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Knowing and Understanding the Dimension of Urban Warfare

Warfare must be won for the military to complete its job. And for it to happen, planners must first comprehend the nature of the combat they are about to engage in. With the current scenario in Mindanao's heartland, as well as the stigma of the Zamboanga Siege, it could be a good idea to have a serious conversation about having methods that are done in cities. That is the nature of urban warfare.

Infantries fighting close-quarter combat is one of the necessities
in Urban Warfare. Source
As of this time of writing, the war is still ongoing in Marawi City where the military seems to be fully challenged in this kind of conflict that clearing and occupying block by block, house to house, room to room, and street to street means something essential to the Armed Forces to the Philippines to surround the terrorists in the City to exhaust resources and morale that may mean victory to the military.

It was well known that the Philippine Armed Forces already encounter such dimension of warfare in the form of the 2013 Zamboanga Siege which took place on the 9th of September, that have put the whole city at the standstill for three weeks due to the ambitious plan made by Misuari-led Moro National Liberation Front of raising their flag on the City Hall in which that causes the conflict to the fact that the City will not let such a thing happen. Considering that, Zamboanguenos are now giving significance since then that there will only be one flag that will fly in the city and that is the Philippine flag.

Speaking on the nature of warfare, the Marawi Crisis and the Zamboanga Siege do have a fair share of Urban Warfare where soldiers and opposition forces (OPFOR) alike are seeking shelter across blocks of infrastructure where vantage points for snipers are taken and engaging one and another carefully where steps and strategies are carefully calculated. The only contrast there is that the Marawi Crisis and the intensity of combat thrown by the OPFOR make it much difficult for the AFP to engage. Not to mention various factors that will be discussed later in this article.

It was then proved in the past that such battle determines the outcome of the whole war where tactics and strategies executed dictate the results of the overall combat taken especially in the case of urban warfare. Also with that, a different approach on the offense and defense are devised by both forces where gains and losses in that sense are somewhat attainable where ground troops stay safe, key positions obtained, and the outcome of the battle is in their favor varying mission details.

On this topic, it is at best to know a thing about Urban Warfare itself, the tactics and strategies it incorporates in combat, notable examples in history, and the situations comparable between Zamboanga Siege and Marawi Crisis where factors are to be measured based on existing data as well as the ingenuity and engagements of the armed forces on eliminating OPFOR.

United States Military's Stryker Brigade searching for insurgents in
Mosul, Iraq. Obtained from U.S. Air Force Website
Urban Warfare, in its very description, pertains to military combat taking place in an urban setting such as a town or a city. And from that definition alone, it is different from the usual open-field combat or in the Philippines's case, Jungle warfare.

Rand Corporation's interpretation of Urban Warfare ranges from guerilla attacks to gang violence. To take note, others not being mentioned there include terrorist attacks, standoffs, bombings, and some other form of combat in cities wherein for sure, there will be civilians trapped between gunfire as well as the complex dimension of the environment in which that makes the whole operations much complicated.

In other words, due to the nature of urban warfare, many factors must be considered, including civilian safety, the execution of plans to defend or occupy key positions, precision strikes as requested by ground troops, aerial surveillance, and others such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and sentry positions such as sniper vantage points that may kill ground troops or civilians.

Given the circumstances, it would be risky for ground troops to simply stroll around in a war-torn metropolis teeming with hostile forces pursuing them. As a result, strategic maneuvers are required, such as fighting the enemy in such a way that lives are preserved to achieve the fundamental objectives that the military sought to achieve. Not to mention the fact that conquering the city necessitates the preservation of critical infrastructure and civilian life.

Regarding the definition of urban warfare, it is recommended that one review the history of known battles given the urban battle and the tenacity of both sides in achieving their respective missions, in the sense that any executions given may mean victory or loss, as well as life or death, for the city's existence and survival, as well as the ground forces within it.

The Soviet troops on the battle of Stalingrad. Source
Throughout history, there are written records with regards to urban warfare and the way it becomes much sophisticated as the new techniques are executed and technologies are introduced. With the times passing by, the dimensions involved in urban warfare have become more sophisticated especially at present with the rise of terrorism wreaking havoc in key cities in Syria, Iraq, and in the case of the Philippines, Marawi City.

