Global War on Terror Is Fifth Generation Warfare approaching?

Is Fifth Generation Warfare approaching?

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War is as old as human civilization

PHOTO: REUTERS
PHOTO: REUTERS

War is as old as human civilization. What we build over decades with love and perseverance, we destroy in days with assault, plunder, injury and fire. In fact, the first Earth-born killed the second Earth-born, as goes the story of Adam’s two sons, attesting that killing is second nature to humankind.

The underlying philosophy behind every war is to achieve the same ends of “control and dominance”, and to achieve these ends the strategy has always been “war by all means”. Yet we wish to categorise war under different categories following our instinct to simplify all complex phenomenon. This instinct led William Lind to introduce the concept of the Four Generations of Warfare in 1989. This categorisation is based on the advancement of technology and its use in the enhancement of weapons of war. The “generations” show that as the intentions behind war remained the same, the appearance of war made phenomenal strides in technical and tactical terms.

In Lind’s categorisation, the first three generations of warfare jump from 15th century “smoothbore muskets”, to firearms, to machine-operated artillery and to evolving techniques like the Blitzkrieg (manoeuvre-warfare). The Fourth Generation Warfare is generally associated with insurgencies, proxy wars fought by fueling those insurgencies, and terrorism. And later the 5GW was added to the concept as a technologically-superior warfare involving precision weapons and networking across the battlespace.

The use of nuclear bombs at the end of WWII in Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be considered as an arrester of conventional warfare. With so many opposing powers becoming nuclear-capable, state-to-state wars became less probable, and the Cold War opponents resorted more and more to proxy wars. For instance, the Second Congo War of 1998, also known as the African World War, was a proxy war involving several African states and outside powers like the US, Russia, China and Israel. None of the outside powers had boots on-ground in DR Congo but they supplied small arms and light weapons (SALW) to different contenders, fueling a war that took 5.4 million lives and displaced another two million in five years. The Kivu and Ituri conflicts, generated from the war, have made the areas constant war zones to this day.

The underlying reason for the war was the control of mineral resources of the country. The proxies’ control of mineral rich areas and their allowing “outside parties” their extraction, makes DRC a free-market haven with no taxes and the cheapest bids. So, for those who supplied the SALWs, a continued conflict was the perfect status quo, and the ability of the proxies to terrorise the population and defeat state authority was the key to a luxurious free meal from DRC. Therefore, proxies and terror worked together, and still do.

Another analogy is that the 4GW obliterated the sovereignty of the nation-state by letting outside parties intervene. It also jeopardised the state authority by inciting large-scale dissent as government forces were forced to fight their own people. Sovereignty is also breached by control and infiltration of the media of the target state. Moreover, to fill in the gaps that crude insurgent fighters cannot fill, highly-trained and improvised special operation forces are slipped in to the situation to assassinate or destroy the target. So, if all this was 4GW, then what is 5GW?

With huge technological advancements in our era, 4GW is inevitably evolving into 5GW. Satellites, precision munitions, robotics and drones are changing the battlespace to a completely no-contact space for those with superior technologies. Australian Air Force Officer Peter Layton writes of the 5G Air-Warfare to be a network-centric one with different network grids collecting and distributing information; a combat cloud that helps create a “big picture” of real-time information; multi-domains that breaks the battlespace up into land, sea, air domains; and fusion warfare that uses analytics to fuse data from numerous disparate sensors into a single common picture for decision-makers at the theatre level.

Proponents of 5GW, in the US, base the 5GW scenario on the vision that in the near future a technologically-advanced country like the US will have an absolute hegemony on information via precision satellites, data mining, and command networking and will rule the future battlefield with a supra force of swarms of air and sea unmanned maritime vehicles (UMVs), fifth generation aircraft and teams of highly-improvised special forces aka assassins. Fifth Generation Warfare will not forsake information warfare, instead it will rely more on data mining to manipulate target societies and to create coercive conditions for politicians.

This 5GW coercion will be all-encompassing — on one hand, institutionalised cyber-hackers will gain the ability to jam or corrupt enemy computer networks; on the other, enemy satellites will be targeted to literally blind the opponent’s remote sensing and navigation abilities, possibly disrupting its economy’s contact with the global economy and cutting off the government apparatus from the international grid. Likewise, on one hand swarms of UMVs will destroy whatever little fighting capabilities enemies in the developing world have, while on the other, special forces will exterminate targets of influential nature. Fifth Generation Warfare will thereby, in Thomas Hammes’ words, “convince the enemy’s political decision-makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit” — rendering the whole state numb and dumb and unable to react.

Such a state of combined precision, agility and firepower, being pursued by the US, China, Russia and others, is costly and time-taking. It may take years even for the big powers to enter this sci-fi realm of absolute power that enables them to enslave humanity en masse from their remote privileged abodes. So, in the meantime, as the 5G “nets-and-jets” capabilities evolve, 4GW will prevail, inculcating 5G technologies within the 4G hybrid phenomenon as they come, keeping “war by all means” a constantly changing reality.

Already the “hybrid” is mixing conventional, proxy and cyber warfare. It is using fake news, social media, diplomacy, sanctions, foreign intervention in elections and what not. So, as the 5GW approaches us more swiftly than we are expecting it to, to rule us from the skies, 4G will continue eating us up from under our feet.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th, 2019.

Aneela Shahzad
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