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Interactive Scenario: Concept for Clearing Hobart

11 March 2020
Urban conflict
Aerial image of Hobart

The following interactive scenario is part of an ongoing series written by Dr Charles Knight on the topic of urban warfare.

Readers are invited to use this Land Power Forum to propose a concept for an Australian clearance operation on dense urban terrain against determined opposition similar to that encountered by the Armed Forces of the Philippines during the Battle of Marawi.  You might suggest ways of employing existing capabilities, or the introduction of different systems—with the proviso that any proposed additional equipment at least have been demonstrated in prototype form somewhere.

The scenario: Approximately a thousand irregular fighters have seized the city of Hobart.  During a month of clashes and negotiation most of the hostage civilian population has been freed, but the militants have thoroughly prepared the city for defence and they have generous stocks of explosives and ammunition.  You may assume that, echoing the deployment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Mindanao, an Australian multi-brigade force can be assembled in Tasmania. 

Suggestions for structuring your response:

  1. Broadly describe the overall force and operational concept and any new capabilities.
  2. Give more detail of the tactical concept at either battle group or combat team level. 
  3. Explain why you think your chosen equipment and methods will be effective, whenever possible giving historical cases that illustrate this.  

You can contribute either by commenting below or by submitting a Land Power Forum response. Submission guidelines for writing a Land Power Forum blog can be found here.

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.

Discussion

Matthew Struthers on 12 March 2020 - 4:17am

Editor's note: This Land Power Forum post is now open for discussion.

Barry McNaughton on 14 March 2020 - 7:47pm

**The scenario: Approximately a thousand irregular fighters have seized the city of Hobart.  During a month of clashes and negotiation most of the hostage civilian population has been freed, but the militants have thoroughly prepared the city for defence and they have generous stocks of explosives and ammunition.  You may assume that, echoing the deployment of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on Mindanao, an Australian multi-brigade force can be assembled in Tasmania. 

..............................................

1st stage: Assessment

1) assess: Threat Level of fighters

Who they are? Where did they come from? Attempt to communicate with them to discover; What is their core Motivation, Ethics & *Demands.?-Hostages, are they knowingly holding any hostages with demands? What is their estimated Military prowess ? Use aerial survelliance to find out  what their weapon arsenal is composed of, pinpoint where the Heaviest weapons are situated, roughly plot where the bulk of their infantry forces are located, 

1.1) assessment of the City.

WILL PRESUME THAT COLLATERAL DAMAGE IS STRONGLY DISCOURAGED. Consult maps to pinpoint where all Power-plants are located, Water Mains, high points, Use aerial survelliance to see if main roads are being barricaded & whether tanks can still be used

2)consolidation of info & choose the right method of Attack

PLAN 1 Siege Tactic

Park some heavy cruisers in the bay, & send in air-strikes designed to 1neutralize all their heavy equipment. Then 2cut-off all shipments into the port & block off all the roads into the City & 3surround the area with regular troops & have sniper teams deployed from every vantage point including on the cruisers, to snipe at fighters by Night & by Day. Then knock out the electricity grids with either naval gun-fire or air-strikes. *MAYBE OVERLY AMBITIOUS here* But... Drop a tonne of salt into the water main so that they cant drink too much water. This could be rectified after the conflict is over with VERY industrious use of water filters Note: Even after being cleared of Threats the City would have to be put into a few weeks/months of Recovery regardless.

Conclusion of PLAN 1. Fighters could be on their knees within weeks with only minimal damage to the City & almost no infantry vs infantry engagements...

~I am experiencing difficulty with Posts going through so I will just post Plan 1 to see if it goes through...

Dr Urban on 20 March 2020 - 8:13am

Barry McNaughton has led the way with an outline plan for clearing Hobart.  He quite correctly says that the first thing to do is to collect information about the enemy. In this scenario we are imagining that it is an equivalent threat to what the Filipinos faced in Marawi.  There is lots of information on the web and you might start with the report the Katja Theodorakis and I wrote 

https://www.aspi.org.au/report/marawi-crisis-urban-conflict-and-information-operations

Barry's plan mentions deploying heavy cruisers to the area.  Although the Royal Australian Navy no longer has any heavy cruisers, he has identified that the fastest way to get indirect fire support to Hobart is almost certainly to dispatch a Navy ship with a gun.  This highlights that for rapid response operations in our Region, Army might be initially reliant on naval gunfire support.  This would add to the politico legal challenges of any urban fight, since on the one hand naval gunfire support tends to spread more than five from the equivalent land based gun and on the other there is growing international pressure to reduce the use of wide area explosive effects weapons in cities.  This is discussed in the ICRC blog below and there are more details on their website here.

https://www.icrc.org/en/document/explosive-weapons-populated-areas-use-effects

Barry also highlights the use of ‘siege tactics’.  This is a broad term and covers everything from throwing a security cordon around an area to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. is important to highlight that the age-old tactic of cutting off a city and then starving the defenders and population together is generally now considered a war crime.  However, in the context of a domestic operation against a nonstate enemy, international law is ambiguous. The restraining factor is likely to be political, even if an argument can be made that it is ethical to cut off necessities into an area in order to reduce the combat power of an enemy before then launching an attack to free a trapped population. These issues are discussed here:

https://www.justsecurity.org/29157/siege-warfare-starvation-civilians-war-crime/

Barry’s suggestion of putting salt in the water supplies is an example of an indirect approach.  Dilution effects mean that most proposals to contaminate water supplies (and from time to time this is discussed in a terrorism context) will be ineffective.  The really interesting aspect here is a legal one.  Whilst there are very clear international prohibitions on using toxic chemicals in conflict and even simply using irritants such as CS would be prohibited in war, salt is not poisonous, nor inherently harmful. It may be that if you are able to introduce salt into the drinking water supply (which would need thousands of tonnes) and turn it into brine you might be able to harass the enemy without breaching the law.  It's debatable whether salt would reliably have the effect you are describing – there are plenty of cases of people drinking salt water and lasting for many days.  Nevertheless it's an interesting twist to the problem and I'll be fascinated to see what else Barry comes up with.

His suggestions about the use of snipers from dominating positions reflect what was has been done in all recent urban battles.  Coalition air forces also demonstrated the capacity to destroy power reticulation systems in Iraq in 2003 with relatively little direct harm to civilians. Certainly, such action will degrade the enemy’s capacity to use IT systems beyond the lifetime of their battery storage.  However the legal implications of the ‘reverberative’ cascading or indirect effects on civilians are also receiving a lot of attention.  The concept is explored further here

https://www.unidir.org/files/publications/pdfs/reverberating-effects-research-agenda-en-653.pdf

So a shout out acknowledgement to Barry, let’s have some more comments and critique!

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