Small Wars Journal

An IW "Bottle of Scotch" Challenge

I loved the paper by a team of guys trying to tackle a thorny issue - Irregular Warfare: Everything yet Nothing by Lieutenant Colonel (P) William Stevenson, Major Marshall Ecklund, Major Hun Soo Kim and Major Robert Billings.

In over a year of effort, and two separate meetings of OSD's most senior officers; we failed to come up with a good solid definition for Irregular Warfare (IW). It's like porn, we know IW when we see it. I do take exception to the unfounded statement made about historical research. The IW JOC (Irregular Warfare Joint Operating Concept) may not show it, but there is a lot of good history referenced by both the IW team and counterinsurgency guys, with lots of cross fertilization and common members. We may not have gotten it right, but it wasn't due to a lack of intellectualism. I'll be a bit blunter, people who live in glass houses, need to be careful where they throw their rocks. That said, I agree with the conclusion that we could use a better definition.

To continue, let me decompose the proffered new definition and raise some points:

Combat operations conducted by the overt element of an insurgency in enemy-held territory,

Not clear why IW is limited to combat ops, nor limited to only the overt element rather than the insurgency at large. No explanation is offered. Nor is it clear or useful to make "insurgency" synonymous with IW rather than the subset it should be. I agree that the IW JOC is overtly insurgency oriented and limiting. But equally limiting is constraining our grasp to only the physical dimension of IW -- this is very limiting and historically erroneous. I am also unclear why only the overt element is addressed rather than whole of insurgency. It is completely ambiguous to discuss "enemy held" territory. Is this needed? Meaningful? Extraneous words are killing this definition. predominantly indigenous and irregular forces organized on a military or paramilitary basis,

It is not evident why only "a predominantly indigenous" nature is useful. The global jihad is a movable feast. Irregular forces in IW? No kidding, but organized on a military or paramilitary basis means not terrorist or networked or transnational? How is this relevant today? Taking a backward look at my limited glance -- I have to ask - are we saying that they have to look like us, organize like us, and fight irregularly but conduct combat operations and be overt? This part of the definition is most important and gets us past just COIN, as it could be relevant to Fedeyeen and future jihadist opponents who will target us in future interventions.

...characterized by the extensive use of unorthodox tactics to reduce the combat effectiveness, industrial capacity, and morale of an enemy, usually an established civil and military authority.

Unorthodox is vague but acceptable - but culturally dependent. "Reduce" is okay, but the goals are limited by two physical - conditions and morale - not overthrow of state - or one of Bard O'Neill's or Steve Metz's categories. The ending is a bit odd, "an enemy" helps me figure out the meaning of the "enemy held territory" in opening phrase, but its utility in both places is not clear and it seems to only muddy things.

All in all - the beginnings of a good debate. Yes, we need a definition better than what we have. Yes, concur with the point about populations (very COIN centric). But out of a dozen or so definitions that exist in the foreign literature, and the six or so developed by OSD, Army, Booze Allen etc, this is not an improvement. Sorry about that -- so it's back to the white board. I will put up a bottle of scotch to the best definition.


Outlaw 09

Wed, 01/11/2012 - 9:47am

Interesting relook at something out of 2008 and then too realize that here it is 2012 and we still do not 'understand" what we are "seeing".

What does one call say a Sunni nationalist secular Salafi insurgent group that announces in an IO release from Nov 2003 greetings to 14 cells based in 14 key Iraqi rural and urban cities. Who on 2 Mar 2003 was already working on radio controlled IEDs and selling them to the 14 cells.

Key here is when did we arrive in Baghdad?

What do you call this group that by Feb 2004 was already emplacing directional designed IEDs, using RC detonated IEDs, was purchasing/distributing weapons and attacking via ambushes and IEDs US Forces.

What do you call a group that has the ability to move at will personnel, weapons, and IEDs from South to North and in all locations in between AND had established legal importing abilities from multiple ME countries in 2004.

So what term do you use to describe that group in late 2003 and early 2004?

Mao termed it the Phase Two of a guerrilla war---maybe we simply are making it in traditional US fashion too complicated--call it what it is- guerrilla warfare.

