Small Wars Journal

Do We Really Understand Unconventional Warfare?

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 11:34am

Do We Really Understand Unconventional Warfare?

America May Not Be Interested In Unconventional Warfare
But UW Is Being Practiced Around The World By Those Who Are Interested In It

David S. Maxwell

The United States has the most powerful conventional military force and the strongest nuclear deterrent in the world. It remains the sole superpower because it is well prepared to fight and win in state on state conflict.  Yet the majority of wars, conflicts, and threats in the 21st Century are unlikely to be purely conventional or nuclear.  In the 21st Century we are more likely to experience kinds of warfare for which scholars have been hard pressed to find a name. Scholars have used many names including irregular warfare, hybrid warfare, 4th Generation Warfare, and of course the post 9-11 rediscovery of insurgency and counterinsurgency.  Yet despite all these various names the one overarching form of warfare that encompasses all is unconventional warfare (UW). However, the fundamental question is do we understand unconventional warfare?  And if not, why not?

We know that the Department of Defense (DOD) defines unconventional warfare as “activities to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow a government or occupying power through and with an underground, auxiliary, and guerrilla force in a denied area.”[1]  Although this was designed by the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) UW working group in 2009 to be a broad definition and apply generally to this form of warfare and not specifically from a U.S. centric perspective it continues to connote a very narrow description of warfare (e.g., the overthrow of a hostile government) and has often been relegated to the province of Special Operations Forces and more specifically Special Forces.[2]  Furthermore many political leaders either fear the blowback from such operations or, perhaps worse, have unrealistic expectations of the efficacy of UW.  However, as I have argued before, if the United States is going to consider employing unconventional warfare as an option in support of policy and strategy then it is imperative that policy makers, strategists, and theater commanders and staffs have sufficient understanding of and appreciation for unconventional warfare not only if UW is to be conducted by the US government but also for when the US government must develop policies and strategies to conduct operations to counter unconventional warfare executed by opponents of the US or our friends, partners and allies.[3]

Although this definition now resides in the DOD dictionary there is no DOD or joint level doctrine specifically for unconventional warfare.  There is no national policy for unconventional warfare.  There is Army Special Operations Forces (SOF) and Special Forces doctrine[4] but, as we know, few people in uniform or out really read, study, internalize, and practice the concepts published in our doctrine.  USSOCOM has been working over the past year to remedy the lack of joint and DOD doctrine and will soon publish the first ever joint doctrine for UW; however, that is unlikely to solve the problem of policy makers and strategists not appreciating and understanding unconventional warfare and all that operating in that realm of warfare entails.  There seems to be an insufficient intellectual foundation in unconventional warfare.

Before addressing the lack of intellectual foundation let me state for clarity the essence of UW.  Definitions and doctrine aside, unconventional warfare at its core is about revolution, resistance, and insurgency (RRI) combined with the external support provided to a revolution, resistance, or insurgency by either the US or others (who may or may not have interests aligned with the US and may in fact be opposed to the US and our friends, partners, and allies).  This is a type of warfare that is timeless, timely, and something that we can expect to occur over time in the future.  It is both political in nature and at times violent – even as violent as conventional warfare in some cases.

What makes me say that we do not have an understanding of and appreciation for unconventional warfare?  Two recent articles from the New York Times and the Daily Beast illustrate this.  In the first Mark Mazzetti writes about a classified CIA report that alleges that the US has rarely been successful in training and equipping rebel forces and because of this report the US Administration was reluctant to arm and train Syrian rebels.[5]  Christopher Dickey takes issue with the report and claims there have been some successes despite there often being an “acrid aftertaste” as in the case of the Afghan war in the 1980s.[6]

What the Mazzetti and Dickey articles (as well as simply the emphasis on “train and equip" by government spokespeople and pundits) illustrate is that policy makers really do not understand the nature and conduct of unconventional warfare.  It is neither an abject failure in every case nor is it a war winner in almost any case but it is a viable strategic option if used in the right conditions at the right time by the right organizations.  But most importantly it is both risky and hard and what makes it most difficult for policy makers and the public is that it is time consuming.  It cannot be employed "in extremis" in most cases (in the fall of 2001 post 9-11 being an exception) and really requires long-term preparation, thorough assessments, and relationships with key players to have chance of being successful.  And most importantly it must absolutely be part of and in support of a coherent policy and strategy.

Again to restate the problem there is little intellectual foundation for unconventional warfare.  Yes there are some important books to ready from Max Boot’s Invisible Armies to John Tierney’s Chasing Ghosts, to John McCuen’s The Art of Counter-Revolutionary Warfare as well as works by Hy Rothstein and Thomas K. Adams and one of the most prescient studies by the late Sam Sarkesian from 1993: Unconventional Conflicts in a New Security Era.  These are all important to read and I would commend them to any policy maker or strategist; however, what the all lack is how to think about the strategic application of unconventional warfare because they do not delve sufficiently into the common “principles” used to conduct unconventional warfare (save perhaps McCuen’s work).  There is only one time in the history of the US military that unconventional warfare was sufficiently studied to provide the necessary knowledge to policy makers and strategists and that was in the 1950-1960’s with the Special Operations Research Office (SORO) and the partnership between the Army and the Academy. 

We have a number of contemporary examples about UW that are worth examining to illustrate both our lack of understanding as well as the continuing importance of UW.  We have only to look at both Libya and Syria from a US perspective and how we either “led from behind” or are now focusing only on train and equip.  We have thoroughly adopted such concepts as “through, by, and with” and “train and equip” and “building partner capacity” as ways in our strategic calculus.  But we do not understand the complexity, the difficulties and the depth of operations and activities necessary for the conduct of effective UW and we expect to simply apply building partner capacity and train and equip to problems that may require an understanding of UW to support a strategy.  This is most prominently illustrated by the public statements of our political leadership and pundits who only focus on training and equipping rebel forces as if this action is enough to succeed and achieve our interests.  The second example we have comes from competitors and opposition.  We are seeing variations of UW conducted by the Russians and their New Generation Warfare,[7] the Chinese and their Three Warfares,[8] and the Iranian Action Network.[9]  And finally groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are conducting variations of UW (though ISIL might be said to have completed its UW campaign and is now functioning like a quasi-state).  Interestingly the roots of these strategies and campaigns can be found in George Kennan’s political warfare that he described in his 1948 memo to the Policy Planning Staff:

Political warfare is the logical application of Clausewitz's doctrine in time of peace. In broadest definition, political warfare is the employment of all the means at a nation's command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives. Such operations are both overt and covert. They range from such overt actions as political alliances, economic measures (as ERP--the Marshall Plan), and "white" propaganda to such covert operations as clandestine support of "friendly" foreign elements, "black" psychological warfare and even encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states.[10]

Kennan describes the realm of revolution, resistance, and insurgency that can contribute to coercing, disrupting or overthrowing a government or occupying power.  These are truly strategic actions and objectives but the question remains: do we understand what it requires to implement strategies with campaigns that either support or counter-revolutions resistance, or insurgency. 

To graphically illustrate our lack of understanding of unconventional warfare we can turn to two charts from the Assessing Revolution and Insurgency Strategy (ARIS) project.[11]  The first depicts the relationship and relative size of the fundamental components of UW: the underground, the auxiliary, and the guerrilla or armed military force as well as the public component.

For some years in Syria we have been focusing on training and equipping the “armed component” (and until recently provided only limited non-lethal assistance).  Yet it is the underground that provides the key to understanding the motivation, objectives, interests, methods, and strategy of the leadership of a revolution, resistance, or insurgency (RRI).  It is through the underground that we can not only vet members but also try to determine one of the most important questions of “what comes next?” after the organization achieves success.  We really need to assess all the organizations of an RRI and not solely the armed component, which seems to always be the focus of our strategy and activities.

Another chart illustrates the scope of activities in an RRI environment and in particular the underground.  We tend to focus only on the “tip of the UW iceberg.”

Again, the focus on the armed component as the main effort shows that we lack the depth of knowledge required to not only understand UW but to devise strategies that include UW as an option and most importantly to support UW operations. 

Conversely when faced with the threats of RRI to our friends, partners, and allies, we need to understand the same relationships, methodologies and concepts in order to devise strategies and campaigns to counter our opponents’ UW operations (assuming we deem it in the US national interest to do so).

The above charts are from the Assessing Revolution and Insurgent Strategy Project (ARIS).  As noted this project existed in the 1950’s and 1960’s as part of the Special Operations Research Office.[12]  There has not been an organization like SORO since that time that has provided the intellectual foundation for UW.  However, the work of SORO has not been lost and in fact has been not only captured but updated.  A partnership between the US Army Special Operations Command and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory led by Paul Tomkins, a retired Special Forces Officer has resulted in updated versions of the project, building on the foundational intellectual framework from the 50’s and 60’s.

While we lament the lack of national policy and DOD and joint doctrine on UW, we should look to the ARIS project for the intellectual foundation for UW based on history but well adapted to the present and for the future.  Even some within the Special Operations community dismiss any study of historical examples of UW as anachronistic and not worth the effort necessary to develop a deep understanding of the phenomena.  However, within the ARIS project are not only case studies of revolution, resistance, and insurgency from the 20th Century through 2009, there is detailed analysis of current UW practices, methods and strategies being employed in the contemporary operating environment.  Although I strongly recommend that the entire project be studied I commend two of the works so that those who wish to being to understand contemporary UW can begin to build the foundation necessary to understand and appreciate the need to have strategies that employ UW along with the ability to counter UW as part of the national security tool kit.

In Underground, Insurgent, Revolutionary, and Resistance Warfare (2d Edition, 25 January 2013) a reader can glean important insights into recruiting to include radicalization as we understand it today, financing of UW operations (e.g., “threat financing,” and the development of shadow governments just to name a few of the important topics. In Human Factors Considerations of Undergrounds in Insurgencies (2d Edition, 25 January 2013) one can understand how the Internet and media are exploited by resistance and insurgent organizations, the use of propaganda, group dynamics and more on radicalization, the employment of terrorism as well as nonviolent resistance.  We find everything from the political action to subversion, to violence in the ARIS Project, with the all-important emphasis on human factors.  What is important is that the ARIS Project is not a rehash of historical UW (though you can trace its development through history).  It provides the most relevant and current information on how various resistance organizations are conducting UW around the world.  The techniques, methodologies and strategies discussed throughout the myriad publications in the entire project provide us with the knowledge for our own employment of UW as well as our strategies for countering UW. 

