2014 marked the first year in which over 50% of the world’s population lived in an urban area, and projections show that by 2050, that proportion could approach 70%. As these numbers climb, so does the probability that the US Army will be called to operate in a dense urban environment for operations ranging from disaster relief to counterinsurgency and beyond. However, even after 15 years of urban operations in Iraq, the US military struggles to conceptualize, measure, and understand cities in ways that can turn tactical innovation into strategic success.

Recognizing this gap, the Army Future Studies Group (AFSG) tasked the Capstone team with developing a framework to understand dense urban areas as complex, interconnected systems. Through a literature review, extensive interviews with experts from the urban planning, data science, technology, and military fields, and a scenario-based workshop, the Capstone team generated a framework that established four categories into which characteristics of urban environments might fall: human, structural, natural, and institutional. They then presented information requirements under each category, intended to provide insight to commanders on what questions are most important to ask in order to understand dense urban environments and how emerging technologies can be harnessed to answer them. Based on this framework, the Capstone team developed six recommendations on ways to direct investment and optimize organizational processes to allow the Army to best leverage the current revolution in data science and improve their ability to operate in complex urban environments.