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A Strategic Means of Hybrid Warfare



The modern security environment is undergoing a profound transformation. This transformation has been shaped by the emergence of new patterns of conflict and cooperation among state and non-state actors as well as the spread of globalization and new technologies. Also, the development of a new breed occurred, characterized by a combination of warfare methods and the usage of different means of warfare. In the constellation of new wars, hybrid wars stand out as a war that combines different strategies of warfare to achieve synergistic effects. The aim of the article is to analyze and describe characteristics of both non-state and state hybrid warfare, as well as the key elements that constitute strategic means of hybrid warfare. The usage of information weapons, cybersphere, and psychological means, in combination with conventional weapons of war, become the main features of modern conflict. Modern technologies are the main factor that influenced and transformed warfare and their usage permeates every activity in a hybrid war
Abstract—The modern security environment is undergoing a
profound transformation. This transformation has been shaped
by the emergence of new patterns of conflict and cooperation
among state and non-state actors as well as the spread of
globalization and new technologies. Also, the development of a
new breed occurred, characterized by a combination of warfare
methods and usage of different means of warfare. In the
constellation of new wars, a hybrid wars stand out as a war that
combines different strategies of warfare to achieve synergistic
effects. The aim of the article is to analyze and describe
characteristic of both non-state and state hybrid warfare, as well
as the key elements that constitute strategic means of hybrid
warfare. The usage of information weapons, cyber sphere and
psychological means, in combination with conventional weapons
of war, become main features of modern conflict. Modern
technologies are the main factor that influenced and transformed
warfare and their usage permeates every activity in hybrid war.
Index Terms Hybrid warfare, war, means of warfare,
security, strategy, new technologies
Clausewitz‟s observation that war is “a merely continuation
of policy by other means” [1] has become an incontestable
maxim among security experts. During history, war occurred
among centralized, hierarchically ordered, territorialized states
in which big armies confronted each other on the battlefield,
using similar strategies, tactics, and weapons. The war is still
present in international relations, but with different forms and
The nature of warfare is changing and as Williams noticed,
there are three issues important to discuss: how useful is the
concept of „total war‟ for thinking about developments in
warfare? What is the relationship between war and
globalization; specifically, has globalization given rise to a
new‟ type of warfare? What changes can be identified in the
way advanced industrialized democracies in the West are
waging war today compared to earlier historical periods? [2]
The post-cold war period is characterized by the emergence
of non-state actors, new threats that are combined with
globalization factors and the usage of sophisticated
technology. In order to find a new analytical framework for
Milica Ćurčić Department of Physical Chemistry, “Vinca” Institute of
Nuclear Sciences - National Institute of Republic of Serbia, University of
Belgrade, Belgrade, Serbia (e-mail:
Slavko Dimović – Department of Radiation and Environmental Protection
“Vinca” Institute of Nuclear Sciences - National Institute of Republic of
Serbia, University of Belgrade, Belgrade, Serbia (e-mail:
Ivan Lazović “Vinca” Institute of Nuclear Sciences - National Institute
of Republic of Serbia, University of Belgrade, Belgrade, Serbia (e-mail:
understanding the nature of modern wars, new paradigms had
been constructed. Those concepts are seeking to understand an
ambiguous border between war and peace because from the
perspective of modern wars, wartime, peacetime and crisis do
not exist as separate phases [3]. In a more practical way, the
main dilemma arises from questions of how it is possible for a
weaker actor to win a war against a significantly stronger and
more powerful enemy and how a stronger actor should oppose
to a weaker one in an asymmetric conflict.
One of the basic characteristics of modern wars is the use
of new means of warfare that avoid predictability and linear
military operations. Technological progress has conditioned
changes in all spheres of life, including conflict, wars and
military operations. The new technologies allow the
possibility to achieve strategic goals by unconventional and
cognitive effects (technologies of social influence and
manipulation, cyber sphere, information weapon, possibilities
of significant damage of control system of a state) [4]. Those
technologies appear to be increasingly adaptive and
sophisticated, able to outpace state-based militaries in the
dialectic and competitive learning cycle inherent to wars [5].
Technological advancements have furthered weapons and
platform development, but also introduced new capabilities
and vulnerabilities in the security arena, that additionally
increase the complexities of contemporary conflicts.
