Asymmetric Warfare

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The 9/11 terrorist attacks and the war in Afghanistan are among the best-known recent examples of asymmetric warfare: conflicts between nations or groups that have disparate military capabilities and strategies. RAND investigates political and military responses to — and the impacts of — counterinsurgency, terrorism, and other forms of irregular warfare.

  • An Israeli tank drives near the border as it returns to Israel from Gaza, August 3, 2014

    Report

    Lessons from Israel's Wars in Gaza

    Jul 26, 2017

    The Israel Defense Force had to evolve to meet an adaptive and determined hybrid adversary during its wars in Gaza. The U.S. Army and the joint force can learn from the IDF's challenge of balancing intense international legal public scrutiny and the hard operational realities of urban warfare.

  • Flags of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia are raised in a ceremony outside the presidential palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, during the country's centenary celebration, February 16, 2018, photo by Birute/Getty Images

    Report

    Deterring Russian Aggression in the Baltic States

    Apr 14, 2019

    Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are vulnerable to low-level, hybrid, and full-scale attacks by Russian forces. Which unconventional strategies could they use to deter aggression and buy time for conventional military responses? And how can NATO allies help develop and fund these efforts?

Explore Asymmetric Warfare

  • U.S. Army Soldiers conduct actions on an objective during a training scenario at the Asymmetric Warfare Training Center, Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, Feb. 23, 2018, photo by St. Randis Monroe/U.S. Army

    Commentary

    Urban Legend: Is Combat in Cities Really Inevitable?

    Future combat will take place in dense urban areas and likely in megacities. These are the new “truths” that are taking hold in the U.S. military. But before going all-in on optimizing for urban operations, the U.S. military should take a deep breath and think carefully about future operations within the context of the National Defense Strategy.

    May 7, 2019

  • News Release

    Unconventional Approaches Could Help Deter Russian Intimidation and Aggression Against the Baltic States

    Amid concerns that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are vulnerable to Russian intimidation and hybrid warfare, a new RAND Corporation report concludes that unconventional defense plans could help deter and counteract Russian aggression.

    Apr 15, 2019

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin, photo by the Russian Presidential Press and Information Office

    Commentary

    Russia's Soft Strategy to Hostile Measures in Europe

    They've been called political warfare, measures short of war, gray zone warfare, and a host of other terms. Russia has used a wide range of hostile measures to expand its influence and undermine governments across the European continent. These tactics should be appreciated for what they are: part of a larger, coherent Russian effort, but ultimately not an insurmountable one.

    Feb 26, 2019

  • A map depicting Russian influence over Europe

    Report

    How to Counter Russia's Hostile Measures in Europe

    Russia has a range of tools and methods short of conventional war that it can use to achieve its goals in Europe. There is no way to predict what Russia will do, but it's possible to analyze its motives and opportunities, the means it might employ, and how the United States should respond.

    Jan 28, 2019

  • U.S. Army SOF take the hill while training in the elements at Panzer Kaserne, photo by Jason Johnston/U.S. Army

    Report

    Improving the Understanding of Special Operations

    An analysis of U.S. decisions related to the development or use of special operations forces can assist in future planning by the Army Special Operations Forces, the U.S. Army, and the joint special operations community.

    Feb 8, 2018

  • A C-130J Super Hercules aircraft flies over a formation of Airmen during a ceremony to remember veterans of World War II on the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Picauville, France, June 6, 2014

    Commentary

    The Chairman the Pentagon Needs

    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford says that to fight and win 21st century wars, the department should find a way to globally integrate below the secretary of defense. To do so, the chairman's role would have to expand to allow him to advise the secretary on the allocation and transfer of forces for transregional, multi-functional, and multi-domain operations.

    Jan 5, 2018

  • Journal Article

    The Implications of Iran's Expanding Shi'a Foreign Fighter Network

    Well-trained and resourced, Iranian-directed Shi'a foreign fighters pose a significant potential threat to U.S. interests. The more robust this network grows, the more opportunities it will have to expand abroad.