One notable example of urban warfare widely raged in history is the Battle of Stalingrad in the Eastern Front that has taken place in the Second World War. Apparently, the fierce urban street battle mixed with the harsh Russian Winter made it the notable turning point of the war with the battle favoring the Soviet side. Throughout the urban combat, the Soviets hold on by converting key buildings in the area to notable defense strong points for sentries to get deployed so as in the effort to stall the Germans in the attempt to occupy the whole City. It was then until a counterattack was devised which put the Nazis into submission.

Another notable example is the Battle of Berlin at the ending months of the Second World War. The Soviets are on the offensive and have the German Capital City on sight. In that case, the attackers encircle the whole city and envelop the defenders of the City where it held out until the European theater of war ended in May 1945. This is a bit different than those of Stalingrad where the Soviets defended it fully while the Hitler Youth and several old citizens defending Berlin don't stand a chance against a million Soviet Conscript Forces attacking the City.

In both of these aforementioned conflicts, the inhabitants of these cities always facing the brunt where these civilians are at the risk of being shot upon or hit by a bomb which is a usual thing in battle. To further know the extent of such casualties that have taken place in urban warfare, let us take note that the Battle of Manila in 1945 have caused 100,000 Filipino dead with attributions pointed out to continuous bombardment of the U.S. Armed Forces in which it is worth pondering for the planners of the present times to calculate the number of surgical strikes in key enemy positions with the help of ground troops and aerial surveillance.

In these cases, it is known about the factors in determining the tactics used in urban warfare wherein it dictates the outcome as well as the consequences it coincides. And with that also means the fate of those operating on the ground as well as the civilians involved lies in the proper planning, execution, and all of those other factors mixed upon where it favors one or another. 

Ground Troops on the offensive. Photo from ABS-CBN News

Both the September 2013 Zamboanga Siege and the recent Marawi Crisis engaged in an urban setting with similarities and differences pointing out therein. These recent battle situations in Mindanao tested the urban warfare capabilities of the Armed Forces of the Philippines when it comes to dealing with insurgents hiding, setting, and exploiting the environment to its advantage. Here are some of the key points regarding these two conflicts.

2013 Zamboanga Siege AN URBAN BATTLE THAT LASTED 20 DAYS; SEPTEMBER 9-28, 2013
Simba Armored Personnel Carriers lining along Veterans Avenue, Zamboanga City.
From the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
The 2013 Zamboanga Siege was one of the military conflicts that involved urban warfare. It took place near the City Proper which has put the whole city into a standstill, losing millions of pesos in trade and business transactions in the process as work and studies downtown are suspended therein. 

This was purported by the separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari which was spearheaded by a man called "Habier Malik". They aim to raise the MNLF/Bangsamoro Republic flag in the Zamboanga City Hall in which no other hard patriots will let happen. Hence, the heat of the fight intensifies on the parts of the City especially in the villages (barangays or districts) of Sta. Barbara, Rio Hondo, Mariki and Sta. Catalina. From there on, it gives the Armed Forces the first taste of urban combat which was different from the usual Jungle Warfare that was waged across the country whether it may be between the Government and the Communists or the Moro Separatists.

This urban combat also includes human shields that make military operations much difficult to attempt not to kill innocent lives throughout the exchange of gunfire. Also in this battle, just like in any kind of urban warfare, there are key sentry positions where both sides fire sniper rounds, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades at one over the other. Also into consideration is the intensity of the combat given. According to our personal experience, what is currently happening in Marawi is far worse than what occurred during the Zamboanga Siege, because only four barangays or districts in the city are involved, and only a portion of the city's population is displaced, particularly in the four districts where combat is raging.

Concerning the situation in the City, The United Nations declared that the urban conflict in Zamboanga has become a form of a humanitarian crisis wherein with regards to the displaced persons from affected villages, it took a bit of time until these affected persons are relocated to a better site with newer opportunities. This in which, puts a toll on the urban warfare's effects that the lives of the affected civilians will be changed forever. The humanitarian situation for that fact is worth pondering in conflicts such as these that the military's HADR or Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response Capabilities comes at play alongside those of the local government, various national agencies, and non-government organizations.

