Small Wars Journal

Hybrid: An Adjective Describing the Current War

Thu, 03/25/2021 - 12:44pm


Hybrid: An Adjective Describing the Current War

CPT Bridget Bachman


Edited by SFC Charles Reno


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.


            Asymmetric warfare, irregular warfare, unconventional warfare, protracted warfare, conventional warfare, and political warfare are just a few terms used to define conflict.  Now, add hybrid warfare. War is continuously evolving and attempting to define war poses trouble. Opinions and personal preferences do appear in research, which further serves to increase the breadth of reasonable definitions for hybrid warfare. Hybrid warfare has many different definitions, but the importance must shift to having an in-depth knowledge of the activities conducted by our adversaries. We limit ourselves by continuously seeking definitions.

Meanwhile, our adversaries continue to make advances. We need to spend more time understanding than naming (Maxwell, 2021).  This research paper not only serves to answer the question of what hybrid warfare is but also the Russian application. As well as recommendations for United States government (USG) action. Hybrid warfare uses all methods to create a favorable desired condition and is the holistic approach used by Russia. The United States Government (USG) must confront Russia’s methods by defining the operational environment and defining red lines for adversaries not to cross. The biggest threat is the lack of understanding of how many methods can be used by everyday media consumption and the advances in technology.

Defining Hybrid Warfare

            Hybrid warfare is the use of all methods used to create a favorable desired condition. As an adjective, hybrid means having two or more distinct elements. Some argue that hybrid warfare is the blurred combination of regular and irregular components within the same battlespace (Hoffman, 2007). Or the integration of instruments of national power at the operational level. Another definition is using military, non-military, lethal, non-lethal, forcing the enemy to act in specific ways (Fridman, 2018). Additionally, hybrid warfare is the employment of political warfare that applies economic pressure, diplomatic pressure, information pressure, and subversive activities to achieve a pre-determined end state.

            Russia defines hybrid war, or гибридная война” in Russian, as the entire competition space, blending all means and instruments (Clark, 2020). Russia not only employs hybrid methods but fully understands that all future wars are hybrid in theory. Russia has adapted and improved its capabilities to achieve its strategic objectives. Russian doctrine does not distinguish between peacetime and war, ensuring that strategy includes integrating political, military, diplomatic, economic, information, and other measures (Bagge, 2019). Hybrid warfare is applied to prevent armed conflict. For Russia, hybrid warfare is a whole government activity and views the information campaign as the priority over all other efforts (Clark, 2020). In contrast, the USG lacks a national influence capability, and influence serves as a supporting role to other priorities.

Russian Methods and Techniques

            Russia is our nation’s main adversary exerting hybrid methods. Understanding how Russia is employing methods is more critical than defining hybrid war. Russia exerts national power through conventional and irregular methods and adapts quickly. Russia employs disruptive technologies in conjunction with accepting vast amounts of risk that do not appear palatable for the United States or its partners to accept. Where a conventional battlefield is lacking, Russia pits the population of its targeted nation in the conflict zone. Russian efforts are subversive and seek to undermine the authority of sovereign nations. As past events have shown, such as in Ukraine or Georgia, subversive efforts are clandestine or covert, making it challenging to pin attribution on Russia. The lack of attribution makes it challenging to hold Russia accountable (Pindjak., 2014).

            Russia has been using ‘reflexive control’ since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Reflexive control combines information warfare and information operations by employing direct and indirect effects simultaneously across strategic, operational, and tactical domains. The Russian approach aims to take away the opposing party’s ability to decide, utilize, to adjust their political will and impacts their ability to execute a response (Bagge, 2019). Reflexive control refers to the practice of altering specific factors in an adversary’s perception of the world, therefore manipulating them to make decisions in your favor. This tactic is implicit in psychological operations and allows Russia to gain critical advantages in a myriad of operational environments that are not otherwise present. Russia has applied reflexive control for decades, and it has the necessary infrastructure to deliver messages to foreign audiences (Pomerleau, 2020). The infrastructure, backed by intelligence services, state media, and diplomats allows for the spreading of false information at opportune moments to target perceived weak links that are exploitable through moral arguments, psychological tactics, and specific appeals (Kowalewski, 2017). Russia employs reflexive control as a long-term influence campaign, focusing on the two deception actors, the victim, and the deceiver (Bagge, 2019).

