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Urban Warfare Project

News & Politics Podcasts

As the world is increasingly urbanized, military forces must be prepared for cities to become battlefields. The Urban Warfare Project Podcast, from the Modern War Institute at West Point, features insightful discussions with scholars and practitioners as it sets out to explore the unique characteristics of urban warfare.


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As the world is increasingly urbanized, military forces must be prepared for cities to become battlefields. The Urban Warfare Project Podcast, from the Modern War Institute at West Point, features insightful discussions with scholars and practitioners as it sets out to explore the unique characteristics of urban warfare.




Forecasting the Future of Urban Warfare

In this episode, John Spencer is joined by retired Colonel Kevin Felix. He served 30 years in the US Army, with his last assignment as chief of Army Capabilities and Integration Center's Future Warfare Division. He describes the Army’s different approaches for thinking about and studying the future of warfare, including major efforts beginning in 2014 to focus on global urbanization, including by incorporating it into wargames like Unified Quest. The discussion highlights the complex challenge of predicting the future, developing warfighting concepts informed by those predictions, and ultimately making decisions about what the future of warfare will require of the US Army.


Helicopter Missions in Mariupol

During the 2022 Battle of Mariupol, approximately three thousand Ukrainian defenders, vastly outnumbered by Russian forces, were quickly surrounded in a steel plant with their backs to the Sea of Azov and little hope of anyone coming to their rescue. Running out of ammunition, short of medicine, and with casualties mounting, they were in desperate need of resupply. A bold plan was conceived, which would involve risky helicopter flights to the besieged defenders. In this episode, John Spencer is joined by retired Colonel Liam Collins. Together, they discuss their research in Ukraine and what they learned about these resupply operations during the battle.


Urban Warfare 101

Over several dozen episodes, the Urban Warfare Project Podcast has explored many of the unique challenges of urban warfare. But what is urban warfare, exactly? The simple answer is that it's simply combat that takes place in the man-made terrain of cities. But going deeper, what are the variety of urban patterns and urban functions, for example, and how do they influence the conduct of military operations? What about building types and construction materials? And how do all of these variables inform the way militaries conceptualize urban environments? These questions and others form the foundation of our understanding of urban warfare and are addressed in this special episode.


Inside the Fight for Mariupol

When Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, one of their first targets was the city of Mariupol. The battle that followed is an epic story of resistance in which a very small number of Ukrainian fighters defended the city for over eighty days against a Russian force five to eight times their size, preventing the Russians from diverting to other parts of Ukraine. In this episode, John Spencer is joined by Aiden Aslin, a British citizen who took part in that battle and was captured by Russian forces there in April 2022. His experiences offers a unique view of how the Battle of Mariupol unfolded, and the details of his captivity as a Russian prison of war for over five months offer a glimpse into an often unseen aspect of the war.


An Urban Warfare Christmas Wish List, 2023 Edition

Iraq, Syria, Nagorno-Karbakh, Ukraine, and now Israel. The past year has seen no shortage of urban warfare. In this holiday-themed episode of the Urban Warfare project, Colonel (CA) John Spencer is joined by two urban warfare scholars to talk about the unique capabilities, ideas, and initiatives they hope Santa will bring. Major Jayson Geroux is a member of the First Canadian Division Headquarters and Mr. Stuart Lyle is the urban operations research lead for the UK-based Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. From urban operations training and education to unique equipment designed specifically for the challenges of urban environments, the discussion highlights what is necessary for militaries to improve their preparedness for urban warfare.


Inside the Battle of Marawi

In this episode Dr. Charles Knight joings John Spencer to discuss the Battle of Marawi. A senior lecturer in terrorism, asymmetric conflict, and urban operations at Charles Sturt University and a senior researcher at the University of New South Wales, Dr. Knight has researched and and written about the 2017 battle, in which the Philippine Army fought against Islamic State fighters over the course of five months. With the two sides fighting through the streets, alleys, and buildings of Marawi, it was one of the biggest and most high-intensity urban battles of the modern era.


The Law of War and the Urban Battlefield

The laws of war govern the initiation and conduct of armed conflict. What can be legitimately targeted? What constitutes a war crime? The laws of war provide answers to these questions and others. They apply everywhere, but there are unique considerations in certain environments—especially in cities. The hostilities in Gaza over the past several weeks offer a case in point. To examine the laws of war and their application in urban areas, and to specifically explore the case of Gaza, John Spencer is joined in this episode by General Charles Dunlap, a retired major general and former deputy judge advocate general of the US Air Force who is now a professor of the practice of law and executive director of the Center on Law, Ethics, and National Security at Duke Law School.


Military Ethics and Urban Warfare

In this episode, John Spencer is joined by Dr. Deane Baker, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales, Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy. He specializes in the ethics of armed conflict, and he joins the podcast to discuss his research on military ethics and how ethical dilemmas present themselves on the battlefield. In particular, he explains why urban warfare creates a context that generates unique ethical concerns—concerns that remain unresolved and are of interest to both warfighters and ethicists.


The IDF Approach to Protecting Civilians in Urban Warfare

Almost immediately after Hamas launched its brutal set of terrorist attacks in Israel, it became clear that the Israel Defense Forces would respond militarily. That meant a campaign against Hamas targets in Gaza. Because of Gaza's heavily urban terrain and the specific location of Hamas military forces, the fight has occurred—and will continue to occur—in deeply challenging environments for military forces, places where the law of armed conflict's provisions aimed at protecting civilians must be followed. To understand the specific measures in place to do so, John Spencer is joined on this episode by Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces. He describes the range of mechanisms adopted by Israeli forces to minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian property in urban warfare.


What Can the IDF Do about Hamas Tunnels?