The Armed Forces, with the situation on urban warfare, may be somewhat a good thing to ponder upon where tactics between jungle warfare and its urban equivalent are different in nature, approach, and tactics. Hence, it may be a good thing for the military to enhance its skills and capabilities as well as the equipment necessary for such combat. And with that, another case of urban warfare arise recently in Marawi City where the combat capabilities of the AFP are once again put to the test.


This crisis is an urban operation much intensified than what the Zamboanga Siege offers where it goes on beyond the period of the previous conflict of 20 days. The Armed Forces in this matter are a bit improved from last time as the fruits of the AFP Modernization Program are materialized such as the Philippine Air Force's FA-50 LIFT jets and AW-109 helicopters that have seen combat, RCWS-armed M-113 APCs made from Israel, support and logistics with the help of Landing Platform Docks like the BRP Tarlac and BRP Davao del Sur, among others.

On an honest note, it seems that the military's overall readiness over the matter still needs to be addressed where skills and capabilities, in that sense, aren't that fully enhanced since Zamboanga Siege. Not also to mention that aside from the lack of skills enhanced in combat, the equipment for such kind of combat is also lacking where the procurement of it is somewhat moving at a slow pace. Military equipment that is needed here are gas masks, tear gas, night-vision goggles, body armor, and smoke grenades where several of them are being materialized therein.

The good thing here is that both the United States and eventually, Australia expresses support by providing surveillance in the area with the use of P-3 Orions to give intelligence as for the whereabouts of the bandits across the city. This is an improvement where drones and these planes go hand in hand to provide precise targets for both ground and air units to fire upon. This is aside from the weapons aforementioned that pertains to its materialization from Modernization procurement projects. And with it, there are more things needed to be done with the capabilities that need to get sufficient of especially the aforementioned military equipment that is lacking.

The "Main Battle Tank" Idea

Given the circumstances aside from the needed equipment for the urban combat, another defense outlet also gives the idea about the necessity of main battle tanks that provide better protection for the ground troops as well as spewing better firepower wherein as per Modernization Plans, the MBTs along with light tanks will be slated in Horizons 3 and 2, respectively. As per this case, it was pointed out that the tanks being opted as per the said defense outlet are either the Israeli Merkava II or Magach 7. To take note, issues like infrastructure not having enough capacity to hold these tanks are being considered with flatbed trailers, rail tracks, and pontoon bridges are an option. For more of this, we will discuss it in future articles here in Pitz Defense Analysis.


Warfare in its sense is fierce wherein a certain militia or an armed forces shall have an aim to accomplish its mission. And in that sense, various conflicts have their own tactics and strategies given the nature of the battlefield and the parties involved. 

In the case of urban warfare, both the attacker and the defender are using any key infrastructure or rubble to hide with combat taking place on streets, blocks, and rooms. 

Having a lot of places to hide makes it difficult for both sides to fare out not also to mention that traps, hostages, trapped civilians, and preserving key infrastructures need to be considered. 

In these things, the point is that urban combat definitely is something that a planner may carefully execute with considerations given as well as the lives of the ground troops are in mind.

(c) 2017 PDA; edited Sept. 9, 2021.

Russian Precision Guided Munitions and the Philippine Military Airstrikes in Marawi City

Throughout the conflict that still taking place in Marawi City, so does the news that precision-guided munitions are being used in battle which is, per se, used in surgical strikes where it was aimed at a specific target without collateral damage. Henceforth, such a topic needs to be discussed thoroughly.

2017 Pitz Defense Analysis
AW-109 strike on enemy positions. From ABS-CBN
As part of the operations to reclaim Marawi from ISIS-affiliated bandits, the AFP is on the offensive where in this Urban format of warfare, the ground troops are gaining street by street, house by house, room by room. And with this matter, miscalculations can cause grave consequences such as this strike that have caused 11 soldiers dead.

