The United States of America has the best military in the world, but how will they protect American citizens from the newest types of security threats that don’t require physical combat?
The term “fifth generation warfare” was first used in 2003, but since that time, it has been increasingly clear that this new type of warfare is a real threat that affects our daily lives.
These 5th-generation security threats move beyond technological advances that allow insurgents to attack mass groups (4th generation) to a battlefield of the mind.
According to Superesse, “Marine Lt. Col. Stanton Coerr claims, ‘The battlefield will be something strange – cyberspace, or the Cleveland water supply, or Wall Street's banking systems, or YouTube. The mission will be instilling fear, and it will succeed.’”
We’ve already seen multiple examples of 5th-generation security threats, and we have no doubt the U.S. military is doing all they can to prepare.
But what can the rest of us do to stay vigilant and prepared? That’s the question we are answering today.
The Different Generations of Warfare
To understand the new 5th-generation security threats, it’s important to understand the previous generations.
Superesse breaks the generations down as follows:
1st Generation: Relied on the line and column as the primary formation and the smoothbore musket and bayonet as its primary weapon. Uniforms to distinguish civilians from military became common and the focus on perfecting military drills meant that column maneuvers could move faster, increasing the fire rate in battles. 1st-Generation warfare was used in the Napoleonic Wars, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812.
2nd Generation: Still relied on linear fire, but with the genesis of maneuver emerging and the single-shot bolt-action rifle as the primary weapon. Lines of battle were still used, but the focus was more on smaller units that could maneuver faster and separately. Advancement in technology became prevalent with more advanced reconnaissance maneuvers, camouflage uniforms, and eventually radio communications. This played out in both the Civil War and WWI with brutal trench warfare and heavy artillery support.
3rd Generation: Used basic infiltration techniques to bypass enemy defenses as well as defense in-depth, with magazine-fed bolt-action rifles and machine guns as the primary weapons. A major change with 3rd-Generation warfare was overcoming technological disadvantage with strategy and moving faster with greater speed. The German invasion of France in WWII – with the use of tanks, mechanized infantry, and air support – first showed the power behind this new type of warfare as they quickly broke through linear defense lines and took the rear.
4th Generation: Modern insurgency and counterinsurgency, which features states facing off against evolved, technologically sophisticated insurgents who use terrorist attacks to strike directly at the vulnerable points of modern nations. The use of advanced ballistic computer-driven assaults are common. With 4th-Generation warfare, the lines between combatants and civilians and politics and war are blurred. Another component is the use of psychological warfare through manipulation of the media and legal systems. We saw this with Al Queda terror attacks on the USS Cole, the World Trade Center, and in the embassy bombings, as well as with ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
5th Generation: Move from bombs and traditional battlefields to an attack on our minds through the strategic use of information and propoganda. Attacks are typically carried out by an unknown enemy, and, often the victims don’t know what’s happened until the damage is done.
6th Generation: Hate to break it to you folks, but this is already evolving along with 5th-Generation threats. While the focus of this article is 5th Generation, it’s worth mentioning this new threat. According to The Nation, “In a new form of compellence, technology, political economy, war by remote, stand-off strikes, cyber warfare, malware, spywares, firewalls, backdoors and sanctions will play a major role.” The U.S. successfully did this with post-Cold War Pakistan. Russia tested it in Syria.
What Makes 5th-Generation Threats Different
After looking at previous generations of warfare, it is easy to chart history and see an evolution.
However, the key difference between the 5th-generation and the previous ones is that it focuses on a cognitive battle through propaganda and information attacks.
Superesse explains, “It's carried out by unknown actors for unknown reasons. Even if the core enemy is identified, the victim nation will not be able to understand the purpose or end goal.”
As a result, victims do not even realize they are under attack until they have already been harmed.
While Russia was the first to start using 5th-generation security threats, China has also begun using similar tactics.
Over the Horizon explains, “Both hold that informationized warfare can achieve success at low cost in blood or treasure. […] They both seek to avoid force-on-force wars. Chinese thinkers suggest focusing their efforts on attacking key sensing and information grid nodes with Russian thinkers stressing assaulting the command grid – for them people’s minds are the real battlefield.”
Understanding the Goal of 5th-Generation
When we think of terrorism, we tend to think of a terrorist or terrorist group taking as many lives as possible.
5th-generation security threats have a different goal in mind – to control information and use that information to destroy their opposition from the inside out.
Army University Press explains, “IW [information warfare], as the decisive form of maneuver, targets an adversary’s vulnerabilities and center of gravity, with lethal operations executed to produce an information effect rather than delivering a lethal effect. In this way, the roles of the two domains have been reversed. Rather than a supporting operation, information campaigns have become the supported operation.”
Information campaigns, such as spreading propaganda via trolls or bots, become dangerous weapons.
Army University Press continues, “IW [information warfare] can create or leverage local military and political support, discredit leadership, slow decision-making, nurture dissent, shape public opinion, foster or manipulate local sources of instability, and mobilize local populations against foreign forces; all of these minimize the likelihood of lethal engagements or improve their likelihood of success.”
Unfortunately, Russia has already taken advantage of 5th-generation attacks to challenge national elections, such as in Estonia.
As a result of the 5th-generation chaos Russia caused in Estonia, the United States deployed the 2nd Cavalry Regiment (2CR) to Estonia in 2015.
Here are just a few things they faced when they arrived (reported by Army University Press):
- “Several videos, purportedly showing the sexual assault of several underage German nationals by U.S. personnel, surfaced on social media.”
- “During 2CR’s road march, there were electronic warfare attacks on its communication network that limited its soldiers’ abilities to communicate among themselves and with local security forces.”
- “The day after 2CR arrived, an unidentified, unmanned aerial vehicle was spotted overflying the 2CR base. Shortly afterward, soldiers’ cell phones were unable to access the local cellular network, and they began receiving text messages telling them to leave the area to prevent their ‘destruction.’”
- “Before 2CR reached its cantonment area, the enemy had executed multi-domain operations that established information dominance, created local and international opposition to its presence, limited its ability to communicate with the local government or its formations, fostered civil unrest, and controlled key infrastructure.”
Other Security Threats to Keep on Your Radar
We’ve discussed 5th-generation security threats on the battlefield, but it is important to recognize that, because of the ultimate goal of 5th generation security threats, WE WILL ALL HAVE TO BATTLE THEM AT SOME POINT.
Some of us already have.
Whenever you fall victim to propaganda (no matter if you lean right or left), you possibly have played into an enemy’s plan.
The Marshall Center explains, “Modern propaganda has evolved into an exquisite and serious weapon that represents a new national security threat. It will likely become the weapon of choice for the shaping phases of statecraft and the preparation of the battlefield. Pre-conflict cyber warfare will be weighted toward new propaganda methods to create disharmony and influence opinion well before the public realizes anything is amiss.”
In addition, the ability of cybercriminals to steal sensitive information is an ongoing battle. Places that hold some of our most sensitive information, such as hospitals and banks, have been attacked.
How to Prepare for 5th-Generation Security Threats
The primary goal of 5th-Generation threats is to create chaos and panic – the ultimate enemy of those who prepare. The best way to prepare is to recognize that it is real, that it is happening, and that preparation is the ultimate tool to prevent it.
- Practice propaganda awareness: Recognize propaganda for what it is. Fact check everything. Consider the effect – what does the message hope to gain from readers and viewers?
Stay vigilant, friends.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply