Although Total war was thought to be the form of international conflicts from the experience of the French Revolutionary Wars to the Second World War, the term no longer describes warfare in which countries or nations use all of their resources to destroy another country's or nation's organized ability to engage in war. The practice of total war which had been in use for over a century, as a form of war policy has been changed dramatically when greater awareness of tactical, operational and strategic battle information.
The most identifiable consequence of total war in modern times has been the inclusion of civilians and civilian infrastructure as targets in destroying a country's ability to engage in war. The targeting of civilians developed from two distinct theories. The first theory was that if enough civilians were killed, factories could not function. The second theory was that if civilians were killed, the country would be so demoralized that it would have no ability to wage further war.
UNICEF reports that civilian fatalities are up from 5 per cent prior to 1900 AD to now exceeding 90 per cent of fatalities in the wars beginning in the 1990's. "Armed conflict kills and maims more children than soldiers," notes a new United Nations report by Graça Machel, the UN Secretary-General's Expert on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children.
With the advent of nuclear weapons, the concept of full-scale war carries the prospect of global annihilation, and as such conflicts since WWII have by definition been "low intensity" conflicts, typically in the form of proxy wars fought within local regional confines, using what are now referred to as "conventional weapons," typically combined with the use of asymmetric warfare tactics and applied use of intelligence.
More recently the US Department of Defence introduced a concept of Battlespace as the integrated information management of all significant factors that impact on combat operations by armed forces for the military theatre of operations, including information, air, land, sea and space. It includes the environment, factors and conditions that must be understood to successfully apply combat power, protect the force, or complete the mission. This includes enemy and friendly forces; facilities; weather; terrain; and the electromagnetic spectrum within the operational areas and areas of interest.
Aerial warfare is the attempt to gain dominance of the skies. This dominance is important because it can be used to wear down the enemy tactically, strategically, physically and psychologically. This means that the enemy can be greatly weakened and demoralized from the relative safety of the skies. While every side has Anti-Aircraft Guns and Surface-to-air missiles they are limited by their location on the ground. Computers and radar is used to target and destroy the enemy aircraft. However modern air forces fight back using a variety of electronic countermeasures such as chaff, flares, decoys and radar jamming. Also used are physically destructive weapons such as HARM. The best way is ultimately to fight fire with fire, and jet fighters are the best defence.
There are three kinds of air control: air parity, air superiority and air supremacy. Air parity is the lowest and it means that you only have control of the air above friendly troop positions. Air superiority is the second highest and it means that you are in a more favorable position than the opponent. Air supremacy is the highest and it means complete and total control of the skies. A historical example of air supremacy can been seen in WWII: in 1941, Britain had only air parity over England, while Germany had air superiority over most of Western Europe. By 1944, however, the allies would have air supremacy over Western Europe. During the Vietnam War, America had only air superiority over North Vietnam as the NVA mounted an effective resistance despite heavy bombing. During the Gulf War and subsequent conflicts, America had air supremacy thanks to training and airplanes, both of which the enemy lacked. American tactical doctrine calls for air power to protect ground forces from airborne threats. This explains why America only uses 2 main types of SAM: the Stinger and the Patriot missile. By contrast, armies, such as that of Russia, have many types of long, medium, and short range SAM missiles.
Logistics aircraft are strategic and tactical transports, although they can only carry so much weight. In the first Gulf War most of the Abrams tanks were sent by ship instead of plane. Equally important are tanker aircraft such as the KC-135 which extend the range of combat aircraft. Special support planes like the A-10 Warthog and AC-130 Spectre Gunship provide close air support for troops.
Jet fighters have one big weakness. They can only land at airfields for fuel and ammo. These airfields are natural chokepoints and can easily be targeted for destruction. Therefore they must be defended and AEW and AWAC aircraft play a vital role in this. However this means that a successful bombing campaign can wipe out an air force in the air, before it has a chance to defend itself. Countermeasures such as armored hangers and underground airfields are successful depending in what situation they are used in. Precision guided munitions can defeat these but would mainly be used by the technological western powers. Eastern powers would normally focus on quantity over quality and may try to carpet bomb.