A better question would be just how did this group make it to a Phase Two guerrilla war in just one year---that is a far greater question than how to define something.

Just a thought


Sun, 02/08/2009 - 2:21am

As an American military officer, defining "irregular warfare" poses the same set of challenges, once summed up so perfectly by a philosopher who said in an epic work released in 1983: "many of the truths that we cling to depend greatly upon our own point of view". (Okay, it was Obi-Wan Kenobi).

Do we, as Americans, only define "irregular" as not fitting in to the standard conventions of warfare, or that which we don't experience in wargames, or weapons that don't appear in Janes' Defence Weekly? Do we define it purely as anything asymetrical from our perspective? I'm going to take a stab at this, but I have to admit, it's going to be an ethnocentric definition. Although, the term "irregular warfare" is pretty ethnocentric as it is.

Mike Hartmayer (not verified)

Wed, 02/04/2009 - 5:18pm

I'd submit it's captured in the text/chart on page two under "central idea":

..."operations against state and nonstate adversaries in protracted regional and global campaigns designed to subvert, coerce, attrite, and exhaust an adversary rather than defeat him through direct conventional military confrontation."

I'd tweak this a bit, but think it's closer.

Ken White

Tue, 02/03/2009 - 1:15am

Thanks for the response, Lexington Green.

I broadly agree with all you wrote and I'll also say that I believe the definition of irregular warfare can safely be left to the reading anyone chooses to apply -- not a big issue, IMO. Thus your comment that defining it will not help us much is accurate, I believe. Fortunately, I'm a Bourbon, not a Scotch drinker...

The containment strategy did survive many political ups and down -- every four years or so. The 1947-1989 period was not one of bipartisan comity by a long shot. Thus the Cold War era may be the best example of US consistency -- and it probably is -- but having been an adult who paid attention during the entire period I suggest it's far from as consistent as many now seem to presume.

Your comment<blockquote>"The second one is how big a commitment to the "other stuff" will we have, i.e. what the trade-off will be in terms of money and personnel and less tangible things like promotions, prestige, etc. As that is being decided, there is the large cluster of questions around figuring out how to organize and train and equip to engage and defeat those "irregulars" who cannot be effectively reached by "high intensity" methods."</blockquote>In reverse order, we have in the past trained effectively to do both ends of the spectrum, the old Strategic Army Corps and its follow on, US Strike Command had that multi tasking process down pretty well in the 1959-65 period. I do not see that as a major problem, no wheels need to be reinvented.

There will be some who cue on the tangible things you cite but most will want to do what makes sense. I'm less worried about venality and more worried about pure political will and common sense -- from the five sided funny farm and on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue -- we have become a very risk averse and overly partisan political society...

Lexington Green

Mon, 02/02/2009 - 11:38pm

Ken, seeing your third penny.

"I suppose one can read almost anything one wishes into any phrase."

Agreed. I am not trying to be flip. My point was simply that defining "irregular warfare" may not help us to better understand and deal with whatever ends up within our definition. At one time, it probably simply meant, war fought by irregulars, meaning those other than the uniformed, standing army: Cossacks, partisans, militias, etc. Now, I think the idea is to somehow capture the various challenges that are sometimes referred to as insurgency, and other related phenomena. Using the most appropriate term may help to clarify the analysis, hence I balked at the usage "irregular warfare" for this purpose.

Agreed also that the US military has "cobbled together" a response to every challenge that has been thrown at it, with better than average success over the years. And since the future will inevitably throw some bean-balls, it will have to do so again.

I think we have from time to time done better than you suggest at aligning our military and political aims. The first century of the Republic, we were able to free ride on British naval power, and enjoy a massive "peace dividend", and use the small army to survey and explore and when necessary conquer the interior of the continent. So there was a conscious and overarching strategy and it worked for many, many years. (Walter Russell Meads books are good on this.) Heading into the20th Century, we focused on naval power, which was correct, though we under-invested in landpower, and paid a price for that failure in World War I. In the immediate run-up to World War II, we got a lot of the big questions right, about what type of military and naval and air power to build, including building the Bomb. In the Cold War, we decided to build a nuclear deterrent force, which was probably the right call. During that period, we also decided that defending Europe was the main goal, and subordinated other considerations to that, and that was also probably right, as it turned out. It took a few years to get those decisions made and sorted out and acted on. But the Cold War containment strategy, through much travail, survived many political ups and downs, and ultimately worked. So, figuring out what we need in the current somewhat amorphous circumstances should be do-able. We are in that process now. Our system, as you say, leads to inconsistencies - some apparent, some real. But once the USA gets buy-in on the main issues, if a security policy is well formulated and well launched, we can have multi-decade patches of pretty good consistency -- The Cold War era being the best example.

(231 years of US politico-military strategy leaves out a lot -- including the whole civil war. But, this being only a comment on a blog, I hope you will forgive a "surface" treatment of the issue!)

I think the outcome of the current debates will end up pretty much as you conclude:

"However, the prudent course would seem to be to insure we maintain high intensity combat capability to an extent, even if it will be slightly degraded, while acquiring more capacity to engage and hopefully defeat those who would evade or workaround those capabilities."

Working out precisely what kind and how much high intensity combat capability to retain and modernize and build on, and train and equip for, is one question. The second one is how big a commitment to the "other stuff" will we have, i.e. what the trade-off will be in terms of money and personnel and less tangible things like promotions, prestige, etc. As that is being decided, there is the large cluster of questions around figuring out how to organize and train and equip to engage and defeat those "irregulars" who cannot be effectively reached by "high intensity" methods.

As you note, and I agree, it is going to have to be "both/and" rather than "either/or". And that seems to already be the consensus, though grudgingly so in some cases. There can still be (will be) a lot of invective over "where to draw the line" between these two needed suites of capabilities.

Ken White

Mon, 02/02/2009 - 10:50pm

I'll see that and raise you a penny...

Lexington Green said:<blockquote>"It implies that what the US Army is good at is "regular"."</blockquote>It does? Interesting take. To me it simply implies that among possibly several other forms of warfare, there is one type called 'irregular.' However, I suppose one can read almost anything one wishes into any phrase. I'm not all sure it makes a great deal of difference in any event.

He also says that not fighting the US Military in a regular way is the regular thing to do. One could say all our military involvements from Korea to date proves that to a degree. However, we do cobble things together pretty well -- it's the greatest military skill we have...

He then asks some Clausewizian questions -- I can provide some Graf von Sachsen answers.

<blockquote>"Are the political aims of the USA and its military means aligned?" "Are we well positioned to defeat our potential foes, who will employ their own styles and methods of war against us?" "What will happen if we reconfigure ourselves to deal with these foes?" "What precisely is the tradeoff between (1) maintaining our priceless high intensity combat capacity, and its deterrent value to prevent state-on-state conflict, and (2) acquiring the capacity to defeat foes who manage to evade or 'work around' those capabilities?"</blockquote>The answers are:

No, they rarely have been in our 221 year history. I doubt that will change. Penalty of living in a democratic society full of more or less independent people compounded by a political process that insures change at 2,4,6 and 8 year intervals. Hard to get any continuity in the Defense budget much less anything else along that line. Let's us live pretty well, though. Wouldn't trade it, myself...

Combining the second and third questions; since we do not know what precisely would be the best form to deal with said foes, it is not possible to to so reconfigure to cover all eventualities so a general utility posture would seem to be best at this time. As Yogi Berra (or someone ) said,"... it's hard to make predictions, especially about the future." We could apply the old rubric ""...always prepare for the last war" but that seem ill advised no matter how many theorists seem to wish to do that.

The trade off is seen differently by different people. However, the prudent course would seem to be to insure we maintain high intensity combat capability to an extent, even if it will be slightly degraded, while acquiring more capacity to engage and hopefully defeat those who would evade or workaround those capabilities. Be nice if we could out politic them but I suppose that's too much to ask -- that political turbulence here again intrudes. In any event, as it seems that balance is what the out year budgets aim for, I'm unsure what your point was.

