Small Wars Journal

From Droid Armies to Luke Skywalker: What Star Wars Teaches Us About Hybrid Warfare

Fri, 10/16/2015 - 10:58am

From Droid Armies to Luke Skywalker: What Star Wars Teaches Us About Hybrid Warfare

Justin Baumann

The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

- Princess Leia, A New Hope

A debate has been ongoing involving the future of land warfare.  This debate is centered around the adversaries we might see on the future battlefield called Hybrid Threats. Hybrid threat proponents, like Frank G. Hoffman, state that hybrid threats are "any adversary that simultaneously and adaptively employs a fused mix of conventional weapons, irregular tactics, terrorism, and criminal behavior in the battlespace to obtain their political objectives."[1] This is nothing more than a relabeling of 4th Generation War (4GW) espoused in the late 1980's by William Lind, et al. and other U.S. military analysts.[2] As Antulio J. Echevarria II stated in, Fourth-Generation War And Other Myths, "What we are really seeing in the war on terror, and the campaign in Iraq and elsewhere, is that the increased 'dispersion and democratization of technology, information, and finance' brought about by globalization has given terrorist groups greater mobility and access worldwide."[3] The same is true for hybrid threats. Echevarria also wrote that 4GW "is based on poor history and only obscures what other historians, theorists, and analysts already have worked long and hard to clarify."[4] Hybrid threats are nothing new: Nation-states and non-state actors have been doing this throughout history when waging war.[5]

Because the U.S. Army's definition of hybrid threats is familiar to most readers, it will be used as a starting point for simplicity. The Army defines hybrid threats in Training Circular 7-100 Hybrid Threats, as "the diverse and dynamic combination of regular forces, irregular forces, and/or criminal elements all unified to achieve mutually benefitting effects."[6] This means that conventional forces will work with different forms of irregular forces for mutually benefitting goals depending on their long-term and short term objectives. Unfortunately, this strategy has been a facet of warfare for centuries: The French and Indian War, The Peninsular War, Vietnam, and the 2006 Lebanon War just to name a few.[7] As Christopher Bowers states in Identifying Emerging Hybrid Adversaries, hybrid threats "can include just about every type of organization from criminal gangs like MS-13 to the German Wehrmacht. If everybody is a hybrid, then nobody is."[8]

So, what are hybrid threats and why have they received so much attention lately?  This paper will show, through the medium of Star Wars, that "hybrid threats" are just recent, dramatic developments in technology that allow multiple state and non-state actors on the battlefield to network more efficiently and combine their military efforts for greater effect, resulting in military strategists to incorrectly identify them as previously unforeseen threat actors on the battlefield.[9]

The Human Domain

The problem with the U.S. military's current definition of hybrid warfare is that it focuses on technology as the major, underlying factor that dominates the modern battlefield. As LTG Charles T. Cleveland and LTC Stuart L. Farris state in Toward Strategic Landpower, "The application of military force in its current form has limited utility when fighting modern wars among the people. Combat power in the form of superior weapons systems, cutting-edge technology and disproportionate force ratios may enable tactical success on the ground but does not guarantee strategic victory."[10] This is a correct assessment and sums up the erroneous trust placed in technology alone as a means to win wars. Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui wrote in 1999 in Unrestricted Warfare, that the American government and their generals rely too heavily on technology as a means of fighting and winning wars.[11] This evaluation by Chinese military officers fifteen years ago correctly foreshadowed the flaws in American military thinking that led to arguably two stalemates in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a poor strategic foundation moving forward. This incorrect philosophy is characterized today by the U.S. defense community's focus on "emerging" threats and inability to deal with conflicts that quickly develop (ISIL). 

So what are all these strategists missing? The problem is that the question constantly being asked is how?, but the better question to ask is with whom? There is an exhaustive amount of academic literature written about all the threats we might see on the battlefield and how they’ll fight (Think Counter IED), but the focus is not on how they cooperate and collude with other entities in the Contemporary Operating Environment (COE) to leverage their strengths for victory over larger, better funded opponents.

Enter Information Warfare and Network Theory. These two work hand in hand to give an advantage to those actors that were once considered the underdogs in asymmetric fights. Armed with the internet and existing human networks, non-state actors such as Hezbollah, the Taliban, and ISIL won against much larger, better armed opponents by using psychological operations and irregular tactics to continually hammer an opponent, winning tactically or informationally small battles while avoiding large scale, Phyrric victories (or defeats). The recent conflict in Ukraine has also shown how nation-state actors like Russia can utilize existing networks such as criminal organizations and irregular forces to achieve victory within the confines of the Law of War and avoid full scale invasions while still achieving political victory.[12]

But why Star Wars? Star Wars is a great format to discuss hybrid threat because examples of each of the different categories of threats and examples of how they interact within the modern landscape make an appearance within the six major feature films of Star Wars. Star Wars also explores the use of new and exotic technologies and it provides an excellent visual depiction to understand how threat actors within the COE fight wars, and why hybrid threats are not a new type of warfare, rather a redefinition of actor roles. Not all of these threats are present in every battle or conflict, but taking the films as a whole reveals what the relationship between these threat actors may look like in future conflicts, and how irregular forces are more lethal because of technological advances. This type of informative and entertaining medium is invaluable to anyone trying to understand hybrid threats, and creates a representation of how these threats will utilize new technologies and strategies (and help military strategists plan for the future).

