Tag Archives: 3gw

Defenses against 4GW: What xGW Theory Says

Fabius Maximus has an interesting post on militias, the irregular forces that can be important to winning wars. Fabius’ post is well written, but I think his adherence to GMW (the Generations of Modern War perspective put out by William Lind and others) limits his analysis. From his conclusion:

Militia – the ultimate defense against 4GW « Fabius Maximus

The rise of mercenaries and militias both foreshadow, in their own ways, the dominance of 4GW. Both are dramatic evolutions in military affairs, and also represent a shift of power from the center to the periphery of our society. Both potentially valuable to America. Both potentially dangerous to America. How we adapt to these developments determine not just how militia (and mercenaries) serve America, but what American becomes in the future.

xGW is a more useful theory than GMW, and explains the generations (better called “gradients“) of war in terms of the dispersal of kinetic violence through society. Each gradient disperses kinetic violence through the society more than the gradient before it, so that 4GW is more dispersed than 3GW, and so on. This allows each “higher” Gradient of War to be won with fewer armed troops than the one below it.

Therefore, defenses against 4GW may be

  • An “asymmetrical” response, in which a large number of 3GW blitzkrieger-forces battle a smaller number of 4GW-style enemies
  • A “symmetrical” response, in which 4GW-style militias battle 4GW-style enemies
  • An “asymmetrical” response, in which a smaller number of 5GW manipulators battle a larger number of 4GW-style enemies

There is no best way, without considering what costs the society defending itself against 4GW is willing to bare. An asymmetrical 3GW response has the benefit of requiring less training and less trust, though at the cost of more manpower. The asymmetrical 5Gw response reverses these costs and benefits. And the 4GW response is the focus of Fabius’ post.

The Generations of War without the Jargon

Since the emergence of the modern warfare, four “generations of warfare” have been identified. The first generation, or 1GW, emphasizes concentration-of-soldiers. The most famous 1GW was the Napoleonic Wars, where the commander who could throw the most soldiers at the decisive point would in the war. The second generation, or 2GW, emphasizes concentration-of-force. The most famous 2GW was the western front of World War I, where the force that could concentrate the most artillery and explosive power at one point could win the day. Both 1GW and 2GW are made possible by reducing your fog of war, so that you know where your soldiers (1GW) or artillery (2GW) should go.

The third generation, or 3GW, emphasizes maneuver. The most famous 3GW was the German Blitz against France in 1940, where the force that could break through and carry the commander’s intent would win the day. The fourth generation, or 4GW, emphasis networks. The most famous 4GW were the Communist insurgencies in Asia, where the force that could alienate the population from the other side through unconventional means would prevail in the end. Both 3GW and 4GW are made possible by maximizing your enemy’s fog of war, so he is unable to properly command his troops (3GW) or rely on his population (4GW).

The fifth generation of modern warfare, or 5GW, is more speculative. It is assumed that as each generation of modern warfare “goes deeper” into the enemy’s social thinking (from where he concentrates soldiers, to where he prepares for an artillery barrage, to how he springs back from a blitz that seems to come from everywhere, to what he does when faced with insurgents who kill the tax collector), 5GW will go deeper yet. As each higher generation of war looks less like “traditional” war than the generation before it, it has been argued that 5GW will not even appear to be a “war” at all…

Orientation and Action, Introduction: On War Since John Boyd

Patterns of Conflict,” by John Boyd, edited by Chuck Spinney and Chet Edwards, Defense in the National Interest, Boyd’s last edition, December 1986, PowerPoint edition, 27 February 2005, http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/05/23/john_r_boyd_s_patterns_of_conflict_brief.html.
Unto the Fifth Generation of War,” by Mark Safranski, ZenPundit, 17 July 2005, http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2005/07/unto-fifth-generation-of-war.html.

The Generations of War in the Context of the OODA Loop

Whether you view reality as land, or as a sea, or even a mystical body, one thing is clear: you exist with it.

