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The American Spark
Americans Must Understand Irregular Warfare To Defeat It -
Pentagon Report

By Cliff Montgomery - Oct. 8th, 2007

That America must understand irregular warfare was the subject of an August 2007 Air Force Doctrine

We quote from the timely report below:

"The United States’ overwhelming dominance in recent conventional wars has made it highly unlikely that most
adversaries will choose to fight the US in a traditional, conventional manner. Thus, for relatively weaker powers
(including non-state entities) irregular warfare (IW) has become an attractive, if not more necessary, option.

"IW presents different challenges to our military and to the Air Force. This document highlights Air Force
capabilities and outlines how they should be employed. It will also increase Airmen’s understanding of the
different nature inherent in IW.

"The Air Force’s ability to operate in the air, space, and cyberspace domains provides our fighting forces with a
highly asymmetric advantage over IW adversaries. Command of the air prevents adversaries from conducting
sustained operations in this domain while allowing US and coalition forces to exploit numerous advantages.

"While our IW adversaries have their own asymmetric capabilities such as suicide bombers, improvised
explosive devices (IEDs), and the cover of civilian populations, they lack and cannot effectively offset
unfettered access to the high ground that superiority in air, space, and cyberspace provides.

"Exploiting altitude, speed, and range, airborne platforms can create effects without the impediments to
movement that terrain imposes on ground forces.

"The unique perspective that Airmen bring to a conflict is as relevant in IW as in past traditional conflicts.
Innovation and adaptation are hallmarks of airpower. Innovative, forward-thinking Airmen must continue to
adapt tactics, techniques, procedures, and equipment to counter a thinking, adaptive enemy.

"US airpower in its myriad forms is capable of operating simultaneously in multiple theaters, producing
invaluable combat and enabling effects across a wide spectrum of operations.

"When properly integrated, Air Force capabilities have been—and will continue to be—integral to the success
of US military power.


"The US has struggled to understand the threats posed by what has been referred to at various times as IW,
low-intensity conflict, insurgency, small wars, and indirect aggression.

"For the purpose of this document, IW is defined as a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for
legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations. IW favors indirect and asymmetric approaches, though
it may employ the full range of military and other capabilities in order to erode an adversary's power, influence,
and will.

"Rather than seeking to impose societal change from the outside by a decisive defeat of the population’s
military and security forces, proponents of IW seek a change from within by de-legitimizing the institutions and
ideologies of the targeted state, and eventually winning the support of the population (or at least
acquiescence) for their cause.

"However, because IW is a complex and nuanced type of warfare, it does not lend itself easily to a concise
universal definition.

"IW is not a new concept; organizations have clashed for political control for thousands of years. Today,
changes in the international environment due to rapid global communications, near instantaneous 24-hour
world news coverage, increasingly interdependent global commerce, and the proliferation of technologies and
weapons of mass destruction/disruption make ensuring US security more of a challenge.

"Air Force forces play an important role in IW, but just as with more traditional  operations, their most effective
employment requires careful study of the environment and appreciation for the unique characteristics of the

"The following definitions highlight some key differences between IW and traditional warfare, and conventional
and unconventional warfare. Understanding these differences allows Airmen to have a common frame of
reference when discussing these types of warfare:

  • Traditional warfare—A confrontation between nation-states or coalitions/alliances of nation-states. This
    confrontation typically involves force-on-force military operations in which adversaries employ a variety of
    conventional military capabilities against each other in the air, land, maritime, space, and cyberspace

        The objective may be to convince or coerce key military or political decision makers, defeat an
        adversary’s armed forces, destroy an adversary’s war-making capacity, or seize or retain territory in
        order to force a change in an adversary's government or policies.

  • Irregular warfare—A violent struggle among state and non-state actors for  legitimacy and influence over
    the relevant populations.

  • Conventional warfare—A broad spectrum of military operations conducted against an adversary by
    traditional military or other government security forces that do not include chemical, biological,
    radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) weapons.

  • Unconventional warfare (UW)—A broad spectrum of military and paramilitary operations, normally of long
    duration, predominantly conducted through, with, or by indigenous or surrogate forces who are
    organized, trained, equipped, supported, and directed in varying degrees by an external source.

        It includes, but is not limited to, guerrilla warfare, subversion, sabotage, intelligence activities, and
        unconventional assisted recovery."

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