Technology, Military Genius, and the Improbable Victory

I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
And wrote my will across the sky in stars
To earn you freedom, the seven pillared worthy house,
That your eyes might be shining for me
When we came.
—T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

The day after tomorrow…there will be a great battle, for which the entire army is longing. I myself look forward to this day as I would to my own wedding day.
—Carl von Clausewitz in a letter to Marie

War is ultimately a human affair. Because technology is a tool humans use to wage war, no study of battlespace technology can be complete without diving into the way humans interact with technology in a chaotic combat environment. In this paper, we will discuss how technology could serve as a vehicle for theory—one that could be used to find the scientific structure in chaos that leads to freedom in the execution of military art. The design of the technology should be firmly rooted in the science of war, such that warfighters can freely dive into the realm of chance knowing the foundation is secure. “Lack of science leads to chaos in art,” remarked J. F. C. Fuller, but science also stagnates without art pushing the boundary, turning chance into opportunities.[1] A structure that allows the blending of the two—science that elevates, as well as learns from, art—is the goal that the battlespace technology design should aim to achieve.

In the following sections, we will examine how technology can connect the tactical and strategic elements of war such that it can act as a faithful servant of a warfighter in his journey of handling the nuanced uncertainty of war during combat. During Clausewitz’s time, the applications of weapons and equipment were mostly limited to a small role on the tactical level. Clausewitz states that the design of weapons and equipment should be determined by “the nature of the fighting,” such that “one does not need to know anything except its chief effects in order to use it properly.”[2] The tactical application of a tool is undoubtedly important, and we have addressed this usage of technological tool with the Common Weapons Principles concept in the previous paper. However, tools adapted to the tactical requirements of the particular case will be applicable “only to those few instances where the forces available exactly matched the need.”[3] In order to enable the generation of powerful strategic effects from the combinatory reactions across space and time at scale, we need to design a technology architecture that uses theory to weave together the commonalities in tactics and strategy in all areas and stages of war. Though inconceivable in Clausewitz’s time, the technology that could bring this to reality now exist and we need to determine how to apply it to warfighting.[4]

To build this battlespace technology architecture that can elevate art with science from the tactical to strategic level, we will seek examples in people who Clausewitz calls “military genius.” Military geniuses are those who possess the “appropriate gifts of intellect and temperament” to handle the friction and uncertainty in the reality of war. “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult,” Clausewitz said. “Friction, as we choose to call it, is the force that makes the apparently easy so difficult.”[5] Friction is the “negative aspect of chance;” it is the reason why “one always falls far short of the intended goal.”[6,7] Tools, created based on the science of war, can be used to alleviate friction in oneself and generate friction in enemy. This concept is illustrated in the following theoretical example with friction highlighted. Probability in all elements are implied, and their treatments are described in previous papers. Recall that an attack element is defined as “induction of friction in an enemy,” and a defensive element is defined as “reduction of friction inflicted by an enemy.” The effects of a physical attack will be represented friction induced by the enemy in this example. In this instance, a Special Operations Forces (SOF) operator is tasked to neutralize an enemy with two different weapons. I am using traditional weapons to illustrate the idea, but the logic follows in technological weapons as well.

In the first scenario of this example, the operator is asked to accomplish the objective with a dagger as his only weapon. To do so, he needs to be in a close range of his enemy, which is within his enemy range of attack as well. His ability to close the range between him and his enemy is limited by his ability to overcome the physical difficulties and attacks he encounters along the way. The operator has attributes that serves as positive forces that drive him forward despite the difficulties in war. The positive forces counteract the friction exerted on him by internal and external elements, including the enemy’s physical attack on him while he is within the enemy’s range of attack.

In the second scenario, the operator is equipped with a sniper rifle, which he is well-trained to employ. He can now increase his range of attack to a distance much further from that of his enemy’s. Although he is affected by the physical and mental friction from reaching and waiting at his target location, the overall friction is significantly reduced because the enemy cannot attack him.

