The View From Olympus: The Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook

The Fourth Generation Warfare Handbookco-authored by Lt. Col. Greg Thiele and myself, is now available on Amazon. At present, it is only an e-book; the real book should be available early next year. The publisher is Castalia House Press.

The Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook is a follow-on to my Maneuver Warfare Handbook, which was published in 1985 and is still in print. The new book’s origins lie in the Fourth Generation Warfare seminar Lt. Col. Thiele and I taught for some years at the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Warfare School. That seminar wrote a number of field manuals for 4GW, published as manuals of the K.u.K. Austro-Hungarian Marine Corps. Greg and I distilled the content of those manuals, added a good bit of material of our own (especially on true light infantry, normally the most effective force against 4GW opponents) and have published it in a form we think will reach more readers than have the field manuals.

The new book presumes the reader is familiar with the framework of the Four Generations of Modern War, although it does offer a summary of the first three generations in an appendix. After a discussion of the theory of 4GW which focuses on the dilemmas it poses to state armed forces, dilemmas which usually lead state militaries to defeat themselves, it turns to the practical problems 4GW presents. This is consistent with its nature as a handbook: its purpose is not academic discussion but providing useful ideas to those serving in state forces.

One of the potentially most useful tools it offers is the grid: a nine-box square with the three traditional levels of war, tactical, operational, and strategic, on the vertical axis and Col. John Boyd’s three new levels, physical, mental, and moral, on the horizontal axis. State armed forces (including police) can use the grid to evaluate planned missions by asking what results the mission is likely to bring in each of the nine boxes.

At present, most missions are evaluated in only one box, the tactical/physical. These are the two weakest levels of war. The blowback the mission brings at more powerful levels, especially the most powerful box, strategic/moral, helps explain why state militaries usually lose Fourth Generation wars. By using the grid to anticipate negative results at higher and more powerful levels, it may be possible to avoid those negative effects by changing what is done tactically and physically.

European readers of The Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook may wonder why much of the latter part of the book is devoted to true light (or Jaeger) infantry. The reason is that the U.S. armed forces mis-define light infantry as line infantry with less equipment. This false definition leads the Americans to think they have light infantry when in fact they do not. Because true light infantry are usually 4GW forces’ most dangerous opponents, this leaves the U.S. largely disarmed in this kind of war. Its fall-back of massive firepower literally blows up in its face at the moral level, ensuring its defeat. (The closest thing the U.S. has to true light infantry is probably the Marine Scout/Snipers. According to one report from Afghanistan, the Taliban refer to the Scout/Snipers as “The Marines who are well-trained.” The Pashtun are, and long have been, some of the world’s best light infantry.)

For Americans, the Handbook‘s chapter on how to convert line to light infantry may be its most important. Many infantry battalion, company, and platoon commanders would like to make the switch, but don’t know how. Now they will.

My hope is that the The Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook will prove as useful to members of sate armed forces a has the Maneuver Warfare Handbook. 4GW is a more difficult challenge than 3GW, maneuver warfare. Because only those state armed forces that have made it into the Third Generation have any chance of winning in 4GW, both books are likely to be around for a long time. favicon

7 thoughts on “The View From Olympus: The Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook”

  1. How does the state’s response to 4th generation warfare change when the state must confront that warfare in its own territory with citizens that may be hostile to the existing state?

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