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Special Forces Berlin
by James Stejskal







Hybrid Warfare

Home > Topics > Hybrid Warfare

Definition of Hybrid Warfare. The term is defined by many students of warfare with varying perspectives on both the history and future of warfare. Some other terms closely aligned with Hybrid Warfare include irregular warfare, compound warfare, guerrilla warfare, unconventional warfare, civil war, covert, non-conventional, terrorism, unrestricted warfare, ambiguous warfare, narco-terrorism, hybrid threat, terrorism, asymmetric warfare, information warfare, surrogate warfare, 4GW, political warfare, insurgency, proxy war, shadow war 4., Three Block War, Four Block War 1., and others. Some additional aspects of hybrid warfare (depending on who is doing the defining) could include IEDs, IO, cyber warfare, and NBC weapons.

Common Definition of Hybrid Warfare. A combination of regular forces, irregular forces, criminal elements, political organizations, and/or terrorists that blend (and blur) traditional and non-traditional styles of warfare. Any or all of the mentioned types of forces could be engaged in hybrid warfare.

Lack of DoD Definition for Hybrid Warfare. The Department of Defense does not yet have a definition for hybrid warfare (see JP 1-02) 3.; instead, holding the position that it is not a new type of warfare (current doctrine covers all aspects of hybrid warfare). DoD says that the term describes the increasing complexity of future conflicts and the need for adaptable and flexible U.S. military forces. Probably the closet term used by the DoD that aligns with hybrid warfare is "irregular warfare". Of course, if you think that the U.S. Army has understanding irregular warfare as a priority - think again. The Army just closed (October 2014) the Army Irregular Warfare Center (AIWC) 6.; in addition, the Counterinsurgency Center has already been closed (in 2013?). Go figure.

Recent Examples of Hybrid Warfare. The Israeli war with Hezbollah in 2006 (called by some as the Second Lebanon War) showed the world (and the Israeli military) the effectiveness of hybrid war used against a stronger and superior force. Hezbollah did not wage a true guerrilla or conventional war; but something in between. The recent escapades of Russia's use of unconventional warfare in Chechnya (2008) and the Ukraine (2014) provide excellent examples of hybrid warfare used successfully by a state power. 2. Of course, we would be remiss in not mentioning the recent success of the 'Islamic State' in Syria and Iraq - surely that is an example of hybrid warfare.

Future of Hybrid Warfare. It is very likely that the vast majority of the future conflicts found in the world will be hybrid warfare in nature. The "traditional" form of conflict between two armies of their respective nation-states will likely be less prevalent than "non-traditional" conflicts. This is especially so in the case of the United States. Very few militaries in the world can hold their own in a match against the U.S. military using a traditional mode of warfare. So it is inevitable that these nations or non-state entities will opt for hybrid warfare to accomplish their objectives and goals.

Countering Hybrid Threats. The U.S. military has a variety of mission sets that will address hybrid threats to include counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, stability operations, and Train, Advise, and Assist (part of Security Force Assistance). However, most military observers believe that the United States (currently) lacks the vision to successfully counter hybrid warfare.

Warrior - Scholars. There are some who advocate for the development of a class of warrior scholars who, as part of a learning and agile organization, are able to learn and adapt in order to achieve success against hybrid threats. This, of course, would require the military to put more resources (money) into individuals rather than expensive weapons systems (such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter).

Special Forces. While the entire U.S. military establishment needs to be able to address hybrid threats, the military organization of the United States that is ideally suited to operate in the hybrid warfare environment is the U.S. Army Special Forces. This is a result of the training, history, organization, doctrine and mission orientation of the SF units within the Army.

Websites about Hybrid Warfare and Related Topics


Unconventional Warfare

Hybrid Warfare by Wikipedia

Project Gray - USASOC

European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats

References for Hybrid Warfare and Related Topics

DoD Directive Number 3000.07, Irregular Warfare (IW), August 28, 2014.

Irregular Warfare: A Selected Bibliography, U.S. Army War College Library, November 2009.

Irregular Warfare Annotated Bilbiography, USASOC, June 2, 2011.

JSCSC Library Bibliography - Counterinsurgency (COIN), 2011
www.mccdc.marines.mil/ . . . ReadingListJCSC . . .pdf

Training Circular 7-100.3, Irregular Opposing Forces, January 2014.