That has caused the Defense Department to temporarily suspend the airstrikes that have taken place where ground troops for the meantime will do the job of flushing these bandits out. As detailed in news reports that were given, the aircraft involved is an SF-260 Marchetti plane where apparently, it was armed with conventional or unguided ones that are also called "dumb" bombs. Meanwhile, the same department also opted to acquire Precision-guided bombs from Russia wherein it, as the report says, will be used by FA-50PH jets for airstrikes just like the ones presently taking place in Marawi. Henceforth, the present situation goes the necessity of having these munitions in the arsenal of the Armed Forces of the Philippines wherein such assets will be used and its accuracy on specific targets is an efficient way of flushing out targets without incurring any more further damage or collateral loss in the battlefield just like the recent mishap regarding the so-called "friendly fire"

In this matter, the discussions will be varied from the one confirmed use by the Philippine Air Force to the possible options as per Department of National Defense plans to procure such precision-guided munitions especially the ones from Russia. This development in which, given the situation, is something that may find helpful to enhance capabilities that can be used against any threats like these bandits.

An OV-10 dropped a Paveway precision-guided munition in a
live-fire test.
Via Alert5.com
Known but not common, the Philippine Air Force has a handful of precision-guided munition such as these Paveway laser-guided bombs. These guided munitions from Raytheon in the United States is ever since helping the air force conduct precise surgical airstrikes where a weapon effectively reaches its target without wasting many resources on pounding the enemy as well as minimizing if not eliminating collateral damages.

It was apparently used first in 2012 in Parang, Sulu where it has a destructive yet impressive result where the blast site is deemed great but wrong information was given which render no enemy casualties. But for that, its capabilities help improve the abilities of the pilots where nighttime operations, its GPS or homing device will lead itself to the target. But such use was disputed at that time, wherein itself isn't sufficing the fact that pilots are being trained to use these new Precision-guided munitions that were introduced in 2010.

The Raytheon Paveway comes in different shapes and sizes with the Paveway II also having its own variants of sorts. The Philippine Air Force, in this case, has the GBU-12 Paveway II bombs which are indeed a guided munitions version of the Mk. 82 bomb which in itself the Air Force also obtained in its inventory. And in these, it sought action against insurgents especially in the hot war zones in Mindanao like the present Marawi crisis. Given below are its specifications retrieved from globalsecurity.org.

These precision-guided ordinates are helpful for the AFP to conduct its surgical strikes but are now slowly running out of stock which causes casualties due to friendly fire. Not to mention the recent reports on the use of FA-50PH for bombings in Marawi due to its avionics whereas what airforce-technology says consists of embedded Inertial Navigation System/Global Positioning System (INS/GPS), integrated mission computer, identification, friend or foe (IFF), radar altimeter, multimode radar, store management system, UHF/VHF radio, tactical data link, data transfer and recording system, Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and Countermeasure Dispensing System (CMDS). Its sophistication may somewhat suffice a bit for a meantime where a dumb bomb can be dropped with precision due to its system.

Somewhat to this matter, the slowly-diminishing number of precision-guided munitions in the Philippine Air Force inventory may prompt for the Defense Department to procure more in replacement. And with these also comes the Russian option where the President recently visited Russia for various agreements which includes defense and security-related matters. Such agreements so to speak, give the chance for the military to procure Russian weapons in which the term includes precision-guided munitions. But before that, let us take note of the things that may possibly happen if such an agreement will get materialized.

And the points given in the post on our Facebook page are the potential outcomes that have come in this matter. Despite all of these, one might as well point out the potential Russian Precision-Guided Munitions that potentially may have come out if such a deal, given its plans therein by the Defense Department, will be materialized where conditions are gone favorably in such a plan.

The Russian KAB series.
The Department of National Defense is considering these Russian munitions given also the President's verbal statements regarding the said subject matter wherein the said statements also emphasizes the Russian use of such precision-guided ordinates against ISIS in Syria that in a good sense, its relevance against the Marawi crisis that also involves ISIS-affiliated bandits gives a good relevance that has come up with such proposal.

As per the Russians, the guided bombs used in Syria are the KBU variants 250 and 500 (kilograms). These bombs that were used against extremists are dropped from a Sukhoi jet and were then guided by both the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) and its Russian equivalent which is the GLONASS or Global Satellite Navigation System. To take note, defense agreements and other fields of interest were all signed in Russia wherein it paves the way for the possibility of procuring these precision-guided weapons.

