German Gen Franz Uhle-Wettler writes:
“At an earlier time, a commander could be certain that a future war would resemble past and present ones. This enabled him to analyze appropriate tactics from past and present. The troop commander of today no longer has this possibility. He knows only that whoever fails to adapt the experiences of the last war will surely lose the next one.”
In their essay, The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation, William S. Lind, Colonel Keith Nightengale (USA), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC), Colonel Joseph W. Sutton (USA), and Lieutenant Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR) explore the next phase of modern warfare, that they call 4th Generation War.
If we look at the development of warfare in the modern era, we see three distinct generations. In the United States, the Army and the Marine Corps are now coming to grips with the change to the third generation. This transition is entirely for the good. However, third-generation warfare was conceptually developed by the German offensive in the spring of 1918. It is now more than 70 years old. This suggests some interesting questions: Is it not about time for a fourth generation to appear? If so, what might it look like? in 4th Generation War: – the actors are nonstate – the targets include society and culture – the distinction between military and civilian disappear
Psychological Operations become the dominant operational and strategic weapon – media and informational intervention become paramount – media manipulation is more powerful than an armored division. World War 3 will be a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation. – MM – US Civil War 2.0 could very well be the same.
– 1st and 2nd Generation Warfares were about Space – 3rd Generation War was about Time – 4th Generation War maybe about “degree” or a measure of connectivity to a network
Potential new frameworks per John Robb – open-source warfare (protests and insurgencies) – hybrid warfare (troll farms and intelligence agencies) – networked tribalism (the resistance and the red insurgents today).
All of this information impacts you. You’re surrounded by 4GW models and evolving frameworks as we speak. You’re inundated with psychological ops plus media control. Truth has been killed already. All of this will get much worse over time.
If we combine the above general characteristics of fourth-generation warfare with new technology, we see one possible outline of the new generation. For example, directed energy may permit small elements to destroy targets they could not attack with conventional energy weapons. Directed energy may permit the achievement of EMP (electromagnetic pulse) effects without a nuclear blast. Research in superconductivity suggests the possibility of storing and using large quantities of energy in very small packages. Technologically, it is possible that a very few soldiers could have the same battlefield effect as a current brigade.
The growth of robotics, remotely piloted vehicles, low probability of intercept communications, and artificial intelligence may offer a potential for radically altered tactics. In turn, growing dependence on such technology may open the door to new vulnerabilities, such as vulnerability to computer viruses.
Small, highly mobile elements composed of very intelligent soldiers armed with high technology weapons may range over wide areas seeking critical targets. Targets may be more in the civilian than the military sector. Front-rear terms will be replaced with targeted-untargeted. This may in turn radically alter the way in which military Services are organized and structured.
Units will combine reconnaissance and strike functions. Remote, “smart” assets with preprogrammed artificial intelligence may play a key role. Concurrently, the greatest defensive strengths may be the ability to hide from and spoof these assets.
The tactical and strategic levels will blend as the opponent’s political infrastructure and civilian society become battlefield targets. It will be critically important to isolate the enemy from one’s own homeland because a small number of people will be able to render great damage in a very short time.
Leaders will have to be masters of both the art of war and technology, a difficult combination as two different mindsets are involved. Primary challenges facing commanders at all levels will include target selection (which will be a political and cultural, not just a military, decision), the ability to concentrate suddenly from very wide dispersion, and selection of subordinates who can manage the challenge of minimal or no supervision in a rapidly changing environment. A major challenge will be handling the tremendous potential information overload without losing sight of the operational and strategic objectives.
Psychological operations may become the dominant operational and strategic weapon in the form of media/information intervention. Logic bombs and computer viruses, including latent viruses, may be used to disrupt civilian as well as military operations. Fourth-generation adversaries will be adept at manipulating the media to alter domestic and world opinion to the point where skillful use of psychological operations will sometimes preclude the commitment of combat forces. A major target will be the enemy population’s support of its government and the war. Television news may become a more powerful operational weapon than armored divisions.
This kind of high-technology fourth-generation warfare may carry in it the seeds of nuclear destruction. Its effectiveness could rapidly eliminate the ability of a nuclear-armed opponent to wage war conventionally. Destruction or disruption of vital industrial capacities, political infrastructure, and social fabric, coupled with sudden shifts in the balance of power and concomitant emotions, could easily lead to escalation to nuclear weapons. This risk may deter fourth-generation warfare among nuclear-armed powers just as it deters major conventional warfare among them today.
A major caveat must be placed on the possibility of a technologically driven fourth generation, at least in the American context Even if the technological state of the art permits a high-technology fourth generation and this is not clearly the case — the technology itself must be translated into weapons that are effective in actual combat. At present, our research, development, and procurement process has great difficulty making this transition. It often produces weapons that incorporate high technology irrelevant in combat or too complex to work in the chaos of combat. Too many so-called “smart” weapons provide examples; in combat, they are easy to counter, fail of their own complexity, or make impossible demands on their operators. The current American research, development, and procurement process may simply not be able to make the transition to a militarily effective fourth generation of weapons.
Technology was the primary driver of the second generation of warfare; ideas were the primary driver of the third. An idea-based fourth generation is also conceivable.
For about the last 500 years, the West has defined warfare. For a military to be effective it generally had to follow Western models. Because the West’s strength is technology, it may tend to conceive of a fourth generation in technological terms.
However, the West no longer dominates the world. A fourth-generation may emerge from non-Western cultural traditions, such as Islamic or Asiatic traditions. The fact that some non-Western areas, such as the Islamic world, are not strong in technology may lead them to develop a fourth generation through ideas rather than technology.
