A New Era in Unconventional Warfare
It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk, cannot win- John Paul Jones
My discussions on current affairs are always meant to be generalizations. More a conceptual and impressionistic discussion over a peer reviewed footnoted and cross-referenced dissertation. To provide a general overview of the subject at hand. To provide a 30,000-foot view or above the cut line as we would say. In light of this, the Russians might have just shown us a new way to conduct warfare.
When Russian President Putin took the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in early 2014, it was the most audacious act of his time in power. Putin overturned in a single act the entrenched assumptions of a post–Cold War Europe. His action brings many questions to the surface. Did Putin seize the Crimean Peninsula to prevent possible threats to Russia? Was he concerned that Ukraine’s new government might join NATO? Was he concerned Ukraine would constrict Russian force projection by evicting Russia’s Black Sea Fleet from its long-standing base in Sevastopol? Was this a pushback on Western Power expansion into the former Communist Bloc?
But the pressing question is how this annexation was executed? How much preparation did we not see?
The conditions were optimal for the Russians. The Ukraine was in turmoil. Feeble European leadership and the emasculated Obama Administration offering the only possible resistance. The Obama administrations limp wristed enforcement of the “red line” over Syrian chemical weapons effectively green lighted the seizure of the Crimea in 2012. I suspect Russia began its analysis of Crimean annexation as soon as it was known Obama would not respond to Assad’s defiance. If Obama failed to back his threats to attack Assad, there was no way he would even entertain military invention against Russia. Putin knowns a pussy when he sees one.
The seminal event is the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014. There was new a government and constitutional changes were planned. Opposition to the revolution in some eastern and southern regions escalated into open revolt. This opened the door for the annexation of Crimea and other military interventions. What is critical is to understand how Russia may have molded the conditions and took opportunities presented to them. How an appearance of new type of Unconventional Warfare may have just emerged before our eyes.
But first a bit of a History Lesson.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine suffered from corruption, currency instability, and poor economic growth. Movement towards the European Union was a strong sentiment in the Ukraine. Many Ukrainians saw the EU as an opportunity to climb out of decades of corruption. Corruption many Ukrainians accurately feel was fostered by Russia. In 2014, there were agreements pending to allow further the Ukrainian ties to the EU. At the last moment, the President of Ukraine dropped the pro-EU deal and signed on for billions in loans from Russia.
On February 18th, 2014, about 20,000 pro-Euro protesters advanced on Ukraine’s parliament in support of restoring the Ukrainian Constitution to an original form. Intense fighting broke out and it put pressure on the new Ukrainian government to make concessions. There were protestors and police killed with small arms fire. The Ukrainian Government Officials tried to make an agreement, then they were attacked and fled the capital. The pro-European movement had control of the government and immediately the Pro-Russian west started rumbling. There was continued violence and protests. The Crimean parliament had sworn loyalty to the central government in Kiev. It was immediately surrounded and eventually overrun by pro-Russian groups. Reports of Russian Spetnaz units operating in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea began at the same time.
By March 1st, 2014, Putin had his green light for military intervention from the Russian parliament. By March 2nd 2014, Russian troops from their leased naval base in Crimea linked up with troops from mainland Russia who had long since been primed and ready to go. Russia quickly had control over the Crimean Peninsula. On March 14th 2014, Crimea had already signed an agreement to become part of Russia. Before March was over the Crimea would be on Russian Currency and Russian time zones. All of this despite Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov saying as late as April 17th, 2014 as saying there were no Russian Forces occupying the Crimea.
Currently the Crimea is part and parcel a province of the Russian Federation. There is no going back to the Ukraine at this point. European resolutions and consternation in the United Nations is not going to change it. The juice is simply not worth the squeeze.
What is critical is to take notice that we have been shown a new way to conduct warfare. Many of us in Army Special Forces understand the 7 phases of Unconventional Warfare. It appears to me is the Russians are showing us a new way to play ball.
