Hybrid warfare: Current realities and prospects

Murat Tuleyev.

One of the characteristic trends generated by globalisation is the growing non-military spectrum of challenges and threats to international, regional and national security, some of which have a fundamentally new quality.

In the context of hybrid methods of warfare, the victim country is exposed to information and cognitive technologies for a long period of time. These technologies are aimed at destabilizing the state, its internal state through targeted impact on the cultural and attitudinal sphere, with the introduction of subversive ideas into the public consciousness, to worsen the socio-economic situation, and to manipulate the opposition forces.

The arsenal of hybrid warfare includes discriminatory economic sanctions, information warfare, initiation of «hot spots» along national borders and inside the country, activation of a «fifth column» and terrorist acts.

The ultimate goal of hybrid warfare is to create conditions for a «colour» revolution that would weaken the institutions of state power and create conditions for the overthrow of the legitimate leadership with the subsequent transfer of power to a puppet government.

The main idea of non-military methods of fighting for space is to impose on a potential adversary a programmed image of the world, thereby subjugating its system of governance. In hybrid warfare, information influence is capable of changing the main geopolitical potential of a state — the national mentality, culture and the moral state of people.

The concept of threats in hybrid warfare is encompassed by a new type of integrated mixed threats, often referred to as hybrid threats. «Hybrid threats» integrate a wide range of hostile circumstances and intentions, such as cyber warfare, low-intensity asymmetric military-force conflict scenarios, global terrorism, illegal migration, corruption, ethnic and religious conflicts, resource security, demographic challenges, transnational organised crime, globalisation challenges and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The aim of hybrid wars is to disrupt the development of the state as an independent entity, intensify confrontation both domestically and internationally, replace power elites and support opposition figures willing to act within a model of external governance. It should be noted that in recent years hybrid threats have been studied in the West not only from a theoretical perspective, but their application is increasingly being transferred to the practical plane.

What is hybrid warfare?

The concept of hybrid warfare first appeared in US and British military documents in the 21st century. It means the subjugation of a certain territory by means of information, electronic, cyber operations combined with military forces, special services and intense economic pressure.

The best definition of hybrid warfare is found in Military Balance, an annual publication of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London in 2015: «The use of military and nonmilitary tools in an integrated campaign to achieve surprise, seize initiative and gain psychological advantage used in diplomatic actions, large-scale and rapid information, electronic and cyber operations, cover and conceal military and intelligence actions combined with economic pressure

The combination of traditional and hybrid methods is already a feature of armed conflicts. While the latter can be used without the overt use of military force, classic warfare without the hybrid is no longer.

In particular, the events in south-east Ukraine have clearly demonstrated that information from social media, if analysed correctly, can provide intelligence agencies with far more reliable data than intelligence reports from an undercover network.

Gen. Denis Mercier, former commander-in-chief of the French Air Force, said in a Financial Times article: «NATO’s military leadership is developing a new concept of information warfare. If we do this, we will be able to cover a much wider range of credible information sources. In all cases, speed of information gathering will be critical.»

The Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Army General Valery Gerasimov, stated in an article published in the Military-Industrial Courier newspaper that: «in modern conflicts, the emphasis of the combat methods used is increasingly shifting towards the integrated application of political, economic, informational and other non-military measures implemented with the support of military force. These are so-called hybrid methods.

The content of hybrid wars lies in achieving political goals with minimal military influence on the enemy, mainly by undermining his military and economic potential, information-psychological pressure, active support of the internal opposition, guerrilla and subversive methods.

A striking example is the conflict in Syria. At its first stage the Syrian internal contradictions were transformed into armed actions of the opposition, which were later transformed into organized actions with the support of foreign instructors. Subsequently, terrorist organizations supplied and dispatched from abroad joined the fight against the government forces.

The Syrian experience confirmed that hybrid warfare requires high-tech weapons. Armed forces are effective if they have the ability to carry out tasks with minimal military involvement.

