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November 22, 2020

Hybrid war

Opinion

November 22, 2020

The 18th century: First generation warfare was all about ‘massed manpower, uniformed soldiers using line and column tactics’. 19th century: The end of ‘line and column tactics’. Second generation warfare was all about ‘rifled muskets and breechloaders’. 20th century: Third generation warfare is about four things: speed, stealth, surprise and bypassing the ‘enemy's lines to cause a collapse of their forces from the rear’. The three weapons of 3rd generation warfare are: tanks, artillery and fighter aircraft.

Over the past 300 years, war has moved from ‘line and column tactics’ (Battle of Hohenfriedberg in 1745) to ‘muskets and breechloaders’ (American Civil War, 1861) to ‘speed and manoeuvrability’ (Battle of France, 1939). Over the past 300 years, war moved from firepower to machine power.

21st century: War is now fast moving from ‘informatization’ to ‘intelligentization’. General (r) Stanley McChrystal-commander US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), commander International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), commander United States Army Central – and one of the most decorated officers of the United States Army – stated (in a military conference) that for the foreseeable future what happens on social media will be crucial to the outcome of any debate, battle or war. According to General McChrystal, battles are now being waged over truth itself....and in these fights “the line between reality and perception will be blurred...separating fact from fiction will be tough for governments but almost impossible for populations.”

Yes, ‘there’s a war on for your mind’. General McChrystal is convinced that “shaping the perception of which side is right or which side is winning will be more important than actually which side is right or winning.” It is about ‘persuasive technology’ which is ‘using computers to change what we think and do’.

The battlefield for the Battle of Hohenfriedberg was Striegau (present-day Poland). The battlefield for the American Civil War was the southern, northeastern and western United States – and the war went on for four years. The battlefield for the Battle of France was France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg-and the battle lasted for 46 days. The new battlefield is the human mind and the war goes on 24/7. Yes, minds are at war and battles have gone online. Yes, the human brain has become the new combat space.

The journey from firepower to machine-power took 300 years. The journey from machine-power to information-power took 10 years. War is now rushing into artificial intelligence or AI-warfare: command and control, intelligence collection, analysis, logistics, information operations plus autonomous war machines (the US Army incorporated AI into military operations in Iraq and Syria).

The AI arms race is on because AI is going to revolutionise warfare. The People’s Liberation Army is focused on ‘AI to make faster, more well-informed battlefield decisions plus autonomous military vehicles’. The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation are focused on AI robotics. Currently, America is ahead of China but China “is on a trajectory to overtake the US in the decade ahead.”

War goes on – only the weapons of war have changed. War goes on – and the new weapon of choice is social media. Social media is 24/7. Social media is cheap. Social media has speed. Social media has scale. War has now moved from ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to ‘weapons of mass disruption’.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @saleemfarrukh