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The 5GW Handbook is Here! But What is 5GW?

Ned Ludd has had his day!

Trees have died!

Ink has been spilled!

The paper book edition of The Handbook of 5GW has arrived!

I anticipate that with the launch of tree-based version of The Handbook of 5GW, some confusion might arise about what exactly 5GW is and how it works. Honestly, the confusion already exists, even in the pages of the Handbook. However, I thought I would try to at least give a general sense of 5GW from my perspective.

First of all, the term 5GW.

Depending upon who are you are reading and at what time it was written 5GW can either mean Fifth Generation Warfare, or Fifth Gradient Warfare. The origin of Fifth Generation Warfare is the continuation of a concept that warfare falls into four basic “generations” put forward by William S. Lind, Colonel Keith Nightengale (USA), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC), Colonel Joseph W. Sutton (USA), and Lieutenant Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR) in an article for the October 1989 Marine Corps Gazette entitled “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation“. I won’t summarize the article, you should read it for yourself. In any case what the article envisions, love it or hate it, is very thought-provoking.

The problem with “generations”.

So, back at the beginning everyone exploring the concept used the term “generations” including myself. The very earliest entries in the D5GW category here at Red Herrings (cross-posts from the now defunct group blog Dreaming 5GW) will all speak in terms of generations. As implied by “generations” it seemed logical that there would be a fifth generation to follow the fourth, only one problem. Very early on Lind declared that there was no fifth generation, at least not yet, and not for the foreseeable future. But wait, how then can there be a book about 5GW? Simple answer, lots of people ignored Lind and went right on formulating designs for 5GW, imagining shadowy conspiracy and techno/nano/bio armageddon. One major problem with that. He was right, as far as the “generations” concept from “The Changing Face of War” is concerned, there can’t be a fifth generation because everything forseeable falls into the fourth generation.

Why? Good question.

Models and Frameworks.

For clarity sake I refer to Lind’s generational model as the Generations of Modern Warfare (GMW) model. The reason why GMW can’t contain a fifth generation is because GMW is a historical model. You can’t go back to the Battle of Thermopylae and ask what generation the Spartans fall under because they are from well before the Peace of Westphalia where Lind begins the GMW model. They are before the first generation, so they can’t be considered under the terms of “Modern Warfare” from GMW. 

Think of it like the difference between an Atari 2600 and an Xbox 360. Arguably the Atari is 1GW and the Xbox is 4GW. Where then is a fifty year old pinball machine? Exactly.

Essentially, what theorists were trying to do with GMW was use it like a framework; a tool for classifying types of warfare. Sadly, GMW doesn’t / can’t work that way. I know, I tried. However, once the fact that it couldn’t became apparent, it opened the door for the creation of a framework, a descendant of GMW perhaps, that could be used to classify warfare. This framework is known as XGW, and instead of generations it has “gradients.” Follow the link so I don’t have to summarize what XGW does. I know I wrote it. I should be able to summarize it, but this is getting long enough as it is and I haven’t even gotten to how 5GW works.

Ok, so how does Fifth “Gradient” Warfare work?

For the moment ignore all the scary spooky imagery of Shadow War, Invisible War, Ghost War, Secret War. It either sounds good to marketing people, or elicits a ‘yeah right’ response from people who know better than to believe the marketing. 5GW uses all available leverage to manipulate and influence (affect) to create second and third order effects leading to a desired outcome. Essentially affect for effect, or contextual warfare. The reason 5GW has all those cool sounding names attached to it is because if done right, secretly / from the shadows, those influenced and manipulated will never even realize they have been manipulated at all. Those targeted by 5GW will carry on, making choices and decisions in their best interests (as they see it), without ever knowing that the information coming to them, their Observation (See John Boyd’s OODA), has been messed with, leading them in a specific direction.

Magicians and Grifters.

The best way I know of to explain 5GW is to speak in terms of magicians and grifters. When you go to a magic show, a good magician will mess with your Observation. Magicians use sleight-of-hand, misdirection, and a host of other tricks to do something you don’t expect. Happily, their purpose is mainly to entertain, though they have been known to turn their talents to other purposes (See: Jasper Maskelyne). A magician’s magic works because we believe there is nothing up their sleeve, in the hat, under the table. We don’t see the right hand because we are too busy paying attention to the left hand, or the pretty girl. A grifter, or confidence man, while using a slightly different repertoire of skills, plays upon that very same belief mechanism, putting you in a situation where appearances (Observations) lead you to believe something that is false or misleading because you are too busy being helpful, or thinking about spending that crisp hundred-dollar bill.

The thing is we want to believe in ourselves and our own abilities to think and act. Also, we really don’t like to feel like we got suckered. This is why many 5GW theorists think that a 5GW campaign, even if poorly executed and discovered, would be laughed off as some sort of wild conspiracy theory should it come to light.

Hey wait! Shenanigans!

Fifth Gradient WARFARE? None of this sounds anything remotely like WARFARE!

Ok, you caught me. It really isn’t warfare. So why do we keep calling it that? Honestly we keep calling it that because when we 5GW theorists started talking about this stuff we were thinking in terms of GMW, hence warfare. 5GW was the shorthand we all used and it just stuck. I don’t think there is any way to get rid of it now without really confusing people.

The other answer to the warfare/ not warfare question is that when the XGW framework was created, it was broadened to include not only warfare, but conflict and confrontation of all kinds. The lower the gradient a doctrine fits into, the more it will rely on the use of kinetic force, and the less it uses non-kinetic force. Likewise, the higher the gradient the less kinetic force, the more non-kinetic force. That makes 5GW very non-kinetic. There are also considerations that the higher the gradient the more strategic in nature actions are, the more indirect the effects are, and the more effective against lower gradient doctrines a practitioner should be, but those either need posts of their own or already have them.

One really good example, though, is insurgency and counterinsurgency. Classic guerilla insurgency is generally thought to fall into the fourth gradient or 4GW. Counterinsurgency, in general, falls into the fifth gradient. Interestingly, 5GW you can watch happening on the nightly news, but that is fodder for another post. Insurgency is, on the whole, more kinetic than counterinsurgency. IEDs, RPGs, kidnapping, assassination and fear being the insurgent’s weapons. As such, there is much more of a reliance on threat, intimidation and force to effect a population. Counterinsurgency, on the other hand, is kinetic only as a last resort. Its weapons are cups of chai, relationships, jobs, soccer balls, electricity, security. Often times, the last thing you would want to do is pull a trigger, or kick down a door, though, in the interests of security that may occur. The counterinsurgent had better then be following a clear process, act with restraint and be aware of the consequences of mistakes.

Wrap it up already!

I hope this in some way helps. Really, you should read the Handbook. My view is but one of many and the Handbook is chock full of really, really smart people writing about something that is really interesting in its implications from all sorts of points of view.


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