Small Wars Journal

Beyond the "Hybrid" Threat: Asserting the Essential Unity of Warfare

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Beyond the "Hybrid" Threat: 

Asserting the Essential Unity of Warfare

by David Sadowski and Jeff Becker

Download the full article:

Beyond the "Hybrid" Threat

Foreword:  Idea papers are key inputs in the Joint Futures

Group's development of the Joint Operating Environment (JOE).  One of our

recent projects involved a multi-national effort to describe the "hybrid" threat. 

In the process of writing the paper, we developed something that took in more

than just the "hybrid" threat.  Although we received many favorable comments

on the paper, we felt our audience was a bit limited.  We are publishing

in the Small Wars Journal in order to generate a wider debate on this important

topic prior to including any of these ideas in the next JOE.


If we are to get the future "right" we should return to first principles and

arrive at a better understanding of the context within which wars are understood,

and how adversaries will work within that context to arrange capabilities in time

and space to address their own strategic requirements.  Ultimately, the ideas

in this paper must support the Secretary of Defense's intent of re-shaping the culture

of the U.S. Armed Forces into one that is highly adaptive in its organizational

structures, in how it employs the capabilities at its disposal, and in how it conducts

operational campaign design, planning and execution. Through refining the description

of the future threat, we hope to create the correct context that helps force planners

design the future joint force. This imperative applies across all activities

of the Department from relatively small wars to large interstate conflicts, which

will be discussed later in this paper.

So what is a "hybrid" threat?  A definition that is too narrow may miss

important features of our emerging future, while a definition that is too wide defines

nothing at all.  In the case of the "hybrid" threat though, attempts to define

"hybridity" has led to a "confusion of concepts."  Instead of defining the

threat, we propose a description of the threat that is relevant across the entire

range of military operations.  That is, any actors' approach to warfare can

be described by the mix of material and cognitive capabilities it

brings to bear in conflict and war.  "Hybridity" then, should be seen as a

reflection of this underlying unity of warfare, based on an understanding of the

necessity of applying a mix of cognitive and material elements to succeed. In fact,

the ability to shift among material and cognitive approaches with agility and speed

is both the essence of the future threat, as well as of Secretary Gates' vision

of U.S. Armed Forces that are adaptive in organizational design, capabilities development,

and campaign design and execution. In short, the future threat should not be conceived

of as a category of future warfare that is distinct from other forms of warfare

but is instead the very essence of future warfare itself, and are just as applicable

to friendly forces as to our competitors and adversaries. We propose the following

as a starting point for this description:  Future threats will be entities

or movements that continually scan the environment for opportunities, and threaten

to or apply violence to affect the will and psyche of others to achieve their political


Download the full article:

Beyond the "Hybrid" Threat

David Sadowski is a senior civil servant with

USJCOM's Joint Futures Group.  He has an extensive background in air operations,

strategic and operational planning, information operations and joint concept development

and experimentation.  He retired from the U.S. Air Force in the grade of Lieutenant

Colonel in 2004, having served as a Weapon Systems Officer in the F-4E and F-111F,

a NATO Staff Officer at RHQ AFNORTH, Brunssum, The Netherlands, and numerous staff

tours within Air Combat Command.

Jeff Becker is a contracted futures analyst for

with USJCOM's Joint Futures Group, and supports a number of military, strategic

and futures studies, including three editions of the Joint Operating Environment

and other concept development and experimentation efforts in USJFCOM and throughout

the Department of Defense.  Mr. Becker has a Bachelor's degree in Political

Science from the University of Iowa, and completed his doctoral coursework (ABD)

in International Studies at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

About the Author(s)