• 02 October, 2022
Foreign Affairs. Geopolitics. National Security.

Evolutions of Warfare

Thu, 21 Jul 2022   |  Reading Time: 3 minutes

As we all know, the nature of warfare is continuously changing. The four generations of the art of warfare were recognized until recently when experts started talking about 5th generation warfare or 5GW. Whether it was the war of Mahabharata in ancient India or the Peloponnesian and Trojan wars in the Greek world, the wars are part of human history as long as we remember them. Most recently the Russia-Ukraine conflict which was limited to small areas escalated to full-fledged war notwithstanding Russia calling it a special military operation. With this, we are also seeing the emergence of, what analysts and experts call, information and psychological battles. Amid all the chaos it is worth analyzing the evolution of warfare, and how the nature of it changed till now.

First-generation warfare refers to conflicts in the Ancient and Post-Classical periods that were fought with a large number of men, utilizing line and column tactics, and under state control. Cavalry forces were also part of this first generation of warfare, where the result of battles mainly depended on the number of soldiers the force had.

In 1989 American military coined the term, “Second generation warfare” which refers to the Early Modern strategies adopted following the introduction of the rifled musket and breech-loading weapons and continuing through the machine gun and indirect fire. The role of the number game was reduced since, the army with rifles and artillery, could shoot from distance and inflict much damage to the adversary.

Third-generation warfare is centred on utilizing strategies from technology that rely on speed, stealth, and surprise to go beyond the enemy’s lines and devastate their forces from behind. In essence, this marked the end of linear warfare from a tactical perspective, where troops sought to outmanoeuvre one another rather than just engage in combat to obtain the upper hand. Aerial battles were extensively part of Third generation warfare.

With the nation-states losing their monopoly on wars and battles Fourth Generation Warfare came into being where non-state actors started playing roles in warfare. The majority of people think that non-state actors are terrorists. Where their understanding is in the right direction but is not enough, civil society and non-government organizations(NGOs) are also considered non-state actors. In this generation of warfare, States are to collaborate with each other in order to fight these non-state actors, the UN 1267 sanction committee is one example of it. Fourth-generation warfare is characterized by a “postmodern” return to decentralized forms of warfare, blurring of the borders between the war and the politics, soldiers, and civilians.

With the emergence of the Internet in this digital age, we have entered into Fifth Generation warfare. Fifth-generation warfare is mostly non-kinetic activity, such as social engineering, disinformation campaigns, and cyberattacks, together with the usage of cutting-edge technologies like Information Technology and artificial intelligence. Gray zone warfare, psychological warfare, information warfare, cyber warfare, and biological warfare are all part of this Fifth generation of warfare. Daniel Abbot described fifth-generation warfare as a struggle of “information and perception”. Fifth-generation warfare is distinguished by its “omnipresent battlefield” and the use of a combination of kinetic and non-kinetic force rather than solely military power. The colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui of the People’s Liberation Army noted in their 1999 book “Unrestricted Warfare” that the conventional military violence had decreased in the years following the Gulf War, which was correlated to an increase in “political, economic, and technological violence,” which they argued could be more destructive than a conventional war.

If one has to summarize fifth-generation warfare it would be best by what Sun Tzu said, “All warfare is based on deception”.

As we enter the era of 5GW; it is imperative to develop a strategy to counter all of these challenges with the whole of the government approach.


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Puru shah

Jul 21, 2022
Indeed a good Article and informative.

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