Articles and Papers about Hybrid Warfare


Anderson, Gary, "Counter-Hybrid Warfare: Winning in the Gray Zone", Small Wars Journal, December 2, 2018. The explanation of what hybrid warfare is and examples of how to counter hybrid warfare are provided in this paper.

NATO, "Cooperating to counter hybrid threats", NATo Review Magazine, November 23, 2018.

Hoffman, Dr. Frank G., "Examining Complex Forms of Conflict: Gray Zone and Hybrid Challenges", Prism Volume 7, no. 4, November 8, 2018.


Pynnoniemi, Dr Katri and Dr Sinikukka Saari, "Hybrid influence - lessons from Finland", NATO Review, June 28, 2017. Finland is a small state living next to a huge and increasingly assertive neighbor. It finds itself subjected to hybrid warfare courtesy of Russia.


Sahin, Kaan, Liberal democracies and hybrid war, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), December 16, 2016. Sahin provides three reasons why liberal democracies cannot conduct hybrid warfare.

Klus, Adam, "Myatezh Voina: The Russian Grandfather of Western Hybrid Warfare", by Adam Klus, Small Wars Journal, July 10, 2016.

Ollivant, Douglas A., "The Rise of the Hybrid Warriors: From Ukraine to the Middle East", War on the Rocks,  March 9, 2016.

Paul, Christopher, "Confessions of a Hybrid Warfare Skeptic", Small Wars Journal, March 3, 2016. An observer provides his thoughts on how to define that space between peace and war.

Lanoszka, Alexander, Russian Hybrid Warfare and Extended Deterrence in Eastern Europe, International Affairs, Volume 92, Issue 1, pages 175-195, January 2016.


Greentree, Todd, America Did Hybrid Warfare Too, War on the Rocks, April 7, 2015. The author, a former Foreign Service Officer who has served in five conflicts, is also a Research Associate with the Oxford Changing Character of War Programme. He informs us on the U.S. use of a hybrid blend of military, economic, diplomatic, criminal, and informational means to fight the Cold War in Central America.


Cox, Dan G., What if the Hybrid Warfare/Threat Concept Was Simply Meant to Make Us Think?,  E-International Relations, February 13, 2013.
http://www.e-ir.info/ . . . simply-meant-to-make-us-think/

Davis, MAJ John R. Jr., U.S. Army, "Defeating Future Hybrid Threats", Military Review, September-October 2013, pages 21-29.
http://usacac.army.mil . . . 20131031_art006.pdf

McCulloh, Timothy and Richard Johnson. Hybrid Warfare. Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) Report 13-4, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, August 2013.
https://jsou.socom.mil/ . . . Hybrid Warfare.pdf


Hoffman, Frank. "Review Essay: History and Hybrid Warfare", Small Wars Journal, ugust 21, 2012.

Gray, Dr. Colin S., Categorical Confusion? The Strategic Implications of Recognizing Challenges Either as Irregular or Traditional, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, February 24, 2012.


Fleser, William. "Preparing for Hybrid Threats: Improving Force Preparation for Irregular Warfare", (Chapter 4), Irregular Warfare: A SOF Perspective, Newsletter 11-34, June 2011. Center for Carmy Lessons Learned (CALL).

U.S. Joint Irregular Warfare Center, Irregular Adversaries and Hybrid Threats, May 2011.


Berman, Eleazar S., Meeting the Hybrid Threat: The Israel Defense Force's Innovations Against Hybrid Enemies, 2000-2009,  Georgetown Univeristy, April 16, 2010.
https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/ . . . Eleazar.pdf

GAO, National Defense: Hybrid Warfare, U.S. Government Accountability Office, September 10, 2010.

Johnson, David E., Military Capabilities for Hybrid War: Insights from the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon and Gaza,  RAND Corporation, 2010.

Owen, William F., "The Toyota Horde: Examining a Low Cost Military Capability", Small Wars Journal,  April 7, 2010.


Freier, Nathan. "The Defense Identity Crisis: It's a Hybrid World", Parameters, Autumn 2009, pages 81-94.

Hoffman, Frank. "Hybrid vs. compound war", Armed Forces Journal, October 1, 2009.

Hoffman, Frank G., "Hybrid Warfare and Challenges", Joint Forces Quarterly, Issue 52, 1st Quarter 2009, pages 34-39.

Williamson, Colonel Steven. From Fourth Generation Warfare to Hybrid War, Carlisle Barracks, PA, U.S. Army War College, 2009.


Killebrew, Robert, "Good Advice: Hybrid warfare demands an indirect approach", Armed Forces Journal,  June 1, 2008.

McCuen, Colonel John J., "Hybrid Wars", Military Review, March-April 2008, pages 107-113.


Hoffman, Frank G., Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, December 2007.

News Articles and Releases on Hybrid Warfare

February 2, 2016. "The Strategy of Hybrid Warfare", Small Wars Journal. Octavian Manea interviews Alexander Lanoszka of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College.

September 11, 2015. "What is Hybrid Conflict?", Lawfare Blog. A partipant to a Pentagon symposium hosted by the office of the legal advisor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff shares his comments on the conference.

July 3, 2015. "The 'new' type of war that finally has the Pentagon's attention", By Todd Greentree, The Washington Post. The DoD is very concerned with Russia's ability to employ a combination of stealth invasion, local proxy forces and international propaganda to annex Crimea and destabilize eastern Ukraine.

May 8, 2015. "Hybrid war - does it even exist?" NATO Review Magazine. The author claims that the term is misleading - that war has always been interconnected and multi-facited.

September 4, 2014. "SACEUR: Allies must prepare for Russia 'hybrid war'. Stars and Stripes.

August 21, 2014. "Ambiguous warfare providing NATO with new challenge". Yahoo News at this link. . Russia's unconventional attack on the Ukraine leaves NATO perplexed on how to respond.

July 28, 2014. On On Not-so-New Warfare: Political Warfare vs. Hybrid Threats,  War on the Rocks, by Frank Hoffman at this link..

July 17, 2014. "Getting Behind Hybrid Warfare", Cicero Magazine, by Jordan Bravin at his link.

June 11, 2014. Russia's Hybrid War in Ukraine,  by Oleg Shynkarenko, Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) at this link. Moscow uses a mix of irregulars, volunteers, commandos, and some troops to secure the land bridge from the motherland to the Crimea.

May 2014. Putin's "New Warfare". By John R. Haines, Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) at this link.

Februaryu 3, 2014. "Fighting a Hybrid Enemy". The War Council at this link.

September 27, 2012. Trends in Hybrid and Irregular Warfare,  USNI News at this link.

April 6, 2012. "How to Fight Hybrid Threats: Tanks, Airstrikes, and Training". Breaking Defense at this link.

March 6, 2011. Hybrid War: Why the Hype?,  Winds Over Iraq at this link. This blog post puts forth the argument that hybrid warfare is " . . . hardly a new phenomenon".

February 2, 2010. "The QDR's Fallacy of Hybrid Warfare", by Daniel Goure, Lexington Institute at this link. Goure says this is nothing new and few states or groups are capable of executing hybrid warfare. His article is dated 2010; I wonder on his thoughts in mid-2014.

July 26, 2010. "Army training to focus more on 'hybrid threats'". Stars and Stripes at this link.

March 14, 2009. "The Military's New Hybrid Warriors", by Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr.,  National Journal at this link.

March 3, 2009. "Hybrid War Throwdown". DoD Buzz. A discussion of the utility of the term 'hybrid war' at this link.

September 2008. "For the Military, a Future of 'Hybrid' Wars",  by Matthew Rusling, National Defense Magazine at this link.


1. For more on the "Four Block War" see "Future Warfare: The Rise of Hybrid Wars", Proceedings Magazine, U.S. Naval Institute, LTG James Mattis and LTC Frank Hoffman, November 2005.

2. David Maxwell, a retired Special Forces officer, provides great insight into the use of unconventional and political warfare by the Russians in the Ukraine in Taking a Spoon to a Gunfight, War on the Rocks, April 2, 2014.

3. For now, there is no DoD definition for Hybrid Warfare as can be seen by examining Joint Publication 1-02, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms,  8 November 2010 (as amended through 16 July 2014).

4. See David Barno's The Shadow Wars of the 21st Century, War on the Rocks, July 23, 2014. at this link.

5. See "Defeating Future Hybrid Threats", Military Review, September-October 2013, pages 21-29 by MAJ John R. Davis, Jr., U.S. Army for more on the Warrior - Scholar concept.
http://usacac.army.mil . . . 20131031_art006.pdf

6. See "Irregular warfare center to close Oct. 1", Army Times, September 1, 2014.


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