However, I have heard from friends in the national security community that there is great reluctance to describe the actions threat organizations as unconventional warfare or to advocate that the US should employ unconventional warfare.  There seems to be no stomach for the complex, violent, messy, and difficult to control nature of unconventional warfare.  However, it is clear to UW practitioners that there is a role for UW in Syria if our intent is to support resistance to ISIL (as well as Assad).  And of course assessing the resistance from a UW perspective might also reveal that support to the resistance is infeasible.  But if our strategy in Syria and Iraq fails, a contributing factor could very well be our distain for UW.  We have both deniers of UW threats (who want to “bin” everything in terrorism and insurgency) and those who think UW is anachronistic and not longer relevant.  To which I respond, read, study and internalize the ARIS project and you will be enlightened and if not you will remain in the dark about UW.  UW is not some passing phenomena.  It is also something not to be romanticized in ways such as been done with the re-emergence of counterinsurgency.  To borrow a time worn dictum we have to deal with the world as it really is and not as we would wish it to be.  Unfortunately some in the national security wish they did not have to worry about UW, either ours, or our enemies’.

There is much more to discuss on UW and countering UW. We need to determine effective concepts of employment and especially campaign plans in support of strategy and we need to develop policy makers and strategists who understand the complex nature of UW and recognize how it is being employed around the world.  We need to figure out how to train not only military forces in UW but the intelligence community and other government agency personnel as well.  We should also determine if we need a new SORO-like organization.

Let me close with two thoughts. First, if you are going to enter the discussion or criticize UW as anachronistic and no longer of value because terrorism and insurgency are the dominant threats then I would urge you to first read the ARIS project especially the two books on human factors and undergrounds.  Second, I would offer the following as something to think about as we look to the future of UW.

I argue that one of the important missions for both the intelligence and the SOF communities is the continuous assessment the resistance potential of current, nascent and potential future revolutionary, resistance, and insurgent organizations.  By understanding the resistance that exists around the world we will be in a better position to develop strategic options and avoid many of the pitfalls we have experienced in the past decades and that the CIA report referenced in the NY Times will likely show.  But the problem really lies with policy makers who grasp at straws and want to "do something" and then force the intelligence community and SOF to conduct long duration unconventional warfare operations "in extremis" without the necessary preparations or understanding of the operational and strategic environment.

A modification of the fourth SOF truth[13] might be that it is hard to conduct effective UW by beginning UW operations after crises occur.  (Of course Afghanistan 2001 might be considered an exception by some but the reality is that the success of OEF from October 2001 to January 2002 rested on the foundation of relationships built prior to 9-11 that allowed for at least sufficient understanding of the resistance potential.)  The same is true for countering UW.  America can only be effective in UW and Counter UW if it invests in developing the intellectual foundation necessary to develop strategies and campaign plans.  The ARIS Project is part of that foundation.

UW comes from the past, is here in our present, and will be around in our future.  And with no apology to Trotsky for stealing his idea:  You may not be interested in UW but you can be damn sure UW is interested in you.

David S. Maxwell is the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies and the Security Studies Program in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is a 30 year veteran of the US Army retiring as a Special Forces Colonel with his final assignment serving on the military faculty at the National War College. He spent the majority of his military service overseas with nearly 25 years in Asia, primarily in Korea, Japan, and the Philippines. He has Masters of Military Arts and Science degrees from the US Army Command and General Staff College and the School of Advanced Military Studies and a Master of Science degree in National Security Studies from the National War College of the National Defense University. He is also a pursuing a Doctorate of Liberal Studies degree at Georgetown and teaches Unconventional Warfare and Special Operations for Policy Makers and Strategists in the Security Studies Program. He and his family reside in Northern Virginia.

End Notes

[1] Department of Defense Dictionary of Military And Associated Terms, Joint Pub 1-02, as amended 15 August 2014, p. 263.

[2] David S. Maxwell, “Unconventional Warfare Does Not Belong To Special Forces,”  War on the Rocks, August 12, 2013,

[3] David S. Maxwell, “Thoughts on the Future of Special Operations: A Return to the Roots - Adapted for the Future,” Small Wars Journal, October 31, 2013,

[4]  Army Training Manual, Unconventional Warfare, 6 September 2103,

[5] Mark Mazetti, “C.I.A. Study of Covert Aid Fueled Skepticism About Helping Syrian Rebels,” NY Times,  October 14, 2014,

[6] Christopher Dickey, “The CIA’s Wrong: Arming Rebels Works,” The Daily Beast, October 19, 2014,

[7] Janis Berzins, “Russia’s New Generation Warfare In Ukraine: Implications For Latvian Defense Policy,” National Defence Academy of Latvia, April 2014

[8] Stephan Halper, “China: The Three Warfares,” For the Office of Net Assessment, May 2013

[9] Scott Model and David Asher, “Pushback, Countering the Iran Action Network,” Center for New American Security, September 2013,

[10] George Kennan, “Policy Planning Staff Memo,” May 4, 1948,

[11] USASOC, Assessing Revolutionary and Insurgent Strategy,

[13] Five SOF Truths were authorized by COL(RET) John Collins in 1987.  Today they can be found on the USSOCOM web site:

Truth 1: Humans are more important than hardware.

People – not equipment – make the critical difference. The right people, highly trained and working as a team, will accomplish the mission with the equipment available. On the other hand, the best equipment in the world cannot compensate for a lack of the right people.

Truth 2: Quality is better than quantity.

A small number of people, carefully selected, well trained, and well led, are preferable to larger numbers of troops, some of whom may not be up to the task.

Truth 3: Special Operations Forces cannot be mass produced.

It takes years to train operational units to the level of proficiency needed to accomplish difficult and specialized SOF missions. Intense training – both in SOF schools and units – is required to integrate competent individuals into fully capable units. This process cannot be hastened without degrading ultimate capability.

Truth 4: Competent Special Operations Forces cannot be created after emergencies occur.

Creation of competent, fully mission capable units takes time. Employment of fully capable special operations capability on short notice requires highly trained and constantly available SOF units in peacetime.

Truth 5: Most special operations require non-SOF assistance.

The operational effectiveness of our deployed forces cannot be, and never has been, achieved without being enabled by our joint service partners. The support Air Force, Army, Marine and Navy engineers, technicians, intelligence analysts, and the numerous other professions that contribute to SOF, have substantially increased our capabilities and effectiveness throughout the world.


About the Author(s)

David S. Maxwell is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Previously he was the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.  He is a retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and served as a member of the military faculty teaching national security at the National War College.  He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University.


Let me attempt to tackle this item:

"You may not be interested in UW but you can be damn sure that UW is interested in you."

Let me begin by asking this question:

a. If the United States' political objective is, essentially, to transform outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines; this, so that the United States might -- via this approach -- gain greater access to, and greater power and control over, the human and other resources contained within various regions of the world,

b. And if our enemies (example Russia, China, Iran, ISIS, AQ, etc.) have determined that they will use political and unconventional warfare as their primary means/method to prevent the United States from achieving this political objective (outlined in the paragraph above),

c. Then, given these facts and circumstance, how is it humanly possible for the United States NOT to be interested in political and unconventional warfare?

Thus, and as an alternative example, if your enemy was using air power against you -- as the primary means/method to prevent you from achieving your political objective -- then you would probably need to understand how to deal with and defeat air power.


a. In determining how to overcome our enemies' (fictional) air power means/method of preventing us from achieving our political objective.

b. And/or determining how to overcome our enemies' (factual) political and unconventional warfare approaches to achieving this same end,

c. Then -- at this self-same moment -- would it not also be wise to consider alternative means, methods, approaches for achieving one's political objective; this, given the fact that one's present means, methods and approaches had:

1. Met with such limited success.

2. Met with such monumental failure and common resistance and, thus,

3. Caused more harm than good?

(This such re-evaluation to potentially lessen, for example, our need to engage in anti-political warfare, anti-unconventional warfare or other such campaigns?)

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 9:56am

The key to understanding UW is by understanding insurgency.

The key to understanding insurgency is by understanding human nature and the attributes common across cultures that are typically positive in stable societies, and typically negative in unstable societies that are ripe for insurgency and/or UW.

The facts, geography, history and culture of a given place provides the nuanced insights necessary to hang on this framework of fundamental understanding.

But our doctrinal definitions are loaded with our bias and unnecessary "requirements". Similarly we have come to value the need for cultural understanding, but still discount the role of human nature.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 8:24am

Russian Information warfare example:

Absolutely epic headhunting ad. Recruiting new,creative, devoted, full-time #Russian propaganda warriors for €741-927

Outlaw 09

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 7:58am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Again this is the perfect example of the complexity of the Russian UW---just when one gets used to Russian info war tactics then they shift again--so hoes does say the Us government shift as fast to counter it---it does'nt is the answer.

In the Minsk 1 and 2 applauded by the West and signed by Russia agreements there is no mentioning of elections being held by the separatists other than those held by the Ukrainian government.

The Ukraine has basically implemented all aspects and yet Russia just keeps on flipping the agenda and twisting and turning around even signed agreements if it pleases them to fit their declared end state---in this case the "New Russia" annexation of eastern Ukraine.

AND notice not a single from the West and or EU and or NATO "pushback" on the Russian FM statements giving the illusion the West agrees with Russia.

Lavrov claims Sunday's elections in separatist "republics" are "main aspect of Minsk agreements, imp. f legitimacy"…

Outlaw 09

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 7:07am

Good examples of the Russian UW complexity just in two days;

1. yesterday the Russian FM states Russia will respect the Ukrainian elections but there were a number of BUTs connected to the statement

2. Then today Russia states it will recognize the elections of their mercenaries AND

3. then this today;
#BREAKING An immediate Russian offensive is expected north east of #Mariupol.
#Mortar and #Grad fire was follwed by the sighting of 40 APC!!

