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Today's Battlespace

The Heron, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

DND photo IS2009-0085 by Master Corporal Robert Bottrill.

The Heron, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), leased through Macdonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA), prior to launch at Kandahar airfield, Afghanistan, 11 February 2009.

The 21st Century Battlespace: The Danger of Technological Ethnocentrism

by Roy van den Berg

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“Modern technology has become a total phenomenon for civilization, the defining force of a new social order in which efficiency is no longer an option but a necessity imposed on all human activity.” ~ Jacques Ellul1


Images of the 21st Century battlespace conjure up visions of digitized exoskeleton-armour-clad soldiers operating in a high-tech environment. And yet, early 21st Century indicators in current military engagements may foretell a reality of a battlespace resembling a blend of the small-war environments, such as in Afghanistan, and confrontations with formed militaries, as witnessed during the recent conflict in Georgia.  In both of these types of conflict environments, technological differences exist to varying degrees. Using these examples as indicators of technical prowess, it is likely that Western forces will have a pronounced technological advantage over our next adversaries. The question is whether the technological advantage will be of benefit, or be our bane.

In 1964, French author and philosopher Jacques Ellul described the downfall of human freedom through technological determinism in his book The Technological Society. He lamented that humans have become too reliant upon technology, but offered: “…[that] it is not a question of getting rid of it [technology], but, by an act of freedom, of transcending it.”2 This also holds true of advancements in military technology, and the debates with respect to the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). War is a human endeavour, and thus we should be careful when we remove the human element from it.

This article will examine how technological inequality between combatants will shape the potential battlespaces of the 21st Century. Using historical examples of such disparities between combatants from previous centuries, it will become apparent that the technological edge and reliance upon technology does not guarantee ultimate victory.  Technological ethnocentrism, coupled with an obtuse reliance upon technology at the expense of acknowledging the human factor’s influence upon the battlespace, can be a force’s demise. To substantiate this thesis, an examination of human factors and their effect upon the battlespace will be discussed, as will how commanders could use a combination of high- and low-tech means to mitigate those factors.

Defining Battlespace

The contemporary definition of ‘battlespace’ is, in my opinion, too confining.  Battlespace is often defined as a three-dimensional area – width, depth, and airspace.3 Its fourth dimension of time and distance, tempo and synchronization, is also already considered,as is the radio frequency (RF) spectrum. The battlespace’s fifth dimension is cyberspace, an area where battles will be fought anonymously but tenaciously. However, the overlooked but critical and dynamic factor of the 21st Century battlespace is the human factor. This proposed ‘sixth dimension’ of human factors includes leadership, motivation, ingenuity, and patience – factors that shape every aspect of the battlespace  from the application of force through the effect of bandaging a child’s hand.

To appreciate what the technologically inferior adversary will do to even the playing field/battlespace, these human factors must be considered. Furthermore, a commander must also consider how these factors influence his/her own forces in the same battlespace. This battlespace will also be home to non-combatants whose anthropology, values, and fears have to be understood and appreciated or any military gains will be shallow and temporary. An understanding of the sixth dimension allows a commander to exploit or disrupt enemy actions from a knowledge-based position while tending to the needs of the local population.

WWI trench on the Canadian front

Library and Archives Canada/DND/ W.I. Castle/PA-001326

A First World War trench on the Canadian front.

Human Factors and the Adversary

The most significant factor that eventually wins or loses wars is the individual soldier’s determination. No amount of technology can dissuade what resides in a soldier’s heart and spirit. The evidence lies in the will of First World War soldiers to persevere despite the incredible physical hardship and psychological trauma4 imposed by pre-war advances in war technology. This was also obvious with respect to the Second World War’s airborne soldiers’ initiative and heart to overcome tremendous obstacles, and to complete their missions behind enemy lines although outgunned and outnumbered. “The mainspring of these forces,” says Second World War Chief US Army combat historian S.L.A. Marshall, “lay in the spirit of the men.”5  The human factor, specifically the force that motivates, remains a significant element and an equalizer in the technologically unbalanced battlespace. This was particularly true in the Vietnam War.  Philip Caputo, a young US Marine deployed to Vietnam in 1965, recalled how an omnipotent America and its soldiers underestimated the Vietnamese when he wrote:

“When we marched through the rice paddies… we carried, along with our packs and rifles, the implicit convictions that the Viet Cong would be quickly beaten… We kept our packs and rifles; the convictions we lost. The discovery that the men we had scorned as peasant guerrillas were in fact a lethal, determined enemy…”6

Viet Cong guerrillas

Canadian Press/Courtesy Everett Collection/7836044

Viet Cong guerrillas.

By 1975, the United States, a superpower with a massive technological advantage, was defeated strategically by an enemy’s unwavering determination.

Technology predictions have ignored war’s inherent uncertainty, Clausewitz’s friction and fog of war, as well as the human dimension of determination, morale, fighting skill, and leadership.7 The will to continue fighting must be stoked by good leadership. Twenty-three hundred years ago, ancient China’s General Sun Tzu named five ‘matters’ that needed consideration prior to going to war. In these, he provided four matters that described the battlespace, but his first considerations were the human factors of morale and generalship.8  Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Hope’s article about his experiences as a battle group commander in Afghanistan reiterated the human aspect of the fight.  Although Tzu refers to generalship and ‘top-down’ leadership, Hope brings this down to tactical level leadership to motivate soldiers in contact with the enemy:

Sun Tzu

©Corbis News/Corbis Corporation/Jerry Arcieri/42–17397106

Sun Tzu.

“Leadership was one guarantor against the debilitating effects of friction, uncertainty, violence, and danger… [T]he role of the platoon, company and battalion commander was – and will remain in the future, decisive.”9

An old but I believe accurate Canadian Forces (CF) definition of leadership states: “Leadership is the art of influencing human behaviour in order to accomplish a task in the manner so desired by the leader.” The influencing of human behaviour is an art crafted by individuals demonstrating charisma, courage, or an offensive spirit in conducting operations. These types of individuals can change the dynamic of the 21st Century battlespace just by their sheer presence. In Western militaries, leaders like former Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) General Rick Hillier buoyed the morale of Canadian troops fighting in Afghanistan, despite the loss of many comrades. This was also true of England’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who walked through the bombed-out streets of London, England, during the Second World War. Their presence bolstered the common person’s will to persevere. And esteemed US military historian Bevin Alexander captured the essence of leadership in numerically lopsided battles when he penned:

"There is nothing inevitable about military victory, even for forces of apparently overwhelming strength…In the absence of inspired military leadership... the more powerful side wears down the weaker.”10

This will likely hold true for technologically unbalanced wars of the 21st Century. In future battlespaces, the technological ‘underdog’ will also have leaders whose cult of personality can influence groups to achieve more than they believed possible. This is achieved through the leader’s ability to motivate, not through technology.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth tour bombed areas of London, WWII

©Corbis Corporation/Historical Collection/HU005322

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth tour bombed areas of London during the Second World War.

As in all wars, an army’s morale is critical. Morale can be lifted when a leader or cause instills a motivator in which the soldier can believe. History has proven that there are a number of motivators a leader can draw upon. In the early 20th Century, Mao Tse-Tung (Mao Zedong) led his technologically inferior peasant army of Communists through years of revolutionary/guerrilla warfare against the Japanese, as did General Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Nationalist Army. By transforming the Red Army soldiers’ battle into an investment in himself and his country, Mao overcame almost nineteen years (1930-1949) of struggle to make China a Maoist State. Commenting upon the Red Army soldier’s motivation, Mao said:

“The majority of the Red Army soldiers came from mercenary armies; but once in the Red Army they changed their character. [The Red Army made] the soldiers feel like they are not fighting for somebody else but for themselves and the people [of China].”11

Mao’s leadership’s influence upon the human factors of perseverance and patience directly shaped the battlespace’s fourth dimension of time and space, to the benefit of the Communists.

