« The Army Never Embrac… | Home | COIN is Boring or: Th… »

Exhibit A.1 Where Are the Mock Freeways?

(In the ongoing, never-ending and ceaseless debate over counter-insurgency, Michael C has a unique take: the Army/Pentagon/military never truly embraced COIN and is actively running away from it. Today, he presents another piece of evidence. Click here to read the rest of the series.)

After reading the first draft of my post on building more urban training centers, Eric C called me up and asked, “Michael, what about the freeways? Did the U.S. Army build any of those to practice on?” I told him, “Of course not, America won’t go to war with countries that have freeways.”

Except for...



Libya, who will soon be a part of the Tripoli-Cape town Highway:


Oh, and Iraq has some freeways in it too, including Route Michigan or “IED alley”.

(Honest to God, we looked up North Korean freeways and couldn’t find them. Apparently, America is training for war with North Korea.)

As Eric C rightfully pointed out, we don’t just need urban training centers, we need combat centers with fake freeways and roads. Preferably, freeways and roads that mimic messy urban centers.

Because you train how you fight. The fight will be on freeways.

nine comments

Not to mention that building these training centers would provide more jobs than most high tech weapons projects.

If you really want to be realistic then you should consider that 40% of the world’s population lives within 100km of the coast. So these training centres should have wet (or simulated) approaches to force movement planning (route selection, gap crossing, breaching reinforcing obstacles in canalising ground, traffic control . . .). Further, they should include all the building types found in coastal regions, like warehouses, rail yards, ports and factories – and then incorporate the toxic industrial chemical environment.

Sounds like a tough exercise.

In the interim, I suggest we stop treating urban training areas as linear exercises (clear from one side to the other), but rather as spiral exercises. The buildings will get a bit repetitive, but you can always mix up the streets (after one rotation a couple of streets become canals, as an example), and the whole ex becomes a much more significant challenge in terms of resupply, casualty treatment, battlefield replacements etc.

Man-built obstacles are the new ‘soft soil’ in regard to offroad capability.

Modern vehicles can negotiate soft soil much better than 1940’s vehicles, but we didn’t improve much the ability to cross drainage ditches, walls, fences, anti-noise walls and ramparts, railroad lines on a high stone bed or even only those poles meant to keep cars from moving into pedestrian zones.
Many military trucks can handle most of the above, but not so trouble-free, without damage and reliably that a Bn commander leading almost a hundred vehicles would want to do it all the time.

F., your population/coast ratio is on the same plane with what General Conway, USMC asserted in 2007: in a quarter century, 75-80% of our world’s population will eventually adopt the process of dispersing from urban growth centers and sprawl to adjacent sea coast(s). This environmentally ominous reality not only suggests that sensible counterinsurgency training should be increased (COIN training focused on coastal regions and conditions), but most importantly that amphibious warfare should not be ignored.

@VSA – I’m not sure I fully understand your statement about populations dispersing from urban growth centres. I don’t think they’re going to leave the cities – I think that more cities (most likely of the unplanned variety) are going to emerge in the vicinity of coastal regions.

But that then raises several new questions. So what? Does it really matter to the west that population growth is in urban areas and littorals? What existential threat does such growth present? How would it require forcible entry from the sea? For most of history, most people have lived near water. What is different now? Similarly, if you want to consider where on the planet most people live you can look at this: http://i.imgur.com/CK6aONG.jpg.. It sparked a brief flurry of commentary, but the statement has been true for most of history, so if we think it’s a significant issue we need to explain why that is. Most people live in Asia, near water, and are increasing urbanised. So what?

I see tremendous concern from an environmental perspective. As lightly and unreliably regulated industry proliferates along coastal regions and watersheds the risks for environmental catastrophes abound (I foresee many more regions taking on the look of the Niger delta, for example). As more of the global population moves into urban areas in regions with fragile infrastructure I see greater potential for mass famine in the event of local crop failure, though easier distribution for international relief efforts. But then there’s also greater potential for mass death in the event of earthquakes or tsunamis given the unreliable building codes, and greater potential for rapid spread of pandemics given the proximity of people and dubious public sanitation infrastructure.

So there’s plenty of scope for problems stemming from people living in cities (whether close to- or far from water), and plenty of scope for a desire to ‘do something’ based on emotionally moving news stories. We may be wise to consider the G4 implications (so Sven can get his trucks down the roads), along with G6 and civil-military cooperation implications of these global trends. There will also likely be plenty of gang activity, so there may be a requirement to provide close protection to humanitarian aid nodes (which necessitates urban training, in turn requiring suitable training areas), but that is very different from launching Thunder Runs. It’s also not COIN, so be careful about trying to apply COIN lessons to humanitarian missions.

F., I don’t see a single point in your response to my comment. My original response was intended to supplement the fact that battlefield training should indeed cycle around coastal environments. Do you understand, now?

@VSA – My issue only stems from your use of the word ‘dispersing.’ If you meant ‘expanding’ then we’re in agreement. I also think that we might make a mistake on focussing on COIN (or, for that matter, on straight conventional tactics) when the future security challenges are likely to be something different from what both Nagle and Gentile argue. But again, we agree that it’s going to take place in the vicinity of both built up areas and water.

I agree with the sentiment that future wars will take place around water. I first heard this idea in I believe John Keegan’s A History of Warfare, where one map shows it quite specifically. However, I think a military should primarily maintain the ability to adapt quickly, with multiple terrains it can fight it. Having two separate armies to fight on two different surfaces seems wasteful.

I think the lack of mock up freeways is pretty low on the list of deficiencies and lack of realism in training.