Theory of Battlespace Technology—Technology and Warfare

For the practice of principles must precede their derivation, articulation, and institutionalization. You may be looking at clouds, like Polonius, but you’ll need to have both feet firmly planted on the ground.
—John Lewis Gaddis, On Grand Strategy

In this paper, we will explore how the battlespace technology model can be used to connect the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of the Technical Union in order to flexibly generate synchronized effects. We will do so by defining the elements presented in the graph of the structure of the Technical Union presented in a previous paper and situating the battlespace technology theory in those elements. This theory and strategy will be written in an iterative process; one with a defined goal and readied plan, but no presumed solutions. This relatively short theoretical work is by no means a comprehensive theory, nor a deep historical analysis of any kind. This is a theory written to be executed, not merely an academic exploration.

We will begin by setting maneuver warfare as a warfighting theoretical ideal. Maneuver warfare theory serves as a good foundation for this study because it provides a theoretical framework without being too restricting. It is a culmination of many historical warfighting theories and strategies from Clausewitz, Fuller, Boyd, and B. H. Liddell Hart expressed through the lens of modern warfare, where technology serves as an important tool to elevate military genius.[1] Maneuver warfare doctrine suggests the sequence of actions should resemble a seamless concert across all domains and all realms, executed with the magnitude of force as necessitated by context. (Realms is defined as the physical, mental and moral aspects of battlespace effects. Please see previous paper for a full description.) According to the Marine Corps Doctrine Publication 1 Warfighting, which is heavily influenced by William Lind’s Maneuver Warfare Handbook:

War is not governed by the actions or decisions of a single individual in any one place but emerges from the collective behavior of all the individual parts in the system interacting locally in response to local conditions and incomplete information…Efforts to fully centralize military operations and to exert complete control by a single decision maker are inconsistent with the intrinsically complex and distributed nature of war.[2]

The success of maneuver warfare is based on optimizing the economy of force by efficiently addressing each tactical action and reaction—it relies on empowering leaders at the tactical edge to determine and execute the best tactical decision based on the situation on the ground and the commander’s intent.

Once an effective manner to generate battlespace effect is identified in a given domain, the proper tools might be needed to generate the desired effects in the domain. The physical limitation on warfighting is determined by the technology of the day—the distance over which the range of attack with a desired magnitude can be extended, the type of situational awareness a soldier can gain beyond the natural human sensory spectrum, and the speed at which vital battlespace information can be disseminated. By augmenting human’s natural ability in agility, precision, and flexibility in all domains and realms, technology can serve as an important force multiplier in maneuver warfare.

However, technology, which is made of materials, is ultimately bounded by physical laws.[3,4] T.E. Lawrence said, “There were many humiliating material limits, but no moral impossibilities; so that the scope of our diathetical activities was unbounded. On it the novelty of it was our advantage.”[5] The degree of which humans can control the physical space will always be constrained by physics. However, the creative thinking that derives energy from the chaos of war to turn chance into opportunity is not bounded. The success of maneuver warfare is less dependent on the tools available, and more dependent on the creation of new ways to generate and exploit of tactical effects given all the tools available.

Unsurprisingly, the major pivotal successes of the application battlespace technology have been the results of ingenious warfighting techniques that maximize the benefits of technological tools. Examples of these successes include the use of artillery in World War I, the use of tanks and motorcycles in the Blitzkrieg campaign, the deployment of atomic weapons in World War II, and the use of precision weapons in the first Gulf War. [6,7]Through the years of warfighting, humans have accumulated and refined their knowledge and abilities to influence the enemy through an expanding array of domains physically, mentally, and morally.[8] The growth in understanding of nuanced battlespace effects is subsequently accompanied by the growth of more precise actions to generate asymmetric combinatory effects in the battlespace. The strategy to combine results from precise tactical actions generated on a localized scale became more sophisticated as the understanding of warfighting in all domains and all realms deepens.[9] 

As war trends towards a finer control of effects in all domains and all realms, technology development—being influenced by both warfighting and non-military societal needs—shows the same trend as well. One of the most prescient and timeless overviews of scientific development comes from Tolstoy’s War and Peace:

The new methods of thinking which history should adopt for itself are being worked out simultaneously with the self-destruction towards which, ever subdividing and subdividing the causes of phenomena, the old history is moving.

