Theory of Battlespace Technology – Introduction

War is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale. If we would conceive as a unit the countless number of duels which make up a war, we shall do so best by supposing to ourselves two wrestlers. Each strives by physical force to compel the other to submit to his will: his first object is to throw his adversary, and thus to render him incapable of further resistance. War therefore is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will. Violence arms itself with the inventions of Art and Science in order to contend against violence.
—Carl von Clausewitz, On War

Technology is a tool for warfare. It is certainly a valuable tool, but its value comes from how it is used in the battlespace. “Everything in war is very simple,” Clausewitz contends.[1] The objective is to compel our opponent to submit to our will, and we do it by maneuvering to optimize our defense and offense in the physical, moral, and mental domains. “But the simplest thing is difficult,”1 Clausewitz continues, with difficulty brought on by friction and compounded by danger, physical demand, and the fog of war.[2] The role of technology is to reduce the overall friction of war such that simple actions can be carried out as rapidly and effectively as possible. This requires a flexible technology tool kit that enables each warfighter to attack enemies physically, mentally, and morally; seize the strategic initiative via every conduit in a joint battlespace; and attack relentlessly in a synchronized manner whenever a vulnerability opens up until the adversaries are completely paralyzed.

The study of battlefield technology should begin with the study of how battles are currently and should ideally fought; the use of technology in war should then be driven by identifying areas where friction can be minimized.[3] To understand complexity and the chaos that grows and morphs, one must start with the most basic element, war defined, is “nothing but a duel on a larger scale.”[4] I will approach this by first defining how technology should serve in the battlespace in an ideal scenario. From that, I will construct the simplest building block that is the interface between technology design and battlespace requirements.

The Theory of Battlespace Technology

Carl von Clausewitz, painted by Karl Wilhelm Wach (Wikimedia)

If theory investigates the subjects which constitute War; if it separates more distinctly that which at first sight seems amalgamated; if it explains fully the properties of the means; if it shows their probable effects; if it makes evident the nature of objects; if it brings to bear all over the field of War the light of essentially critical investigation—then it has fulfilled the chief duties of its province.
—Carl von Clausewitz, On War

To establish a Technical Union that can evolve and adapt to the complexity of the scientific and battlespace environments, while still maintaining an overall alignment to the military strategic objective, a common mission and fundamental logic need to be set.[5] I will define the common mission as a theoretical ideal that encompasses the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. I will then deconstruct the mission statement into the simple building blocks, and use these basic blocks to build the path back towards the theoretical ideal using the two truths and the fundamentals of war as scaffolds. The path is meant to serve as a main road to which side paths can connect, not as a singular road. By building a path spanning the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of the Technical Union, the power of distributed creative local efforts can be connected, encouraged, and harvested.

The heart of this theoretical ideal depends on two truths. The first truth echoes the first truth of special operations forces—humans are more important than hardware.[6] Each warfighter, squad, and platoon can be empowered to create and harvest asymmetric effects on the ground. People throughout the entire chain of command are the ones who make the difference. Sound strategy, elegant operational art, and creative application of tactics carried out by the right people make the critical difference. Each can create localized chain reactions that, when concentrated and focused at a critical area, can have an outsized effect.

The second truth is that from a purely scientific standpoint all domains in the battlespace are inherently joint. It is crucial to recognize that the battlespace has no boundaries, only interfaces—and interfaces always have connections to one another. As long as the properties from one area to the next are addressed and the abrupt changes in properties at the interfaces are bridged or meshed, a technology can transfer from one area to another with relative ease.[7] Water, land, air, and space are all elements fundamentally formed by atoms, and are scientifically characterized by a same core set of variables, such as coefficients of friction, gravitational force, and drag. From a scientific and engineering point of view, the world is constantly changing but fundamentally connected by these shared variables. From a scientific and engineering point of view, the world is constantly changing but fundamentally connected by these shared variables. The variables are expressed differently in each domain, and induce varying levels of friction on the entity traversing the domain. Humans have physical and mental limitations on their abilities to account for all the variables and traverse multiple battlespaces, but technology can eliminate or minimize those limitations.

With the ultimate objective of generating a theory for technology as an effective tool for warfighting with the two truths as guides, I propose the following common mission objective for the Technical Union:

Technology enables warfighters to control all domains; carry out tactical actions in the physical, moral, and mental realms; and accumulate tactical results to achieve strategic objectives.

