Throughout my years on the front lines in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo, I watched as the most powerful military in the world struggled to fight against primitive bands of rebels. Despite our superior equipment and training, it was never an easy fight.
At first, it all seemed insane. How is it that we couldn’t overcome such an inferior force?
The truth is that our military is woefully unprepared to fight tomorrow’s battles. Tomorrow’s threats are decentralized, unregulated, hidden, and savvy. They’re taking advantage of 4th generation warfare tactics against a force structured to fight a 3rd generation war.
While their forces respond to situations autonomously, our forces have to request support from special teams. Our forces stand out in their uniforms while our enemy blends in with the locals. And while our forces are restricted from publishing any information, insurgents share information freely.
Most of our restrictions come from our mandates to comply with laws and treaties. Our high moral standards also prevent us from mitigating some of the insurgents’ advantages.
During the Revolutionary War, the American forces were criticized by the British for not fighting like gentlemen. What they were saying was that we had largely begun to fight with 3rd generation tactics while they were still fighting with second generation warfare techniques.
Today, we’re the gentleman fighters and our enemies are those who have moved onto the next generation of warfare.
What is 4th Generation Warfare?
At least as far back as the Roman Empire, public opinion has played a critical part in war efforts. When the public became disenchanted with a conflict, it came to an end. In that regard, nothing has changed.
What has changed is the method by which people learn about the battlefield.
In 1972, Jane Fonda picked up the nickname “Hanoi Jane” for her trip to Vietnam where she met with Vietnamese soldiers and protested the war. Photos of her on an anti-aircraft gun made their way back to the American public. This was America’s first real glimpse at the power of bringing the war to the people via photography.
Today, digital photographs and video can be transported across the world in less than a second. Our enemies know this, and it has changed the face of warfare.
In WWII, America stayed strong as over 400,000 American soldiers perished on foreign battlefields. In the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public is outraged at the fact that nearly 7,000 have died between the two wars. People are less tolerant of the losses not because life is any less valuable today, but because the people are more connected to the war.
News coverage shows Americans burning on bridges, dodging enemy fire, and occasionally hitting innocent civilians.
4th generation warfare is about taking your message directly to the people. Winning battles now has little impact on public perception. It’s all about bringing the fight to a screen near you. And if you’re anything like me, you probably have more than one in the room with you.
Why is it important?
The future of warfare is as unpredictable as a child’s imagination. As the primary target is no longer the soldier on the battlefield, anything is possible. 18 years ago, nobody would have thought that a coordinated attack of civilian airplanes on key American sites would have been possible. Yet 9/11 happened!
A couple of decades ago only Hollywood would consider attacking a nuclear facility with a digital virus. But Stuxnet was real.
Whether it’s a homegrown-terrorist truck driver or an economic attack from abroad, the public needs to be aware of the threats we face today and what we can do to overcome them.
So join me on this journey to share my experience and learn to face the threats we all face today.