The Fourth Wave and the "Extra" Forces

The threats facing Israel worsen at an overwhelming pace and its leaders must prepare for a radical change regarding defense challenges. Brig. Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch discusses a new era in warfighting and considers the need for a kind of "extra" security forces and how they should be developed, equipped and employed

Photo: IDF

In my previous articles published by Israel Defense ("The Sixth Dimension has Taken Off" and "Other Boots on the Ground"), I addressed the necessity of matching a special solution to the "special enemy" we face today. The threats compel the state attempting to defend itself to place the emphasis on special forces, commando units, and secret services – in the build-up of the force as well as in the employment thereof. This article is about taking the above thesis forward and about how the operational environment has changed to the point of making it necessary to prepare, well in advance, for a radical change in the defense challenges facing the free world.

Identifying "Buds"

Large systems shift between order and disorder, symmetry and asymmetry. Changes normally take place as a solution for a need, as a response or as a way to cope with a challenge (for example, the Iron Dome system as a solution to the rocket problem, the Trophy system as a solution to the antitank threat and so forth). The future, however, is in the "buds" (the first indications heralding the emergence of a new phenomenon on the battlefield), in identifying such "buds" in real time and in an authoritative, strategic and innovative response – within a relevant timeframe (normally even before everyone has seen the threats, agreed that they exist and consented to the development of the required solution subject to the restrictions of bureaucracy). To be relevant, the leader is required to demonstrate farsighted understanding, prompt response, and efficiency.

In some cases, we are provided with the opportunity to identify a "budding" trend, a change whose outset is already visible. Such situations call for leadership and courage so as to find an appropriate name for the new, "budding" phenomenon and initiate the development of a suitable solution.

Regrettably, things only rarely develop in this manner, as we normally respond rather than design. The need for a metamorphosis is not always identified well in advance. It is not often that capabilities are developed and infrastructures are established so as to face the future threats even before those threats have evolved into a trend, before they have been identified as such and before they have established a significant presence on the battlefield.

The reason for it is to be found mainly in the demands that apply to leaders, in their willingness to break out of paradigms and to pay a price for innovation and courage (which always come with a price tag). Examples of overdue and responsive action may be seen in the late stage when the border fence between Israel and Egypt was erected in the Sinai Peninsula (the absence of that fence system had enabled the infiltration of tens of thousands of illegal intruders); in the time that had passed until a national-level solution for the underground tunnel threat began to materialize (for this reason, Operation Protective Edge evolved into an emergency operation against those tunnels) – despite the fact that "buds" and early indications of these phenomena had already been visible – very much so.

The threats we face are worsening at a rate that is no longer linear but exponential, and what we would like to have is a technology capable of helping us to identify "buds," to verify them and to change accordingly – and in time. We are facing fast-paced changes and a steep incline, necessitating a farsighted force build-up process that predicts the future while developing future capabilities, having one foot set in the present and the other set firmly in the future – the vague, uncertain future shrouded in fog.

Waves in the Phenomenon of War

Fog is, indeed, the word that best describes the reality emerging around us. Alvin and Heidi Toffler divided the development of humanity, including the development of the phenomenon of war, into three waves – the First Wave was the agricultural one, the Second Wave started with the industrial revolution, and the Third Wave is the information revolution.

Humanity, developed upon the agricultural wave, was profoundly influenced by the industrial revolution, and although it seems that we are currently deep within the information and technology revolution, we still rely significantly on the industrial realm and on the automation that changed our lives, as machines are still a major factor in our lives. Machines (e.g., aircraft, tanks, boats and so forth) are most definitely a major factor on the battlefield.

The industrial realm must have order and organization – in the context of life generally and the military field in particular. When the Third Wave had appeared, it seemed to perfect machines and state mechanisms primarily. The fields of information, the web, and automation (computers) enhanced the performance of machines. In the field of defense, they upgraded all of the systems in use, with the emphasis on intelligence capabilities, smart munitions, and C4ISR. They also led to a growing need for regulation and structuring of the world.

