Imagine modern-day Earth (or the near future) is suddenly involved in a war with an alien civilization (their advancement level is open to change).

Also, for the sake of the argument, assume that cracking the planet is undesirable (the aliens want either resources or territorial expansion).

My main question is how to make sure that the only opposition to the aliens are organized militaries and government agencies, leaving guerrillas, mercenary bands and rebel cells out of the picture. The ideal case is a long, stalemate war (think years at the least) with WW1-style battles.

As I see it, there are a few ways of achieving this:

The Tarkin Doctrine up to eleven

Take the "rule through fear" to its extreme, and take such harsh retaliatory measures against small pockets of resistance that the general population becomes too afraid of resisting. Armies and governments can overcome this by a general "sense of loyalty" or simply because they are too big to be retaliated in this way (for example, the aliens can blow up caves and houses, but not entire cities and fortresses).


If the aliens are advanced enough to bomb a camping site full of rebels they should be capable of bombing an army formation.

Specialized alien military doctrine

The alien troops are somehow immune to guerrilla attacks. For example:

  • Their armor/shields are impervious to handguns and small caliber weapons, and only military grade equipment can harm them.
  • They carry special riot equipment that makes them extremely efficient against small groups or disorganized soldiers.
  • They use some sort of "siege vehicle" good at breaking down improvised barricades, but of limited use against battle tanks and the like.

The earthlings have a special sense of honor

The humans being invaded have a unique perception of honor in combat that forbids them from using "unregulated" or "dishonorable" tactics. As such, they limit themselves to standard, large-scale battles.


If the aliens don't share this trait, the war could potentially be very short, depending on the difference in technology.

The aliens have a special sense of honor

Reversing the situation, in this case it's the invading aliens that have this custom.

In this case, they respect the regular militaries and face them in open combat according to their cultural "rules of engagement". However, rebels and irregular fighters enrage them due to their "lack of civility and honor", and are promptly eradicated to make an example.

This should both remove the current guerrillas as well as preventing more from forming.

Remove the rebels from the equation

A more "out of the box" thinking. The aliens only need control over certain geographical areas, and are content with letting the military patrol cities and try to mount attacks. However, rebels that try to interfere with their controlled areas are abducted or otherwise removed.

This process is easy and cheap enough for the aliens that they don't see the need for more aggressive methods.


One would think that the regular armies would eventually realize the aliens' strategy and try to attack their occupied areas.

Are there other methods that I'm not seeing, or any potential problems with my ideas?

  • $\begingroup$ Do the aliens have unlimited mobility as you would expect from a spacefaring species, or are they somehow confined to mostly ground movement? The latter would make a drawn out war a lot more likely, but the aliens less threatening. $\endgroup$
    – Cyrus
    Dec 10 '20 at 12:50
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    $\begingroup$ is this mean for guerrilla tactic to be out of the equation or mean to specifically kick off the so called "freedom fighter", "resistance" or "revolutionary" group of each human nations? because as far as i know even organized military do guerrilla tactic too especially if your location is full of jungle. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Dec 10 '20 at 13:38
  • $\begingroup$ @LiJun Ideally to remove the entire guerrilla warfare as a concept, and focus instead on large scale "orderly" engagements. $\endgroup$ Dec 10 '20 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ I think that you could certainly take steps to mitigate the loss of guerilla warfare but at the end of the day, it's not so much that you can prevent the concept from forming, so much as it is to quickly eliminate it once it's formed through swift liberation. Throughout histories, protracted military campaigns of invasion into foreign territory have a chance of sucess decreases as time increases... it is why the Americans won the Revolution, stalemated the War of 1812 and lost the Vietnam War. $\endgroup$
    – hszmv
    Dec 10 '20 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ Is genocide not an option? You specified measures must not be taken which would compromise the habitability/exploitation of the planet's resources, but "kill everyone who isn't us" is an effective and historically popular way to take other people's resources. Assuming your aliens are strong enough to kill everyone who doesn't fight back but not everyone who does, you're left with something resembling Aliens vs. Nation States. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Dec 11 '20 at 2:01

11 Answers 11


Aliens are few and far between, drones do the work and are trivially replaceable.

