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<nettime> A miniature city waiting for attack (military urbanism)
Geoff Manaugh on Sat, 27 Aug 2005 13:23:42 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> A miniature city waiting for attack (military urbanism)


"Tucked away in the hills north of San Luis Obispo is a miniature city waiting for
attack. Concrete buildings with courtyards hug the grassy slopes, yards away from
a 40-foot sniper tower and shooting ranges. They're part of the newly renovated
urban assault training complex at Camp San Luis Obispo, which prepares California
National Guard members for fighting in close quarters overseas." <1>

This specific "urban assault training complex" is not at all unique, however, as a
recent post on BLDGBLOG has already explored. <2> What's interesting, however, is
the way in which these particular buildings are *designed* and *cinematized*:
"Three small buildings at the complex are modeled after traditional Middle Eastern
homes, complete with walled courtyards" ? or architectural ornament as target
criteria. Within this artificial Marrakech, or Baghdad 2.0 ? or a kind of Mini
Me, Tehran-style ? "[s]oldiers practice storming the buildings and shooting
short-range plastic bullets at mechanized decoys as their commanding officers
record the attack with video cameras." Media, here, is but an extension of the
architectural war environment. Heavily-armed urban film production units
temporarily inhabiting simulated cities: it's all in a day's work if you're
discussing what's known as MOUT.

"Urban areas are expected to be the future battlefield," according to
globalsecurity.org, "and combat in urban areas cannot be avoided. The acronym MOUT
(Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain) is defined as all military actions that
are planned and conducted on a terrain complex where man-made construction affects
the tactical options available to the commander." These are "the advantages and
disadvantages urbanization offers". <3> War, urban design, and "terrain
complexes": it adds up to armed men running through abstract environments.

As Mike Davis writes, MOUT is key to "Washington's ability to dominate what
Pentagon planners consider the 'key battlespace of the future' ? the Third World
city." Rather than learn lessons of pedestrianization, in other words, or how to
control sprawl, or even what radically mixed-use zoning really looks like ? even
perhaps the dire need for stricter environmental safety regulations ? the "Third
World city" apparently offers only one true lesson: how to attack. <4>

The First World military, Davis continues, is "unprepared for protracted combat in
the near impassable, maze-like streets of the poverty-stricken cities of the Third
World. As a result, the four armed services, coordinated by the Joint Staff Urban
Working Group, launched crash programs to master street-fighting under realistic
third-world conditions."

Producing so-called "realistic third-world conditions," of course, requires
constructing decoy villages on rural U.S. military bases, as well as urban assault
training complexes ? complete with Middle Eastern ornaments ? in the hills
outside San Luis Obispo. Call it the new International Style, or perhaps Military
Arabesque. Or just call it "miniature cities waiting for attack."

As the *Stars & Stripes* itself declares, the world's largest military is now
running "various scenarios in 'Combat Town' as part of a Training in an Urban
Environment (TRUE) exercise". <5> The terminology here astounds: "various
scenarios in 'Combat Town'" could surely be the title of a new short story
collection by Don DeLillo, even as "Training in an Urban Environment (TRUE)" could
be a new moniker for a Nike fitness campaign ? yet they're both part of the US
military's rhetorical framing of our combat-prone, global future.

Cities, as they exist in First World military simulations, are virtualized even
further through inclusion in Department of Defense video games. <6> See, for
instance, *Urban Resolve*: "Developed by the U.S. Joint Forces Command, or JFCom,
a division of the Department of Defense, the $195,000 program is a combat
simulation on a massive scale. (...) In other words, it's one part *Risk*, one
part *The Sims* and one part raw supercomputing power. It's also the tool that
could one day give the U.S. military the upper hand in urban conflicts akin to the
ones currently taking place in Iraq." "[U]sing concepts borrowed from artificial
intelligence research," *Urban Resolve* functions somewhere between high-tech city
planning assistant and future warfare prediction device. It is, in fact, now vital
for "helping military leaders determine which types of sensors ? CIA agents, spy
planes, listening devices and so on ? are best for tracking enemy forces that are
hiding in a modern city." Or, surveilling those city-dwellers virtually and in
advance, using AI ? so that you can cut off their power and kill them.

Such computer simulations are increasingly the norm "in a growing number of
defense exercises. With ever-more-sophisticated simulation and modeling
technology, the military today can mix and match real tanks, planes and ships with
forces that exist only on computers ? and those located in virtual training
environments, such as pilots in flight simulators thousands of miles away." <7>

The First World military meets the entertainment industry ? the so-called
"military-entertainment complex" ? via urban design and building contractors. Yet
the phrase "virtual training environments," as we've seen, can also be applied to
modular, fake-Arabesque war villages built in the hills of California. It's the
Disneyfication of urban conflict; the Epcot Center of war.

This connection between architectural contracting and overseas conflict can be
glimpsed elsewhere. See, for instance, the Virginia-based company, Anteon, a
strange hybrid of Archigram <8> and Dick Cheney. Anteon designs and manufactures
modular training environments for law enforcement and military exercises,
including "a mobile, reconfigurable MOUT training facility. Mobile MOUT is a
comprehensive solution, providing a facility that would give units a modular,
transportable training system, featuring:

- Fast set-up and disassembly...
- Various building sites configurations...
[and]
- Changeable interior room configurations" <9>
- thus my comparison to Archigram.

Instant cities in the Third World desert, underwritten by the Pentagon. A series
of questions arises: is modular architecture's future not to be found within
overproduced, avant-garde grad student projects, but in the now ubiquitous Third
World battlefields that seem destined to grow in size and number? Is Third World
urbanization a military (or refugee) phenomenon? If so, does global geopolitical
conflict produce bull markets in modular architecture?

And is the U.S. Department of Defense actually leading the way when it comes to
fulfilling predictions made so long ago by Archigram: that the cities of the
future will be instant; they will be air-lifted in to the middle of nowhere; they
will thrive in a state of continually incomplete assemblage; etc.? Is the urbanism
of the future *military urbanism*?

+ + + + + + + + + +

Note: Images of simulated war-cities and their armed inhabitants from the virtualized
future-present can be found on BLDGBLOG (http://bldgblog.blogspot.com), and at
http://www.qmmuseum.lee.army.mil/mout/urban_warrior.html
<1> http://www.sanluisobispo.com/mld/sanluisobispo/news/local/12393773.htm
<2> http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2005/08/law-enforcement-training-architecture.html
<3> http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/mout.htm
<4> http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0419-14.htm
<5> http://www.estripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=30243&archive=true
<6> http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,65403,00.html
<7> http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,68591,00.html
<8> http://www.designmuseum.org/design/index.php?id=87
<9>
http://www.anteon.com/offer/simulation_training/training_system/offer_sim_train_mobile_mout.htm


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