To take note, the word possibility in the deals like these pertains to the chance that it may happen, or rather not depending on the circumstances given such as the AFP's take on its compatibility along with the other factors therein. Insofar as the deals are concerned, the process is still on the "planning stage" of procurement wherein it also gives a chance or a mere possibility as to whether the AFP or the Defense Department will proceed on the deal or not, signifying various factors that will also thoroughly discussed in this article.

The Defense Department's plans of procuring these Russian PGMs, just like any other weaponry they are planning to procure, will be undertaking evaluation where it can be determined its usefulness in the Armed Forces. Moreover, it was being said to help further enhance the ground attack capabilities of the Philippine Air Force's brand new FA-50 jets where the last batch recently arrived which completes the delivery of 12 units. President Duterte also opted to buy 12 more of such fighter jets as per Horizon 2 plans.

In this matter, albeit the promising capabilities it may bring, but in it comes the reality that will surely hamper in this kind of consideration in having Russian PGMs fitted in a South Korean-made fighter trainer jet with subsystems outsourced from the United States. Such a point, aside from the points given above, will be discussed deeper in this paragraph.

Compatibility and Bureaucracy are the main factors to
determine Russian PGM procurement to the jets like these. Photo from John Chua
Aside from the hopes that Russian PGMs can help flush out extremists just like in Marawi City, the said plan is also encountered with numerous problems wherein by its nature, such plans may not be materialized wherein it diminishes the possibility due to several factors played in such a plan or if such a deal may take place.

One of the given factors is the manufacturer's restriction upon weapons integration wherein approvals are deemed needed for it to be realized. Not also to mention the US bureaucratic restrictions that dictate as per the usage of defense articles as well as the other military weaponry with US subsystems attached such as in the case of South Korean FA-50 which are powered by US-made General Electric F-404 engines.

Also, a given factor is the different ecosystems these weapons are produced. The FA-50s are produced in South Korea with systems adhering to the US as well as NATO-based standards wherein its Armed Forces are armed with such weapons adhering that standard. Henceforth, the compatibility of the jets is considered where it is gone vis-a-vis to the systems with those of its Western Allies. 

As for the Philippines, the same does apply wherein like South Korea, it also adheres to Western-based weapons standards which also have come up with the procurement of these jets as the Philippine Air Force restores its capability after it retires its F-5A/B a decade ago. The Russian KAB precision-guided munitions meanwhile are of different platforms and ecosystems where it adheres more with the Russian standard which is deemed different from those of the Western-based ones. 

At present, the Russians as far as it is concern didn't provide a platform for these KAB PGMs to fit for the FA-50s making this deal less feasible. Not also to mention their pessimism on such a defense deal where the Russian doubted it wherein it emphasizes the Philippine laws when it comes to defense spending as well as constitutional provisions about that matter. Also, this article gives an insight, especially on Russian-based PGMs.

In such a case, it will be all up to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and its assessments and evaluations to determine whether it is up to what the military is seeking on precision-guided munitions in what it sees as useful in its mandate such as those presently took place in Marawi and in other insurgency-related issues therein. This in which, lets the AFP seek the weapons it really needs where the government may address it.

Given these circumstances, the Philippine Air Force at present will simply resume its airstrikes where it will rely more on the skills of the pilots through the use of dumb bombs and as well the FA-50 avionics where bombardment on targets, despite the absence of Precision-guided munitions shall be done where it will be executed at the best of their capabilities. Not also to mention the artilleries on the ground that can also do the job.

Russian KAB-500 in use for Syrian operations
The Philippine Military as per posting will still be resuming its operations where with PGMs running out of numbers, the Philippine Air Force may resort to dumb bombs and rely on its pilot skills or avionics to carry it out. But with that also has the collateral damage that has caused 11 soldiers dead which prompts SF-260 planes' operations to be suspended. 

With reports that Russian PGMs like the KAB series are being looked upon by the Defense Department for procurement, it still comes with obstacles where compatibility, bureaucracy, and restrictions being the main emphasis on the matter. Hence, replenishment of Precision Guided Munitions on the diminishing number of Paveway IIs in the inventory may take time wherein it being materialized depends on the assessments of the AFP and the Defense Department. 

As for now, sniper positions have blasted all thanks to airstrikes wherein with that comes the hopes and dreams that the conflict will end, the threat eliminated, and the peace and security of Mindanao will get restore once again.




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