This weakness leads to the development of V/STOL aircraft such as the British Harrier. This allows them to rearm and refuel anywhere but at a cost of maneuverability and speed. This generally limits them to close air support missions. Since jets are very costly, most of them are multi-role like the F/A-18 which can dogfight, bomb, reconnoiter and provide close air support. Electronic Warfare is used a lot in aerial warfare, mainly in dogfighting. However bombers use EW as a penetration aid to suppress and/or destroy enemy air defences. This is usually undertaken by specialized SEAD and Wild Weasel aircraft. Such airplanes offer themselves as bait so that the enemy turns on its radars to target and destroy them. The airplane can then jam that frequency or destroy the radar using anti-radiation missiles. The SAM site then can try shooting it down. Most of the time a silent duel is held between the EW officer on the plane and the enemy one on the ground as anti-radiation missiles are held until needed. As the enemy cycles through radio frequencies to counter jamming and chaff, friendlies jam those frequencies, and so on and so forth. For more info see Radar jamming and deception
Helicopters are a very important asset and while have been around since WWII, their full potential has not been realized until the Vietnam War. Their hovering ability eliminates the need for airfields. It also enables them to provide effective close air support. Modern armies use attack helicopters with maneuver units like tanks and armored personnel carriers to provide extra firepower. They also give a commander huge tactical flexibility as they can race to any weak spot under attack and reinforce it. Transport helicopters transport troops and supplies, often behind enemy lines. This leads to a maneuver called vertical envelopment. They can also be used for covert insertion of special forces and for reconnaissance. They played an important part in the asymmetrical and guerrilla style warfare in Vietnam. There the terrain helped the enemy but helicopters overcame this limitation. Since the war was asymmetrical helicopters roamed freely without aerial opposition. Without them resupply and movement have been all but impossible.
A military situation in which two belligerents of unequal strength interact and take advantage of their respective strengths and weaknesses. This interaction often involves strategies and tactics outside the bounds of conventional warfare, often referred to as terrorism.
Biological warfare, also known as germ warfare, is the use of any organism (bacteria, virus or other disease-causing organism) or toxin found in nature, as a weapon of war. It is meant to incapacitate or kill an adversary. It may also be defined as the employment of biological agents to produce casualties in man or animals and damage to plants or material; or defense against such employment.
Network-centric warfare is essentially a new military doctrine made possible by the Information Age. Weapons platforms, sensors and command and control centers are being connected through high-speed communication networks. The doctrine is related to the Revolution in Military Affairs debate.
Chemical warfare is warfare (and associated military operations) using the toxic properties of chemical substances to kill, injure or incapacitate an enemy.
Electronic warfare refers to mainly non-violent practices used chiefly to support other areas of warfare. The term was originally coined to encompass the interception and decoding of enemy radio communications, and the communications technologies and cryptography methods used to counter such interception, as well as jamming, radio stealth and other related areas. Over the latter years of the twentieth century and early years of the twenty-first century this has expanded to cover a wide range of areas: the use of, detection of and avoidance of detection by Radar and Sonar systems, computer hacking, Space warfare etc.
Fourth generation warfare (4GW) is a concept defined by William S. Lind and expanded by Thomas X. Hammes, used to describe the decentralized nature of modern warfare. The simplest definition includes any war in which one of the major participants is not a state but rather a violent ideological network. Fourth Generation wars are characterized by a blurring of the lines between war and politics, soldier and civilian, peace and conflict, battlefield and safety. While this term is similar to terrorism and asymmetric warfare, it is much narrower. Classical insurgencies and the Indian Wars are examples of Pre-Modern War, not 4GW. Fourth generation warfare usually has the insurgency group or non-state side trying to implement their own government or reestablish an old government over the one currently running the territory. The blurring of lines between state and non-state is further complicated in a democracy by the power of the media.
