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Fourth Generation Warfare

  • Date Submitted: 04/08/2010 11:05 PM
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The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation
William S. Lind, Colonel Keith Nightengale (USA),
 Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC), Colonel Joseph W. Sutton (USA),
and Lieutenant Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR)
Marine Corps Gazette
October 1989, Pages 22-26
The peacetime soldier's principal task is to prepare effectively for the next war. In order to do so, he must anticipate what the next war will be like. This is a difficult task that gets continuously more difficult. German Gen Franz Uhle-Wettler writes:
"At an earlier time, a commander could be certain that a future war would resemble past and present ones. This enabled him to analyze appropriate tactics from past and present. The troop commander of today no longer has this possibility. He knows only that whoever fails to adapt the experiences of the last war will surely lose the next one."
The Central Question
If we look at the development of warfare in the modern era, we see three distinct generations. In the United States, the Army and the Marine Corps are now coming to grips with the change to the third generation. This transition is entirely for the good. However, third generation warfare was conceptually developed by the German offensive in the spring of 1918. It is now more than 70 years old. This suggests some interesting questions: Is it not about time for a fourth generation to appear? If so, what might it look like? These questions are of central importance. Whoever is first to recognize, understand, and implement a generational change can gain a decisive advantage. Conversely, a nation that is slow to adapt to generational change opens itself to catastrophic defeat.
Our purpose here is less to answer these questions than to pose them. Nonetheless, we will offer some tentative answers. To begin to see what these might be, we need to put the questions into historical context.
Three Generations of Warfare
While military development is generally a continuous evolutionary process, the...

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