Lexington Green

Mon, 02/02/2009 - 7:21pm

"Irregular warfare" may be the wrong thing to define.
It implies that what the US Army is good at is "regular".
Defining something in the negative, as "irregular" in opposition to something "regular" makes it sound odd, unusual, offbeat, weird, uncommon, also maybe illegal, contemptible or otherwise subject to disparagement. It is belittling and not particularly enlightening. In fact, NOT fighting the US military at what it is good at, i.e. fight not fighting the US military in a "regular" way, is very much the "regular" thing to do. In fact, in fact NOT doing so is more than "regular", it is universal, at least for for anyone who is sane and wants to stay alive very long.
Gen. Smith's "Wars Amongst the People" may be a better usage. But something even broader and more generic is probably best: "Styles and Methods of Contemporary Warfare". This allows you talk about actual cases and look for commonalities not based on jargon but on actual practices, methods, doctrine and results.
If you say, "we are now going to study Styles and Methods of Contemporary Warfare", you then put current American practice on a level tabletop with what everybody else is doing. Then you can start asking "Clausewitzian" questions, like: "Are the political aims of the USA and its military means aligned?" "Are we well positioned to defeat our potential foes, who will employ their own styles and methods of war against us?" "What will happen if we reconfigure ourselves to deal with these foes?" "What precisely is the tradeoff between (1) maintaining our priceless high intensity combat capacity, and its deterrent value to prevent state-on-state conflict, and (2) acquiring the capacity to defeat foes who manage to evade or 'work around' those capabilities?"
My two cents.

Ken White

Thu, 01/29/2009 - 10:22pm

Hmm. That makes problematic what to call the type of warfare these people employed:

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I guess the question is; Is Irregular Warfare a subset of Guerrilla warfare or is the reverse true? Are they really different? Are they the same? Does it matter? Do the Soviet Partisna or your own cited French Resistance know of this?

Regardless, this statement:<blockquote>Jungle canopy, the terrain or even continued bad weather can defeat operational surveillance and allow an irregular army to control territory, if only by night.</blockquote>is correct only so long as the counterinsurgent allows it to be. I've seen too many units that would never allow the enemy freedom of movement at night -- and that long before we had NVG.

I'm not the judge, Frank is -- but I see no bottle of Scotch here...

"Irregular warfare is when members of an indigenous population, or people pretending to be so, use asymmetric attacks, in a hit an run fashion, to harass the forces and agents of a political power who they consider to be illegitimate."

An armed political groups and movements engage in irregular warfare. They do not want to live under the authority of the controlling or invading power, and so take up arms against it.

The object of irregular warfare is to gain concessions from the current government; or to irritate an invading or occupying army so much that it wants to withdraw.

The distinctive feature of irregular warfare, as compared to asymmetric warfare, is that there is no front line, only hot spots that shift and melt away to reform elsewhere.

In irregular warfare there is no safe place behind the front line, only limited safety behind the razor wire and blast walls of the base perimeter.

Irregular warfare is guerrilla warfare using asymmetrical methods, over a wide area, with intent to drive out what they see as an illegitimate government or occupying army. It directly attacks the more powerful force considered to be illegitimate, using traditional guerrilla, bomb or mortar attacks, before quickly melting away.

Often the tactics are aimed at preventing the other side from exercising control over the local population and economy, sometimes by causing paralysis through terror.

Irregular warfare is a sub set of guerrilla warfare. Wikipedia has a good definition of guerrilla warfare that is simple and understandable.

Irregular warfare can turn more traditional when the irregular forces manage to hold territory and have a place that is behind their front line. This can happen when the forces are more evenly matched and the more powerful side does not have total operational surveillance over the land held by the other.

Jungle canopy, the terrain or even continued bad weather can defeat operational surveillance and allow an irregular army to control territory, if only by night.

The argument that dress, or lack of it, somehow defines a type of warfare is wrong. It only defines the more traditional fighting force whos aim is to hold territory, and to fight on a front.

Irregular forces or guerrilla movements who fight a harassing warfare, from within the territory controlled by the more dominant force, never wear identifying uniforms. Just ask the French Resistance why not.

Mark Warack (not verified)

Mon, 12/22/2008 - 11:13am

Having worked with the authors, I think it is important to note that given the constraints of JPME paper length, they were able to generate the level of discussion that was intended by their writing on this site. A win in my book. I applaud the scotch winner, if there is one, and plan to follow the discussion closely.


Sun, 12/21/2008 - 7:21pm

I posted on SWC thread that IW=Conflict with an enemy who will intentionally violate the Laws of Warfare in order to achieve his Objective.

Thats pretty much what it is since the difference between regular and irregular will be some type of legal definition.

How does having that definition or any definition help? I don't know. What I do know is anytime you fight anybody you better assume they will use any means they have to win....Fair or Foul....RW or IW will only matter to the winner.

Further Gian makes some good points that we should listen to and so does David Steele, but he needs to explain it better. He is talking about war combined with the other elements of DIME that our enemy could use to achieve the same objective without resorting to armed conflict.


Sat, 12/20/2008 - 10:09pm

Ken, thanks, I was wondering the same about his post. David?

Ken White

Sat, 12/20/2008 - 9:25pm

Well, I grant you that's irregular warfare; attack everything and defend nothing.

My perception is that statesmen today avoid Washington due to what it has become at the behest of the media and the chattering classes. Can't say I blame them...

What, if I may ask, is your point with respect to the issue of the article to which this thread is appended?

Ying Yang Sun Tzu 101--waging peace which is an order of magnitude harder than waging war because:

1. you have to know yourself and be honest across the board, which we are not--you don't win wars by being best pals with 42 of the 44 dictators, despots, and depraved "royal" families on the planet.

2. you have to pay attention to all ten high-level threats at the same time (poverty, infectious disease, environmental degradation, inter-state conflict, civil war, genocide, other atrocities, proliferation, terrorism, and transnational crime within which I certainly include Wall Street and white collar and localized Rotarian crime against the public)

3. you have to manage all twelve core policies, not only within the interagency and state and local environments, but multinationally--agriculture, displomacy, economy, education, energy, family, health, immigration, justice, security, society, and water.

4. last but not least and hardest of all: you have to treat your population with respect, be the Republic our founders intended, and let nothing stand in the way of nurturing a strong, smart public--what George Will once called "statecraft as soulcraft."

We have no statesmen on the bridge--Obama is making Clinton's mistake of neglecting national security reform to concentrate on economist stabilization (meaning keep the party going until I can move to Dubai and join Dick). He has a very WEAK national security team, not at all big thinkers, and not a one of them with a decent EarthGame in their head.

Grim of BlackFive

Sat, 12/20/2008 - 1:04pm

"Regular warfare is that carried out by belligerents who conscientiously attempt to apply the Western tradition of the Law of War to their combatants. Irregular warfare is every other kind."

I think that captures everything. It recognizes that what we mean by "regular" has roots: both an etymological root, "regular" from "regulated," as by law; and historical roots, in a particular tradition arising from the Truce and Peace of Christ movements in the Middle Ages, through the Napoleonic period, and into the professionalized military culture that Western Europe developed in its wake. What we mean by "regular" warfare is warfare regulated by the rules that are designed to protect noncombatants according to those first principles articulated by the Medievals, expressed in modern terms.

Irregular warfare is literally every other kind. It is the more ancient forms of warfare that predate the concepts -- forms still practiced today in many parts of the world. It is also new forms of war that arise otherwise than out of that tradition.

The dividing point is the attempt to apply the law, these particular traditions, to your own combatants. If you do that, you are fighting a regular war. If you do not -- insurgent or tribe, nation or bandit -- you are irregular.

That captures the thing that is valuable about the idea of "regular" war: it reminds us of the core principle it exists to uphold, and why we insist on it for ourselves. More than that, though, I think you'll find that this definition captures what we really <i>mean</i> by the term. That, above all, is what a definition is for.

Gian P Gentile

Sat, 12/20/2008 - 10:51am

But what is improvement, Frank, is the authors most profound and critical explanation of how the American Defense Establishment now views Irregular warfare as an "environment" rather than as a tactical method of conducting war. John Nagls post defines perfectly this current conception of IW as an equal and discrete major political and strategic form of warfare. In fact, at least within the American Army as represented by its current flagship doctrinal manuals and much of the published writings by many of its officers, we have embraced--wrongly in my view--this conception of IW.

