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Fifth Generation Warfare

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Fifth Generation Warfare

A changing concept of warfare

As aptly remarked, “Only change is permanent in this world;” hence, things change with time, and war patterns are no exception. With each passing day, there is witnessed a growing shift in traditional aspects of waging a war. Conventional warfare techniques are in decline and new modes of warfare, such as information warfare, asymmetric warfare, media propaganda and hybrid warfare, are taking roots while blurring the boundaries between combatants and non-combatants. The concept of modern warfare has been succinctly elaborated by Clausewitz in his magnum opus “On War”. He defines modern warfare as “a duel on a larger scale”. Fifth-generation warfare is primarily conducted through non-kinetic military actions, such as social engineering, misinformation and cyber attacks, as well as emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and fully autonomous systems. Fifth-generation warfare (5GW) has been described by Daniel Abbot as a war of “information and perception”. 5GW is actually between consciousness and knowledge. It can also be regarded as a societal war of diverse social blocs having different ethics and values. It is ceaselessly advancing and making and impact alongside changing the worldview on war.

A brief overview of five generations of warfare
Various ages have witnessed various war generations. It is a journey from simple to complex warfare. To begin with, the first generation of warfare utilized line and column strategies with formally dressed warriors representing the state. Second-generation warfare utilized early modern tactics after the innovation of the rifled musket and breech-loading weapons. It was first developed by the US military in 1989. Third-generation warfare centres on using innovation-inferred strategies of leveraging speed, bypassing the enemy’s lines and collapse of fighting forces. Basically, this was the termination of linear warfare on a strategic level. Fourth-generation warfare is characterized by a “post-modern” and decentralized shape of warfare, obscuring the lines between war and political issues, combatants and civilians. And, the major participant is not state but non-state actors. Fifth-generation warfare is conducted fundamentally through non-kinetic military activity, such as social building, deception, cyber assaults, in conjugation with emerging technologies of the day. 5GW has been described by Daniel Abbot as a war of “information and perception”.

Domains of 5GW
In modern-day military parlance, the mantra of 5GW has been much hyped and is one of the complex and vague concepts. Intellectuals have tried to shed light on various domains of 5GW. They assert that 5GW is generally fought in five domains: physical landscape, cognitive landscape, information spectrum, economic fabric and social configuration.

The physical landscape has become less relevant. Cognitive manipulation also disturbs the minds and brings imbalance in personalities. The information spectrum lies at the pinnacle of all domains. Information flood, fake information and relevant stuff form the backbone of 5GW. Spoiled information can tear the societal fabric apart.
Economic domains are impacted as well. Economy is the fundamental factor in the stability of a state. If it is disturbed, the whole social fabric is shattered. 5GW takes a country’s economy as a prime target.

Social configuration is also important for a stable state. 5GW ultimately aims to disturb society and the state. All these domains, in the end, disturb society. So, these domains give a holistic concept of what 5GW is.

Methods employed for 5GW
A variety of techniques and methods are employed to wage the 5GW. Disruptive cyber attacks, propaganda and subversion, economic blackmailing, sabotaging, sponsoring proxy wars, creeping military expansionism, destabilizing social media influence and blurring of borders are some modes of 5GW. Cyber attacks and monetary frauds have become the wave of the day. Propaganda and subversive acts are common these days. Economic frauds and blackmailing have become frequent. Proxy wars are now much more relevant. They are being sponsored and invested in by international players. Military expansionism and piling up of warheads are also conspicuous. These expansions are, however, done at the cost of common man’s life. Social media is used to destabilize the target country via various modes. Fake news and anonymous accounts are hallmarks of current-day social media. Cross-border exchanges and illegal crossings have also been exchanged and they cause security issues for the target state and society. All these methods are being employed in 5GW and they result in destabilization.

5th generation warfare and Pakistan
5GW has become a frequently used acronym in Pakistan. War on terror has put Pakistan in a threatening situation and the enemies of the country are not clearly defined. It in itself manifests unmatched advancements in dimensions of conflict. This war has changed its shape and now enemy is undefined. A war of ideas has begun. High use of technology, blurring of civilians and combatants, multipolar war-fronts and changing approach towards war are some of basic features of 5GW. In Pakistan, the use of media to propagate against state and its institutions, fake news, fake media accounts, bank account hackings, secessionist movements in Balochistan, sectarianism and unrest by popular religious slogans are some common happenings. Undoubtedly, Pakistan is facing a crisis on various fronts; 5GW has added salt to its injuries.

5GW is not a novel or modern invention; it existed historically. All secret missions fall under its canopy. It is perceptions-based warfare focusing on the context of conflict. The strategic goal of 5GW is to fight the war with an adversary “without knowing who is fighting”. Kulbhushan Jadhav is a case in point. He was an Indian spy and was trying to sabotage CPEC. He was behind the planning of subversive acts again the multibillion-dollar project. He was allegedly been living in Chabahar. This is how 5GW goes on. The current era is thoroughly engulfed by this type of warfare. Because of nuclear weapons, states are shifting from conventional war to modern 5GW and it may result in saving the world from complete destruction. Various examples depict that 5GW is in full swing; for example, India cannot use nuclear weapons against Pakistan as the latter will retaliate with full force, so they use TTP and BLA to destabilize Pakistan.

The writer is an Inspector in Punjab Excise Police, and holds an LLB degree. He can be reached at

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