However, in addition to the newly-established order, the Third Wave and the web brought along disorder as well. Cyberspace emerged as a boundless dimension that defies states and continents in all of the aspects of our lives, to the point of raising serious questions regarding the familiar order and whether it still exists. Apparently, the apparatus that had regulated the world in the last few centuries were state mechanisms that corresponded with the Second Wave and the beginning of the Third Wave. The world surrendered itself to law and order – the outcome of the emergence of the state and industry.

Puzzlement, Darkness & Turmoil

Alas, no more – this is no longer the state of things today. The Third Wave, which perfected the Second Wave, gave rise to a completely different situation: the ethical-conceptual anchors and foundations are fading and disappearing, and the phenomena that have emerged in their stead include the Darknet, virtual currency (e.g. Bitcoin), terrorism and its "Black Swans", crime, cyberattacks, the immigration turmoil and the waves of refugees, corporations that are more powerful than states, non-government organizations (NGOs), the power of capital and its superiority over the regulators, the culture of plenty and the crisis of its values ("I" before "We"), information warfare, manipulations, fake news, and many other phenomena.

These phenomena and others emerged as a result of the weakening of the state mechanisms, the rising influence of capital, the reinstatement of religious, tribalism and clan ideology to center stage, the prominent role the web plays in our lives, the rise of non-state opponents, the strengthening of non-state organizations (NGOs and giant corporations), the declining influence of conservative values in modern society and conversely – the return of religion, ideology,  motivations and fundamentalist interests into our lives – mainly in other civilizations that sanctify violence and are not a part of the free, modern world.

The Weakness of Progress

Progress has become a boomerang, and modern-day humanity finds it difficult to cope with the dangers of its accomplishments. The forces of evil in crime, terrorism and extremist religion revolutionism are bringing the old fundamentalism back into the world, but now it has evolved into a much more lethal and sinister version – it relies on web infrastructures that transcend any border and order, while exploiting the achievements of progress and the breakthroughs of mankind in a cynical and evil manner against the very mankind that had created that progress in the first place. While we are enjoying the fruits of progress, those achievements are evolving into vulnerabilities (anyone interested in examples is invited to observe how ISIS utilizes YouTube and uses the social media for incitement, how terrorism utilizes modern transportation and virtual currency, and so forth).

Here is a "bud" for you: the world is losing its order completely! Apparently, chaos is here to stay, at least within the foreseeable future. This "budding" situation is the outcome of the trends we are experiencing, and these trends are the beginning of the Fourth Wave – the wave of puzzlement, darkness, gloom, chaos, disorder, and lawlessness.

From Special Forces to "Extra" Forces

The solution required for the "budding," emerging threats of the Fourth Wave necessitates a different type of security and defense forces. In the abstract sense, it seems that darkness, gloom, fog, chaos, and evil should be met by forces capable of thinking and acting in the same manner. Apparently, in the face of disorder and absence of patterns, particularly flexible and agile capabilities should be developed – specialized intellectual and execution capabilities that are anti-fragile and durable. These forces should be aware of the "box" and committed to it, but should operate outside of that box and at a considerable distance from it – just like our enemies in this day and age, who operate outside of the paradigm and the "box" and are not committed to it in any way other than exploiting its advantages.

So, how can we cope with the Fourth Wave? What can be done vis-à-vis the era of puzzlement, gloom, and disorder? What kind of forces do we need and what should be the fundamental guidelines of our future force build-up process?

Apparently, the time-consuming process of training and preparing the personnel and units for the combat missions of the Fourth Wave will consist of a multilayered effort. At the individual level, we should aspire for an ethical, belligerent individual – schooled, disciplined, committed and well-trained; a soldier trained for infantry and commando missions; a specialist soldier – highly educated, creative and technologically-adept, who possesses an impressive attention division and multitasking capability plus the extra element that is relevant to the matter at hand: dedicated training as an extra soldier operating within an "extra" force.

The "extra" soldier is an agile warfighter operating within the boundaries of the directive with no concrete instruction regarding the current challenge facing him (as concrete challenges will be difficult to point out). He will form his own combat doctrine to fit the situation at hand, and develop ad-hoc operational capabilities out of a "tool menu," creating something completely new, different and relevant every time.