Threat Actors

In order to relate hybrid warfare to Star Wars and vice versa, we need an understanding of the basic threat actors who participate in the COE.[13] This article will use Training Circular 7-100, Hybrid Threat, to help form the foundation for ease of understanding while acknowledging the academic literature changes rapidly. Recently, the U.S. Military decided warfare fell into two different categories, Traditional Warfare and Irregular Warfare.[14] For this discussion, we'll describe six different variations within Irregular Warfare that we could potentially see on the battlefield: Paramilitary forces, insurgent forces, guerilla forces, terrorists, mercenaries, and criminal organizations. [15] Additionally, this article covers the technology and niche capabilities that any and all of these threat actors employ and what their equivalents are in Star Wars to draw a picture of what future conflicts may look like on the battlefield.

Because current U.S. defense literature on categorizing threats is rather broad,[16] this article uses the following eight categories to structure our discussion of how Star Wars explains how these threats fight: Regular military forces, paramilitary forces, insurgent forces, guerilla forces, terrorists, mercenaries, criminal organizations, and niche capabilities.

Regular Military Forces

Regular military forces are the regulated armed forces of a state or alliance of states with the specified function of military offensive and defensive capabilities in legitimate service to the state or alliance.[17]

Regular military forces are readily apparent within the Star Wars films. The first that makes an appearance is the Droid Army of the Trade Federation in The Phantom Menace (For the purpose of this article, I address the Star Wars films in chronological order within the canon universe (Episode I - VI), rather than chronological order in terms of film production (1977 - 2005)). The Droid Army deploys to Naboo to force a trade settlement, but the Gungan forces defeat them using another hybrid threat concept, electronic warfare (EW). The ensuing battle is fought with linear tactics similar to those Napoleon or Wellington employed. The Trade Federation employs tanks, fighters, and other conventional army weapons. They also fight in conjunction with special operations forces (SOF) that use terrorist tactics to complete their goals. An example of this is Darth Sidious who, near the end of the film, sends his apprentice Darth Maul to capture Queen Amidala and destroy the two Jedi "ambassadors," with the hope of forcing the settlement while the Droid Army defends the city of Naboo. Darth Maul received special training in light sabers and The Force. Because of this, he is an elite special operations fighter. Even though the Droid Army is ultimately defeated, their presence early on shows conventional armies form an important and integral part of Star Wars and the modern battlefield.[18]

The next conventional force to make an appearance is the Grand Army of the Republic, which consists of cloned soldiers "grown" on the planet Kamino.[19][20]  What sets this army apart from the Droid Army is that they are much more flexible and specialized. In Attack of the Clones, they are shown with different colors on their armor indicating the different ranks and units to whom they belong.  In the movie's battle between the Grand Army of the Republic and the Separatists (an insurgency who employ a droid army attempting to overthrow the Republic), the Clone Army exhibits a high level of hybrid threat counter tasks at the operational level as evidenced by their military victories.[21] An initial Jedi (paramilitary) attack in the stadium followed up with a major conventional strike demonstrates this broad strategy. They also focus on countering Separatist electronic networks by targeting the command ships that control the Droid Army as they try to withdraw. This combination between paramilitary, conventional, and EW led to victory for the Clone Army over an aggressive, multi-faceted hybrid Separatist army, showing how hybrid factions might fight each other.[22]

Next is the Imperial Army of the Galactic Empire serving the totalitarian regime controlled by the Emperor Palpatine. This army is characterized as a massive conventional army with armor (AT-ATs), aviation (TIE fighters), and specialized infantry (Snowtroopers). This army represents a combined arms threat, employing all of the war fighting functions to crush their enemies.[23] They do however, exhibit elements of a hybrid faction. In The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the Imperial Army, operating under Darth Vader's orders, employs bounty hunters from the criminal element to hunt down and destroy Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. Additionally, they hire a local spy (Garindan) to track members of the Rebellion and use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to find the Rebellion's secret base on Hoth.[24][25] The Imperial Army's objectives also align closely with the criminal network operated by Jabba the Hutt. Although the Empire and Jabba the Hutt operate through Bobba Fett, the army's dealings with criminal elements fulfill Jabba the Hutt's objective of capturing Han Solo for monetary gain, and the Empire's goal of shutting down Rebel Alliance sympathizers. By letting these criminal elements continue to operate, the Empire is providing tacit support for their activities as long as their objectives align. This translates into an army that employs unified hybrid threat capabilities to attempt to destroy the Rebellion. While unsuccessful, this army illustrates the different threats that will be seen on future battlefields.

The final conventional army in Star Wars is the Rebel Alliance. This belligerent readily fits the classic definition of a conventional force using hybrid threat tactics to defeat the Galactic Empire. State entities such as the planet Alderan and Hoth sponsor and support non-state actors such as Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.

In A New Hope, Princess Leia possesses the schematics of the Death Star and, when properly used, leads to its destruction. Han Solo, a smuggler, and Luke Skywalker, a Jedi Knight in training, rescue Princess Leia, along with the Death Star plans stored in R2-D2. While these irregular elements are not directly controlled by the Rebel Alliance, they provide support so they can to work to defeat the Death Star together along with their conventional forces in the Battle of Yavin. In fact, Han Solo and Chewbacca allow Luke Skywalker to destroy the Death Star by clearing the trench that leads to the "small thermal exhaust port," so Luke can fire the proton torpedoes into it. Thus, the combination of irregular and conventional forces working together enables a final conventional strike that succeeds.

