Despite the increasing U.S. focus on 'near peer competition' and preparing for high intensity warfare with strategic rivals such as China and Russia, the Gray Zone is still the most likely arena for conflict today.
China has mastered this form of 'under the threshold of war' operations in the South China Sea, with maritime militias, disguised fishing fleets, and island building in contested waters. China has also mastered the use of espionage and cyber warfare on a scale never before seen in history.
Meanwhile, Russia has perfected hybrid warfare using non attributable paramilitary forces, subversion, propaganda, intelligence and private military companies (PMCs) to achieve its objectives in its near abroad such as Ukraine and Crimea, and perhaps Belarus.
Influence operations, subversion, and electoral interference are being practiced and expanded by both Russia and China, not only against the U.S. but against NATO countries and America's Asian allies such as Australia and Taiwan.
Understanding and combating this complex, undefined warfare domain is critical for U.S. national security in this decade.
Areas of focus include:
Cyber warfare and hacking
Intelligence, espionage and counterintelligence
Influence operations and subversion
Information Operations and propaganda
Paramilitary forces and private military companies (eg; Russia's Wagner Group)
Chinese Gray Zone maritime operations in South China Sea
Russian Hybrid Warfare tactics and use in former Soviet states
Special forces and unconventional warfare
Whole of government approaches to Gray Zone threat
The Gray Zone is the most dangerous arena for great power competition between the U.S., China, and Russia today. Conflict here can escalate quickly, but the far bigger danger is the inability of the conventional U.S. military and defense establishment to effectively engage and counter Russian and Chinese operations in the Gray Zone. Understanding and combating this complex undefined warfare domain is critical for U.S. national security in this decade.