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Training for hybrid warfare





The category of warfare is blurring and no longer fit into neat and tidy boxes. One can expect to see more tools and tactics of destruction – from the sophisticated to the simple – bearing employment simultaneously in hybrid and more complex forms of warfare.

Robert M Gates, US Secretary of Defence


1.Typically, across the spectrum of armed conflicts, contemporary threats are placed in one of the three categories- conventional, hybrid and unconventional. Armies world over will operate in more and more in hybrid threat environment. Theorists have tried to define hybrid threat & hybrid warfare albeit with variance and number of contradictions. US Army Field Manual 3.0 defines it as “the diverse and dynamic combination of regular forces, irregular forces, terrorist forces, criminal elements, or a combination of these forces and elements all unified to achieve mutually benefitting effects”. Ability to train for the hybrid threat and prepare specifically to meet this challenge largely depends on fully understanding the spectrum of hybrid threat, analyzing the recent examples wherein hybrid warfare has been adopted by any of the opponents and finally modifying the training to suit the threat in different situations.


2.The aim of this paper is to identify the futuristic training requirements at operation and tactical levels to counter hybrid threat.


3.The scope includes:-

(a)Defining hybrid warfare with examples.

(b)Briefly describe principles of hybrid warfare.

(c)Imperatives to operational approaches in hybrid warfare.

(d)Training at tactical level.


Hybrid Threat

4.Conventional force is a military organisation which follows rules, laws, norms and commonly accepted standard of capabilities, the term largely coined after Treaty of Westphalia. Unconventional force is a military type organisation which does not follow standards either in bahaviour or capabilities say in terms of equipment. A hybrid force is a military organisation that employs a combination of conventional and unconventional organisation in an environment designed to achieve synergistic effects. Hybrid force gains asymmetric advantage over purely conventional opponents in a specific environment. The net result is a weaker military opponent is able to withstand a stronger opponent for indefinite period.

5.Some of the examples wherein hybrid warfare has been fought by weaker opponents are Vietnam War, Afghanistan War against Russians and Lebanon war of 2006. Viet Conf, an irregular force effectively synchronised its operation with People’s Army of Vietnam to sustain lengthy conflict against combined conventional force of US and France. US gave Stinger missiles to Mujahedeen and turned an irregular force to a hybrid adversary that unhinged Soviet strategy in Afghanistan. In 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, non state actors combined conventional and unconventional war to fight a well trained and equipped Israeli army.

6.The pertinent question which stands in front of regular forces is how to tackle the hybrid threat. The irregulars have access to information and communication technology. They employ overall strategy of defence operation but include offensive component. As seen from Israel-Hezbollah war, these forces often break contact, use attritional tactics, carry out non-decisive ground actions like ambush and raid and often utilise media to execute strategic information influencing operations. Hezbollah utilised cheaper but effective anti tank, anti aircraft systems, anti ship weapons, IED and near simultaneous swarming attacks. Thus, these forces might be tactically at par or even defeated but in the eyes of international media attain operational and strategic victory. Therefore, hybrid warfare can be treated as strategy as well as tactical levels because of bending of conventional, unconventional, criminal and terrorist means and methods.

Principles of Hybrid warfare

7.Some of the principles culled out from various examples of hybrid wars are enunciated as under:-

  1. A hybrid force’s composition, capabilities, and effects are unique to the forces context.
  2. Each hybrid force has a specific ideology that creates an internal narrative to the organisation.
  3. A hybrid force always perceives an existential threat to its survival.
  4. In hybrid war there is a capability overmatch between adversaries.
  5. A hybrid force contains both conventional and unconventional components.
  6. Hybrid forces seek to use defensive operations.

Imperatives to Operational Approaches in Hybrid Warfare

8.The aspects of hybrid warfare bring out three specific qualities in operational approaches. These are the broad methods that provide a basis to pursue strategic aims through the arrangement of tactical actions in time, space, and purpose. Operational approaches to hybrid warfare must cognitively disrupt the hybrid threat’s logic, arrange actions within the same context that gave rise to the hybrid threat, and avoid usual or prescriptive means across time and space.

9.The first, operational approach must cognitively disrupt the hybrid threat’s logic in the forms of warfare it employs. Generally focus remains on physical methods to counter the hybrid threat’s means and capabilities. Operational art must produce tactical actions that unify logic. Those actions must create an opportunity for further action. Therefore, aim should be to continue operations rather than looking at a culmination. In Vietnam, Military Assistant Command Vietnam (MACV) was unable to break the logic of dau tranh (strategy which sustains application of total military and non-military force over long period of time in pursuit of an objective – total mobilization of society’s resources and psychic energies), which only became untenable to the Communist forces after their own operational over-reach in the Tet Offensive.

