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‘Holding the Door Open’ – Securing a Point of Entry to Facilitate Littoral Manoeuvre in the Near Region’ - Part Five

Enhancing Capability to Secure Urban Points of Entry

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment carry out urban warfare training at the MOUT training area in Townsville.


Gaining and retaining a secure Air or Sea Point of Entry (POE), with existing capabilities is likely to be a personnel intensive task of greater than battle group size. This is because suitable POE will be urban and the consequent challenges of maintaining observation along a secure perimeter there, especially where there are surrounding dominating structures. Securing a POE is a critical Army enabling function for the Integrated Force to execute ‘anti-access/area denial’ (A2/AD) in the littoral as directed by the Defence Strategic Review (DSR). The challenge that these factors create is explained in the previous four articles. This article identifies and explores functional capability enhancements that offer the potential for a smaller force to secure an urban POE more effectively.

Enhancing Capability for the Urban POE Task

Enhancing the capabilities of force elements – that might be assigned as part of a POE Task Group (TG) – would not only allow a smaller force to execute the task but also reduce operational risk. Such enhancements might include modest supplementary training in insertion skills such as fast roping or scaling harbour walls. Such skills which would prepare dismounted force elements (FE) to insert directly into the centre of an urban or dock area by watercraft or rotary aircraft. However, beyond individual training, enhancements to five functions could also significantly reduce the challenges of operating in the urban environment. They are:

  • Communicate, influence and engage inhabitants
  • Understand in complexity
  • Search and surveil
  • Counter: engage screen and jam
  • Defeat and disable

The capability to carry out these functions might be developed and reside within infantry (or possibly reconnaissance) units, or alternatively could be maintained elsewhere as ‘capability bricks’ to be added as required. That choice deserves close examination and debate. This post simply seeks to highlight the relevant challenges and requirements relevant to these capabilities:

Communicate, Influence and Engage Inhabitants

Challenge: Engaging with and positively influencing the people of potential host countries is an important enabler of the DSR denial strategy and is an identified ADF priority during competition. Building on this, regional strategic shaping is tactically essential for the Integrated Force to effectively engage with populations and authorities when securing and operating in an urban area.  In the best case scenario, strong links with supportive local inhabitants might provide an enabling human intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) network, confirming the absence of threat or warning of it.  Conversely, if the threat requires a thorough clearance of residential buildings in a relatively hostile environment, securing an urban POE may be a difficult and politically sensitive task involving a delicate balance between the thoroughness of search and intrusion on civilian populations. Missteps have potentially catastrophic consequences at a political level, so each independently deployed element needs to be able to communicate effectively.

While ideally a host nation would provide engagement functions, provision of sufficient local personnel with both English language skills and authority cannot be relied on. This is especially the case given that operational security considerations usually dictate that only short notice is provided to host nations of a POE Forces arrival. As such, the ADF must be prepared to deploy with liaison staff with adequate language skills, cultural understanding and communication means to engage effectively with civilian leaders, crowds, local police and the military. Importantly, this capability must include host-nation compatible radio and other communication devices as well as trained operators.

Requirement: The ADF requires the capacity to embed effective engagement capacity with each separately deployed FE or patrol (ie. personnel with the essential language and cultural awareness skills). This may require 20 to 30 country-specific trained or specialist staff. In the longer term this capability might be achieved by extensive language training within units, but practical iterations suggest a dedicated organisation is needed in the short to medium-term. Importantly, this does not necessarily have to be a permanent ADF function. A reserve signals unit offers a possible basis for such a capability.

Understand in Complexity (ISR & Geospatial Capability)

Challenge: Tactical understanding in urban environments is difficult. Planners and commanders are confronted with the complications of three-dimensional physical terrain, its channelling, obstruction and concealment. Keeping track of own forces or detected adversaries is challenging even before the complexities of human and informational terrain are considered.  Fortunately, visualisation technology allows detailed mapping and 3D virtual presentation. Meanwhile associated software can analyse intervisibility and provide other forms of decision support, including choosing favourable own force positions and predicting enemy approaches. Such tools can be linked with infrastructure and population databases to give commanders a physical, human and informational understanding of their operational area. If combined with tracker technology, such systems offer enhanced command and control, and if integrated with surveillance systems allow smaller forces to provide greater effects.

