The archetype of hybrid warfare

Hybrid warfare vs. military-focussed warfare

Johann Schmid

There is no universally-accepted definition of hybrid warfare that leads to some debate whether the term is useful at all. Some argue that the term is too abstract and only the latest term to refer to irregular methods to counter a conventionally superior force. The abstractness of the term means that it is often used as a catch all term for all non-linear threats. Hybrid warfare is warfare with the following aspects:

  • A non-standard, complex, and fluid adversary. A hybrid adversary can be state or non-state. The main adversaries are non-state entities within the state system. The non-state actors can act as proxies for countries but have independent agendas as well.
  • A hybrid adversary uses a combination of conventional and irregular methods. Methods and tactics include conventional capabilities, irregular tactics, irregular formations, diplomacy, politics, terrorist acts, indiscriminate violence, and criminal activity. A hybrid adversary also uses clandestine actions to avoid attribution or retribution. The methods are used simultaneously across the spectrum of conflict with a unified strategy.
  • A hybrid adversary is flexible and adapts quickly. For example, the Islamic State's response to the US aerial bombing campaign was a quick reduction of the use of checkpoints, large convoys, and cellphones. Militants also dispersed among the civilian population. Civilian collateral damage from airstrikes can be used as an effective recruiting tool.
  • A hybrid adversary uses advanced weapons systems and other disruptive technologies. Such weapons can be now bought at bargain prices. Moreover, other novel technologies are being adapted to the battlefield such as cellular networks.
  • Use of mass communication for propaganda. The growth of mass communication networks offers powerful propaganda and recruiting tools. The use of fake news websites to spread false stories is an element of hybrid warfare.
  • A hybrid war takes place on three distinct battlefields. They are the conventional battlefield, the indigenous population of the conflict zone, and the international community.

Hybrid warfare is not new; the means of waging it have evolved and simply expanded into all dimensions of state and society. Hence, the compulsion to deal with hybrid warfare holistically. That is a task that goes beyond the mere military dimensions of war and beyond the scope of military decision-making. If we want to strengthen our hybrid warfare capabilities then we need to recognise the need to redefine war and strategy. The centre of gravity of warfare has shifted; what is needed is a holistic shift in the centre of gravity of decision-making. Never was civilian supremacy more relevant in the conduct of war than it is in the context of hybrid warfare, including within the overarching nuclear framework. Hybrid warfare is a military strategy that blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyber warfare. Hybrid warfare can be used to describe the flexible and complex dynamics of the battle space requiring a highly adaptable and resilient response. There are a variety of terms used to refer to the hybrid war concept: hybrid war, hybrid warfare, hybrid threat, or hybrid adversary (as well as non-linear war, non-traditional war or special war). The centre of gravity in a counterinsurgency is the protection of the population that hosts it.The result of the center of gravity analysis provides input for what objectives and decisive points that should be accomplished and how to use the forces in order to reach the desired end-state.