In previous posts I’ve discussed the Plumb Societal Matrix. It is a blend of current targeting systems blended with an overarching stratum that determines the social centers of gravity. The levels are 1-individual/ 2-family/ 3-tribe or community/ 4- province or region/ 5-nation state/ 6- international movement. These strata help the planner to identify the target entities social centers of gravity. For example, the United States is levels 1 and 5. Our laws and ideals are focused on the individual and nation. We view ourselves as individuals and as Americans, unless you are from Texas, then you are Texan first.
Its not that other strata are irrelevant. They are key into altering the social centers of gravity. You want to damage the United States, change what it means to be an individual and delegitimize the government. Being from a certain tribe or religion is hardly as relevant to us, as it is elsewhere in the world. Once you’ve identified the areas in the target nation you wish to effect, you need to set out on path of doing so. This is new way of unconventional warfare requires five bases of power; political actions, intelligence and espionage, cyber warfare, unconventional warfare forces, and general purpose forces. For the rest of this discussion Political, Intelligence, and Espionage efforts are going to be encapsulated under Political Warfare.
To cause an entity to subvert itself, to foster conditions for assimilation or exploitation, you must destroy or disrupt its internal protective mechanisms. This is a process, sometimes it takes a few months or years, sometimes decades. What I have identified as the stages of the new era of Unconventional Warfare are the following; Political Warfare, Information Operations and Electronic Warfare, Subversion, Cultural Warfare, Insurrection, Cessation Efforts, Revolt, Annexation, Normalization.
When each stage starts its efforts never cease. When Cultural Warfare starts, Subversion, Information Operations, and Political Warfare have been in effect. Sometimes it will take decades of Political Warfare and Information Operations to form the conditions for Subversion. Subversion usually has been in effect for quite some time before Insurrection, Cessation, and Revolt allow Russian General Purpose Forces to seize territory.
As soon as the Ukraine broke away from the Communist Bloc, the Russian Federation engaged in Political Warfare. Using all the Political, Economic, Military, Information, and Intelligence assets it could muster to keep the Ukraine in a tight orbit. The Russian Navy base in Sevastopol is the primary launching point for the Russian Black Seas fleet. Think of it as a Russian Pearl Harbor. They had to keep control of this critical asset. From the beginning bribes, extortion, and nepotism were in play. Corruption was a powerful tool to keep the Ukrainian Government inline with Moscow’s needs.
By 2004 there were signs the payoffs and corruption were exposed and that political winds had shifted. While Political Warfare continued at an even higher level, Cyber Warfare became more prevalent. The used of media manipulation, propaganda, and attacking opposing electronic systems became routine. A good example of this is what was done to the headquarters of A.P. Møller-Maersk of Denmark in 2017. On June 27th 2017, Maersk staffers laptops locked with their screens showing “repairing file system on C:” with warnings to turn not off the computer. Just prior to this Maersk’s nearly 80,000 employees, 574 offices in 130 countries, were supposed to receive an update from Maersk’s central IT department. They had been infected with malware.
In two hours Maersk’s entire network was infected. A fifth of the entire world’s shipping capacity, was disabled. Russian cyberwar efforts from the Kremlin-linked hackers known as Sandworm. Sandworm, unbeknownst to anyone at Maersk, hijacked the company that runs their software update. A company called Linkos group that is based in Kiev, Ukraine.
The cost to fix this attack is estimated to have cost between $4 billion and $8 billion. An economic nuclear event conducted by “non-state” actors. It is a Russian weapon of Political (Economic) Warfare released across global networks where national borders are irrelevant. An attack with deep second and third order effects. Where an attack on a Ukrainian company, grinds Maersk to a halt, which in two hours put 1/5th of the world’s logistics in park.
Couple attacks like this with Information Operations can result in a crippling and destabilizing attack. A government which has been eroded politically by Cyber Warfare is highly susceptible to Information Operations. Americans need no lessons in media propagandizing. Most corporate owned media is nothing but a propaganda arm for the American Left. The leftist media sets the narrative in the United States, even though they are constantly found to be factually wrong. This is an example of the power of weaponized Information Operations. In the Ukraine and Crimea separatists in Eastern Ukraine fighting for “Novorossiya” are perfect examples of the effectiveness of Russian Information Operations.