History has shown that religion can be an effective motivator. In AD 66-73, Zealots rallied against Roman rule in Jerusalem, due to their belief that Israel could only be ruled by a Jewish king who was descended from King David. The Romans were superior in equipment and military skill, and so, the Zealots fought a low intensity and ‘low-tech’ war. Aside from the very public assassinations of some Legionnaires, the Zealots are also reputed to have employed a primitive form of chemical warfare, poisoning wells and granaries used by Romans, and even sabotaging Jerusalem’s water supply.12  Zealot low-tech actions caused Rome to deploy an inordinate amount of manpower and resources to subdue the Zealot menace; that is, more high-technology and manpower to manage the low-tech threat. Today, a similar example would be the surge of 30,000 US forces between February and June 200713 to Iraq to mitigate the Iraqi resistance movement’s threat.

Recently, Radical Islam has been a motivator for those who want to eradicate what they perceive as immoral Western practices. Radical interpretations of Islamic scripture have driven religious fighters, Jihadists, to fight for reasons that transcend geography or physical wealth.  Jihadists believe their fight will bring spiritual emancipation to not only the Islamic community but to the world.14 The Islamic fighters’ wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Israel, and, to some extent, Chechnya draw their inspiration from religious ideals. Extremists have employed suicide attacks as a weapon “available to the weak, to the powerless, in confronting a stronger and exponentially more powerful opponent.”15 During an interview in 1994, an unnamed Gaza Muslim activist rationale stated:

“We lack arms possessed by the enemy…We have no planes or missiles, not even artillery with which to fight the evil… [Suicide attacks are] the most effective instrument for inflicting harm… Through such action, the ‘martyr’ acquires the right to enter heaven and liberate himself from all the pain and suffering of this world.”16

No technology can defeat what some fighters perceive is a sure path to Heaven.

Technology: Creator of the Enemy Within

The 21st Century battlespace will extend to the ‘home front,’ where our foes will conduct a strategic flanking through information, and exploit the West’s vulnerability of impatience. Shaped by technology’s penchant for providing convenience and comfort, 21st Century Western societies lack, in Mao’s determination, or the religious-extremist’s conviction, self-sacrifice. Instant gratification is the mantra shaping Western society, an idea perpetuated by instant access to information. Contemporary examples demonstrate that if friendly war effort appears to be faltering, calls for troop withdrawals increase in proportion to a length of conflict. The media’s global connectivity and instantaneous reporting can create highly charged political problems, simply due to viewer reactions to news reports.17 During the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese never won a major military victory against the Americans – nor were they required to do so. The morale of the American people at home was their real target. When opposition at home became overwhelming, the American government withdrew.18 Aided by the West’s requirement for instant success, our technologically deficient foes at the beginning of the 21st Century have proven that they can outlast the West, and that they will be in the battlespace well after Western forces have departed.

Mao Tse Tung

©Corbis Corporation/Bettmann Collection/BEO80703

Mao Tse-Tung.

Human Factors in the 5th Dimension: Cyberspace

Although invisible and largely transparent to most Western soldiers on the battlefield, cyberspace is an area where daily defensive and offensive battles are fought.  To conduct cyber campaigns, the technological edge is again marginalized by the cyber-operator’s ingenuity. Casualties in the fifth dimension may not bleed, but the results of successful attacks have definite effects in the real world. An enemy with limited assets to face a technologically-superior foe on the battlefield can force his opponent to refocus resources and effort to win in the digital information plane. When addressing the cyber threat to US Defense networks in 2003, US Congressman Jim Saxton, Chairman of the Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, stated:

“While programmers and software developers build more advanced systems to run more tasks, criminals become more creative in their methods to break into these systems….   [T]he Department of Defense's networks may be vulnerable to anyone who has a computer, the knowledge and the willpower to launch cyber attacks… [The Defense Department] operates approximately three million computers, 100,000 local area networks and 100 long-distance networks. These systems include military service-based, joint defense and intelligence computers and networks are a part of the Global Information Grid (GIG), part of which is dependent on the commercial civilian systems. All of these systems are susceptible to acts of cyber terrorists 24 hours a day.”19

Because all data communication systems are so completely integrated and co-dependent, a small breach may cause the loss of connectivity between entities, or, even worse, the loss of confidence in the system. Each of us, whether in our homes or offices, defaults to the human instinct of caution when we learn that a computer may be infected. Even a hint that a virus may have infected a system will cause an individual to reconsider operating the system for fear of further contaminating his/her network. This fear would be magnified exponentially if a virus was confirmed, or if a system was neutralized through a cyber attack. The result would be the temporary slowing or the total cessation of information dissemination, a grave consequence in the information-dependent 21st Century battlespace. 

Intelligence and the Battlespace: No High-Tech Panacea

CIMIC team member and Afghan National Police

DND photo AR2010-0143-05 by Sergeant Daren Kraus

Sergeant Tim Longo, Civilian Military Cooperation (CIMIC) team, discusses needs and requirements for a local area with the Afghan National Police (ANP), 20 June 2010.

The 21st Century battlespaces will require a greater degree of intelligence granularity to drive operations. The demands for accurate and timely intelligence dictate a battlespace inundated with sensors of all kinds. For the ‘technological underdog,’ the need to understand the enemy’s collectors’ and sensors’ weaknesses and vulnerabilities will be paramount. The underdog will have to possess the ingenuity to capitalize upon an adversary’s vulnerabilities. 

In Afghanistan, Canada has employed its greatest intelligence effort since the Second World War. Despite the intelligence effort employing all means of advanced technology, Taliban fighters still manage to mount successful attacks that kill a number of Coalition forces and civilians. Why?  As stated by a Canadian Task Force Commander, “…all the stupid Taliban are already dead.”20  Those who remain have adapted to their new sensor-saturated battlespace. 

The unfortunate aspect of technological use is that users tend to rely upon it.  Many of the collection platforms were designed to detect large, conventional (or nuclear) formations, and they performed well during the Cold War era. In the reality of the 21st Century, strategic imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors like satellites or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) cannot determine a person’s intentions, look through rock to find caches of weapons, or assess likely targets as considered by our adversaries. This limits a sensor’s effectiveness. Similarly, signals intelligence (SIGINT) satellites are designed to detect transmissions from broadcast communications systems such as radios, as well as radars and other electronic systems. However, these satellites are not capable of intercepting communications carried over landlines, such as under-sea fibre optic cables (nor can they detect non-electronic communications, such as the spoken word).21  If the adversary does not employ the type of technology targeted, the sophisticated collection platforms are useless. Given the amount of information about these systems available on the Internet, technologically deficient adversaries can develop their own low-tech standard operating procedures (SOPs) to defeat or mitigate their effectiveness. This is simply an adaptation of the Canadian Army Terminology Board’s definition of asymmetric warfare that states (comments in parentheses are the authors),

“[Avoid] a [collection] threat by an opposing faction… by avoiding [collectors’] strengths, exploiting weaknesses, and employing unexpected or unusual techniques.&rdquo22

Driven by necessity, “…armies must adapt or die.”23  Technologically deficient foes have and will continue to adapt to survive. The need to survive will continue to spur innovation, another human factor.

