Hybrid Wars: Technological Advancements and the Generational Evolution of Warfare
by Tamseel Aqdas
With respect to its evolving tendencies, warfare can be depicted as dynamic in nature. A discussion of the contemporary geopolitical environment discloses advancements in the philosophy and art of war. Those developments are associated with technological progression, resulting in novel strategies and implications for warfare. Contemporary evolving methods have merged with traditional understandings of warfare, marking the concept of hybrid warfare.[i]
As a general concept elements of hybrid warfare can be observed throughout history. George Washington’s Continental Army displayed elements of hybrid warfare in its surprise attack at Trenton, and his use of militias in the southern states. Another highlight of the evolution of hybrid warfare can be witnessed in the Arab revolt too, where the British military forces devised a formulation of irregular forces and conventional operations made famous by T.E. Lawrence. Nevertheless, the contemporary concept of Hybrid warfare has grown into hyper complexity “due to the rise of non-state actors, information technology, and the proliferation of advanced weapons systems.”[ii]
Modern-day hybrid warfare emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union, where a rise in unconventional challenges to the traditional state-on-state war was witnessed. The dominance of the American intervention in southwest Asia in 1991, it’s defeat of Iraq in 2003, and its dominance of the oceans through its aircraft carriers forced competitors to develop new war methodologies.[iii] The new thinking was to exploit the weaknesses of the conventional military structures. As a result, conventional capabilities were combined with irregular and asymmetric tools, resulting in the genesis contemporary of hybrid warfare.[iv]
The term hybrid warfare is a comparatively new concept; thus, consensus on a universally accepted definition does not prevail. In fact, its subjective nature has resulted in distinctive definitions across the international system, based on national perspectives. The term was first introduced by William J. Nemeth in 2002 who hypothesized that hybrid warfare consists of a creative combination of synchronized non-military and military-strategic deployment.[v] Non-military efforts include psychological and social combat of propaganda, fake news, diplomacy, electoral intervention.
Ultimately, the goal of hybrid warfare lies in attaining societal control, influencing individual mindset, and manipulating the executive authorities of states. The “core values, motivational factors, cultural basis, and strategic infrastructure of a country” are influenced, i.e., are now legitimate targets of soft and hard power.[vi] In addition, the hybrid nature of warfare can be utilized across the several operating environments of the conventional battlefield, the indigenous population of the conflict zone, and the international community.[vii] This interconnectedness along with its asymmetric nature makes it difficult to tackle hybrid warfare since militaries lack the flexibility to shift mindsets on the constant basis required by this new warfare[viii].
This article will deconstruct hybrid warfare with respect to its evolution. The role of technological progression in the development of warfare will be analyzed, along with the prospects of hybrid warfare in the contemporary international system. The evolution of warfare has introduced new methodologies into combat, which is a significant change in the trajectory of the evolution of warfare, since resources are allotted for countering the influence of non-state actors instead of the hard power military potential of states. In short, the theory explores the development of hybrid warfare as technological advancements have evolved the course of warfare through introducing irregular means of social and psychological combat.
Generations of Warfare and Technology
The evolutionary process can be categorized as generations where each generation resulted in advancements, which can be categorized as first, second, third, fourth and fifth generation warfare. It can be seen that the evolution of warfare reveals the influence of technology. To elaborate, it can be implied that evolution of warfare is directly linked to technological advancements. Technology results in evolved weaponry and warfare strategies.
