Operational Art

Kiwi PME: The New Zealand's Land Warfare Symposium

By Ryan Kelly October 18, 2019

The United Nations (UN) predicts that by the year 2050, 68% of the world’s population will live in cities. 90% of this growth is forecasted for developing nations, specifically within portions of Asia and Africa. As such, it is likely that the future wars are increasingly likely to occur in urban areas and cities. It’s therefore imperative that developed nations make strong considerations concerning the future of urban warfare. The Land and Special Operations Components of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) co-hosted the Land Warfare Symposium 25 - 26 September 2019, which focussed on operations being executed within an urban environment. Whilst the symposium was aimed at the NZDF, many of the issues raised are applicable to the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

The symposium consisted of several keynote speakers with applicable experience in urban warfare such as LTCOL (retd) Kevin Baff, Dr Cathy Downes, Mr Scott Kinner and Brigadier General Romeo Brawner Jr. Additionally, panels were established to discuss specific topics from members belonging to various components of the NZDF. The speakers raised several important questions for leaders of all levels to consider. How can a military wage conflict in a populated space whilst minimising harm to the occupants? What will the future of urban warfare look like? How can a military best prepare for the future?

Kevin Baff spoke first on population effects in an urban environment. He proposed that a city is an organism and as such shares several characteristics with the human body. It is a complex and living environment with countless intricate details and key players. For example, when a patient is sick in a hospital it is generally against everybody’s best interest to prescribe a medicine that will kill the patient. Yes, the sickness is defeated, but was it worth it? Baff argued that urban conflict needs to be treated in a similar vein. Explosive weapons are devastating in an urban and populated environment, and need to be used with precision and discrimination. However, even when they are used precisely, its near impossible to take into consideration the 3rd and 4th order effects. A functioning hospital shouldn’t be targeted, but what happens when you target fuel installations to have a tactical effect on your enemy? The doctors and nurses can’t drive to work without fuel, the backup generators can’t function, and how does the hospital continue to operate when the power inevitably fails? What systems need to be in place to analyse the future effects of each tactical decision?

Dr Cathy Downes asked the audience to consider future technologies. The four areas of technological growth rapidly effecting warfare are nano-tech, bio-tech, information tech and artificial intelligence. These technologies will affect the social landscape of the world, as well as the future of warfare, by providing new weapons and domains to wage war. Kinetic means may be fought through biological and nano-warfare as well as precision targeting, whilst the information domain is being fought out between highly advanced artificial intelligences. It does sound like borderline fantasy, but the technology we have now would astound the average soldier 30 years ago, so how can we comprehend the means of warfare around in the year 2050?

When considering the future of urban warfare, it’s difficult to imagine what the future city will even look like. Will we trend towards future cities like familiar movies such as Blade Runner or Mad Max? Or will it end up as something we cannot even fathom? It’s hard for our brains to conceive and contextualise the exponential growth occurring in each of these areas and what that’ll mean for warfare in the future. So how do we prepare? How do commanders train their forces to be functional in potentially a very extremely different version of the future than we can currently picture?

Scott Kinner, from the United States Marine Corps, started by stating, “The only true law in war is the law of economy”. Any given country only generates a given finite amount of money, or Gross Domestic Product. Of this money, only a specific portion is allocated to their Defence Force. No army can have everything, so before wishing you had the shiniest and newest bit of equipment, ask yourself - what are you willing to give up in order to get something else? He argued that you need to ask the hard questions about what you as a m,ilitary  need to be good at, and design your force, capability and structure around that answer. What are you doing? Against whom? Under what conditions? To what ends? With what resources? Using what tactical system? After these answers are determined, conviction in those answers and confidence to shape the force accordingly is crucial.

So what will the future of urban warfare look like? How should forces and capabilities be structured to combat future adversaries? How will future militaries defeat a violent enemy without harming the organism that is the city? More questions were asked during the Land Warfare Symposium than were answered. It shows that even the experts don’t have all the answers. It’s up to our future leaders to consider and set a direction for the future of urban warfare.



Ryan Kelly

Ryan Kelly is a junior officer from the 8th/9th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment. He attended the Land Warfare Symposium as representative from 7 BDE.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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