Russia’s return of the Crimean peninsula can be considered one of the first examples of successful hybrid warfare in recent history. This has led NATO specialists to reassess the role of hybrid warfare. Building political consensus within the alliance on how to respond to Crimea’s accession to Russia in 2014.

Experts consider «hybrid warfare» as forms and methods of warfare:

  • Information operations carried out to influence the enemy’s state and military authorities in order to mislead them, disrupt data exchange and provoke them to take advantageous decisions;
  • Psychological operations aimed at suppressing the morale and psychological state of the population and the enemy’s morale, creating an atmosphere of distrust in society and creating motivation for destructive actions;
  • Cyber attacks on government and commercial infrastructure to disable or hinder the operation of critical enemy facilities and to gain unauthorized access to «sensitive» information;
  • Economic embargoes, suspension of investments, interruption of energy supplies, and blockage of trade with states that create obstacles to the objectives of «hybrid operations»;
  • Protest actions by opposition movements, destructive actions by «agents of influence» embedded in local power structures and supporting the course of self-determination of the territory;
  • Armed attacks and sabotage carried out by separatist forces and terrorist structures, as well as by special military formations without the insignia of their nationality.

The basic principles of hybrid warfare are timeliness, surprise and stealth.

The initial phase of this type of warfare is believed to be a deliberate destabilisation of the internal political situation in the state, supported by an information and propaganda campaign.

As the situation is deteriorating, special units are being deployed to the crisis region to take control of key government facilities and information and communication infrastructure. At the same time, a demonstration of the possibility of large-scale military intervention is being carried out as part of planned and unscheduled training and combat activities. In the future, armed formations of «local militia» are expected to organize and conduct combat operations in the conflict zone, combined with the expansion of propaganda activities and organization of counteraction in cyberspace.

Once a part of the territory of the opposing side has been taken under its control, measures are taken to legislate its new status, change its political structure, and permanently deploy parts and units of the regular armed forces there.

At the present stage, the main characteristics of hybrid threats are

  • Sources of threats — States, international terrorism, nationalist and pseudo-religious organizations, transnational organized crime structures and oligarchic clans
  • The sources of threats to the target state as a hybrid aggressor (coalition of states) may be internal or external in origin. Internal threats are generated by the state’s inability to effectively address the pressing issues and tasks of society, to ensure security, as well as the material and spiritual development of each citizen.

In many states in modern conditions, corruption, underdevelopment of the system of checks and balances between all three branches of power, which should ensure protection of interests of the state and its citizens, imperfection and unfairness of socio-economic relations make this type of threat urgent. In addition, the presence of contradictions in national and religious politics, the absence of a unifying national-state idea, and the weakness of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies can play a significant role.

         External sources of hybrid threats include.
  • State and non-State actors using their capabilities to undermine the target country’s economy, exert military pressure, conduct subversive information and psychological operations;
  • The composition of the threat, which is determined by the capabilities and goals of those who generate it, as well as the vulnerabilities of the object of influence;
  • The scale or scope of the threat, which determines the boundaries of the zone of their impact, which depends on the number and accessibility of threat objects, as well as the possibility of their prior detection and study;

The mixed nature of hybrid threats gives them a unique ability not only to serve as a catalyst for hybrid warfare, but in some cases to be used to initiate a colour revolution, the conditions for which are «ripe» on the ground prepared by hybrid warfare. At the same time, it should be noted that the colour revolution is a separate phenomenon that develops on the basis of its own conditions.

The emergence of hybrid warfare, which emerged as an important component of military strategies in the late 1990s and early 2000s, gives a new quality to contemporary conflicts. The property of multidimensionality predetermines the transformation of quantitative changes into qualitative ones as the strategies, forces and means of modern conflicts evolve. This property is linked to the new dimensions of hybrid warfare, chief among which are:

  • The comprehensive nature of the conflict, which is waged using military and non-military forms of influence with an emphasis on ideological means and modern models of «controlled chaos»;
  • the war is built on a strategy of attrition, which gives the conflict a protracted and permanent character;
  • the norms of international law defining the concept of «aggression» are inapplicable to hybrid warfare, and there are no concepts of «front» and «rear» in such a war;
  • The new dimension of war has a status and energy of negation in relation to the previous one, and forms the qualitative basis of conflict transformation, which determines the transition from a linear to a non-linear paradigm of war.

