"Urban" training areas

Copehill Down, (c) apparently Think Defence
Copehill Down, (c) possibly Think Defence
Think Defence:
The British Army also have a number of urban training areas, the best known is Copehill Down on Salisbury Plain.
Sorry, that's no urban training area, it's a rural training area.

Important tactics from urban combat (going from building to building through the connecting walls without ever going outdoors, moving from roof to roof, moving through sewers) appear to be physically impossible there.

The German term OHK ("Orts- und Häuserkampf"; settlement and building combat) would fit better.

Sad thing is that the above training facility looks actually quite elaborate and good in comparison to some others. Training areas everywhere are very unrealistic and good training on normal terrain (with damages to be paid to civilians) have become even more rare than they were during the Cold War. (I write this only because I am not 100% positive that my strong suspicion about such exercises having stopped a long time ago is true.)

Unrealistic training - and it is unrealistic in many ways, not the least because some lack of realism is utterly necessary to avoid accidents - is a major problem of today's modern military forces. It does contribute to the in my opinion low readiness for actual high end warfare.



  1. Doesnt look much like my local city centre I must admit.
    Build 200 of them and you might get a slice of suburbia.

  2. Absolutely agree Sven, its a point I made in the post and will be covering in a bit more detail in the next in the series.

    Copehill Down by the way was designed to look like a West German village!

  3. Of course is about villages.
    Nobody has any idea how to fight profitably a battle in an urban area.
    The old traditional way with lots of infantry is not very appealing.
    So the problem stays on back burner for the time being. Nobody from the developed world has enough infantry to spare - redundant young males - to try an urban battle.
    If I remember correctly in the last 30 years we saw just three more or less traditional cases: Khorramshahr, Beirut and Grozny.

    And second battle of Grozny fits rather well into the american approach tested in Sirte or Fallujah , to level the city until the natives accept defeat.
    You just block it - if you have enough planes it can be done from the air very easy, just shoot anything moving on the road -and destroy electricity and water supply. And then keep bombing them until they surrender. Their kids will die if they don't so it foolproof.
    No need to enter the city with boys you don't have. Just use bombs - and aircraft, cannons etc - you have.
    It's a capital intensive solution of the problem.

    What does not appear in the description - and due to this if fails to show any resemblance to real cases - is the large civilian population living there. They are the families of the defenders. Modern armies just press on those civilians using fire power. Until now it worked perfectly. They are so very vulnerable in urban setting you just don't need to do much else in order to force a surrender.

    Of course you still have to train for small villages.

    1. They may not fit your definition of ‘traditional,’ but off the top of my head there is also Santa Clara in 1958, Hue in 1968, and Kabul in 1995–96.

  4. @MTBradley

    I was thinking more in line of western industrial/information age armies created by quite old low fertility societies with easy acces to abundant capital resources involved in large scale urban combat.
    I think that was the issue Sven raised.

    Hue is a little bit different by being from a different era, different american society. The others are even more remote from the profile.

    1. I cannot think of any counterexamples to negate what I understand you to be saying: that there has been no peer–to–peer urban warfare involving two G8 nations since World War Two. This might be attributable to the old poli sci bromide that democracies do not go to war with one another. I suspect it has to something more to do with economic ties and realistic appraisal of facing the sort of military capability possessed by the G8 nations. On the other hand, are G8-level abundant capital resources a necessity for large scale urban combat? I don’t think any sane government would pick a fight with Hezbollah, for example.

      It occurs to me to add the IDF action in Gaza in 2008–9 to my previous list.

  5. Well, imagine there's a conflict in Ukraine and the state falls apart - and foreign powers intervene in force:

    Grozny was small, Kiew is huge - the Russian Grozny recipe (reminiscent of Berlin '45) would simply not work for a lack of ammunition and personnel.

    The Israeli Gaza recipe wouldn't work either, for Hamas did basically hide instead of defending or even counterattacking in force. The Israelis were not bothered by a threat of opposing outside manoeuvre forces either.