The genesis of an idea-based fourth generation may be visible in terrorism. This is not to say that terrorism is fourth-generation warfare, but rather that elements of it may be signs pointing toward a fourth generation.
Some elements in terrorism appear to reflect the previously noted “carryovers” from third generation warfare. The more successful terrorists appear to operate on broad mission orders that carry down to the level of the individual terrorist. The ‘battlefield” is highly dispersed and includes the whole of the enemy’s society. The terrorist lives almost completely off the land and the enemy. Terrorism is very much a matter of maneuver: the terrorist’s firepower is small, and where and when he applies it is critical.
Two additional carryovers must be noted as they may be useful “signposts” pointing toward the fourth generation. The first is a component of collapsing the enemy. It is a shift in focus from the enemy’s front to his rear. Terrorism must seek to collapse the enemy from within as it has little capability (at least at present) to inflict widespread destruction. First-generation warfare focused tactically and operationally (when operational art was practiced) on the enemy’s front, his combat forces. Second generation warfare remained frontal tactically, but at least in Prussian practice, it focused operationally on the enemy’s rear through the emphasis on encirclement The third generation shifted the tactical as well as the operational focus to the enemy’s rear. Terrorism takes this a major step further. It attempts to bypass the enemy’s military entirely and strike directly at his homeland at civilian targets. Ideally, the enemy’s military is simply irrelevant to the terrorist.
The second signpost is the way terrorism seeks to use the enemy’s strength against him This “judo” concept of warfare begins to manifest itself in the second generation, in the campaign and battle of encirclement. The enemy’s fortresses, such as Metz and Sedan, became fatal traps. It was pushed further in the third generation where, on the defensive, one side often tries to let the other penetrate so his own momentum makes him less able to turn and deal with a counterstroke.
Terrorists use a free society’s freedom and openness, its greatest strengths, against it. They can move freely within our society while actively working to subvert it. They use our democratic rights not only to penetrate but also to defend themselves. If we treat them within our laws, they gain many protections; if we simply shoot them down, the television news can easily make them appear to be the victims. Terrorists can effectively wage their form of warfare while being protected by the society they are attacking. If we are forced to set aside our own system of legal protections to deal with terrorists, the terrorists win another sort of victory.
Terrorism also appears to represent a solution to a problem that has been generated by previous generational changes but not really addressed by any of them. It is the contradiction between the nature of the modern battlefield and the traditional military culture. That culture, embodied in ranks, saluting uniforms, drill, etc., is largely a product of first-generation warfare. It is a culture of order. At the time it evolved it was consistent with the battlefield, which was itself dominated by order. The ideal army was a perfectly oiled machine, and that was what the military culture of order sought to produce.
However, each new generation has brought a major shift toward a battlefield of the disorder. The military culture, which has remained a culture of order, has become contradictory to the battlefield. Even in the third generation warfare, the contradiction has not been insoluble; the Wehrmacht bridged it effectively, outwardly maintaining the traditional culture of order while in combat demonstrating the adaptability and fluidity a disorderly battlefield demands. But other militaries, such as the British, have been less successful at dealing with the contradiction. They have often attempted to carry the culture of order over onto the battlefield with disastrous results. At Biddulphsberg, in the Boer War, for example, a handful of Boers defeated two British Guards battalions that fought as if on parade.
The contradiction between the military culture and the nature of modern war confronts a traditional military Service with a dilemma. Terrorists resolve the dilemma by eliminating the culture of order. Terrorists do not have uniforms, drill, saluting or, for the most part, ranks. Potentially, they have or could develop a military culture that is consistent with the disorderly nature of modern war. The fact that their broader culture may be non-Western may facilitate this development.
- A non-national or transnational base, such as an ideology or religion. Our national security capabilities are designed to operate within a nation-state framework. Outside that framework, they have great difficulties. The drug war provides an example. Because the drug traffic has no nation-state base, it is very difficult to attack. The nation-state shields the drug lords but cannot control them. We cannot attack them without violating the sovereignty of a friendly nation. A fourth-generation attacker could well operate in a similar manner, as some Middle Eastern terrorists already do.
- A direct attack on the enemy’s culture. Such an attack works from within as well as from without. It can bypass not only the enemy’s military but the state itself. The United States is already suffering heavily from such a cultural attack in the form of the drug traffic. Drugs directly attack our culture. They have the support of a powerful “fifth column,” the drug buyers. They bypass the entire state apparatus despite our best efforts. Some ideological elements in South America see drugs as a weapon; they call them the “poor man’s intercontinental ballistic missile.” They prize the drug traffic not only for the money it brings in through which we finance the war against ourselves — but also for the damage it does to the hated North Americans.
- Highly sophisticated psychological warfare, especially through manipulation of the media, particularly television news. Some terrorists already know how to play this game. More broadly, hostile forces could easily take advantage of a significant product of television reporting — the fact that on television the enemy’s casualties can be almost as devastating on the home front as are friendly casualties. If we bomb an enemy city, the pictures of enemy civilian dead brought into every living room in the country on the evening news can easily turn what may have been a military success (assuming we also hit the military target) into a serious defeat.
All of these elements already exist. They are not the product of “futurism,” of gazing into a crystal ball. We are simply asking what would we face if they were all combined? Would such a combination constitute at least the beginnings of the fourth generation of warfare? One thought that suggests they might is that third (not to speak of second) generation militaries would seem to have little capability against such a synthesis. This is typical of generational shifts.