The security architecture of the modern world focuses on
threats such as terrorism and radicalization, nonproliferation
of WMD, securitization of migration, cyber and ecological
threats etc. Most of these threats are dominantly posed by
different non-state actors. Also security agendas introduce
new types of wars that cannot be defined as conventional,
traditional or classical wars. In order to clarify the different
types of war in a contemporary security environment, as well
as their basic characteristics, a number of scholars have
attempted to define new types of war. In the literature we can
find terms Unconventional war [6-8], Irregular war [5, 9],
Fourth Generation of War [10-11], Unrestricted War [12]
Compound War [13] and Asymmetric War [14-16]. All this
approaches of modern war in different ways are pointing at
the blurring of subjects, objects and dynamics in
contemporary conflicts.
The following variables are most commonly used to
determine the characteristics of modern wars: the main
protagonists and units of analysis of war - states or non-state
actors; the primary motives of actors (ideology, territorial
secession, religion etc.); the spatial ranges: interstate, regional,
or global; the technological means of violence – weapons and
strategies of war; the social, material, and human impact of
conflict, including patterns of human victimization and forced
A Strategic Means of Hybrid Warfare
Milica Ćurčić, Slavko Dimović, Ivan Lazović
ISBN 978-86-7466-894-8
human displacement; the influence of the political, economic
and social structure on conflict [17].
The „hybrid war” emerged as the newest kind of war during
the first decade of the 21st century by key scholars who
focused on “the blending or blurring character of conflict”
[18]. This term was first used in 2006 to describe the strategy
that Hezbollah used in the Lebanon war. Mixing an organized
political movement with decentralized armed cells employing
adaptive tactics in ungoverned zones, Hezbollah affirms an
emerging trend. Highly disciplined, well-trained, distributed
cells can contest modern conventional forces with an
admixture of guerrilla tactics and technology in densely
packed urban centers [19]. In this conflict Hezbollah
conducted several technological surprises on Israeli forces.
Hezbollah‟s fighters bypassed the complex surveillance
system used by Israel to monitor its border with Lebanon led
to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and the killing of
eight. The firing of a Noor anti-ship cruise missile (an Iranian
version of the Chinese C-802) resulted in the loss of four
Israeli sailors and the crippling of an Israeli missile ship. Two
Merkava IV tanks were destroyed and their crews killed or
wounded, probably by a combination of Raad anti-tank
missiles (the Iranian version of the Russian Sagger AT-3) and
advanced improvised explosive devices (IEDs) [20].
This case demonstrated the ability of a non-state actor to
deconstruct the vulnerability of not only a powerful state, but
Western-style militaries [21]. The increased number of actors,
who innovatively combine different models of war, capacities
and weapons in order to achieve strategic goals, has created
fertile ground for the introduction of concept which explains
characteristics of modern warfare. In that manner, hybrid war
is becoming the dominant discourse in discussions of modern
warfare as well as accepted and promoted by politicians,
military experts and theorists as the basic concept of modern
military strategies [22].
The term hybrid warfare‟ was introduced in theory by
Frank Hoffman, a former US Marine officer, to influence
on ingrained and outdated beliefs in the US military about the
utility of military force in the post-Cold War environment. In
Hoffman‟s view, hybrid warfare was a suitable analytical
construct to explain the success of a relatively weak opponent,
such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda, or Hezbollah, against the
vastly technologically and numerically superior militaries
both in Afghanistan and Iraq and in the 2006 Lebanon war
against Iraq and Israeli forces [23]. Hoffman define hybrid
war as a type of war that “incorporate a range of different
modes of warfare, including conventional capabilities,
irregular tactics and formations, terrorist acts including
indiscriminate violence and coercion and criminal disorder.
Hybrid war can be conducted by both states and variety of
non-state actors” [18].
What makes a war “hybrid” and divers from other modern
war is coordinated fusion of different modes of warfare, both
military (use of force) and non-military (violence, irregular
tactics, criminal disorder, terrorist acts), to achieve synergistic
effects in the physical and psychological dimensions of
conflict within the main battle space [18].