First generation warfare emerged subsequent to the treaty of Westphalia in 1648.[ix] Whereby, the concept of territorial sovereignty was introduced. This concept effectively translated into state monopoly in the conduct of war over tribes.[x] As a result, “this generation of warfare was linear and saw the fielding of small professional armies that relied upon rigid drill to maximize firepower”.[xi] Furthermore, a culture of order was established in warfare though military uniforms and rules of ranks.[xii] In this manner, the previous disorderliness in battle fields was tackled. Formerly, warfare was not conducted in a systematized manner, and 1st generation warfare introduced the concept of organized manpower.[xiii] The organizational element resulted in the formation of effective strategies against the opposing forces. In addition, this generation resulted in the development of French revolutionary armies, which carried low training levels and massive manpower.[xiv]
Second generation warfare was introduced by the French military and ended following World War 1.[xv] The culture of order was continued, while mass manpower was replaced by mass fire power in terms of domination over battle field.[xvi] The reason for this transition was the introduction of artillery, airplanes, and heavy gunfire.[xvii] As a result, soldiers were relieved of hand-to-hand combat. In addition, obedience guided by rules took precedence over self-initiatives.[xviii] Technological progression was first witnessed as part of 2nd generation warfare. As, weapons, such as, artillery, airplanes, and heavy gunfire were introduced. This development resulted in the transition from manpower to fire power. In addition, Prussian forces devised the military operational art.[xix] Whereby, military forces received directions with regards to executing strategically critical operations.
Third generation warfare was developed by Germany amid World War 2. During World War 1 Germany practiced infiltration tactics, which resulted in development of tanks in World War 2. The concept of maneuver warfare was introduced, where emphasis was laid on surprise tactics of bypassing and undermining the enemy through speed, stealth and surprise. In addition, tanks artillery and fighter aircrafts were also introduced. Germany practiced this during the blitzkrieg campaigns of World War 2, that were predominantly time-centered in comparison to place-centered. As a result, initiative gained advantage over previously emphasized disciple. With respect to 3rd generation warfare technological evolution was introduced in the form of maneuver warfare. Maneuver warfare commenced the concepts of speed, stealth, surprise and bypassing the “enemy’s lines to cause a collapse of their forces from the rear”.[xx] Such projections developed warfare into prioritizing self-initiatives, over previously emphasized disciple.
Fourth generation warfare has gained prominence in the last six decades. This generation introduced non-state actors as party to warfare, as a result, the state monopoly over warfare ended[xxi]. Non-state actors introduced terrorism in warfare, thus altering its dynamics.[xxii] As a result of terrorism, traditional military forces were passed, and civilian populations became a direct target. This generation introduced non-state actors as part of warfare. As a result, the prominence of traditional military forces was reduced, as civilian populations were directly targeted through terrorism.[xxiii] Such shifts reshaped the dynamics of warfare, as states lost their monopoly over warfare.
Fifth generation warfare distinctly reshaped the art and philosophy of war, as a battle of perceptions and information was introduced. Under that notion, masses of rivalry states were provided with a manipulated view of the world and politics, resulting in state instability.[xxiv] With technological advancements such as, “computers and electronics, information, communication, weapons, greater speed, capable sensors, rapid deployment, stealthier technology, fuel efficiency, enormous lethality, space-based systems, biochemical agents, and artificial intelligence” have distinctly altered the conduct of warfare.[xxv] Under this system, rivalry states are manipulated through information, which ultimately generates state instability.
Development into Hybrid Warfare
The development of warfare with respect to technological evolution ultimately resulted in the phenomenon of hybrid warfare. Hybrid warfare if often regarded as the ‘grey zone’ between war and peace time.[xxvi] Implying that, “states seek to carry out their objectives without crossing the threshold to open conventional war”.[xxvii] As a result, the use of both conventional and irregular tools is incorporated, which are executed by both state and non-state actors.
The fusion nature of hybrid warfare allows for the incorporation of both state and non-state actors. Thus, arguably the notion of hybrid warfare was first introduced amidst fourth generation warfare. Where, unconventional weapons were incorporated by non-state actors to destabilize states. With that said, fifth generation warfare beheld further development in the domain of hybrid warfare. Fifth generation warfare emerged during the age of information. Under which, hybrid warfare was introduced as means projecting altered perceptions and information. Implying how, the perceptions of common masses was altered through networking and surveillance, whereby manipulating their views.
