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When in the Gray Zone with Vladamir Putin in Ukraine, DoD and IC Hybrid Warfare Innovation Will Prove Vital

Source:  A Conversation with The Honorable Michael Vickers on Modernizing Intelligence for the Gray Zone

While Europe and Russia may appear to be on the brink of conventional warfare, we are really in a gray zone of Putin’s design.  If you are tracking the events in Europe with an eye towards your organization’s geopolitical risk in the region (impact on strategic partnerships, employee safety, etc), the following post provides the most up to date prism through which you should be looking at the developments between NATO and Russia: Hybrid Warfare, aka Gray-zone tactics and conflict.

Frank Hoffman, a professor at the National Defense University, defines hybrid warfare as “transcending traditional notions of one military confronting another by incorporating conventional and unconventional forces, information warfare such as propaganda, as well as economic measures to undermine an enemy.”[v] Gray-zone tactics are best exemplified by the recent Chinese activities in the South China Sea – and Russia in Ukraine.  There is an argument that in as much as totalitarian states have started to formally collaborate to achieve autocratic network effects globally (as Anne Appelbaum argues in her recent article in The Atlantic “Autocracy Is Winning“), Ukraine is a Russian beta-test, a “minimum viable product” extension of their Gray-zone tactics in the American Election of  2016 and the annexation of Crimea, all of which ports over to ongoing Chinese activities vis a vis the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.  Hungary too will apply some of the learnings.

Valery Gerasimov provided the template. No one ever said that Gerasimov Doctrine would not become a Russian export.  It is  – and is central to what Prof. Hoffman defines as Hybrid Warfare, of which cyberwar is an integral part.  We do not want to sound the least bit cynical or reductive about the current situation in Ukraine, but the following resources are designed as a ‘Viewers Guide’ to the unfolding events, to assist our membership in breaking through the anachronistic mainstream media news coverage with the application of a clear Hybrid Warfare/Gray-zone lens  – through which to more accurately sort out the implications of the current events.

We also return to DoD efforts to spark innovation in the development tools for Hybrid Warfare for which they seek private sector input.  We are all soul searching about how to be a part of the solution to the myriad of challenges we face as individuals and businesses in this current climate.  Hybrid Warfare solutions are an area of just this kind of solutions-driven opportunity.

Previous OODA Loop Coverage of Gray-zone tactics

We have provided analysis of Gray-zone developments in the past few years, including in 2018, when we reported on  DARPA’s efforts to use artificial intelligence to help commanders in ‘gray zone’ conflicts and the recommendation that same year from a panel of experts that the U.S. Needs Non-Military Options to Handle ‘Gray Zone’ Warfare from Russia, China, Iran.

Detect and Understand: Modernizing Intelligence for the Gray Zone

The video above, A Conversation with The Honorable Michael Vickers on Modernizing Intelligence for the Gray Zone, was an event as part of the release of CSIS’ most update to date thinking on Gray-zone conflicts and what the IC needs to do to reform and modernize for the challenge. In the new policy brief, entitled Detect and Understand: Modernizing Intelligence for the Gray Zone, the authors build on the working definition proffered by Prof. Hoffman:

“Informed by previous works, this brief defines the gray zone as the contested space that lies between routine statecraft and conventional warfare.  Importantly, gray zone strategies have two interconnected characteristics: (1) they are intended to shift the balance of power in the aggressor’s favor, and (2) they are designed to pursue this goal by avoiding, blurring, or circumventing redlines and escalation to conventional warfare. One of the most significant research challenges during this project was the problem of discerning between routine interstate security competition and the subset of competitive activities that comprise the low end of gray zone activity.”

“Ultimately, this study found that, from an intelligence perspective, there is little utility in differentiating between the concepts of “strategic competition” and the “gray zone.” While the gray zone may carry continued importance in broader efforts to assess interstate behavior across the peace-war continuum, intelligence efforts to detect early signs of malign behavior will need to extend into the arena of routine statecraft, since diplomatic, economic, commercial, or other tools are often components of an actor’s broader gray zone strategy.”

Department of Defense (DoD) Hybrid Warfare/Gray-zone Tactics:  Transformation and Innovation

In August, we took a look at Hybrid Warfare from the perspective of Great Power Competition, the strategic transformation at DoD and a breakdown of organizational and technological innovation currently underway at the Pentagon.  See OODA Loop – What the C-Suite needs to know about a Return to “Great Power Competition” and DoD Capabilities (per the Congressional Research Service).

We encourage OODA Loop members to analyze hybrid warfare and gray-zone tactics and provide innovative solutions based on the following assessment of your company’s capabilities and core competencies:

  • Does your company offer influence campaign awareness and sense-making, disinformation research, ransomware detection, behavioral analysis, and advanced threat analytics using machine learning, decision analysis, high-frequency trading risk mitigation, geospatial data and analytics, geospatial situational awareness datasets (mobile, satellite), forensic accounting, or bitcoin and blockchain innovation?
  • Does your company provide products, services, solutions, or platforms that answer questions about geopolitical events, demographics, and/or national security using proprietary sources of data and artificial intelligence? If so, do your solutions mitigate the risk of any of the specific threats created by hybrid warfare and gray-zone military tactical context?

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Daniel Pereira

Daniel Pereira

Daniel Pereira is research director at OODA. He is a foresight strategist, creative technologist, and an information communication technology (ICT) and digital media researcher with 20+ years of experience directing public/private partnerships and strategic innovation initiatives.