Discover the Impact of Exercise on Urban Warfare Performance

Discover the Impact of Exercise on Urban Warfare Performance

Urban warfare, often dubbed as "warfare in hell," stands as one of the most challenging styles of combat globally acknowledged. In recent years, it has become inevitable in localized conflicts, being highlighted more prominently than ever due to its complexity in battlefield environments and strategic importance.



The physiological state of soldiers is crucial for both their safety and the success of military missions in ground combat. Therefore, it is imperative to determine the actual requirements of military tasks to ascertain genuine operational demands. Previous research has evaluated the physiological demands, exercise characteristics, and cardiopulmonary responses during military field exercises. One report found that the optimal state occurs when the intensity of a task is approximately 50% of the body's maximum aerobic capacity, as exceeding this threshold may lead to fatigue and compromise performance. Other studies identified tasks such as carrying, lifting, digging, climbing, and marching as the most physically demanding for soldiers.

To understand the physiological responses of soldiers wearing body armor during intermittent or repetitive high-intensity military exercises and their impact on combat capabilities, the Swedish military employed body sensors and simulated combat to analyze the physical performance and characteristics of ground combat units in urban warfare operations.



The study included 42 (three women) combat engineering soldiers from a Swedish regiment: 14 squad leaders, 11 gunners, 12 combat engineers, and 5 drivers. Baseline characteristics and the main findings of the graded treadmill exercise test (GXT) for the participants are summarized in  Table I .


All soldiers had served in the military at least 8 months by the time of the study and were familiar with the simulated combat exercises. Before the exercises, maximal oxygen uptake (V̇O2peak) and maximal HR (HRmax) were measured in participants wearing combat gear and body armor. 

On-Site Exercise Actions

Four different urban combat scenarios were arranged:

Urban terrain military operations are typically decentralized and challenging to monitor. Within the operational area of the platoon, a squad advances along one or two streets. Sometimes, in controlled areas, defensive positions are occupied or clearance operations are conducted in evacuated civilian buildings. In urban terrain warfare, the primary offensive tasks of platoon and squad levels involve attacking and clearing buildings. This includes close combat, isolating targets, suppressing threats, advancing assault units, and assaulting and clearing buildings. The platoon leader typically divides his platoon into two sections: a support section and an assault section.

Task 1

The urban warfare exercise lasted approximately 8 hours, during which the platoon executed a mission to attack and clear buildings, primarily involving advancing through infiltration attacks, seizing and clearing buildings, and then consolidating, reorganizing, and establishing perimeter defense.

Ambush Combat Description: In this operation, the pressured forces aim to win time by slowing down enemy attacks and inflicting maximum damage without necessarily engaging in decisive combat. Delaying tactics wear down the enemy so that the forces can regain control through offensive actions, buy time to establish effective defense, or determine the enemy's intentions as part of security operations. A platoon typically operates within an area ranging from 3x5 kilometers to 5x10 kilometers, with the area primarily determined by terrain and time conditions.

Task 2

Task 2 involved delaying the enemy for at least 4 hours, ultimately enabling a mechanized battalion to defeat the enemy. The squad was assigned to an operational area and had sufficient time to prepare defenses in actual covered terrain. Subsequently, they delayed time through a combination of ambushes, mines, and indirect firepower.

Task 3

Task 3 was similar to Task 2, but with slightly less time to prepare defensive actions. Consequently, more ambushes were shifted to different combat positions to execute the delaying actions against the enemy.

Task 4

The unit was assigned to a combat area where the commander formulated a combat plan based on defense, attack, as well as mines and indirect firepower. The platoon had sufficient time to prepare defenses in actual terrain, leading to combat conducted in narrow alleys with significant offensive elements that delayed on-site actions. The mission was to slow down the enemy's advance so that another mechanized battalion could launch a counterattack.

To depict actual combat more effectively, platoon and squad commanders were unrestricted in their execution of the above tasks, choosing combat strategies they deemed appropriate. In each task, enemy actions were controlled to ensure parity between engagement distance, aggressiveness, and cessation of enemy activities. All exercises used blank ammunition. Soldiers wore combat gear, including webbing, body armor, and helmets. The average combat load (excluding weapons) was 17.3±2.6 kilograms, approximately 22.9±4.5% of body weight (a healthy weight). Variables monitored during different tasks included (1) heart rate, (2) distance traveled, (3) maximum speed of movement, (4) maximum acceleration and deceleration, and (5) frequency of acceleration and deceleration.


I. Physiological Performance Aspect

This study demonstrates that the exercise characteristics and physiological performance in ambush and urban warfare exhibit intermittent operational features. The average heart rate of soldiers corresponds to mild work intensity, with soldiers spending over 25% of the time exceeding 40% of their maximum aerobic capacity; gunners experience even greater workload, with over 57% of the mission time spent exceeding 40% of their maximum aerobic capacity. (This ultimately affects combat effectiveness, as it is the most prone to fatigue.) Individuals with heavier body weights are less affected by additional loads, while those with lighter body weights exhibit higher cardiopulmonary loads. In typical military tasks, the load remains constant, independent of the weight of the carrying personnel. Individuals with lighter body weights experience faster heart rate increases and fatigue when carrying the same weight load.

Note: Why use 40% of maximum oxygen consumption as the baseline? According to Strandell, measuring the average work intensity of a task close to 40% of its maximum aerobic capacity is the threshold for sustained work intensity.

II. Exercise Characteristics Aspect

This study reveals that the most common action performed by personnel in urban warfare is sprinting and deceleration. Across different exercises, soldiers' acceleration ranged from 2.8m/s to 4.9m/s per minute, with the total number of accelerations per unit time comparable to that of a soccer match (90 minutes). Sprinting and deceleration are activities with high metabolic demands, increasing energy expenditure and muscle fatigue compared to steady-state running.

These findings shed light on the physical demands and performance characteristics of soldiers engaged in urban warfare, providing valuable insights for military training and operational planning.


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