 The mission objective statement can then be deconstructed into simple building blocks to represent the actions that achieves combat effects. I will follow John Gaddis’s definition of strategy, where strategy is the alignment of means across time, space, and scale.[8] This definition implies that tactical actions aligning means to achieve a tactical end is a form of strategy, albeit one of relatively smaller scale compared to that found in a national policy. Adopting this definition allows the building blocks to be connected from tactical, operational, and strategic levels with no separations in between. If this model is executed in real life, the doctrinal definition of strategy can be easily reintroduced to the analysis as it is an administrative definition of scale.

The basic building block is at the tactical level, with the first part of the sentence using generalizable principles that will allow the single block to grow in complexity.

[Technology] will enable [warfighters] to [control all domains] to [carry out tactical actions]

Because warfighters carry out the action, we will first focus on the sentence without the influence of technology. Warfighter, represented in the model as one of the possible actors,will accomplish a tactical action (end) with a given of speed and range (time and space) across a given domain.

Basic building block of the Battlespace Technology Model

 The actor will determine how to modulate speed and range and  accomplish the action within the domain with the means available. The means are the actor’s inherent ability combined with the available tools .

 The speed at which an actor manipulates the range between the actor and the target defines the characteristics of the action. The effect of an action is dependent upon the characteristics of the target, so the intended target must be included in the definition of the action.

The variables in the Battlespace Technology Model can be generalized to include different types of actors, domains, attributes, and realms. A “realm” is where the effects of the action resides.

Basic types of variables for the Battlespace Technology Model

Characteristics of the variables:

  1. Each actor has limitations in domains and attributes, and therefore the performable action.

  2. Each domain has advantages and disadvantages in a given context; these can all be exploited based on the intended action.

  3. Each attribute has trade-offs for a given controller traversing in a given domain. For instance, on land, gaining speed comes at the expense of stability. Extended range in any physical space means reduced allowed mass for a given amount of energy.

  4. Each action needs to take place in the physical realm to create an effect. Actions in the moral and mental realms are multipliers of physical action, and physical actions should create effects in the moral and mental realms.

Submodel representing technological tools that augment an actor’s capability

Actors can use tools to augment their ability to complete an objective. A tool is something that aids in the expression of an intent, but in itself does not express an intent. Each tool has enabling capabilities, requirements to operate, and vulnerabilities. A critical enabling capability is the primary manner by which a tool can augment an actor’s ability to carry out an action in a given domain. Critical requirements are the essential conditions, resources, skills, and means for the critical enabling capability to be fully operative. A critical vulnerability is the manner in which the tool, or the actor who is using the tool, is most vulnerable to neutralization. These definitions are based on Dr. Joe Strange’s analysis of centers of gravity, modified for the analysis of technological tools.[9] Tools can be in reserve with a cost (such as being carried in the backpack with a cost of weight), and only the tools being used will take effect. No tool is perfect, and all tools have trade-offs in the capabilities that they offer, the conditions in which they operate optimally, and the costs associated with them. The difference between an actor and a tool is that an actor has some ability to carry out an objective independent of another actor. For example, an animal can be taught to walk to a certain location given the proper motivation, and a robot with a limited artificial intelligence can be instructed to loiter at a concealed position to gather intelligence. An actor can use another actor with the appropriate attributes to augment the performance an action in a given domain—when an actor is augmented by another actor, the augmenting actor is called a proxy. The actor whose intents are expressed through a web of proxies is the critical node for the proxies; just as in any flexible network, the relationships between proxies and the critical node do not have to be exclusive, and critical nodes in a battlespace at a given time can be weighted according to the focus of effort at the time.

Now that we have introduced the single block of the model, we will proceed to examine how this model can be used to represent the accumulation of battlespace actions. We will analyze the model in space and time to clearly illustrate how the means align in each.

Compress Space to Reveal Time

Violence, that is to say, physical force (for there is no moral force without the conception of States and Law), is therefore the means; the compulsory submission of the enemy to our will is the ultimate object. In order to attain this object fully, the enemy must be disarmed, and disarmament becomes therefore the immediate object of hostilities in theory. It takes the place of the final object, and puts it aside as something we can eliminate from our calculations.
—Carl von Clausewitz, On War

The first step is to compress the representation of space and focus on the representation of time, using the action of one soldier across a short period of time as an example. In this example, a soldier is tasked with collecting images from a given location. This is an operationally unrealistic situation, and it is used merely to illustrate the concept with a simple case.