The evolution of hybrid warfare has two phases so far. The
first phase is called non-state hybrid war, as it involves the
action of non-state actors that combines conventional forces,
whose actions are regulated by the rules and norms of law and
traditional military custom, with unconventional forces that
conduct operations of guerrilla warfare, terrorist activities and
criminal activities. Characteristics of this phase of hybrid war
are: non-state exhibit increased levels of military
sophistication as they successfully develop modern weapons
systems (such as anti-ship missiles, UAVs), new technologies
(cyber, secure communication, sophisticated command and
control), and tactics (combined arms) that are traditionally
considered to be outside range of such actors. Non-state actors
expanded the battlefield beyond the purely military realm and
show the growing importance of non-military tools by
including elements of information warfare (e.g. controlling
the battle of the narrative and online propaganda, recruitment
and ideological mobilization [24].
The second phase of the evolution of the term hybrid war
called state hybrid war begins with the Ukrainian crisis and
the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. Russian operations
demonstrate that hybrid warfare can be conducted with great
success by state actors. The main characteristics of Russian
operation in Crimea as a prototype of the second phase of
hybrid warfare are:
- non-declaration of the state of war;
- non-contact clashes between highly maneuverable
interspecific fighting groups;
- annihilation of the enemy‟s military and economic power
by short-time precise strikes in the strategic military and
civilian infrastructure;
- massive use of high-precision weapons and special
operations, robotics, and weapons that use new physical
principles (direct-energy weapons lasers, shortwave
radiation, etc);
- use of armed civilians;
- simultaneous strike on the enemy‟s units and facilities in
all of the territory;
- simultaneous battle on land, air, sea, and in the
informational space.
- use of asymmetric and indirect methods;
- management of troops in a unified informational sphere
[25]. Usage of non-military means, especially the use of
information surprised Ukraine and represented significant
factors for the realization of Russian plans in Crimea and
announced future trends in warfare.
This transformation of used means surprised even Hoffman,
whose definition of hybrid warfare is limited to a combination
of tactics related to violence and irregular way of warfare
between state and non-state actors. His definition did not
recognize non-violent and non-military instruments like
diplomatic, economic and financial activities, subversive
political acts such as the creation or secret use of trade unions
and non-governmental organizations as a front of actions, or
information and propaganda operations through the use of
fake websites and newspaper articles [22].
As Figure 1 shows hybrid warfare differs from other types
of war in their initiation and prosecution, involve various
sphere of social action, employee different strategies and
means. Hybrid warfare is directed towards the whole society
with the aim of destabilization and polarization. In this type of
ISBN 978-86-7466-894-8
war, not only the military weaknesses are essential but also
those that only society can generate: ethnic tensions, weak and
corrupt institutions, economic or energy dependence. Based
on these weaknesses, hybrid war applies on the full spectrum
of activities ranging from media propaganda to terrorism
through irregular and unassumed warfare [26].
Fig 1. Hybrid warfare spheres [4]
At the strategic level, the hybrid theory of warfare can be
seen as the employment of information operations and
diplomacy in conjunction with cyber and electronic operations
to weaken an opponent or to sow the seeds of chaos in relation
to an adversary [27]. In addition to traditional wars, hybrid
wars are not declared and, therefore, cannot be completed in
the classical sense of military conflicts. This is a permanent
war of variable intensity across multiple sectors, with
cascading impacts and synergistic destructive manifestations,
in which the entire population of the country is involved. An
essential feature of this concept is the diminished role of
military content, more precise usage of armed struggle. Unlike
the classic war conflicts, in which concepts based on the mass
use of armed force were dominated, minimized often
disguised military hard power is the most significant novelty
in the history of warfare introduced by hybrid warfare [28].
Through the use of innovative technologies, it became
possible to shift conflict from predominantly overt and
forceful (kinetic) means to less obvious strategies focused on
the structural vulnerabilities of adversaries, including
achieving cognitive advantage over them [4]. Widespread
usage of new technologies should provide reduction of hard
military power to minimum creating a distorted image of the
real attacker. In that way, modern technologies were the main
factor that influenced and transformed warfare.