Armored warfare in modern times involves a variety of Armored fighting vehicles for the purpose of battle and support. Tanks or other armored vehicles (such as armored personal carriers or tank destroyers) are slower, yet stronger hunks of metal. They are invulnerable to enemy machine gun fire but prone to rocket infantry, mines, and aircraft so are usually accompanied by infantry. In urban areas, because of smaller space, an armored vehicle is exposed to hidden enemy infantry but as the so called "Thunder Run" in Baghdad in 2003 showed, armored vehicles can play a critical role in urban combat. In rural areas, an armored vehicle does not have to worry about hidden units though muddy and damp terrain have always been a factor of weakness for Armored tanks and vehicles.
Artillery in contemporary times, is distinguished by its large calibre, firing an explosive shell or rocket, and being of such a size and weight as to require a specialized mount for firing and transport. Weapons covered by this term include "tube" artillery such as the howitzer, cannon, mortar, and field gun and "rocket" artillery. The term "artillery" has traditionally not been used for projectiles with internal guidance systems, even though some artillery units employ surface-to-surface missiles. Recent advances in terminal guidance systems for small munitions has allowed large calibre shells to be fitted with precision guidance fuses, blurring this distinction.
Guerrilla warfare is defined as fighting by groups of irregular troops (guerrillas) within areas occupied by the enemy. When guerrillas obey the laws of conventional warfare they are entitled, if captured, to be treated as ordinary prisoners of war; however, they are often executed by their captors. The tactics of guerrilla warfare stress deception and ambush, as opposed to mass confrontation, and succeed best in an irregular, rugged, terrain and with a sympathetic populace, whom guerrillas often seek to win over or dominate by propaganda, reform, and terrorism. Guerrilla warfare has played a significant role in modern history, especially when waged by Communist liberation movements in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
Guerrilla fighters gravitate toward weapons which are easily accessible, low in technology and low in cost. A typical arsenal of the modern guerrilla would include the AK-47, RPGs and Improvised explosive devices. The guerrilla doctrines' main disadvantage is the inability to access more advanced equipment due to economic, influence, and accessibility issues. They must rely on small unit tactics involving hit and run. This situation leads to low intensity warfare and asymmetrical warfare.
Psychological warfare had its beginnings during the First World War in the planned use of propaganda and other psychological actions having the primary purpose of influencing the opinions, emotions, attitudes, and behavior of hostile foreign groups in such a way as to support the achievement of national objectives.
Made possible by the widespread use of the electronic media during the Second World War Information warfare is a kind of warfare where information and attacks on information and its system are used as a tool of warfare. Some examples of this type of warfare are electronic "sniffers" which disrupt international fund-transfer networks as well as the signals of television and radio stations. Jamming such signals can allow participants in the war to use the stations for a misinformation campaign.
Naval warfare takes place on the high seas (blue water navy). Usually, only large, powerful nations have competent blue water or deep water navies. Modern navies primarily use aircraft carriers, submarines, frigates, cruisers, and destroyers for combat. This provides a versatile array of attacks, capable of hitting ground targets, air targets, or other seafaring vessels. Most modern navies also have a large air support contingent, deployed from aircraft carriers. In World War II, small craft (motor torpedo boats variously called PT boats, MTBs, MGBs, Schnellbooten, or MAS-boats) fought near shore. This developed in the Vietnam War into riverine warfare (brown water navy), in intertidal and river areas. Irregular warfare makes this sort of combat more likely in the future.
Nuclear war is a type of warfare which relies on nuclear weapons. There are actually two types of warfare in this category. In a limited nuclear war, a small number of weapons are used in a tactical exchange aimed primarily at opposing military forces. In a full-scale nuclear war, large numbers of weapons are used in an attack aimed at entire countries. This type of warfare would target both military bases and civilians.
Space warfare is warfare that occurs outside the Earth's atmosphere. The weapons would include Orbital weaponry and Space weapons. High value outer space targets would include satellites and weapon platforms. Notably no real weapons exist in space yet.