soldiers and leaders of 2d Battalion, 5th (2-5) Cavalry Regiment (TF Lancer), 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas. As Muqtada's militia began actively attacking coalition forces, TF Lancer worked rapidly to defeat the insurgent uprising while protecting its soldiers.
As its primary avenue of approach, the enemy chose side street alleys, which Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFVs) and M1A2 system enhancement package (SEP) tanks could not negotiate due to sheer width and obstacles such as disabled civilian vehicles and air-conditioning units. As these vehicles progressed throughout the city, the militia would attack their flanks, seeking to disable them with IEDs, RPGs, and AK47s.
U.S. Army Field Manual (FM) 3-06.11, Combined Arms Operations In Urban Terrain, Appendix C, states: "If isolated or unsupported by infantry, armored vehicles are vulnerable to enemy hunter/killer teams firing light and medium antiarmor weapons. Because of the abundance of cover and concealment in urban terrain, armored vehicle gunners may not be able to easily identify enemy targets unless the commander exposes himself to fire by opening his hatch or by infantrymen directing the gunner to the target."2
Initially, following standard doctrine, the task force moved throughout the city in column or staggered-column formations, assigning typical 360-degree sectors of fire to cover all enemy avenues of approach. However, with the vertical firing platforms of rooftops and the coordinated attacks on both flanks through use of alleys, the task force had to rapidly adapt to the emerging enemy threat.
The task force quickly learned to move throughout the city in protected mode (buttoned up) and maximize the capability of the dual sights provided by the M1A2SEP, equipped with the gunner's primary sight and the commander's independent thermal viewer (CITV), and the M2/3A3 improved Bradley acquisition subsystem (IBAS) with the commander's independent viewer (CIV). As shown in Figure 1, their refined movement-to-contact formation resulted in a rolling battleship of armored vehicles in a "box" formation, moving in a deliberate, methodical progression through the main streets of Al Tharwa, maximizing the protection of the armor packages.3 Success relied on the skill of the driver, the armor package of the M1A2 and the latest generation M2/3A3 and the dual sight capability afforded by the vehicle upgrades.
Moving buttoned up in a pure mechanized/armor formation, the combat patrol would reposition at the release point into a rectangular formation of at least six armored vehicles. Moving vehicles parallel to each other created an artificial set of interior lines to protect the exposed flank of the opposite vehicle and allow a full three-dimensional, 360-degree coverage of the constantly shifting battlespace.
The commander's independent sight systems offset the protective measure of vehicles moving through the city with hatches fully closed. The second sight afforded another field of view, allowing the gunner to primarily observe enemy alleys. Instead of the commander being relegated to what the gunner was observing, or struggling to gain situational awareness through vision blocks, he became an integral part of the vehicle and patrol team by providing coverage of secondary enemy avenues of approach, oriented forward of the vehicle or toward the opposite flank vehicle's immediate rooftops, providing high-angle coverage. See Figure 2.
Moving block by block, the patrol would travel at extremely slow speeds to allow for acquisition of targets in the alleyways and proper handoff to subsequent vehicle gunners. Although not quite a 'steady platform' for the Bradley, the standard engagement was less than 200 meters - the proximity to targets allowed for successful coax engagements. The CIV and CITV were used to scan opposite rooftops, or forward and to the flanks of the gunner's primary sector to allow immediate target handoff.
Drivers keyed off the front left vehicle for rate of movement and worked as integral members of the team to identify targets, maintain proper dispersion, and move to predetermined locations. At short halts, drivers would establish a point of domination by immediately moving to overwatch the closest alley, which was the most likely enemy avenue of approach.
The success of the box in attriting enemy forces in Al Tharwa was causal to the armor packages of the M1-series tank and latest generation Bradley. This capability allowed absorption of the enemy's primary weapons system (IED), and protected infantry dismounts that spent many hours traveling in the backs of Bradleys, enslaved to the squad leader display to maintain situational awareness. This same technique, used with lighter skinned vehicles, would not have been effective in achieving the task force's objectives during movement to contact due to asymmetric advantages the enemy retains by fighting on their turf.
As always, the enemy has a vote and began adapting to the successful employment of the Sadr City box. They began to move increasingly toward using IEDs to disable vehicles and subsequently cause a catastrophic kill by using RPGs and mortars. This prompted the task force to adopt a heavier stance in the lead elements, stressing the use of the M1A2SEP to lead each combat patrol. The tank, with its armor package, could take the brunt of the effect of IEDs laid throughout the route. In some cases, crews could identify detonation wires running from hidden IEDs through global positioning systems (GPS) and CITV. Once identified, the crews could 'disable' the IED by destroying the detonation wires with direct fire or by directly firing at the IED's point of placement. Stripping all unnecessary equipment from the bustle rack and moving buttoned up allowed follow-on Bradleys to service targets that succeeded in climbing on top of tanks or getting within their deadspace.
Because of the close range of engagements in the city, the primary weapons system on both the tank and Bradley became the coax, normally zeroed at about 200 meters. Recon by fire of suspected IED locations was authorized, but leaders always remained cognizant of collateral damage through positive identification of targets. Because of the desire to minimize collateral damage, a check in the system for using 25mm and 120mm was developed by the task force, which forced company commanders to clear fires for 25mm and battalion commanders to clear fires for 120mm.