4.Once again #NATO called Russia to withdraw its forces from the eastern #Ukraine border. Statement by the secretary general

5. the Russian FM last Friday openly stated via RIA "we do not have much influence over the separatists and many do not believe that"

6. this is what they do when their own propaganda does not match real results ...Of course ...
Pro-Russian "Opposition Bloc" accuses the Ukrainian govt. of "massive rigging" of the election results in #Donetsk oblast.

Layered over these actions was today the record low Ruble/USD/Euro rates---so one might conclude economic problems has no influence on Russian decision makers once the UW strategy is implemented as it drives against a defined end state come heck or high water.

Simply put their UW strategy supports their political warfare goals as defined by their geo political decisions.

THAT is the core reason the US never will get off the DoD defined tactical definition of UW and C-UW.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 6:18am

We have yet to scratch the surface the complexity of the new Russian UW strategy---if we fully understood that complexity---we would not be so wrapped up in a narrowly DoD defined version of UW and C-UW.

Coming soon to a theatre near you...

One of the better Ukrainian blog sites "The Interpreter" will be releasing a study on "How Russian has "Weaponized" Information, Culture and Money".

Well worth fully and totally inhaling as that is the Russian way forward for the next 20 or so years if one "takes their doctrine at full face value".

Outlaw 09

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 5:56am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill---IMO we ourselves do not even know there are two ends to a stick.

The current WH talks about "inflicting pain" on Russia to make them understand their mistakes and to "correct them" when right now on the ground there is a mixture of both low intensity conflict and high intensity conflict being conducted by Russia under the guise of their new UW strategy which is also a mixture of LIC and HIC using extensively SOF/intelligence forces as well as irregular forces.

This today should perk up the ears and eyes of the White House:

President Putin says that periods like one we now are in normally characterized by “chains of intensive local-level conflicts”. Take note.

Interesting use of the term "chains of intensive local level conflicts" OR what some call "low intensity conflict or UW".

Looks like Putin is now all in and sees his UW strategy as the "future" for central Europe and the Baltics.

My question---are we the US ready for a long term UW "fight".

IMO-no not really.

Do we really understand our role within the current political warfare and unconventional warfare questions?

For example:

The United States, post-the Cold War, has attempted to use (1) its premier/most-powerful position/status, (2) the appeal of its ideology, system of government, and way of life, (3) its military might and (4) other means/methods to (5) gain greater access to, and greater power and control over, the human and other resources of the world.

This has forced less-powerful entities (such as China, Russia, Iran, etc.) to act together, and/or separately, in an attempt to "counter" our such hegemonic efforts and activities; especially as these relate to their regions of the world.

Thus, it is within this classic "balancing"/anti-hegemonic requirement, it would seem, that such entities as China, Russia, Iran, ISIS, etc. -- in order to halt the further advance of the West (and, thereby, the further loss of their independence, power and control) -- have determined to:

a. Formally, and/or informally, join forces.

b. Appeal to their own, more-indigenous/more-primitive(?) identities. And

c. Appeal to their own (albeit outdated) "shining houses on the hill" (think Russian Empire, Islamic Caliphate).

This makes me ask:

If we are doing the advancing and using (but not very well) political warfare, unconventional warfare and other methods toward this end.

And they are doing the defending and using, towards this purpose (and rather well), counter-political warfare and counter-unconventional warfare methods (see, for example, "b" and "c" above),

Then why would we need to contemplate counter-unconventional and counter-political warfare approaches; given that this would seem to be the already taken up job and purview of our enemies?

Our job, it would seem, would simply be to (1) do political warfare, unconventional warfare, etc., better and, in this manner, (2) overcome our enemies' "countering" defensive attempts/efforts designed to stop our further advance.

One of COL Maxwell's points would seem to be that we really need to better understand both ends of the stick (unconventional warfare AND counter-unconventional warfare).

My suggestion here is that, to supplement this, we also might really need to understand which end of the stick that we are on.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 1:31pm

We discuss here the problem of does the US understand UW---a far deeper question is ---has Russia in it's own analysis and implementation of their UW focused to long on the opponent and not done it's own homework as to what it can and or cannot do---meaning 2nd, 3rd or even 4th order of effects that their UW strategy could unleash.

Example---did Putin and the Russian military ever give it some thought during the development of their UW doctrine that they could be hit by sectorial sanctions, sinking oil prices and a collapse of their national currency as a result of their implementing an UW strategy against an opponent.

Or as part of the UW strategy was the annexation of the Crimea---did the strategic planners envision the only ferry link being cut due to winter storms for up to 5 to 7 days at a time in early Fall? OR did they envision the following;

#BreakingNews The #Sevastopol city administration says it has 10.5 million cubic meters of water left, which will long for one month.

After initially being successful in annexing the Crimea---it appears Russia cannot support the population there---will now water be a reason for an open war not tied to their UW strategy---meaning Russia will be forced to go for a land corridor into order to provide support to the Crimea again potentially risking more sanctions and driving the price of oil and the Rubel even lower.

So while implementing their UW strategy it now appears they must make a series of geo political decisions that were not covered by their UW strategy.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 8:39am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

there is one thing the Russian Uw strategy has vastly underestimated---the use of social media o be an effective counter weight to the Russian info warfare which is part and parcel of their UW strategy.

In the Russian troop/mercenary BM21 MRLS attack today on an Ukrainian village--social media was able to within a few hours geolocate the Russian firing point simply using the photos released on social media.

I gelocated the #Grad missile attack on #Talakivka + its direction.

#Russians fired from #Shyrokyne.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 8:36am

The beauty of the Russian UW strategy--"scalability" or the ability to conduct multiple types of different UW techniques/tactics both inside the occupied areas and deep into the aggrieved country.

It allows the Russians to counter anything the aggrieved country uses as a C-UW and it keeps the aggrieved country off balance.

Examples from today:

Attempt to announce “People’s Republic of Odessa failed. – UNIAN – October 27, 2014. 12:40 Kyiv tme
Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) detained members of a criminal group that prepared the announcement of so-called ‘People's Republic of Odessa’ and formation of irregular armed formations in Odessa region. Subversive group coordinated its activities with servicemen located in Russian
General Staff and with Igor Bezler, one of the field commanders of so-called ‘People’s Republic of Donetsk.

By the way. This seems to be one of the latest Russian reinforcement trucks. New camouflage, just like latest BMPs.

#Ukrainian positions outside #Mariupol @ Pavlopil-Hnutove r under fire f mortars, tanks

From before the elections yesterday:

Prior to election day State Security Service detained diversion groups in Kharkiv, Odessa, Zaporishshya, Mariupol and Kyiv

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 6:06pm

I would have hoped the link I had put in the footnotes of my essay would have been sufficient to lead people to the ARIS project.

The project is not a single source. It is the most comprehensive collection of sources on UW (as well IW, FID, COIN and CT) . Just take a look at the annotated IW bibliography . But also take a look at the bibliography and notes for the Human Factors book as well as the Undergrounds book. And finally look at all the source material for each of the 46 case studies (23 each in Volumes I and II).

To assist those have an interest in Assessing Revolution and Insurgent Strategy I have provided an excerpt of my course syllabus below (Note that when I wrote the syllabus last year there were only 5 books in the ARIS project – there are currently 9 available and more are being added). And since there are more than a couple of thousand pages in the multiple books in the ARIS project I have provide a few pages of suggested reading below the links. I would also recommend you scan the tables of contents in each publication as well as the bibliography. After doing that I will be glad to discuss criticisms of the ARIS project as a single source. And I again ask for alternate academic resources on historical and contemporary revolutions, resistance, and insurgencies. That are as comprehensive as the ARIS project.

ARIS Web Site;

This course will use the Assessing Revolution and Insurgent Strategies project as a foundational reference. There are 5 books that are available on line in both PDF and eBook format at this government link: or alternatively available at this commercial link:… The following are the publications in the project:

Casebook on Insurgency and Revolutionary Warfare: 23 Summary Accounts
Original Version referred to as Volume I by the ARIS project. Primary research responsibility Paul A. Jureidini, Norman A. La Charite, Bert H. Cooper, and William A. Lybrand. Special Operations Research Office The American University, Washington D.C., December 1962.

Casebook on Insurgency and Revolutionary Warfare, Volume II 1962 - 2009.
This Casebook provides a summary of twenty-three insurgencies and revolutions; the goal of the book is to introduce the reader to modern-style irregular and unconventional warfare, as well as to act as an informational resource on these particular cases. While not trying to provide an in-depth analysis of any case, our intent was to provide enough background material and description of the revolution to allow comparisons and analysis of broader ideas and insights across this broad spectrum of cases. If further study is desired, each case contains a detailed bibliography that points toward what we found to be the most helpful and insightful sources.

Casebook on Insurgency and Revolutionary Warfare, Vol. 1: 1933-1962

Human Factors Considerations of Underground in Insurgencies, 2d Edition, 2013,

Undergrounds in Insurgent, Revolutionary and Resistance Warfare, 2d Edition, 2013,

Irregular Warfare Annotated Bibliography,
Alternate link: ARIS IW Annotated Bibliography FINAL_11-17-11.pdf

Casebook Vol II, p. i-xviii, 1-5, 229-233, 423-427, 605- 609, 725-729

2d Edition, Human Factors of Undergrounds in Insurgencies, x-xi, 1-10, 33-46, 89-108, 205-232, 273-314

2d Edition, Undergrounds in Insurgent, Revolutionary, and Resistance Warfare, p. 131-168, 169- 182.

Another excerpt from British Maj. Gen. (ret.) Johnathan Shaw (past Director of British Special Forces 2003-2006) in his testimony, October 21st, before the British Defense Committee Hearing on Combating ISIS. (C-SPAN link at my comment below):

"The big worry that I have about hybrid war is not the capacity of our armed forces to cope with it but, rather, the capacity of Whitehall to organize across government. An actual coherent plan rather than just a comprehensive approach to deal with it. Because I think the whole nature of hybrid war is played to a strength of the Russian system. And it exposes what I perceive as a chronic weakness in the British government system -- in that we don't have an executive culture across Whitehall and Whitehall finds it difficult to create a plan across government."