Dave Maxwell and Joe Collins have it right in their posts where they place irregular war in the broader construct of war, and that is where it should be and that is where the authors of the base article in this thread want it to be too.

Yet proponents of IW continue to bash, reduce, simplify, infantilize, etc conceptions of conventional war. They make it sound like conventional war was easy, simple, linear, easy to do. To do it, as suggested by their writings, was a simple matter of applying scientific processes of targeting, tactics, ethical rules like the Geneva Convention, etc and then voila one wins. The most explicit example of this line of thinking is counterinsurgency expert Robert Cassidys statement that "counterinsurgency warfare is more difficult than regular war." Then the argument goes that because the United States has and still is predominant in this conventional type of war (a problematic notion to say the least) that our future enemies will not fight us head on, and will turn to Irregular War as their weapon of choice. With that construct therefore, so the argument goes, we must stop focusing so hard on conventional war and build a military for the future with capabilities focused on Irregular War.

Yet really, truly, when has "conventional war" been so easy through the application of scientific processes? Was the planning for D-Day a simple matter of aligning a set of linear formulas to attack the beaches? Once on the beaches how simply linear and scientific was it for Norm Cota to motivate and use tactical ingenuity to get American troopers up onto the bluffs?

Yet this is the straw man that certain folks set up about past wars of conventional nature in order to proclaim a new and radical version of war that is somehow different and more difficult from the past.

The dustbin of history is full of individuals who believed that they had divined the future of war in such discrete ways, but only to be proven wrong. An aide to Josef Stalin told him in 1939 that mechanized warfare was not the wave of the future. What a shock that wave of German tanks must have been rolling around the Pripet Marshes in summer 1941. Too, the IDF, who had predominantly prepared their Army for warfare amongst the people of the Palestinian territories from 2000 to 2006 must have had a rough awakening when their tanks and mechanized infantry rolled into south Lebanon in Summer 2006 to find a Hizbollah enemy who fought them from villages (mostly devoid of people!) head-on, like traditional infantry squads and teams.

It is really about War, not IW, not Coin, not Lic, but war. Guilio Douhet in the 1920s went along the same tack and argued for a new and revolutionary form of war using airplanes that would bypass conventional armies on fields of battle and attack civilian populations directly thereby breaking their will and ending the war. How would World War II have looked if the United States had heeded Douhets call and built its military establishment only around the airplane?

So too do we head down the same path by continuing to allow for the compartmentalization of war into different categories, then the super-elevation of certain categories like IW into wars highest form. From their the path we are on demands an American military that will be built to intervene in the unstable parts of the world as a police force to change societies and build new nations in the process.

If we marginalize our American military along these lines, as history shows, we court strategic peril as a result.

(PS: MikeF, I just want to beat Navy too!!)


Sat, 12/20/2008 - 9:20am

Via e-mail from New Zealand:

Ask Frank to donate the bottle to a good cause...

Warfare is irregular when one party refuses to play by the rules that the other party has planned for.

As an aside, one of the fundamental difficulties we have with all of this is that major combat operations tends to lend itself more to the scientific application of the tools of warfare. In the end we are generally more comfortable with the prescriptive (and proscriptive) Jominian constructs vice Clausewtizian constructs of war. Hybrid or irregular war negates much of the scientific approach to war and truly requires an art of war approach.


John Nagl

Sat, 12/20/2008 - 7:13am

War is, of course, an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will. Irregular means "not conforming to established rules, customs, etiquette, and morality, or to the accepted principle, method, course and order." Irregular war would then be acts of force not conforming to established rules or accepted methods to compel our enemies to do our will.

The American military establishment is currently optimized to conduct war in accordance with established rules like the Geneva Conventions, which require combatants to follow the laws of war by clearly identifying themselves as such, protecting civilians to the extent possible, caring for prisoners, and so on. Our ability to rapidly prevail over enemies who follow these precepts has driven our adversaries to shun these rules, waging "war among the people," in Rupert Smiths excellent phrase.