All of mankind’s sciences have followed this path. Having arrived at the infinitely small, mathematics, the most exact of sciences, abandons the process of subdividing and starts on a new process of summing up the unknown infinitesimals. Renouncing the concept of cause, mathematics seeks laws, that is, properties common to all unknown infinitely small elements…

…if history has for its subject of study the movements of peoples and of mankind, and not the description of episodes from people’s lives, it should set aside the notion of causes and seek for the laws common to all the equal and inseparably bound together infinitely small elements of freedom.[10]

The science of war will trend toward an infinitesimal understanding of a subdivided physical world; along with it, technology will offer the ability to control materials at a subdivided physical level to generate precise battlespace effect. The probability of war can be analyzed down to a quantum atomic level, but all it will bring is paralyzing confusion if not balanced by a broad intuitive view.[11] The actions that utilize these technological tools to manipulate the elements in the battlespace down to an infinitesimal level can only be created, executed, and combined through the guidance of the fundamentals of combat.

To summarize, the knowledge in generating battlespace effects in all domains and all realms can be plotted against the number of actions and technological tools used to align means in time and space to generate those effects. As time progressed, knowledge in the generation of battlespace effects increased in quantity and precision, and actions and technological tools to generate those effects increased in the same manners as well.

Knowledge in the generation of battlespace effect plotted against battlespace actions and technological tools in time and space.

Since each action and tool have distinctive capabilities and requirements in time and space, the vast number of options, which grows in number and nuance, present a high level of complexity with tremendous potential as well as friction.

A three dimensional plot of knowledge in the generation of battlespace effect plotted against battlespace actions and technological tools in time and space on two separate axes.

Moreover, since the success of maneuver warfare calls for a concerted effort to harvest distributed tactical actions optimized for the local situations, the complexity increases exponentially as localized effects are harvested to generate combinatory operational impact. As technology continues to grow in maturity and variety, each individual warfighter will grow in their ability to use tools to access all domains to generate effects in all realms in order to accomplish the task at hand. With the aid of technology, they will have the potential to become more capable of combining tactical actions in a flexible manner, each sequence results in magnitude of effects fine-tuned to maximize the economy of force in order to effectively achieve the strategic goal.

Battlespace actions combining with the appropriate technological tools to generate asymmetric effects.

If each individual warfighter can utilize technological tools to access all domains and all realms down to an infinitesimal level to generate the most appropriate localized solution, then the operational and strategic results that harvest all these optimized tactical elements will generate a theoretical ideal level of power from the combinatory effects.

The technical theoretical ideal that supports the maneuver warfighting ideal can be thought of as a library of solutions that enables the chain reactions of locally-optimized physical, mental, or moral effect carried out in any domain. When combined at the strategic level, these chain reactions yield varying levels of combat power in each realm as appropriate to the situation. The theoretical ideal can never be reached in reality, but it serves as a goal for the execution process.

An illustration of the ideal condition where individual actions fine-tuned to local conditions, thus leading to the highest level of combinatory effect possible. The same type of analysis could be extended to the operational and strategic levels.

In this analysis, we highlighted the theoretical ideal targets of technological development (tools that enable infinitesimal control of time and space) and understanding of battlespace effects (infinitesimal understanding of actions and reactions in physical, mental, and moral realms), as well as how they combine to enable the ideal form of maneuver warfare (individual warfighter with the ability to generate asymmetric local effects with infinitesimal control of means in time and space). With our target ideals in each critical element within a Technical Union defined, we can indirectly harvest from all development results even if they might not be intentionally aligning to our strategic plan.