The aliens are using drones for the day-to-day movement of force on the planet. There are only a few alien beings, and they're safe in their spaceship on the edge of the solar system out of nuke range.

The drones can be destroyed en mass by organised military but are trivially rebuilt. Guerrilla action just can't accomplish anything notable - someone died and their sacrifice destroyed 5 drones, well they'll be replaced in 30 seconds.

A hit-and-run operation or a suicide bomber clears an area of drones for maybe a minute. It's just not worth it. The drones return and continue what they're doing unfazed by having to replace themselves.

Large coordinated military action can clean an area of drones and push front lines back by holding the land and stopping the replacement drones from arriving, and is the only way the war progresses.

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    $\begingroup$ Pretty much the answer I was going to go with. Guerrila warfare relies heavily on sapping the enemy's will to fight and draining their resources disproportionally. The aliens have functionally infinite resources at this scale and absolutely nothing the human resistance can do will affect their will to fight. The only recourse is larger scale warfare that takes and holds areas. $\endgroup$
    – Ruadhan
    Dec 11 '20 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ guerilla tactics are especially effective in this scenario destroying distribution points and transport will be the most effective tactics you can employ. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Dec 11 '20 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ To keep the aliens from having infinite resources that would overwhelm even standing armies, the focusing factor can be that the drones (biological or mechanical) are limited to an operating range, not unlike the Phantom Menace droids. Perhaps they're reliant on close-range radio or telepathic guidance or power distribution. Or as with H.G. Wells' Martians, perhaps the fate of captured partisans is so gruesome no individual will voluntarily risk getting caught. $\endgroup$ Dec 11 '20 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ But then the aliens don't need humans. The super-cheap drones can also extract the resources, while humans starve in internment camps. You don't have a more traditional occupation where humans are enslaved to produce for their conquerors. $\endgroup$ Dec 11 '20 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ @OwenReynolds The aliens could do the whole Nier Automata thing. You have an infinite supply of drones (avatars really) but your capacity to field an infinte number of avatars simultaneously is limited by how many individuals you have to control them. So the rather than being infinite in number and overwhelming the enemy, number of avatars on the battlefield remains fixed no matter how many you kill but $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Dec 11 '20 at 19:58

The aliens don't care much about interaction with the general populace, and don't have supply chains

Guerilla warfare works because people can melt back into native populations and because logistics are tricky. You can ambush small groups as they move across unfamiliar territory, attack weaker supply lines, use civilians as a cover for assault.

So, the easy answer is that the aliens don't have easily attackable supply lines or interact with people. They set up in a place, kick out or kill all the humans there, and use rail guns to send resources up and down to and from space. Any human who gets close gets warned off or shot, and the aliens don't tend to interact at all with humans or patrol their cities.

They can defend their lines with trenches, machine gun posts, and gas attacks. No ragtag bunch of rebels can handle that, only an organized military.

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    $\begingroup$ This, absolutely. What guerrilla tactics are great for is resisting an occupying force — occupation requires dispersal, which makes the force vulnerable. But for attacking a fortified outpost — a single point of concentrated strength — that’s where you need an organised military. $\endgroup$ Dec 12 '20 at 0:10

You already did it:

Guerilla bands are but one form of asymmetric warfare. It occurs when there is a large gap in the capabilies of the two sides.

Guerilla warfare is, at the core, a desperation measure by one side to avoid complete collapse, to demonstrate their continued relevance to the population in otherwise-enemy-dominated territory, to preserve political organization and combat power, and to buy time for future resurgence on a better day.

Since you want your scenario to include a long stalemate, which requires reasonably similar combat power, your situation already lacks the asymmetry required for guerilla warfare.