What we now call irregular war is, in fact, an enduring face of war in our age. What is irregular for us is the route our enemies are likely to choose most regularly to do us harm. We must therefore build the capabilities we need to prevail in this kind of conflict. When a substantial part of our national security establishment is optimized to fight wars among the people--when we have the diplomats, economic tools, linguistic and advisory skills and information operations capability we need to succeed in this kind of war-- we will render their chances for success far less usual, normal, and customary. Building such a national security apparatus will make what has become our enemies regular route an uncertain and irregular path.


Sat, 12/20/2008 - 3:30am


BTW, all technical discussion aside, I find the style and manner of your critique professional and refreshing. It is rare to read a critique that is confident and pulls no punches while being intellectually honest (and curious) enough to ask more questions than posit 'answers.'

Well done. A lesson for those of us who critique things often, whether published openly or done quietly in our own minds. Appreciated greatly.


Sat, 12/20/2008 - 3:20am

At risk of dumbing down intelligent discourse, to continue MikeF's kissing football analogy, I'd say that hybrid warfare is more a scoring defense, and IW more Woody Hayes with a more discreet and well-placed swing(s).

It takes a fair measure of smarts and stones to be Woody Hayes, and if Woody makes national televised news doing his thing, his jig is up.

FH said: <em>"Not clear why IW is limited to combat ops..."</em>

Is combat tightly defined as steel on flesh ops? Surely in the writers' usage in the IW paper. But we might more liberally apply the term 'combat' to mean 'engagement' in a similar manner we accept more liberally defined 'warfare' (such as in the Gulf War-spawned Unrestricted Warfare, by China's Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui.) After all, what are we to call engagements in economic, social, or political warfare? Is it not the unconventional equivalent to combat in steel on flesh warfare?

Considering that approach to the term 'combat' - and applying it this way - makes the language of a single (gigantic) sentence definition more palatable, if not appropriate.

Isn't this essentially what Frank is driving at?


Sat, 12/20/2008 - 2:39am

From Joe Collins via e-mail:

Problems with IW definition and "scope" are all very familiar. We had same issues in 1980s and 1990s when trying to define low intensity conflict, MOOPTW, etc. The most important aspect of IW is IN and COIN, but to base the IW definition on IN & COIN risks duplication and/or leaving things like intervention, stability ops, and peacekeeping in the dark. (Thankfully, the new IW DoDD did not include stability ops under the heading of IW. It is already a cottage industry, intimately related to stabilization and reconstruction operations. Calling it warfare would muddy some already choppy waters, although FM 3-24 clearly indicates that COIN can include offensive, defensive, or stability operations.)

In reality, IN and COIN are together a discrete, replicable form of warfare. Many of the other aspects of IW are not discrete replicable forms of war, but are other ways to use force, or sometimes, just use forces to accomplish something in the field of deterrence or compellance. Many of them (intervention to shore up a friendly govt, for example) are not warfare at all, although peace enforcement and intervention for deterrence or compliance may build to combat operations, which are not always war.

Confused? Yes, we should be. Reality is complex phenomenon, and you can quote me on that. Our problem with MOOTW, LIC and now IW is really the problem of trying to put disparate activities on the low end of the conflict spectrum under a single term. We are trying to get 10 lbs of reality into a 5 lbs definition. No one will ever be satisfied. Years from now, out of frustration, we will change the umbrella term, and it will all begin again.

Just a thought: To fight hybrid or irregular warfare (probably still influenced by primordial violence, hate, and enmity; combined with chance, and tempered with rational control) you have to be able to conduct offense, defense, and stability operations, sometimes one at a time, sometimes one after another, and sometimes all three at the same time achieving the proper balance (yin-yang) or ratio among the three (and all the while operating within a whole of government framework).

There are infinite permutations of hybrid or irregular war - but you have to be able to employ the tried and true fundamentals (tactical blocking and tackling) while using the creative mind, wisdom and sound judgment (requiring coup d'oeil) in order to develop and execute the right combination of actions (operational art) in order to achieve the desired national strategic objective(s) (in terms of a grand strategy).

