An asymmetric threat is one that occurs in an obscure or unusual fashion. Typically, it comes from a source that is technically and or seemingly much weaker, in most aspects, than its target.
Asymmetrical warfare, unconventional strategies and tradecraft tactics adopted by a force when the combat capabilities of belligerent powers are not simply unequal but are so significantly different that they cannot make the same sorts of attacks.
The threat is meant to equalize or compensate for the difference. For example, the classic tale of David and Goliath. In this tale, you have two opposing forces, represented by David (the weaker) and Goliath (the stronger). Unequal in size or strength, David resorts an unorthodox tactic to slay Goliath. He uses a sling, throws a rock at Goliath’s head, killing him.
As suppose to a straight up hand-to-hand or melee close quarters battle (symmetrical), which would have yielded the opposite results between the two.
Something that is asymmetrical is uneven, unequal, or imbalanced. Asymmetric warfare exists when two combatants (or team of combatants) of different sides are of unequal size or strength.
Asymmetric engagement is combat between belligerents whose relative power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly. This is typically combat between a standing, professional combatant(s) and an insurgency / militias / criminals / violent protesters and “unlawful” combatants.
Guerrilla warfare is used by smaller forces to weaken the resolve of the larger and more powerful army to continue fighting. By damaging infrastructure, conducting small-scale raids or invasions at unexpected times and tradecraft tactics like assassinations. Guerrilla fighters manage to slowly dissolve the will and viability of the stronger army.
Even in operations other than war, asymmetric threats are present on the (urban) street level:
– An organized group of a dozen small children violently mugging a strong adult male tourist in Bucharest.
– A couple of gangbangers engaging in a firefight in their own hood with a police department in Los Angeles.
– A handful of heavily armed riot police managing hundreds of relatively unarmed but aggressive civilian protesters in Quito.
– A microscopic enemy in a global pandemic war with humans that are millions of times its physical size.
Since the nature of these types of conflicts are so different from traditional warfare, larger and more powerful combatants may have difficulty adjusting or prevailing. This is why asymmetrical warfare can be extremely effective for the weaker force.
In a traditional war, you have two professional armies who have roughly the same experience, resources, and technologies. The only real difference is how they execute their strategies. That’s symmetrical warfare, because both sides essentially are equal.
That’s how war is expected to be fought. But what happens if one of the combatants is not a professional army, but a smaller group of insurgents or rebels? The traditional military tactics used to fight a professional army may no longer work. This is where asymmetrical tactics comes in, which are aimed at grinding down the enemy more than trying to obliterate them.
Asymmetric threats are difficult to avoid in any environment. Unlike the apparent danger of conventional warfare, the danger of asymmetric attack does not decrease in everyday life.
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