Again, in The Return of the Jedi, the Rebel Alliance uses subversive tactics in conjunction with conventional means to overthrow the Emperor and defeat the Empire. The Rebel Alliance first launches a conventional military strike on the Death Star led by Admiral Ackbar, while simultaneously, special operations forces led by Han Solo destroy the Death Star's shield generator on Endor (with the help of the Ewoks, a guerilla force). Concurrently, Luke Skywalker, a Jedi Knight, fights Darth Vader who is persuaded to switch sides and assassinate the Emperor.  This three pronged attack with conventional forces (Rebel Alliance), special operations forces (Han Solo, Luke Skywalker), and guerilla forces (Ewoks), is hybrid threat operations as defined in TC 7-100. Just as "Hybrid threats will use an ever-changing variety of conventional and unconventional organizations, equipment, and tactics to create multiple dilemmas,"[26] so too did the Rebel Alliance. Ultimately, they included and used hybrid threat Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) effectively within their strategy to defeat the Empire.

Additionally, the Gungan army convinced by the Jedi at the end of The Phantom Menace to attack the Droid Army could be considered a conventional force by some, as they use conventional military tactics similar to the Droid Army. However, in a hybrid threat operating environment, irregular forces can "fight as an indigenous resistance or as a proxy for a hostile nation-state."[27] In terms of a hybrid threat, the Gungans operate as a Guerrilla force. They are an indigenous entity that mobilizes from the local population and utilize conventional army tactics to fight the Droid Army for the Galactic Republic.

An example that illustrates this are the Peshmerga Kurds in Iraq in 2003, 2007, and later in 2014.[28] The Kurds did not face off against Iraqi Army units in large-scale battles, but the Peshmerga did work directly with CIA and U.S. Army Special Forces to prepare the battlefield for follow-on conventional forces in 2003.  They accomplished this by disrupting large formations of main Iraqi units to allow the decisive operation of allied conventional forces to advance with much less resistance. The same is true in Star Wars as the Gungan forces drew the main Droid Army away from the capital of Naboo, allowing the star fighters, as the decisive operation, to escape and succeed in destroying the Droid Army's command ship.

Star Wars explains this hybrid threat relationship well. Just as U.S. Special Forces linked up with the Peshmerga early on in the conflict, so too did the Jedi with the Gungan forces, who later provided crucial support in destroying the Droid Army. Here, Star Wars shows what indigenous forces might look like in a future hybrid threat operating environment and how indigenous forces might work with SOF or paramilitary forces for mutually benefitting effects.[29] This type of hybrid warfare is currently taking place in Northern Iraq as the Peshmerga are fighting ISIL with the help of US advisors and air strikes. The end result of this conflict will help defense planners much more accurately plan for future conflicts.

Irregular Forces

Irregular forces are armed individuals or groups who are not members of the regular armed forces, police, or other internal security forces.[30]

Irregular forces are abundant within the Star Wars films. While these threats sometimes fall under nation-state actors, Star Wars shows precisely how they can be non-state actors as well.  TC 7-100 defines paramilitary forces, insurgents, guerillas, terrorists, mercenaries, and criminal organizations as all falling under the category of irregular forces. This is how strategists define hybrid threats. It is an "adversary... that adaptively and rapidly incorporates diverse and dynamic combinations of conventional, irregular, terrorist and criminal capabilities, as well as non-military obtain its objectives."[31]

In Star Wars, the different factions and opposing forces employ a multitude of different irregular threats to achieve victory. These range from the Rebellion using indigenous Ewok forces, to the Sith Order using mercenaries. What allows these irregular forces to be so successful, however, are the ways they utilize technology and work together with other network types to become more lethal, thus reducing any gaps in an asymmetrical fight.  Because irregular forces are so integral to the hybrid threat concept and this thesis, this article covers the different types and their relative equivalents within the Star Wars films to visually elucidate this concept.

Paramilitary Forces

Forces or groups distinct from the regular armed forces of any country, but resembling them in organization, equipment, training, or mission.[32]

The Jedi Knights are a paramilitary organization and the focus of the Star Wars films. They are distinct from the main conventional armies in the movies and are a separate entity, but with important military-like qualities. They organize themselves just like nation-state military organizations in terms of hierarchy (Jedi Counsel), equipment (fighters, weapons), and training (Padawans). Their mission however, sets them apart from conventional forces. As Master Jedi Mace Windu remarks to Emperor Palpatine in Attack of the Clones about peace negotiations failing, "If they do, you must realize there aren't enough Jedi to protect the Republic. We're keepers of the peace, not soldiers."[33] This quote forms one of the main ideological traits of the Jedi: They are not soldiers, but more akin to police SWAT units or Gendarmes. They should not be taken lightly or underestimated however, because they usually form the core of the Republic's and the Rebellion's special operations forces, as evidenced by their role in taking out the two Death Stars.

Within the hybrid threat landscape, the Jedi Knights often work in conjunction with conventional and other unconventional forces to win battles in all of the films. In Attack of the Clones, they work alongside the Clone Army to defeat the Separatists on the planet Geonosis. Here, Jedi Knights, including Yoda and Mace Windu, take on the roles of conventional military officers and control main conventional units after rescuing Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Senator Padmé.[34] This transition from paramilitary forces to conventional forces is a hallmark of hybrid threat operational designs in TC 7-100,[35] and a prime example of conventional forces working with irregular forces; in this case Jedi Knights.