Although this example is highly simplified, it illustrates how friction can be reduced by the appropriate tool. In a distributed control maneuver environment, individual warfighters and commanders could be tasked to identify appropriate tools to reduce the overall friction for a particular situation in combat. In such a situation, a certain level of military genius is required to balance all the elements of friction involved and execute the best solution with or without the aid of technological tools. As “what genius does is the best rule,” we should design the workflow of technology in accordance to the manner of execution of military genius.[8]

The Application of the Battlespace Technology Model in Tactics and Strategy

The first Creature of God, in the works of the Days, was the Light of the Sense; the last was the light of Reason.
—Francis Bacon

As J.F.C. Fuller pointed out, “until we possess a true science of war we have no means of calculating the results of genius.”[9] We will first explore how the Battlespace Technology Model can be used to study science of tactics and strategy before examining the way military genius is expressed in all levels of war. Earlier in the work, we used a general definition of strategy—“an alignment of means to an end”—to introduce the Battlespace Technology Model. After we include uncertainty, probability, and friction in the analysis, we can now adopt Clausewitz’s military-specific definition of tactics and strategy—“tactics teaches the use of armed forces in the engagement; strategy, the use of engagements for the object of the war.”[10] At this point of the work, the logic and probabilistic concepts of war should allow us to perform a more complex examination of tactics and strategy, but we will begin with a snapshot of this examination to illustrate the idea.

Tactical success, those obtained in the course of the engagement, usually occur during the phase of disarray and weakness. On the other hand, the strategic success...already lies beyond that phase. The strategic outcome takes shape only when the fragmented results have combined into a single, independent whole. 

The consequence of this difference is that in the tactical realm force can be used successively, while strategy knows only the simultaneous use of force.[11]


This concept of tactics and strategy is illustrated in the following graph with a simplified form of the time-representation of the Battlespace Technology Model.

The timescale might create some confusion for readers, as strategic goal and the operational paths to reach the goal should be identified before the fragmented tactical results are collected. Since the timescale is not necessarily linear, time Omega is used to denote time of strategic effect being exploited and time Alpha is used to denote the time period when tactical engagements are being carried out. It is important to note the circular nature of strategic intents and tactical actions because the two diverge from each other if their results are not connected to each other as a system. The cause of the divergence can be described as follows:

If in a tactical situation initial success does not lead to a conclusive victory, we have reason to fear the immediate future. It follows that for the first phase we should use only the amount of force that seems absolutely necessary...In a strategic situation this does not hold true...Since in strategy causalities do not increase with the size of forces used, and may even be reduced, and since obviously greater force is more likely to lead to success, it naturally follows that we can never use too great a force, and further, that all available force must be used simultaneously.[12]

However, the dissonance between the treatments of tactical and strategic goals are reconciled by the fact that strategy exists solely because tactical actions exist as the mean within it. Tactical resources are intensely subjected to “the destructive factor in war;” these effects are always perceptible and decisive on the strategic plane, “where the dimensions of time and space are enlarged.”[13] If this factor is not carefully managed on the strategic plane, “a victorious army [might] suffer greater losses from sickness than from battle.”[14] Maintenance, replenishment, and preparation are therefore a “necessary condition” that should be concurrent with the strategic utilization of the fighting forces.[15]

Although strategy and tactics are intertwined, the logic and science required to elevate the military genius in each are quite different. Tactical and strategic understanding and thinking should be present throughout all ranks, but the expression of these qualities will be quite different—some highlight courage and self-sacrifice, and some require an imaginative intellect.[16] Clausewitz maintains a fairly strict definition of military genius, saying it is “a special cast of mental or moral powers which can rarely occur in an army.”[17] Perhaps, however, the winning of battles consists of small acts of genius along the way—soldiers who made a seemingly small decision at a pivotal point so unnoticeable that “their wisdom brought no fame, [and] their courage brought no honor.”[18] To create a flexible architecture for a library of tools that could enable each individual warfighter to exercise military genius in accordance to local conditions, we will now examine how technology can contribute to and learn from military genius in warfighters from training, command, to fighting in combat.

The Training of Tactical Genius

To attack authority demands courage, but to replace the authority of assumption by that of reason demands a thinking man. The greatness of Bacon, of Descartes, and of Locke does not lie in their powers of destruction, but of construction.
—J.F.C. Fuller, The Foundations of the Science of War

Regarding military genius, Clausewitz states that “two qualities are indispensable: an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of inner light which leads to truth; and second the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead. The first of these qualities is described by the French term, coup d’oeil; the second is determination.” How does one obtain the “skilled intelligence to scent out the truth”?[19] Even if one were to possess a high degree of natural talent, one still needs to be trained to develop the genius required in war.[20] For each individual warfighter to generate localized battlespace effect with the aid of the library of tools, they must be given opportunities to experiment and train the execution of tactics until they embody the solution; devising a solution with new technology or new manner to combine effects is likely not a possibility under the stress of combat.[21,22]

