Conceptual Understanding of Hybrid Warfare

Sergey Alkhasov
School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University;

Valeria Bakhtieva
School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University;

Arthur Sarkisyants
School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University.


In recent years there has been an increasing interest in hybrid warfare as a means to achieve various objectives in world politics. The subject of this research is the concept of smart power, coined by Frank G. Hoffman in 2006. The article examines the origins of hybrid warfare as well as its forms. Analyzing the examples of hybrid warfare, the authors show different ways to apply such tools by various states. The research is based on the institutional approach which involves the analysis of the concept and internal structure of the object. The main conclusion of the authors is that as hybrid warfare poses the complex nature and is changing over time, states should develop their strategies to counter possible threats and protect their interests.

Key words: hybrid warfare, international politics, international relations, conflict, tactics, states, research.


Hybrid warfare is a form of warfare that involves a blend of conventional, irregular, and information warfare tactics. Its origins can be traced back to ancient times when various civilizations employed a mix of military tactics to gain an advantage over their adversaries. Today, it is often used by state actors to gain an advantage over their adversaries without engaging in open warfare. Some examples of hybrid warfare include the use of disinformation campaigns, the manipulation of social media, cyberattacks, and the use of proxies or irregular forces. The relevance of the concept of hybrid warfare is due to the need of states to maintain stability and prevent conflict from escalating into open warfare. Thus, the aim of this article is to show the application of hybrid warfare concept through the prism of its evolution analyses, forms and examples.

Origins: scientific and practical

In the scientific field, the term hybrid warfare was first introduced by Frank G. Hoffman in 2006. In 2007 Hoffman gave the first definition of hybrid warfare in academic published work: “Hybrid wars incorporate a range of different modes of warfare, including conventional capabilities, irregular tactics and formations, terrorist acts including indiscriminate violence and coercion, and criminal disorder”. However, the idea of hybrid warfare as a form of war is much older. General principles of hybrid warfare were already outlined by Carl von Clausewitz, who understood hybrid warfare as a conduct defined by the simultaneous use of kinetic and non-kinetic means all carefully designed for an ultimate political end. The evolution of the concept has been generally connected with military conflicts where some of its distinctive features were highlighted. One of the earliest forms of hybrid warfare was guerrilla warfare. Guerrilla tactics focus on avoiding head-on confrontations with enemy armies, typically due to inferior arms or forces, and instead, engage in limited skirmishes with the goal of exhausting adversaries and forcing them to retreat. Technological advances and the introduction of new ways of communication widened the ability of actors to combat the adversary. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union developed a doctrine of total warfare, which sought to undermine the legitimacy of the Western powers by conducting a range of activities, including propaganda, subversion, and insurgency. After the Cold War, the term hybrid warfare has undergone two major changes: when introduced in 2007, it was mostly concerned with the results of the strategic and operational context of the United States, especially in the Middle East. The definition, therefore, pointed out that one actor could conduct hostilities using regular and irregular means simultaneously. In 2015, a conference report by the NATO Defence College provided a brand new definition of hybrid warfare: “a form of violent conflict that simultaneously involves state and non-state actors, with the use of conventional and unconventional means of warfare that are not limited to the battlefield or a particular physical territory”.

Forms of hybrid warfare and examples

Hybrid warfare extends the battlespace by making use of different domains and dimensions. Three defining features of hybrid warfare distinguish it from the more traditional “military-centric” approach:

  • The field of decision: hybrid warfare extends the battlespace not only vertically but also horizontally by exploiting a broad spectrum of domains and dimensions as battlefields in their own right to conduct and decide a confrontation.
  • The conduct of operations: hybrid warfare operates in the shadows/grey areas of various interfaces, e.g., between war and peace, friend and foe, internal and external relations, civil and military as well as state and non-state actors and fields of responsibilities and finally in between reality and propaganda as well as between the virtual and the real world.
  • The employment of means and methods: hybrid warfare combines different civil and military, regular and irregular, symmetric and asymmetric, open and covert, as well as legal and illegal instruments, means, methods, tactics, strategies, concepts and modes of warfare.