In war, bad things happen. The enemy objective in both Al Tharwa and An Najaf was to disable a vehicle and exploit it for an information operations success. Moving through the streets of Baghdad, it was inevitable that a vehicle would become disabled, leading to specific battle drills within the task force. The remaining vehicles in the box would move to provide a wall of steel around the disabled vehicle; infantrymen would dismount from the backs of the M2s to cover deadspace, either by tying into the adjacent vehicles or occupying by force a strongpoint position. M88s, escorted by a quick reaction force (QRF) patrol, would move rapidly to the disabled vehicle and begin extraction. The screen established by the initial patrol would protect the M88 crew as they extracted the vehicle.
An Najaf: The Combined Arms Patrol
In An Najaf, the terrain dictated different tactics while fighting the same enemy. What remained constant was the overwhelming domination of the armor/mechanized combination as the enabler to support the decisiveness of the mission.
In August, elements from the 2d Brigade Combat Team (Blackjack) and the 3d Brigade Combat Team (Grey wolf), 1st Cavalry Division, rapidly moved south of Baghdad to An Najaf and fought the Muqtada's militia on different terrain. Task Force 1st Battalion, 5th (1-5) Cavalry Regiment, 2d Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, faced unique challenges as narrow parallel trails through the cemetery and old city of An Najaf forced units to attack with multiple, section-sized elements along adjacent trails, which were often separated from mutual support.
A combined arms section became the preferred maneuver element. The section normally included a tank and Bradley attacking abreast, trailed by an M1114. The tank often advanced slightly ahead of the Bradley to absorb the initial energy of enemy ambushes. These ambushes and enemy engagements ranged from IEDs, mines, and RPGs, to mortars and snipers. The Bradleys would protect the flank and elevated shots against the tank, and the M1114 provided local and rear security for lead vehicles using its M240 machine gun. Dismounted soldiers from the Bradley and Ml 114 would disperse to the flanks of the section to eliminate enemy attempting to get into blind spots of the armored systems. Due to the restrictiveness of the cemetery's tombstones, mausoleums, and support buildings, maintaining visual contact with friendly forces was extremely difficult, requiring crews to maintain voice contact to keep vehicles and dismounted movement synchronized. Situational awareness was also critical in the clearance of fires, as both 120mm mortar and 155mm artillery were employed. See Figure 3.
At times, narrow trails forced the tank to move to a flank, based on traversing limitations, and allow the Bradley to engage and service targets. To mitigate risk to the tank, the infantry would move to the tank's flank to prevent the enemy from mounting from the rear. If infantry were committed or unavailable, a sniper was emplaced to overwatch the tank, providing the same protection and early warning. The final option was to use the M2A3's CIV to cover the tank's position.
Like units in Al Tharwa, Task Force 1-5 Cavalry generally fought buttoned up. The propensity for Muqtada's militia to engage through sniper fire or by dropping hand grenades on crews from above, forced this tactic. This tactic also allowed overwatch vehicles to engage targets that moved within the vehicle's dead-space to its immediate front.
Without the armor protection afforded by the tank and latest generation Bradley, Task Force 1-5 Cavalry's ability to achieve decisive success in An Najaf would have been characterized by higher casualties and a longer campaign. Used in conjunction with a combined arms dismounted infantry team, the tank and Bradley, having devastating effects on Muqtada militia largely attributed to the protection afforded by their armor packages, forced the enemy's hand and led to capitulation by Muqtada al Sadr.
Southern An Najaf: The Lane Attack
Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th (2-7) Cavalry Regiment, attached to the 39th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, was assigned to the southern sector of An Najaf, which was characterized by a narrow, residential grid-like road network that, unlike Task Force 2-5 Cavalry in Al Tharwa, prevented full lateral traversing of the M1A2SEP's main gun.
C Company, Task Force 3d Battalion, 8th (3-8) Cavalry Regiment, 3d Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, attached to Task Force 2-7 Cavalry, developed the 'lane attack' approach to application of armor in urban environments that characterized the unit's area of operations. To maximize the capabilities of the armor packages and the independent sights, the unit created section level lanes or directions of attack. Vehicles would move to "points of domination" (the intersections) to maximize the ability to traverse the turret and use the CITV. The first tank would orient low, forward, and to an unprotected flank. The second tank would be two blocks back, clearing forward and high over the lead tank. The CITV would cover an unprotected flank and rear. One block over, on a parallel street, would be a second section-level direction of attack that would be occupied by a wing tank section. This lateral dispersion of forces in extremely canalized terrain created a set of interior lines that afforded lateral security. Up to two platoons would be put on line, along four lanes, with infantry (in M1114s) in a reserve role behind the center echelon tank sections. See Figure 4.
Observation and Examination
Whether fighting enemy forces on home turf, on a commercial or residential grid pattern such as in Al Tharwa or southern An Najaf, or on irregular patterns of the cemetery or old city of northern An Najaf, leaders can benefit by observing and examining these three separate units and their invaluable successes:
We must continue the debate about the relevancy of armor. It would be wise to listen to some of our own doctrine when examining future combat systems. The trend is clear; the hardest place to fight and win - in the city - will dominate future U.S. Army operations. We cannot rely solely on a suite of electronics packages to offset the brunt of an enemy attack, which will be characterized by crude but effective weapons and an inherent terrain advantage due to the complexity of the city fight. The solution is good planning, the resolve of leadership, and the confidence that the equipment they fight in will protect our soldiers. The critical enabler is lethal and survivable M1 and M2/3 armored packages, coupled with increased situational awareness afforded by an independent commander's sight. These systems must remain in our inventory for immediate employment by deployed forces. Our tanks and Bradleys must not diminish in numbers but become more capable through continuous upgrades that protect our soldiers and allow them to dominate the unseen, often unnoticed enemy force that lurks in the shadows of alleys.