Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Fog of War

Military commanders must cope with the uncertainty/ambiguity described as the “fog of war”. In peacetime we may be able to afford the luxury of eliminating all the unknowns. In a war, we cannot. Protecting our coastal areas in the Gulf of Mexico should have been a war. Perhaps generating jobs, jobs, jobs should have been also. The Obama administration appears to believe they can eliminate the fog of war. They appear to be being successful by avoiding war.

The Wiki entry for “Fog of War” describes four levels: Global Strategic, Military Strategic, Operational, and Tactical. The last two are discussed below.


At the operational level, the theatre commander undertakes tasks as directed by the Military Strategic level, ambiguity related to adversary capability and intent is coupled with own directive ambiguity, the commander not having a full understanding of the strategic imperative. The operational tempo increases at this level and the ambiguity experienced by the commander is susceptible to delays in communication of the tactical situation, the ebb and flow of own force and adversary force interaction. The commander seeks to penetrate the fog of war through significant use of reconnaissance assets and a comprehensive Joint Operational Picture.


Ambiguity stems from several factors at the tactical level. Deliberate actions by the enemy (including active deception and/or electronic attack on communications and sensors) contribute as well as factors inherent to battle resulting in lack of comprehension by commanders as to the tactical environment, the logistic status of their own units, how they are interacting with each other, or their intentions. This lack of comprehension can stem from many factors, individually or in combination, such as poor reconnaissance; inaccurate intelligence; or faulty communication. The tempo of decision making at the tactical level is much greater than at other levels, increasing the risk of escalating ambiguity as assumptions build. Real world consequences follow as resources are allocated based on those assumptions.

The fog of war is most easily demonstrated in the tactical battlespace. It may include military commanders' incomplete or inaccurate intelligence concerning their enemy's numbers, disposition, capabilities, and intent, regarding features of the battlefield, and even including incomplete knowledge of the state of their own forces. Fog of war is caused by the limits of reconnaissance, by the enemy's feints and disinformation, by delays in receiving intelligence and difficulties passing orders, and by the difficult task of forming a cogent picture from a very large (or very small) amount of diverse data.

When a force engages in battle and the urgency for good intelligence increases, so does the fog of war and chaos of the battlefield, while military units become preoccupied with fighting or are lost (either destroyed by enemy fire or literally lose their way), reconnaissance and liaison elements become unavailable, and sometimes while real fog and smoke obscure vision. Much of the modern military's technological efforts, under the rubric of “command and control” seek to reduce the fog of war. Although even the most advanced technology cannot completely eliminate it, military theorists continue to develop ways to reduce it.

Adapted from July 13, 2010, Wikipedia entry subject to http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

For additional reading see: Alan D. Campen, ed., The First Information War (Fairfax: AFCEA International Press 1992).


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