Small Wars Journal

Pentagon Special Operations Studies Russia ‘Gray Zone’ Conflict

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 6:36am

Pentagon Special Operations Studies Russia ‘Gray Zone’ Conflict by Jen Judson, Defense News

The Pentagon is studying gray zone conflict — otherwise known as hybrid warfare — beginning with a focus on Russia and later moving on to study Iran and China, the acting assistant defense secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict, told members of Congress.

On the heels of a Johns Hopkins University study on the nature of Russian unconventional warfare, U.S. Special Operations - through the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office within ASD SO/LIC - is looking at “developing predictive analytic technologies that will help us identify when countries are utilizing unconventional warfare techniques at levels essentially below our normal observation thresholds,” Theresa Whelan said during a May 2 House Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee hearing.

The study will help identify early evidence of unconventional warfare, she added, noting that once her office completes the research on Russian unconventional warfare, it will move on to developing a strategy for Iran and China.

Russian aggression has been characterized by the insertion of “little green men,” special forces that try to discreetly rile up ethnic Russians against the West in countries along its border. Russia’s surprise annexation of Crimea in 2014 has sparked fear in surrounding countries that something similar could take place within their own borders.

And Russia’s behavior in Ukraine and along the Baltic States continue to cause heartburn and worry among the U.S. and its European and NATO allies…

Read on.


Bill C.

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 6:56pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Addendum to my comment immediately above:

Re: COL Maxwell's "Congress Has Embraced Unconventional Warfare: Will the US Military and The Rest of the US Government?" question below:

The answer to this question -- in the New/Reverse Cold War context I provide above -- this would seem to depend on whether the US military, and the rest of US government, agree that they, today, must act much as the Soviets/the communists did in the Old Cold War. Herein, using such things as political warfare, unconventional warfare and hybrid warfare to overcome the dedicated "containment" and "roll back" efforts of various states and societies throughout the world. This so as to, in spite of same:

a. Transform these outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines anyway and

b. Incorporate same more into the western sphere of power, influence and control.

In this specific regard, the following item, that I have also referenced/provided before, likewise appears to be both useful and instructive:

(Note the information provided on how the Soviet military and government used political warfare, unconventional warfare, etc., to [a] pursue their "expansionist" interests in the face of [b] various states and societies "resistance," "containment" and "roll back" efforts back-in-the-day)

From the EXECUTIVE SUMMARY, Page 2 and 3, of COL Maxwell's provided, referenced and linked item below:


* Historical Context


-- Western encroachment into the Russian sphere of influence, primarily through North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion and European Union (EU) economic ties, stimulated a reactionary movement among Russian conservatives to stop the loss of peripheral states to the West. ...

-- The Maidan movement is viewed as a product of Western—especially American-conspiracy.


* Conclusion

-- Driven by a desire to roll back Western encroachment into the Russian sphere of influence, the current generation of Russian leaders has crafted a multidisciplinary art and science of unconventional warfare. Capitalizing on deception, psychological manipulation, and domination of the information domain, their approach represents a notable threat to Western security. ...


Sounds a lot like my New/Reverse Cold War thinking; wherein:

a. The U.S./the West today (much as the Soviets/the communists did yesterday) seeks to gain greater power, influence and control via "transformation" (more along one's own political, economic, social and value lines) and "incorporation" (more into one's own sphere of influence) of the outlying states and societies of the world; herein, logically appealing to the more-liberal/the more-pro-change elements of states and societies worldwide. And

b. The Russians, et al. (much as the U.S./the West did in the Old Cold War) using various ways and means (short of head-on conventional/nuclear war) attempt to contain and/or "roll back" (see the quote from COL Maxwell's item above) these such "expansionist" efforts; herein, logically appealing -- not only to "Russian conservatives" (again, see the quote above) -- but, indeed, to the more-no-change/the more-conservative elements of states and societies worldwide. (This, much as the U.S./the West did in the Old Cold War and re: our similar "containment" and "roll back" efforts and re: our "periphery" and our "sphere of influence" back then.)

As I have noted before re: my such New/Reverse Cold War thinking, this article from "War on the Rocks" seems both helpful and instructive:

Dave Maxwell

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 7:36am

Good to see that Congress remains concerned with unconventional warfare. I asked this question two years ago: Congress Has Embraced Unconventional Warfare: Will the US Military and The Rest of the US Government?…

I am still waiting for an answer.

You can read Johns Hopkins APL's study on Russia's Little Green Men referenced in the article at this link: