Academic journal article Military Review

Chaos, Complexity and the Battlefield

Academic journal article Military Review

Chaos, Complexity and the Battlefield

Article excerpt

Applying chaos theory to combat seems so obvious that Charles Pfaff's article probably leaves you wondering, "Why didn't I say that" His introduction to the theoretical principles codifies much of what leaders instinctively know about the friction inherent in modern warfare. Christopher Kolenda takes a somewhat different tack, explaining that beneath all the theory and technology lies one always-reliable tool for transformation-leadership. He joins others in affirming that excellence depends on leaders of character, who train those who follow and develop units that are both efficient and effective.

THE CONCEPTS OF CHAOS and chaotic systems, once sole concerns of the mathematician, have found a place in a variety of other professions as well. A growing body of literature applies the insights of chaos theory to a variety of fields, including organizational behavior and military science. In fact, an entire web page is dedicated to the application of chaos and complexity theories to Clausewitz's works.1 The US Marine Corps even mentions chaos theory in Doctrinal Publication 6, Command and Control.2 This article aims to render chaos theory accessible without trivializing it, so that Army officers can better grasp and apply the insights offered by chaos theory and better understand their own profession. In Doctrinal Publication 6, a fictional general tells his staff that chaos theory means they must remain flexible.3 Even a qualitative understanding of chaos theory can tell us much more than that.

To reduce confusion on the battlefield, the Army has developed better and more sophisticated informotion gathering and processing technologies. However, applying these technologies increases the complexity of the battlefield and thereby increases the likelihood of chaotic behavior-all of which increases confusion. Understanding this process will give Army officers an advantage they cia not currently have. Military leaders who methodically apply chaos theory can develop policies and doctrines that can help them deal better with the unexpected events and circumstances that increasingly characterize the modern battlefield.

Several times in recent years, the United States and its allies have applied military force with unexpected results. During the Gulf War, coalition forces routed an enemy that was roughly equal in terms of numbers and equipment. While the coalition expected victory, it also expected tens of thousands of friendly casualties. Instead, there were less than two hundred. In Somalia, a technologically disadvantaged gang leader took on the world's only remaining superpower, surprised military planners and won. These events caught off guard those who no longer properly understand the labor of the battlefield. Since the beginning of World War II, the battlefield has become increasingly complex and, consequently , much more unpredictable.

The Battlefield as a Chaotic System

The first step in applying chaos theory to the modern battlefield is to establish that it is indeed a chaotic system. If unexpected events are the results of random chance, then applying chaos theory will offer little insight. Chaotic systems are not random systems, and thus their outcomes are not accidental, but rather the result of complex interaction among the system's components. While these outcomes are usually impossible to predict, the process that yields them is not impossible to understand.4 In a random system, at some level at least, there is no process to understand. If battle is no more than a random process, then the fictional general in Doctrinal Publication 6 is right: the best we can do is remain flexible.

The battlefield is made up of a variety of components that interact with each other to forma system. In fact, the battlefield is a system of systems, with complex and dynamic interaction among all components. While, this has always been the case with battle, since World War II complexity of this system has dramatically increased. …

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