DoD Defends Itself Against Dangerous New Ideas About 4GW.

DoD Defends Itself Against Dangerous New Ideas About 4GW.

26 JANUARY 2015


by GI Wilson

Summary: Modern wars are fought on paper as competing military theories before people put them to use. Some do this faster than others. Mao wrote the core texts bringing 4GW to maturity in 1937-38; since then others have greatly advanced the art – while western militaries fiddle with the failed methods of COIN. In the late 1980s military reformers made intellectual breakthroughs to catch-up with our foes. DoD’s leaders understood that these threaten their way of life, and have successful fought them. The price has been defeat in our wars since 9/11.

This is the 2nd chapter of a series by GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired). This is the 2nd of 2 posts today.

For fighting wars of the past

Part 2 of Backward “and” Forward: 4GW Orientation On War – part 2

Critics of 4GW theory

Much of the criticism of 4GW is laced with things that the original 4GW authors did not say or hold out as incontrovertible. Army War College professor, Dr Antulio Echevarria wrote a scathing critique regarding what he termed 4GW “mythology: “Fourth-Generation War and Other Myths” (Strategic Studies Institute, 2005). This critique in a large measure focused on Col T.X Hammes’ book, The Sling and the Stone (2004).

Hammes’ book is a seminal work but does not singularly represent the original 4GW authors’ thoughts. Echevarria in his dogmatic critique fails to point out that T.X. Hammes is not one of the original 4GW authors. Nor does Hammes constitutes the whole cloth of 4GW. Echevarria takes great umbrage with Hammes’ notion of 4GW (i.e. “evolved insurgency”) while carelessly lumping the primary 4GW authors into his derailed criticism.

“4GW – Myth, or the Future of Warfare? A Reply to Antulio Echevarria” is an excellent bruising rebuttal to Eschevarria’s critique published by John Sayen (it’s here on page 5). Sayen notes that Professor Echevarria’s reaction to the 4GW thesis is to deny all of it. Sayen underscores how Echevarria avoids talking about the essentials of 4GW by insisting on using Hammes’ definition of 4GW as his target of criticism.

In contrast to Echevarria, Franz Osinga provides a more balanced thoughtful analysis of 4GW applications in “On Boyd, Bin Laden, and Fourth Generation Warfare as String Theory” by Col. Dr. Frans Osinga, from On New Wars edited by John Olson (2007):

4GW is inspiring discussion, debate, frustration, refinement of insights, assertions, conjectures and refutations, in short, like many other works that try to make sense of our uncertain and ever-changing environment, it helps us refine and adjust our orientation pattern and learn. Whatever one may think of 4GW, considering the wide audience, one cannot ignore the importance of it as an idea in strategic theory, and as an appealing, – resonating – description of problems confronting western military and political elites today.

4GW does not cover all aspects of the evolving strategic landscape, and perhaps 4GW is not the entirely academically correct analysis, but as an exercise in strategic thinking, creating a coherent synthesis out of a myriad of disparate trends and developments, it certainly has merits by making people aware of potential contours and dynamics of the future strategic landscape. Boyd would agree with the effort indeed.

The giant Vasa
Admirals often see only the past. Big doesn’t always make it better.

Practitioners of 4GW vs our 2GW military

In contrast to Eschevarria’s caustic criticism of 4GW, radicalized jihadists on the other hand enthusiastically embrace the 4GW perspective – according to “Bin Laden Lieutenant Admits to September 11 and Explains Al-Qa’ida’s Combat Doctrine”, The Middle East Media Research Institute, 10 February 2002. Also see Andrew Black, “Al-Suri’s Adaptation of Fourth Generation Warfare Doctrine”, Terrorism Monitor, 21 September 2006.

While our foes adapt their ways of war, operating outside the nation-state paradigm, we largely operate as a second generation military trying to fight fourth generation adversaries. We have yet to transition the American military from second generation warfare to third generation warfare even though the Army and the Marine Corps toyed with the ideas of maneuver warfare in the 1980s eventually backsliding into acquisition driven and attrition-style warfare.

The Army’s AirLand Battle doctrine of the early 1980s came near to an expression of maneuver warfare. The Marines were more serious about maneuver warfare and studied it in their schoolhouses in the 1980s. The effectiveness of the I Marine Expeditionary force, executing a maneuver warfare stroke through numerically superior Iraq forces into Kuwait during the Gulf War demonstrated the validity of maneuver warfare doctrine. See the 1992 “Annual Report to the President and the Congress”, p. 121.

