Recently, The Intercept published an internal Pentagon video it obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. The short film — entitled “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity” — was used to educate elite United States soldiers on the world’s urbanized, dystopian, overpopulated future and all the military challenges that will come along with that future.

After The Intercept released the video early in October, a Pentagon spokesperson explained its function. It was used at the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations University, in Florida, to train future strategic leaders and troops. “It was made for an internal military audience to illuminate the challenges of operating in megacity environments,” Army spokesperson William Layer explained to The Intercept. From the context, the video was probably produced in 2014 or 2015. The video’s creator, who declined to release his or her name, did it for free. In depicting the apocalyptic future, though, the creator identified five troublesome, current groups, each emblematic of the future’s factions.

Here are those five groups, each serving as a placeholder — in the Pentagon’s eyes — for the groups that will emerge within the future’s megacities to disrupt the world as we know it. (Aside from these five specific groups, the video features various rioters, protesters, and revolutionaries from around the world — in Greece, in Kiev, and in Syria, for instance.)

ISIS.
ISIS.

1. ISIS & Al-Qaeda

“Religious and ethnic tensions will be a defining element in the social landscape.”

ISIS makes just one appearance in the video, to symbolize what can happen when megacities form and squash together radical, opposing ideologies. Al-Qaeda also makes an appearance.

Anonymous.
Anonymous.

2. Anonymous

“Where physical domains can be seen, digital domains will have limitless potential to breed and expand without limit. Digital security and trade will be increasingly threatened by sophisticated, illicit economies, and decentralized syndicates of crime, to give adversaries global reach at an unprecedented level. This will add to the complexities of human targeting, as a proportionally smaller number of adversaries intermingle with the larger and increasing number of citizens.”

There’s one vague shot of someone sitting outside, with his face obscured, on a laptop. After that image comes the familiar Anonymous YouTube screenshot, featuring some hacker in a Guy Fawkes mask reading from a script.

Mexican cartels.
Mexican cartels.

3. Mexican Cartels

“As historic ways of life clash with modern living, ethnic and racial differences are forced to live together, and criminal networks offer opportunity for the growing mass of unemployed. This becomes the nervous system of non-nation state, unaligned individuals and organizations that live and work in the shadows of national rule.”

Cartel gangs appear twice in the Pentagon’s video: first, two members posing outside of a currency exchange center, wearing balaclavas, body armor, and armed with AK-47s. Second, a man stands in a street armed with a shotgun, his face completely obscured.

Venezuelan gangs.
Venezuelan gangs.

4. Venezuelan Gangs

“The cities that grow the fastest will be the most challenged, as resources become constrained, and illicit networks fill the gap left by overextended and undercapitalized governments.”

Unrest in Venezuela led to the formation of violent gangs, which the Pentagon thinks signals what’s to come in our massively urban future.

MS-13.
MS-13.

5. MS-13

“The scale and density of these domains is daunting. In a city of 10 million, where you hold the support of 99 percent of the population, the remaining one percent represents a threat of 100,000. It is an environment of convergence, hidden among the enormous scale and complexity of the megacity. These are the future breeding grounds, incubators, and launching-pads for adversaries and high-bred threats. Linked globally, these are man-made labyrinths that provide refuge and movement across the vast sections of these cities, where alternate forms of governance have taken control.”

MS-13 — or Mara Salvatrucha — is a Los Angeles-based criminal gang that operates all over the world. MS-13 members are known for just about every illicit act in the book.

Here’s a transcript of the video: The Pentagon’s dim view of the world by 2030.

The future is urban. By 2030, urban areas are expected to grow by 1.4 billion, with that growth occurring almost entirely in the developing world. Cities will account for 60 percent of the world’s population, and 70 percent of the world’s GDP. The urban environment will be the locus where drivers of instability will converge. It is the domain that by the year 2030, 60 percent of urban dwellers will be under the age of 18.

The cities that grow the fastest will be the most challenged, as resources become constrained, and illicit networks fill the gap left by overextended and undercapitalized governments. The risk of natural disasters, compounded by geography, climate changes, unregulated growth, and substandard infrastructure intersect to frustrate humanitarian relief. Growth will magnify the increasing separation between rich and poor. Religious and ethnic tensions will be a defining element in the social landscape. Stagnation will coexist with unprecedented development, as impoverishment, slums, and shantytowns rapidly expand alongside modern high-rises, technological advances, and ever-increasing levels of prosperity.

This is the world of our future. It is one we are not prepared to effectively operate within, and it is unavoidable.

Megacities are complex systems, where people and structures are compressed together in ways that defy both our understanding of city planning and military doctrine. It is an ecosystem that demands a highly agile and adaptive force to successfully operate within. Infrastructures will vary radically, with concentrations of high-tech transportation, globally connected air- and seaports, contemporary water, utilities, and waste-disposal, intermixed with open landfills, overburdened sewers, polluted water, and makeshift power grids. Living habitats will extend from the high-rise, to the ground-level cottage, to subterranean labyrinths, each defined by its own social code and rule of law. Social structures will be equally challenged, if not dysfunctional. As historic ways of life clash with modern living, ethnic and racial differences are forced to live together, and criminal networks offer opportunity for the growing mass of unemployed. This becomes the nervous system of non-nation state, unaligned individuals and organizations that live and work in the shadows of national rule.

Where physical domains can be seen, digital domains will have limitless potential to breed and expand without limit. Digital security and trade will be increasingly threatened by sophisticated, illicit economies, and decentralized syndicates of crime, to give adversaries global reach at an unprecedented level. This will add to the complexities of human targeting, as a proportionally smaller number of adversaries intermingle with the larger and increasing number of citizens.

The scale and density of these domains is daunting. In a city of 10 million, where you hold the support of 99 percent of the population, the remaining one percent represents a threat of 100,000. It is an environment of convergence, hidden among the enormous scale and complexity of the megacity. These are the future breeding grounds, incubators, and launching-pads for adversaries and high-bred threats. Linked globally, these are man-made labyrinths that provide refuge and movement across the vast sections of these cities, where alternate forms of governance have taken control.

The advice of doctrine, from Sun Tzu to current field manuals, has provided two fundamental options: Avoid the cities, or establish a cordon to either wait out the adversary or drain the swamp of noncombatants and engage the remaining adversaries in high-intensity conflict within. Even our counterinsurgency doctrine, honed in the cities of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, is inadequate to address the sheer scale of population in the future urban reality.

From the streets of Aachen to the citadel in Hue, we have defeated adversaries who attempted to use urban terrain to their advantage. Urban conflict is written deep into the Army’s histories, but in tomorrow’s conflict, these megacities are orders of magnitude greater in complexity, and our current options do not meet strategic ends. Our future operations must allow us to rapidly return the city to the people. They will be too large and complex to isolate or cordon in their entirety, yet our soldiers will have to operate within these ecosystems with minimal disruption and flow. Our current and past strategies can no longer hold. We are facing environments that the masters of war never foresaw. We are facing a threat that requires us to redefine doctrine and the force in radically new and different ways.

The future Army will confront a highly sophisticated, urban-centric threat that will require that urban operations become the core requirement for the future land force. The threat is clear; our direction remains to be defined. The future is urban.

Photos via The Intercept, Wikimedia Commons (1, 2)

Joe is a writer from Vermont who lives in Brooklyn. He has written for PopSci and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and spent a year playing with words and other writers’ dreams at Tin House in Portland, Oregon.