As the American Army fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, it became the best tactical level counter insurgency force of the modern era. America’s enemies, however, did not rest. Russia observed the transformation of the American Army and began a transformation of their own. This new military barely resembles its former Soviet self. Wielding a sophisticated blend of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), electronic warfare (EW) jamming equipment, and long range rocket artillery, it took the Soviet model out of the 1980s and into the 21st Century.
U.S. competitors pursuing meaningful revision or rejection of the current U.S.-led status quo are employing a host of hybrid methods to advance and secure interests that are in many cases contrary to those of the United States. These challengers employ unique combinations of influence, intimidation, coercion, and aggression to incrementally crowd out effective resistance, establish local or regional advantages, and manipulate risk perceptions in their favor. So far, the United States has not come up with a coherent countervailing approach. It is in this “gray zone”—the awkward and uncomfortable space between traditional conceptions of war and peace—where the United States and its defense enterprise face systemic challenges to U.S. position and authority. As a result, gray zone competition and conflict should be pacers for defense strategy.
The study addresses the challenges facing the United States from the increasing use by rivals and adversaries – state and non-state alike – of what have come to be called “Gray Zone” techniques. The term Gray Zone (“GZ”) denotes the use of techniques to achieve a nation’s goals and frustrate those of its rivals by employing instruments of power – often asymmetric and ambiguous in character – that are not direct use of acknowledged regular military forces.