Hybrid war in Ukraine shows that the main battlefield is
human mind so the most important elements of modern war
become information and psychological means. Wide-ranging,
multidimensional and by employing multifactorial
information, hybrid warfare in Ukraine included applying of
highly technological samples of weapons and military
hardware. Y. Danyik et all in the paper [4] identifies some of
the most important areas of information technology involved
in hybrid warfare:
1. electronic warfare systems and complexes;
2. modern information and communication systems;
3. innovative weapon control systems;
4. integrated reconnaissance-strike complexes;
5. innovative software;
6. complexes for conducting information-
psychological activities and actions in cyber space
7. environmental control and space systems;
8. robotic systems (especially unmanned aircraft
All modern country are highly depended on various
information infrastructure and information-based resources
including complex management systems and infrastructures
involving the control of electric power, money flow, air
traffic, oil and gas, and other information-dependent item
[29]. The development and use of new, and especially
information technologies is a determinant of the state
development, but also the most important means in the
application of measures and countermeasures in hybrid
Ukrainian hybrid war demonstrates the complexity of
strategy that includes military and nonmilitary means relying
on new technologies at every stage of operation. Moscow
employed methods that blended conventional and irregular
combat, economic coercion, sponsorship of political protests,
and the now notorious disinformation campaign [30]. Also,
different technologies were use simultaneously as a part of
strategically design campaign with main goal of undermining
public confidence in the government. Bērziņš, identified eight
phases of Russian hybrid strategy:
1. non-military means (encompassing information, moral,
psychological, ideological, diplomatic and economic
2. special operations carried out by media, diplomatic
channels, top government and military agencies to mislead
political and military leaders (can include leaking false data,
orders, directives, and instructions);
3. intimidating, deceiving and bribing government and
military officers with the objective of making them abandon
their service duties;
4. use of destabilizing propaganda to increase discontent
among the population (can be further enhanced by the arrival
of „volunteers‟, escalating subversion);
5. establishment of no-fly zones over the targeted country,
imposition of blockades, extensive use of private military
contractors and armed opposition;
6. commencement of military action, immediately preceded
by large-scale reconnaissance and subversive missions of all
types (including special operations forces; space, radio, radio
engineering, electronic, diplomatic and secret service
intelligence; and industrial espionage);
7. targeted information, electronic warfare and aerospace
operations along with continuous air-force harassment,
combined with the use of high-precision weapons launched
ISBN 978-86-7466-894-8
from various platforms (long-range artillery and weapons
based on new physical principles, including microwaves,
radiation, radiological and ecological disasters and non-lethal
biological weapons);
8. crushing the remaining points of resistance and
destroying surviving enemy units by using special operation
units. [25]
Those are phases of war that Russians refer as “new
generation of warfare” directed against Western influence in
the world. While the Chinese concept of „unrestricted warfare‟
was aimed at identifying ways to counter the West‟s over-
whelming hard and soft power through asymmetric means, the
Russians concept of warfare is the answer on tolls that
Western use: liberalism, international institutions, non-
governmental organizations, and strategic communication
[30]. Hybrid warfare, or new generation of war demonstrated
tremendous success by usage of a sophisticated blend of
psychological warfare, cyber - attacks, strategic
communication, disinformation campaign and covert troops.
The further risks also arise from the circumstances that
nuclear states do not directly confront each other by
traditional means. The doctrinal turnover that includes
strategic means of hybrid warfare, as well as military
modernization of states, creates a new kind of security
dilemma. In that sense, nuclear security based on the concept
of nuclear deterrence should be reconsidered in the context of
hybrid warfare. Hybrid warfare ignores a key concept that
builds nuclear deterrence as a viable strategy including
concepts of stability, preparedness, clarity and rationality.
Warfare is sui generis a socio-historical phenomenon with a
pronounced technological component. Definition of war
modified with the change of social circumstances and due to
technological progress. In the last two decades, this definition
expanded to incorporate non-state actors, cyber warfare and
usage of non-military means. The blending of all used means
of waging the war is what distinguishes hybrid war from other
historical forms. The mind becomes the main battlefield of the
21st century which puts focus on information and
psychological means of warfare. In the further transformation
of hybrid war, the tendency will be on in developing strategies
and means how to first defeat adversary mentally by the usage
of non-military means. The main goal of modern warfare is
the reduction of hard military power and defeating the enemy
in the short term without human losses, which hybrid warfare
perfectly demonstrates.
The research was funded by the Ministry of Education,
Science and Technological Development of the Republic of
Serbia, as the part of theme "Fundamental and applied aspects
of electrocatalysis in energy systems and green technologies",
within the program Energy and energy efficiency, which are
realized in the “Vinča” Institute of Nuclear Sciences -
National Institute of Republic of Serbia, University of
Belgrade, Belgrade, Serbia.
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ISBN 978-86-7466-894-8
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