Insurgent Forces

The organized use of subversion and violence by a group or movement that seeks to overthrow or force change of a governing authority. Insurgency can also refer to the group itself.[36]

In the first three films (Episodes I-III), the main insurgent group is the Separatist Movement, controlled in secret by Emperor Palpatine. The Separatist Movement fits into the hybrid threat landscape because they work extensively with other non-state actors to complete their goals. A comparable example of a similar insurgency given by TC 7-100 is the Peninsular War fought from 1808 to 1814 between the French Empire under Napoleon I, and the Allied nations of Spain, Great Britain, and Portugal.[37] While this entire war was not wholly an insurgency, the use of guerillas and insurgents in Spain by Wellington and the allied forces mirrors the Separatists' struggle.

In 1812, Wellington began to move through Spain defeating French forces. His advance "in the face of an enemy that was numerically far superior was made possible by Spanish regular and guerrilla forces pinning down French armies elsewhere in Spain."[38] This insurgency in Spain, coupled with Wellington's conventional forces, allowed the Allied forces to defeat the French. While the Republic ultimately defeated the Separatist Movement in Star Wars, the unification and alliance between the conventional Droid Armies of the Trade Federation, Techno Union, and Intergalactic Banking Clan with the Sith Order, formed an insurgency against the Republic using hybrid threat tactics much like the British, Spanish, and Portuguese in the Peninsular War.[39]  One of the reason the Spanish irregular forces were able to fight on par with the French and win was they utilized the same weapon systems their French counterparts employed. This symmetry of battlefield technology enabled a Spanish fighter to kill at the same rate as a French fighter. In this way, a Spanish fighter was just as lethal as a French fighter was, and while they did not have the organization and funds the French had, they were able to make considerable gains in the COE.

Another comparable example of insurgent forces between Star Wars and hybrid threat is the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)’s struggle against Sri Lanka. This separatist movement attempted to break away from Sri Lanka and create an independent nation for the Tamil people. They employed hybrid threats that were similar to the Separatists’ movement in Star Wars. The Tamil Tigers used terrorist tactics, employed criminal networks, and maintained a conventional force that “grew into a large experienced, battle-hardened land fighting force over the years.”[40] One of the most important characterizations of this “battle-hardened land fighting force” was that technologically they were almost on par with the Sri Lankan military, and this allowed them to fight for approximately thirty years. But just like the Separatists in Star Wars, the Tamil Tigers eventually lost their struggle as their opponent effectively countered these hybrid threats and technological symmetry.

Guerilla Forces

A group of irregular, predominantly indigenous personnel organized along military lines to conduct military and paramilitary operations in enemy-held, hostile, or denied territory.[41]

Guerilla forces are everywhere in Star Wars. From the Gungans in The Phantom Menace, to the Ewoks in The Return of the Jedi, guerilla forces are included in almost every battle within these films. As this conflict takes place on planets all over the universe, it is inevitable that these indigenous populations are drawn into this epic conflict. A prime example is the Ewoks of the forest moon of Endor, who are rallied to fight for the Rebellion against the Empire by Han Solo and Princess Leia.[42] They play a major role in the Rebellion's use of hybrid threat tactics and strategy to defeat the Empire.

The Ewoks, using primitive technology in the form of catapults and log weapons, allows them to actively participate with the Rebellion and defeat the Empire militarily. Normally, in a conventional fight between the Ewoks and the Empire, the Ewoks would be completely outmatched. However, by using the local terrain, coupled with very lethal weapons and tactics the Empire did not anticipate, the Ewoks were able to defeat the Empire who largely ignored them and blow up the Shield generator. While more attention could and should be paid to this topic of guerilla warfare within Star Wars, this example shows how hybrid threats play an important role within the Star Wars Universe.


A terrorist is someone who uses unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.[43]

It is important to note that terrorism within a hybrid threat can fall under actors and/or tactics. The Sith Order is a terrorist actor while there are other nation-state and non-state actors who use terrorism as a tactic in conjunction with their normal military operations. Star Wars illustrates this difference for those who wish to understand hybrid threats. 

In The Phantom Menace, Darth Sidious sends Darth Maul to abduct Queen Amidala and assassinate two Jedi Knights, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In Attack of the Clones, the film opens with an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Senator Amidala. In A New Hope, the Empire commits a heinous war crime by destroying Princess Leia's home planet of Alderan and attempt, through fear, to have her reveal the whereabouts of the Rebellion's secret base. Moreover, in The Empire Strikes Back, the Empire holds the people of Cloud City hostage in an attempt to capture Luke Skywalker. Members of the Sith Order, a prime candidate for a terrorist organization, carry out these actions frequently. They use these tactics to take control of the Galactic Senate, and subsequently, when they come to power and control the Galactic Empire, use state-sponsored terror and military force to ruthlessly control the galaxy.[44] The Sith Order, as a terrorist organization, uses these tactics to pursue goals that are political, religious, or ideological.


Mercenaries are armed individuals who use conflict as a professional trade and service for private gain.[45]

The primary example of mercenaries in Star Wars are the bounty hunters that make frequent appearances, especially Bobba Fett. While not a primary faction, they nevertheless form an important aspect of strategy for multiple factions. In Attack of the Clones, Darth Sidious hires a bounty hunter, Jango Fett, who then uses a local mercenary to try to kill Senator Amidala. After Jango is killed, his clone son, Bobba Fett, is hired along with others including Bossk, Dengar, and IG-88, to capture Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back.[46][47] In fact, whom Bobba Fett works for during the course of the films is ambiguous, but is frequently employed by Jabba the Hutt. This example shows these minor hybrid threat factions working together to become more powerful and exert more influence within the COE. This trait may manifest itself in future conflicts as minor non-state actors, wishing to become more lethal, will frequently employ or work in conjunction with other unknown or shadowy forces. These networks must be understood to properly address the threat these hybrid factions pose.

A modern example of this is the different organizations that blended to become ISIL. From Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad until they became The Islamic State in 2014, ISIL went through many transformations as they absorbed non-state entities on the battlefield. This type of transformation may be seen more in the future by other groups looking to merge with more powerful factions to fight mutual enemies. Mercenaries are just one of those factions.

Today, mercenaries are characterized by the large firms that employ those willing to kill for profit. DynCorp, Asia Security Group, and G4S are all examples of large, multi-national firms that pay top dollar for hired hands.[48] The main threat here, as in Star Wars, is that these agencies operate with impunity and their loyalties are always suspect. As threat actors such as mercenaries transition between different sides within the Star Wars films, we see how these same actors may operate in today's ever-changing COEs. 

Criminal Organizations

Organized crime is a group of three or more persons that was not randomly formed; existing for a period of time; acting in concert with the aim of committing at least one crime punishable by at least four years' incarceration; in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit.[49]

The most prominent criminal organization within Star Wars is the Hutt crime lords of Tatooine, such as Jabba the Hutt in Episodes IV - VI. They use smugglers, assassins, and bounty hunters to control their criminal empire. In Star Wars, an example of a criminal organization being used within a hybrid threat is shown when the Empire hires Bobba Fett, working for Jabba the Hutt, to capture Han Solo and corner Luke Skywalker. This combination of conventional forces (the Empire), mercenaries (Bobba Fett), and criminal elements (Jabba the Hutt), shows how the Empire and other factions use other hybrid threats actors to achieve mutually benefitting effects.[50] Han Solo, before joining the Rebellion, made his living as a smuggler hired by Jabba the Hutt. Obi Wan-Kenobi and Luke Skywalker use this skill to smuggle aboard the first Death Star undetected after being pulled in by a tractor beam to rescue Princess Leia.[51]

A current example is Solntsevskaya Bratva, or The Brotherhood, the leading mafia organization situated in Moscow.[52] Their syndicate is worth billions of dollars and if a conflict were to erupt in that part of the world, Star Wars shows us The Brotherhood is a powerful threat that could work with nation-state and non-state actors in the region to accomplish mutually benefitting objectives.

Niche Capabilities

Threats may use sophisticated weapons in specific niches to create or exploit vulnerabilities.[53]

Niche capabilities are a hallmark of hybrid threats, and form one of the main concerns for military strategists based on the rapid proliferation of quickly developing technologies. Star Wars represents some of the niche capabilities that are difficult to anticipate, describe, and predict. These capabilities are also the foundation of what this article espouses: That hybrid threats are nothing more than new technologies being put to use by existing battlefield actors who now work in greater concert together, which makes them more lethal, increasing their importance on the battlefield. As we see, Star Wars provides the military planner or strategist with a better idea of how nation-state or non-state actors put these technologies to use to further their goals of political, ideological, or military victory with other organizations, rather than being the main propellant for their causes.

Information Operations

Information operations (IO) are described as the integrated employment of electronic warfare (EW), computer network operations (CNO), psychological operations (PSYOP), military deception (MILDEC), and operations security (OPSEC), in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own.[54]

All six films cover various types of information operations. Two of the most important types are EW and CNO. Within this futuristic universe, everything is linked by technology and computer nodes, much like we are seeing manifest itself in today's world with the internet, wifi, Google, Bluetooth, and other unified, connectivity technologies. This is cyber warfare, but for the purpose of this article is included within EW. In Star Wars, one of the first examples is Anakin Skywalker destroying the Droid Army's command station from the inside with a star fighter. Once this has happened, all of the Droids shut down, securing victory for the people of Naboo over the Trade Federation. This is extremely important. As drone technologies become more and more prolific, it will be crucial that U.S. military planners understand the threats to our use of this technology, and its use by other nation-state or non-state actors.

MILDEC also makes a few appearances. Notably, Padmé disguises herself as one of her handmaidens to confuse any potential assassins. Additionally, the Empire deliberately allows the Rebellion to believe their attack on the second Death Star in The Return of the Jedi is a surprise. The Emperor then springs the trap with his fleet in order to trap the Rebellion's forces in vicinity of the fully operational Death Star. PSYOP plays a small role as well, but only at the individual tactical level. In Revenge of the Sith, Emperor Palpatine influences Anakin to make his fall to the Dark Side complete, and Vader tries to do the same with Luke, but ultimately fails.

Finally, R2-D2 utilizes CNO quite often to help the Rebellion achieve their goals. In A New Hope, it accesses a computer terminal on the Death Star and prevents the trash compactor from crushing Leia, Luke, Han, and Chewbacca.[55] This becomes quite a frequent occurrence by R2-D2, and the Empire would have most likely succeeded had they practiced better information technology (IT) security on their networks.[56] These examples provide important lessons for today's military planners when preparing for hybrid threats.