When Political Warfare, Cyber Warfare, and Information Operations are in full swing it starts a process of subversion. The Russians have been laying this ground work for decades. Not just in the Ukraine, but all across their sphere of influence, and across the globe. These constant and coordinated Political, Cyber, and Information efforts foster environments to further the Kremlins goals. Now they can actively undermine the power of the targeted nation’s established authorities. At this point Unconventional experts might very well become inserted and supporters recruited in the target areas. A great example was the Anti-Vietnam war movement of the 1960’s.
It is well known that the KGB and NKVD infiltrated the campus anti-war movement. A rational observer would understand a bunch of LSD laden stoners could not organize a nation-wide movement. They had to have support and organization, which the KGB readily supplied. Fully indoctrinated, they moved into the greater United States society bent on changing it from the inside out. “The Revolution will be televised” was not a joke. For more on systemic cultural subversion look up the efforts of the KGB’s “Cambridge Four” in England during the 1930’s. From all accounts the Communist Left’s Subversion activities are well advanced in the United States. President John F Kennedy recognized this threat in the early 1960’s. Russian subversive activities started accelerating after the Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” in 2004. These culminated in the conditions exploited in early 2014.
What this leads to Cultural Warfare. Where the ideological centers of gravity jockey for position within the society. While this mimics Mao Tse Tungs “Strategic Stalemate” of cultural revolution, it is different. There is a battle of ideologies. Where in the Ukraine it was basically pro-Russian vs. pro-European. This a shorter cycle that the Left vs. Right battle that has been playing out for decades in the United States. What happens is that all elements of the society start to bifurcate into one of the two opposing ideologies. For example, Bay Area tech companies are well known for purging employees who question their Social Justice mantra. Conservative Americans will avoid supporting professional athletics that disrespect national traditions.
When Insurrection starts is when physical actions are taken to support the ongoing Political, Electronic, and Ideological Warfare. Imagine a wave in the ocean. The energy that forms the wave is unseen. This energy has been gaining momentum under the surface. The minute the wave starts to build above the surface of the water is the seminal moment. In this type of warfare, it is the moment physical acts take place.
The physical acts can vary greatly. During the United States 2016 Presidential Election, supporters of Donald Trump were chased through the streets and attacked by mobs outside political rallies. To this day supporters of the current US President are mocked, verbally assaulted, and in certain locations physically attacked. In the Ukraine, protestors were shot by small arms fire. The pro-European Protestors also shot riot police and attacked the pro-Russian Government in Kiev. They were so effective in their attacks they forced the pro-Russian Government Officials to flee the country.
An alarming concern is the Russians sniper units deployed into the Ukraine. Russian Forces in Ukraine have employed snipers in elements up to platoon size. These units will operate on small area sometimes only several hundred meters in size. They layer their assets in normally three ranks. Spacing is determined by weapon types and terrain. The group closest to the fighting will be proxy forces trained as marksmen. Behind them will be a mixed force of better trained proxies, PMC’s, and Russian soldiers. The final group will be highly trained snipers with the best equipment. These elements focus on one target area together.
Objectives of a sniper platoon are to hinder or channelize movement of enemy formations and then direct artillery fire on these targets. Several sniper platoons will work together to corral an enemy formation into a kill box for indirect fires. Russian snipers also channelize units into ambushes and obstacles such minefields or armored checkpoints.
The use of advanced marksmanship in this new era of Unconventional Warfare can not be overstated. The power of a well-trained man with a precision rifle to deny an area is profound. When these men are deployed in masse, they can radically alter the battlespace. This future type of warfare will be fought by Unconventional Warfare Specialists, working with proxies who are blended into the civilian population.
They will use rifles and unit level technology. American military strategists need to be highly concerned about the state of our small arms.
Once violence breaks out, efforts to cede from the nation will rapidly accelerate under this form of Unconventional Warfare. Discussions of self-regulation or autonomous regions will start circulating in the subversion phase. As events start to escalate thoughts of self-rule within the host nation will succumb to breaking away. While many within the targeted population will seek some form of reconciliation. But all of the erosion of credibility of the host nation and isolation of the targeted population is all working to allow acts of violence to make the break permanent. This initiation of violence is the pivotal event.
In the Ukraine, it has been speculated that many of the 2014 protestors and police officers were shot by Russian operatives. This believed to create such a fracture that reconciliation was impossible. To make it painfully obvious that the pro-European and Pro-Russian elements could no longer live in peace together. To push the pro-Russian element within the society that has been cultivated for just such a time, into the waiting arms of Russia. Every fracture line is to be exploited. So the divorce from the host nation is so complete, that Revolt is the only choice.
Revolt is the threshold were two very substantial events take place. First, isolated events of violent activity become wide spread across the targeted area. This further strain on the host nation forces them to concentrate their efforts, usually in and around the capital. This allows for the larger swaths of the targeted populations to coalesce together. This network will have long been established by the UW experts embedded into the targeted population.
Second, general purpose forces will flood into the targeted areas. Since each level of these UW operations builds on previous level, a political narrative will be in place. This narrative will exploit contrived grievances, false flag events, and ongoing violence. Considering the host nation will be focused on centers of power and will most likely be outmatched by Russian units, the risk of directly escalating will be high. The ability for the host nation to seek outside assistance will also be limited.
Russian area denial systems have become radically more advanced. On top of Political, Cyber, and Electronic efforts, the Russians have some very capable Air Defense systems. Considering any immediate support given by Western Powers will most likely be air power, this is a serious concern. Russia has gone to great lengths to develop air defense capabilities on strategic, operational, and tactical levels to deny American use of air support. Russian air defense capabilities exist at the battalion level and higher. They can deny an area of over 250 square km. They are constantly improving their systems. Everyday we operate in Syria within range of their systems. Every day they learn from this.
Whereas U.S. forces rely on artillery to support maneuver forces. The Russians do the opposite, maneuver supports artillery. Artillery is the decisive force for the Russian Army. Russian Battalions are intended to secure ground so that artillery forces can be effectively employed against enemy forces. Many Russian indirect fire systems can launch strikes well over 50 kilometers or more away.
The employment of drones by Russian Forces adds another dimension to their indirect fires. In Eastern Ukraine, Russian Forces have demonstrated their ability to direct and adjust fires with their drones. Ukrainian forces have repeatedly seen a systematic approach by the Russians to acquire a target with a drone. A high-level drone will identify a target. It will then pass off that target to another lower level drone to determine the target coordinates. Russians will adjust their fire with the drone based on the initial artillery strikes. The total time for this process takes only 10-15 minutes.
Once the Russian General-Purpose Forces have secured the area, annexation and normalization of the seized territory is rapid. In the Crimea within days were accepted into the Russian Federation. Which now labels counter revolutionary action as an attack on Russian sovereignty. The Crimea was on the Russian ruble as a currency. Life has returned to a sense of normalcy, just with a new flag over the statehouse. As each day passes, the assimilation grows deeper. Eventually children who attend primary school will be taught they were always Russian.
Some would argue that the annexation of the Crimea was an Isolated event, I disagree. I think in the day of Ford class carriers and 140-million-dollar F-35’s, other nations know they can not fight them directly. One of the beauties of Asymmetric and Unconventional Warfare is you fight in away that the powerful US forces can not strike back. Aircraft Carriers can not stop a subversive protest. The Russians will fight with what they have in a way that mitigates US advantages. The Crimea was seized so quickly, that even if the Obama Administration had the fortitude to act, it is unlikely any response would have been effective.
I see this type of warfare expanding and becoming more frequent. Places like South Korea, Taiwan, and even the United States itself become susceptible to this type of operation. With sanctuary cites openly defying US Federal Laws, Corporate Media subversion, physical attacks on conservatives, and chants of “He’s not my President” The United States is pretty well into the Insurrection phase. Our enemies might even be able to project military power inside the United States. I’ll discuss this on a later date. There is a new way to play ball, and we need to pay attention.
Russian General of the Army Valeri Gerasimov- “The doctrine that guides the rules of war have changed. There is a blurring of the line between war and peace. Non-military means of achieving military goals has grown. In many cases they exceed the power of military weapons in their effectiveness”