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Unconventional Warfare: Think Outside the G-Base

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Unconventional Warfare: Think Outside the G-Base

George Schwartz

The Green Berets are in danger of self-inflicted irrelevancy because of shortcomings in their training.  Most current Unconventional Warfare (UW) training events take the Unconventional Warfare template from Robin Sage and simply impose it on other environments and threat situations.  This trend has persisted despite the lack of modern UW examples that resemble Robin Sage.  Green Berets should be considering other models of UW that may be more relevant today.

Special Forces doctrine depicts resistance partner forces as having three elements: a rural-based full-time paramilitary guerrilla force, an urban-based underground, and an auxiliary that serves as the link between the two.  The ODA partners with the guerrilla force and teaches them US-style small unit tactics.  That is what every Green Beret did in Robin Sage.  It is the common understanding of UW shared by all SF Soldiers.  Virtually every UW exercise I have taken part in (Cobra Gold, Foal Eagle, Jade Helm, home station UW mission profiles) mirrors this model.  That is what I mean by the “Robin Sage” model.  

Our doctrine, as depicted by the Robin Sage model, reflects what some UW missions have looked like in the past.  But our doctrine is just that: our doctrine.  It does not describe every resistance movement or UW operation.  Not all resistance movements conform to it.  Resistance movements and UW exist all over the world, carried out by various powers, and very few of those resistance/UW models resemble our doctrine.  The Iraqi insurgency, Ukrainian Orange Revolution in 2014, and the subsequent Russian-sponsored UW in the Crimea do not.  Neither does Hezbollah.  We conducted UW against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and that did not look much like Robin Sage.  Rather than re-fight Robin Sage, we should look at current insurgencies (or try to envision future insurgencies), think of how we would partner with them, and let that guide our training.

Recent UW models seem to fall into two broad categories: 1) the resistance force is already capable of taking and holding terrain against the opposing regime/occupying force, 2) the resistance force is underground.  For examples of Category 1 resistance forces, we have the Northern Alliance in 2001, the Peshmerga in northern Iraq in 2003, the Crimean separatists today, or the anti-ISIS forces we worked with in Iraq, Jordan, and Syria.  UW partnership with such a force often looks a lot like a JCET or a CNT, where we train our partner force in a secure location, then send them forward or accompany them to fight against our common enemies.  Preparing for such a mission would be very similar to JCET prep: identify the skills the partner force needs, prepare ourselves to train those skills, provide the training, and continually evaluate to make sure we are having the desired effect.  Conducting regular JCETs and CNTs has made Special Forces adequately trained, equipped, and experienced to conduct this type of operation.

Category 2 is where the Robin Sage model of the rural-based full-time guerrilla force breaks down.  Surveillance technology is so advanced and readily available that a semi-permanent G-base could easily be detected by a flying Cessna or Huey and a spotter with a commercially available thermal scope.  Virtually all state actors can (and do) field that level of ISR.  Also, most rural terrain (with the exception of triple-canopy jungle and similarly dense forest) still favors, on balance, large conventional force maneuver.  These two facts combined mean the Robin Sage model is not viable in very many rural areas.  A state actor with rudimentary commercially available surveillance tech would be able to find a large group of guerrillas and SF troops if they have air superiority, or even if the air space is contested.  If the state actor retains freedom of maneuver and has the capacity to field a company of infantry or mass indirect fires, that G-band could easily be cut off and destroyed, together with its advisors.  So the Robin Sage model is not practical unless the US already has air superiority and the enemy cannot field large conventional forces anymore.  In other words, it is only useful after it is unnecessary.

Furthermore, our doctrine does not provide an all-encompassing picture of resistance forces.  There may not be a clear distinction between underground, auxiliary, and guerrillas.  The resistance force may look like a guerrilla force with auxiliary-like capabilities or an underground with guerrilla-like capabilities, much like insurgent cells in Iraq.  Or it might not have any paramilitary component at all, like the Orange Revolution in 2014.  The paradigm of teaching small unit tactics may not be relevant to partnering with a resistance force.  Teaching US-style small unit tactics just makes the resistance force more symmetrical with their conventional opponent.  And if there is no G-Force, as is the case in many resistance groups, small unit tactics are irrelevant.  It is essential to recognize that SF doctrine does not describe resistance organization accurately and completely.

