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

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