Employment of Armour in Urban Terrain
It is high time that corrective action is taken so as to train a few formations, say one infantry division with an armoured brigade. Thus a Strike RAPID from one of our strike corps could be specially trained for urban combat in the metro cities and towns
HAVING SPENT NEARLY SEVEN years as an instructor in the Army War College, I am aware of the strong mental conditionings of most of the Indian Army officers regarding the employment armour in urban areas. These conditionings arise not out of any operational experience but out of a misplaced belief that armour is unnecessary or ineffective in built up areas and that fighting in an urban jungle is basically an infantry battle. I beg to differ in this regard, and now seeing the lack of development in various parts of the country, mostly due to poor governance and maladministration, and its adverse impact manifesting itself in the form of home grown insurgencies like Maoist insurgency which has spread to more than 14 states of the Indian Union, and the relentless efforts by our adversaries to resurrect extinguished insurgencies in some of our states, it is not too far-fetched to imagine that one day, in not too distant a future either we may have to militarily confront some welltrained and equipped militant groups or even the Maoist insurgents in built-up areas of our urban centres. If we are not even mentally prepared for this scenario and if we do not train our forces for such sub-conventional conflicts, it will be difficult to implement offensive missions in urban environment at short notice, without suffering heavy casualties, or causing collateral damage.
Destruction and eviction of militants/ insurgents/terrorists from built-up areas like our metro cities or even large townships pose innumerable problems and would invariably pose a great danger to public utilities, under and over ground infrastructure as well as innocent people due to the resultant collateral damage caused by military action. It is for this reason as well as the perceived vulnerability of the tank that military professionals do not advocate the use of heavy weapons. However, in the urban environment of our metro cities, if the Army is called to take action, we are going to invariably deal with highly trained and motivated militia, terrorist groups or well-trained and well-equipped Maoist cadres. In such circumstances, direct firing weapons with pinpoint accuracy, having an adequate stand-off range with an ability to accurately engage the chosen target(s) without much collateral damage would become vital elements of a force detailed for undertaking the operation. It is in this context that an armoured fighting vehicle, a tank, with its excellent communications, sophisticated fire control system, its mobility, its relative invulnerability, due to its armour protection, becomes a necessary instrument of urban warfare. Its capability to fire both high velocity kinetic energy and chemical energy ammunition and anti-tank guided missiles makes it an ideal component of an all arms team for urban counter-insurgency or counter-terrorist operation.
US and Israeli Lessons
A basic lesson learnt by the US and coalition troops engaged in counter-insurgency operations in Iraq as well as the Israelis in their low-intensity conflict with the Palestinians, is that a fully integrated combat team is crucial in any urban war fighting environment. Urban warfare involves mutually supporting actions by a combined arms teams comprising armour, infantry, combat engineers, with attack helicopters “on call”. It could be based on a squadron or company group. Such a combined arms team can achieve success while keeping casualties as well as collateral damage to a minimum. The current mechanised infantry combat vehicle (ICV) is not suited for urban warfare because the BMP-2 is not adequately protected. Therefore, while they are good as far as mobility (carriage of infantry) and firepower are concerned, they are vulnerable to fire of heavy weapons like heavy machine guns/cannons, rocket launchers and antitank guided missiles. In this environment, tanks provide the necessary protection and firepower. Modern tanks with add-on explosive reactive armour (ERA) panels are immune to the fire of heavy weapons, rocket launchers and anti-tank missiles from the front and to some extent from the flanks.
Complexities of Urban Combat
Combat in urban areas is significantly different from combat in the open terrain. This is so at both the operational and tactical levels of warfare. Complicating factors in urban warfare include the presence of civilians, inability to distinguish between civilians and militants/armed militia/terrorists, detailed knowledge of locals of the built-up area, roads, metro/rail network, below and over ground infrastructure which enhance the overall complexity of the urban terrain. This type of terrain invariably favours the defender. Thus if the Army is required to operate in this type of terrain, they would require prior knowledge of the city through maps of the town planning department and other authorities. Tactics are complicated by limited fields of view and fire because of buildings, narrow alleys and roads, enhanced concealment and cover for defenders in buildings, below-ground infrastructure, and the ease of placement of booby traps, improvised explosive device (IED) and snipers.
Nature of Fighting in Urban Environment
The nature of fighting in urban environments is such that it rapidly decentralises and is extremely difficult to control even at the lowest tactical level which in turn demands very well-trained junior leaders (young officers, JCOs and NCOs). At lower tactical levels of a platoon or even a section, infantry
The Desert Reconnaissance Battalion conducts drill in the Urban Warfare Centre