It is still possible to operate in rural terrain and to partner with resistance forces that do not conform to our doctrine, but it does require thinking outside of the Robin Sage-style static G-base. In rural terrain, Special Forces should use mobile G-bases, much as the FARC has done.  In this model, the guerrillas and their ODA advisors would move whenever they can while avoiding detection. Properly executed, frequent movement can decrease the UW force’s profile and mitigate the threat of surveillance.  Training for mobile G-bases is a lot harder because it requires a large training area and it is more physically demanding.  However, it is more survivable.  Emphasizing land navigation, tactical movements by day and night, as well as patrol base/RON site occupation and rural camouflage (particularly how to evade thermals) can support UW tactics of this kind.

Alternatively, the resistance force may choose to operate in urban terrain simply because urban terrain on balance strongly favors small units and guerrilla tactics over large conventional forces.  Case in point- the Iraqi insurgents used urban terrain very effectively as long as they avoided decisive engagement.  Another advantage to urban terrain is that it provides natural camouflage for communication systems.  It is not impossible for an ODA to do UW in urban terrain: the Iranian Quds force did just that to us in Iraq.  But urban UW comes with its own set of requirements.  The UW force would need a network of safe houses and a mobility system to avoid getting pinned down.  In this model, the urban guerrillas would go about their day jobs, then meet up with the ODA at predetermined places and times to receive training on how to take on specific objectives and exchange intelligence with the ODA.  For skills that would enable this type of UW, SF should conduct urban evasion training, urban land navigation, and urban tactical movement.

Another possibility is an urban-rural hybrid.  It is not necessary for the ODA and the resistance force to be co-located.  The guerrilla force could be urban-based while the ODA that stays mobile in rural areas.  In this case, the ODA would not be dependent on resistance safe houses, and the rural areas can furnish lots of space to train their resistance force.  The ODA would need to have adequate infrastructure to support its mobility (patrol base sites, routes, training sites, communication sites, etc).   The resistance force would maintain its daily life while the ODA maintained its tactical posture, then they would conduct linkup for training or operations.  They could remain dispersed to maintain a low profile until they mass at the decisive moment.  It may not even be necessary for the UW force to physically enter the operational area.  ISIS used a decentralized form of UW to recruit, train, and employ terrorists through cyberspace.

In all of these possibilities, the resistance force may not resemble our doctrine at all.  In time of invasion or rebellion, social structures that existed before conflict may still exist after the conflict, but take on a different character.  For instance, the Bowling League is still the Bowling League, and its members still have their day jobs, but on the weekend they get together to destroy an enemy checkpoint or ambush a police patrol.  That is very different from the doctrinal vision of the full-time G-force, but it is no less plausible. 

Alternatively there may not be a need for G-force at all.  In such a case, the ODA should not necessarily attempt to stand one up: the Green Beret’s job is not to get the resistance force to comply with our doctrine. Rather, one of the best capabilities an ODA can provide is a link to the outside world and the international community.  Advice in how to stage demonstrations and protests and how to produce and broadcast propaganda can be more important than having an element capable of carrying out paramilitary operations and executing small unit tactics.  Training in Information Operations and video editing could be the most useful skills in this situation, especially if the ODA cannot get any PsyOps enablers, or if those PsyOps enablers are inadequate.

Instead of teaching US small unit tactics and making the resistance for more symmetric to its enemy, the ODA should instead emphasize training that accomplishes US goals while increasing the asymmetric advantages of its resistance partner force.  If the US goal is simply to disrupt the enemy regime or occupying power, the ODA could accomplish this by sabotaging enemy personnel and equipment.  In that case, the ODA may need to teach its resistance partners how to conduct simple sabotage- how to destroy a vehicle with materials at hand, how to build and employ a Molotov cocktail, how to neutralize a power relay or a communications tower.  Instead of co-locating with the G-band long-term, the ODA could linkup with the G-band only when necessary and give them the training the need to execute their next target.  So rather than practicing Battle Drill 1A, the UW force would spend time rehearsing actions on objective and training on the skills needed to take that objective down. 

Currently, the Green Berets are undoubtedly capable of conducting UW from secure bases in semi-permissive areas with air superiority.  They did that effectively against ISIS, and they practice how to do that with every JCET, CNT, and UW exercise.  Whether they are capable of conducting UW outside those conditions is questionable.  The Robin Sage model that they are practicing is probably not survivable in a denied environment, let alone against a peer adversary.  The resistance organizations they are training to partner with do not resemble current resistance movements.  Current Special Forces team leadership should be asking: if your team had to partner with the Orange Revolution, or with an organization like Jaish al-Mahdi, would it even be capable of doing so?  If so, what skills make that possible?  If not, how has your training failed you, and what needs to happen to make it possible?  Guerrilla bases like the ones we all saw in Robin Sage are increasingly rare in modern resistance movements.  If that is all we know how to do, we will march into irrelevance.  It is time to think outside the G-base and train to partner with modern resistance movements.

About the Author(s)

George Schwartz is a Combat Arms officer, veteran of small wars, and a student of Unconventional Warfare. He has served in the Army in various roles for 12 years.


As noted in my initial comment below, "resistance movements"  -- throughout the world today and amazingly in our own country/in our own civilization now also -- these seem to have been focused, of late, on halting, and often on reversing, the:

a.  Necessary political, economic, social and/or value "changes" that responsible governments (for example, in our own country, those of the "establishment republicans" and the establishment democrats?") have made of late.  These such necessary "changes:" 

b.  Being required so as to adequately provide for their/our nation's economic competitiveness, and national security requirements; this, in the age of globalism, globalization and the global economy:


In taking this course, the (U.S. Supreme) Court has increasingly aligned itself with the prescriptive views of American business and political elites, for whom globalization is understood "not merely [as] a diagnostic tool but also [as] an action program."  From this perspective, globalization "represents a great virtue: the transcendence of the traditional restrictions on worldwide economic activity.., inherent" in the era of Nation States. Proponents of this vision of a globalized economy characterize the United States as "a giant corporation locked in a fierce competitive struggle with other nations for economic survival," so that "the central task of the federal government" is "to increase the international competitiveness of the American economy."


(Item in parenthesis above is mine.)  (See Page 643.)

It is the rise and appeal of these such "resistance to further modernization"/"return to the status quo ante" "movements," should we not agree, that explain both:

a.  The rise and appeal of the "Caliphate" "movement" in the Islamic World, and, likewise,

b.  The rise and appeal of the "Brexit" and the "Make America Great Again" "movements" here in the U.S./the West also?

As a consequence of this such "sea change" (the West now formally joining with the Rest in a truly "global" "halt progress/move backward" movement?): 

a.  Economic competitiveness, and national security worldwide now it would seem, being compromised?  And, this, 

b.  So as to provide, instead, for an outdated -- and generally less-important/less-producing, "old order."

(In this regard consider -- from the time of President Andrew Jackson in this case -- a similar "resistance to further modernization" response; this, from an earlier outdated, and generally less-important, "old order" case back then:  


Jacksonians drew support from Northern Laborers and yeoman farmers in the South and West.  These groups, which Jackson dubbed the "bone and sinew" of America, worried that the market economy would force them into the dependent class.  The Jacksonians told farmers and laborers that they would do everything in their power to prevent this from taking place.  In essence, the men and their rank and file voting allies, along with Jackson, fought a rear-guard action against encroaching industrialization and market economy. Although they won the pivotal battles, they lost the war, because their notion of a pre-capitalist agrarian society succumbed to the industrial economy after the Civil War.


Bottom Line Question -- Based on the Above:

If, as COL Maxwell says, "the way to think about modern UW is to consider the use of SOF ... to solve or contribute to solving complex political-military problems through exploitation of the conditions of political resistance to support achieving US national security objectives."

Then does this not become somewhat problematic when:

a.  "The conditions of political resistance" -- both here at home and abroad --

b.  Often seem to have the same "common cause" -- and "common effect" -- as identified above?

(For example: How in the heck would you factor this phenomenon into training/certification events/exercises -- "Robin Sage" and/or others?)


Mon, 06/10/2019 - 5:05pm

These opinions merit a response, offered below in 16 parts:


1. Doctrine is an easy target. It is certainly easier to nitpick doctrine and set it up as a “straw man” to knock over than it is to conduct literature review covering decades of institutional experience and writing, analyze to remain faithful to the enduring truths of the institution, synthesize that continuity with current command guidance and force feedback, draft, have reviewed by the entire Army and SOF institutions, adjudicate, defend, revise again and again, produce, get published, disseminate, socialize, train and educate, explain, and defend over and over and over….

