The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), as a term, gained popularity among scholars and military circles in the early 1990s, when the Gulf war exposed a significant shift in the role of technological advancements in the modern warfare. Being characterized by innovations like all-weather precision weapons, the advent of stealth, the rise of unmanned systems, tactical and operational exploitation of space and emergence of early forms of network-based and joint-force integration, this new phenomenon led a number of observers to suggest that the nature of war itself would be transformed as a result of these advancements. Some proponents have even gone so far as to claim that a tremendous use of Information and Communication Technologies on the battlefield would drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the various challenges to effective military performance, characterized as ‘friction’ – the term which was introduced by the Prussian theorist and military officer Carl von Clausewitz and which has been the inherent element of all military operations conducted throughout the history.1 Modern scholars tend to refer to Clausewitz’s general concept of ‘friction’ as ‘the fog and friction’ of war. While ‘fog’ is associated by the uncertainty of war and the difficulty of gathering credible information, ‘friction’ is a more complex notion, which can be understood only by those ‘who already have had their own experiences on the battlefield’, referring to difficulties, unforeseen problems that cause impediments of plans, delay movements and ultimately turn the tide of Revolution in Military affairs vs. the Friction and the Fog of Warbattles. As a matter of fact, the purpose of this paper is to examine whether recent revolutionary (or maybe evolutionary?) changes in military affairs will indeed be able to negate the fundamental nature of war suggested by Clausewitz himself. Thus, the first part of the paper is concerned with the theoretical views of the proponents of the idea described above. Major attention is drawn to the prospects of the   “system of systems” approach and its implications for the future role of ‘friction’ on the battlefields, while two other theories, called “dominant battlespace knowledge” and “global reach, global power”, are also considered in addressing the given question. While the first part of the paper demonstrates the possibility that RMA is indeedable to significantly influence the role of ‘friction’, its second part casts doubt on this idea by illustrating how technological innovations are followed by changes in the overall character of frictional factors.


How the RMA challenges the role of friction and fog on military operations?

In order to understand how elements of RMA deal with the sources of fog and friction that Clausewitz outlined in his book, we can present one dominant theory on the topic : the «system of systems» approach, advocated by the retired U.S. Admiral William A. Owens, and widely accepted among the ranks of the U.S. military. The phrase describes the creation of a transparent battlefield, like a «chessboard on which all the enemy’s pieces are visible and vulnerable, and all the friendly pieces are visible and commandable», by integrating different components of RMA in a general system. Having been the major objective of military commanders for decades, this implies the revolutionary organizational changes accompanied by improvements in the technologies of command, computers, control, communications and intelligence processing (C4I), which has already been experimented in several military operations throughout the last two decades. This has been facilitated by «data fusion» from newly developed technological novelties as drones, sensors, satellites, sophisticated radars et cetera. Accordingly, new automated systems help military experts to collect, process and analyze the given data. Once the dislocation of the opposite side is detected, force delivery and dismantling of the enemy can be implemented quite quickly, by the use of technologies as all-weather precision weapons (PGMs), stealth technologies and lightweight, lower-cost, agile weapons’ platforms deploying «zero-CEP» precision munitions. 

One can also mention here the other approaches concerning RMA, like «dominant battlespace knowledge», which implies the advance of a complete global surveillance system through the use of space-based intelligence technologies, aircraft, ground sensors and unmanned drones – or the «global reach, global power» approach, which stresses the role of space-based weapons in enabling oneself to destroy any targets on the earth, independent of their location.2 No matter how ambitious these approaches are, the fact is that already developed technologies and command systems seem to be effective enoughin overcoming Clauzewitzian sources of fog and friction, such as the lack of information; natural and metheorological constraints; uncertainty about one’s own strength; exaggeration of one’s own difficulties; a contrast between expectations and realities; difference between actual and theoretical strength; logistical difficulties and the lack of will when confronted with battlefield realities etcetera.


How friction and the fog challenge the role of RMA on military operations?

