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Megacities and DUAs in 2025 and Beyond: Final Report

Megacities and DUAs in 2025 and Beyond: Final Report

Executive Summary


This report provides an overview of technologies, capabilities, and challenges identified through the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2 Mad Scientist (MS) initiative addressing megacity and dense urban area (DUA) challenges for 2025 and beyond.

MS is a TRADOC G-2 initiative organized around themes, problem sets, and challenges the Army expects to face in the future Operational Environment (OE) that allows for continuous learning, adaptation, innovation, and broader engagement in problem solving. Dialogue between Joint military, international partners, academia, policy institutions, and private sector organizations will help the Army explore the evolution of the OE in support of the Campaign of Learning, 2025 Maneuvers, science and technology (S&T) investments, and capability development for the Army. MS is exploring innovative ways to improve the effectiveness of the future force to ensure it can accomplish a diverse set of missions throughout the full range of military operations (ROMO) - to include operating in megacities and DUAs.

By 2050, 60% of the world’s population is expected to reside in cities. Adversaries are increasingly moving to environments where U.S. advantages in detection, standoff, and precision firepower may be constrained. Further, the potential for Army involvement within cities may be exacerbated by global challenges including: liberal trade and economic coordination; climate change; nuclear proliferation; responsibility to protect, and failing states and ungoverned areas. The types of tasks that the Army may be required to perform in a megacity or in DUAs include: Non-combatant evacuation; humanitarian assistance disaster relief (HADR) missions; raids; deny adversary objectives; counter weapons of mass destruction operations; conduct military engagement and security cooperation; provide a global stabilizing presence; provide support to civil authorities, and counter terrorism/counterinsurgency missions. Megacity and DUA environments present a number of challenges that the Army must prepare for and address if it will be successful in future missions. However, military forces are unprepared for future combat in these environments.

To address this gap in U.S. military capabilities, TRADOC G-2, in collaboration with Arizona State University Research Enterprise (ASURE), Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC), and the Army’s Intelligence Center of Excellence (ICoE), focused on four primary objectives that align to Army Warfighting Challenges (AWFCs) as part of a MS Megacities Initiative with the objective that no U.S. Army soldier is at a disadvantage in an urban environment. The four primary megacity objectives are:

  1. Situational Understanding: What emerging concepts and capabilities will enable Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB); Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities; Mission Command Systems; electronic warfare (EW), and a human, demographic, and cultural understanding within megacities and dense urban areas (AWFC #1)?

  2. Freedom of Movement and Protection: What emerging concepts and capabilities will enable access and freedom of movement in, above (buildings and airspace), below (sub-terrain), and around megacities? What new capabilities for Decentralized Urban Logistics can improve sustainment efficacy in urban areas? What will protect vehicles and Soldiers, while enabling freedom of movement, from multitude of advanced and conventional military technologies as well as environmental threats (AWFC #16)?

  3. Expeditionary Operations: What emerging concepts and capabilities will enable expeditionary maneuver; evolve Army Health Support of Operations; enhance the ability to manage or influence large population centers, and offer solutions for achieving partner interests and strategic objectives throughout a range of military operations (during peace and combat operations; AWFC #12)?

  4. Future Training Challenges: What emerging technologies and capabilities must the Army explore and adopt in order to realistically represent the complexities of a megacity to a training audience (home station and Combat Training Centers) allowing the development of cohesive teams that thrive in ambiguity, austerity, or chaos within the Operational Environment of 2025 and Beyond (Human Dimension Strategy Strategic Objective #2; AWFC #8).[1]

Through efforts such as a Megacities and Dense Urban Areas in 2025 and Beyond Conference that MS cohosted with ASURE and ICoE, an online MS technology survey, and a call for academic publications on megacities and DUAs, the MS Megacities Initiative encouraged dialogue and idea generation to support greater understanding of the future megacity and DUA OEs and underlying capability and technology needs.

This report provides an overview of the results of this MS Megacities Initiative. Data was captured from the Megacities and Dense Urban Areas in 2025 and Beyond Conference presentations and discussions, academic publications, and MS technology survey. Material generated through these forums was examined and findings are reported below from the perspective of the four primary megacity objectives, highlighting excerpts from MS contributors.[2] 

The MS Megacities Initiative successfully addressed all four of the megacities objectives, finding that the growing complexity of the OE and more lethal opponents enabled by technology and connectivity will require advanced situational understanding and a system of systems approach to enable decisions making. To successfully operate in increasingly dense and complex environments the Army will rely on understanding and modeling interactions between human and physical systems and should leverage innovative sources of information and big data analytics for situational understanding. The Army will need to integrate expert knowledge with collective intelligence and growing sensor data and explore new analytic frameworks and innovative emerging technologies. The fundamental role of situational understanding in future Army operations is reflected by the results of the MS Megacities Initiative where this topic was the predominant theme.

With a focus on technologies to enable access and freedom of movement, MS contributors began to address the Freedom of Movement and Protection megacity objective. The Army can leverage the vertical features of megacities and DUAs environments, lessons learned from domestic emergency response and evacuation research, and technology advancements in unmanned systems to address some of these challenges to freedom of movement and protection.

To address the Expeditionary Operations megacity objective, a number of technologies were identified with potential to support medical operations in megacities and DUAs, including medical evacuation and care in the field. An intelligence model to support unified action, an operational planning framework for densely populated urban areas, and the use of virtual humans were proposed to enhance situational understanding, planning, and interactions with local populations for expeditionary operations.

The Army will have to continue to explore innovative training methods, new, interdisciplinary curriculums, evolving perspectives that embrace complexity, flexibility, and originality, and advanced technology solutions that can immerse soldiers into megacity environments to address future training challenges.

In addition to addressing topics related to the 4 primary megacity objectives, MS contributors also underscored the importance of trying to attain U.S. objectives without having to engage in and deploy military forces to a megacity or DUA.

Although a number of concepts and capability/technology ideas were generated through the MS Megacities Initiative, this work has only begun to address the complexity of megacities and DUAs. A concerted effort to continue to address this topic, to include: ensuring situational understanding remains incorporated into the TRADOC S&T Needs for the Warfighter; leveraging the TRADOC critical thinking enterprise to focus on megacities and DUAs from the system of systems perspective; exploring the utility of various proposed analytic frameworks; further examining the human component of megacities and DUAs, including informal social networks and governance structures; pilot programs to leverage and integrate diverse data sets; exploring collaboration methods to further engage additional interdisciplinary subject matter experts; and addressing concepts and capabilities to avoid military engagement in megacities and DUAs when possible will further build on the success of the MS Megacities Initiative.

[1] Lawton, Joel and Grubbs, Lee, “Information Paper: Mad Scientist Conference: Megacities and Dense Urban Areas.”

[2] MS contributors defined as: Any contributor of insights provided through the MS Megacity Initiative, including Megacities and Dense Urban Areas in 2025 and Beyond Conference presenters, authors of academic publications submitted in response to the MS call for papers on megacities and DUAs, contributors of ideas to the online MS technology survey, and participants discussing megacities and DUAs in the Megacities and Dense Urban Areas in 2025 and Beyond Conference virtual chat room or Twitter page.