Hybrid warfare, as the name suggests, is a combination of different forms of warfare such as irregular warfare, conventional warfare, cyber warfare, information warfare, biological/chemical warfare, subversive warfare etc. Hybrid warfare is different from conventional warfare which envisages a decisive battle on land and/or sea and/or air. The attack could be on one front or on all three fronts. The complexity involved in such types of warfare, makes hybrid warfare very potent and extremely dangerous.
Nature of hybrid warfare
Hybrid warfare is characterised by secretive activities that are conducted below the radar. Generally, one realises that one is a target of hybrid warfare, either when the war has been won or it ends or when it has been underway for quite a while. It is very difficult for the target to pinpoint when exactly the campaign against it began because peace still prevails, and the conflict foments slowly over time. This gives the perpetrator of hybrid warfare enough cover to deny having engaged in any such activities.
Hybrid warfare generally employs a mixture of propaganda activities, exercising influence, use of proxies, deployment of Special Forces or covert operatives, provocation etc. It focuses on the population of the country it is targeting instead of the establishment or the government. It sows the seeds for a conflict by polarizing the society of the target country. Its aim is to destabilise the government and the governance mechanism.
Challenges associated with hybrid warfare
In hybrid warfare, it is very difficult and even impossible to assign responsibility and held the perpetrating nation accountable. Because all the actions are clandestine, it is hard to provide evidence of such activities. Thus, the country spearheading the hybrid warfare escapes retribution due to the easy deniability.
Even when the country accountable for the hybrid warfare is singled out, it is very difficult to formulate a coherent response to such an attack. In many instances, since conventional modes of warfare are not deployed, the target country may not have a valid cause of action to retaliate. Also, rapid and innovative responses are required to curb hybrid warfare while it is in operation. Not many countries or agencies are equipped to deal with. Since even determining and establishing let alone agreeing on the source of the conflict are difficult, it is difficult to form an alliance to combat a threat that employs hybrid warfare.
Additionally, since a lot of hybrid warfare techniques are non-violent in nature, it raises questions as to how the target country should retaliate, whether force should be used, and what would constitute a proportional response.
Since hybrid warfare heavily relies on soft power, only the hard power of a state is insufficient to combat the threat. Simply deploying the military will not wipe out the threat, because a lot of the attacks are done on the basis of indoctrination, on ideological issues, through propaganda etc.
Extensive Defence planning combined with a flexible policy that enables the authorities to deal with real-time threats as they see fit, is required if one even hopes to combat a hybrid warfare threat.
Instances of hybrid warfare
The cyberworld has become an arena where hybrid warfare is being played out between different nations. The multiple cyber attacks, over which nations have traded allegations, is the new front where nations are engaging each other in virtual battles.
The annexation of Crimea by Russia, and the situation in East Ukraine is seen as an instance of Russia engaging in hybrid warfare. Russia deployed its special forces, while publicly denying it, and conducted campaigns revolving around propaganda while also engaging in electronic and cyber warfare.
The 2006 Lebanon War also saw Hezbollah actively engage in hybrid warfare against the Israeli forces.