Drone Warfare

A UAS [Unmanned Aerial System] is comprised of the unmanned aircraft, payload, human element, control element, weapons systems platform, display, communication architecture, life cycle logistics, and includes the supported Soldiers.[57]

While relatively new ten years ago, drones now play a huge role in America's foreign policy and military strategy. This technology revolutionized warfare and is now a major issue that will define the next ten to twenty years of military technology, tactics, discussion, and strategy.[58] Star Wars provides an interesting and informative glimpse into how future drones might be used. In the first three films, the Droid Army is the major example of drones. Some might not consider them drones, but with the pace of technology today, robots and droids will play a large role in future conflicts.[59] Therefore, it is essential military strategists understand the implications this technology will have on future conflicts.

One of the most important examples of drone warfare within Star Wars was the Empire's use of Imperial Probe Droids to seek out and find the Rebellion's secret base on the snow planet Hoth.[60] These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) looked for life indicating a secret base. With the rise of drones within the COE, military planners can look to Star Wars to illuminate this developing technology and its future use in hybrid conflicts. However, Star Wars might not have gone far enough. In July 2013, the U.S. Navy successfully landed a drone fighter onboard the USS George H.W. Bush.[61] This should be considered one of the biggest conventional military developments of the last fifteen to twenty years. While we see fighters and ships controlled by actual pilots in the Star Wars Universe, it is very probable we will see swarms of unmanned drones operating as the mainstay of carrier fleets in the next fifteen to twenty years. This increased lethality to carriers will have significant implications for hybrid threat TTPs.

Another good example of this within the Star Wars Universe is the Droid Army’s use of the “Droid Starfighter” in Episode I. These fighters protected the Droid control ship. Described as “agile starfighters,” they are “equipped with droid brains to ensure that they acted in concert and would sacrifice themselves without thought, over-whelmed the Naboo pilots and nearly secured victory for the Trade Federation.”[62] The same will be possible very soon as evidenced by the X-47B that landed on the USS George H.W. Bush. This technology will radically change the hardware seen on the battlefield, making carriers even more lethal, but this will not nor has it changed the basic nature of warfare.

Additionally, some strategists might want to consider the non-combat role and capacity for drones and droids. Take for example R2-D2. While it plays a small military role throughout all the films, and some consider it a rebel secret agent (a drone that passes information to supporters and the like),[63] R2-D2 was designed as a non-combat droid who assists with all matters of repair, automation, and support. In the future, these unmanned computer network droids (UCNDs) will hack and disrupt enemy information networks without human guidance, leveraging their artificial intelligence to rapidly identify and sterilize threats.  This will be used by asymmetric threats to strike stronger opponents where they are weak (network security) while preserving their combat power to choose when to strike with more conventional forces (increased lethality).

When taken together with C-3PO, we see the importance of using these types of automated support and military drones for conducting hybrid threat operations or counter tasks. These drones are not a new faction however, and won’t be a new type of warfare. They are only an outreach of the factions who use them; a tool to be wielded by those who can afford them. And in the rest of the Star Wars films, from Darth Maul's seeker drone, to Luke's use of a Marksman-H combat remote,[64] we see the important impact drones will have in future hybrid threat conflicts.

Hybrid Warfare, Star Wars, and The Evolving Battlefield

Because hybrid threats are abundant within Star Wars, the movies provide important visual depictions for those studying their implications on future wars and conflicts. As we have seen throughout this article, smaller, irregular forces within the Star Wars Universe were able to effectively counter and win victories against larger, more organized adversaries. So what conclusions can we draw about hybrid threats? For starters, these irregular threats were primarily able to do so because their forces were just as lethal, if not more so than their opponents. This resulted from more robust hybrid networks and skill sets that allowed these factions to work together to accomplish their goals. While technology did play a large role in their increased lethality, the human network abilities of these factions to mobilize previously ignored actors within the COE and concentrate these technologies on their enemies is what we will see more of in the future. We’ll also see it move quite fast.  

Peter Mansoor and Williamson Murray discuss in Hybrid Warfare: Fighting Complex Opponents from the Ancient World to the Present that hybrid threat is not some new type of warfare with newly developed tactics and strategies, but these types of conflicts have been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years.[65]Hybrid threats are not a new type of warfare, but with the ability of new technologies to facilitate the creation and increased efficiency of these threat networks, hybrid threats are just the increased ability of irregular and traditional forces to work together to accomplish their goals. Just as the Jedi were able to leverage the lethality of the Ewoks, the Sith to mobilize the Droid Armies, and the Rebellion to concentrate smuggler and Jedi abilities alike, so too will future nation-state and non-state actors work together to fight wars. 

Thus, Star Wars shows us that hybrid threats, the idea that previously unforeseen COE actors are now participating more openly on the battlefield, should actually focus or research on the redefined roles these non-state actors now occupy because new technologies allow multiple hybrid threats to work together focusing their new, increased technological lethality. Coupled with smart tactics and efficient use of the geopolitical landscape, these hybrid factions have only newly designated the roles these different factions play in the COE, not the makeup or concept of warfare itself.   

Watching Star Wars through this lens of understanding that hybrid threats have always existed means we can focus more on countering any new technologies, economic landscapes, human networks, computer networks, or political maneuverings that will be the focus of future opponents, rather than being surprised when an adversary uses local criminal networks or other threat actors to disrupt our operations (It's a Trap!). These tactics and strategies should be assumed and anticipated. This refocuses attention not on a plethora of new threat actors, but on how likely threat actors will work together with other known or unknown actors within the COE to increase their lethality and overwhelm their opponents.

