Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT), as the US call them, or Fight in Built-Up Areas (FIBUA), as NATO refers to them, present a number of significant challenges for the military forces engaging in such environments.
Firstly, with each building, which may be several storeys high, narrow street and blind corner the military face endless potential threats and constrains.
Secondly, the tri-dimensionality of the urban space, with rooftops and sewers, also presents an additional element of stress to the military force seeking to conquer the city. For instance, while snipers may be hiding on rooftops, the enemy force may use sewers and/or tunnels to store ammunition or circulate under the city unnoticed.
Finally, high population density results in numbers of ethical and juridical questions for the military forces that are largely absent from military operations in open areas: On the one hand, it is key to ensure the protection of the local population; on the other hand, the possibility that the population may not be a neutral party to the conflict, potentially willingly or unwillingly providing supplies to the enemy forces, is ever present. These characteristics provide the enemy force with endless opportunities for surprise tactics, through ambushes and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), and to use the population as a shield. They therefore make tactical planning of Obstacles, Cover and Concealment, Observation, Key Terrain and Avenues of Approach (OCOKA), particularly difficult for the military. As such, training for MOUT is indispensible to ensure that company commanders acquire the tools to develop appropriate tactics, and that soldiers are prepared for the many challenges and threats they will be facing.
The French training centre for urban combat (Centre d’Entraînement aux actions en Zone Urbaine – CENZUB) located in Sissonne, Northwest France, opened in 2004 in response to such need. Spreading over 6000 acres, the centre includes the reproduction of a small slum, called Beauséjour, a shooting range to train for firing in urban areas – which usually involves engaging an enemy force less than 200m away – and the reproduction of an urban area, called Jeoffrécourt. Training at the CENZUB takes place over two weeks, and involves a company on rotation from the infantry, cavalry, artillery or engineers, accompanied by battalion reinforcements from any or each one of the other companies. “During the first week, the soldiers take classes that introduce them to MOUT doctrine as well as workshops that prepare them for the challenges and tactics inherent to MOUT”, says Lieutenant Charlotte, communications officer at the CENZUB.
The second week, the simulation exercise takes place in Jeoffrécourt and is divided into three parts: Monday and Tuesday, the company deploys within the city and progressively secures the buildings against enemy forces; on Wednesday the ‘population’ returns to the city, and the company is responsible for maintaining order as well as ensuring the functioning of basic infrastructure and services; and, on Thursday the company needs to protect the city against an attack launched by the enemy force seeking to reclaim the city.
The CENZUB staff, approximately 400 civil and military, includes a permanent adversary force (FORce ADverse – FORAD), which is trained to play the roles of adverse military force, militia or civilians, according to the scenario of the day. Jeoffrécourt, which spreads over 1km2, is arguably one of the most comprehensively developed centres for MOUT training in Europe. Complete with an industrial complex, a residential area, a city centre with a church and a city hall, and a wider urban space where a hospital and a nursery are located, the training site is ideal to enact multiple scenarios for taking over and securing an urban area. In terms of equipment, each company on rotation comes with its own capabilities, which can at times also include the deployment of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) DRAC (Drone de Reconnaissance Au Contact – contact reconnaissance UAV) developed by French company Survey Copter (now Cassidian), or the French Army Light Aviation (ALAT) helicopters Aerospatiale Gazelle SA342 and the Airbus Helicopter Tigre.
The FORAD’s capabilities comprise old French army vehicles: armoured vehicles (Vehicule de l’Avant Blindé – VAB); wheeled tank destroyers AMX 10, AMX-30 B2, AMX-30 BRENUS; and, engineer company vehicles, EGRAP (Engin du Génie RApide de Protection) and AMX-30 EBG main battle tank. While the soldiers from the training infantry company are equipped with Safran’s FELIN soldier system, an integrated system for dismounted combat, the FORAD are equipped with a different uniform depending on the role they are playing: Blue for militias, black for adverse military force, and normal clothing for civilians. All soldiers are equipped with the GIAT FAMAS (Fusil d’Assault de la Manufacture d’Armes de St-Etienne), which are altered to shoot blanks and are equipped with a laser, as well as a vest and helmet on which multiple sensors have been sawn in that are activated by the FAMAS laser when a soldier has been shot. If a soldier gets shot, a small screen in their jacket tells them if they are lightly wounded, badly wounded or dead, thus triggering a response from the team that needs to quickly react by either evacuating them or leaving them behind.
“Military operations in urban areas require the highest degree of inter-battalion cooperation,” Captain Martin, instructor at the CENZUB, said. “The aim of the CENZUB is to train company commanders to develop tactics that will allow them to conquer an urban area through joint tactical battalions formation and coordination,” he concludes.