The immediate challenge we face is reviving our third generation maneuver warfare efforts to accommodate the challenges in combating 4GW. For more about this see “Military Response to Fourth Generation Warfare in Afghanistan” by Greg Wilcox and GI. Wilson, SRI International, 5 May 2002.

Today, with the rise of ISIS and other nonstate bad actors we continue to see that nothing has changed in the walkways of White House (WH), Congress, and DOD with respect to 4GW threats. Sadly, this recalcitrant reluctance to consider the 4GW orientation is to our great peril. Gary Anderson (Colonel, USMC, retired) writes about 4GW relevance in “The Evolution of Warfare; Back to the Future”, Marine Corps Gazette, September 2013.

The first observation I had was a blinding flash of the obvious. The authors had been very astute in predicting how our emerging adversaries would fight in the coming years. If they did not predict 11 September 2001 (9/11) exactly, they at least described how nonstate actors such as terrorists would use very different means to fight established nation-state actors. Most of their predictions, including the use of internal disruption of nation-states that circumvent conventional military protection, came to pass.

The America way of war remains acquisition-driven where all conflict and solutions are framed in high-tech-high-cost hardware. WH, Congress, and DOD are all joined at the hip in the money slathering. The quest is always one of high-tech-high-cost hardware solutions to everything at the exclusion of everything else. The Holy Gail for DOD and Congress is technological hardware. There are no operational solutions based on people and ideas. For more about this mindset see “America’s Defense Meltdown” (Center for Defense Information, 2008).

See the next chapter tomorrow in this series by GI Wilson.

4GW allows ISIS to fight and win against more powerful armies. Like ours.

27 JANUARY 2015


tags: isis, islamic state, military theory

by GI Wilson

Summary: Today GI Wilson explains how one of our foes, calling itself the Islamic State, uses 4GW to match their strengths against the weaknesses of our far more powerful military. Earlier generations of jihadists using 4GW methods changed the course of America (9/11 was one of the most effective military operations ever). ISIS is better. There are interesting times ahead for us all. This is the 3rd chapter of his 4 part series. {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Islamic Jihad Movement fighter
Islamic Jihad Movement fighter.

Backward “and” Forward: 4GW Orientation On War – part 3

The strengths of our 4GW foes; above all they learn faster.

Our adversaries recognize that America’s predilection for high-tech conventional warfare where the assumption is that the technologically strongest wins. Our foes nevertheless prefer low-cost-low-tech (i.e. Improvised explosive devices) 4GW tactics, techniques, procedures (TTPs) – leveraging our addiction to high-tech hardware against ourselves.

Similarly, our adversaries leverage our own bureaucratic weight against ourselves (e.g. Congressional grid lock). The United States government (USG) is a burgeoning bureaucracy on steroids that thrives on political correctness, politically sanctioned incompetence, and high-technological-high-cost solutions for everything. For a horrifying description see “America’s Defense Meltdown” (Center for Defense Information, 2008). All of which contribute to the money slathering in Washington, DC in the name of technological advantage.

Our enemy’s “technological advantage” as exemplified in the 9/11 attacks consisted of box cutters, ceramic knives, a steely determination to die for a cause, while creatively turning commercial airlines into field expedient cruise missiles to attack the U.S.. It worked, and our vast military-security-law enforcement bureaucracy was virtually helpless to stop it. Today little has changed as ISIS trees the USG where again incompetence is enshrined. The USG’s universal solution to everything remains one of money slathering inextricably linked to the politically correct notion that no one in power is ever to be held accounted or responsible.

We are literally underwriting our radicalized foes’ success by not recognizing that our own lumbering, incompetent and money slathering bureaucracies keep us from operationally and strategically adapting in order to defeat our foes. In fact our adversaries count on our fetish for obese wasteful bureaucracies, excessive regulations, high-tech-high-cost hardware, political correctness, and ballooning debt thus pave the way for our enemies’ operational successes. Clayton L. Niles (USMC) writes in his 2008 thesis “Al Qaeda and Fourth Generation Warfare as its Strategy”:

Whether one believes in the concept of generations of warfare or another explanation for a terrorist strategy is not necessarily important. What is important is that security professionals involved in combating terrorism understand the enemy, whomever it may be, and can adapt to counter the strategy that adversary uses.