At this stage of development of a soldier, technology can serve as a proxy of theory to provide guidance on observing the logic of fundamental battlespace sciences—generating defensive and offensive effects against particular enemies by manipulating geometry in a given terrain.[23] As students experiment with different training methodologies (i.e., physical or mental training) or techniques (i.e., weapons or technological tools), the results can be linked to variables that contribute to operational performance. As the correct decisions are made during training, the results can be tracked in order to reinforcement positive habit forming in operations. Without logic, “men start act on particular dominating impressions or feelings rather than according to strict logic, are hardly aware of the confused, inconsistent, and ambiguous situation in which they find themselves.”[24] When a novice loses the presence of mind to extract a learning lesson or lacks the scientific education to understand the causation of a situation, the training value diminishes. A technology system that analyzes and tracks a warfighter’s performance using objective military science could aid in the development of positive habits. As the warfighter receives information from the system, he is teaching the technology system how he processes information and how he reacts to different stimuli as well—he is beginning to build the model that represents his own personal Trinity.

Genius of Command

Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. One seeks the most general ideas of operation which will bring together in simple, logical and unified form the largest possible circle of formal relationships. In this effort toward logical beauty spiritual formulas are discovered necessary for the deeper penetration into the laws of nature.
—Albert Einstein, Obituary for Emmy Noether

The genius of command is built upon the genius in tactics. A good general has the instinct to identify friction and overcome it whenever possible, but also understand how friction will affect the achievement of his operations—he can only embody this skill through practice and experience in his career. In this section, we will discuss two skills that are specifically associated with command: 1) pattern recognition across time and space at scale, and 2) imagination of a strategic future.[25]

During an operation, uncertainty and chaos dominate—“all information assumptions are open to doubt...the commander continually finds that things are not as he expected.”[26] The skill for pattern recognition in command is no longer that of terrain geometry, but the strategic meaning behind actions in all the terrain under his command across time and space. The command military genius therefore lies in recognizing the patterns in enemy and creating force projection patterns with his own men to achieve the strategic goals. A commander requires a “mental gift that we call imagination” in order to devise ways to manipulating his troops and material resources in order to force the enemy into acting in an according pattern.[27]

In this case, technology can be used to reveal current and predictive future patterns with a vast amount of historic and intelligence information. Commanders can specifically query a certain pattern or look for general patterns within a certain space and time. To draw relevant conclusions from history, we need to understand history through the lens of theory. Technology can serve as a tool to break down specific details into enemy’s passion, training, and their expression in the physical, mental, and moral realm in context; those historic analysis should be combined with updated intelligence profile to provide a prediction of pattern based on probability.[28,29]

Another important job of a commander is to maintain and replenish the forces. We have already discussed how operating through on a purely strategic lens without considering the maintenance of the tactical means might lead to a “deployment of too great a force [that] may be detrimental.”[30] The needs in training, replenishing, and equipping the forces could be difficult for a commander to gauge since he can only rely on second-hand information regarding the physical states of his men and material depletion.[31]

In this matter, technology can provide aid by supplying objective evaluation of the state of the troops. The obvious application here is to simply record all the information in a single repository; however, modern technology should be able to expose the implications of the data have on readiness. With the models presented earlier in the work, one can deduce the skills, qualities, and equipment needed to accomplish an operation or a campaign. Technology can therefore present first-hand information about the needs of the tactical edge in a manner that is relevant to mission planning. By closely tracking the commanders’ decision-making process and the resulting patterns, technology can also grow more sophisticated in its ability to recognize command patterns in warfighting. 

Aid in the Execution of Genius Act in Combat

Should theory leave us here, and cheerfully go on elaborating absolute conclusions and prescriptions? Then it would be no use at all in real life. No, it must also take the human factor into account, and find room for courage, coldness, even foolhardiness. The art of war deals with living and with moral forces...Thus courage and self-confidence are essential in war, and theory should propose only rules that give ample scope these finest and least dispensable of military virtues, in all their degrees and variations.
—Clausewitz, On War

Military genius is a combination of intellect and courage. So far, we have discussed the role of technology largely in reducing the friction exerted on one’s intellect, but is there a role for technology when the need of courage dominates? What is the role of logic and science in the moment when all patterns and probability seem irrelevant compared to the glimmer of truth that goes against all reasons? History is full of tales of brave men who accomplish the impossible with flashes of insight and extraordinary courage that seems to go against all logic. On the probability of success of a military action, Clausewitz said, “We should not habitually prefer the course that involves the least uncertainty...There are times when the utmost daring is the height of wisdom.”[32] This echoes Machiavelli, who wrote in Discourses, “Results are often obtained by impetuosity and daring which could never have been obtained by ordinary methods.”[33] One could argue that such moments of military genius are the ones that win wars, build nations, and make history. The interface between man and machine needs to elevate the raw courage of a warrior, such that they can create the asymmetric battlespace effects that bring victories out of improbabilities.