2. Doctrine writing is professional writing. The Army states that doctrine is “a guide for professionals about the language of the profession,” but few of those offering comments on doctrine have read the Army Doctrine Publication 1-01, Doctrine Primer, 02 September 2014 and even fewer appreciate its wisdom on the proper function and limitations of doctrine. ADP 1-01 states that doctrine has six functions: Provide a coherent vision of warfare; Enhance operational effectiveness; Provide a common frame of reference and cultural perspective; Provide a common professional language; Discuss Army contributions to unified action; and, State and foster desirable traits in Soldiers and leaders” (pg. 1-3). Therefore, doctrine is not a substitute for policy, strategy or the commander’s judgment.

3. Doctrine is a playbook not a panacea. “Army professionals use doctrine in two contexts: study and reflection as well as conducting (planning preparing, executing, and assessing) operations. Thus, doctrine is—and must be—both theoretical and practical. Doctrine is not a catalogue of answers to specific problems. Rather, it is a collection of fundamentals, tactics, techniques, and procedures for thinking about military problems, which operations are the most complex, and what actions best solve them. Doctrine is not what to think or how to solve specific problems” (pg. 1-3). Doctrine is not an app, a cure-all or an omniscient genie-in-a-bottle. It is not a silver bullet solution to whatever unique problem confronts the reader. The officially approved snapshot of what the profession thinks at any given time is not a model of reality itself. Nor can doctrine be written to cover all possible permutations of reality.

4. Doctrine is not a straightjacket. “Army doctrine [is] fundamental principles, with supporting techniques, tactics and procedures (TTPs) and symbols, used for the conduct of operations and which the operating force, and elements of the institutional Army that directly support operations, guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgment in application” (pg. 1-2). The institution thus uses doctrine as a model for training and education to promote the Army profession and virtues, and built on that shared professional foundation the operational forces uses doctrine for fundamental operational guidance. Ultimately, though “authoritative [it] requires judgment in application.” This means that every commander and pundit everywhere who has ever bemoaned that “he/she was ‘constrained’ by doctrine” was wrong. No competent commander ever said either “I wanted to do “X” but couldn’t because doctrine told me not to,” or, “I couldn’t do mission analysis or accomplish my mission because every permutation in my situation wasn’t covered in doctrine.” ADP 1-01 says again, “While doctrine must be applied with judgment, and doctrine cannot account for every circumstance, it is always a good place to start. Creatively applying different combinations of these doctrinal tools—adapted to the specific circumstances—is the true art of tactics and foundation of operational success” (pg. 1-4).

5. Doctrine is not a crowd-sourced, instant gratification, wiki-wish list. “Doctrine is not established arbitrarily, nor is it static. It is based on decades and often centuries of experience. Local procedures, best practices, and lessons learned from operations and training often gain widespread acceptance because of their applicability over time in varying circumstances. The Army incorporates the best of these ideas into doctrine. This organizational learning allows doctrine to provide a time-tested, coherent body of knowledge that remains relevant and easily understood. This knowledge provides the force with a philosophical framework for thinking about and conducting operations as well as specific tactics, techniques, and procedures. While grounded in enduring principles, doctrine is also flexible, adaptable, and changing” (pg. 1-2). Doctrine development is a painstaking process that goes through multiple levels of peer, legal and commander review before it is published. Doctrine is not “just one man’s opinion” and never has been, and those who have made that claim do not understand the doctrine process. This is not Burger King; you can’t necessarily “have it ‘your way.’”

6. Doctrine engagement is generally proportional to readers’ interests. Most doctrine is straightforward and minimally controversial. Drafting the TTPs of how to put a particular weapon or radio into operation or how to don a parachute harness provokes limited controversy. The more conceptual and potentially controversial the doctrine is, however, the more intellectually demanding is the doctrine process. Subjects like “resistance” or “insurgency” are controversial because they touch on the qualitative challenges of the human domain; motivations, individual and mass psychology, politics and policy decisions, strategy, and so on. The doctrine the Department of Defense (DOD) produces to explain how DOD will support or combat resistance and insurgency is likewise controversial. Doctrine that explicitly or implicitly touches on authorities, prerogatives, preferences, institutional and individual identities, budgets, personal agendas, careers, “rice bowls,” etc. generates a lot of opinions. There is an old Army saying that goes like this, “Opinions are like [backsides]; everybody has got one.” 