The phenomenon of the described covert hybrid warfare has only become possible with the development of modern technology. The analysis of world experience shows that today direct aggression is no longer the only means of domination. In this regard, modern science is gradually focusing on the study of indirect forms of confrontation, paying particular attention to information warfare.

The term «information warfare» is now more of a publicity term and is not yet universally accepted. This is evidenced by the discussions about what is actually hidden under this concept, as well as disputes about the correctness and practical applicability of this term to the sphere of social relations, which is commonly called information confrontation or conflict of interest in the information sphere of social systems. Thus, a separate scientific problem is the development and harmonization of scientific and terminological apparatus.

The concept of «information conflict» means a clash of oppositely directed goals and interests (as one of the forms of conflict), positions and opinions in the information space, carried out with the help of information technology. Actors with access to sources and means of disseminating information may become participants in an information conflict.

Specialists of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia understand a conflict in the modern information space as «a confrontation between states in the information space in order to damage information systems, processes and resources, critically important structures, to undermine political, economic and social systems, as well as mass psychological processing of population in order to destabilize society and state».

In the second half of the 20th century, the concept of «Information Warfare» emerged. In 1976, it was first used by Thomas Rohn, a physicist, in his report on the armed forces. The term was used officially in the US Department of Defense MODODD 3600 directive of December 21, 1992.

Later on, there was a problem with translation, from which a mismatch of interpretations arose. Initially, information warfare was translated as «information warfare», referring to aggressive actions in the information space. The term «information warfare» was also used by the RAND Corporation in studies from 1996 to 1998.

In these works, «warfare» is aggressive actions directed against civilian and military populations as well as against enemy authorities in order to destabilise the internal socio-political situation and subdue the will of the subject.

Information warfare is an organised struggle in the information sphere, which is aggressive and intense. Information warfare is characterized by the use of aggressive technologies such as large-scale information campaigns, denigrating PR actions, propaganda and so on.

Thus, information warfare and information confrontation are two types of conflicts in the information sphere, which are opposite in their intensity.

Another notion that is increasingly used in academic discussion, but in some cases misinterpreted, is that of «fourth generation wars».

The RAND Corporation has developed a classification of four generations of warfare:

1) first-generation wars which used linear tactics;

2) second generation wars, which were mainly positional in nature;

3) third-generation wars, otherwise known as manoeuvre wars;

4) fourth generation wars (hereinafter referred to as 4GW), where the main objective is to morally subdue the enemy.

Fourth-generation wars include strategic information wars of the second generation. They represent a fundamentally new type of strategic confrontation brought to life by the information revolution, which introduces into the circle of possible areas of confrontation the information space and several other areas (economy, culture, etc.).

These wars involve a different approach: the creation of an atmosphere of spirituality and immorality, manipulation of public consciousness and the political orientation of the population, disinformation of citizens about the work of public authorities, undermining their credibility, discrediting the authority of the enemy, etc.

The definition of the fourth generation wars is based on the thesis that this generation includes all forms of conflict in which one of the parties is unwilling or unable to use traditional (symmetric) means and methods, relying on unconventional asymmetric means. A characteristic feature of the 4GW strategy is the active use of non-state and non-military actors. Most often, these are the opposition forces of the country, NGOs and NPOs.

Fourth generation wars blur the line between civilian and military personnel. At that, war is never declared; outwardly, there may even be quite friendly relations between the opponents. The aggressor state recruits, arms, trains and finances an opposition non-state actor. Together, they plan subversive operations, both with the use of weapons (revolutions) and without them (actions, pickets, information attacks). These actors receive extensive media support.