Sun, 10/26/2014 - 4:59pm

IMO it is unhelpful to look at the holistic graphic of what entails UW using an iceberg analogy. An iceberg analogy implies 90% of UW is mysterious and hidden and somewhat intangible. This encourages a course of action that concentrates on the top functions in the tip of the iceberg.

What we can see is what we can track, target and bring fires day and night; when, where, why and how we like. The inescapable reality that the target area continues to defiantly resurface from the mysterious deep even before the smoke of our fires has lifted infuriates us to import even more fires. It usually takes ten years of wash/spin/rinse/repeat before it breaks us and we give up.

IMHO it would be more helpful consider the exact same graphic as a mountain. I imagine Mao, Ho, Giap looked at a similar collection of UW functions as a mountain of challenges to be solved from the bottom up rather than something mysterious that looms up from the darkness below. Certainly the ISI, Wahhabis, Hezbollah see it as such and give primacy to the function-set at the mountain’s hinterland and basically ignore the summit. By the time they have addressed the issues that form the bottom third of Dave’s mountain the fate of the top - upon which their enemies have exhausted a decade of blood and treasure, is a forgone conclusion.

More often than not the final push for the summit requires little effort.

The obvious question is why we would attempt to scale a mountain by concentrating our resources on the conditions at the summit (or sink an iceberg by bombing the tip). I suggest an answer can be gleaned from noting the location of the functions within the Dave’s mountain that can be addressed by Boeing, Raytheon, DuPont, GE, Lockheed Martin et al. It is only when you reach the last 5% - the part that falls to the likes of Mao, Ho, ISI, and Wahhabis by default – that the suits choose to take on some of the heavy lifting.

The Stinger myth provides a good example how the military allows itself to get played by the suits and the retired brass. Even from the bottomless pit of skepticism from which many SWJ comments are drawn there are folks who swallowed the Stinger myth.

Bizarrely the voices of the military personnel on the ground in Pakistan, who gave simple technical reasons why it was a myth, were drowned out by the same marketing-types who tell us Coke is the real thing and wearing Nike sneakers makes you decisive and successful.

The list of promises from Wonder Weapons is extensive – several thousand V1 & V2 launched at the UK landmass would win the war, saturation bombing in WW2 & Vietnam would win the war, Air Mobile would ensure US success denied the French in Vietnam, get rid of 7.62 and spray 5.56mm everywhere, MRAPs to fight IW, F22s to fight UW! (I see Lt Col McNamara’s old employer has resurrected his body count matrix for the air campaign against the IS)

No doubt greed plays a major role but IMO the fundamental problem is we fail to understand the difference between instruments of force and instruments of power.

We are perfectly aware of the dubious power of Coke to bring peace and perfect harmony to the planet, Bud to achieve the world’s best beer status and a Big Mac's chances to improve your love of food. But show us 13 CVBGs, 20 B2’s, 2000 Apaches etc. and we are convinced we have a power that spans the globe.

Ho and Giap didn’t think so, the ISI definitely do not, and likewise Hezbollah nor I image IS.

An interesting insight as to how pervasive the illusion maintains an intellectual grip on post-WW2 society - both civilian and military - can be gleaned from forums such as the one held at MIT and recorded in SWJ’s:

Obviously these folks are no big fans of the military but they have swallowed the snake-oil and mistake the instruments that have been the harbingers of the ‘noise before defeat’ as objects defining military power with a global reach. These extremely bright folks are forever mentioning the enormous power possessed by the US military as often as they mention the military’s consistent failures. Rather than questioning the validity of their power assessment they explain the failures since WW2 as unfortunate mistakes – i.e. our power is undone by our stupidity or poor strategic guidance.

It appears there is a growing consensus that we need a realignment of US military power so better to counter UW threats facing the governance of our friends and allies. IMO I believe it is paramount to explain the illusion projected by military hardware as an indicator of military power and argue that a mastery of the basic functions in Dave’s mountain will redress a hitherto absence of genuine military power and thus deliver the political outcomes we seek for ourselves and our friends.



Outlaw 09

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 6:10am

Russian UW military doctrine also foresees weapons systems as being part and parcel of their UW strategy for modern warfare.

The US finally called Russia out recently on their of cruise missile development that violates the INF and the Russian FM and Putin tried to put to sleep any discussion of those missiles.

This the US should really pay attention to;

Those same Russian developed cruise missiles that Russia tried to simply ignore when the US mentioned them are actually part and parcel of a new Russian missile system called "Club".

The "Club" is a set of four cruise missiles in a self contained shipping container capable of fitting onto any semi trailer container carrier, any rail car designed to carrier containers and can be set onto the decks of all container ships or ships having flat tops once the cargo is stored.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 2:45pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Dave---although the Russians are showing the strength of their UW strategy ---does not mean the Ukrainians have not understood it.

They are shifting as fast as possible to a C-UW strategy forming new SOF BNs as fast as they can find good soldiers to man the SOF BNs.

Best fighters of disbanded battalion "#Shakhtersk" are now in Special Operation battalion "#Tornado".

Outlaw 09

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 2:23pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Dave---a further article from Military Thought Number 4-2013 that shows Russian military thinking about their New Generation Warfare that is highly interesting to read.

Offers great insight into their military senior leader thoughts.

The Nature and Content of a New-Generation War

Col. S.G. CHEKINOV (Res.),
Doctor of Technical Sciences
Lt. Gen. S.A. BOGDANOV (Ret.),
Doctor of Military Sciences

Abstract. the authors make an analysis of print publications put out by
the russian Ministry of defense and other sources devoted to the country’s
security today and offer an insight into the nature and content of a new-generation war.

Key points:

The role of mobile joint forces operating in an integrated reconnaissance and information environment is rising through the use of new opportunities now available to control and logistic systems.

Differences between strategic, operational, and tactical actions, and between offense and defense are leveling off.

In the mid-1990s, russian military experts displayed enormous interest in
several points argued by V.i. slipchenko in his famous book on sixth-generation The Nature and Content of a New-Generation War 13 wars.

The main objective of sixth-generation wars, the researcher writes, is to “destroy the enemy’s economic potential…,” and “keeping the man outside of the battlespace is what makes future wars and armed struggle cardinally different.”

A new-generation war will be dominated by information and psychological
warfare that will seek to achieve superiority in troops and weapons control
and depress the opponent’s armed forces personnel and population morally and psychologically. In the ongoing revolution in information technologies, information and psychological warfare will largely lay the groundwork for victory.

Asymmetric actions, too, will be used extensively to level off the enemy’s
superiority in armed struggle by a combination of political, economic, information, technological, and ecological campaigns in the form of indirect actions and nonmilitary measures. In its new technological format, the indirect action strategy will draw on, above all, a great variety of forms and methods of nonmilitary techniques and nonmilitary measures, including information warfare to neutralize adversary actions without resorting to weapons (through indirect actions), by exercising information superiority, in the first place.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 1:19pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Dave --your bring up an really interesting point concerning the Russia ability to integrate their SF/GRU and conventional forces.

Someone in DoD and SF needs to sit down and thoroughly check every reporting of Russian SF/GRU and other Russian elite ground forces ie tank units, mountain troops, mech infantry and their interactions with themselves and the Russian supported irregulars.

Along the way DoD and SF also needs to fully understand that the Russians have been field testing some of their most modern weapons and weapons systems ---everything from high precision artillery missiles to themobaric and flame throwing RPGs and even their newest 43mm individual grenade launcher down to the BM27/30s and newest heavy artillery and mortars.

They have fired more high precision artillery missile rounds than we have in the entire artillery inventory and what is fired as training rounds in say the last five years.

On top of it they have even deployed some of their most modern radio recon and SIGINT units into the Ukraine and are using UVAs heavily.

Russia views their new UW as a component in their view of what "modern warfare" looks like.

IMO our SF in say the Ukrainian event would be only able to provide interdiction operations, delaying tactics, ambushing and long range recon and interdiction--over all causing as much confusion as possible in order to give the aggrieved country a chance to inhale and face the other elements of the Russian UW strategy.

Our SF on it's own cannot take the place of elite conventional forces needed to force the issue with say the Russian elite ground forces which is tank on tank supported by artillery and MRLSs.

Bill M.

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 4:17pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Regarding China, I remain recall reading unrestricted warfare when it first came out. I couldn't understand why it was assumed that a thesis represented their doctrine or strategy anymore than the hundreds of papers generated by our officers every year. The same with their 3 warfare which I heard about, UT objective observation indicates they are not following this approach. I don't know if we give China too much, or too little credit in these respects. We have certainly given Mao too much credit over the years. As for reading material I think a comprehenice reading of history is essential to understand strategic context, and how UW fits in that context. I win review one of the ARIS case studies to see how well they do this. Like any area that requires comprehensive study one source will not do. To start with we can cherry pick some of the readings from Phase 3, probably phase 12 now, and then update substantially with modern conflict history. Readings for policy wonks have to show strategic utility, not just tactics, or case studies of tactics. I am sure ARIS does this to some degree, but suspect it is not a stand alone product.

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 1:39pm

In reply to by Bill M.

The source for China's Three Warfares is in the footnotes in my essay. As is the Iranian action network. Here is a shorter article on Iranian UW: You could also check Dean Cheng's article in Special Warfare Magazine a couple of years back on the Chinese Three Warfares as well but they are quite well known to those who study China. But the Net Assessment reported cited in my footnotes above is about the most comprehensive report on it.

But again I ask what do you use to provide the intellectual foundation for UW being practiced around the world?

Bill M.