7. The doctrine development process itself deserves support. “Everyone is entitled to his opinion.” But there is a difference between the “official ‘opinion’” represented by service and joint doctrine in extant official documents, and all others in all other media. Academic inquiry and supposition is often open-ended, but doctrine – both service and joint – is not endlessly speculative. There is a good idea cut-off time. Doctrine writers will tell you to “read the book,” and this is especially meaningful if the reader is being critical about content he/she has not read or even aware of. Where is the responsibility of pundits and snipers for being up-to-date? Arguing doctrine in the team room or classroom is useful and appropriate, but where are these passionate positions when it is time for the painstaking work of reviewing manuals chapter-by-chapter, page-by-page, paragraph-by-paragraph, line-by-line and figure-by-figure? Making doctrine is hard, slinging arrows at it is easy. Where are all of the active duty contributors whose units are actually tasked to review SOF core mission doctrine but not only don’t do so but write too-often redundant, non-doctrinal, locally-produced substitute products instead? Where are the uniformed and DOD civilians on every staff and institutional training cadre who use SOF doctrine to support their commanders or teach their students and would like to see changes in their doctrine but rarely if ever offer suggestions for improvement? Where are the (often taxpayer-funded)  contractors who treat (always taxpayer-funded) doctrine like a pre-masticated meal and use it for their own purposes (at taxpayer expense) but never contribute anything back to doctrine development? And, endless academic articles – some with fancy pedigrees – with high-minded claims rarely suffer the toil of actually mastering the content in-detail before pontificating, and virtually never methodically go through the rigor of talking to a professional doctrine writer first before opining about “gaps” and “inadequacies?” These endless articles are sometimes occasionally informative, but often shockingly predictable and repetitive, and too often they are the intellectual equivalent of a drive-by shooting where the doctrine writing profession is bloodied and have to react to the mess created but the suspects while known just roll on. At some point, endlessly attacking doctrine becomes a parasitic subversion of the institution itself.

8. There is no lack of “pseudo-doctrine” and no pay grade or title ceiling on those who wield it. Doctrine is not concepts, exercises, experimentation, lessons-learned, after action reports, command guidance, academic studies, academic monographs, lectures, white papers, school curriculum, website, blogroll, academic or mass market press books, command-sponsored supplemental readings, power point briefs, command working group findings, the talking head’s opinion on TV, or whatever the commander is saying right now. All of these have a viewpoint, some definitely and all possibly may inform doctrine, some may be derived from and/or cite doctrine, and in the case of the commander he/she gets to decide how and when to apply doctrine. But none of these things is doctrine, although some are mistaken for it and some even pretend to be so. Doctrine writers are particularly sensitized to the lack of discipline in the world of ideas and how such ill-discipline undercuts the official product and development process.

Having made the observations above, here are some specific responses to the Maxwell commentary accompanying the Schwartz article (The blanket comment common to all below is to read ATP 3-18.1, Special Forces Unconventional Warfare, 21 March 2019):

9. There is no such thing as “modern UW” and “traditional UW” in doctrine. There is a versatile professional model of UW that has a 75 year tradition and is flexible enough to adjust from the model to understand any reality. “Modern UW” is a popular pseudo-doctrine, academic puffery notion popular among the legions of advocates of the shiny and new. “Modern UW’s” bucktooth, web-footed cousins include “Offset UW,” “High-End UW,” “Graduate UW” and similar in-bred notions. A word search of “modern” in ATP 3-18.1 results in 24 instances mostly characterizing realities of the modern era – especially technology – without finding a need for a so-called “modern UW.”

10. Regarding the “and/or” debate in the UW definition, a lengthy passage “Resisting the ‘Guerrilla Force’ in the Army Unconventional Warfare Doctrine Definition” addressing this issue is explicitly included in ATP 3-18.1, in Chapter 2, “Resistance Fundamentals,” pages 2-19 and 2-20. There are four essential points to the passage: (1) not every component necessary for UW is included in the definition anyway and that does not invalidate the definition; (2) the model of UW is a model – just because the unique situation presented does not fit the basic model does not invalidate the model; (3) no commander is “constrained” by incongruities between the situation in reality and the model [see above]; and (4) the A, B and C model logic says all are required or at least expected functions but A, B or C is illogical because that says any combination can achieve UW. For God’s sakes, this is only a model! The version that says you should look for all of these functions is superior to the one that says UW is “only GW” or even worse, that UW can be done by an “auxiliary alone” or “public component alone” which is not only an absurdity but would bend the idea of UW to the breaking point.