Requirement: The development and maintenance of master database that holds detailed Geodata of all relevant regional urban areas is a project that artificial intelligence will likely make straightforward. At a minimum level, operating and supporting an urban-dedicated visualisation system within a TG headquarters – as well as providing updated data into dedicated devices down to section level – could probably be done by two soldiers. Full integration in real-time, including ISR feeds, would need to be integrated with the battle management system, but could be expected to offer great tactical advantage.

Search and Surveil

Challenge: Urban environments offer an adversary innumerable opportunity for concealment. This situation typically dictates that to ‘secure’ an area requires ‘search’ by dispersed soldiers who surveil the surfaces of buildings and scan visible interiors through venting, even when time or political sensitivity may preclude detailed interior search. Subsequently, maintaining security demands the establishment of surveillance of overwatch structures and approaches on a perimeter. This may entail the many Observation Posts (OP) as described in Part Three. ISR and robotic technology, combined with networked data processing, offers opportunities for fewer troops to conduct both urban search and surveillance far more effectively.

Requirement: The ADF needs to procure an integrated system of unmanned aircraft system (UAS), unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) and advanced ground sensors which are deployed by an individual force element (down to section level) to both rapidly search both the exterior and interior of buildings and establish a surveillance screen. The system should have low electromagnetic emissions with cable options, and high sensing reliability. The capability will need to be supported by trained operators at the lowest independent FE level (whether permanently assigned or not) as well as specialist teams headquarters to support the underpinning networking and analytic systems.

Counter: Engage, Screen and Jam

Challenge: The war in the Ukraine has demonstrated the unequivocal threat posed by UAS and UGV. There is a recognised urgent need for capabilities to degrade or defeat adversary drone and equivalent systems. Urban areas compound the UAS threat as buildings offer concealment for operators, obstruct line of sight and offer hidden urban canyon approaches, while kinetic engagement may be problematic amongst host populations. The same constraint may limit kinetic responses to adversary observers in overwatch positions. Countering these threats creates an important role for less-lethal counter UAS and counter-observer systems including directed energy and electronic warfare (EW) technologies, as well as older methods such as the deployment of obscurant screens and erection of physical screens around aircraft and ship unloading areas.

Requirement: The particular challenges of the urban environment must be considered as counter UAS/UGV systems are urgently brought into service. In the short term, there is a need for countermeasure elements such as the deployment of smoke generators and the assembly of concealing and protective screens. These functions will need to be supported by small specialist teams.  Additionally, countermeasures such as handheld obscurant smoke launchers (which are also needed for tactical manoeuvre in the urban environment) should be widely issued individuals.

Defeat and Disable.

Challenge: Seizing and maintaining a secure POV will be depend upon small, relatively widely dispersed elements detecting, destroying or responding quickly to threats which may emerge suddenly, be fleeting, and that have the defensive advantage of protected buildings. There will be very limited capacity to respond with manoeuvre and almost certainly insufficient troops to conduct protracted clearing.  FE therefore must be able to rapidly neutralise adversary teams detected in and amongst buildings. Furthermore, and as a discrete requirement, FE maybe confronted with hostile civilians and must be able to ‘disable’ the threat without use of lethal force.

Requirement: The defeat function requires direct fire penetrating blast munitions with reduced fragmentation suitable for use amongst civilian populations, unlike those currently in –or planned to be in – service. Separately, deployed elements require soldier-portable systems delivering munitions with >2kg high explosive (HE) equivalent to reliably neutralise single positions. Meanwhile, fire support elements need small platforms delivering >8kg HE equivalent to neutralise defended buildings. The latter might be ‘buggy sized’ UGV. Less-lethal technologies are available and they need to become standard issued urban equipment.


This post has recapped how the previous submissions in this five-part series have demonstrated the inherent difficulties and significant personnel requirements entailed in effectively secure an urban POE. It has identified five functional areas where either new capabilities, or adjustment of existing ones, will allow a smaller TG to secure POEs with lower numbers and operational risk. Furthermore, if these capabilities are developed in order to meet the demands of deploying anti-access/area denial capabilities in the region, they will significantly enhance Australia’s capacity to effectively conduct other urban operations.

Complete Series:

Part One: ‘The Primary area of Military Interest’ – Understanding the Urban Littoral Environment in the Near Region

Part TwoArmy’s Role in the Strategy of Denial: Point of Entry Security in the Urban Littoral Environment

Part ThreeThe Question of Urban Perimeter Observation Post Numbers

Part FourThe Question of Urban Position Minimum Strength

Part Five: Enhancing Capability to Secure Urban Points of Entry

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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