The infrastructure for the operation of the "extra" soldier will be the multilayered training he had received, his education and outfitting as an ethical, highly educated warfighter. The primary element in the operational potential of a force made up of such soldiers will be its ability to be different, to change, to evolve, to come up with solutions and maneuver with creative virtuosity as required – to the best of its imagination and capabilities.

We require a technology that would match this "extra-ness." We require a different training and education program. This program should produce a different (extra) soldier, different (extra) commanders and different (extra) forces.

For this purpose, we require a different and highly advanced interpretation of the concept of "special forces" – and even though they are, indeed, special and provide an effective solution against the special enemies of this day and age, a far-sighted vision of the future calls for an even more advanced version.

We do need those "extra forces" and would have to develop all of the implications of this new concept, to set one foot in the future and develop the concept, the theory, the combat techniques, the required technologies and the required educational-ethical-legal training. Our R&D efforts should be developed accordingly. This is the process in which this writer is involved, and it presents a unique challenge.

Fundamental Guidelines for the "Extra Forces"

Let us try and travel through the new, emerging realm – the murky spaces of the Fourth Wave. The darkness, puzzlement, fog and the absence of a paradigm create a new situation every time. The challenge calls for a flexible, prompt, agile and customized solution that changes in accordance with the changing need.

So, the Fourth Wave does not really include the doctrine element, and the "extra" force will operate only according to doctrinal guidelines. The fast pace of the change and the phenomenon of darkness will necessitate the development of ad-hoc doctrines to be implemented, disseminated and studied in anticipation of the creation of a new ad-hoc doctrine, adapted to the latest "bud."

As under the Fourth Wave, mankind lives in physical and virtual worlds simultaneously, the future forces will be required to possess the ability to operate in the real world and in the virtual world simultaneously, namely – to operate on the ground and online at the same time. Moreover, the "extra" forces will be adapted to operate using human intelligence and artificial intelligence, to employ humans and robots, to operate under human and automated command and control, to engage in information warfare while defending against information manipulations – all simultaneously, which would require super-human and unique coordination and synchronization capabilities. Actually, what we need here is an innovative extra brain.

As with the Sixth C concept (refer to my previous articles), a little will go a long way. A single warfighter and a team of warfighters will provide everything the combat doctrine requires and even more: they will be able to capture territory and maintain a presence therein, to employ all modes of battle and types of warfare, to operate within "civilian," virtual, cybernetic and "traditional and standard" theaters of operation, and as I stated – while fully integrating their human capabilities with the capabilities of computers and the web.

It would seem, however, that the challenge is not confined necessarily to technology, but rather, to a considerable extent – to morals, ethics, decision-making and the leadership backup required for the fighting element.

Fourth Wave Decision Making & Fighting Ethics

At the same time and alongside the cutting-edge capabilities, the hybrid operation capability and the empowerment of the individual warfighter and the force, the Fourth Wave will also present difficult ethical challenges. The boundless enemy that exists within the dark medium must be dealt with by using similar yet different skills and tactics. Even if those skills and tactics are used with permission and authority – the commanders and warfighters of the Fourth Wave, the members of the "extra" forces, will be required to possess high ethics and morals. They should rely on a suitable legal infrastructure, on very special judgment and on a prolonged, highly specialized training program that changes and updates itself practically around the clock.

Selection and screening will present a major challenge. Training, R&D, and outfitting will constitute the next technological locomotive. When they don their newly-acquired wings, these commanders and warfighters will be enlightened, schooled, educated, mature, well-trained, competent, resourceful, versatile and agile. They will be our primary response for all those new "buds" and phenomena. Yes, they will still be human but would possess interfaces and linkages with the technologies and know-how specified by the operational requirement. They will be able to live and function in the realm of the Fourth Wave and return to visit us occasionally, from the theater of operations of the Fourth Wave to the normal realm that is the home of the people who rely on them, require their protection and enjoy the bubble in which they live. 


Brig. Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch is the Chairman of the Israel Leadership Institute and the author of the book Defensive Shield – an Israeli Special Forces Commander on the Frontline of Counter-Terrorism

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