More specifically, you can effect the world and the world can effect you. Action flows from you to the world, and information flows from the world to you. Whether you kick a rock, pet a dog, or eat a snack, the your flow of action and the world’s flow of information make life what it is.

This is true no matter what you are. If you are a fighter, process remains the same. The fighter acts on the world, and the world blowbacks to the fighter. Blowback is the residue — the only thing that remains — of the fighter’s action after the action. A happy and lucky fighter gets easy and pleasant blowback. Fighters to choose poorly have less pleasant experiences.

The above three charts show the individual and the world as entities, and the lines are their relations. The graphics are called Entity-Relation, or E-R diagrams, and are commonly used to understand databases.

Another way to look at things is with flowcharts. Let’s take a look at the same fighter / world system, but with flowcharts. Here, a process called “fighting” effects a direct access storage device called the “world.”

Remember, this is exactly the same thing as before:

But what is this fighting? What sub-processes make up this process called “fighting”? Or for that matter, what sub-processes make up the process we called “being human”?

Air Force Colonel John Boyd invented something he called a “decision loop,” made up of four sub-processes called “observing,” “orienting,” “deciding,” and “acting.” While his original graphic was rather ugly, we can expand our “fighting-world” flow-chart to show his decision loop:

Or, even better:

Because the four stages start with O, O, D, and A, the decision loop is sometimes called an “OODA” loop. In the model…

  • We observe reality. We take that observation and make sense of it. We oriented new things we see against what we already think we know.
  • After we oriented new facts, we may go back into observing. This may happen if we are confused, or we just want to “wait and see.” Alternatively, we might decide what to do.
  • When we make decisions, two things happen. Obviously, the first thing is that we observe that we made a decision. We might then orient that with thinking that our decisions have often been bad, and paralyze ourselves with doubt.
  • The other thing that happens when we make a decision is we go on and act. Action effects the world, like when we chase a cat or rob a bank. Actions are implicitly guided by our orientation too. For example, you go through the entire OODA loop to decide to walk to the store, but many individual actions (how to move your legs to walk) are guided by your orientation without any decision to do so.


With this introduction of John Boyd’s out of the war, read on to see how it explains the many generations of modern war…

Orientation and Action, a tdaxp series
1. The OODA Loop
2. The OODA-PISRR Loop

Orientation and Action, Part II: The OODA-PISRR Loop

The Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) loop of John Boyd is not only a model of human cognition.

It is also useful in aligning the generations of modern war within the framework of human cognition

Likewise, the broader Observe-Orient-Decide-Act/Penetrate-Isolate-Subvert-Reorient-Reharmonize Social loop is not only a model of social cognition


It is also useful in aligning the kinetic intensity within the framework of social cognition


Both of these findings can be synthesized by viewing the generations of modern war within the framework of social cognition.

Consider that the second generation of modern war (2GW), based on concentrate of firepower, is the strong-suit of the state in war. Likewise, consider that the fourth generation of modern war (4GW), based on idealogical coherency, is the strong-suit of the insurgent in war.

From this we can place the third generation of modern war (3GW), based on mobility, in between the state’s and the insurgent’s spheres of influence.

And this makes sense. In Patterns of Conflict, John Boyd describes maneuver warfare as “blitz/guerrilla.”

(One might just as easily as say “Global Guerrilla / Panzer General“)

There are two remaining generations of modern war, and both fall outside the realms of the state and non-state. The first generation (1GW), built on total mobilization, was designed for states able to conscript a large fraction of the male population but unable to communicate effectively enough to effective combine firepower. Thus we place 1GW to the left of 2GW, as belonging to an actor which we would describe as a state… almost. (Compare the workings of Napoleonic France to that of a modern state to see how a 1G “state” falls short.)

Likewise, place the fifth generation of modern warfare (5GW) to the right of 4GW. 5GW is the domain of non-states… almost. When a 5GW is used by a state, it’s actually the province of a “state within” that acts as an internal insurgency. The Military-Industrial-Complex devised by President Truman is the work of such a 5GW conspiracy-within-the-state.