  • Mission: Gather imagery data in support of priority intelligence requirements.

  • Enemy: Target structure is expected to be patrolled by four men with small arms.

  • Terrain: Soldier will travel by foot for 2 miles from the drop-off to the target location.

  • Troops available: The task will be carried out by a two-man recon team, one tasked  with collecting imagery data (Team Leader) and the other with establishing security (Rifleman).

  • Time: 0200-0400

  • Civilian consideration: Low to medium probability of civilian presence.

High-level block model of the example mission

The mission information states that the enemy is not well guarded in the air domain and some overgrown areas in the land domain,, and the team leader therefore decides to carry a small drone and three small insect-like ground robots to collect imagery data. Although the commander’s intent was given in terms of distance in the land domain, the use of small drones exploits the enemy’s lack of security and situation awareness in the air domain. Additionally, using small drones as a robotic proxy increases survivability by increasing standoff distance from the enemy. To reach the destination by foot in the allotted time, he wears a leg-brace exoskeleton to help support the additional weight.[10]

The team leader reaches a designated waypoint—a concealed location on the foot of a small hill near the target structure. He first deploys the small drone to survey the area. With that information, using his tablet, he plans the route of the small robots to approach the objective with a flanking maneuver, releases the robots, and maintains the small drone in a fixed circular flight path to provide situation awareness. Finally, he determines the imagery data he gathered has met his commander’s objective, and he recalls the small drone and the robots to his location and departs.

Expanded time-model for the example mission

The time scale on the bottom of the graph both marks the important activities in this sequence and indicates  the cognitive load the technology exerts on the soldier. Other than major decision points (marked by the green-filled circles), the cognitive load is also burdened by the need to monitor the video feeds through the cyber domain from the drone and the ground robots. This representation highlights the need for technological development that aim for simplified workflow to reduce the cognitive load of soldiers.

In addition to the cognitive load, another manner in which the soldier is affected by having to control multiple robotic proxies (the surveillance drones and ground robots), is the error introduced every time his or her intents are translated to the proxies. Every time information is translated (marked by red arrows), an error is possible. Any such error surfaces as  in communications between two human actors, but the problem is exacerbated in communications between actors of different types—in this case, human and mechanical actor. Between human actors, miscommunications can be rectified in after-action discussions or in requests for clarification in the moment, but miscommunication between a human actor and a mechanical proxy can only be rectified by technical debugging. This effect could cause human actors to mistrust other proxies and tools in a stressful battlefield environment. This highlights the need for unobtrusive user-interface design and technology for effective command and control in the battlespace.

The success of a battle depends upon the execution of tactics, techniques, and procedures, and this representation helps elucidate the involvement of all three. In general, the execution of an action by an actor within an individual block is based on technique and procedure, and the connection between actions is based on tactical creativity. For example, the decision to use ground robots to collect imagery data from a certain location and the planning of their routes are based on creativity, but the control of the ground robots is based on technique. Techniques of executing an action using proxies require proper engineering design as well as sufficient training. Tactical creativity comes from an intuitive understanding of the battlespace, which is a topic we will explore in subsequent papers.

Compress Time to Reveal Space

Until we possess a true science of war, we have no means of calculating the results of genius.
—J. F. C. Fuller, The Foundation Science of War

 In an analysis of T. E. Lawrence’s mathematical calculation about the Arab Revolt, Liddell Hart wrote, “[The] ratio of space to forces is a basic factor, but the product varies with the type of country and the relative mobility of the two sides, as well as their relative morales.”[11] Hart’s analysis illustrates the importance of the ratio of space to forces, defined by an army’s ability to carry out attack and guard actions to achieve the strategic goal. Movement is performed to improve the success of attack and guard, and command and control is performed to maintain the unity of force in attack or guard.

To examine technology’s role in attack and guard, consider again the scenario above. To simplify, collapse the model by wrapping the tools and proxy within the block as an augmentation of soldiers’ability to complete the objective given the terrain.