In combat, the application of technology often exists in the midst of chaos between science and art, hoping to capture the chance and opportunities that emerge from it. It is a space where no rule can be written since such fleeting but significant moments have never happened before—not with the same sight, smell, sound, and touch. A scientific, probabilistic calculation can be given, but the weight of the decision rests on the shoulders of the individual. Only an intuitive ability to discipline chaos can be used to survive in this realm: an ability to summon courage by subordinating logic to chance and intellect by empowering chance with logic. How can technology, the product of science and logic, accompany the soldier—the embodiment of human will—into the storm of chaos?

Let me illustrate the design in this realm with examples. If a team leader were to learn two of his men were trapped in rubble, and the sensors on him and in the environment tell him that he has a 10% chance of success if he were to run across enemy fire to retrieve his men, it is his decision whether he wants to take that chance or not. If he does want to take the logically risky route to rescue his men, there are three possible routes that his electronic devices can react:

  1. No change in any priority of computation or interface display,

  2. Heads-up display/mobile devices flash red continuous to warn him of danger, and process flow freezes as it awaits approval, or

  3. Automatically recognize the decision made, cede control and waive approval for a batch of actions, reprioritize resources and workflows such that all devices work synergistically to give the team leader a 12% chance of success to retrieve his men—and at the same time, be ready to react if the 88% does catch up to him.

I think most readers will choose option three, but the question is how. Enabling battlespace flexibility is an aspiration that perpetually shows up as a buzzword but is rarely investigated with honest input from the ground. In such a chaotic environment where no rules apply, the fundamental principles and theory still serve as a light to truth—the fog of war is just much denser than usual. All principles of attack, guard, movement, and communication still hold true, but the problem of maximizing the economy of force might be different—it should only focus on maximizing preservation of the team leader’s life rather than consider reserving materials for other actions. The implication of this assumption is that the preservation of proxy actors (e.g., drones, robots) immediately takes much lower priority—they can neutralize the enemies by dive bombing into them instead of preserving energy as an intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance platform for other missions. The majority of the computing bandwidth will be dedicated to processing information immediately pertinent to the team leader’s survival, and only packets of data pertinent to supporting the team leader will be sent to leadership. The only way for technology to carry out these functions within chaos at the speed needed is to react to the new stimuli based on the models that have been built using information on the context, command intents, training, equipment, and the core passion of the warfighters.

These are just illustrative examples, as the workflow will depend on the engineering system and the mission space it works in, but hopefully these examples help show how the principles of combat translate into concrete technical decisions. In the previous two sections, we saw how technology can be utilized to solve the problem of scale with managing a massive amount of information with the fundamental principles of war. The success of this space depends on technologists and warfighters developing intuitional synergy guided by theory and strategy that has been shaped by reality. The technology design of the entire system can align space, time, and scale with “quick recognition of a truth that the mind would ordinarily miss or would perceive only after long study and reflection.”[34]

To design technology that elevates military genius in the moments it is most needed requires a person or a tightly collaborative team with breadth and depth of understanding of both tactical and technical matters and with the “mental gift that we call imagination.”[35] However, knowledge is not enough to execute designs that are most valuable in the tactical realm, as courage is needed for the intellectuals to stand beside the brave that built this nation. To truly incorporate technology into tactics, J.F.C. Fuller wrote in The Foundational Science of War that “the discovery of truth calls for brave men, for truth gives nothing to cowards.”[36] Although the most logically safe option might offer comfort, taking the risk to grow from achieving the impossible defines humanity—and war is nothing but the domain of human desires.


The first way to lose a state is to neglect the art of war; the first way to gain a state is to be skilled in the art of war.
—Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

To fundamentally integrate technology into every level of warfighting, the theory of battlespace technology design needs to align with the theory of war. The tools for warfighting cannot operate with a separate set of rules from the master that it serves. The theory of war guides technology design in the same manner that it guides warfighting—it guides the development of the intuition such that one can create technology that is applicable to the battlespace, discern the pattern and usefulness in a sea of technical solutions, apply science where needed to tame chaos, and elevate art where creativity is required. The following passage from On War describes the path that technology development should follow.

