Maritime Hybrid Warfare

An interesting article by Adm Stavridis USN (ret'd) from the USNI/Australian Naval Institute



Maritime hybrid warfare is coming | Australian Naval Institute



"Hybrid warfare is as old as combat itself. There is nothing fundamentally new about incorporating unconventional, and unacknowledged, forces on the battlefield in surprising ways to undermine conventional forces and obscure attribution. But what is changing is the level of effort put into it by both big and small nations and the tendency to use it for all the tactical and strategic advantages it confers. Inevitably, it will sail out to sea and prove a formidable challenge if we have not thought through its uses and how to counter it. Let’s get under way."
 
The US Armed Forces do seem to do a far better job of nurturing critical thinkers without imposing penalties of the 'career careering, career stops' variety.
 
The US Armed Forces do seem to do a far better job of nurturing critical thinkers without imposing penalties of the 'career careering, career stops' variety.
Certain parts of the RAF and RN do also.
 

Flight

LE
Book Reviewer
Maoist slocs eh? Is that progress?

Makes sense and chimes with what the flaggy chappies in the SCS are saying. They can meet the Chinese naval counterparts and know them pretty well but who the hell are those uniformed fishermen who act in concert to cause trouble. No known command structure.

South Pars would be an obvious zone of antagonism.

I say this does sound like a jolly good wheeze to get cash out of the treasury.
 

CmdKeen

Old-Salt
The US Armed Forces do seem to do a far better job of nurturing critical thinkers without imposing penalties of the 'career careering, career stops' variety.
Do they still at a junior level? There have been some pretty high profile criticisms levelled against the US Army of late for getting rid of officers who have been sent off for further education who then don't pick up (and are therefore let go under "up or out").

That said those who do come over for our Staff Courses are apparently fairly dismissive of the level of academic rigour so relatively it's not like we're any good either.
 

CmdKeen

Old-Salt
There are some interesting points. For me there are two key issues:

The sort of examples mentioned are much more high stakes than traditional land hybrid warfare. Malaysian Airlines 17 was probably unintentional, and is certainly not a standard level of damage. The fishing boat example in the article, and the discussion of attacks on oil and gas installations are sufficiently serious that they would easily count as cassus belli were the aggressor to be proven.

It's related to also say that the maritime environment is very different to the land. The level of covertness and cross-border force protection that enables Russian kinetic hybrid warfare isn't really possible, even in the littoral. A nation might be able to launch one or two attacks of the type mentioned in the article and may be able to get away without their being evidence of it being them. Beyond that you're facing 3rd parties capable of deploying satellite and air surveillance capabilities with much more freedom than they can over land.

Something like the Iran Ajr scenario is the concern for any nation wanting to conduct maritime hybrid warfare. Not only is your aggression more discover-able 3rd parties are able to intervene and conduct "proportionate" responses such as seizing your own shipping.
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Do they still at a junior level? There have been some pretty high profile criticisms levelled against the US Army of late for getting rid of officers who have been sent off for further education who then don't pick up (and are therefore let go under "up or out").

That said those who do come over for our Staff Courses are apparently fairly dismissive of the level of academic rigour so relatively it's not like we're any good either.
The US system allows some very good generals to emerge, but my experience of working with them is that you have to have a star on your shoulders before you're allowed to make decisions. The average US HQ devolves the same authority to Lt Cols that we would usually grant to Captains.

They are also insanely process driven; for every McChrystal they produce, they generate thousands of committed process monkeys. Their command performance is historically pretty poor and they tend to only win fights through significant overmatch.

In terms of academic ability and interest though, their officer corps is in a different league to our token efforts. They produce papers like the one that started this thread; our general staff comes up with the pathetic 'integrated approach' doctrine.
 
Last edited:
There are some interesting points. For me there are two key issues:

The sort of examples mentioned are much more high stakes than traditional land hybrid warfare. Malaysian Airlines 17 was probably unintentional, and is certainly not a standard level of damage. The fishing boat example in the article, and the discussion of attacks on oil and gas installations are sufficiently serious that they would easily count as cassus belli were the aggressor to be proven.