Blue Circle encompasses the Realm of the State
Red Circle encompasses the Realm of the Non-State

The take-away from this visualization is as follows:

  • each ‘higher’ generation of war is less kinetically intense than the one before it.
  • Further, states tend to be victorious in areas where intensity is high but not overwhelming — between 2GW and 3GW.
  • At the same time, non-states tend to be victorious at low but not underwhelming kinetic intensity — between 3GW and 5GW.
  • Finally, 1GW and 5GW fall outside the realms of both the state and the non-state, and into the lands of the proto-state and the state-within.

Orientation and Action, a tdaxp series
1. The OODA Loop
2. The OODA-PISRR Loop

Orientation and Action, Part I: The OODA Loop

Our OODA loop helps us know where warfare is headed. Modern warfare is usually divided into the four generations of 1st Generation Warfare (1GW), 2nd Generation Warfare (2GW), 3rd Generation Warfare (3GW), and 4th Generation Warfare (4GW).

Modern War in the Context of the OODA Loop
  • 1GW
    • example: Napoleonic War
    • characteristic: mass armies
    • method of fighting: man-to-man
  • 2GW
    • example: First World War
    • characteristic: mass armies
    • method of fighting: fixed-artillery-to-men
  • 3GW
    • example: Second World War
    • characteristic: blitzkrieg, fast transitions from one maneuver to the next
    • method of fighting: tanks/bombers-to-cities/armies
  • 4GW
    • example: Vietnam War
    • characteristic: dispiriting the enemy
    • method of fighting: propagandists-to-populations

In a recent post where he tries to look ahead to what the 5th Generation of Warfare (5GW) would be, Mark Safranski writes

A strong possibility exists that given successive generations of warfare tend to drive ” deeper” into enemy territory, that 5GW will mean systemic liquidation of enemy networks and their sympathizers, essentially a total war on a society or subsection of a society. There is no where ” deeper” for 5GW to go but here. At the high tech end 5GW would be precisely targeted to winnow out ” the bad guys” in a souped-up version of Operation Phoenix but at the low-tech end we could see campaigns that would be indiscriminate, democidally-oriented death squad campaigns that shred 4GW networks by the same actuarially merciless logic that led the Allies to firebomb German and Japanese cities in WWII.

War is going deeper, but by that I do not mean “farther into enemy territory.” Certainly you can’t get any deeper than obliteration of Dresden or Hiroshima! For that matter, centuries ago Catholic terrorists tried to destroy the British Parliament, which was the deepest heart of the British government!

War is going deeper into enemy minds. Every generation of warfare aims for deeper in the enemy’s OODA loop

1GWs, like the Napoleon Wars, were extremely fluid. Armies could march whenever men’s feet could carry them. Information was relatively symmetrical — precise locations of either army were unavailable to any commander, while general knowledge of the land was known to all commanders. (Napoleonic “disinformation” was trivial compared to what was later devised.) Another feature of the Napoleon Wars was the army’s need to live off the land. 1GW was defined by conflict centered around an enemy’s ability to decide and act.

Aim Destroy enemy army


2GWs, like the First World War, were sticky. Armies took marched, drove, or took trains to the front line — where they stopped. In 2nd Generation War, action is easy: charge. You know exactly where you are, exactly where the enemy is, and exactly where you are going to die (in the razorwire and minefield, hit by enemy crossfire). Thanks to telegraphs and modern communications, commanders are flooded with a tsunami of almost meaningless facts. Thinking now centers around where and when it makes sense to try to break through, as well as the how to move to advance evenly. This means that the heart of conflict “moves deeper” into the OODA loop. Another way to think of it is like a rainbow or spectrum, where the heart of conflict is “redshifting” away from acting. 2GW was defined by conflict centered around an enemy’s ability to orient and decide.

Offensives conducted on wide frontages—emphasizing few, rather than many, harmonious yet independent thrusts.

Evenness of advance maintained to protect flanks and provide artillery support as advance makes headway.