            In 2014, Russia used division as a reflexive control method and employed hybrid tactics in Ukraine. Russia deployed troops along Ukraine’s borders. The division served two purposes; first, it kept western entities focused on the possibility of an all-out evasion. Second, it diverted attention from the war taking place in Donetsk and Luhansk. The buildup of troops forced the Ukrainian military to remain in place to counter a potential invasion, which created a state of confusion about the true scope of Russia’s operations—using these tactics to alter the perception, to hinder western and Ukrainian decision making or as Russians call it maskirovka. Maskirovka aims to manipulate the decision-making process to maneuver strategic behavior towards the desired end state.

            With the advance of technology, reflexive control is moving into cyberspace, expanding the scope of warfare, creating an even more hybrid threat. Internet connectivity has flattened communications globally. In an instant, information is transmittable overseas, and the floodgates are open for the application of reflexive control and exploitation of foreign audiences. Not only does the internet increase the efficiency and efficacy of reflexive control, but it also offers other unique characteristics like shaping an individual’s' patterns of life through targeted advertisements, as well as providing information to the adversary. Influencing the system is only a few clicks away. Also, the cost of implementing a disinformation campaign is significantly reduced, and infrastructure in other regions of the world supports it. Additionally, it offers outright deniability or plausible deniability of operations. Anything with cyberspace has fewer legal restraints, fewer attributions to attach, and ultimately less enforceable (Bagge, 2019).

            This expansion of technology allows Russia to use existing rifts in society as a technique through disinformation campaigns online. An example of this is the ‘Lisa Case.’ A media storm surrounded the story of a 13-year-old Russian girl in Germany who had been raped by Arab migrants, signaling the public to demand a wake-up call from German political elites for mishandling the migrant crisis (Meister, 2016). This incident was fake, yet it generated public outcry and inflamed German opinion over the mass arrival of migrants. In the end, it served to pummel Angela Merkel’s public support without allowing the German political elites the opportunity to make a unified decision over the migrant crisis. Russia masters the manipulation of sensory awareness while hiding its true intentions. They tamper with filters or data processors through sensory awareness.

Recommended USG Action

            The USG must confront Russia’s methods by defining the operational environment and defining red lines for adversaries not to cross. The first step is analyzing Russia’s decisions and observing Russia’s threat in its entirety instead of as individual lines of effort (Clark, 2020). Russia is not only in Europe, but it uses reflexive control worldwide (Clark, 2020). Another recommendation is to define non-kinetic red lines for the enemy not to cross, especially when it comes to cyberspace (Bagge, 2019). The USG must seize the initiative and not be in a reactive posture by improving its deterrence methods. One of the most significant risks is the lack of understanding of the potential uses of technology and how quickly someone can be deceived by everyday consumption of convenience. The Russian hybrid approach is an issue for Americans and our allies, not only the military. Again, this is because Russia uses a holistic approach, and their main battlespace is the mind. USG needs to make people aware of the Russian threat so they have the tools to be resilient. The individual is the most crucial aspect to counter Russia.

            Hybrid warfare is the use of all methods used to create a favorable desired condition. Russia uses this holistic approach in the form of what they call reflexive control. The USG must confront Russia’s methods by defining the operational environment and defining red lines for adversaries not to cross.


Bagge, D. 2019. Unmasking Maskirovka: Russia’s Cyber Influence Operations. New York: Defense Press.

Clark, M. 2020. Russian Hybrid Warfare. Military Learning and the Future of War Series. Institute for the Study of War.

Fridman, O., 2018. Russian ‘Hybrid Warfare’. London: Hurst & Company.

Hoffman, F., 2007. Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars. Potomac Institute for Policy Studies

Kowalewski, A. (2017, February 1). Disinformation and Reflexive Control: The New Cold War. Retrieved from

Maxwell, D. 2021, January 28. Modern UW and Counter UW, Irregular Warfare, Political

Warfare all Apply to the "Gray Zone" and Great Power Competition [Lecture notes].

Meister, S. (2016, July 25). The "Lisa case": Germany as a Target of Russian Disinformation. Retrieved from

Pindjak, P. (2014, November 18). Deterring Hybrid Warfare: A chance for NATO and the EU to

Work Together?. Retrieved from

Pomerleau, M. (2020, October 5). Why is the United States Losing the Information War?. Retrieved from


About the Author(s)

 Bridget Bachman is an active duty Captain with operational experience in Eastern Europe.  She is currently serving as a Detachment Commander in the 6th Psychological Operations Battalion (Airborne).



Learn from the North Vietnames - "hybrid" is just a mixture of symmetric and asymmetric tactics in the search for a strategic outcome - nothing new.....

Counterinsurgency and Hybrid Warfare in Vietnam by by Ismaël Fournier Canadian Military Journal • Vol. 21, No. 2, Spring 2021


Thu, 09/23/2021 - 7:54am

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