The proliferation of technology has only magnified the effect and lethality of non-state irregular actors working together within the COE, but this only means that we still have to look at the other root causes of these conflicts rather than focus on the means to carry out attacks. In World War II, the U.S. Army did not look for a way to negate the effects of German bullets; they focused their energy on eliminating the root cause of the conflict (politics, economics, hostile governments, etc...). Another example is IEDs. While this cheap, low-tech weapon has made the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan significantly more lethal, it is not the reason these conflicts arose or continue. It just allows the Taliban or ISIL, non-state actors, to be more lethal while preserving combat power for other ventures. This allows them more successes that promote recruitment and battlefield victories. Technology is the key to understanding the threat, but not to finding the solution.

Nevertheless, the most important lesson to pull from this exposé on technology, hybrid networks, and hybrid threats is that technology can never replace the skill of the war fighter, as some military analysts and strategists have come to think, nor is it the enemy we search. Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui wrote in 1999 in Unrestricted Warfare, that the American government and their generals rely too heavily on technology as a means of fighting and winning wars.[66] Defense planners have integrated this concept into hybrid threats, while forgetting the basic nature of warfare. Even as new technologies appear and greatly increase the effectiveness and lethality of the soldier, it will not replace the man (or woman) behind the weapon on the battlefield. It is not their weapon we need to understand, it is them and their networks (while not forgetting their weapon).  While promoting and increasing the technological effectiveness of our soldier, we have forgotten an enemy soldier exists on the other side. Again, Technology is the key to understanding the threat, but not to finding the solution.

This article has only scratched the surface of the many lessons we can learn from Star Wars about the future of modern warfare (and will likely generate many heated discussions). But there are many examples that were considered and left out for brevity's sake. If having read this article, you must tell someone about the comparison between The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Tusken Raiders, General Grievous' striking similarity to modern prosthetics, or think this article completely misses the point, please don't keep it to yourself.  Tell your colleagues about the hybrid concepts revealed in Star Wars and continue the discussion. With Episode VII: The Force Awakens to be released in December 2015, that film will provide even more insights into some of the concepts explored here, and then maybe, just maybe, we can learn to make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs..

Special Thanks to ADM Gial Ackbar, Maj. Nicholas Pomaro (USMC), MAJ Scott Smith, MAJ Stephen Harnsberger, MAJ Chris Sims, CPT Dan Meegan, CPT Peter Solana, CPT Tony James, and SFC Chris Bagwell.

End Notes

[1] F.G. Hoffman, ‘Hybrid Threats: Neither Omnipotent Nor Unbeatable’, Orbis (2010), doi: 10.1016/j.orbis.2010.04.009

[2] Lind, William S, Keith Nightengale, John F Schmitt, Joseph W Sutton, and Gary I Wilson. "The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation." Marine Corps Gazette, 1989: 22-26.

[3] Echevarria II, Antulio J. "Fourth-Generation War and Other Myths." Strategic Studies Institute. November 2005. (accessed May 26, 2013).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Murray, Williamson, and Peter R. Mansoor. Hybrid Warfare: Fighting Complex Opponents from the Ancient World to the Present. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

[6] Department of the Army. Hybrid Threat . Training Circular 7-100, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2010, v.

[7] Ibid., 1-1.

[8] Bowers, Christopher O. "Identifying Emerging Hybrid Adversaries." Parameters, 2012: 40.

[9] For the purpose of this article, Star Wars is discussed assuming the reader has seen at least a couple of the films. Some simplicity has been incorporated as well into specifics of the Star Wars universe in order to help break the topic down for those who are not very familiar with the films. 

[10] Cleveland, Charles T., and Stuart L. Farris. "Toward Strategic Landpower." Army, July 1, 2013, 20-23.

[11] Liang, Qiao, and Xiangsui, Wang. "Unrestricted Warfare." Beijing: PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House, 1999.

[12] Galeotti, Mark. "How the Invasion of Ukraine Is Shaking Up the Global Crime Scene | VICE | United States." VICE. November 6, 2014. Accessed January 4, 2015.

[13] Not all actors in an Operating Environment (OE) are a threat. TC 7-100 defines a threat as an organization or nation that possesses the ability to challenge the United States.

[14] U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States, Joint Publication 1 (Washington, DC: U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, March 25, 2013).

[15] U.S. Department of the Army. Hybrid Threat. Training Circular 7-100 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Army, November 2010), 2-1.

[16] With good reason. Trying to categorize and fit these threats into nice little boxes will restrict and hinder discussion and understanding of our adversaries' capabilities.

[17] Department of the Army. Hybrid Threat . Training Circular 7-100, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2010, 2-2

[18] Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Blu-Ray. Directed by George Lucas. USA: Lucasfilm; 1999.

[19] Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Blu-Ray. Directed by George Lucas. USA: Lucasfilm; 2002.

[20] Wookieepedia. Clone Trooper. 2013. (accessed March 2013).

[21] Bachmann, Sascha-Dominik. "Hybrid threats, cyber warfare and NATO's comprehensive approach for countering 21st century threats - mapping the new frontier of global risk and security management." Amicus Curiae, 2011: 14-17.

[22] Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Blu-Ray. Directed by George Lucas. USA: Lucasfilm; 2002.

[23] Department of the Army. Tactics. Field Manual 3-90, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2001.

[24] Wookieepedia. Garindan. 2013. (accessed May 24, 2013).

[25] Galactic Voyage. Garindan. 2013. (accessed May 25, 2013).

[26] Department of the Army. Hybrid Threat. Training Circular 7-100, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2010, 1-2.

[27] Ibid., vi.