Instead, look to the use (and misuse) of elite forces (like Special Forces) which are intended to be used enhance the capabilities of main combat forces. Their method of fighting, specializing in small-unit raids and ambushes, may superficially seem similar to guerilla fighting...but only superficially. The organization, training, equipment, targets, support requirements, and goals are very different.

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    $\begingroup$ Hogan's Heroes was fake? More seriously, during WWII France had partisans, I think German held Russia did. Conventional militaries are glad to work with and support guerillas. $\endgroup$ Dec 10 '20 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ This right here, though I somewhat object to using the term guerrillas to refer to the people. Like user535733 says, guerrilla warfare is merely a tactic. The combatants are insurgents/rebels/partisans/freedom fighters or whatever their cause is. I'd also argue that if you find yourself in a non-asymmetric war, you've done something wrong. $\endgroup$
    – Teak
    Dec 11 '20 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Teak fixed the terms. Good catch! $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Dec 11 '20 at 0:08
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    $\begingroup$ Elite SF like the Green Berets, whose reason d'etre is to train guerrilla forces? $\endgroup$
    – fectin
    Dec 11 '20 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ @fectin You don't train your citizens to be guerillas, you train some other nation's disaffected civilians to be guerillas, then sit back and watch as they destabilize the entire region on behalf of their cause, and when everything collapses you move in to "restore order", put whatever puppet you want in charge, thank the guerillas for their help, and then shoot them in job lots before they become inconvenient. $\endgroup$
    – Shadur
    Dec 13 '20 at 15:46

You Can't, Buuuut


So firstly, you can't really eradicate guerrilla warfare from humanity. There are plenty of historical instances where "worthless" insurgency tactics are still executed because of a variety of factors (fanaticism being the hardest to quell). What it boils down to is Guerrilla warfare is the oldest method of war on earth, and there's really no way to hand-wave a normal human populace into not doing it even if occupied by overwhelming force if they view that force as wanting to be permanent enemy occupiers. The only times you don't see guerrilla warfare is EITHER:

A: The non-military populace of an occupied region doesn't care who is in charge, so has no incentive to fight. or B: There are no groups and few individuals loyal to the other side in occupied territory.

For A you could have the alien invaders coming down in 3rd-world regions or in nations with hugely despotic regimes. If they land, knock out the governments quickly, then are beneficent rulers to the populace (or just less-horrific than before) you won't have problems. Then you settle into trench warfare along designated fronts. Leave enough time for civilians to evacuate regions (and have the "Free World" put out enough propaganda) and alien-conquered territory will be denuded of human-loyal population! As the Humans reconquer alien lands you have the same apathetic populace, so no problem of insurgency that way either. I think personally this the best/most interesting option.

If option B your aliens might have pacification aerosols that they disperse in captured population centers and along supply routes. Militarily gassses are trivial to defend against (gasmask with the right filter and you're good) so it wouldn't effect the front too much. It doesn't even need to keep the whole population pro-alien, it can just be a general "we don't feel like being violent." Or they might have mind pacification chips installed in people in captured areas, or even just slaughter every human in territory they control!


For aliens I would suggest the method Footfall by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven used. Essentially the aliens were descended from herd animals and had a deep-to-the-point-of-biological-necessity need to be in a group. If captured, they changed sides more-or-less instantly once away from the front. Essentially they'd join the new "herd" without the moral qualms a human traitor has. That'd stop any small groups or individuals of aliens trapped "behind the lines" after attack from being guerrillas. They have a need to belong that overrides their aggression.

You could also give them a very strong warrior ethos where they flat refuse to engage without some higher-up being able to see their actions and award their bravery appropriately. You'd need something beyond "we don't attack civilians" because guerrilla warfare often strikes at "legitimate" military targets. Or maybe something like the Kaylekid of Horus Rising (or one of the first three of Black Library's Horus Heresy series anyway) who felt war was so abhorrent they only fought in designated areas. These areas could be miles a side and were always away from population centers, so they were "battlefields" and not just arenas. Be trickier to implement, as this is aliens invading earth and you'd have to combine that with some reason for the humans to adhere to those rules in general AND not be guerrillas as well, but it's an idea.

