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American Forces Press Service

'Hybrid War' to Pull U.S. Military in Two Directions, Flournoy Says

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 4, 2009 – The type of “hybrid warfare” that defense experts predict the United States is increasingly likely to face will pull the military in two directions, the Defense Department’s top policy official said today.

Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, said America's conventional dominance gives incentive to its enemies to use asymmetric means to undermine U.S. strengths and exploit its weaknesses.

“Preparing for this operating environment will pull the Army, and the military writ large, in two very different directions,” she told the roughly 200-person audience at the Army Leader Forum at the Pentagon.

On the one hand, the United States must be ready for irregular warfare, in which combatants blend in with civilian populations and conduct roadside-bomb attacks, suicide bombings and similar tactics, she said.

“Those of you who served in Iraq and Afghanistan know firsthand how challenging it is to operate effectively in such an environment,” she said.

Meanwhile, she said, the United States must remain prepared to deal with high-end threats, though these are much more likely to be asymmetric in character. Illustrating this concept, Flournoy described a scenario in which rising regional powers and rogue states use highly sophisticated technologies to deny U.S. access to critical regions and to thwart its operations.

These tactics range from anti-satellite capabilities, anti-air capabilities and anti-ship weapons to weapons of mass destruction and cyber attacks.

Further complicating the battle landscape is the prospect of sophisticated nonstate actors using high-end capabilities such as weapons of mass destruction or guided rockets or munitions, as in the case of Hezbollah in Lebanon during its 2006 war with Israel.

“We can expect to see more hybrid conflicts in which the enemy combines regular warfare tactics with irregular and asymmetric forms of warfare,” she said.

The concept of hybrid warfare garnered attention last month when Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced his budget recommendations at a Pentagon news conference.

Gates proposed distributing allocated funds in accordance with what he characterized as the type of “complex hybrid” warfare he expects will be increasingly common. He placed roughly half of his proposed budget for traditional, strategic and conventional conflict, about 40 percent in dual-purpose capabilities and the remaining 10 percent in irregular warfare.

Gates also said recently that the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review – a congressionally mandated Defense Department strategy review completed every four years – would be unique in its consideration of this blended type of warfare.

“This will be the first QDR able to fully incorporate the numerous lessons learned on the battlefield these last few years; lessons about what mix of hybrid tactics future adversaries, both state and nonstate actors, are likely to pursue,” he said at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.

Flournoy provided a glimpse of the 2010 QDR, which the department will submit to Congress early next year.

In addition to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, key security challenges include violent extremist movements, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, rising powers with sophisticated weapons and increasing encroachment across the so-called global commons, which include air, sea, space and cyberspace, she said.

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