Small Wars Journal

General Mattis: U.S. Must Prepare for 'Hybrid' Warfare

Fri, 02/13/2009 - 6:48pm
U.S. Must Prepare for 'Hybrid' Warfare, General Says

By John J. Kruzel

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13, 2009 -- The U.S. military boasts dominant nuclear and conventional capabilities, but must improve its capacity to fight irregular wars, NATO's supreme allied commander for transformation said yesterday.

Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, who also serves as the commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, said the United States has lost some of its nuclear and conventional war edge in recent years, but remains superior on these fronts.

"We are not superior in irregular warfare," he said in a speech at the Foreign Policy Research Institute here. "And that's what we've got to be."

Mattis discussed the need for the U.S. military to transform to a "hybrid" force that expands its nonconventional means without sacrificing classic warfighting competence.

Broadly defined, irregular warfare refers to conflict with an enemy that does not organize itself as a traditional military. As in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan, this type of fighting entails stealthy attacks such as roadside bombings and ambushes, instead of direct military-to-military engagement.

In calculating how to establish greater balance among the two types of warfare, the general said, he noticed a common thread among past armies that morphed to meet a new set of challenges.

"Every military that transformed, that changed, that modernized, did so on the basis of one thing," he said. "They identified a problem and solved it."

These historical precedents are relevant today because the fundamental nature of war is unchanging, he added.

"If I was to sum up everything I've learned in 35 years of wearing this uniform, I'd do it with three words: improvise, improvise, improvise. And the more we anticipate, the more we try to get it right ahead of time, the less we have to improvise in combat," he said.

To help quantify problems the military may face over the next quarter century, officials developed the idea of the Joint Operating Environment. This conceptual battlefield takes into account potential threats born out of competition for resources, economics, increased urbanization and the possibility of nonstate actors obtaining more deadly weapons.

Joint Forces Command released its findings in December in a report called Joint Operating Environment 2008. A follow-on document, known as the Capstone Concept, created with approval from Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will guide how U.S. joint forces are implemented.

"Today's challenges and threats are not strictly military in nature, solved or countered by military means alone," Mullen said last month. "We owe future generations a longer-term view of security. The concept is designed to help military and other national security leaders think about challenges and opportunities."

Mattis said one certainty is that the United States will fight 21st century war among "hybrid conditions" and emphasized the need to maintain focus on the mixed-type of warfare and to make irregular war a core competency.

"If we don't set up some kind of magnet to pull the [Defense] Department out of its good old 'mano-a-mano' conventional war focus, then we won't shift the budgeting, we won't shift the focus over where it has to go," he said. "Really, we're going to have to be able to fight hybrid enemies."



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I think Gen. Mattis is right. Improvise, adapt, and overcome, should not be counted on as a tactic. The Military machine does not know what kind of conflict will come next. It may be LIC, HIC, COIN, or a combination, or transition from one to another. As a former police officer, I think there is a valuable training tool in the kind of force training that I went through with LAPD. As officers, we were trained from verbal compliance, through deadly use of force. But more importantly, we were trained on how to react to escalations and de-escalation situations. Much like the broad situations we faced, soldiers and marines, can face similar challenges in dealing with the various types of Hybrid conflicts, and training needs to reflect these challenges. On the civilian side, the support for the kind of training, equipment, and systems need to be paramount, and not marginalized. The conflicts that we face are not any less important if the intensity low. The military is often used when diplomacy doesn't work. I think often that diplomacy hasn't worked hard enough. The challenges of Hybrid conflicts can be overcome, easily enough, If they are understood, and supported.

I have known Major General Jim (Jimmy) Mattis since being in junior high school together.

We don't agree on everything, but I know he is a man of honor and deep thought. I also served in the military and understand commitment to ideals and to the United States.

What some people fail to see is that we are an ever changing, vital country. We must give our all in service to our country, but service to the military without remembering the first can be the greatest mistake we could ever make. We are a nation of heroes, but we are first a nation of compassionate individuals who place life first above any personal ambitions.

Those personal ambitions might be to force our own system of government or beliefs on some other country. We are not correct in every thing we do; we are correct to encourage democracy, but not at the expense of a culture.

I had a short time at our 40th High School reunion last August to talk with Jim. I told him how I disagreed with some of the things he has said in the past. But, I made it clear that he is, in my eyes, a true American hero who has made us proud. I thanked him for everything he has done.

Jim Mattis was the Richland-Columbia High School Football Equipment Manager. This was in Richland, Washington. Jim may not have been physically able to play football, but he put his every effort to being the best equipment manager he could be, and he was.