It's related to also say that the maritime environment is very different to the land. The level of covertness and cross-border force protection that enables Russian kinetic hybrid warfare isn't really possible, even in the littoral. A nation might be able to launch one or two attacks of the type mentioned in the article and may be able to get away without their being evidence of it being them. Beyond that you're facing 3rd parties capable of deploying satellite and air surveillance capabilities with much more freedom than they can over land.

Something like the Iran Ajr scenario is the concern for any nation wanting to conduct maritime hybrid warfare. Not only is your aggression more discover-able 3rd parties are able to intervene and conduct "proportionate" responses such as seizing your own shipping.
I'd suggest it was far more deniable in the littoral than on land. I remember having the discussion/argument on here about the maritime flank of Urban Warrior 3 (the one where they fought a war in Southampton) and was pretty confident I could rip apart a 'good' force with the level of access the littoral/estuarine afforded.
 

jim30

LE
The US Armed Forces do seem to do a far better job of nurturing critical thinkers without imposing penalties of the 'career careering, career stops' variety.
I would agree to a point - if you break something in the US Navy (e.g. slightest of dents in the hull), then its career over. I've heard experienced individuals well placed to comment say that the US Navy is far more risk averse than the UK model, and far less forgiving of mistakes.
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
I'd suggest it was far more deniable in the littoral than on land. I remember having the discussion/argument on here about the maritime flank of Urban Warrior 3 (the one where they fought a war in Southampton) and was pretty confident I could rip apart a 'good' force with the level of access the littoral/estuarine afforded.
Yet another area where our capability isn't even close to the Americans. Their 'white SOF' SEAL units have a couple of thousand trained operators and are well set up to do this kind of work in support of conventional forces.
 
Yet another area where our capability isn't even close to the Americans. Their 'white SOF' SEAL units have a couple of thousand trained operators and are well set up to do this kind of work in support of conventional forces.
But I suspect this is not "SOF" work, this is a proper "seam", and one where we (the RN) would need to work far better than we ever have with the Army, who in turn, can't blithely presume they are the supported Commander and hand-wave it all away.
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
But I suspect this is not "SOF" work, this is a proper "seam", and one where we (the RN) would need to work far better than we ever have with the Army, who in turn, can't blithely presume they are the supported Commander and hand-wave it all away.
But if it's deniable operations in the littoral then surely that's in the SOF space? Don't forget that what the US regards as SOF is a long way from our understanding of SF, with their tier 2 units and activities being publicly acknowledged. The US land or naval component commander could expect to have OPCOM/N of SEAL units and task them with conducting unconventional warfare tasks in direct support of conventional forces.
 

CmdKeen

Old-Salt
I suppose we're back to the one off nature of it. Yes, you could cut up a force from the sea, quite how deniable that would be is questionable. If Caecilius is putting thousands of SEALs ashore I'd suggest someone might notice. It's the same point with Q ships and commerce raiders, they work OK to start with but pretty quickly the opposition reacts, freedom of manoeuvre starts to be limited, support platforms are hunted down and then you're trapped at sea and can be destroyed.

Having a land border back into the Motherland which you know no-one, Ukrainian or even the US is going to breach is I think fairly crucial to the hybrid nature of warfare, otherwise we're back to talking about raiding. Taking the original scenario in the paper I could just as easily see it going as:

Chinese white hull slips into area, disgorges raiders
Chinese jamming attempts fail
Vietnam puts up some aircraft, even if only to see what is going on
Chinese white hull now has to decide to head back to port being watched or brazen it out and risk being engaged

That scenario has the potential to end as PLAN officer'd vessel chock full of commandos captured by Vietnam. A little different to the odd "holidaying Russian citizens" who accidentally stray across the border. I suppose I'm working on the basis that the aggressor state wants a decent level of deniability, though Russia doesn't really have it over Ukraine - more of a "what are you going to do about it?" attitude. Even if it didn't mind being caught committing a blatant act of war ending up with a flagged vessel burning because Vietnam chucked a missile after it is pretty embarrassing and undermines the propaganda point of the effort.
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
I suppose we're back to the one off nature of it. Yes, you could cut up a force from the sea, quite how deniable that would be is questionable. If Caecilius is putting thousands of SEALs ashore I'd suggest someone might notice. It's the same point with Q ships and commerce raiders, they work OK to start with but pretty quickly the opposition reacts, freedom of manoeuvre starts to be limited, support platforms are hunted down and then you're trapped at sea and can be destroyed.

