A future war in the Indo-Pacific is highly likely to involve megacity or urban warfare, something that requires new tactics, new technology and dangerous operations in tight areas with little warning, a panel of experts said May 17 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s 2023 LANPAC Symposium and Exposition in Honolulu.
There are more than 30 so-called megacities in the world, which are generally defined as having 10 million or more residents. Many are in the Indo-Pacific. Tokyo is the largest, followed by Shanghai, Dhaka, Beijing, Mumbai and Osaka.
Increased urbanization “is a fact. It is indisputable,” said Maj. Gen. Benjamin Watson, 1st Marine Division commanding general. Watson predicted that any Indo-Pacific warfare will happen in or near an urban area, presenting logistics and maneuver challenges. It will be hard to move, Watson said. “If you aren’t already there and ready to fight, it will be a challenge to be relevant,” he said.
Some of the challenges involve “blue-collar basics,” Watson said. Many things will just be harder, and technology won’t resolve all the challenges in a subterranean environment. “We will fight and win on the backs of our smallest units,” he said.
The Army will need the ability to fight on, below and above the surface, said Lt. Gen. Willard Burleson, 8th Army commanding general and Combined Forces Command chief of staff. Moving underground in subways and tunnels, unseen by sensors, is a capability the U.S. and its partners will need, he said. “There are thousands of underground facilities in North Korea that we have to be prepared for,” he said.
“More than likely, if we have to fight, it will be in an urban area,” Burleson said. “Avoidance may not be possible. A big question, he said, is, “Are we ready for the strategic shock?”
Coordination will be key, including working closely with non-military contributors like local law enforcement and civil servants, said retired Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager, former commander of the National Guard’s 40th Infantry Division.