After 4GW is put into practice (in Yugoslavia, Egypt, Tunisia and other countries), this phenomenon will be called «coloured revolutions» in terms of technology in publicity. In terms of theory, 4GW practices were based on the theory of «controlled chaos». Thus, 4GW is a war of effects: whoever can calculate higher-order effects can subdue their opponent.

The 4GW strategy is based on a fundamental principle: a strong political will, properly applied, may be greater than economic or military power. Alongside or instead of physical violence, the aim is to suppress the political will of the enemy.

The second generation of information wars includes the so-called «colour revolutions» and their mechanisms are well known. These wars are waged in quasi-stationary conditions, i.e. when the environment changes slowly. In such wars, the victorious one is the one who is superior to his opponent in financial resources. Also, third generation information wars, which is defined as intellectual wars. In the 21st century, to solve geopolitical problems, there is no need to resort to arms, provoke military conflicts or resort to military aggression. Everything can be solved by information confrontation (war).

But let us recall that the strategic information warfare and information warfare of the second and third generation is only a component of 4GW.

4GW is a war strategy in the literal sense of the word, which involves the use of various weapons, military tactics, destruction of military and civilian infrastructure and the mass destruction of lives, although it is not denied that the information and psychological components play a significant role here.

In this connection American experts write the following about 4GW: «The opposing sides in the fourth generation war will become so adept at manipulating the media to change public opinion in the country and the world that skillful use of psychological operations can sometimes make the deployment of combat units unnecessary.» Fourth generation warfare is a distinct form of warfare that may include elements of information warfare.

In scholarship, it is often accepted to equate information warfare with the American concept of Unconventional Warfare (UW).

The concept of UW implies that an irregular adversary does not act independently, but with direct tacit support from third countries or organisations (NGOs, NGOs, private armies, corporations, etc.). In other words, a state or organisation finances an armed group, trains its fighters, supplies arms and ammunition, provides political support and assists it in other ways. This concept has been applied in practice during the change of power in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Unconventional warfare in these countries was preceded by information warfare, in which elements of «controlled chaos» later emerged. Then the unconventional war was accompanied by information attacks in order to conceal the fact of the war, the parties involved and their true objectives from the world public. But we cannot equate information warfare with unconventional warfare.

A frequently used synonym for unconventional warfare, including in academia and public space, is «hybrid warfare».

Expert on the subject A.V. Manoilo gives the following definition: «Hybrid war is a wide range of actions carried out by the enemy using military and irregular formations with the simultaneous involvement of civilian components.

Director General of the Centre for Strategic Assessments and Forecasting S. N. Grinyaev defines hybrid warfare as a form of military action involving forces heterogeneous in composition, means, level and nature of training. Hybrid war represents in practice what happened in Libya and Syria: the use of information warfare technologies, training of insurgents, colour revolutions, direct military invasion and many other technologies.

The complex nature of hybrid threats makes it difficult to uncover their source, which is usually anonymous. The uncertainty this creates can significantly delay a targeted response from the country under attack or the international community.

It should be noted that hybrid threats are a sign of an imminent risk of harm to a state or coalition of states. However, predicting threats does not accurately determine their content or the severity of the damage inflicted. Consequently, there are a number of uncertainties associated with planning the actions and resources necessary to counter hybrid threats.

The creation of such uncertainties is an important feature of hybrid threats, which rely on the ability of adversary states and non-state actors to use a combination of different strategies, technologies and capabilities to gain asymmetric advantage.

Thus, hybrid threats are a multi-layered and dynamic combination of conventional and irregular forces, terrorist and criminal elements, nationalist and pseudo-religious organisations that are used in concert to achieve subversive goals. An important source of hybrid threats are governmental and nongovernmental organisations that carry out subversive activities in the administrative-political, financial-economic and cultural-economic, cyberspace and social media spheres.

Murat Tuleyev, PhD, expert of the Central Asian Development Corps.

Almaty, Republic of Kazakhstan, specially for Prudent Solutions.

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