If left unmanaged, the complex possibilities could lead to complete chaos or decision paralysis. However, if controlled properly, we can harness the nuclear power of human creativity. The creativity will lead to future manners of warfighting that will be unimaginable now, as war today would have been unimaginable to Clausewitz, Jomini, and Fuller. These new manners of warfighting will inspire the creation of technology that does not exist today. Although the future methods of fighting are unknowable to us currently, they are still be based on fundamental principles—the defense, offense, movement, and communication will simply be controlled and modulated in ways that are impossible now. The fundamentals are the concepts that we can count on to serve as a bridge from present to future, and from the subdivided to the abstract.[12]

Technology Design and the Reality of War

There are no more than five primary colors, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever be seen. There are no more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted. In battle, there are no more than the planned and the surprise, yet the combination give rise to endless possible maneuvers.
—Sun Tzu, Art of War

“No other human activity is so continuously or universally bound up with chance.”[13] The only way for science and logic to survive the first contact with the reality of war is to account for the apparent destruction of science and logic on the battlefield. The first step to finding the  truth is to understand how logic appears to be distorted in the fog of war. If technology adheres to sterile logic, then the user will experience friction when the application of technology encounters the reality of combat.

Four warfighting concepts help connect combat principles with the application of technology from the macro to subdivided levels, examining aspects of war that generate a tremendous amount of complexity as it trends toward more distributed control of the infinitesimal level of elements in all domains and all realms. Referring to the above graph on combining battlespace actions and technological tools to generate battlespace effects, these concepts guide the process of identifying elements that can be combined and how they should be combined in reality. This is not a comprehensive list of complexities of war; rather, these are four major concepts that need to be clearly established before battlespace technology can develop to meet its potential as a tool in war.

The first complexity comes from the fact that actions are defined by their intent (the why) but not the elements of which it is made (the how and what). The elements are flexible, but the intent and objectives are less so, as all actions in war should be accumulated for political aims. In that sense, actions should not be viewed as defensive or offensive, but rather as comprised of varying levels of offensive and defensive components that lead to a desired outcome. This is not the language of an operational or tactical setting, but it is important to elaborate in a theoretical setting.

To provide a concrete example of this theoretical concept, a defense against a surprise attack could consist of moving out of the line of attack and generating a counterattack swiftly. The power of the counterattack could be modulated to merely deter against further action from the enemy, or as a distraction to recover the capacity to generate a strong enough follow-on attack to neutralize the enemy. A counterexample is that punches thrown blindly without targeting are mostly a defense, because they do not negatively affect the enemy unless he somehow walks into the shield of punches. All these movements have varying levels of defensive and offensive elements to them, but they are all defined by the value they contribute to the ultimate object.  An attack element can be defined as induction of friction in an enemy, and a defensive element can be defined as reduction of friction inflicted by an enemy. That attack and guard elements are the “how”, or the ways, to achieve the objective. This concept is particularly important in maneuver warfare. B.H. Liddell Hart noted in Strategy that “static defense has no part in guerrilla action,” because “guerrilla warfare must always be dynamic and must maintain momentum.”[14] Ill-defined actions not only deplete resources, but also cause battles to lose momentum; this combination produces a negative effect on the economy of force. The complexity of these elements cannot be neglected.

The second complexity comes from the fact that battlespace actions of all actors are interdependent. This is true from an adversarial standpoint, but it is also true in terms of harvesting tactical results to accomplish a larger objective. An example of the simplest form of this concept is a two-man team at a given point in time. If one man is pulling security for the other, then his ability to attack is the other man’s strength of guard. This concept is commonly manifested in suppressive or masking fire in various mission spaces. In terms of technology design, the mention of the variable grenade in the previous paper in this series combines these two concepts—a kinetic attack set to the right magnitude with civilian consideration to provide additional security to the soldiers.