Battles Without Weapons: Mitigating the Human Factors

The concept of intelligence driving operations is not new. The great Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz understood this when he wrote:

“By the word ‘information’ we denote all the knowledge which we have of the enemy and his country; therefore, in fact, the foundation of all our ideas and actions.”24

To gain ‘information’ on human factors requires a modified means of collection.  Instead of employing collection efforts solely to facilitate the ‘sensor to shooter’ paradigm, collection efforts have to include determining the battlespace’s human factors.  These factors will include what the local population thinks of the friendly forces, how they view our adversaries, what the issues or institutions are that friendly forces should never tamper with, and what commanders at all levels can do to win support.  Outsiders, no matter how well intentioned, cannot impose their values and their institutions upon a people who have no knowledge of them, or any experience in their development or implementation.25 For the purposes of this article, this information will be referred to as social intelligence (SOINT). SOINT must be managed in the same way as other forms of intelligence collection. A SOINT collection plan must be created that meshes with the commander’s campaign plan, and then incorporated into an effects matrix. SOINT collection tasks need to be created, prioritized, assigned, and then followed up. Results must then be analyzed, corroborated, and disseminated. 

To be effective, SOINT must be disseminated to every soldier in the battlespace – potentially being the most critical element of mission command.26 Not only must the soldier comprehend the mission’s end-state, the soldier must know how to preserve the local population’s confidence in order to achieve the conflict’s strategic aims. The strategic aim can be severely damaged due to a tactical error. Because of the media’s instantaneous international reach, information is now an equalizer enabling the weak (or the technologically inferior) to challenge the strong.27 Reporting a tactical error that undermines a force’s strategic aims is a low-tech victory for a technologically poor enemy. Solid leadership, not technology, is the key to safeguarding the mission’s strategic aim.

The 21st Century battlespace will also require shaping the civilian population’s view of the deployed forces. Relying heavily upon SOINT, information operations (IO) and civilian military cooperation (CIMIC) missions will become increasingly important, demonstrating the friendly forces’ positive effect in the battlespace for the local population while highlighting the adversary’s negative influence. There is nothing high-tech in this approach, and, therefore, a technological advantage will be of limited benefit. People respond to other people, and friendly forces will have to demonstrate that they are more human than soldier. If the population cannot be won over, the probability of a protracted and unwinnable war will increase, as will the prospect of a low-tech victory for an adversary.

To determine enemy intentions, the low-tech but highly complicated human brain is the best tool. The human mind has a capacity for judgment, intuition, and imagination far superior to the analytic capacity of the most powerful computer.28 The 21st Century battlespace will require intelligence professionals to get into an adversary’s head to crack their OODA (Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action) Loop. From a strategic and tactical perspective, a commander’s priority has to be, in one way or another, to complete his or her own OODA Loop faster than the enemy can complete theirs.29 Once inside the adversary’s OODA Loop, friendly forces will have the initiative, thus keeping the adversary in a reactive posture. Although technology may assist a military in deriving the adversary’s OODA Loop, the low-tech means of HUMINT collection is by far the most effective.

Greater use of HUMINT can be used to gauge the SOINT environment and collection for the purposes of classic offensive and defensive operations. Every soldier must be considered a sensor and ‘managed’ accordingly.  For this, the intelligence professionals must have a greater interface with the soldiers to glean as much information as possible. This is a massive undertaking, but it is not impossible. The rifleman’s conversation with ‘the guy in the market,’ or a military trucker’s observation while moving stores, all form pieces of the battlespace’s fabric, and they must be captured, synthesized, assessed, and disseminated. This concept, however, is not new. During the Second World War, the Canadian Intelligence Corps (CIC) sifted, examined, and analyzed intelligence from myriad sources. Resistance group members, refugees from [enemy] occupied states, every form of media, results from raiding parties, and intercepted mail all flowed into the mix,30 providing incredible insight into enemy intentions. This is simply relearning old lessons that have been lost through years of automation and processing.

Troops from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR)

DND photo LW2006-5218d by Sergeant Donald Clark

Troops from the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) cover their arcs during a training exercise.

Special Operations Forces: Balancing Technology and Human Factors

There are examples of units that have embraced technology while simultaneously fostering the human element in their warfighting philosophy. The results of this symbiotic relationship are embodied in some of the most effective units in the 21st Century battlespace: special operations forces (SOF). Often singled out for their innovative use of technology in warfare, special operators have always been given an opportunity to leverage equipment and technologies. SOF has always been a place where the value of technology on the battlefield has been rated quite high.31 Nonetheless, the question of whether it is the technology or the operator that makes special operations ‘special’ must be examined.

