Dr. David Johnson, senior historian with the RAND Corporation, spoke to cadets on 7 October at a Modern War Institute event entitled “Minding the Middle: How to Fight State-Sponsored Hybrid Adversaries.” He argued that there are low-end non-state irregular threats such as the al-Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan’s Taliban that we have been accustomed to fighting. He also pointed to “high end” state adversaries, with sophisticated air defenses, such as the Soviet Union way back in the 1970s and 1980s. He predicted that future war will involve a hybrid of the two. These include groups like ISIS and the Russia-backed Ukrainian separatists – moderately trained, disciplined, and operating with moderate sized formations (up to battalion). They have risen from the ongoing turmoil in North Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine. Their weapons typically include those associated with irregular groups – small arms, RPGs, short-range rockets, IEDs, etc. – but slightly more sophisticated capabilities such as ATGMs, MANPADs and longer-range rockets. Dr. Johnson argued that we “may not fight the Russians or Chinese” directly but he thinks “we will surely fight their systems” in the form of what he called “state-sponsored hybrids.” He pointed to significant capability gaps in the U.S. Army and in NATO against these weapons systems and thus we are vulnerable to operational and tactical surprise. The difference between the current category of state-sponsored hybrid threats and those of the past, such as Hezbollah, is the ability to escalate militarily in the current context. In terms of combating ISIS, Dr. Johnson suggested that our stability operations and COIN strategies may be largely irrelevant because ISIS is not an insurgency. They often can be found in urban areas, hiding among the people for concealment. He cautioned that future challenges will require joint forces, combined arms, and fire and maneuver, a well as balanced ground force (i.e. armor, dismounted infantry to close fight, etc.).
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