As an aside, mass-retaliation against insurgence has a VERY poor track record. It just doesn't stop guerrilla forces doing their guerrilla things. It tends to drive locals TOWARDS the rebels instead. It goes like this. Rebels commit attack near home, because they're familiar with it. Occupiers round up and shoot 100 random people after nobody gives up the rebels. Rebels now know this is a thing. So they go to ANOTHER town, either with people they don't know or people who aren't as "patriotic" as the rebels, and attack near there. Occupiers round up and shoot 100 people from the new place. This pisses off those people, and some form their own rebel band/join rebels. Repeat ad nauseum. (look at the French Resistance, 1870/71 and WWII especially)


Mind control

Aliens don't have any powerful weapons that are able to render human armies helpless, but they possess something else: ability to influence, and somewhat control human minds. After falling under aliens' spell, humans are becoming obedient and complacent. They can no longer fight.

Fortunately for humans, this ability has somewhat limited range and works only slowly. It's also not natural for the aliens - they need special installations, similar to broadcast towers to transmit this influence. Thus, any human-controlled territory is safe from this influence. Only the front lines are affected, but there humans can either bombard these installations or rotate troops in and out of the danger zone. After a human leaves the zone of influence, his/her judgement is quickly restored, and "turning" them would need to start all over again.

Alien-controlled territory, on the other hand, is not so fortunate. Unless rebels or special ops teams are able to blow up the transmitters quickly, they fall under their influence and lose their ability to fight. thus, humans can't have any cells of resistance operating in enemy territory, and any special operations should withdraw quickly, or else all personnel would be lost.

P.S. this answer was inspired by Prisoners of Power (Inhabited Island) Sci-Fi novel.

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    $\begingroup$ Alternately, instead of mind control towers, they might put drugs into the food supply of the areas they conquered. $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Dec 11 '20 at 11:46
  • $\begingroup$ There was a BBC series, Tripods, where humans received mind-control implants that were visible. These "capped" individuals were trusted, and everyone else was not. So loyalist humans would be easily distinguished by both sides, and the aliens would have no influence over the other side. The other variant is the parasite/host model, where the aliens are in the humans, but may not be good enough to imitate being human. Both side know who is who and there is no mixing. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Dec 12 '20 at 3:23

Have most of the war happen from a distance. Humans do guerilla warfare against ground troops among the general population where methods like suicide bombings and ambushes are effective. Why not have your aliens use kinetic bombardment: launching a projectile from orbit to impact at high speeds like the 'rods of God' weapon the U.S. Air Force is working on. These weapons can be used as shots attacking rebel encampments as well as similar devices being used to drop resources. These rods should only be attackable by specialized aircraft like spaceplanes, rockets, and devices that can attack items in space/low-earth orbit. The railgun or other device used for delivery/kinetic bombardment would be in a position where a rebel force/militia would have trouble attacking them. Only a professional military/fighting force would have the materials necessary to strike these high targets and pose any kind of threat.


The aliens have technology or ability that makes standard guerilla tactics ineffective.

Most likely, this is some form of detection system that allows them to identify armed individuals/groups before they get close enough to use their weapons. This prevents the most critical guerilla tactic of using a small and easily concealed force to get close to a target and launch a surprise attack on it. It may even be a form of limited prescience, i.e. they may know some short time before a strike that it is about to happen, giving them enouh time organise defence against any small-scale attack, so therefore only large scale massed attacks have a chance of success.

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    $\begingroup$ Being severely outnumbered and out-teched is exactly when you resort to guerilla tactics. Unless you go out of your way to handwave, tech and power imbalances are just challenges to either overcome when possible or work around when not. $\endgroup$
    – Shadur
    Dec 13 '20 at 15:48

The ideal case is a long, stalemate war (think years at the least) with WW1-style battles.