Moving forward, the development of hybrid warfare can be examined through the categories provided by Michael O’Hanlon. According to him, the first factor resulting in the development of hybrid warfare was the integration of social, political, military and economic system.[xxviii] Implying how submerged integration lead to identification of potential hybrid threats. Adding on, he further elaborated the role of technological advancements and the emergence of sophisticated technologies in the development of warfare. His last category acknowledged the global reach of emerging “precision-guided and long-range technologies”, and state vulnerabilities which were leveraged by non-state actors.[xxix]
Deconstructing Hybrid Warfare
The main purpose of hybrid warfare is to disperse violence, whereby the victim is unaware of the projected warfare. Henceforth, the perceptions of common masses are manipulated and altered through psychological and social combat. The desired outcome is attained through capitalizing on socio-political vulnerabilities, exploiting religious sentiments and cultural icons. Such actions are undertaken through fake news, diplomacy, and electoral intervention. Moreover, in Sun Tzu words hybrid warfare is the “acme of skill [a victory without fighting].” Thus emphasizing on the notion that, victory can be attained without adopting conventional war techniques. Instead, enemy forces can be internally destabilized through the art of hybrid warfare.
Critical functions and vulnerabilities
Critical functions and vulnerabilities constitute a key measure of hybrid warfare. Critical functions can be regarded as the “activities or operations distributed across the political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure spectrum”.[xxx] A disruption of which can result in a collapse of a state or society. Critical functions can be represented under actors, infrastructures, and processes. It can be stated that critical functions carry vulnerabilities, which can be exploited through hybrid warfare.[xxxi] Henceforth, in order to tackle hybrid warfare, it is crucial to analyze the critical functions. This process can be undertaken by understanding the reasoning behind their inter-dependence and the potential vulnerability that can arise.
Synchronization of means and horizontal escalation
Synchronization in hybrid war is the control of both military and non-military strengths focused as instruments of power towards a desired competitor outcome.[xxxii] With synchronization, the escalation and de-escalation of hybrid warfare occur in a horizontal manner, making room for greater options for the attackers. This is because, through horizontal escalation, “actor can stay below certain detection and response thresholds”.[xxxiii] Hence, the horizontal axis is generally hidden beneath the surface in the form of cyber and A.I. operations. Ultimately, this trait of hybrid warfare provides the attacker with the ability to exploit vulnerabilities without detection.
Effects and non-linearity
Effects and non-linearity form a dominant trait of hybrid warfare. With respect to this concept, effects refer to changing the state of entities. The effects are produced through targeting the vulnerabilities of a system. However, the effects cannot be categorized and planned as linear events. The implication of this is that the outcomes of hybrid warfare are essentially unpredictable. Moreover, similar actions can yield different effects in an alternating contexts.[xxxiv]
Information as a tool
Technology has rapidly developed throughout the generations of warfare. With the increased technology of cyberspace, media and social media in fifth generation warfare, hybrid warfare has incorporated information as a tool. Through information, cultures are manipulated at the unconscious level with diplomacy and propaganda. As a result, the mass unconscious mind is incapable of detecting political information manipulation, and rivalry states can generate their desired outcomes. The misinformation is spread through newspapers, leaflets, computers, spam emails and other related technologies.[xxxv] The consequence of which is that, ordinary individuals turn into insurgents, and function against their governments.[xxxvi]
Incorporation of social media
In the current era, billions of individuals employ the use social media. Thus, making it a channel for strategic communication and projecting information onto perception. In addition, novel forms of rhizome-like networks are emerging, which are directly responsible engaging information warfare.[xxxvii] Examples of such networks include: antonyms collective, wiki leaks, military and political tool factories.[xxxviii] Furthermore, information tends to travel in a viral manner on social media, meaning, individuals do not take out time to distinguish between authentic and false information.[xxxix] As a result, social media is able to shape the perceptions of masses through fabricated propaganda.
