Defining War: A Quick Reference Guide of Terms

Official Terms (Use in Written and Spoken Discourse)

Irregular Warfare (IW) A violent struggle among state and nonstate actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations. Irregular warfare favors indirect and asymmetric approaches, though it may employ the full range of military and other capabilities in order to erode an adversary’s power, influence and will. (JP 1, MAR09. Although not doctrine, IW JOC, v2, MAY10 is the primary conceptual reference). IW comprises five principle activities: UW, FID, COIN, CT and Stability Operations. Not synonymous with those activities.

Stability Operations An overarching term encompassing various military missions, tasks and activities conducted outside the United States in coordination with other instruments of national power to maintain or re-establish a safe and secure environment, provide essential governmental services, emergency infrastructure reconstruction and humanitarian relief. (JP 3-0, MAR10. Although not doctrine, SSTRO JOC, v2, DEC06 is the primary conceptual reference). Not synonymous with FID or COIN.

Unconventional Warfare (UW) Activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary and guerrilla force in a denied area. Core activity of ARSOF. Core activity and organizing principle for SF. Core activity of IW. (TC18-01, DEC10. ATTP 3-18.01 in development 2011. There is no joint doctrine for UW.)

Foreign Internal Defense (FID) Participation by civilian and military agencies of a government in any of the action programs taken by another government or
other designated organization to free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness, insurgency, terrorism or other threats to its security. (JP 3-22, JUL10. FM 3-05.137, JUN08). Core activity of ARSOF. Core activity of IW.

Security Force Assistance (SFA ) The Department of Defense activities that contribute to unified action by the U.S. government to support the development of the capacity and capability of foreign security forces and their supporting institutions. (JP 3-22, JUL10. TC 31-73, JUL08. TC 18-02 in development 2011). Core
activity of ARSOF. Core activty of IW. SFA and FID overlap; neither subsumes the other.

Counterinsurgency (COIN) Comprehensive civilian and military efforts taken to defeat an insurgency and to address any core grievances. (JP 3-24, OCT09. TC 18-05 in development 2011). Core activity of ARSOF. Core activty of IW. Subset of FID.

Direct Action (DA) Short-duration strikes and other small-scale offensive actions conducted as a special operation in hostile, denied or politically sensitive environments and which employ specialized military capabilities to seize, destroy, capture, exploit, recover or damage designated targets. Direct action differs
from conventional offensive actions in the level of physical and political risk, operational techniques and the degree of discriminate and precise use of force to achieve specific objectives. (JP 3-05, DEC03. (C) ATTP 3-05.203 (U), JAN09). Core activity of ARSOF.

Special Reconnaissance (SR) Reconnaissance and surveillance actions conducted as a special operation in hostile, denied or politically sensitive environments to collect or verify information of strategic or operational significance, employing military capabilities not normally found in conventional forces. These actions provide an additive capability for commanders and supplement other conventional reconnaissance and surveillance actions. (JP 3-05, DEC03. ATTP 3-18.04, NOV10). Core activity of ARSOF.

Counterterrorism (CT) Actions taken directly against terrorist networks and indirectly to influence and render global environments inhospitable to terrorist networks. (JP 3-26, NOV09). Core activity of ARSOF.

Military Information Support Operations (MISO) As an activity: Supports all of the other core activities by increasing the psychological effects inherent in their application. As a capability: Conducted across the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of conflict as part of interagency activities to achieve U.S. national objectives. Formerly known as psychological operations. (JP 3-13.2, JAN10. FM 3-05.30, APR05. FM 3-53 in development 2011). Both a core activity and a capability of ARSOF. Key related activity of IW.

Civil Affairs Operations (CAO) Those military operations conducted by civil affairs forces that: (1) enhance the relationship between military forces and civil authorities in localities where military forces are present; (2) require coordination with other interagency organizations, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, indigenous populations and institutions, and the private sector; and (3) involve application of functional specialty skills that normally are the responsibility of civil government to enhance the conduct of civil-military operations. (JP 3-57, JUL08. FM 3-05.40, SEP06. FM 3-57 in development 2011). Core activity of ARSOF.

Counterproliferation (CP) of Weapons of Mass Destruction Actions taken to defeat the threat and/or use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, our forces, allies and partners. (JP 3-40, JUN09. FM 3-05.132, NOV09). Secondary core activity of ARSOF.

Information Operations (IO) Integrated employment of the core capabilities of electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception and operations security, in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision-making while protecting our own. (JP 3-13, FEB06. TC 18-06 in development in 2011). Secondary core activity of ARSOF.

Conventional Forces (CF) (1) Those forces capable of conducting operations using non-nuclear weapons. (2) Those forces other than designated special operations forces. (JP 3-05, DEC03).

Guerrilla Warfare (GW) Military and paramilitary operations conducted in enemy-held or hostile territory by irregular, predominantly indigenous forces. (JP 3-05.1, APR07). Not synonymous with unconventional warfare.

Insurgency The organized use of subversion and violence by a group or movement that seeks to overthrow or force change of a governing authority. Insurgency can also refer to the group itself. (JP 3-24, OCT09).

Special Forces (SF) U.S. Army forces organized, trained and equipped to conduct special operations, with an emphasis on unconventional-warfare capabilities. (JP 3-05, DEC03). SF and SOF are not synonymous: All (Army) SF are SOF, but not all (joint) SOF are (Army) SF.

Special Operations Forces (SOF) Those active- and reserve-component forces of the military services designated by the secretary of defense and specifically organized, trained and equipped to conduct and support special operations. (JP 3-05.1, APR07).

Terrorism The calculated use of unlawful violence or the threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies
in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious or ideological. (JP 3-07.2, APR06).

Traditional Warfare A form of warfare between the regulated militaries of states, or alliances of states, in which the objective is to defeat an adversary’s armed
forces, destroy an adversary’s war-making capacity, or seize or retain territory in order to force a change in an adversary’s government or policies. (DoDD 3000.07, DEC08).

Non-Doctrinal/Unofficial Terms and Theories (Avoid Use in Official Written and Spoken Discourse)

Asymmetric Warfare (AW) Opponents who cannot prevail against an enemy by using “symmetrical,” mirror-image force and procedures will avoid using them. Rather, they will seek to exploit enemy weaknesses in ways the enemy does not expect and which are difficult to protect against. This is not a new kind of warfare. Asymmetries between opponents, and the quest for asymmetric advantages against them, have been inherent in war since the dawn of man. However, terms such as “asymmetric threats,” “asymmetric approaches” or “asymmetric TTPs” can be useful descriptors in characterizing any given set of war phenomena, particulary in IW, UW, COIN and related topics. Be advised that a so-called Asymmetric Warfare Group exists to combat asymmetric threats.

Compound Warfare (CW) Varying mixes of conventional regular forces and irregular forces, used together under unified direction, provide a range of options to a clever commander. A statement of the obvious.

Conventional Warfare There is no such doctrinal term. The officially defined “traditional warfare” can be used instead, in most cases.

Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) (and derivative/similar concepts) Advocates of 4GW maintain that the world is in a new era, or “generation,” of warfare. The first generation was characterized by massed manpower, the second by firepower and the third by maneuver. 4GW proponents claim that the new generation is characterized by the use of all instruments of power — not only the military — to defeat the will of enemy decision-makers. 4GW is a pretentious, ahistorical and contrived theory based on an assailable model of generational definition, an assailable theory of generational evolution and an arbitrary nation-state start point that controls out most of human experience. It “discovers” insights already known. Unfortunately and counterproductively, 4GW enthusiasts have multiplied, and the 4GW model has been appended with more useless “new-found revelations.” A distinction is now made by some between G standing for generation and G standing for “gradient.” This so-called “XGW” dropped the 4GW basis in modernism and replaced it with a spectrum of power dispersion. The gradients are then fundamentally understood as: 0GW becomes “survival;” 1GW becomes “force projection;” 2GW becomes “counterforce;” 3GW remains manuever; 4GW becomes “counterperception;” and 5GW becomes “perception manipulation,” whereby the context of observation is changed so that the foe is manipulated into reacting on false assumptions. As if this weren’t enough, there are advocates for various so-called “6GW” theories. One continuation of this school claims 6GW is 5GW with an increased emphasis on the vulnerabilities of human biology and psychology. An entirely different 6GW theory — associated largely with Russian theorists — is based entirely on technological progress, whereby the sixth generation will highlight exploitation of advanced technology, obviating the need for large-casualty invasions and occupations. There are even at least two schools of “7GW.” One school is predicated on achieving the superlative application of the Boydian OODA loop. This school asserts that he who thinks faster and better will win, and this requires an imaginative fusion of any and all human disciplines. A different 7GW school is rooted in what might be characterized as reductio ad absurdum, or Eastern-style monism, where the source and destination of all conflict is rooted in the individual consciousness. All of the time devoted to this intellectual ferment would probably be better spent contemplating Sun Tzu. Not one of these ideas is approved for doctrine.

General Purpose Forces There is no such doctrinal term. Use the officially defined term “conventional forces” instead. Global Way of War Held up by advocates as a desired evolution from the perceived limitations of a traditional “Western way of war.” Holistic Warfare A broad, generic concept frequently used to connote using any and all ways and means available to prosecute warfare.

Hybrid Warfare The common thread among various theorists is the truism that some combination of two or more dissimilar elements produces a hybrid. Knowing this is said to have great explanatory value. It doesn’t, unless, perhaps, one is locked into a priori conceptual strait jackets on the limited combination of ends, ways and means. Nevertheless, the plain English usage of terms such as “hybrid threats” or “hybrid approaches” does provide useful descriptors, and tellingly, these phrases are used in senior policy and command documents. However, there is no new kind of warfare called hybrid warfare. Like the asymmetries in so-called asymmetric warfare, hybrids are inherent in everything, including all warfare.

Information Warfare A concept referring to the exploitation of information management to achieve comparative advantages over an opponent. It emphasizes
leveraging emerging technologies and psychological operations. Not synonymous with the doctrinal term “information operations.”

Legacy Warfare A vague term sometimes used loosely to connote a previous, less-relevant and fading convention of warfare.

Matrix Warfare Describes an environment in which war and peace, battlefield victory and notions of black or white no longer apply, and in which success or failure will be determined in a collection of gray-area results. Depictions of opponents’ organizations resemble business organization models that are deliberately non-hiearchical, are adaptive to their operating environments and have decentralized leadership adept at achieving efficiencies vs. more cumbersome competitors. A confluence of technology, economics and information has produced unprecedented empowerment relative to scale. Conceptually redundent with IW and other contemporary theories. Netwar A concept focused on the identification of social networks used by irregular-threat opponents. Not synonymous with NCW.

Network-centric warfare (NCW) A theory of organization and information management that seeks to translate an information advantage, enabled in part by information technology, into a competitive warfighting advantage. Friendly units would be networked together to achieve an OODA loop advantage. A common saying for enthusiasts is: “It takes a network to beat a network.”

Nonconventional Warfare A vague, simple and plain-English negation of “conventional warfare” that is used in academic discussions. It is not synonymous with unconventional warfare, which has a specific meaning. Avoid use of this term.OODA A theory that whoever is able to observe, orient, decide and act faster has a warfighting advantage. It is influential non-doctrine.

Partisan Warfare The use of irregular troops raised to resist foreign occupation of an area. Specific to World War II or before. JP 1-02 directs that the term not be used.

Post-Heroic Warfare This is one school of thought with two branches. The original branch argues that American policy should not be constrained by the need for “heroic-crusade” motivations to intervene in small-scale stability operations. The second branch is an effete academic argument that asserts that Western civilization has evolved beyond heroic rationales — i.e., for “fortune and glory” — for conducting warfare.

Unrestricted Warfare (URW) Unfortunately, this term is sometimes abbreviated “UW,” which is counterproductive because of avoidable confusion with the proper doctrinal abbreviation for unconventional warfare. URW refers to a Chinese Peoples’ Liberation Army monograph advocating the use of any and all
means to attack or subvert the United States specifically, while explicitly recognizing no rules that apply to an ascendant power. It is a relatively recent update of Chinese tradition, with a very specific international context and usage.

Whole-of-Government Approach (as it applies to warfare) Connotes the use of all instruments of government power together, in a (theoretically) coordinated manner. Similar to, but not synonymous with, the more broadly defined concept of “holistic warfare.”

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