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 12:17pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

If you're referring to me, I didn't criticize the studies, I criticized the assertions that if you don't read them you can't understand UW. Furthermore, I think more is required than understanding UW to successfully execute it. In the past few years I have become convinced that Special Forces is its own worst enemy. They claim incorrectly they are the only ones who do UW, and spend more time defending the rice bowl (ineffectively), than trying to make UW functional by identifying the changes needed in government and the military to enable it. This seems to be changing now, but we waited too long and missed great opportunities. Your comparison of Russian and US UW is excellent, and it demonstrates how little we have evolved the art within our own ranks. We are babes in the woods above the tactical level. We could open the discussion on MI SO again. We need to stop acting like the Marines who live in fear that they are at risk and therefor push away from joint integration. The ideal force is self evident, but it doesn't matter if we don't get right at the strategic level. Stop worrying about the rice bowl and focus on enabling UW, and the rice bowl will take care of itself.

Please share your source for China's 3 forms of warfare. The assertion that Quds force doesn't engage in direct combat may be overstated. I think they are heavily involved in Syria. Agree they prefer to use proxies, but like us they are flexible.

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 10:59am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09. You may be interested in the summary of Iranian, Chinese, and Russian UW below excerpted from a presentation I often give on UW and counter-UW. You may be especially interested in the comparison between the Eight Phases of Russian New Generation Warfare (as coined by the Latvian Defense Ministry Report last April) and the 7 Phases of a US sponsored insurgency. A summary of the comparison is at the end.

For those who criticize the ARIS project I would again urge you to read it. It is not a US centric UW project. it is a comprehensive study how revolutions, resistance, and insurgency are conducted by various nation-states and non-state actors around the world in both the recent past (Post WW-II) to the current threats we are experiencing (to include Al Qaeda). I ask those who criticize the ARIS project to recommend a better resource to provide an intellectual foundation for the study of revolution, resistance, and insurgencies. Interestingly the project is living. The Human Factors and Undergrounds books that were published in January 2013 are currently undergoing revisions to incorporate more recent UW phenomena.

I would make one comment about countering UW. The essence of countering UW is to understand the various strategies of those conducting and supporting UW (the full range of revolution, resistance or insurgency) and then devising the strategy to counter those strategies. It does not mean doing what they are doing or trying to emulate them because we are only going to execute strategies and campaigns in accordance with the American way of war and our political and military traditions and of course what is politically acceptable to the American political system and people. But we do not necessarily have to counter UW directly or by the same means (though I do admire some of the Russian New Generation Warfare and how it is able to effectively integrate conventional forces and SOF as well as other elements of national power).

Below are excepts from a presentation thus the short paragraphs and bullet points.

3 Principles of Iranian UW

Leave a light footprint
Iran’s preference for a light footprint, especially covert operations, has been confirmed on numerous occasions since 1979;… “The Quds Force is not a front-line unit, but functions as a special operations group whose presence and leadership improves indigenous forces on the battlefield.” This preference, shaped by its experiences in the 1980s, coalesced into a more consistent approach in the aftermath of the killing of 13 Iranian diplomats in its Mazari Sharif consulate by the Afghan Taliban in 1998.

Partner with indigenous forces and use unconventional warfare
Iran has historically emphasized partnering with indigenous forces in carrying out its military interventions. While reliable publicly available information remains scant, these partnerships appear to follow a basic pattern epitomized by Hezbollah, though there can be important variations from case to case.

Create broad non-sectarian coalitions
In its military interventions, Iran has tried to legitimize its actions and weaken its opponents by creating broad non-sectarian coalitions, meaning that it often seeks to avoid overt sectarianism both in its discourse and actions, where feasible.

Chinese Three Warfares
Psychological Warfare seeks to disrupt an opponent’s decision-making capacity; create doubts, foment anti-leadership sentiments, deceive and diminish the will to fight among opponents.
Legal Warfare (“lawfare”) can involve enacting domestic law as the basis for making claims in international law and employing “bogus” maps to justify China’s actions.
Media Warfare is the key to gaining dominance over the venue for implementing psychological and and legal warfare.
Russia versus US

Russian New Generation Warfare versus US Sponsored Insurgency

FIRST PHASE: non-military asymmetric warfare (encompassing information, moral, psychological, ideological, diplomatic, and economic measures as part of a plan to establish a favorable political, economic, and military setup).

The preparation phase for unconventional warfare begins with the approval of the President and/or Secretary of Defense to execute an unconventional warfare campaign. Intelligence and psychological preparation continues throughout.

SECOND PHASE: special operations to mislead political and military leaders by coordinated measures carried out by diplomatic channels, media, and top government and military agencies by leaking false data, orders, directives, and instructions.

Ideally, a pilot team should make initial contact with an established or potential irregular element. A pilot team is typically an ad hoc element composed of individuals possessing the specialized skills appropriate to the particular mission.
Russia versus US

THIRD PHASE: intimidation, deceiving, and bribing government and military officers, with the objective of making them abandon their service duties.

During this phase, special operations forces infiltrate the unconventional warfare operating area. Infiltration may be as overt as using a chartered civilian flight or as discreet as a clandestine insertion.

FOURTH PHASE: destabilizing propaganda to increase discontent among the population, boosted by the arrival of Russian bands of militants, escalating subversion.
US Sponsored Insurgency

Once U.S. advisors link up with resistance leadership, the objective is to determine and agree upon a plan to organize the resistance for expanded operations. In addition to physical preparations, this entails a confirmation of mutual objectives and prior agreements. This requires a period of rapport-building to develop trust and confidence, as well as a period of discussion of expectations from both sides.
Russia versus US

FIFTH PHASE: establishment of no-fly zones over the country to be attacked, imposition of blockades, and extensive use of private military companies in close cooperation with armed opposition units.

Plans agreed to in Phase IV are implemented in Phase V. The amount of effort required to conduct organization building will be based on the insurgent/resistance organization that may already exist. Organization could be time consuming and painstaking or friendly forces could fall in on well-established and robust organizations.

SIXTH PHASE: commencement of military action, immediately preceded by large-scale reconnaissance and subversive missions. All types, forms, methods, and forces, including special operations forces, space, radio, radio engineering, electronic, diplomatic, and secret service intelligence, and industrial espionage.
US Sponsored Insurgency

This will be a series of many events, both lethal and nonlethal, throughout Phases IV through VII. In other words, Phase V does not come to a complete stop when Phase VI begins. Nevertheless, this may represent a planned surge or maximum growth of organization effectiveness synchronized with planned future operations.

SEVENTH PHASE: combination of targeted information operation, electronic warfare operation, aerospace operation, continuous air force harassment, combined with the use of high precision weapons launched from various platforms (long-range artillery, and weapons based on new physical principles, including microwaves, radiation, non-lethal biological weapons).

When unconventional warfare ends in overthrow of a state or liberation of occupied territory and leads to a new government, Phase VII will include those activities contributing to the promotion of the new government’s legitimacy. In such cases, the unconventional warfare effort transitions to foreign internal defense at some point.

EIGHTH PHASE: roll over the remaining points of resistance and destroy surviving enemy units by special operations conducted by reconnaissance units to spot which enemy units have survived and transmit their coordinates to the attacker's missile and artillery units; fire barrages to annihilate the defender's resisting army units by effective advanced weapons; airdrop operations to surround points of resistance; and territory mopping-up operations by ground troops.

Russia versus US Unconventional Warfare Summary

US UW is very tactical, narrow, and limited, it is very SOF focused
Russian UW is joint and interagency and employs conventional as well as special operations forces
SOF and Conventional and Diplomatic and Economic focus
Broader tasks – e.g., no fly zones, blockades, EW, deception, propaganda
US 7 phases – “How to” for SF/SOF
Russian Eight phases – an outline for strategic employment of more than SOF

Outlaw 09

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 4:25am

Here is a good example of why we the US will never get into the C-UW business---it sometimes will require the use of US military force if one fully understands the new Russia UW strategy that mixes irregular, active military, SF and intelligence recon/sabotage forces on the ground.

In an UW environment where the aggressor state uses active duty elite army units using the newest weapon systems to include cluster munitions, themobaric and flame throwing RPGs, tactical guided missiles, and precision guided munitions with the latest tank and MRLS systems as well to support irregular and local fighters--US military force will be ultimately required to break the aggressor active duty military support if the host nation military cannot handle it.


The Ukrainian Army has been holding out at the Donetsk Airport going on now 155 days---and if they still hold by the end of the day they will have broken the Stalingrad historical record of 154 continuous fighting days.

It is critical that the airport be taken as the Minsk 1 and 2 agreements foresee a 30km buffer from the line of fighting which is the airport--that would force the mercenaries to pull way back past Donetsk towards the Russian border---the airport has become a traditional military choke point.

There is an excellent open source workup analysis conducted on the latest mercenary battle videos on the airport fighting.

Then this is being reported today via social media.

Near #Donetsk airport, concentration of enemy forces up to 1500 men, 20 artillery & 18 MLRS

So again in C-UW a supporting country involved in a C-UW fight might just have to go to using regular army units as part of the C-UW mix and currently the National Command Authority has ruled out the use of US military force in say the Ukrainian UW fight.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 10/25/2014 - 4:11pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill---a nice find---

I call the Russian new UW strategy "the poor man's war doctrine". It is easy to implement, scalable up and down the ladder of violence depending on what your opponent does to counter it and is "relatively cheap"--meaning you just send your troops on "vacation" and if they get killed then deniability is via "heart attacks, missing because of an accidental mine explosion, training accidents and the really great one "on vacation in a war zone and they took their tanks with them approach" and oh they forgot to tell me they took their tanks, artillery, MRLSs and ammunition.

It is the ultimate "it ain't me" gimmick going right now and I am seriously afraid this is the future of warfare to come for the next 20 or years worldwide as it truly does negate US military power as the UK General points out.

Actually the new Russian UW strategy has a secondary effect of being able to field test under combat conditions any new weapons systems one wants to field test. Especially in the area of high precision MRLS and artillery guided via radar.

Thirdly, the Russian UW strategy allows for active interactions between irregular and active Russia army units;

In #Lugansk today arrived Kantemirovskaya Fourth Guards Tank Division of #Russia

This observed in eastern Ukraine is a Russian elite tank unit that served in Kosovo, the Chechen fighting, and in Georgia.