11. The 2016 NDAA is limited by the language “in this section” to the language in section 1099 alone. That is the “letter of the law” explanation for why it doesn’t apply. The “spirit of the law” reason it doesn’t apply is because this inclusion was a devious, deliberate attempt to subvert joint and Army doctrine by a narrow group whose position did not prevail in the wider UW community-of-interest doctrine development councils. 

12. That the current definition was developed in a broad UW community of interest working group in 2009 is true. The picture painted that one obstinate individual who was a “traditional UW thinker” stymied what is inferred as the will of the group to include “or guerrilla force” does not match the memory of doctrine professionals who were present at the working group in 2009 and still work in and with Army SOF doctrine now. In fact, each word of the then-proposed definition was voted on by the broad UW community-of-interest and the majority vote prevailed; including the specific word “and.”

13. ATP 3-18.1 explicitly and deliberately emphasizes that the classic vision of “guerrilla force” is only part of a model and the reader should be careful to use the model as a basic starting point. This is made undeniable by parenthetically introducing the related alternate term “armed force” at pg. 2-15 and a discussion of the many permutations of “armed” and violent activities – regardless of component – at pg. 2-20 and Appendix E, “Varieties of Violent and Nonviolent Methods.” In this way, ATP 3-18.1 has already responded to the “and/or” debate in a way that clarifies the broad concept without radically changing the current definition or subverting the 75 year doctrinal pedigree of these professional concepts.

14. The clause “in a denied area” in the definition is still valid. In fact, the explanation of its continuing validity is succinctly listed at the top of page 1-1 – the very first page of the manual – as such: “Where: (in a denied area) - The primary consideration is that the effects occur in the denied area.” Where the “US boots are” is irrelevant. The area being denied to normal, more conventional US influence – along with the critical distinction of conducting activities in that denied area through a partnered resistance force – are the sine qua non of the UW canon. ATP 3-18.1 makes this clear repeatedly with unprecedented discussions of the “varieties of initial contact,” the many different levels and types of feasibility assessment and policy development context and even a standalone classified appendix regarding “Unaccompanied Resistance Considerations for UW” (Appendix B).

15. The continuing validity of Robin Sage is the point of closest agreement between the doctrine writers and Mr. Maxwell.

16. Mr. Schwartz, you can find the ATP 3-18.1 on the ARSOF portal or at or the Army Publishing Directorate at

Thanks for the comments, Professor Maxwell!  Thanks also for the education about the origins of the doctrinal terms.  I'm curious- what were the arguments for making the definition what it is?

If I could go back and edit this paper, I would like to clarify that I do NOT think that we should change Robin Sage.  I did not make that clear in my paper.  Robin Sage is great for what it is: an Unconventional Warfare 101 class that gives a foothold to students who are just starting to grapple with one of the most complex forms of warfare imaginable.  I think that trying to adapt Robin Sage to reflect modern UW patterns would lead to confusion and lack of standardization as the schoolhouse went from one flavor-of-the-month concept to another.  I would say keep Robin Sage as is, but let's make training at Group, at the CTCs, and at Jade Helm more innovative.  Let's stop forcing the Robin Sage template and start getting creative about how to use ODAs to conduct UW.

 Good to hear from you, as always.

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 06/09/2019 - 5:06pm

A useful contribution to the UW debate.

I would offer a few thoughts.  I concur that you do not need a guerrilla force in the traditional sense to conduct Modern Unconventional Warfare.  In fact when we held the working group to create a more succinct definition of UW at Admiral Olson's direction we recognized the that having a guerrilla force was not a prerequisite for conducting Modern UW.  We recommended wording that said "working through and with an underground, an auxiliary OR a guerrilla force in a denied area."  However, an influential member of the working group who worked directly for Admiral Olson and was a "traditional" UW thinker opposed it and appealed to Admiral Olson to try to keep it pure.  So the DOD definition was approved as "working through and with an underground, an auxiliary, AND a guerrilla force in a denied area. (There were a number of other disagreements -we wanted to use non-state actors but the some person intervened so this time we compromised and used "occupying powers."  Our intent in doing so was that we could interpret occupying powers as non-state actors as well.

