Is Fifth Generation Warfare upon us, already?

Is Fifth Generation Warfare upon us, already?

By Faraz Chandio
Published on 21-05-2023
War has been an enduring aspect of human civilization, showcasing how what we painstakingly construct with care and dedication over decades can be swiftly demolished in a matter of days through aggression, looting, harm, and fire. A tale as old as time, even recounted in stories like that of Adam’s two sons, where the first Earth-born took the life of the second Earth-born, highlighting that violence seems to be an inherent trait of humanity.

At the heart of every conflict lies the underlying desire for “control and dominance.” This common objective is pursued through a consistent strategy of “war by all means.” Despite this common thread, there’s a tendency to simplify and categorize war into various types, a natural human instinct. This inclination led to the formulation of the concept of the Four Generations of Warfare by William Lind in 1989. This framework is built upon the progression of technology and its role in advancing the capabilities of war machinery. The “generations” delineate how the fundamental intentions of war persist while the nature of warfare evolves dramatically in terms of technology and tactics.

Lind’s categorization places the initial three generations of warfare ranging from the use of 15th-century “smoothbore muskets” to firearms, machine-operated artillery, and evolving tactics like Blitzkrieg. The Fourth Generation Warfare is linked to insurgencies, proxy conflicts fueled by supporting these insurgencies, and acts of terrorism. Subsequently, the concept of the 5GW emerged, describing a technologically advanced form of warfare involving precision weaponry and interconnectedness across the battlefield.

The deployment of nuclear weapons at the conclusion of World War II in Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be seen as a turning point that curtailed conventional warfare. With multiple powers attaining nuclear capabilities, direct state-to-state conflicts became less likely, and opponents of the Cold War era increasingly engaged in proxy wars. For example, the Second Congo War of 1998, also known as the African World War, involved various African states and external powers such as the US, Russia, China, and Israel. Although these external powers didn’t deploy troops on Congolese soil, they supplied weaponry to various factions, prolonging a conflict that resulted in the loss of 5.4 million lives and the displacement of an additional two million individuals over five years. The subsequent Kivu and Ituri conflicts have transformed these regions into continuous war zones.

The underlying motivation for this conflict was the control of the country’s valuable mineral resources. The proxies’ grasp on mineral-rich territories and their permission for external entities to exploit these resources turned the DR Congo into a tax-free haven with the most cost-effective bids. Consequently, those supplying weaponry found the perpetuation of conflict to be a desirable status quo, while the proxies’ ability to intimidate the population and undermine state authority enabled them to reap substantial gains from the DR Congo. This confluence of proxies and terror continues to persist.

Another perspective is that 4GW eroded the sovereignty of nation-states by permitting external intervention. It also undermined state authority by inciting widespread dissent, as government forces were forced to combat their own citizens. Sovereignty further eroded due to control and infiltration of the target state’s media. Additionally, to address the shortcomings of insurgent fighters, highly-trained and improvisational special operation forces were introduced to eliminate or sabotage targets. If these developments can be labeled as 4GW, then what exactly is 5GW?

With the remarkable technological progress of our time, 4GW is gradually evolving into 5GW. Satellites, precision munitions, robotics, and drones are reshaping the battlefield into a realm where physical contact is no longer necessary for those wielding superior technology. Australian Air Force Officer Peter Layton characterizes 5G Air Warfare as a network-centric endeavor, with various network grids collecting and disseminating information. This creates a “big picture” of real-time data, divided into different domains of land, sea, and air, and implemented through fusion warfare that utilizes analytics to amalgamate data from diverse sensors into a unified, actionable overview for decision-makers at the theater level.

Proponents of 5GW, particularly in the US, envision a scenario where technologically advanced countries like the US wield unparalleled control over information through precision satellites, data analysis, and command networking. They project that these countries will dominate future battlefields with a formidable array of air and sea unmanned maritime vehicles (UMVs), fifth-generation aircraft, and highly-trained special forces units akin to assassins. 5GW will not neglect information warfare; rather, it will emphasize data manipulation to manipulate target societies and create conditions that pressure politicians.

This brand of 5GW coercion will span various domains. On one front, institutionalized cyber hackers will possess the capability to disrupt or corrupt enemy computer networks. On another front, enemy satellites might be targeted, effectively blinding opponents’ remote sensing and navigation capabilities. This could disrupt economic ties with the global economy and isolate the government from international networks. Concurrently, swarms of UMVs will neutralize the limited military capacities of developing world adversaries, while special forces will eliminate significant targets. In Thomas Hammes’ words, 5GW aims to “convince the enemy’s political decision-makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit,” rendering the state incapacitated and unable to respond.

However, achieving such an intricate balance of precision, agility, and firepower – a pursuit pursued by major players like the US, China, and Russia – is both resource-intensive and time-consuming. Years may pass before these powerful nations enter this sci-fi realm of absolute dominance, where they can potentially exercise control over humanity from their remote and privileged positions. Consequently, as 5G “nets-and-jets” capabilities continue their evolution, 4GW will continue to persist, integrating 5G technologies as they emerge, ensuring that the reality of “war by all means” remains a fluid and ever-changing phenomenon.

Already, the hybrid nature of warfare combines conventional, proxy, and cyber elements. It employs tactics such as disseminating fake news, utilizing social media, diplomacy, imposing sanctions, and interfering in foreign elections, among others. As 5GW approaches more rapidly than anticipated, ready to exercise control from above, 4GW persists, corroding societies from below.

The writer is an author and Journalist
Twitter: farazchandio1

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