Small Wars Journal

irregular warfare

Hybrid Warfare and Active Measures

Sun, 10/10/2021 - 3:50am
Modern Russian intelligence operations, cyber intrusions and influence operations have found both potency in the proliferation of social media technologies and a receptive target in the existing political and social divisions in the United States. Media reports, including dramatic documentaries and breathless biopics on the ten Russian “illegals” arrested in 2010, create perceptions of either a newly developed Russian playbook or a full-scale return to the Cold War era of spy-vs-spy. Neither perspective is entirely accurate.

About the Author(s)

Responding to Gray Zone Conflict: Countering Russia in the Donbas and Beyond

Mon, 06/07/2021 - 1:38pm
U.S. defense planning is hampered by a binary conception of peace and war. An effective response will require a more nuanced approach. Specifically, it will require the U.S. and its allies and partners to better equip Ukrainian forces for both kinetic and non-kinetic operations. The latter must focus on denying the opposition force, in this case Russia, the ability to remain in the Gray Zone.

About the Author(s)

Irregular Warfare Podcast: How Small Wars Fit into Big Ones: Lessons from the Masters of Irregular Warfare

Fri, 03/26/2021 - 8:29am



An interview with Dr. John Arquilla and MG John Brennan (1st Special Forces Command CDR)


Dr. John Arquilla is Distinguished Professor of Defense Analysis at the US Naval Postgraduate School. In addition to publishing multiple books and articles on warfare, he has extensive experience advising military practitioners and policymakers, ranging from special operations teams during field problems to senior Department of Defense policymakers in Washington, DC. Today’s conversation is motivated by his book, Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare have Shaped Our World.

Major General John Brennan is the commander of the US Army’s 1st Special Forces Command. Maj. Gen. Brennan has deployed and commanded units at every echelon between detachment and task force level in support of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Inherent Resolve, and Freedom’s Sentinel over the course of thirty-one years of service. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University, the Air Command and Staff College, and the Army War College fellows program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Gray is Here to Stay: Principles from the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance on Competing in the Gray Zone - Modern War Institute

Thu, 03/25/2021 - 9:35am

Gray is Here to Stay: Principles from the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance on Competing in the Gray Zone - Modern War Institute · by Kevin Bilms · March 25, 2021

An important essay today.America must embrace its irregular warfare capabilities and be able to compete in Great Power Competition where dominant ' 'fight" is best described as political warfare. Irregular warfare is the military contribution to political warfare (and by DODD 3000.7 and the IW annex to the NDS consists of CT, FID, UW, COIN< and stability operations).

Although I am heartened by the author citing some of Bob Jones important work on unconventional deterrence I am disappointed he did not point out one of the most important sentences in the interim guidance: "We will maintain the proficiency of special operations forces to focus on crisis response and priority counterterrorism and unconventional warfare missions." Unconventional warfare is the foundation of irregular warfare and conventional warfare is at the root of the two SOF trinities: irregular warfare, unconventional warfare, and support to political warfare and the second being the comparative advantages of SOF: influence, governance, and support to indefgeigenous forces and population.

 UW thinking informs everything SF​/SOF​ should do​.

UW is fundamentally problem solving; using unique, non-doctrinal and non-conventional methods, techniques, people, equipment to solve (or assist in solving) ​un​.​

UW is fundamentally about influencing behavior of target audiences (which can include a population, a segment of ​a​ population, a political structure, or a military force); therefore, it is an integral action arm of IO/PSYOP.

​I am heartened to ​see the Biden administration use unconventional warfare when there are so many antibodies out there against it.

​But I also commend Congress for ​providing the best description of irregular warfare that will never be adopted by the doctrine gatekeepers on the Joint Staff. In the 2018 NDAA it wrote: Irregular Warfare is conducted “in support of predetermined United States policy and military objectives conducted by, with, and through regular forces, irregular forces, groups, and individuals participating in competition between state and non-state actors short of traditional armed conflict.” 


