On a summer’s evening in the sweltering South China Sea, a coastal steamer of nearly 2,000 tons approaches a Vietnamese fishing fleet in the exclusive economic zone of Vietnam, some 150 miles off that nation’s coast. The steamer loiters in the area for an hour or two as night falls. Suddenly from the side of the ship three fast speedboats are deployed, each armed with .50 caliber guns and hand-held rocket launchers. For the next hour, the speedboats attack dozens of fishing craft, spraying them with .50 caliber fire, hitting them with grenades, and shooting at survivors in the water. The surviving fishing boats flee toward the coast, frantically radioing distress calls, which are jammed by small drones operating overhead. . . .
Much has been written about the emergence of “hybrid warfare” in a variety of global scenarios, notably in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. To date, this largely has been confined to land warfare, in terms of both actual practice and theoretical discussion. That is about to change, and we will see the emergence of maritime hybrid warfare over the coming decades, perhaps sooner. Now is the time for the U.S. Navy to begin thinking about these scenarios and how to counter them, both for our own forces and on behalf of allies, partners, and friends in the global maritime coalition.