Later when Congress (specifically the HASC) wanted to include the concept of countering UW in the 2016 NDAA in section 1099 we asked the staffers to change the "AND" to "OR" and they agreed.  The law now says "or a guerrilla force."  I have heard the joint doctrine guys say they are not changing the DOD definition because the "law if not directive." See Section 1099 here:     

(c) Submittal To Congress.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the congressional defense committees the strategy required by subsection (a). The strategy shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may include a classified annex. 

(d) Unconventional Warfare Defined.—In this section, the term “unconventional warfare” means activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, OR guerrilla force in a denied area. (Emphasis added)


My belief is that the way to think about modern UW is to consider the use of SOF (and specifically Special Forces, Psychological Operations, and Civil Affairs - with Special Forces being the only force that is organized, trained, equipped, educated and optimized to conduct UW with PSYOP and CA playing critical enabling roles) to solve or contribute to solving complex political-military problems through exploitation of the conditions of political resistance to support achieving US national security objectives.  The essence of UW is understanding and exploiting the conditions of political resistance and working with, by, and through indigenous forces (as postulated by retired COL Mark Boyatt) who have sufficiently or acceptably aligned interests with the US.  You may not need to employ a "traditional" guerrilla force but will likely employ many fo the conducts of an underground especially in terms of subversion.  I also concur with the author that in modern UW you not have to or may not be able to put US forces on the ground (at least immediately) to conduct UW.  Again in the working group the influential member of "traditional" UW convinced Admiral Olson to include "in a denied area" to emphasize in their minds that it is not UW unless there are US SOF boots on the ground.  I have written about conducting a form of modern UW in north Korea here: Unification Options and Scenarios: Assisting A Resistance.

Lastly I would say to the author that we should not through out the baby with the bath water.  We should consider Robin Sage as a method for training and not as a template for conducting UW.  Robin Sage offers the opportunities to present SF soldiers with "dilemmas" of working in the human domain of political resistance.  It trains them to recognize the conditions of political resistance and how to work with indigenous forces. Perhaps there is a greater emphasis on the guerrilla force than is desired but Robin Sage should by definition as a culmination exercise should touch on all aspects of UW as there may still be elements of traditional UW conducted in the future.  Of course it is up to the cadre to make sure the SF soldiers in the Q course understand that Robin Sage is a training venue and not THE template for UW.



Obviously, at my "Bottom Line Questions -- Based on the Above" section in my comment below, and at item "1" "b" thereof, the words "Global South/the West" -- these should be replaced with the words "Global South/the Rest."


Since we seem to be talking about "resistance movements" here (I gave up trying to count how many times the word "resistance," "resistance movements," etc., were used in the article above), let us consider what the "basis for resistance" (which indicates "bad governance?") would seem to be today; this, in both in the Global North/the West and in the Global South/the Rest. 

This such "basis for resistance" -- significantly throughout the world today -- seeming to be:

a.  A resistance to further modernization and change (for example, so as to better provide for and better benefit from such things as globalism, globalization and the global economy). 

And, should one believe that too much unwanted change had already taken place (for example, legalized abortion in the Global North/the West and "girls schools" in the Global South/the Rest), then:  

b.  A desire to return to a more moral-based status quo ante.  (This, rather than move to a more-market-based future; as most responsible governments believe is their duty to do today?)

Example No. One -- The Greater Middle East -- From Kilcullen's "Counterinsurgency Redux:"

"Politically, in many cases today, the counterinsurgent (i.e., the government, and often its "global economy"  sponsor) represents revolutionary change, while the insurgent fights to preserve the status quo of ungoverned spaces, or to repel an occupier — a political relationship opposite to that envisaged in classical counterinsurgency. Pakistan’s campaign in Waziristan since 2003 exemplifies this. The enemy includes al-Qa’ida (AQ) linked extremists and Taliban, but also local tribesmen fighting to preserve their traditional culture against 21st century encroachment. The problem of weaning these fighters away from extremist sponsors, while simultaneously supporting modernization, does somewhat resemble pacification in traditional counterinsurgency. But it also echoes colonial campaigns, and includes entirely new elements arising from the effects of globalization."

(Item in parenthesis above is mine.) (See the top of Page 3.)