If the Israel Defense Forces conduct a ground campaign in Gaza, the threat of Hamas tunnels will be one of the most significant challenges to contend with. But how many of these tunnels are there? What can Israeli forces do about the tunnels when they encounter them? Can they seal them? Can they destroy them with bunker-buster munitions or other explosives? The answers to these questions are not simple. In this episode, John Spencer welcomes Dr. Daphne Richemond-Barak back to the show. She is a professor at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy at Reichman University, author of the book Underground Warfare, and creator of the International Working Group on Subterranean Warfare.


Israel, Gaza, and the Looming Challenges of Urban Warfare

On October 7, when the militant group Hamas launched a large-scale set of coordinated attacks against Israel, the tragic result was the deadliest day in the country's history. In this episode, host John Spencer is joined by Dr. Jacob Stoil, the chair of applied history at the Modern War Institute and an associate professor of military history at the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies. Together, they trace the Israel Defense Forces' initial response and contextualize the massive mobilization of three hundred thousand military reservists. This sets the stage for the discussion to explore an important question: If Israel launches a ground campaign into Gaza, what can they expect to encounter?


When War Goes Underground

What incentives do armed actors have to operate in subterranean environments? What are some of the unique challenges that underground spaces pose to military forces? And why is underground warfare occurring increasingly frequently? To explore those questions and other features of conflict in the exceptional terrain of the subterranean, this episode features a conversation with Dr. Daphne Richemond-Barak, an assistant professor at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy, and Strategy, head of the international law desk of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at IDC Herzliya, and author of the book Underground Warfare.


Surviving Occupied Mariupol

On February 24, 2022, when Russian forces invaded Ukraine, they quickly targeted several key cities. One of those was the industrial hub of Mariupol. For three months, Ukrainian forces defending the city held out, until they were told to surrender on May 20. While thousands were taken into captivity, many whom are still being held as prisoners of wars, at least one civilian fighter, a man named Gennadiy, survived and remained in the city. In this episode of MWI’s Urban Warfare Project Podcast, John Spencer tells the story of the man who fought the Russian invaders at the Battle of Mariupol, was captured and tortured, resisted, escaped, and survived in the rubble of the city for nine months, before he was rescued in an operation by Ukrainian special operations forces.


Training Ukrainians in Urban Warfare

How does Ukraine’s military balance the need to train its forces and fight in a major land war at the same time? In short, any way it can. That includes training led by a number of organizations created and staffed by foreigners in Ukraine, among whom are a number of military veterans from the United States. In this episode, John Spencer speaks to one of those them. Retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel Erik Kramer is the cofounder and director of the Ukraine Defense Support Group. He describes his work training the Ukrainian Armed Forces and explains how he has modified the training based on unit needs and the evolution of the war—specifically, the challenges Ukrainian soldiers face on the urban battlefield.


Creating a Unit Optimized for Urban Warfare

In this episode, John Spencer is joined by Stuart Lyle. The urban operations lead for the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, he describes a series of research studies and events that led to the creation of a new type of unit called Phalanx. Optimized for the unique challenges of urban warfare, the British Army is currently experimenting with the new unit. He also explains the historical trends that influenced the form Phalanx would take and details the specific changes made to company-sized infantry units to enhance their performance on the modern urban battlefield.


Protecting Civilians in Urban Warfare

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year, a series of battles have taken place for control of cities—Kherson, Mariupol, Kharkiv, and many more. Each of those fights have shared a common characteristic—the presence of civilians—that also represents one of the greatest challenges in urban warfare. Specifically, how can a military force protect noncombatants while it seeks to accomplish its objectives in a city? To explore this question, John Spencer is joined on this episode by Sahr Muhammedally from the Center for Civilians in Conflict, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to convince parties to armed conflicts to recognize the dignity and rights of civilians.


Defending Mariupol

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, one of its first targets was the city of Mariupol. Despite being outnumbered by—and less well equipped than—their adversaries, Ukrainian defenders held out for three months. As the Russian siege of the city intensified, Ukrainian forces defended a shrinking perimeter with a command post in the Azovstal steel plant. One of those Ukrainian defenders was Sergeant Arseniy Fedosiuk. He joins John Spencer on this episode, relaying his experience in Mariupol, exploring the unique challenges of defending urban terrain against a superior enemy, and describing what happened at the end of the three-month battle, when he was taken prisoner by Russian forces.


Tanks in the Urban Battle of Suez City

In this episode, the second in a two-part series, John Spencer continues his conversation with retired Brig. Gen. Yom Tov Tamir. In the previous episode, he reflected on his long career as an armor officer in the Israel Defense Forces, in which he held positions from tank commander to division commander. Part two picks up with a description of his experiences during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, including the last battle of the war, the Battle of Suez, which ended disastrously. Based on his experiences, he shares his his thoughts on the role of armor in urban warfare and complex layered defenses.


Israeli Armor in the Yom Kippur War

In this episode, the first in a two-part series, John Spencer is joined by retired Maj. Gen. Yom Tov Tamir. He served a long career in the Israel Defense Forces as an armor officer holding positions from tank commander to division commander. In 1973, he was an armor battalion commander during the Yom Kippur War. In part one of the conversation, he reflects on his career as an armor officer—from a secret trip to Germany in 1964 to learn about American tanks, through his service in the 1967 Six-Day War, to the Yom Kippur War. The discussion lays the foundation for part two, which covers the role of tanks in urban warfare, including drawing lessons from the 1973 Battle of Suez City.


Synthetic Training Environments and the Future of Urban Warfare

In this episode, John Spencer is joined by Rob Taylor, company director of 4GD, a UK-based organization that specializes in developing unique close-combat training facilities—what the company calls "SmartFacilities." He describes those training facilities, how the physical aspects of training can be integrated into synthetic, "integrated reality" environments, and more.