Special operations units ensure that only the most suitable candidates for such employment are chosen through rigorous selection processes. In general, successful candidates must possess the traits of physical fitness, the ability to think and act independently while under trying or uncomfortable circumstances, and a selfless mission focus. Canada’s SOF unit Joint Task Force 2 (JTF 2) recruiting and information web page clearly outlines what personal attributes are required for success as a special operator.  These are:

  • A high level of maturity in both one’s professional and personal life;
  • Excellent overall fitness, agility and reflexes;
  • The ability to work independently and as a member of a team;
  • The ability to communicate effectively; and
  • A high degree of dedication and determination.32

High standards are also required for professionalism, integrity, psychological profile, mental aptitude, discipline, and maturity.33 Tied into these attributes are inherent traits of leadership and initiative.

With such a significant emphasis being placed upon human factors, what role does technology play in the SOF success? Are the technologies developed to enhance the operators’ five human senses, or do they provide capabilities that surpass the limitations of human physiology?34 In answering the question of what technologies work best for special operations, retired navy captain and former navy SEAL, William Shepherd, stated:

“Our basic needs in conducting warfare probably have not changed for a few thousand years. You need to move people around. You would like to have surprise. You need to identify the enemy and know what he is doing. You need to communicate with people. You need to orient and engage. You need to have offensive power, and you need to protect your troops. You need to care for them if they are wounded.  [However,] most of our technology thrusts… stem from these generic, fundamental things that go back to the Greeks and the Romans.”35

A common theme among these technologies employed or sought is that they enhance existing human factors, and are not as critical to mission success as technologies used to provide capabilities beyond those limited by physiology. If one needs to move, one can walk. An operator’s warrior spirit will enhance his offensive power. If operators are under fire, they will seek cover. Technologies providing capabilities beyond physiological limitations, such as satellite imagery, are more likely employed prior to a mission’s launch, and are not as critical to mission execution.

It cannot be argued that the technology employed by special operators and their supporting elements does not make a difference. Technologies have enhanced these forces’ capabilities, allowing them to achieve the SOF mission requirement of relative superiority,36 as discussed in US Navy SEAL and commander of US Joint Special Operations Command Vice Admiral William McRaven’s book Spec Ops. Special Operators regularly use an extraordinary range of technologies, as demonstrated by the supply of Special Forces teams in Afghanistan with AK-47 ammunition, oats for horses, and leather saddles to replace wooden saddles, as well as satellite-supported laptops for directing airstrikes against Taliban and al Qaeda targets.37 The synergies of the combined ‘no-tech, low-tech, and high-tech’ equipment in the hands of skilled and innovative operators have proven to be very effective in the contemporary battlespace.38 Where SOF succeeds in their employment of technology is in the balance struck between the reliance upon superior human factors/traits and technology.  In Jason Ridler’s paper on SOF and technology, he says that two critical factors define the relationship between them. First, having the right technology is paramount to success. Second, the relationship between operational experience and technological development – that is, meeting new needs as they arise – must be maintained and supported.39  The right technology for success does not necessarily imply high tech. Furthermore, experience and individual (or in this case unit) capability must be leveraged to achieve success. This mutual approach to the human/technological relationship is far more likely to achieve a positive outcome than reliance upon technology alone. This was clearly demonstrated in comments made by the commander of British forces during the First Gulf War, General Sir Peter de la Billière. “Once again,” General de la Billière said, “experience confirmed what the Special Air Service (SAS) has repeatedly demonstrated in Europe – that no amount of electronic surveillance is as effective as a pair of eyes on the ground.”40 Although touted as the first high-tech war, SOF was used to augment technology in the hunt for Iraqi SCUD launchers.