    The NATO Cold War recipe of largely passing by closed terrain like water flows around rocks wouldn't satisfy either. To overrun depots, airbases and to reach political centres wouldn't be the strategy, after all.

    How would SEAD work if a SAM radar can be driven into the shadow of a building on short notice?

    How would AFVs fare if the opponent has top-of-the-line weapons instead of old RPG-7s?

    Would we cordon & sweep a city a hundred thousand houses in search for an understrength infantry brigade left behind?

    Cities were historically important as quarters and railroad hubs, but nowadays even secondary rural roads are paved well enough to support a brigade march and troops enjoy improved protection against the weather.

    Much has been published on urban warfare, but little appears to be useful for great power conflicts. Force sizes and quantity of already trianed reservists are a major issue. I don't believe that demographics is a major issue. Those who pay much attention to the social changes do not appear to take into account that humans can switch into very different modes of thinking in national emergencies or simply when joining the army.

  6. @S O
    Well I think we can use similitude. We should analyse what western military forces already do quite succesfuly - I presume we are talking about a western operation, that was the topic anyway.
    We can identify by studying their modus operandi 2 possible approaches:

    1. Use local proxy to supply the infantry. They can be anything. The range is very large from islamic militants used to crush the attempt of building a secular state in Afghanistan to organizations specialised in narcotics and organ traficking like in Kosovo.
    Firepower, money and equipment is of course supplied by the western parteners.
    It works perfectly, already tested.

    2. If the local oposition has a high degree of popularity and legitimacy, and any attempt to create or use a proxy leads nowhere.
    Then you bypass them. If you don't have a usable proxy there it means you are fighting the natives, at least a majority of them.
    Modern cities are extremely vulnerable.
    You don't have to put the civilians into concentration camps like the british had to with the boers. They are already there.
    If you cut their acces to water and electricity, very easy to do, soon they will have a big problem on their hands.
    Their kids start getting sick and then dieing. We are just a small step from epidemics in modern cities. Stop the utilities and well we are there in a very short period of time.
    What are the locals going to do?
    Well until now they came crawling to surrender.
    Each and every time.
    (I have small children myself and now I perfectly understand the behavior of the natives. It's a fool proof method.)
    We already saw this done in Sirte or Fallujah etc.
    Of course bombing is optional, just to help them think faster and live some reminders afterwards. Bombs are cheap so it is done anyway, but it's not the main line of action.

    These 2 types of actions were tested and retested and they work perfectly.

    No need to completely overhaul the military, bring back conscription, etc. Modern armies don't have the necessary number of quality infantry in order to do a classical urban assault on a large metropolitan area.
    I don't think anyone has any idea how it should be done. Modern infantry weapons have become so powerful and precise that all we knew about urban combat is probably completely useless now.

    So, in conclusion, I believe in a scenario like the one you mentioned one of these 2 options would be chosen.
    Haven't seen a third one until now in the last decades, except Grozny and nobody will do that again.

  7. @MTBradley:

    Well about G8 it's a little bit more complicated.
    Former G7 is an anglo club. Some are under complete military, economic and political control like Japan or Germany. France is an autonomous parter which has a share of the spoils. Degree of control varies, like in any organization. Some are closer to the boss, some are friends, others are controlled and were brought by violent means and are there because they don't have any chance to go independent etc.
    But in essence is the center of the anglo empire. The core, the close partners and vassals.
    So no warfare there.

    Russia on the other hand was/is too well equipped with an enormous quantity of nuclear weapons. No operation of liberation, right to protect, whatever was possible.
    Attacking forces would have been obliterated very fast by the russian military using nuclear strikes. Escalation would have led to a complete annihilation of the the agressors/liberators whatever.
    It's a no win scenario. You don't get oil/gas fields but have to contend with some tens, hundreds or even thousands of nuclear bombs right on your head according to how hard you press.

    "On the other hand, are G8-level abundant capital resources a necessity for large scale urban combat?"
    Yes they are, in my opinion.
    But not in a direct frontal way. The possible lines of action are described in the answer for SO.