Well the tricky thing here is that WW1 also had resistance movements. So if you want to avoid (or minimize) guerrilla warfare and focus on a long stalemate...

You're going to want to have something akin to Trench Warfare.

Seeing as this is an interplanetary battle, you could just have all the major battles take place in space. With two (or multiple) planets of comparable technology, discipline and resources unleashing fleet after fleet on one another, they'd be stuck in deadlock.

You could have minor breaches in the blockade from time to time, to keep things interesting. But in all likelihood, a landing on earth would only be a short term gain.

Another advantage of space warfare: It's expensive on both resources and intellect. While you might have rogue pilots as mercenaries, it can only be conducted through organized fleets under the command of advanced military powers. Besides, there's no need for guerrilla tactics, when people are only fighting over airspace!

For the war to have some impact on those outside of the military, I'd say you could add in plot elements such as satellite-raids or launching missiles or (garbage) into space, to give both sides very little hope to continue fighting.

If you still want gun battles with man and alien coming face-to-face, you could probably fit in some theaters like moons. But if you want to really emphasize the stalemate part, as something more than just a fact of the world, I'd say you should be considering more unconventional combat.


Guerilla tactics and rebel groups are a non starter because;

1) The Aliens are 'up there' in space not 'down here' on Earth which means rebel groups don't have the technical now how or resources to fight them. Alternatively they ARE down here but only in geographically remote locations where there is no population for rebels to be recruited from. Think Antarctica, Outback Australia, remote island chains which are either uninhabited or else have had the small local populations eliminated/imprisoned or even floating bases. (Scuba diving rebels anyone?)

2) The nature of the war is dominated by hit and run raids by the aliens and counter moves by Earth rebel groups simply can't move and deploy quickly enough to respond effectively. Only Governments have the capital and logistics to do so. Put simply rebels would have to know in advance where the aliens are going to attack to make a difference and usually they don't, especially if the military is the one who is gong to be the ones issuing alerts re; incoming raids. Far easier to volunteer and sign up than organize a 'peoples' militia that's not in the loop.

In short rebels only become viable when the aliens are set on controlling vast sways of territory inhabited by large populations. The aliens ultimate goals may simply be to beat Earths' governments into submission ans then get them to do the heavy lifting for them, not occupy the place themselves when a station in orbit can serve just as well after they win.


As already mentioned, guerilla tactics work because the guerillas can successfully avoid detection while disrupting the enemy operations.

Aliens are genocidal

The guerillas can't conduct the guerilla warfare if there are no people among whom they could hide. The guerillas have to infiltrate the enemy territory, often passing for civilians. They need supplies, usually obtained from local population (voluntarily or not).

Aliens extensively track the population

If the theater of operation is densely populated, methods like compulsive use of IDs, face recognition, fingerprints together with AI that can quickly analyze big data would quickly quell any guerilla. How would you even make a graffiti if you are constantly recorded and access to every location requires an ID scan. Even nowadays police can track a criminal through half a city using CCTV. Currently it usually requires quite some work, but what if you could employ an AI for this?

Aliens go for open terrain locations

This would probably work well paired with the above point. Guerilla warfare doesn't work equally well in every conditions. Mountain jungle would be perfect, but well monitored urban area less so. And with dense, high resolution satellite imaging even average Western European town or village could be considered monitored well enough.


Human detectors

Hit and run tactics are successful because of surprise factor. For instance, a small group poisoning the well and running away can cause havoc. But fear not galactic overlord, our kin have human detectors that can detect humans from far away, without any way to stop it. Even if resistance hits from underground they will know it. A small group will have zero chance against stronger when there is no element of surprise. This will also prevent pesky humans from employing their creative tactics, leaving only front line to front line combat. Which also will lead to stalemate when the overall forces are similar.


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