Battlespace Technology Model of the two soldiers

In the two-soldier recon team, the team leader is augmented with the previously discussed technologies and tasked with collecting imagery data, and the rifleman is tasked with providing security. In addition to the rifles and pistols both soldiers carry, rifleman carries ten variable grenades with proximity sensors to augment his ability to set up a security perimeter.

Space representation of the model for all the actors in a time snapshot

 The scenario in the figure above involves the two soldiers (blue circles) setting up at a concealed location on the foot of a small hill 400 meters west of the target structure. The team leader deploys the survey elements—the drones and ground robots—after getting situated between two large trees that provide concealment. The rifleman sets up a security perimeter by placing four variable grenades with proximity sensors around the tree line. Rifleman kneels behind the team leader and faces west. The small drone (purple circle), which has finished taking critical aerial imagery footage, now focuses on monitoring the two combatants patrolling the structure (red circles). The drone footage confirms that the combatants are carrying small arms and wearing light body armor. The three ground robots scan the area surrounding the structure for potential openings to insert cameras into the building and to search for thermal and chemical signature of signs of tunnels.

Below is a description of the analysis of the range of attack, guard, and situation awareness within a snapshot of the battlespace. These ranges are represented in shaded areas around the actors—these are merely simplified graphical representations to convey the idea.

Range of Situation Awareness: The range of situational awareness is a prerequisite for other battlefield actions but in itself does not indicate an action; it is indicated by the yellow area surrounding an actor in the figure above. The range of situational awareness of soldier 1 could be turned into a range of guard in the mental realm (if the information from the drones is processed into intelligence) or range of attack/guard in the land domain, but the range of situational awareness does not immediately turn into an action unless another step is taken.

Range of Attack: Range of attack is the range across which an actor has situation awareness and has a readied weapon that can generate damage to an enemy before the enemy’s attack. It is marked by an orange area surrounding an actor in the figure.

Range of Guard: The range of guard is the range in which an enemy’s attack is rendered less effective than intended to a point which is acceptable to the actor (for himself and for the proxies he controls); it is marked by a blue area surrounding an actor in the figure.


This is an introduction to the modern science of war using two graphical representations of the battlespace technology model to represent the alignment of means in time and space. By examining the logical and procedural elements of an action, we have been able to segment out areas where friction may arise. This is the beginning of a theory on the use of technological tools in the battlespace. This theory seeks to guide technologists in the thinking of technology design for the battlespace, and to guide soldiers and commanders in selecting the right technological tool for the tactical action to achieve the desired strategic effects. More importantly, this theory serves as a common language for the tactical and technical experts to communicate about needs in the battlespace and technology advancement as it pertains to warfighting. By establishing trust with a common language, the theory aims to speed up the development cycle of appropriate battlespace technology and expand the possibilities of warfighting with technology as an enabling tool.

Joanne C. Lo is the CEO and founder of Elysian Labs, a military-focused organization that provides warfighters with leading edge technologies for modern warfare. Prior to founding Elysian Labs, Joanne was a Member of the Technical Staff at Sandia National Labs and researcher at Google ATAP and Adobe Research. She has a PhD and MS in Electrical Engineering and a BS in Biomedical Engineering.

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Header Image: British Vickers machine gun crew during the Battle of Menin Road Ridge, World War I (Ernest Brooks/Wikimedia)


[1] Carl von Clausewitz, On War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 116.

[2] Ibid, 75

[3] Gray, Colin S. Weapons don't make war: Policy, strategy, and military technology. University Press of Kansas, 1993,7

[4] Ibid., 75.

[5] Chia, Robert CH, and Robin Holt. Strategy without design: The silent efficacy of indirect action. Cambridge University Press, 2009, 46

[6] USSOCOM, SOF Truths,

[7] Lo, Joanne. "Deconstruct, Imagine, Build: Bringing Advanced Manufacturing to the Maker Community." PhD diss., UC Berkeley, 2016.

[8] Gaddis, John Lewis. On grand strategy. Penguin Books, 2019. 21-22

[9] Strange, Joe. Centers of Gravity & Critical Vulnerabilities: Building on the Clausewitzian Foundation So That We Can All Speak the Same Language. MARINE CORPS WAR COLL QUANTICO VA, 1996.

[10]  Todd South, This Army Unit Will Be First to Test an Exoskeleton That Lightens Combat Load. Army Times, June 2018,

[11] B. H. Liddell Hart, Strategy (New York: Penguin Group, 1991), 366.