Having a land border back into the Motherland which you know no-one, Ukrainian or even the US is going to breach is I think fairly crucial to the hybrid nature of warfare, otherwise we're back to talking about raiding. Taking the original scenario in the paper I could just as easily see it going as:

Chinese white hull slips into area, disgorges raiders
Chinese jamming attempts fail
Vietnam puts up some aircraft, even if only to see what is going on
Chinese white hull now has to decide to head back to port being watched or brazen it out and risk being engaged

That scenario has the potential to end as PLAN officer'd vessel chock full of commandos captured by Vietnam. A little different to the odd "holidaying Russian citizens" who accidentally stray across the border. I suppose I'm working on the basis that the aggressor state wants a decent level of deniability, though Russia doesn't really have it over Ukraine - more of a "what are you going to do about it?" attitude. Even if it didn't mind being caught committing a blatant act of war ending up with a flagged vessel burning because Vietnam chucked a missile after it is pretty embarrassing and undermines the propaganda point of the effort.
Good post. I think we forget that Russian-style hybrid warfare requires a brazen disregard for the possibility of diplomatic crises and the willingness to absorb non-military sanctions.

The only real counter to that form of hybrid warfare is to make it clear that countries seeking to use deniable methods of action will receive decisive action, usually in the form of sanctions. Obviously a degree of Realpolitik comes into play here, which is arguably what the aggressors are usually relying on in these scenarios.
 
But if it's deniable operations in the littoral then surely that's in the SOF space? Don't forget that what the US regards as SOF is a long way from our understanding of SF, with their tier 2 units and activities being publicly acknowledged. The US land or naval component commander could expect to have OPCOM/N of SEAL units and task them with conducting unconventional warfare tasks in direct support of conventional forces.
Ah, sorry, I was looking at it from the defensive side of the piece.

On the offensive side, I'd suggest that with the force structure we have, I doubt we could do maritime hybrid warfare.
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Ah, sorry, I was looking at it from the defensive side of the piece.

On the offensive side, I'd suggest that with the force structure we have, I doubt we could do maritime hybrid warfare.
Ah. I assumed your comments on Urban Warrior were aimed at how we could do it to others. Apologies!
 
Ah. I assumed your comments on Urban Warrior were aimed at how we could do it to others. Apologies!
there is that, but more about how we should defend from it.

As for us doing Hybrid Warfare (cf The Russian way of war), I'm not sure that is a policy direction we are willing or able to take.
 
Ah, sorry, I was looking at it from the defensive side of the piece.

On the offensive side, I'd suggest that with the force structure we have, I doubt we could do maritime hybrid warfare.
I think the operational model we would be more comfortable with would be on the lines of World War 2 Coastal Forces.
Blockade running, SF insertion, sabotage, hijacking and harrassment.-then vanish at a rate of knots.
Trickier with modern detection equipment, but not impossible.
The main issue is obtaining suitable hulls and suitable loonies to operate them.
 

Caecilius

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
I think the operational model we would be more comfortable with would be on the lines of World War 2 Coastal Forces.
Blockade running, SF insertion, sabotage, hijacking and harrassment.-then vanish at a rate of knots.
Trickier with modern detection equipment, but not impossible.
The main issue is obtaining suitable hulls and suitable loonies to operate them.
A hybrid assymetric/conventional force structure can be devastating, as proved in the US Millenium Challenge 2002 clusterfuck exercise. With the increasing availability of remotely piloted craft, a swarm attack against an OPFOR fleet could be very effective and wouldn't rely on employing suicide bombers.
 

Yokel

LE
A hybrid assymetric/conventional force structure can be devastating, as proved in the US Millenium Challenge 2002 clusterfuck exercise. With the increasing availability of remotely piloted craft, a swarm attack against an OPFOR fleet could be very effective and wouldn't rely on employing suicide bombers.
Oh dear - someone is going to take you to task for that.
 

Latest Threads

Top