In essence, what makes special operators “special” are the human traits they possess, rather than a given technology.  However, what makes SOF effective is their adaptability and employment of the technologies provided them to achieve mission success.

CH-146 Griffon

DND photo LW2006-5222d by Sergeant Donald Clark

A CH-146 Griffon from 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron (427 SOAS) takes off after recovering CSOR troops during a training exercise.


Technology will help the technologically superior fight a battle, but it will not win a war on its own. By putting trust solely in the advantages gained from technology – in essence committing the sin of technological ethnocentrism – soldiers fighting in the 21st Century battlespace will be too focused upon what they see in their scopes, or on their computer screens, while a given foe slips under the wire and slits their throats – either actually or metaphorically. 

Technological inequality between combatants will shape the potential “battlespaces” of the 21st Century by forcing the ‘technological underdog’ to rely upon human factors such as leadership, ingenuity, patience, and other non-technological means to survive. Human actions, personalities, emotions, and spirit cannot be distilled into an algorithm or spied upon by faceless and virtually invisible sensors. Perhaps Jacques Ellul best summarized the enigma of human factors when he wrote:

“It is clear that Einstein, extraordinary mathematical genius that he was, was no Pascal; he knew nothing of political or human reality, or in fact, anything outside of his mathematical reach.”41

In order to succeed in the future battlespace, whether it be a city or desert, in Asia or North America, soldiers and commanders must be able to transcend their technology and get to know the battlespace’s actors through human endeavours such as HUMINT and SOINT. By understanding how human factors shape their battlespace, the commander can retain the technological advantage. Learning to balance technological benefits while nurturing the soldiers’ key human traits will provide a commander with a tangible advantage, as demonstrated in contemporary battlespaces such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Human factors are the sixth dimension and common denominator in the 21st Century’s battlespaces – a dimension that will continue to be a major dynamic in shaping the technologically unbalanced battlespace.

CMJ Logo

Captain Roy van den Berg, MMM, CD, has recently returned from an exchange tour as a military planner at United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) Headquarters in Miami, Florida.