For example, the Middle Eastern region has long been a battlefield of hybrid warfare. Middle Eastern states rejecting the hegemony of aggressive states become victim to the installation of puppet leaders. After which, powerful states invoke anti-state insurgents against a targeted regime. This gives rise to violent protests under the name of “fighting corruption, fighting increased prices and inflation, dictatorship, or religious sentiments”.[xl] Cowards and actors are then summoned through cyberspace, social media, mass media and other tools for information warfare.[xli]
The non-state actors and insurgents ultimately resort to unlawful use of force against the state, by destroying public property and targeting civilians. After which, state leaders respond with excessive force to restore peace and the security of the state. This triggers domestic anarchy, whilst the actions of the aggressor state go unnoticed. In fact, the non-state actors are actively funded against the governments. Examples of states that are victim of contemporary hybrid warfare are Syria and Yemen. There, regime changes resulted in a civil war and destabilization of the country, with the distribution of foreign aid and weapons to the rebels.[xlii]
Future of Hybrid Warfare
Warfare is gradually shifting into its sixth generation. This development rejects the imposition of balance through nuclear deterrence between states, with new hybrid warfare methodologies seen as pivotal and powerful.[xliii] Warfare is expanding into targeting the network-based critical assets of states, such as, banking, electricity and other related facilities. Under this context, state over-dependence on conventional military hardware and technologies will experience direct consequences.[xliv]
Embodiment of sixth generation warfare can be seen in the case of China. China’s advantage over states is gained through economy and law, rather than military standoffs. For example, China effectively debt traps states to gain economic advantage in the international system. Russia also uses economic sticks and carrots and irregular forces in the process of annexing Ukraine and increasing influence in the Middle East through Syria.[xlv]
Over the year’s technological advancements have altered the art and philosophy of war. The shifting dynamics can be condensed in the form of generations of warfare, namely: first, second, third, fourth and fifth generation warfare. Ultimately, the rapid evolution of technology formed the concept of hybrid warfare. Irregular means of psychological and social combat are incorporated to alter the perceptions of the masses. The battlefield encompasses societies through fake news, diplomacy, and electoral intervention, rather than previous generations with military combat. In addition, priority lies with capitalizing on socio-political vulnerabilities, rather than gaining instantaneous combat victory over the opponent.
Since hybrid warfare includes the occurrence of both state and non-state actors, its origins can first be observed in fourth generation warfare, wherein, non-state actors were first introduced. Fourth generation warfare altered the dynamics of conducting war through the introduction of non-state actors. Terrorism, or the incorporation of violence against non-combatants was presented as part of warfare. With regards to technological advancements in fifth generation warfare, faster computer networks, artificial intelligence, autonomous combat, machine learning, stealth technology, space-based systems, bio-chemical agents and artificial intelligence serve to remove physical combat from perception. In fifth generation warfare, the perceptions of the masses are the center of gravity, which are altered through the technological advancements of networking and surveillance. As a result, hybrid warfare is claimed as an information warfare, where misinformation is spread through newspapers, leaflets, computers, spam emails and other related technologies. As a consequence, ordinary individuals become insurgents against their governments, and state instability is generated. Hence, hybrid warfare gradually disperses violence, whilst victims are unaware of the projected warfare.
[i] Alex Deep, “Hybrid Warfare: Old Concepts, New Techniques,” (2015) Small Wars Journal:1-2.
[iii] Vikrant Deshpande, “Hybrid Warfare: The Changing Character of Conflict,” (2018) Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis: 4-5.
[v] Waseem Ahmed Querishi, “The Rise of Hybrid Warfare,” (2020) Norte Dame Journal of International and Comparative Law”: 174-178, https://digital.sandiego.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1293&context=ilj
[vi] "MCDC Countering Hybrid Warfare Project: MCDC January 2017 Understanding Hybrid Warfare," Assets Publishing Service, (2017) 11-13.
