Difference Between Conventional Warfare, Sub-Conventional Warfare and Hybrid Warfare

hybrid warfare refers to the blend of 'sub-conventional warfare' with 'conventional warfare' to achieve multidimensional affect.

Article by Shantanu K. Bansal

Time has changed so has the method of conducting operations in military realms. Today wars aren’t fought with missiles and tanks, it is much more. Today wars can be described in 3 broad terms which has been elaborated here. These terms are basically characterised by various U.S. Armed Forces War Manuals which are been updated time to time.

Conventional Warfare

The domain encompasses broadley the land, air and water. Human beings are fighting conflicts on land since the very beginning but with advent of technology in the field of vessels, communication, navigation and aviation enabled us to endeavour fighting efforts in air and at the sea. Providing historical perspective of these domains is beyond the scope of this article.

As we move towards better technologies and continues improvement in concepts of operations, the need for joint operations in conventional realm with network-centricity arised. This is part of Revolution in Military Affairs which started after the Cold War.

Today, no one domain can ensure victory, it is the combined efforts of Army, Navy and Air Force which can ensure optimal results especially in case of ‘all-out conflict’.

The ‘space’ which is considered as the ‘final frontier of warfare’ is increasingly making its place to be classified under the conventional domain as we are moving towards more ‘weaponisation of space’ which was prior limited to ‘militarisation of space’ meaning supporting the conventional operations on land, air and at sea by enabling full-spectrum C4ISR. While the term weaponisation refers to employing military weapons in space.

The U.S. has already announced the initiation of a Space Force, a 4th force at par with the Army, Air Force and Navy.

NOTE: The nuclear warfare is itself a separate area, it is not part of either conventional or sub-conventional warfare.

Sub-Conventional Warfare

This is simple to understand, any operation which is not conventional in nature that means that it is difficult to define its limits in terms of physical space that is land, air and water can be considered to belong to the sub-conventional domain.

The basic feature of such operations are that they all are discreet in nature, means the source of origin of such operations may not be well defined and the target may not even know that it has been deliberately attacked by another state/actor. The operations may be led in a decentralized form. This may include:-

• Legal warfare
• Economic warfare
• Financial warfare
• Psychological warfare
• Information warfare
• Propaganda warfare
• Public opinion warfare
• Diplomatic warfare
• Biological warfare
• Chemical warfare
• Cyber warfare
• Electronic warfare*
• Cyber-Electronic warfare
Special Operations
• Industrial Warfare/ Industrial Espionage
• Psychochemical warfare
• Terrorism (Narco, Environmental Etc.)
• Demographic change/Immigrant smuggling
• Other types of Organised Crimes
• Mercenaries/Private Army (Inter-alia.)

(* When Used Beyond Military Operations)

Interestingly, the Chinese have their own definition of Sub-conventional warfare, they usually call it ‘Unristricted Warfare’ (war without restrictions/continues in nature). In India, the armed forces used the term ‘non-contact warfare’. Prior to these terms or in trend we use the terms ‘asymmetric warfare’, ‘irregular warfare’ and ‘4th generation warfare’ to define this domain of warfare. It is also known as ‘War by other Means (WOM)’.

In this domain, possibilities increases as we find the opportunities. This is nothing new, from ancient Indian scriptures to ‘Arthashastra’, the ‘Art of War’ and ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli, history has shown that humans are familiar employing manipulations in order to achieve their interests. The modern age theories are just trying to classify it in different realms.

Also Read at IADN: Unrestricted Warfare 2.0: Is India Ready? by Shantanu K. Bansal

Hybrid Warfare Model

Hybrid Warfare

The term hybrid basically means the combination of two charecterstics, the term is basically used in medical studies. However in strategic realm, as the term suggest, hybrid warfare refers to the blend of ‘sub-conventional warfare’ with ‘conventional warfare’ to achieve multidimensional affect.

This domain is as easy to philosophize as it is difficult to implement in real world. As it would require coordination among all aspects of national power, from civil to military, each sector has to be synchronized to generate required results.


  • Shantanu K. Bansal

    Founder of IADN. He has more than 10 years of experience in research and analysis. An award winning researcher, he writes for the leading defence and security journals, think-tanks and in-service publications. He is a senior consultant at the Indian Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Shimla. Contact him at: Shantanukbansal2@gmail.com

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