[Editor: I just wanted to post this excellent article written by our colleague Greg Grant over at DoD Buzz as an add-on to my Afghan rant. He has a really helpful dissection of Hybrid Warfare (coined by old DT friend Frank Hoffman) and how the USMil is falling short.]
For the past fifty years, the military has sized, trained and equipped its ground forces to battle a conventional, mechanized, tank heavy opponent, organized in companies, battalions and brigades, with supporting artillery and aircraft. Training scenarios envisioned a repeat of World War II tank battles, Army units were run through simulated armored clashes in the open deserts at its premier training ground, the NTC at Ft. Irwin, Ca. Now, at its training centers, the Army, and Marines also train for urban counterinsurgency.
That the Armys big-battle mindset hasnt gone far, despite eight years spent fighting two counterinsurgency wars, can be seen in this article on the Small Wars Journal web site by an Army captain who recently completed the captains career course and had this to say: With rare exception, the exercises which hone officers skills in these areas are focused on the conventional Fulda gap-style battle Despite all that has been written about third-generation warfare (Blitzkrieg) and fourth-generation warfare (state vs. non-state), we operated largely in the second generation of warfare.
A small group of strategic thinkers are flexing their intellectual muscle, and a new opponent model is taking shape against which Americas ground forces will be configured to fight (with the Marines way ahead of the Army). Called hybrid enemies, they come equipped with high-end, precision guided weapons, yet fight in distributed networks of small units and cells more akin to guerrillas. One of the leading scholars in this group, Frank Hoffman, who advises the Marines and is a researcher at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, says hybrid wars, blend the lethality of state conflict with the fanatical and protracted fervor of irregular warfare. Theory moved to reality when Hezbollah, equipped with loads of advanced missiles and skillfully using urban terrain, fought the Israeli army to a stand still in 2006. Hezbollah, Hoffman says, is representative of the rising hybrid threat.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has given his imprimatur to the hybrid opponent as the new OpFor, first in his recent Foreign Affairs piece, and then again in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. In his Senate hearing, speaking about the Armys FCS program, Gates said that unless new weapons and vehicles can be shown to be effective in complex hybrid wars, they shouldnt be funded. Ive also heard that some services, Im thinking of the Marines here, were loathe to buy into the irregular warfare mission as they couldnt justify their more expensive new systems to fight counterinsurgencies, but they have a better chance at getting what they want if they play up the hybrid threat.
I thought Id flesh out a bit exactly what the military has in mind when they discuss hybrid wars. A good place to start is this article by Hoffman in Joint Forces Quarterly or this longer discussion here for those of you with more time.
While Hezbollah may be the hybrid archetype, Hoffman says theyre not limited to non-state actors. "States can shift their conventional units to irregular formations and adopt new tactics as Iraqs fedayeen did in 2003." He said evidence shows that a number of Middle East militaries are modifying their forces to fight in a hybrid style, Iran being one such country. One of the challenges faced by the U.S. military, is it fights in largely predictable fashion, only with the Iraq war have efforts been made to adapt to different styles of fighting such as irregular warfare. What Hezbollah demonstrated, Hoffman says, is "the ability of non-state actors to study and deconstruct the vulnerabilities of Western-style militaries and devise appropriate countermeasures."