Bottom line: These are complex (political, economic, diplomatic and military) operations that require sound but simple and fundamental tactical doctrine, combined with innovative, flexible, agile campaign plans (that support tactical, operational and strategic initiative) that in turn support a coherent, unified strategy to reach an achievable end state.

We try too hard to narrowly define everything and put everything in a nice easily understandable box when we forget these wise words:

"War (major, hybrid or irregular) is the realm of chance. No other human activity gives it reater scope: no other has such incessant and varied dealings with this intruder. Chance makes everything uncertain and interferes with the whole course of human events." (Clausewitz of course - major, hybrid or irregular added) I would commend the book _A Treatise on Efficacy: Between Western and Chinese Thinking_ by Francois Jullien to consider another way to look at the problems we are debating.


MikeF (not verified)

Fri, 12/19/2008 - 10:10pm

With that said, I suppose that hybrid war is the play-action pass.

MikeF (not verified)

Fri, 12/19/2008 - 9:01pm

I happen to concur with SWJED...

It's just a football game with (offense, defense, and stability) substituted into (offense, defense, and special teams). My initial post was highlights on the passing offense...

As for the offense, the run and pass is broken down into conventional and unconventional respectively. Nagl suggests more West coast offense while Gentile wants to stick with West Point's in and out run game...

That debunks the whole Bacevich's "The Great Debate" Argument.

I just wanna beat Navy. That's all I'm asking for.

Is it really this simple?

I am going back to my hole to drink a beer now.




Fri, 12/19/2008 - 8:45pm

IW? - How about just these three as our base and adjust to the threat environment - offense, defense and stability operations - stays within KISS...

I like definitions that are general enough to be inclusive and specific enough to be useful. We can look at the definition of irregular warfare a few different ways. Breaking it down irregular is usually defined as having elements such breaking a pattern or not symmetric in shape or form. It would be nice if we had a definition for warfare that was clean, but in general war is some type of conflict between entities. I won't say nation states have to be the warring entities as that isn't true. I won't even mention indigenous as that term is almost meaningless. As an example large numbers of insurgents were imported to Iraq from other countries. They were not indigenous.

So irregular warfare is going to be something that is breaking a pattern or not symmetric in naturedealing with the conflict between entities. Some would say that is asymmetric warfare and we've already defined that. But, hold on we're not done yet. Our definition should be general yet specific. Perhaps irregular warfare is inclusive of asymmetric warfare principles? Is irregular warfare a super-set of other forms of conflict and if such what forms?

Maybe irregular warfare is about breaking traditional models of conflict. As an example there is a significant difference between high intensity conflict and low intensity conflict. Some would say that is a difference between traditional and non-traditional and likely fairly useless by itself. Second, capability is built into that as a form of bias. If a low intensity conflict had the tools of high intensity conflict it is likely that would escalate. So, for our purposes maybe the difference that elements of low-intensity conflict are involved as adaptive patterns that can be identified when observed.

So I don't figure I have any better definition than the luminaries but I will try this.

Irregular warfare is the various forms of conflict that are asymmetric in tactics while following adaptive patterns of strategy.

I know pretty weak but there is a bottle of Scotch on the line. You gotta try!

MikeF (not verified)

Fri, 12/19/2008 - 8:11pm

KISS- Keep it simple stupid. I'll drink to that!!!

1. UW-us helping dudes take down a bad government. Broken down into components.

- 1a. Contact me on SIPR.
- 1b. Contact me on SIPR.

2. IW- us helping a friendly government stop dudes from taking them down. Broken down into components.

- 2a. SFA- We give them big guns, ships, and planes to help smack the dudes, and we teach them how to use the toys.

- 2b. FID- We send a small SF team or MTT team to combat advise.

- 2c. Partnership (co-located)-Army unit (the current majority of US forces in Iraq/Afghanistan)- we live with them and help them stop the bad dudes.

- 2d. Partnership (not co-located)- Army units (Iraq 2003-2006) live in their land and stop by once a week to tell them how bad they suck at stopping the bad dudes.

- 2e. Training exercises- Army units embark on temporary duty to jump outta airplanes or drive tanks with our brothers, high five, and encourage them to stop the bad dudes. Army unit leaves with foreign jump wings or gives up stetsons.

Who's next?