Consequently, we can accept that, in fact, RMA is able to moderate the impact of friction for classic conventional wars of Clauzewitz’s period. What we cannot accept, however, is the assumption that this phenomenon is substantially diminishing and will diminish the role of frictional factors on military operations of modern world. As Watts observed: «Indeed, a close examination of the ‘Desert Storm’ operation suggests that frictional impediments experienced by the winning side were not appreciably different in scope or magnitude than they were for the Germans during their lightning conquest of France and the Low Countries in May 1940».3 Because friction and fog of war do not comprise a static set of finite challenges, every innovation will be followed by considerable alterations in the character of frictional factors.4 Thus some significant changes in frictional factors are presented below:

1. While up until now the fog of war has always challenged the performance of military operations, a new «information rich» environment, in contrast, can contribute to the informational overload. Considering the physical and intellectual cognition limits of a human-being, this will increase the possibility of ignoring some part of the collected data, thus ultimately resulting in confusion and surprise. Moreover, the constant flow of information could end up in delaying decisions, because of the need to analyze every collected detail. This is exactly what happened during the Gulf War, when although huge amount of raw data on Iraqi forces was collected by the American intelligence systems, the U.S. lacked human and technological resources to effectively process the data into meaningful depictions of the movements of the opposite side.

2. Technological innovation – via expanding the battlefield and transforming the relationship between  time and space – will eventually come up with new demands on command and control. This will be followed by constant challenges of adaptation for military institutions to the new technologies. Subsequently, the increasing dependence on technological systems will cause increasing vulnerability for the systemic attacks. Therefore a successful systemic attack would put under peril the whole complex of the military institution.5 

3. Finally, considering the dualistic character of the Clauzewitzian war, it is very crucial to consider the «will, skill, and means» of the opposite side, as Beaufre mentions.6 Two different points have to be taken into account here. Firstly, relying on Krepinevich’s statement that, «Competitive advantages of military revolutions are increasingly short-lived», we can assume that sooner or later the adversaries will be able to either acquire the same kind of technologies or develop technological counter-measures or other techniques to avoid being detected, thus maintaining the scope and role of fog in underlying conflict.7 Second and actually more important point is about the fact that significant military advantages due to the drastic technological improvements can draw the enemy to resort to irregular ways of warfare, what indeed partly relies on frictional factors.8 By avoiding direct military confrontation, this new ways of warfare – including terrorism and guerilla combat– tend to bring in disastrous consequences for societies, and by changing the battlefield towards «people’s perception» significantly undermine the military achievements of a technologically superior side. Furthermore, one can also emphasize that the decreasing costs of information technologies causes the weapons based on such technologies to get cheaper, thus increasing the possibility for «the lower end» or the RMA weaponry to fall within the reach of a greater number of actors, including terrorist groups.9 Consequently, the «frictional advantage» of the technologically superior side tends to evade with time.



What this paper generally demonstrates is that the Revolution in Military Affairs indeed significantly reduces and will reduce the impact of “classic” frictional factors, what Clausewitz was actually implying. Meanwhile, the overall potential magnitude of “fog” and “friction” do not really change, as these concepts are not static and they reflect and shape according to the way military operations are held on the battleground. Friction and fog will continue to be influential to future warfare regardless of technological changes in the means of combat. Especially, they are difficult to overcome in irregular warfare, but considerable work has to be done to reduce their occurrences as much as possible. Meanwhile, technological change alone is not enough for achieving this aim. As Gray mentions: “Innovation is not necessary to success, nor does it often lead to success. Instead success is the result of the “ability to cope with an increasingly complex battlefield”.10 One could evidently witness throughout the paper that indeed the first reason for the resistance of friction in war, is the human nature itself. Hence intellectual, not technological change is the true basis for revolution.




1. Rasmussen M.V. ‘The Revolution in Military Affairs and the Boomerang Effect’ (2004), DIIS Report, Danish Institute for International Studies.

2. Chapman G. ‘An Introduction to the Revolution in Military Affairs’ (2003), XV Amaldi Conference on Problems in Global Security, Helsinki. 

3. Watts B. D. ‘Clauzewitzian Friction and Future War’ (2004), Institute for National Strategic Studies, Washington D.C.

4. Gray C.S. ‘Why Strategy is Difficult ?’ (1999).

5. Chapman G. ‘An Introduction to the Revolution in Military Affairs’ (2003), XV Amaldi Conference on Problems in Global Security, Helsinki.

6. Gray C.S. ‘Why Strategy is Difficult ?’ (1999).

7. Krepinevich A. « Cavalry to Computer » National Interest, no.37(1994) : 30.

8. Aaron C.E.S. ‘Countering the Friction and Fog of War in the Information Age’ (2003)

9. Chapman G. ‘An Introduction to the Revolution in Military Affairs’ (2003), XV Amaldi Conference on Problems in Global Security, Helsinki.

10. Thompson M.J. ‘Military Revolutions and Revolutions in Military Affairs : Accurate Descriptions of Change or Intellectual Constructs ?’


Share this post