4GW forces like hybrid “forces can effectively incorporate technologically advanced systems into their force structure and strategy, and use these systems in ways that are beyond the intended employment parameters.” (thesis of William. J. Nemeth, USMC: “Future War and Chechnya: A Case for Hybrid Warfare”, 2002).

Similar visage, better equipped

About the Islamic State (aka IS or ISIS)

ISIS is a 4GW- hybrid harbinger of things to come. As Gareth Stansfield (Professor Middle East Studies, U Exeter) notes regarding ISIS:

Not only is the Islamic State stronger than previous organizations, it has also learned lessons from them. For example, IS has few fixed operational centers and its chain of command remains mobile. British policy options at this stage are burdened with problems and complications and also bring with them a range of unintended consequences that could draw Western powers into further engagements in the region.

ISIS’s ability to learn and adapt is seen in how its fighters use not only captured tanks and artillery but suicide truck bombs as well. ISIS’s TTP creativity was observed in Iraq when the Islamic State used an M113 armored personnel carrier for suicide vehicle. The Iraqis apparently thought the M113 was one of their own. ISIS released a video of a M113 approaching an Iraqi Army checkpoint. The M113 suicide vehicle and Iraqi Army checkpoint disappear in a huge explosion. Using a captured Iraqi M113 as a suicide bomb vehicle demonstrates ISIS’s operational prowess (see “Counter-Terrorism: The Ultimate Vehicle Bomb”, Strategy Page, 25 November 2014).

ISIS’s TTPs are continuously being updated. The ISIS’s networking capability and use of the Internet, social media, and cellular technology for intelligence gathering, information operations, and even targeting is impressive. The FBI recently warned those who serve in uniform to scrub their social media accounts of anything that might bring unwanted attention from “violent extremists.”

ISIS indeed may want to target U.S. military personnel (i.e. active duty, reserve, retired, veterans) and even family members. Even if for only the psychological effect. ISIS’s operational agility is revealed in news reports pointing out that “Islamic State militants are changing tactics in the face of U.S.-led air strikes in Iraq by ditching conspicuous convoys in favor of motorcycles.” (Daily Mail, 26 September 2014.)

The ability of extremists like ISIS to radicalize and network globally is evident. In Australia it is reported that “organized crime has melded with religious extremists to produce a unique threat for security experts: Islamic radical biker gangs. Authorities in Australia are seeing a nexus between radicals who are desperate for cash and biker gangs with connections to organized crime that can help them achieve their goals.” (Reuters, 20 November 2014)

Also of particular note is how potential jihadists are using creative TTPs to circumvent and avoid tighter security at airports. “Would-be fighters eager to join jihadists in Syria and Iraq are traveling on swank cruise ships, say Interpol officials.” (UPI, 7 November 2014)

Tomorrow see the last chapter in GI Wilson’s article about our new wars.

Future Islamic State: propaganda that works for both ISIS and DoD!

Using 4GW might give the Islamic State a big future.

28 JANUARY 2015


tags: isis, islamic state, military theory

by GI Wilson

Summary: In this chapter of his series GI Wilson summarizes how 4GW works for the Islamic State, and forecasts their future. As he explained in earlier chapters, we have to see the world differently to defeat foes who use 4th generation methods. This is the 4th and final chapter of his 4 part series. {2nd of 2 posts today.}

See The World Differently

To win at 4GW we must learn to see the world differently.

Backward “and” Forward: 4GW Orientation On War – part 4

Our 4GW foes organize in innovative ways

The success of ISIS and allied extremists is more than just uncovering creative tactics, techniques, procedures (TTPs). ISIS in many ways reflects the metamorphosis we witness with the appearance of third generation street gangs. Third generation street gangs with global networks, reach, and sustaining revenue streams to support gang operations (see “Third Generation Street Gangs: Turf, Cartels, and Net Warriors”, J. P. Sullivan, Transnational Organized Crime, Autumn 1997. Gangs are often the “yellow canary” in the mine shaft offering indicators, warnings, and profile features of emerging 4GW TTPs.