The third complexity comes from maximizing the economy of force across space and time in a modern warfare setting by generating nonlinear combinatory tactical effects across all domains and all realms, as well as capturing momentum at the right time across a given timeline of a conflict. To create the level of flexibility to seek the right tactical solutions under uncertainty to achieve strategic intent, the decision-making power needs to be distributed to the tactical edge as much as possible. Technology design must reflect this need by providing warfighters with a flexible set of tools such that they can respond to the situation as they see fit. This will be elaborated in the next piece.

The fourth complexity comes from the nonlinearity of war and the art and science required at each stage.[15] In a chaotic modern warfare environment, intuition is needed to determine solutions that lead to advantage.[16] For technology to fully realize its potential as a battlespace tool, it needs to find its place and grow at the boundary between order and chaos, which is where the growth of knowledge of warfighting resides.[17]


Battlespace technological application in the context of maneuver warfare and the complexities that arise contains trends of which modern warfighters must be aware. Specifically, the combination found between trends of warfare and technology development. Both science and war trend toward a distributed, localized control of infinitesimal elements in all domains and all realms. However, the complex reality of war will impose difficulties in our attempt to achieve the full potential of technological tools. We have to reconcile the ideal and reality of this complex manner of warfighting by forging a path formed by the fundamental principles of war—only then can warfighting lead technology development to make technology an effective tool in war. Weapons don’t make war, and fortunately so; it is humans who can bring the progression of morality to the battlefield by applying the art of war, such that war may be “less and less a dreadful an impassioned drama, and more and more a just and righteous force.”

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 Mark I tank with anti-bomb roof and “tail,” 1916. (Imperial War Museums)


[1] William Lind, Maneuver Warfare Handbook (New York: Routledge, 1985).

[2] United States Marine Corps, MCDP 1 Warfighting (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Navy, Headquarters United States Marine Corps), 75.

[3] Zhirnov, Victor V., Ralph K. Cavin, James A. Hutchby, and George I. Bourianoff. "Limits to binary logic switch scaling-a gedanken model." Proceedings of the IEEE 91, no. 11 (2003): 1934-1939.

[4] Christensen, Clayton M. The innovator's dilemma: when new technologies cause great firms to fail. Harvard Business Review Press, 2013.

[5] T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Ware: Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 1999), 185.

[6] Guderian, Heinz. Achtung-Panzer!. (London: Arms & Armour Press, 1993), 127

[7] Watts, Barry. "The evolution of precision strike." Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments 2 (2013), 8

[8] All conflicts have varying degrees of physical, mental, and moral components within each domain, and one can shift the focus of force to exploit a weak component at any point of the fight. One can shift a chiefly physical fight into a mental or moral fight (and vice versa) by manipulating different actors in different domains. One can also push the redline much further if the enemy lacks understanding of his limit in that domain. By understanding the realms that one can affect via different domains, one can calculate the optimal path to achieve a certain objective.

[9] Gray, Colin. Strategy for chaos: revolutions in military affairs and the evidence of history. (Routledge, 2004), 231

[10] Tolstoy, Leo. War and peace. (London, Penguin Random House, 2016).

[11] John Lewis Gaddis, On Grand Strategy (New York: Penguin Press, 2018), 16.

[12] John Lewis Gaddis, On Grand Strategy (New York: Penguin Press, 2018), 212.

[13] Carl von Clausewitz, On War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 85.

[14] Hart, 365.

[15] Beyerchen, Alan. "Clausewitz, nonlinearity, and the unpredictability of war." International security 17, no. 3 (1992): 59-90.

[16] Carl von Clausewitz, On War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 122.

[17] Waldrop, Mitchell M. Complexity: The emerging science at the edge of order and chaos. Simon and Schuster, 1993.

[18] J. F. C. Fuller, The Foundations of the Science of War (London Hutchinson & Co., 1993), 31; Colin Gray, Weapons Don’t Make War (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993), 167.