Theory exists so that one need not start afresh each time sorting out the material and plowing through it. It is meant to educate the mind of the future commander, or, more accurately, to guide him in his self-education, not to accompany him to the battlefield; just as a wise teacher guides and stimulates a young man’s intellectual development, but is careful not to lead him by the hand for the rest of his life...

But this is simply in accordance with the scientific law of reason, to indicate the point at which all lines converge, but never to construct an algebraic formula for use on the battlefield. Even these principles and rules are intended to provide a thinking man with a frame of reference for the movements he has been trained to carry out, rather than to serve as a guide which at the moment of action lays down precisely the path he must take.

This point of view will admit the feasibility of a satisfactory theory of war—one that will be of real service and will never conflict with reality. It only needs intelligent treatment to make it conform to action, and to end the absurd difference between theory and practice that unreasonable theories have so often evoked. That difference, which defies common sense, has often been used as a pretext by limited and ignorant minds to justify their congenital incompetence.[37]

Education that plants the seed of intuition in training, scientific logic that uncovers the patterns such that one can maneuver the ebb and flow of combat, technology assistance that connects theory with reality—such is the manner in which technology, guided by military theory, can stand beside a warfighter every step of the way. Clausewitz could not have foreseen the technology available to modern warfare, and therefore could not have predicted that theory can accompany soldiers to the battlefield; not to lead them by the hand, but as an assistant—one that supports military genius by supplementing the intellect with science, calming indecision and doubts so that courage can reign.

To design such battlespace technology, an embodied intuition of war is needed. Without understanding the reality of war, one cannot understand the paralyzing frustration that comes from running into an unexpected wall or the comfort from a tactile touch. “If one has never personally experienced war, one cannot understand in what the difficulties constantly mentioned really consist...Everything looks simple; the knowledge required does not look remarkable, the strategic options are so obvious that by comparison the simplest problem of higher mathematics has an impressive scientific dignity.”[38] Without experiencing war, one cannot understand the heartache that accompanies victory. A technologist who does not embody the knowledge of battle will have a hard time treading the boundary between science and art, overlooking details that are critical to execution, controlling actions that should be left up to tacticians, or overloading equipment with sensors and data that are scientifically interesting but useless to real battles.

This is the crux of the Technical Union. The true revolution of technology-enabled warfare will only happen through empowering the tactical edge to lead technical development throughout the entire country. The revolution that will allow the United States to unequivocally regain technological dominance on the world stage cannot happen with timid, localized, politically correct actions that only generate a few talking points. It can only happen with bold, sweeping actions that put the nation’s warfighters  at center stage. Empowering the tactical edge is not only the morally right thing to do, but it is the logical thing to do based on the theory of war and science. By forming a Technical Union that brings together the science and art of war throughout the country, we can create technology that truly elevates those who trace the edge of the front line so that their military genius can roam free.

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: “The Battle of Austerlitz, 2nd December 1805” painted by François Gérard (Wikimedia)


[1] J. F. C. Fuller, The Foundational Science of War (Hutchinson & Co., 1993), 33.

[2] Carl von Clausewitz, On War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 127.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Christian, Jon, “Bill Gates Compares Artificial Intelligence to Nuclear Weapons,”, March 19 2019

[5] Clausewitz, 121.

[6] Ibid, 17.

[7] Ibid, 119.

[8] Clausewitz, 136.

[9] Fuller, 99.

[10] Clausewitz, 128.

[11] Clausewitz, 206.

[12] Clausewitz, 207.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid, 128.

[16] Ibid, 140.

[17] Ibid, 100.

[18] Sun Tzu, The Art of War (London: Amber Books, 2011), 32.

[19] Clausewitz, 101

[20] Ibid, 147.

[21] Ibid, 120.

[22] Fuller, 8.

[23] Ibid, 23.

[24] Ibid, 579.

[25] Clausewitz, 109.

[26] Ibid, 102.

[27] Ibid, 109.

[28] Ibid, 23

[29] Fuller, 144.

[30] Clasusewitz, 205

[31] Ibid, 104

[32] Clausewitz, 167.

[33] Niccolò Machiavelli, Discourses (London: Penguin Classics, 1984), 44.

[34] Clausewitz, 102.

[35] Clausewitz, 109.

[36] Fuller, 31.

[37] Clausewitz, 141.

[38] Clausewitz, 119.