Small Wars Journal

Thoughts on "Hybrid" Conflict

Mon, 03/02/2009 - 7:40pm
Thoughts on "Hybrid" Conflict

by Dr. Russell W. Glenn, Small Wars Journal

Thoughts on "Hybrid" Conflict (Full PDF Article)

The last several years have seen the rise of "hybrid warfare" as a term in international and U.S. armed forces literature. Others similarly write of "hybrid conflict," "hybrid war," or "hybrid threat," ...

We can credit Hezbollah for the recent and rapid spike in such interest. That group's success in defending against the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) over 34 days spanning July 12 - August 14, 2006 gained worldwide attention. The notice is unsurprising given the success experienced by a non-state actor's military against a national armed forces with an established reputation for excellence. But do "hybrid warfare," "conflict," "war," or "threat" merit this newfound notoriety in light of both the Second Lebanon War and broader analysis? The question is a nontrivial one at a time when challenges in Iraq, Afghanistan, southern Philippines, and elsewhere continue to challenge Western defense thinkers while foes of developed nations demonstrate an ability to share proven techniques. Comments made by Israelis in the aftermath of the July-August 2006 Second Lebanon War add further impetus to questioning the value of adding yet another concept to defense thinking. Among the problems recognized as undermining IDF performance during that conflict was penetration of the country's military doctrine by an "intellectual virus," i.e., the introduction of new and opaque thinking that clouded rather than clarified the guidance provided those committed to Israel's security. U.S. doctrine and thinking are similarly vulnerable to adverse influences. The confusion wreaked by effects-based operations (EBO) ended only after the commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command recently declared it would not become a part of joint doctrine. (Interestingly, EBO was cited by Israelis as one of the imported concepts found unhelpful in 2006.)

The deliberately brief discussion to follow considers the value of a hybrid construct in two contexts. First, we consider none-too-consistent usage of the term in light of its applicability to the security challenges of today and tomorrow. Second, we confront the issue of whether the hybrid concept is sufficiently original to merit addition to military intellectual discourse and -- ultimately -- armed forces doctrine as a separate form of warfare. Another possibility, of course, is that the term may serve to educate even if the concept represents nothing new, much as did Basil Liddell-Hart's "indirect approach" in the aftermath of World War I.

Thoughts on "Hybrid" Conflict (Full PDF Article)

About the Author(s)



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Major Brian Fleming (not verified)

Mon, 08/31/2009 - 3:59pm

Hybrid threats will significantly impact how the military organizes, trains and equips for full spectrum operations in the near future. Likewise, it will inform U.S. military strategy, policy and resource investment priorities, as well as the ongoing future force debate.
In many ways, hybrid warfare is a U.S. forces perspective on how to deal with complex operational environments where an adversary employs unrestricted warfare combining all available tools to achieve objectives. As Frank Hoffman describes, the hybrid construct offers a framework to "describe the evolving character of conflict, challenge conventional thinking and highlight the true dynamics of the spectrum of human conflict."
In my opinion, the proliferation of the use of the term hybrid threat by senior leaders necessitates the development of a common definition and the need to codify the term in service and Joint lexicon.

Greg Grant (not verified)

Tue, 03/03/2009 - 1:41pm

Wrong. Hybrid war is not merely a subset of Irregular Warfare. IW is conflict played out among and for the votes of the populace by aid workers with guns. There is nothing remotely similar about COIN and Hybrid war.

Hybrid war is a definitional concept that encompasses a blending of conventional and guerrilla organization, weapons, modes of fighting that is played out not for the minds of people but for control over territory or to defeat an opponent's fielded force, e.g. Grozny, South Lebanon.