[28] Devigne, Jacqueline. ""Iraqoncilable”Differences? The Political Nature of the Peshmerga." NIMEP Insights, 2011: 48-62.

[29] Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Blu-Ray. Directed by George Lucas. USA: Lucasfilm; 1999.

[30] Joint Chiefs of Staff. Counterinsurgency Operations. Joint Publication 3-24, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2009.

[31] Brian P. Fleming, "The Hybrid Threat Concept: Contemporary War, Military Planning and the Advent of Unrestricted Operational Art" (United States Army Command and General Staff College Monograph, 2011), (accessed May 23, 2013).

[32] Joint Chiefs of Staff. Counterinsurgency Operations. Joint Publication 3-24, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2009.

[33] Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Blu-Ray. Directed by George Lucas. USA: Lucasfilm; 2002.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Department of the Army. Hybrid Threat. Training Circular 7-100, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2010, 4-1.

[36] Joint Chiefs of Staff. Counterinsurgency Operations. Joint Publication 3-24, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2009.

[37] Jackson, Andrew C., The Peninsular War 1808-1814. 2004. (accessed May 25, 2013).

[38] Ibid.

[39] Wookieepedia. Clone Wars. 2013. (accessed May 25, 2013).

[40] Ministry of Defence Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Humanitarian Operation Factual Analysis July 2006 – May 2009. Factual Analysis, Sri Lanka: Ministry of Defence, 2011.

[41] Joint Chiefs of Staff. Special Operations. Joint Publication 3-05, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2011.

[42] Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Blu-Ray. Directed by Richard Marquand. USA: Lucasfilm; 1983.

[43] FM 100-20, Military Operations in Low Intensity Conflict, 5 December 1990; and Joint Publication 1-02,

Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, 12 April 2001, as amended through

13 June 2007.

[44] Wookieepedia. Order of the Sith Lords. 2013 (accessed May 25, 2013).

[45] Department of the Army. Hybrid Threat . Training Circular 7-100, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2010.

[46] Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Blu-Ray. Directed by George Lucas. USA: Lucasfilm; 2002.

[47] Schedeen, Jesse. Star Wars: Know Your Bounty Hunters. October 01, 2009. (accessed May 2013, 2013).

[48] McKenna, Luke, and Robert Johnson. A Look At The World's Most Powerful Mercenary Armies. February 26, 2012. (accessed June 23, 2013).

[49] United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime. Organized Crime. 2013. (accessed May 24, 2013).

[50] Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Blu-Ray. Directed by Irvin Kershner. USA: Lucasfilm; 1980.

[51] Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Blu-Ray. Directed by George Lucas. USA: Lucasfilm; 1977.

[52] Daily Record. Russian mafia take over as world's top crime gang. September 17, 2008. (accessed June 23, 2013).

[53] Department of the Army. Unified Land Operations. ADP 3-0, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2011.

[54] Joint Chiefs of Staff. Information Operations. Joint Publication 3-13, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2006.

[55] Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Blu-Ray. Directed by George Lucas. USA: Lucasfilm; 1977.

[56] Darth Vader should have taken information assurance training classes online.

[57] U.S. Army. "Eyes of the Army" U.S. Army Roadmap for Unmanned Aircraft Systems 2010-2035. Fort Rucker: U.S. Army UAS Center of Excellence, 2010.

[58] Hazelton, Jacqueline L. "Drones: What Are They Good For?" Parameters, 2013: 29-33.

[59] Lin, Patrick, George Bekey, and Keith Abney. Autonomous Military Robotics: Risk, Ethics, and Design. Preliminary Investigation, San Luis Obispo: Department of the Navy, Office of Naval Research, 2008.

[60] Wookieepedia. Viper Probe Droid. 2013. (accessed June 4, 2013).

[61] Hennigan, W.J. Navy drone X-47B lands on carrier deck in historic first. July 10, 2013.,0,6990478.story (accessed July 10, 2013).

[62] Blackman, W. Haden. Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels. (New York: Ballantine Books, 2003), 39.

[63] Martin, Keith. A New Sith, or Revenge of the Hope. 2005. (accessed May 26, 2013).

[64] Wookieepedia. Marksman-H Combat Remote. 2013. (accessed May 26, 2013).

[65] Murray, Williamson, and Peter R. Mansoor. Hybrid Warfare: Fighting Complex Opponents from the Ancient World to the Present. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

[66] Liang, Qiao, and Wang Xiangsui. Unrestricted Warfare. Beijing: PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House, 1999.


About the Author(s)

Justin Baumann is from the Pacific Northwest where he first became interested in smokejumpers and airborne operations. He has completed graduate degrees from the University of Southern California and Arizona State University in public and business administration. He served with the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment (OPFOR) in Afghanistan and the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq before getting out of the Army.



Mon, 10/19/2015 - 7:44am

I'm reminded of the <A HREF="">explanatory treatise</A> of The Jawa Report.

A very interesting approach to discussing hybrid warfare. I'm tempted to question its accuracy, given that the DoD arguably (though seldom obviously) follows a script, whereas George Lucas doesn't appear to do so. Of course, if we consider the way warfare is portrayed in the various films (particularly the awful prequels) and recognize that most battles amount to what George Lucas thinks will be really cool to see, rather than making any strategic or even tactical sense, then maybe the analogy is closer to reality (particularly with respect to procurements) than I had initially thought. The discussion makes me wonder if anyone has ever written any sort of academic paper comparing the Death Star to nuclear weapons...