I see that effort as indicative of how he has lived his life since that time. He has always been the best he could possibly be.

I can only hope that I will always be able to look back on my own military service and find that I was the best I could possibly be.

Jim B.

The challenge which is facing US Army is incomparably difficult, and I doubt it can be overcome.

Why? Because generally in the so-called "irregular warfare" the combat itself is of minor importance. In fact, the opponents are generally laughably weak from a military point of view - even compared to a typical irregular opponent.

For example, in Iraq the "irregulars" did not manage to overrun an army detachment in 5 years of combat - a new low in the history of insurgency.

The real problem is quite other - it is setting up of a government; a government which both works and is accepted by the population. Not loved - accepted and obeyed.

Of course such things have been done before. Since <a href=""&gt;
Sargon</a>, many empires have managed to subjugate Mesopotamia and to dominate the local tribes. This shows that the claims that social sciences have not progressed enough to allow us to organize societies are in a sense false - but in a sense they are very true.

American military, as zenpundit justly remarked, is not the only institution of USA who should be active here. As he says, "the civ side should be leading the charge". But what institution on the civilian side should do so? Only one could conceivably do what is necessary - the supreme authority of USA, in practice the president.

Why the military cannot set up the government of the conquered country on its own? This is not only the matter of lacking skills; it is the matter of lacking authority.

Setting up a government which is obeyed by a population requires considering what causes the subjects to obey the regime. And this is a dangerous field, since the American soldiers are subjects of their own regime; a dispassioned discussion of such things can very much seem to be subversion of their own loyalty to the American regime.

America, as any functioning country in the world, has a certain regime, supported by a certain narrative. In America this narrative is called "democracy" and is known to each of us intimately.

President Bush believed this narrative implicitly, and followed it exactly. He set up elections, transferred the power to the elected government - and that government proved to be unable to govern. It proved that beyond the narrative there are further factors, which cause the citizens to obey the democratic government. Elections are not enough.

In the West, the key element are educational system and mass-media, which serve to indoctrinate citizens in the proper way of thinking. That is why there is no Ku-Klux-Klan and no segregation in USA today, and why any party branded as "populist" finds it very difficult to succeed in elections.

Unfortunately, in the Middle-East that role is played not by the Western style secular universities, but by Islamic clerics. Strangely enough, this should not be that unfamiliar for Americans, because at one time America was in quite similar situation. But, of course, the modern education cannot put too great emphasis on such episodes.

The Making of an American Thinking Class: Intellectuals and Intelligentsia in Puritan Massachusetts
By Darren Staloff
Published by Oxford University Press US, 2001

Of course, theoretically it would be possible to create an educational system which would so indoctrinate the children that they would follow the Western democracy and would reject the political Islam - that is, Islam as it is described in the Quran. But, taking into account the typical reactions of Islamists, this would require an enormous effort of enforcement - and could never be executed in a democratic country.

This is merely a beginning of the problem, of course, but it serves to show that any attempts to set up a typical Western democracy in Iraq will lead to unanticipated results. Any surviving government will find another source of legitimacy; the results may be acceptable from the American point of view - or not.

But exactly such things must be decided to "win" an irregular campaign; and they cannot be conceivably even debated by the American military.


Sat, 02/14/2009 - 3:54pm

<i>The transformation to a more agile logistic system will also be needed. I see we have a lot of work to do.</i>

Amen, along with several other critical capabilities that are currently given nothing more than Power-Point acknowledgement. For starters - civil affairs, psyop, engineers, please add to this list...

Moreover, these operations require a whole of government approach that transcends any band aids DoD can apply. State and other non-DoD departments, agencies, offices, etal, need much more than additional resources - they need a whole of government cultural wake up call.

I agree with Gen. Mattis. He is a warrior's warrior. I think that where this effort needs to be the most evident is in the training and development of small unit leaders.

When we get down to the crux of the matter, it will be the Fire Team Leaders, Squad Leaders, and Platoon Leaders that win these types of wars.

The transformation to a more agile logistic system will also be needed. I see we have a lot of work to do.


Sat, 02/14/2009 - 2:21am

Gen. Mattis continues to impress. He's absolutely correct.

However, "Hybrid War" or 4GW requires that the military have a robust partner on the civilian side. At times the civ side should be *leading* the charge, particularly where US/Western intervention is prophylactic instead of playing "catch-up" to an insurgency problem.

The IC has field operators but the rest of the USG departments and agencies need to step up. Stepping up requires a new ethos, new structures and new leadership with a strongly articulated and compelling vision of working as a team toward national objectives.

Some figure of unimpeachable gravitas on the civilian side needs to start beating that drum.