By the way the use of high precision weapons is mentioned in one of the phases of their new UW strategy--hardly a coincidence.

The Smerch is capable of firing cluster munitions that Russia has been vocal in accusing the Ukrainians of firing against Donetsk civilians.

#BreakingNews The Ukr army 27th Artillery Regiment from Sumy lost 15-18 men in a Russian army BM-30 Smerch attack in #Starobelska last night

#Ukrainian tanks, APCs and military trucks pulling back along road from #novaidar in face of what soldiers say are Russian Smerch attacks.

#Ukrainian soldiers say their sleeping area in position near #Luhansk hit by #Russian Smerch rockets overnight.

Another great example on how UW can be used by the aggressor--the ability to camouflage aggressor troops in order to carry out "false flag" operations also mentioned in the various phases of the Russian UW strategy.

#BreakingReport Russian invasion forces in #Novoazovsk,paints their trucks in Ukr IFF,gives out Battalion Aydar and Azov uniforms to troops.

Bill C.

Sat, 10/25/2014 - 10:44am

British Maj.Gen. (ret.) Jonathan Shaw CB CBE -- October 21st -- in testimony before British defense committee hearing on combating ISIS:

"The Chief of the General Staff of the Russians outlined a year ago the way he saw Russian forces operating and, in a way, and as far as I know, his is the first country to describe how they were going to do what we would call hybrid war." ...

"If I understand him correctly, the military involvement in the campaign is small and limited and very precisely targeted because the only time it (military involvement) is employed is when the battle is already won, when the population is already sufficiently stirred up and already sufficiently motivated, etc."

"Only then, as in Georgia, as in the Crimea and as in the Ukraine do the little green men suddenly appear and the game is lost. And that is the real worry I have about the Baltics."

"I do not see massed tanks rolling across from Germany. What I see is subversion, corruption, disinformation, masquerading, all sort of the classic stuff."… (Maj.Gen. [ret.] Shaw is the third speaker, being behind Douglas Porch and British Gen [ret.] Shirreff)

Outlaw 09

Sat, 10/25/2014 - 7:18am

In the new Russian UW doctrine "New Generation Warfare" there is reference to the term "private contracting companies" which needs to be fully understood as that is where Russian is headed with their new form of "deniability" when they engage in UW operations in neighboring countries.

Are we in the West ready to make the same move?

Staunton, October 23 – On October 23, Just Russia Duma deputies tabled a draft bill that would allow private firms to create under license from the Federal Security Service (FSB) their own military units, something that some Russian corporations have already done and that others appear to want to do and that could create new possibilities for deception and denial for Moscow.

According to the measure, such private firms could “provide military and guard services to the state, other companies or individual citizens, including foreign ones,” and assist Moscow in “the alternative resolution of military conflicts beyond the borders of the Russian Federation.”

Although this bill was proposed by a nominally opposition party, the idea of creating such units enjoys support from within the pro-government United Russia Party. Last summer, Frants Klintsevich, a United Russia deputy who chairs the Duma Defense Committee, said he was working with the defense ministry on a similar measure.

Such privatization or outsourcing of military functions is already a major business around the world. According to the authors of the new bill, 110 countries already have some form of private militaries. Their activities are a $350-billion dollar business in which Russian firms would then have a chance to participate, backers of the plan say.

But there is a more worrisome aspect of this project if it goes forward: it could give Moscow yet another way to invade neighboring countries as it has in Ukraine with even greater plausible deniability, allowing Putin and Lavrov to say that such actions are the work of private firms and not the Russian government.

The willingness of some Western analysts and governments to accept such duplicity has been very much on display in the case of Ukraine. The former of nominally private Russian military units would only make it even easier for them to ignore reality in the future. Consequently, any formation of private armies in Russia must be watched with great care.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 10/25/2014 - 6:49am

For those that do not believe that a country can in fact in the middle of a war environment shift gears into a C-UW strategy and then implement that strategy just needs to look at how a rag tag Ukrainian Army is "making do".

A friend of mine an Ukrainian SF company commander has been in the dirty ground grunt C-UW level fight for now a two full months and together with the SBU has been unusually successful in intercepting and killing Russian SF/GRU recon teams (including dog teams) to include the recent killing of a high level GRU General leading a highly sensitive recon mission inside the Ukraine.

About two weeks before the Russian Army decided to take a "vacation" in the Ukraine there were one or two small reports about a guerrilla element inside the Donetsk which was ambushing and killing Russian mercenaries--the mercenaries literally are now going out on the street in large groups as a result of this guerrilla TTP.

That report went under the bridge and was not noticed by many although some social media commenters did take note of it.

This might in fact be the first true indication that if an aggressor has a UW strategy and if the aggrieved population is willing to step up and fight using counter guerrilla warfare the aggressor UW strategy can in fact be blunted. Then it is up to the aggrieved country's military to be able to swing into C-UW and support that local population with trained UW personnel.

This used to be the motto of the old guard US Army SF that has been largely forgotten over the last 20 years.

Then this popped up today on the social media side:

#BRK 1st message from the "Guerrilla Army of the Donbass", fighting Rus invaders from inside.

Those are #Donbas residents, who "are people willing to fight for their land and destroy the bandits, who came to rob, kill and destroy."

Outlaw 09

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 11:10am

The question "Do we understand UW"? is interesting in light of current Ukrainian events which is pure Russian political warfare being directed towards them by Russia with Russia using their new UW strategy in support of that political warfare and their defined geopolitical end state of four specific goals.

A far better question would be does in fact the National Command Authority fully understand the flexibility that the new Russian UW strategy gives Russia in the coming years in central Europe and the Baltics as it fine tunes their political warfare approach in say ie the Baltics?

In order to fully understand that flexibility of the new Russian UW strategy this is just a snap shot of todays events around the eastern Ukraine and comments made today by Putin.

Ukr intelligence caught another Russian-instructed terrorist with five IEDs, one AK-74 and grenades in #Mariupol

#BRK Ukr. intelligence arrests 2 pro-Russian terrorists in #Odessa,planning to blow up a railway bridge tomorrow eve.

@OSCE is allowed to monitor only 40 meters of the Ukraine-Russia border.
Yes, 40 meters

Putin says 'still a chance' for peace in Ukraine, but says Moscow has hard time getting rebels to listen. not sure West is convinced

Putin cites @ARothNYT and @hrw report that Ukrainian troops are using cluster bombs in Donetsk (comment:---the OSCE disproved the HRW reporting--notice Putin did not mention the OSCE report)

Putin again portraying Crimea as a purely grassroots reaction of self-determination to "armed seizure of power" in Kiev by neo-Nazis

The reason I seriously doubt that the NCA even understands UW was their from the beginning quick move to openly state that the US is taking the military response option off the table, the US will not provide lethal weapons and the US believes negotiations are the way forward towards a political settlement. The Ukrainian President in fact publicly chastised Obama for this move by making the comment "one cannot stop tanks just with blankets".

If that is the publicly stated NCA position then just how will they then react to a serious UW threat to any NATO country? Is the current NCA willing to go to actual war over a few "little men in the streets raising a ruckus and taking over buildings in the name of Russians being discriminated"?---Seriously do doubt NATO would pull the trigger on Article 5 over Russian discrimination.

In order to counter UW it takes a seriously focused "whole of government" approach not just a little bit here a little bit there and this agency does not even want to support and on and on----Putin has it far easier.

Simply look at Iraq and AFG---did we ever get the "whole of government thing" correct in those two locations?

To counter UW it takes a seriously focused info war ability and one not left to pundits and the western media that never seems to report lately on the Ukraine but it is quick to report a black flag waving on a mountain in Syria. BUT when they do finally report it is usually 3-5 days later.

Example: Reuters reported yesterday that they have evidence from their own journalists on possible Russian troops in the Ukraine-and it hit literally the western mainstream media full force.

European blogger response----was REALLY? We have been reporting about Russian troops and new heavy equipment via Russian videos, photos, Russian soldier IDs, and through Russian social network pages for the last months AND just where have you been?

To counter UW it takes a seriously focused military group of advisors and or tactical units that fully understand the tenets of UW to include shifting to intelligence gathering and police type work in preventing or countering guerrilla units that cross into government controlled regions, fully understand the use of info war, ambushes of aggressor SF/security recon teams, raids into the aggressor back areas to delay troop movements and supplies to actually conducting ambushes of aggressor convoys and actual unit positions and on and on.

This only to give the host country breathing room to counter other elements of Russian UW and political warfare. But if military force as an option is taken off the table then just how does the NCA support a country if the aggressor is using political warfare supported via UW and uses some form of force?

Right now the NCA is nowhere close to being the in the UW "game" that Russia is playing as one must compliment the Russians as their UW strategy allows for at least 50 different movements in a single day if necessary in achieving their end state. There is a great software term for this--"scalability".

In my opinion the Russians have actually failed though in the implementation of their UW strategy---they were hoping to achieve the eastern Ukraine annexation via local forces but at the height of the initial takeovers it was the work of Ukrainian criminal gangs and no more than 1000 locals that were almost beaten by the rag tag Ukrainian Army until Russia was forced to take a "vacation" in the Ukraine just to get some semblance of parity back into the "game".

Putin forgot to ask the locals if they wanted to be "rescued" from the marauding Ukrainian fascists/Nazi's---which many were not as the actual ethnic levels were 55% Ukrainian 45% Russian and that was never really mentioned by western media.

Thus Russia went from a steady phase by phase increase in their UW strategy until roughly phase 3 and 4 and then jumped/were forced straight to phase six with actual Russian troops and heavy weapons.

Another failure of the current Russian UW was the failure to think through the 2/3/4/5th order of effects---ie what really should I be doing if in fact the sanctions bite, the oil prices sink and the Ruble crashes--do I continue on to the end state--ie victory or do I figure out another route that a least gives me an off ramp and a "little face saving victory"?

Putin's failure to think through the order of effects stems from his believe in his own propaganda---an "altered state of reality" makes it really hard to focus on that off ramp when it is needed as everything appears then to be a "failure" in the eyes of his supporting Russian population.