Irregular Warfare Initiative: Introducing the Irregular Warfare Initiative

Wed, 03/24/2021 - 8:34am

A joint effort from the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project at Princeton University and the Modern War Institute at West Point and a continuation of the great work that's already been done on the Irregular Warfare Podcast

"IWI is designed to support the community of irregular warfare professionals, to include military and interagency practitioners, scholarly researchers, and policymakers, by providing a space for accessible, practically grounded discussions of irregular warfare policy and strategy."

"IWI’s goal is to serve as a focal point for bringing together IW professionals from across the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic elements of the national security community with policy-focused academic researchers. It will provide a forum for debate and discussion so that the community can appropriately archive and apply the hard-fought lessons of the past two decades of IW in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world, while also engaging with innovative ideas for applying these and emerging IW competencies in the competition and conflict realms the United States expects to see in the future. We can all hope this skill set will not be in great demand, but if history is any guide, we should prepare as if the new era of great power competition will indeed require it."

"IWI will support three pillars of engagement. The first pillar will be IW-focused content, which will include both the Irregular Warfare Podcast and written content from contributors across the community of IW practitioners and researchers. The second pillar will take the form of interactive engagements, to include an annual conference focused on interdisciplinary collaboration. The final pillar will include an annual fellows program, providing the opportunity for a select number of professionals to engage in substantive examination of some of the most pressing IW challenges of the day. Through these vehicles, IWI intends to facilitate dialogue, provide access to new ideas, and support innovative approaches to addressing the contemporary strategic security environment."

War on the Rocks: An Irregular Upgrade to Operational Design

Sat, 03/20/2021 - 1:38pm

The authors argue that there is an intellectual gap in modern U.S. operational design, which focuses too heavily on a conventional mindset and methodology to problem solving, leaving a gap in strategic competition.


Link to Article:


"Discussions about “Framing the SOF Environment” are based on a fallacy; an environment isn’t special or conventional, it’s just an environment, and it affects more than the military element of national power. Making “SOF” an adjective everywhere parochializes problems and implies that special operations forces are the preordained solution."


"Irregular warfare is not a “special operations thing” — it’s a joint responsibility. Just as some of us in the policy world have made the case for rethinking how we describe irregular warfare activities, the military should reconsider how to plan for them."


"Now these new ideas should be codified into doctrine. Doctrine isn’t sexy — no argument there. But almost everyone in uniform can agree that unless codified, ideas will rarely translate into professional military education and joint planning efforts. This is what “institutionalizing irregular warfare” means in practice. An irregular upgrade for operational design will aid the United States in competing indirectly and asymmetrically to advance its interests without a catastrophic military confrontation."



Irregular Warfare Podcast: Pacific Gambit: The Role of Irregular Warfare in Australia's Great Strategic Shift

Sat, 02/13/2021 - 10:35am

Full Episode:


Australia is undergoing the most fundamental strategic realignment since the Second World War, toward a focus on threats closer to home without reliance on the United States. In that context, what role does irregular warfare play in Australian national security strategy? What lessons does the Australian experience hold for the United States as they both transition from the post-9/11 wars to great power competition? Will Australia’s legacy in conducting irregular warfare enable it now to make this shift and take on the snakes—and one large dragon—in its own backyard?

Our two guests argue that strategic documents in both the United States and Australia fail to capture the reality of numerous overseas irregular warfare engagements over the past quarter century. The militaries of both countries learned many lessons, often paid for in blood, about how to fight insurgencies during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the opponents of the West have also adapted, with both state and nonstate threats increasingly coming to resemble each other. How to adapt both military posture and national security strategy in the transition from the conflicts of the past nearly two decades to great power competition is a challenge both countries face, providing a case study in cooperation and adaptation.

Dr. David Kilcullen is a best-selling author and a former officer in the Australian military. He is president and CEO of Cordillera Applications Group, a research and development firm headquartered in the United States. Dr. Kilcullen has written multiple award-winning books on irregular warfare topics. His most recent book, The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West, serves as a foundation for our discussion on the current global threat environment.

Andy Maher is an Australian infantry officer with operational experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is currently serving as a military fellow, doctoral candidate, and lecturer with the University of New South Wales, Canberra, where he teaches a postgraduate course on irregular warfare.