[viii] James K. Wither, “Making Sense of Hybrid Warfare,” JSTOR 15, no. 2, (2016): 73-87.
[ix] Waseem Ahmad Querishi, "Fourth- and Fifth-Generation Warfare: Technology and Perceptions ."(2019) Digital Sandiego :188-192.
[xi] Robert J. Bunker, "Generations, Waves, and Epochs: modes of Warfare and the RPMA," Small Wars Journal: 2-4.
[xiii] Robert J. Bunker, "Generations, Waves, and Epochs: modes of Warfare and the RPMA," Small Wars Journal: 2-4.
[xv] Waseem Ahmad Querishi, "Fourth- and Fifth-Generation Warfare: Technology and Perceptions ."(2019) digital sandiego :188-192, https://digital.sandiego.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1293&context=ilj.
[xvi] Robert J. Bunker, "Generations, Waves, and Epochs: modes of Warfare and the RPMA," Small Wars Journal: 2-4.
[xvii] Waseem Ahmad Querishi, "Fourth- and Fifth-Generation Warfare: Technology and Perceptions ."(2019) digital sandiego :188-192, https://digital.sandiego.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1293&context=ilj.
[xix] Waseem Ahmad Querishi, "Fourth- and Fifth-Generation Warfare: Technology and Perceptions ."(2019) Digital Sandiego :188-192, https://digital.sandiego.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1293&context=ilj.
[xxii] Robert J. Bunker, "Generations, Waves, and Epochs: Modes of Warfare and the RPMA," Small Wars Journal: 2-4.
[xxiii] Robert J. Bunker, "Generations, Waves, and Epochs: modes of Warfare and the RPMA," Small Wars Journal: 2-4.
[xxiv] Waseem Ahmad Querishi, "Fourth- and Fifth-Generation Warfare: Technology and Perceptions ."(2019) Digital Sandiego :188-192, https://digital.sandiego.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1293&context=ilj.
[xxvi] Jack Brown, "An Alternative War: The Development, Impact, and Legality of Hybrid Warfare Conducted by the Nation State," Journal of Global Faultlines 5, no.1-2 (2018): 58-82.
[xxviii] Waseem Ahmad Querishi, "Fourth- and Fifth-Generation Warfare: Technology and Perceptions ."(2019) Digital Sandiego :188-192, https://digital.sandiego.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1293&context=ilj.
[xxx] "MCDC Countering Hybrid Warfare Project: MCDC January 2017 Understanding Hybrid Warfare," Assets Publishing Service, (2017) 11-13.
[xxxi] Jack Brown, "An Alternative War: The Development, Impact, and Legality of Hybrid Warfare Conducted by the Nation State," Journal of Global Faultlines 5, no.1-2 (2018): 58-82.
[xxxii] "MCDC Countering Hybrid Warfare Project: MCDC January 2017 Understanding Hybrid Warfare," Assets Publishing Service, (2017) 11-13.
[xxxv] James K. Wither, “Making Sense of Hybrid Warfare,” JSTOR 15, no. 2, (2016): 73-87.
[xxxvii] A-M Huhtinen and J Rantapelkonen, Disinformation in Hybrid Warfare,” JSTOR 15 no. 4, (2016): 50-67.
[xl] Jack Brown, “An Alternative War: The Development, Impact, and Legality of Hybrid Warfare Conducted by the Nation State,” Journal of Global Faultlines 5, no. 1-2, (2016): 58-82.
[xli] Jack Brown, “An Alternative War: The Development, Impact, and Legality of Hybrid Warfare Conducted by the Nation State,” Journal of Global Faultlines 5, no. 1-2, (2016): 58-82.
[xliii] Muhammad Nadeem Mirza and Summar Iqbal Babar, “The Indian Hybrid Warfare Strategy: Implications for Pakistan,” HAL Archives, (2020):40-45.
[xlv] Ray Alderman, “Sixth generation warfare: manipulating space and time,” Military Embedded Systems (2015): 1-2.