Urban Warfare Training Coming To America: What Do Officials Really Expect?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011
By Paul Martin

Lockheed Gets Big Bucks to Prep Soldiers for Urban War

By Spencer Ackerman
Wired.com
January 18, 2011

By the end of the year, the U.S. Army will leave Iraq. But Iraq isn’t going to leave the U.S. Army.

American soldiers spent seven years patrolling the urban neighborhoods of Iraq; its troops battled insurgents there block-by-block and house-by-house. Now that the Army is getting out of Iraq, it wants to make sure its urban combat skills don’t wither away. So it today it gave Lockheed Martin a contract worth up to $287 million to build Urban Operations Training Systems — essentially, giant simulation facilities and modules to help soldiers get ready for life in the big, bad city.

Versions of those training systems can be as simple as shipping containers tricked out to resemble multi-story houses and arranged in village formations, so soldiers can practice how to seize a building without causing needless damage. The Army’s got an entire 1000-acre facility in Indiana it uses to train soldiers in urban combat.

The contract will include structures like those, which are known as Mobile Military Operations on Urban Terrain systems, or Mobile MOUTs. Lockheed says it’ll help soldiers drill on everything “from traditional war fighting tactics, to nation-building, to overseas contingency operations.” Overseas contingency operations is the new bureaucratic and budgetary term for what we used to call “wars.”

A statement from the company heralding the deal said that the new training systems were likely to include measures to simulate homemade bombs, an indicator that the Army doesn’t think the threat from the signature weapon of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is likely to diminish. That in turn has implications for other stuff the Army wants to buy — especially the new Ground Combat Vehicle, the service’s next-generation transporter. The Army and the Marine Corps have faced criticism for buying so many armored Humvees and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, on the assumption that they’ll rot in the motor pool if troops don’t have to roll through terrain laced with homemade bombs in the future. That may not be a chance the Army wants to take.

Training isn’t destiny, and just because the Army wants to keep urban combat in its toolkit doesn’t mean it’s looking to go stomping through any foreign capitals. One of the Army’s biggest internal criticisms after finding itself mired unexpectedly in Iraq was that its post-Vietnam officers deliberately unlearned how to fight insurgents. Look for the exact opposite to happen here: Army gadflies like Col. Gian Gentile of West Point warn that the Army’s assuming that unpredictable future land wars are going to look too much like today’s counterinsurgencies.

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