10.Second, the approach must fuse tactical success to an overall strategic aim within the same context which gave rise to the hybrid threat. Fusion refers to the act of arranging tactical actions which contributes to success towards the strategic aim. But this transformative effort to address ‘the gap’ between the observed system and the desired system cannot take place in a frame which is artificially separate from the observed environment. In Vietnam War, US military plans were self-referential, without sufficient regard for the social and political context of the war. The hybrid threat of Communist forces viewed the war as a movement in social progress, not military confrontation; MACV lacked an appreciation for this narrative.

11.Lastly, an operational approach to hybrid warfare must avoid usual or prescriptive measures across time and space. This is another acknowledgement that the environmental context in hybrid warfare is one of the main characteristics of a complex system. Operational art must result in clear and concise orders for tactical actions. The operational approach cannot simply give commanders an appreciation for the complexity of the problem while actually refusing to bind it. The unified effort will entail some degree of compartmentalisation in order to clarify the environment, even through a simple order to subordinate echelons. Sufficient clarity is required when aligning finite combat power towards a specific purpose. In Vietnam, within the effort to describe one unifying theme, the intense focus on the body count effectively precluded or stifled initiatives which were better adapted to local environments. Tactical commanders may be able to develop internal measures of success but at operational level results defer.


12.There is a fable of a swarm of bees which attacked an elephant and eventually killed it. Their sting in themselves was only an irritant to the mammoth, but the beast literally beat itself to death by hitting its own body trying to kill the bees. Is the world in a similar situation today and shall we train for a different opponent? It is unlikely that regular armies will fight only irregular force. The hot spots world over will see hybrid wars more often. Therefore, doctrinal approach is required to counter separately, conventional as well as unconventional threats with a calibrated response. The two components of hybrid threat need to be identified for specific situations to facilitate the training and development of future strategy for regular and Special Forces against these potential threats.

13.Some theorists propagate that world largely and India in specific is beyond the era of major conventional wars and that the primary role of ground forces is LIC. LIC operations have very little role for mechanized forces as they are deemed largely irrelevant in LIC. Further, giving impetus to focus on LIC is posting of best officers to deal with LIC threats. In nutshell, focus on joint combined arms fire and maneuver training suffers and there comes the incapability to fight sophisticated hybrid opponent. Even the Israeli Defence Forces went through this cycle. On the other hand, the basic principles of fire and maneuver have the following advantages:-

  1. Fire suppresses and fixes the enemy and ground maneuvering force close in with him.
  2. Fire also isolates the enemy, closing lines of supply and communication and limiting his ability to mass.
  3. Maneuver forces enemy reaction. If the enemy attempts to relocate to more favorable terrain, he becomes visible and vulnerable to fire. If he remains in his positions and is suppressed, he can be defeated in detail by ground maneuver.

14.The above concept of joint combined arms fire and maneuver tactics dictate the following training:-

(a)Heavy reliance on intelligence based operations require a good coordination and training of hackers, larger and qualified force for human intelligence, signal intelligence and dedicated satellite network for timely information.

(b)UAV training and its close coordination with Special Forces for quick surveillance and other special operations.

(c)Training and assigning air controllers at brigade level.

(d)The highly centralized C2 system proves problematic against small but well trained irregular force. Therefore, decentralized C2 systems are a must to operate in complex environments.

15.The role of mechanized force in hybrid warfare can be sharpened against swarming attacks by suitably modifying the design aspect of the tank itself. Israelis after 2006 Lebanon war have redesigned its Merkava tank into a heavy fighting vehicle (IFV) Namer which is based on Merkava chassis so that the tank is capable of defending itself against irregular small groups. These heavy vehicles provide mobile and protected precision firepower, reduced risks and are an intimidation factor.

  1. Sophisticated hybrid opponents demand integrated joint air-ground-ISR capabilities that are similar to those used against conventional adversaries, but at a reduced scale. Responsive and adequate support from air, UAVs and all other elements are critical to combined arms fight against hybrid opponents particularly when they operated from ‘among the people’. Therefore, smaller tactical actions propagated in same direction will achieve better overall tactical results but right operational direction is a must for the overall results and coordination.


17.The best hybrid animal in the world is a mule, product of horse and donkey. Since it is sterile, it cannot evolve itself. We have to study the evolution of horses (conventional) and donkeys (irregular) to understand the potential nature of future mules (hybrid wars). The metaphor can be best understood by students of conflict by analyzing history and training to suit ones environment.

18.Armies world over are less prepared for sophisticated hybrid opponents. Precision fire assault is important but not sufficient to cope with hybrid warfare opponents. Integration of air-ground-ISR components has implication towards organization, C2 facilities and most importantly procedures. The training skills required individually and collectively are different from conventional operations or CI/ CT operations.

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