"Irregular" elements in regular warfare

There's a lot of buzz recently about "hybrid war" (a new buzzword) and about regular armies employing "irregular" tactics and such.
David Betz's text at KoW is such an example.

Honestly, it freaks me out that people with a serious interest in military affairs, often with decades of military service background and even people in military academia can discuss this as new, as a development or as a discovery.

I begin to doubt their qualification.
It needs almost a deliberate ignorance towards much of military history to see anything newsworthy in "irregular" tactics used by "regular" forces (or the other way around). It's quite appalling that this isn't recognized as a normal circumstance of war. Maybe the "Fulda Gap" tunnel vision is still powerful, limiting the understanding of conventional war.

Let's look at examples from history:

Austria-Hungary's border protection against the Ottomans rested on tax-exempt farmers who defended themselves and their region as border militia, clearly an irregular force in service of a state at their time.

The Soviet Union's Red Army often infiltrated German lines with infantry platoons to harass and raid or observe behind enemy lines (WW2). Bypassed army units who were left behind often joined partisan units and partisan units were supplied by air in the same war.

North Vietnam's army fought the Vietnam War mostly as an infantry force employing late guerilla war stage tactics.

Look at a map of the "fronts" of the Sino-Japanese War in the late thirties and WW2 - there were no fronts. The Japanese held pockets and lines of communication, with "irregular" combat everywhere. The Japanese Army had little artillery and tank support, by the way - a few infantry guns were usually all relevant indirect fire support, it was a war of small infantry units vs. small infantry units.

"Letter of marque" - even the greatest naval powers used quasi-pirates to hunt down enemy shipping in 16th to 19th centuries.

The North Koreans and Chinese used infiltration tactics and often had units and sub-units behind enemy lines to disrupt enemy support and cohesion (Korean War, especially during the mobile phases).

Ottoman and Russian light cavalry in 16th to 19th centuries were not much different from the marauding mounted militias that raid villages in Darfur (another obvious employment of irregular forces by a state).

The French Army got busted in 1870 at Sedan, but the French raised many armed citizens later, many of which fought rather irregularly.

Uprisings in ancient and medieval China as well as in the Roman empire and other empires formed armies of irregulars that were less organized, but "regular" armies according to the standards of their time.

The Lebanon War 2006 (irregulars who were treated as terrorists using a conventional, almost fixed ground defense network almost reminiscent of the Soviet positions at Kursk) wasn't so much different to the First Chechen War a decade earlier when a militia faced and ruined armoured regiments.

Most commando actions in WW2, taking prisoners for interrogation, use of covert human intelligence, raiding, deception by using false markings/call signs/uniforms, use of captured equipment - many activities of "regular" forces in conventional war can be perceived as typical "irregular" activities.

Even unrestricted submarine warfare in the First World War was perceived as irregular at its time!

Hostages were a common method to ensure loyalty of moderately motivated allies for thousands of years and all over the world.

Austria's defence strategy of about 1968-1990 included the use of many infantry units scattered over the country, staying in place to deny control and efficient use of roads. This was pretty much a guerilla strategy for World War 3!

Do I need to cite the use of mercenaries?

In other words:
Congratulations to those who finally woke up from their long sleep and now see that conventional war is complex and multi-faceted, not simple force on force as it was trained in the NATO and the Warsaw Pact for decades.
Those who want to learn about warfare should look at the military history of all nations and all times, not just learn what their own military teaches them and take that as the holy truth.

The face of war didn't change much and we can learn almost nothing by reading analyses and theories about some regular/irregular mix.
Instead, we can learn a lot about those who discuss this stuff; most of them seem to have almost no clue about how warfare looked in the past and simply lack the military history background knowledge to discuss warfare properly.

The quality of military theory in our time is really saddening, and promises a terrible start into the next few major wars, we are probably even less prepared for major war than we were during the summer of 1914.

P.S.: No offence to KoW intended, I took the KoW blog merely as an example.

edit 2009-05-27:
"Hybrid" has already morphed quite a bit. The last examples that I saw looked a lot as if "Hybrid" is the replacement buzzword for "full spectrum", meaning that the Army should trained and equipped to fight both conventional and occupation wars.
I already saw such examples back when I wrote this blog post, but the emphasis at that time was much more often on "Hybrid enemies", outward-looking. Well, this turned into a budgeting buzzword.
Let's say it more blunt: They want the conventional war toys AND the "COIN" toys.


  1. An absolutely brilliant post. Excellent work. The term hybrid war is an invention to characterize nothing really new. As you've pointed out, military history is full of irregulars, regardless of historical epoch.

  2. The term "Hybrid war" is already expanding. Some read it as "irregulars using regular methods", others as "regulars using irregular methods" and finally some simply use it as a replacement for the "full spectrum" buzzword of the 90's.

  3. "I begin to doubt their qualification."

    Then perhaps you could list your qualifications, so readers can judge for themselves who knows what they are talking about?

  4. I have no intent to attack specific persons.

    My intent was rather to point out that some assertions don't hold water.
    I want to vaccinate readers against the assertion that the mix of regular/irregular is new or a trend.

    Everybody needs to decide how much he respects specific experts on his own.

  5. Get 'em, Sven!

    This is a great post. I think you've stumbled on the old phenonema where if an alleged expert sees something he had not seen before, it is therefore "new" and he gets credit for developing a paper on it. Additional research and agressive peer-reviews not required.