Some of the old guard here fully understands the flexibility offered by a solid UW or C-UW strategy, but what I have seen in the last six months from the NCA---they are nowhere close to even understanding the implications of the new Russian UW strategy--they are simply "not in the game".

Now if the Russian mercenaries were waving "black flags" then that might change.

Right now though Russia is again shifting their UW strategy to guerrilla warfare---so what will the NCA political response be?

Outlaw 09

Sat, 10/25/2014 - 8:38am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill--wish I had a tablet right about now as I am sitting in a great small Berlin coffee shop hanging out with some UA SF types who are in Berlin to recoup before heading out again and typing on a full keyboard and trying to balance a latte.

You bring up an interesting point in this discussion on C-UW and UW---in the discussion we are having now here over coffee-- there is a serious debate over both offensive and defensive forms of UW and C-UW.

Even the USASOCOM article did not get into both areas.

Offensive UW has the advantage of delay, disruption, and to a degree destruction, but if you are the Ukraine it takes on in defensive C-UW more of a police/intelligence role in attempting to pickup, or divert inbound intel gathering/sabotage teams bent on causing disruption and confusion inside the aggrieved country setting the stage for the aggressor argument that the current governance is a failure when it is not a failure. In some way almost an "armed" info war kind of thing which is not normal in our Western way of thinking about UW.

In the occupied Donetsk territory one is now seeing the creation and going on the offensive of small guerrilla type units which is at the heart of the old US SF days in support to the aggrieved country---something I personally thought was dead after the old SF was reduced in strength by the Active Army in mid 70s, some are being led by former UA airborne officers some are being led by active Ukrainian SF types---AND the aggressor forces are not prepared for it as they are focused on offensive operations and are not structured for a 360 degree type of operational security which requires more manpower to conduct.

Success #SBU detained #Russia|n #FSB-documents-coordinate activities of armed groups.

Maybe in this SWJ debate we have to get to the common ground that really all elements of UW and C-UW have very much in common and the only differences are when they are being put into motion by the aggressor country meaning we must then understand what is driving the aggressor to include his politics, his world belief system, his military doctrine, his ideology and on and on into his form of UW which we do not currently think about when we talk UW and or C-UW in the West.

We in the US tend to go at it from a set concept of what UW and C-UW is and is not as per our military doctrinal approach.

By widening the parameters in understanding the aggressor one actually begins to understand just how he approaches his problem solving process as it is really his UW strategy that is being used in that process at least from his point of view to achieve his stated end state goals which the aggressor always seems to do whether it is Putin or the IS.

At some point I will point out some thinking failures in the SOCOM article that just do not quite fit the current Ukrainian environment which will be with us for another bunch of years and Putin is not going away anytime soon nor his UW threats.

Bill M.

Sat, 10/25/2014 - 7:43am

In reply to by Outlaw 09


Before I respond to your post directly I need to apologize for all the spelling errors in my previous post. I recently purchased a tablet, and when I respond from the tablet it often replaces words as I'm typing. I'll have to get with a digital native to learn how to turn that annoying feature off :-). What I intended to write above: "Our biggest shortfall strategically is our ability to ignore context, and PICK a narrowly focused objective to focus on, a narrow objective that doesn't make sense within the larger context."

I don't know if I agree with your assessment that Russia's aggression is more important than black flags waving here and there, but it is a strong argument. I would put it on par with the Islamist threat at a minimum, and agree it can escalate in seriousness well beyond the Islamist threat. Both of these threats over time can change the world in a way that not only threatens our economic interests, but seriously threatens our and our allies' security.

This gets to my point above, the point that my Samsung Tablet managed to sabotage earlier, which is Russia and the Islamists have a larger agenda in mind than the current fights we tend to focus on in Ukraine and Syria/Iraq. Strategically, looking at our Counter-UW concept we shouldn't just focus on the current fights. The USASOC White Paper identifies FID, COIN, etc. as part of the collective C-UW approach (true as far as it goes), so we need to begin a tailored FID effort in the countries that we think will be targeted next. That FID effort can include training their SOF and conventional forces (our general template response to make mini me's), but I strongly agree with Dave when he said our efforts must be broader than train and equip. I'll take it a step further and argue train and equip should be secondary effort. We need to collectively develop a strategy with our allies and partners to counter UW, and that strategy must be broader than our generic approach of training their military, civil affairs, MISO, etc. Our adversaries have already demonstrated they can operate around the capabilities we develop. Much more to it than this, but to keep it concise T&E is often wrong headed, and more often ineffective. We need to get back to the black arts, significantly increase our HUMINT (not just focused on chasing HVTs, which has proven to be a road to no where), conduct old school PSYOP (not the softer, politically correct version of MISO), help the countries we are working politically to more effectively address the population groups at risk, address the Cyber domain, etc.

C-UW does not need to be restricted to defense, we can also conduct UW, or the imply the threat of conducting UW against what Russia values. This may mean a return to deterrence and proxy wars to avoid a nuclear conflict. I think many people assume that since the Wall came down Russia no longer presents a threat, but next to us they have the most powerful nuclear weapon capability in the world.

The same applies to ISIS, we need to continue to target them directly, but much more effectively than we doing now. We need to look at the threat from a broader perspective than a JOA (conventional doctrine won't work). A JOA they are not constrained by. In some respects, we are like a wounded animal laying in the snow. The wolves are approaching us, and the animal can still defend itself by kicking for now, but if it doesn't rise, then the end game is predetermined.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 10/25/2014 - 5:57am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill--the following is 200% correct.

QUOTE: We have a doctrine for it, and depending upon how you interpret it others could be following it, but it is a bit over the top to assume they don't have their own doctrine that conforms to their political system, culture, and ideology. UNQUOTE

That said all the various forms seen in the past and currently all have certain underlying traits and many common crossing points that can be generically looked at.

IE what we are seeing in the Ukraine is the Russian attempt at carrying their WW2 guerrilla history into their view of what modern warfare is along with merging it into a new UW doctrine in support to their form of political warfare--new for them along with their new weapons systems.

NOTE: Several top Russian Generals published in early 2013 their own view of this new modern warfare just before the new Russian military UW strategy was released--the basis of their study was they intense review of the US Army, our various engagements starting with Kuwait, and our precision weapons systems and their view of cyber/info warfare.

Therein lies the danger for the NCA---if one does not truly understand both the history of UW successes and failures and there are a few---then how does one make strategic decisions or for that matter how does one then formulate a counter UW strategy--and designing one after the fact is not a strategy---the NCA seems to be always in a reactionary mode and never proactive.

Right now sitting 25 miles from the Polish border and having a distinct past grounded in UW I fully do not believe the NCA has a strategy nor does it fully understand the flexibility that an aggressor with a UW strategy has.

What is dangerous for central Europe and for that matter all of Europe is the simple fact that Putin using his UW strategy can create turmoil for years to come as it is simply not being confronted militarily---or rather we the West seem content in letting the "Ukrainians" take care of the problem when in fact Putin's challenge is currently against not only the Ukraine but the West in general.

Using the word military in countering UW sounds harsh but right now even with the Russian economy virtually collapsing around Putin--he is still intent on a UW "victory" so when economic sanctions do not stop an aggressor what is then left? Had the West an "active military focused counter UW response" ongoing right now in the Donbas--we might be seeing a different Putin. What NATO has defined as they current hybrid counter occurs basically to late in the current Russian UW cycle thus will fail before it begins.

But again "blankets against tanks" as is the current US strategy gets the US nowhere.

Right now the Putin challenge is far more dangerous to the US than some "black flag" waving in a video used for propaganda. Why---the US has no military forces in Europe and NATO has basically disarmed itself over the last 25 years ---tie that to Putin's seriously implicit threat three times in the last six months to use tactical nuclear weapons in Europe---think that far out weights the "black flag hang up" the US has.


Yesterday Putin probably the hardest anti American Russian speech in years and what is the response out of the US---deafening silence even out our otherwise chattering media.

The Bear is Not Going To Ask Permission of Anyone’ - At Valdai, Putin Lauded by Sychophants and 'Realists'…

OSCE says 540 people in military uniforms crossed Russia-Ukraine border last week

TV Rain Selects Most-Discussed Quotations from Putin's Speech - Links to English-Dubbed Video and English Transcript…

SSU destroyed anti-Ukrainian plan on disrupting elections and destabilizing of the situation in Ukraine.

One thing I have learned over the years in dealing with first the Soviets, having worked with their own "Peacekeeping Brigade Russian officers in 2012/2013, and now watching Putin--words mean things to him plane and simple. We though in the West tend to gloss over them and not pay much attention to them--with Putin every word he utters carries a meaning as he really is addressing multiple audiences.

When one "fully understands the words" and then "sees" the actions on the ground then one "fully understands" the reality in front of oneself.

So again to answer Dave's question---no we do not get the latest forms of UW nor do we understand them.

Bill M.

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 12:18pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

You wrote,

"I still don't have a good idea of what people want that are support the idea of arming the Syrian opposition. I suspect depending on the proponent it is different things, which makes this all problematic from the start."

What would seem obvious is that we must identify this first, and the objectives must be realistic based on the strategic context. It appears our objectives now are to put pressure on ISIS, which in itself is unrealistic, but we can't ignore the larger issues that our assumed surrogates will be focused on such as ousting Assad. Recent article stated our objective was only to provide the resistance to protect their villages/towns. If that is true, then Dave's response "why bother" is absolutely correct. Our biggest shortfall strategically is our ability to ignore context and big a narrowly focused objective to focus on that doesn't make sense within the larger context.

"In terms of unconventional warfare, it seems to me that many others are attempting to highjack the American system for their own ends which is their form of unconventional warfare and we are being dragged in along with it."

I don't think UW is an American system, almost every country (and now powerful non-state actors) that are pursuing international interests uses it (long before we did, hell it was even used during the Peloponnesian War), and it doesn't require elite forces to execute it. However, using specially selected, trained, and equipped forces to execute it increases your chances of success exponentially. In the U.S. the CIA has the bulk of experience in using UW to pursue national ends, and much of it in hindsight was a misguided effort. We have a doctrine for it, and depending upon how you interpret it others could be following it, but it is a bit over the top to assume they don't have their own doctrine that conforms to their political system, culture, and ideology.

Madhu (not verified)

Fri, 10/24/2014 - 7:48am

This is a fantastic point:

<blockquote>But the problem really lies with policy makers who grasp at straws and want to "do something" and then force the intelligence community and SOF to conduct long duration unconventional warfare operations "in extremis" without the necessary preparations or understanding of the operational and strategic environment.</blockquote>

Also from this article:

<blockquote>In the first Mark Mazzetti writes about a classified CIA report that alleges that the US has rarely been successful in training and equipping rebel forces and because of this report the US Administration was reluctant to arm and train Syrian rebels.</blockquote>

Rant Corp had mentioned in another thread the exaggerated success of using Stingers in 80s Afghanistan, mythology of success that continues to pollute our discourse (IMO, and, once again, I don't mean blowback necessarily, I am talking the specifics of what happened on the ground):

<blockquote>SUMMARY: The alleged performance of STINGER missiles in Afghanistan in the 1980s was grossly exaggerated. By comparing the number of STINGERs provided to the Afghans with the number of aircraft downed, the impossibility of the accepted claims about effectiveness is shown. The success rate of the STINGERs against all aircraft is calculated to have been, at best, in the 20% range. Even after the STINGERs arrived in Afghanistan, the majority of aircraft continued to be downed by less sophisticated weapons, and the maximum total number of aircraft that may have been downed by STINGERs is calculated as 150 over three years, with the actual number most likely less than that. A well documented chronology of events shows that the STINGERs did not initiate, or increase the rate of, the decline in air attacks against the Afghan Resistance in the latter years of the war. Logical analysis refutes the idea that the relatively small military and economic costs that resulted from the STINGERs had any significant influence on the course of the war, or on the Soviets’ decision to withdraw from Afghanistan which evidence indicates had been made before the deployment of the STINGERs.</blockquote>

I imagine the administration looked at many, many factors particular to this time and space, beyond a recitation of doctrine: public support or lack of it, lack of good intelligence, inability to control who gets the weapons, "frenemies" working at odds because of different goals than ours, and so on, yet concluded because of overwhelming domestic pressure "to do something." to do the least they could because they understand this will not work. The fault lies in all the various camps arguing to "just do something," IMO.

And what is the ultimate goal of supporting the Syrian opposition? Regime change? Pressure for negotiations? To punish Assad? To bleed Iran? I wrote something very similar at Kings of War, what, a year ago now, in the comments, and I still don't have a good idea of what people want that are support the idea of arming the Syrian opposition. I suspect depending on the proponent it is different things, which makes this all problematic from the start.

Our attempts at supporting the Syrian opposition have already--along with many other factors our of our control--contributed to the rise of ISIL/ISIS/IS.

In terms of unconventional warfare, it seems to me that many others are attempting to highjack the American system for their own ends which is their form of unconventional warfare and we are being dragged in along with it. Pro, not counter, unconventional warfare, unfortunately.

You'd think after Chalabi and AfPak, among other things, our policy makers and interventionists would get it, but I guess not. Unconventional "warfare" goes on all the time, and it is often used against the American people to drag us in. Chalabi--and other understood--that the anti Saddam resistance required the harnessing of the American people into their fights. Others have learned that lesson all too well.

Very nice article. Thank you.

The beauty of UW is that is largely amorphous and can be molded to fit the situation. Strongly agreed with most points in great article, but a couple of points in my view are over stated or illogical.

First, ARIS studies are not the wonder pill that will make one UW minded. They are certainly a good start, and having read one ARIS study completely (twice), and having read through the others I encourage others to read them. For policy makers they are probably are the best place to start, but let us not forget that our adversaries (most recently Russia, Al-Qaeda, and Iran) have effectively employed UW without reading the ARIS studies. It would seem that a simple awareness of what is happening in the world would wake one up to the reality of UW, but I guess that isn't the case. UW will not remain static, the art form will continue to evolve over time based on social, cultural, technology, and yes Bob even ideology will influence it. All these factors, and others, combine to influence the character of a particular UW effort. Furthermore, it certainly is not restricted to leveraging an existing insurgency, though that is a valid use.

Second, Dave argues UW is an approach that will take a long time, and then notes the U.S. doesn't have an appetite for approaches that take a long time. That would imply right off the cuff it is an undesirable option. One could that point and ask the following questions: In what circumstances should America embrace the UW option if it will take 10 plus years? If it is important to us, why not use a more direct and decisive military option? Are we using UW because we don't have the political will to do that? If that is the case, then why do we assume we will maintain the will to do UW? I personally never heard anyone say UW is an outdated concept, but I have heard arguments that SOF has often failed to make a logic argument for using it. I think all of these questions can be answered in way that shows the utility of UW, but that requires growing SOF strategic thinkers and putting them in locations where strategy development and operational planning is actually done.

UW may take a long time, but depending on a number of factors, especially our objectives, that is not necessarily the case. Most wars are not unlimited, so if we have limited objectives, UW may be able to achieve those objectives relatively quickly. This is argument is parallel to SOF advertising its missions are high risk, and while some certainly are, we would do our nation and our force a favor if we also articulated that the use of SOF can actually reduce risk. A hat tip to a friend in NAVSPECWARCOM for that insight. In the same light, we too often present UW in a way that makes it undesirable. By all means we need to be completely honest on the risks, and not promote analysis and assessments based on propaganda. The bottom line is that UW is often a viable option, but it is ignored because of the way it is presented. Sir, I can accomplish that for you, but it will take 10 years and it is high risk (compared to what one might ask)? How do you like me so far? Not so much, have a seat, who's next?

Whether UW is used for crisis response (the historical reasons for SOF employing it), or more effectively in a deliberate manner the most important factor that will define whether it is successful or not is our strategic objectives. All war is supposedly subordinate to political aims, but in the case of UW the desired effects are largely political versus destroying an adversary's military forces. That difference is not insignificant. UW plans should start with an end in mind, and hopefully not something simplistic like the unicorns and rainbows desire to establish a democratic government and free market in the wake of a war. That is often the best way to pull defeat out of the jaws of victory.

Dave argues that UW presents good options for Syria and Iraq. We all know a number of actors are conducting UW in Iraq and Syria. That point isn't even debatable, but if we're going to do it, we need to work on the desired policy ends. The ends articulated in a recent article in SWJ don't justify the use of UW. In fact, that approach shouldn't be called UW. The article states our limited aims with the resistance basically developing village defense forces and little more. With an objective like that, we have failed before the ink dries on the order to execute it. We seem to have a bad habit of repeating history (CIDG to VSO), instead of learning from it. We do it just because we have done it before, so why not do it again in this completely different situation? This gets to Dave's most important point about gaining understanding of the operational environment.

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 10/23/2014 - 2:51pm


Keep banging the drum, brother. UW is all around us as a strategic approach being applied by ourselves and so many of our state and non-state competitors. But we tend to overly fixate on interesting, but largely irrelevant factors such as the types of ideologies or tactics being employed; the legal status of the UW actor; or if they are working toward an end we support or one we oppose. The water is very muddy, and in that muddy water we spend a great deal of time debating and attacking symptoms and ancillary factors, and not nearly enough time focusing on and dealing with the heart of the matter at hand.

Certainly the US military did not "invent" UW; and I personally believe that our doctrine on this ageless approach to warfare is overly complicated and tied to tactics and techniques developed and employed early in our own discovery of this approach. Somehow we need to highlight a few key facts. One, is that UW is natural. Another is that it is very simple to describe, though very difficult to implement or control.

For me, in simplest terms, UW is when one leverages the insurgent energy resident within someone else's system of governance in order to advance one's own interests against that system.

The one prerequisite component is that there must be a population already in place with sufficient insurgent energy against the system of governance they reside within for one to establish a relationship with and leverage toward what are typically mutually supporting ends or interests. (Che Guevara must of skipped this class, as he died a lonely failure in Bolivia while trying to ignite an insurgency he hoped would spread across the continent of South America among a population that was largely satisfied with their governance).

I think westerners in general, and Americans in particular get to a healthier perspective on what is going on in the world around us when we realize we are in the midst of what might best be called "an era of self-determination." We see our interests served best by some fusion of sustaining the status quo and in making others more like us. This is in stark friction with so many restless populations and rising states who reasonably believe their best future is better served through change and by being more like themselves.

This is true with populations, such as the Sunni Arabs of Syria and Iraq who reasonably see little future in remaining under the Shia dominated governance of those two states; and it is equally true of a powerful state like China who has never recognized the legitimacy of those who created the sovereignty box they are forced to live within - and certainly do not believe that a box too small in 1947 is anywhere near adequate for the powerhouse China has become today. This does not mean that these states or populations get what they want, but it does mean that there is tremendous energy and motivation for change in the current global strategic environment.

An era of self-determination is one marked by insurgency. It is also typically marked by more traditional warfare, but many of those who would historically have turned to such warfare are seeing the value of conducting unconventional warfare instead. Blaming these things on "ideology" or any particular UW actor is not particularly helpful for framing effective reactive or proactive countermoves. We do indeed need to learn how to counter unconventional warfare. Not just suppress insurgent movements, or to conduct CT against non-state UW actors - but to actually understand the nature of the energy that is being drawn upon and to act in ways to outcompete others who would exploit this energy to our disadvantage.

But today we talk about ISIL "advances" as if they were the German army advancing toward Moscow. Ridiculous. ISIL gains and losses can only be measured in the degree of support they have from the Sunni Arab populations of Syria and Iraq. We need to focus on these populations and addressing their reasonable concerns, with any efforts against ISIL being clearly in support of that main effort. To attack ISIL as cause and cure is to possibly defeat a current actor, but to make the overall problem with the Sunni Arab population worse. We need to think about these conflicts differently, and UW and Counter-UW are helpful lenses.