An analysis and recommendation for expanding U.S. irregular warfare approaches beyond enemy-centric methodologies
An interview with Dr. John Arquilla and MG John Brennan (1st Special Forces Command CDR)
Dr. John Arquilla is Distinguished Professor of Defense Analysis at the US Naval Postgraduate School. In addition to publishing multiple books and articles on warfare, he has extensive experience advising military practitioners and policymakers, ranging from special operations teams during field problems to senior Department of Defense policymakers in Washington, DC. Today’s conversation is motivated by his book, Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare have Shaped Our World.
Major General John Brennan is the commander of the US Army’s 1st Special Forces Command. Maj. Gen. Brennan has deployed and commanded units at every echelon between detachment and task force level in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Inherent Resolve, and Freedom’s Sentinel over the course of thirty-one years of service. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University, the Air Command and Staff College, and the Army War College fellows program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Gray is Here to Stay: Principles from the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance on Competing in the Gray Zone - Modern War Institute
mwi.usma.edu · by Kevin Bilms · March 25, 2021
An important essay today.America must embrace its irregular warfare capabilities and be able to compete in Great Power Competition where dominant ' 'fight" is best described as political warfare. Irregular warfare is the military contribution to political warfare (and by DODD 3000.7 and the IW annex to the NDS consists of CT, FID, UW, COIN< and stability operations).
Although I am heartened by the author citing some of Bob Jones important work on unconventional deterrence I am disappointed he did not point out one of the most important sentences in the interim guidance: "We will maintain the proficiency of special operations forces to focus on crisis response and priority counterterrorism and unconventional warfare missions." Unconventional warfare is the foundation of irregular warfare and conventional warfare is at the root of the two SOF trinities: irregular warfare, unconventional warfare, and support to political warfare and the second being the comparative advantages of SOF: influence, governance, and support to indefgeigenous forces and population.
UW thinking informs everything SF/SOF should do.
UW is fundamentally problem solving; using unique, non-doctrinal and non-conventional methods, techniques, people, equipment to solve (or assist in solving) un.
UW is fundamentally about influencing behavior of target audiences (which can include a population, a segment of a population, a political structure, or a military force); therefore, it is an integral action arm of IO/PSYOP.
I am heartened to see the Biden administration use unconventional warfare when there are so many antibodies out there against it.
But I also commend Congress for providing the best description of irregular warfare that will never be adopted by the doctrine gatekeepers on the Joint Staff. In the 2018 NDAA it wrote: Irregular Warfare is conducted “in support of predetermined United States policy and military objectives conducted by, with, and through regular forces, irregular forces, groups, and individuals participating in competition between state and non-state actors short of traditional armed conflict.”
A joint effort from the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project at Princeton University and the Modern War Institute at West Point and a continuation of the great work that's already been done on the Irregular Warfare Podcast
"IWI is designed to support the community of irregular warfare professionals, to include military and interagency practitioners, scholarly researchers, and policymakers, by providing a space for accessible, practically grounded discussions of irregular warfare policy and strategy."
"IWI’s goal is to serve as a focal point for bringing together IW professionals from across the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic elements of the national security community with policy-focused academic researchers. It will provide a forum for debate and discussion so that the community can appropriately archive and apply the hard-fought lessons of the past two decades of IW in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world, while also engaging with innovative ideas for applying these and emerging IW competencies in the competition and conflict realms the United States expects to see in the future. We can all hope this skill set will not be in great demand, but if history is any guide, we should prepare as if the new era of great power competition will indeed require it."
"IWI will support three pillars of engagement. The first pillar will be IW-focused content, which will include both the Irregular Warfare Podcast and written content from contributors across the community of IW practitioners and researchers. The second pillar will take the form of interactive engagements, to include an annual conference focused on interdisciplinary collaboration. The final pillar will include an annual fellows program, providing the opportunity for a select number of professionals to engage in substantive examination of some of the most pressing IW challenges of the day. Through these vehicles, IWI intends to facilitate dialogue, provide access to new ideas, and support innovative approaches to addressing the contemporary strategic security environment."
The authors argue that there is an intellectual gap in modern U.S. operational design, which focuses too heavily on a conventional mindset and methodology to problem solving, leaving a gap in strategic competition.
Link to Article: https://warontherocks.com/2021/03/an-irregular-upgrade-to-operational-design/
"Discussions about “Framing the SOF Environment” are based on a fallacy; an environment isn’t special or conventional, it’s just an environment, and it affects more than the military element of national power. Making “SOF” an adjective everywhere parochializes problems and implies that special operations forces are the preordained solution."
"Irregular warfare is not a “special operations thing” — it’s a joint responsibility. Just as some of us in the policy world have made the case for rethinking how we describe irregular warfare activities, the military should reconsider how to plan for them."
"Now these new ideas should be codified into doctrine. Doctrine isn’t sexy — no argument there. But almost everyone in uniform can agree that unless codified, ideas will rarely translate into professional military education and joint planning efforts. This is what “institutionalizing irregular warfare” means in practice. An irregular upgrade for operational design will aid the United States in competing indirectly and asymmetrically to advance its interests without a catastrophic military confrontation."
Full Episode: https://mwi.usma.edu/pacific-gambit-the-role-of-irregular-warfare-in-australias-great-strategic-shift/
Australia is undergoing the most fundamental strategic realignment since the Second World War, toward a focus on threats closer to home without reliance on the United States. In that context, what role does irregular warfare play in Australian national security strategy? What lessons does the Australian experience hold for the United States as they both transition from the post-9/11 wars to great power competition? Will Australia’s legacy in conducting irregular warfare enable it now to make this shift and take on the snakes—and one large dragon—in its own backyard?
Our two guests argue that strategic documents in both the United States and Australia fail to capture the reality of numerous overseas irregular warfare engagements over the past quarter century. The militaries of both countries learned many lessons, often paid for in blood, about how to fight insurgencies during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the opponents of the West have also adapted, with both state and nonstate threats increasingly coming to resemble each other. How to adapt both military posture and national security strategy in the transition from the conflicts of the past nearly two decades to great power competition is a challenge both countries face, providing a case study in cooperation and adaptation.
Dr. David Kilcullen is a best-selling author and a former officer in the Australian military. He is president and CEO of Cordillera Applications Group, a research and development firm headquartered in the United States. Dr. Kilcullen has written multiple award-winning books on irregular warfare topics. His most recent book, The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West, serves as a foundation for our discussion on the current global threat environment.
Andy Maher is an Australian infantry officer with operational experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is currently serving as a military fellow, doctoral candidate, and lecturer with the University of New South Wales, Canberra, where he teaches a postgraduate course on irregular warfare.
From Seth G. Jones
"IW refers to activities short of conventional and nuclear warfare that are designed to expand a country’s influence and legitimacy as well as weaken its adversaries."
While conventional warfare—set-piece battles between large military forces—largely defined twentieth-century conflict between major powers, irregular warfare will likely define international politics over the next year and beyond. Countries like China, Russia, and Iran compete with the United States using irregular methods because conventional and nuclear warfare are far too costly. The tools of irregular warfare are not strategic bombers, main battle tanks, or infantry soldiers, but hackers, intelligence operatives, special operations forces, and private military companies that often operate in the shadows.
Full Report: https://www.csis.org/analysis/future-competition-us-adversaries-and-growth-irregular-warfare
A rollup of recent discussions about Irregular Warfare in the context of the Irregular Warfare annex to the 2018 National Defense Strategy.