Hybrid warfare can take many different forms, and examples of it can be found in various conflicts around the world. Some of them include asymmetrical warfare in the Middle East, the use of proxy militias by Iran, Chinese efforts in the South China Sea and the conflict in Ukraine. These examples demonstrate the diverse range of tactics that can be used in hybrid warfare and the complex nature of the threat it poses. As a result, governments and militaries need to develop comprehensive strategies to counter these threats and protect their interests.

Evolution of forms

The evolution of hybrid warfare has been shaped by a range of factors, including changes in technology, the emergence of new forms of conflict, and shifts in the geopolitical landscape. During the Cold War, hybrid warfare was primarily focused on covert operations, espionage, and subversion. This involved using intelligence agencies and special forces to carry out covert operations in support of friendly governments or to undermine hostile regimes. After the Cold War, hybrid warfare began to take on new forms. This included the use of non-state actors such as militias, terrorist groups, and criminal organizations to carry out attacks and destabilize governments. In the 21st century, hybrid warfare has become more sophisticated and complex. State actors are now using a range of tactics, including disinformation campaigns, economic pressure, and political subversion to achieve their objectives. The use of social media and other forms of digital communication has also become a key component of hybrid warfare. Another key trend in the evolution of hybrid warfare has been the use of cyberattacks. Overall, the evolution of hybrid warfare has made it more difficult for states to defend against and respond to threats. As a result, many governments and militaries are rethinking their strategies and investing in new capabilities to counter hybrid threats. These include measures to improve cybersecurity, enhance intelligence gathering and analysis, and develop more agile and flexible military forces. As technology continues to advance, the forms of hybrid warfare are likely to evolve further. This may include the use of artificial intelligence, autonomous weapons, and other advanced technologies.

The findings of the research

The findings demonstrate that the concept of hybrid warfare has become an integral part of contemporary research of military conflicts. The change of the term has marked the evolution of war and its forms, as military-centric warfare has become a less viable option. At the same time, this evolution has demonstrated that hybrid warfare is a dynamic term encompassing numerous ways of waging conflicts and dealing with threats and adversaries.


On this basis, one can conclude that it is important to study the concept of hybrid warfare as it has become increasingly prevalent in recent years due to advances in technology and the changing nature of conflict. Hybrid warfare is designed to exploit the vulnerabilities of an adversary by using a combination of military and non-military means. The response to hybrid warfare requires a multi-faceted approach that includes military, diplomatic, economic, and information tools. The ultimate goal of countering hybrid warfare is to maintain stability and prevent conflict from escalating into open warfare. It requires constant monitoring, analysis, and adaptation to new forms of hybrid warfare as they emerge. In summary, hybrid warfare has evolved over time and has taken on different forms depending on the context and objectives of the actors involved. As technology continues to advance, the forms of hybrid warfare are likely to become more sophisticated and complex.


  1. Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars. Frank G. Hoffman, 2007. Link:
  2. The Future of Land Warfare. Michael Evans, 2015. Link:
  3. Hybrid Warfare and Challenges. Frank G. Hoffman, 2009. Link:
  4. Hybrid Warfare: Security and Asymmetric Conflict in International Relations, 2021. Link:
  5. The Evolution of Hybrid Hybrid Warfare: Implications for Strategy and the Military Profession. Ilmari Käihkö, 2021. Link:
  6. Making sense of hybrid warfare. James K. Wither, 2016. Link:
  7. Hybrid warfare: The continuation of ambiguity by other means. Andrew Mumford and Pascal Carlucci, 2022. Link:
  8. Understanding hybrid warfare. Andrew Mumford, 2020. Link:
  9. Introduction to Hybrid Warfare – A Framework for comprehensive Analysis. Johann Schmid, 2021. Link: