Information operations

U.S. Army Outlines New Approach to Shifting Battlefields

The Army is preparing to unveil a new approach for fighting future wars that combines space, cyberspace and traditional combat, in preparation for conflicts short of all-out war that require attacks or counterstrikes in uncertain situations, officials said.

A document on the new approach being released on Monday also will caution that decisive victory in such a so-called hybrid war may not be possible and warns that policy makers will need to re-evaluate existing constraints and more quickly green light military action.

Adding urgency to the effort, Army officials suggested that other major powers, such as Russia, have outpaced the Pentagon in honing the use of hybrid warfare, also known as multi-domain battle—combining cyberattacks and social-media exploitation with special forces and conventional military units. The Army’s new warfighting concept seeks to narrow that gap.

“They have studied us and our vulnerabilities, fielding capabilities that contest us in all domains,” said Maj. Gen. Bo Dyess, in charge of the office that created the new concept. “We need a new concept to address these peer adversaries.”

While the U.S. has used cyberwarfare offensively in the past—for example when the U.S. launched the Stuxnet computer virus targeting Iranian nuclear facilities—that was done often via secret means. While secret efforts would continue, this concept allows the conventional army to acknowledge similar efforts.

The new Army approach was developed with advice from experts in special operations, space and cyberspace, Gen. Dyess said.

Russia has emerged as a focus of the strategy because of its alleged interference in U.S. elections and social-media networks, but also because of its military operations in places like Ukraine and Eastern Europe. The Army document doesn’t directly cite Russia as the prime adversary, though multiple footnotes refer to increased Russian capabilities.

Russian officials in the past have said that the U.S. and its allies are pursuing aggressive policies and Kremlin military actions represent its response.

Gen. Dyess said the conventional military has lacked guidance about how to fight wars where an adversary uses a range of capabilities, some overt and some covert, to win a conflict.

The concept paper, slated for release at the beginning of the Army’s weeklong professional gathering in Washington, should change the military’s thinking about when and how the Army fights, what tools it uses and how it can best counter adversaries, said Gen. Dyess. While the concept applies only to the Army, other branches have been part of the discussion and could sign on as the concept moves to become established doctrine.

The concept paper isn’t official military doctrine, but represents a first step toward codifying Army thinking and changing how the military develops its strategy and its field manuals.

Until recently, unclassified U.S. strategy has focused on deterring hybrid warfare in large part by positioning forces along national borders or preparing to reinforce forces rapidly in a conflict. Putting forces forward in a country that could be subject to hybrid attack makes a military intervention by an adversary more risky. But there has been less discussion of how to fight once such deterrence has failed, and hardly any discussion of pre-emptive and early action by the U.S. and its allies.

The new doctrine identifies one key threat of a hybrid attack: that an adversary can effectively occupy territory, before the U.S. or its allies have a time to react, which means the U.S. needs to be able to launch offensive operations before a shooting war begins, the concept paper said, which can be seen as effectively pre-empting armed attacks.

Gen. Dyess said the paper was “the first time we have put together a series of ideas to deter and, if needed, defeat their ‘lightning’ military campaigns, such as we saw in Crimea,” he said, referring to Russian aggression but without mentioning the country by name.

U.S. military policy makers understand that hybrid conflict often takes place before war is declared, putting democracies at a tactical disadvantage, or as the multi-domain concept paper says: “Hybrid strategies will make them difficult to counter, particularly when friendly forces are constrained by policy restrictions in peacetime.”

In Europe, some North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies like Germany are beginning to invest more in cyber, but most of the alliance lags behind the U.S. and U.K, allied officials said. NATO is due to assess progress later this year. While the alliance has recognized cyber as a domain of warfare it has not developed extensive cyberweapons, and in wartime would be dependent on U.S. and U.K. capabilities.

Over the last three years, U.S. Army in Europe has been working on improving its logistics, with the aim of being able to reinforce front-line forces quickly.

A dynamic force is seen as key to evolving strategy to counter a potential Russian threat. NATO has built relatively static deployments of a cumulative 4,000 allied troops in the three Baltic states and Poland, supplemented by a U.S. tank brigade in Poland. Over the last year, military commanders worked to move smaller units around the region, showing allies—and the Russians—the U.S. ability to reposition quickly.

Recently, NATO held a command exercise at its headquarters involving allied ambassadors and military officials faced with a complex scenario but with limited intelligence. The “fictitious but realistic” scenario involved a hybrid warfare threat that posed a “wide range of overt and covert military, paramilitary, and civilian measures” threatening the alliance, according to a NATO official.

The challenge for the alliance, said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is that hybrid warfare is a complex mix of military and nonmilitary aggression.

“From tweets to tanks,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. “Sometimes soldiers in uniform, sometimes soldiers without uniform. And sometimes something that happens in the cyberspace and sometimes things that happens at our borders.”

Mr. Stoltenberg last week attended the opening of a new “center of excellence” in Helsinki, Finland, focused on improving the Western response to hybrid threats. Mr. Stoltenberg said hybrid threats were as old as the Trojan horse, but modern technology amplifies them to a larger scale and a greater speed than ever before.

“One of the main challenges with hybrid threats is that you don’t understand that you are attacked before it’s too late,” Mr. Stoltenberg said at the opening of the new center.

Write to Ben Kesling at and Julian E. Barnes at

Appeared in the October 9, 2017, print edition as ‘Army Set to Broaden Battlefield Definition.’



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