Mitchell Prothero writes a chilling synopsis of the ISIS profile in “How 2 shadowy ISIS commanders designed their Iraq campaign”, McClatchy, 30 June 2014:

Assembling a coherent picture of how ISIS executed its transformation is something U.S. intelligence officials will be striving to do in coming weeks as they examine what happened to the U.S.-trained Iraqi army. But interviews with a wide range of people – including a former British military officer with ties to Saddam-era Iraqi officers, activists with ties to ISIS, and an intelligence officer for the Kurdish peshmerga militia – provide an imperfect but consistent picture of how ISIS became the most powerful and effective non-state military organization on the planet, with access to billions of dollars in military hardware, territory that includes millions of residents, and something few jihadist groups have ever had: a coherent strategy for establishing an Islamic state.

Our current adversaries are ideologically driven, capitalizing on fanaticism, and frequently linked by clan-tribal networks. The linkage also includes loose coalitions of criminal actors, non-state, and failed-state actors. All of whom can make for strange bed fellows operating outside the nation state context. These 4GW bad actors challenge our national security capabilities that are designed to operate within a nation-state framework. Beyond that framework, our traditional structures and conventional military have great difficulties engaging such threats.

Our adversaries’ operational theme emphasizes people and ideas not just high tech hardware. ISIS is successfully operationalizing beheadings and the psychology of fear – much like Al Qaeda did with improvised explosive devices in Iraq. With ISIS we again will re-learn it is far more difficult to kill an idea and ideology than the enemy itself.

How to plan for defeat in 4GW

The future of the jihad

I suspect ISIS and radicalized affiliates will eventually co-opt Al Qaeda altogether.

Their operational modus operandi for the time being will be to further leverage the mental and psychological aspects of war in tandem with the physical. ISIS will continue to use the internet and social media for recruitment, funding/donations, intelligence gathering, information operations, radicalization, communication (along with non-electronic means such secure couriers/ messengers), inciting loner attacks, and networking. Networking, terrorizing, swarming tactics, co-opting and infiltrating will play a major role in ISIS ongoing operations as well as merging the old with the new imaginative ways.

1.Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World by John Arquilla (2011).

2.The End of War As We Knew It, John Arquilla, Third World Quarterly, March 2007.

Recall the lack of imagination before the 911 attacks. Many never imagined terrorists armed only with box cutters could turn commercial airlines into improvised cruise missiles. As one observer said, “our failure was not an intelligence failure but a failure of imagination” (“Terrorist Organizations And Criminal Street Gangs”, Sandia National Laboratories, 21 November 2002). Also see my paper “Abundance of Planning failures”.

Consider the implications of ISIS getting 3-D printer technology and materials. How long before ISIS or radicalized loner try to use Ebola or another communicable disease as a cheap bioweapon? The threats posed by 4GW and hybrid warfare are stark. No doubt our huge lumbering bureaucracies such as DOD and DHS are too big to be effective let alone adaptive and agile. To defeat ISIS and ISIS-like-variants requires ISIS-like TTPs and an adaptive-agile organizational network not micromanaged by the White House or other layered obese agencies.

Envision small independent action forces and cells combining the old and new operational TTPs and hardware: Boots on the ground comprised of “rough men with rifles and lasers” sophisticated at co- opting, targeting, pseudo-operations, foreign internal defense, and infiltration, supported overhead by persist death clouds oblivious to weather. Dealing with radicalized extremists we must clearly understand these words from long ago…

“The victor is not victorious if the vanquished does not consider himself so.”
– Quintus Ennius, the father of Roman poetry.


Is This How They See Us?
Is This How They See Us?

Posts in this series about 4GW, reflecting on 25 years of 4GW defeats

1.Chuck Spinney asks why we choose to lose at 4GW.
2.William Lind: thoughts about 4GW, why we lose, and how we can win in the future.
3.”SAS kill up to 8 jihadis each day, as allies prepare to wipe IS off the map.” Bold words we’ve heard before.
4.What is a fourth generation war, the wars of the 21st century? Who fights them, and why?
5.The battle that mattered most to America: the Pentagon vs. Military Reformers. It’s over.
6.What is a fourth generation war, the wars of the 21st century? Who fights them, and why?.
7.Understanding 4GW, the first step to winning the Long War.
8.DoD defends itself against dangerous new ideas about 4GW.
9.4GW allows ISIS to fight and win against more powerful armies. Like ours.

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