Example No. Two -- the U.S./the West -- From the Catholic University of America's "Moral Communities or Market States:"

"The traditional role of the States (herein referring to "States" such as Alabama and Florida) as moral communities has, however, been called into question as a result of the perceived demands of globalization.  The concept of globalization has acquired several different meanings, and has been used to refer to a complex and imperfectly understood phenomenon that works on several planes. Regardless of whatever else 'globalization' may signify, however, it includes a constitutional dimension. That constitutional dimension has recently been explored in innovative and illuminating ways by Philip Bobbitt. Contrary to analysts who perceive a global trend towards the sheer disappearance of the 'Nation State,' Bobbitt sees a transition from the constitutional order of the Nation State to that of an emerging 'Market State.'  For Bobbitt, 'the market-state is, above all, a mechanism for enhancing opportunity, for creating something-possibilities-commensurate with our imaginations.' The emergence of the Market State entails sweeping consequences for the relationships between governments -- whether national or subnational-and their citizens -- as well as for the relationships between rival Market States themselves . In the context of American constitutionalism, the emergence of the Market State has been taken to necessitate fundamental changes in conceptions of federalism and, relatedly, of individual liberties. We agree with Bobbitt that a global transition from Nation States to Market States is now well underway. The chief thesis of this Article is that the Supreme Court has embarked on a program of reshaping constitutional doctrine so as to encourage and facilitate the emergence of a fully developed Market State in this polity, with a view to positioning the United States to be successful in meeting the competitive challenges of a new, post-Cold War international order. In taking this course, the Court has increasingly aligned itself with the prescriptive views of American business and political elites, for whom globalization is understood 'not merely [as] a diagnostic tool but also [as] an action program.' " (See Pages 642 and 643.)

Bottom Line Questions -- Based on the Above:

1.  Based on the information I have provided above, should we not agree that the "global resistance to further modernization" and the "global desire for a return to the status quo ante" MOVEMENTS,  that I describe here,  these explain: 

a.  Both the rise and appeal of Brexit and President Trump in the Global North/the West (and the rise and appeal of Trump's anti-abortion stance?) and:

b.  The rise and appeal of such entities as AQ and ISIS in the Global South/the West (and the rise and appeal of their anti-girls school efforts?) also?

2.  If I am correct here, then:

a.  How does this such ("global?") understanding of "resistance movements" today (if at all)

b.  Effect how we conceive of, prepare for, etc., our "unconventional warfare" responsibilities -- now and/or in the future?

Thanks for the response, Bill!  I agree with you that the Q-Course trains a generic, doctrine-conforming model of UW for a good reason.  I do not think we should change Robin Sage- it is just fine for depicting *a* way that UW has looked.  My disappointment is in post-SFQC training.  I think training at Group and in other UW exercises should be more innovative and incorporate lessons learned from modern insurgencies instead off simply replicating Robin Sage over and over again.  By all means, let's keep Sage as is.  But doctrine should be the platform we stand on, not the ceiling that limits us.

Mostly good points, but the qualification course out of necessity trains to a generic understanding of UW doctrine tailored to a schoolhouse scenario that admittedly does not appear to have been adapted to current day realities. Iran, China, and others could easily employ drones to identify and target guerrillas in rural areas. Yet, the schoolhouse can't train to every possible scenario, so at best it trains students on some principles that hopefully will shift their mindset from conventional small unit tactics to UW. 

I agree that training a guerrilla force on conventional infantry tactics evolves into little more than a form of conventional coalition warfare conducted by semi-irregulars, but then again it is the American way of war. However, I disagree that it too late to employ UW after we have air superiority, case in point is Syria. Our doctrine has blinded us to the value of shifting to UW after a conventional fight. Situation and desired goals should inform COAs, not doctrine.

 This will be provocative, but I think the 2001 to early 2002 fight in Afghanistan was largely conventional conducted mostly by SOF supporting irregulars. This takes nothing away from the heroic efforts of our SF teams, but puts it in a different context. The Taliban and Northern Alliance even had a conventional FLOT established that wasn't broken by unconventional tactics, but by maneuvering these forces under our air power to conventionally defeat the Taliban. The Taliban subsequently shifted to a UW strategy and we failed to adapt. Bottom line and you say it well throughout your article, we need to get better at adapting to the situation and not try to conform the situation to our doctrine.