  1. Darrell Fasching, The Thought of Jacques Ellul: A Systematic Exposition (New York & Toronto: Edwin Mellen Press, 1981), p. 17.
  2. Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society (New York: Knopf, 1964), p. xxxiii.
  3. HIE 275 Course notes, Cp. 8, p. 3.
  4. Tim Cook, “Like So Many Rats in a Trap,” in The Army Doctrine Bulletin (Vol. 5, No. 4, Winter 2002-2003), p. 55.
  5. Colonel B. Horn, “The Devil’s Playground: The Airborne Battlefield in World War II,” in Canadian Army Journal (7.3/7.4 Fall/Winter 2004), p. 83.
  6. Philip Caputo, Robert J. McMahon, (eds.) Major Problems in the Vietnam War, 3rd Edition (Boston: Houton Mifflin Company, 2003), p. 176.
  7. Captain Eric Dion, “The E-fantry Warrior! The Evolution of the Queen of Battles in the Face of the 21st Century,” in Canadian Army Journal (Vol. 7.2, Summer 2004), p. 21.
  8. Samuel B. Griffith, Sun Tzu: The Art of War (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 40.
  9. Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Hope, “Guest Editorial,” in Canadian Army Journal (Vol. 10.1, Spring 2007), p. 7.
  10. Bevan Alexander, Military Quotes, 2002-8, at <www.military-quotes.com/database/a.htm>.
  11. William J. Pomeroy (ed.) Guerrilla Warfare and Marxism (New York: International Publishers, 1968), p. 168.
  12. Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (Irvington, NY: Columbia University Press, 1998), p. 89.
  13. BBC News, “U.S. Surge Plan in Iraq Working.” BBC News On-Line, 10 September 2007, at <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/6986461.stm>.
  14. Dr. Mary R. Habeck, “Jihadist Strategies in the War on Terrorism.” in The Heritage Foundation. 8 November 2004, at <http://www.heritage.org/Research/NationalSecurity/hl855.cfm,>.
  15. Ibid., p. 99.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Lieutenant-Colonel Bernd Horn, “Complexity Squared: Operating in the Future Battlespace,”  in Canadian Military Journal (Vol. 4, No. 3, Autumn 2003), p. 10.
  18. Bevin Alexander, How Wars Are Won: 13 Rules of War From Ancient Greece to the War on Terror (New York: Crown Publishers, 2002), p. 6.
  19. U.S. Government, “Information Technology in 21st Century Battlespace.” in Hearing Before the Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services House of Representatives, 24 July 2003, at <http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/security/has205260.000/has205260_0f.htm>.
  20. Comment made during a discussion with the author during operations in Afghanistan.
  21. John Pike, Robert Sherman, “Military Space Programs: SIGINT Overview,” in  Federation of American Scientists. 1997, at <www. http://www.fas.org/spp/military/program/sigint/overview.htm>.
  22. Major R.H.J. Ruiters, “As Old as Warfare Itself: An Examination of Asymmetric Warfare,” in The Army Doctrine and Training Bulletin, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Summer 2003), p. 36.
  23. Dr Scot Robertson, “Challenge and Response: Innovation and Change in the Canadian Army,” in The Army Doctrine and Training Bulletin  Vol.3, No. 4 (Winter 2000/Spring 2001), p. 70.
  24. Carl von Clausewitz, On War (London: Penguin Books, 1968), p. 162.
  25. Bevin Alexander, How Wars Are Won: 13 Rules of War From Ancient Greece to the War on Terror, p. 5.
  26. Mission command is the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution based on mission orders for effective mission accomplishment. Successful mission command results from subordinate leaders at all echelons exercising disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to accomplish missions. It requires an environment of trust and mutual understanding. (FM 6-0, 1-17).
  27. Colonel R.M. Williams, “The Truth, the Whole Truth or Nothing: A Media Strategy for the Military in the Information Age,” in Canadian Military Journal (Vol. 3, No. 3, Autumn 2002), p. 13.
  28. United States Army, FM 6-0 Mission Command and Control of Army Forces (August 2003), pp. 1-9.
  29. HIE 275 Lesson 10 Course Notes, p. 47.
  30. Dwight Hamilton, Inside Canadian Intelligence (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2006), p. 145.
  31. National Defense Industries Association, “Solutions Driver: Leveraging Technology Solutions to Meet Current Warrior Needs, An Interview with William M. Shepherd, Science & Technology Advisor, US Special Operations Command,” at http://www.ndia.org/Divisions/Divisions/SOLIC/Documents/Interview%20with%20Shepherd%2012-22-08.pdf.
  32. The Ideal Candidate, at <http://www.jtf2.forces.gc.ca/ic-ci/index-eng.asp.>
  33. <http://www.jtf2.forces.gc.ca/ajt-sfo/pro/index-eng.asp.>
  34. For example, night vision goggles (NVGs) enhance human sight in darkness, while other systems may detect disturbances in the electromagnetic spectrum, an area where humans cannot sense without the assistance of technology.
  35. National Defense Industries Association.
  36. Relative superiority is a condition that exists when an attacking force, generally smaller, gains a decisive advantage over a larger force or defended enemy. This concept is discussed in depth in William McRaven’s thesis Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare Theory and Practice, published by Presidio Press, 1995, p. 4.
  37. Robert D. Spriger, “The Spriger Journal: The War on Terrorism,” Part IV, WRAL-TV, Raleigh, NC, 27 February 2002.
  38. Dale G. Uhler, “Technology: Force Multiplier for Special Operations,” in Joint Force Quarterly, Issue 40, 1st Quarter, p. 59.
  39. David Last and Bernd Horn, Choice of Force: Special Operations for Canada (Kingston: Queen’s University Press, 2005), p. 221.
  40. Ibid., p. 225.
  41. Ellul, p. 435.

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