    Dec 7, 2017

  • Research Brief

    Lessons from Israel's Wars in Gaza

    This brief summarizes a RAND report that explores lessons that the U.S. Army and the Joint force can draw from Israel's military operations in Gaza from 2009 to 2014 and how Israel adapted to hybrid adversaries in complex urban terrain.

    Oct 18, 2017

  • Israeli soldiers training for urban wafare

    Commentary

    Five Lessons from Israel's Wars in Gaza

    After a decade of operating against Hamas in Gaza, the Israel Defense Force has learned many lessons about urban warfare against hybrid adversaries. The last confrontation teaches five basic lessons that apply well beyond Gaza.

    Aug 3, 2017

  • Ismail Haniyeh, newly elected head of Hamas' political office, arrives to visit a sit-in in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, Gaza City, May 8, 2017

    Commentary

    Hamas's Strategic Rebranding

    Hamas has unveiled a revised version of its charter that appears to soften the group's stance toward Israel. Does this represent a shift away from violence and toward a more lasting and peaceful political presence? Or is it a ploy to buy time to rearm?

    May 17, 2017

  • Hezbollah members salute during the funeral of Ali Fayyad, a senior commander who was killed fighting in Syria, Lebanon, March 2, 2016

    Commentary

    Hezbollah Is Winning the War in Syria

    Most parties have been on the losing side of the war in Syria. Meanwhile, Lebanese terrorist militia Hezbollah has cemented its status as a regional power player. The group has gained fighting experience and benefited from a growing alliance with the Assad regime, Iran, and Russia.

    Jan 30, 2017

  • Iraqi special forces soldiers drive in a desert near Mosul, Iraq, October 25, 2016

    Commentary

    Can the Islamic State Lose Mosul and Still Win?

    The loss of Mosul would be a serious blow for the Islamic State but past insurgencies suggest it is far too early to count the Islamic State out.

    Oct 31, 2016

  • A member of the Peshmerga forces inspects a tunnel used by Islamic State militants in the town of Sinjar, Iraq

    Commentary

    Islamic State May Be Down, but It's Far from Out

    The Islamic State's loss of territory, money, and recruits would seem to demonstrate significant progress by the U.S.-led coalition. But if there is one accepted truism in the battle against the group, it is that its leaders intend to fight to the death to establish an Islamic caliphate.

    May 23, 2016

  • A senior airman who led a target analysis team that located and relayed the positions of more than 4,300 compounds to coalition forces at a workstation

    Report

    Preparing for the Future of Air Force Intelligence Analysis

    Given the recent focus on irregular warfare, it is essential that the United States Air Force has the capability to provide intelligence analysis in support of a broader range of operations. Past operations offer key lessons to help prepare for USAF intelligence in the future.

    Apr 27, 2016

  • Syrian army soldiers inspect the site of a two bomb blasts in the government-controlled city of Homs, Syria, on February 21, 2016

    Commentary

    A New Kind of Battlefield Awaits the U.S. Military — Megacities

    Megacities are urban areas that seep into one another and have more than 10 million inhabitants. To counter violent non-state actors operating in megacities in the future, the U.S. military will have to be able to piece together a comprehensive and actionable intelligence picture, and under enormously challenging circumstances.

    Apr 6, 2016

  • Journal Article

    Confessions of a Hybrid Warfare Skeptic

    The vocabulary of hybrid warfare and hybrid threat has been adopted fairly widely, including formal use in NATO discussions and across the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Special Operations Command.

    Mar 10, 2016

  • U.S. Army soldiers participate in a live-fire exercise in Konotop, Poland, January 18, 2016

    Commentary

    Planning for the 'Army of the Future'

    What must the Army be ready to do as part of a joint force, now and in the future? What capacities and capabilities should the Army have in order to be ready? The NCFA comes up short in its answers to both of these questions.

    Feb 17, 2016

  • Estonia's Defence League volunteer soldiers attend training drill near Rabasaare, Estonia, September 12, 2015

    Report

    Unconventional Options for the Defense of the Baltic States

    Unconventional options from the Swiss defense strategy during the Cold War could benefit Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. These include training and equipping local defense units and preparing transportation infrastructure for demolition to prevent an invasion.

    Feb 5, 2016