News By Country What do we know about Fifth Generation Warfare?

What do we know about Fifth Generation Warfare?


Centuries ago, in the Eastern Zhou, one of the most integral works of warfare were being inked down. A known minister and a general himself, his philosophy of military strategy was well beyond time. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War has become a manual for war, consulted by warfare geeks and militaries alike. As Pakistan was stuck in its own security dilemmas and remained engaged much in the conventional art of war, others were developing on Tzu’s decoded tactics of combat. Come rather late, fifth generation and hybrid warfare have become the buzzwords of the town.

Some confuse the concepts while many view it as an attempt by the establishment to silence voices of dissent. But the phenomena is neither an attempt meant to counter differing opinions nor a conspiracy theory. The four generations of warfare are well-developed concepts with thorough literature on the subjects. Fifth generation warfare is a grey area among the generations of war, as undefined as it may sound, it still varies from the other evolved concept of war termed as hybrid war. The terms are often used interchangeably despite having traits that make them inimitable.

As important as it for the military of a country to have clarity on the subjects, the same stands validated for those who are keen in following them out of interest. In the Handbook of Fifth Generation Warfare, the authors state different interpretations of the concept with one common feature among all. To simply put – the term fifth generation warfare has more to do with the technological advancement (kinetic aspect) of Warcraft. Any purchase or production that gives a technical (technological) superiority to a state in its military (weaponry) capabilities comes under the category of the fifth generation.

India’s procurement of the advanced Russian made S-400 is an advancement in its fifth generation warfare capability. In response to deter the threat posed by the S-400, Pakistan’s recent Nasr has levelled the equation to an extent. The fifth generation imposes the idea of using tools of war that cause maximum damage to the opposition but excludes the usage of nuclear weapons.

Not many countries in the world possess nuclear weapons, but the arms race around the globe has not gone down the graph. Many states continue to develop technology that upgrades their weapons. Fifth generation warfare surpasses the notion of conventional warfare in terms of technology implied in the battlefield and relates more to what Edward Luttwak called the “technical dimension of strategy”.

The thin line between the fifth generation and hybrid warfare pertains to the extent of the technical and strategic placement of the tools being used for the war. In the case of hybrid war (a term often used in the military lexicon), irregular methods are incorporated to keep the enemy engaged while having no visible boots on the ground. The means include the non-kinetic tools of conflict (political, economic, information or biological) by the state or the non-state actors, which may or may not be combined with conventional tools of war.

Nuclear weapons deter the probable conflict.  Production or purchase of advanced weapons (missile systems, submarines, air defence etc.) gives more options of a direct war. Hybrid war may completely destroy or weaken the position of the state to respond to any threat being opposed and may continue over a span of years.

In the context of Pakistan and India – where the grey area of a fifth generation and hybrid warfare sits perfectly as the concepts themselves; both the countries are developing on the fronts where the ultimate win would be too fogged to recognize. The arms race in the region is likely to continue in a tit for tat manner but so will the evolution of warfare.  

But does this vindicate the casual use of the terms to forge a certain narrative and disregard the actual literature present on the subject?  Pakistan’s move from conventional warfare to understanding the non-conventional war has caused some setbacks in securing its long term security and strategic goals.  

Successful missiles tests like that of Nasr is an evident development in the fifth generation warfare capability of Pakistan where an indigenous system costs much lesser than the non-indigenous system.

In an environment where the evolution of war has crossed imaginable thresholds and where the militaries are rapidly adapting to the challenges, it is imperative to identify and address the elements that can cause a state to lag behind. 

Pakistan is no exception. If the military does not take the measures necessary, it may lose its significance in the region to India, despite having nuclear weapons. This is what the hybrid warfare is simply about.

Since the relationship between Pakistan and India remains strained – the nature of the war between them has only changed from one to the other. To conclude, in the words of the German General Franz Uhle-Wettler “At an earlier time, a commander could be certain that a future war would resemble past and present ones. This enabled him to analyze appropriate tactics from past and present. The troop commander of today no longer has this possibility. He knows only that whoever fails to adapt the experiences of the last war will surely lose the next one.”


Aisha Saeed is an independent analyst on media and foreign policy. She tweets @MsAishaK.

Aisha Saeed
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