3GWs, like the trenches for most of the Second World War or the Lawrence of Arabia campaign in the First World War, were fluid again. But conflict kept burrowing deeper into the OODA loop and redshifting further away from action. Victory in 3rd Generation Wars required the ability to instill madness — to mess with the enemy’s minds. The purpose of 3rd Generation Warfare is to paralyze the enemy with doubt. We move even deeper into the OODA loop, to the red end of the rainbow. 3GW is defined by conflict centered around an enemy’s ability to orient.

Taken together, the captured attention, the obscured view, and the indistinct character of moving dispersed/irregular swarms deny adversary the opportunity to pictures what is taking place.


Gain support of population. Must “arrange the minds” of friend, foe and neutral alike. Must “get inside their minds”.


If older generations of war were like fluids, 4GW was like a gas. It spreads everywhere yet regular armies have a hard time even finding battles. Like 3rd Generation Wars, 4th Generation Wars focus on the picture inside the enemy’s head. But while 3GW tries to destroy the picture, 4GW builds a new one. This picture is built in that part of the OODA loop where people “wait and see,” the double-headed arrow between Observe and Orient. While 3GW tries to paralyze the enemy with doubt, 4GW tries to deny him even that much — 4GW drains the will of the enemy so he “waits and sees,” robbing him of his ability to want to do anything. In practice, this means 4GW tries to destroy an enemy’s civil society, turning his population into mindless cowards. To achieve this, 4GW is defined by conflict centered around Observe and Orient.

John Boyd’s words on the tactics of “moral warfare,” an important part of 4GW:

Create, exploit, and magnify … uncertainty

Impressions, or atmosphere, generated by events that appear ambiguous, erratic, contradictory, unfamiliar, chaotic, etc.


Surface, fear, anxiety, and alienation in order to generate many non-cooperative centers of gravity, as well as subvert those that adversary depends upon, thereby magnify internal friction.


So if these patterns hold, what will 5GW look like?

Visually, like this

The 4th Generation of War redshifts deeper into the OODA loop. It slides into the “Observation” realm. If traditional war centered on an enemy’s physical strength, and 4GW on his moral strength, the 5th Generation of War would focus on his intellectual strength. A 5th Generation War might be fought with one side not knowing who it is fighting. Or even, a brilliantly executed 5GW might involve one side being completely ignorant that there ever was a war. It’s like the old question of what was the perfect robbery: we will never know, because in a perfect robbery the bank would not know that it was robbed.

In his post, Mark Safranski noted that 4GW was around for decades its nature was recognized.

William Lind, one of the fathers of 4GW theory has welcomed yet cautioned against attempts to ascertain with too much precision any outlines of a 5th Generation Warfare that might be evolving within the dynamic of 4GW conflicts we see in Iraq, Afghanistan and in transnational terrorism. Yet according to theorists and practitioners of 4GW like Colonel Hammes, that form of warfare, although just now coming in to its own has already been present for some seventy years ! Undoubtedly then 5GW is also here with us, waiting for the next Mao or Rommel to fit the disparate puzzle pieces into a coherent pattern.

This means that, in their pragmatic attempts to solve problems, both al Qaeda and the United States might be using aspects of 5GW right now. Where will historians of the future look to see aspects of a secret war? Of a war centered on ignorance?

The 9/11 Commission

Al Qaeda’s new brand of terrorism presented challenges to U. S. governmental institutions that they were not well-designed to meet. Though top officials all told us that they understood the danger, we believe there was uncertainty among them as to whether this was just a new and especially venomous version of the ordinary terrorist threat the United States had lived with for decades, or it was indeed radically new, posing a threat beyond any yet experienced. As late as September 4, 2001, Richard Clarke, the White House staffer long responsible for counterterrorism policy coordination, asserted that the govern-ment had not yet made up its mind how to answer the question: “Is al Qida a big deal?”

A week later came the answer. Policy Terrorism was not the overriding national security concern for the U. S. government under either the Clinton or the pre-9/ 11 Bush administration.

The policy challenges were linked to this failure of imagination

President Bush:

Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

Orientation and Action, a tdaxp series
1. The OODA Loop
2. The OODA-PISRR Loop