Bousquet, The Scientific Way of Warfare: Order and Chaos on the Battlefields of Modernity (2009)

Author Background:

Lecturer in International Politics, University of London


What is Net Centric Warfare trying to achieve? Is it both desirable and achievable? If NCW is the answer, how, and indeed should, the US make sure that allies are in the loop?

Our current enemies are fighting a "chaoplexic war" where forces are utterly decentralized and self-organizing.

Thesis:Throughout the modern era the dominant corpus of scientific ideas has been reflected in the contemporary theories and practices of warfare in the Western world. Warfare cannot be completely predicted or controlled, knowledge is imperfect, and redundancy allows for great adaptability and resilience in the face of contingency. This does not change with integration of networks. The forces that have succeeded in remaining organized while precipitating their adversaries into disarray have almost invariably prevailed.


4 – The scientific way of warfare refers to an array of scientific rationalities, techniques, frameworks of interpretation, and intellectual dispositions which have characterized the approach to the application of socially organized violence in the modern era. Four distinct regimes have emerged mechanistic, thermodynamic, cybernetic, and chaoplexic with their respective paradigmatic technology: the clock, the engine, the computer and the network. With each regime a different dimension of warfare comes to the fore and dominates its exercise, whether it is the ordering and disciplining of motion on the battlefield, the channeling and projection of energy, or the flow and distribution of information.

11 - engineering sought (still seeks) to characterize and predict the behavior of every element in the system

17 - technology became part of the social organization following the Scientific Revolution, especially in the West

30-5 - Four regimes of fighting have revolved: mechanistic war (machines and routines), thermodynamic war (engines and energy), cybernetic war (computers and C2), “chaoplexic” war (networks and chaos + complexity theory). Force fed mechanics; energy fed thermodynamics; information fed cybernetics.

Scientific Regimes





Key Technology





Scientific Concepts

Force Matter in motion Linearity Geometry

Energy Entropy Probability

Information Negentropy Negative feedback Homeostasis



Positive feedback



Form of Warfare

Close order drill Rigid tactical Deployments

Mass mobilization Motorization Industrialization

Command and Control Automation

Decentralization Swarming

- became dogmatic in science and culture 42-3
- predictability of clockwork mechanisms, plus belief that everything was clockwork, led to assumption that everything could be predicted 46-50
- mechanistic war combated chaos by predetermining every action and interaction 62 (Jomini)
- driven first by the steam engine; rail enticed trade, travel, and communications 65-6
- thermodynamic war gave speed and movement power to greatly increase destruction (ultimatly in the form of nukes) 75
- less emphasis on trajectory (pretty deterministic) and more on explosion (not very deterministic) 80
- strategy and tactics granted adaptability and flexibility on the battlefield that was largely lost during the mechanistic regime 83-4
- motorization ended the concept of front lines 84
- friction cannot be dismissed as a minor and mostly insignificant deviation from the ideal mechanism; rather it is a fundamental and irreducible property of war 89

- like most tech, integration was more important than the advance itself 96
- info increases order, and can be used to reverse entropy’s effects 106
- moving back towards clockwork control through computer automation and prediction 126
- term ‘command and control’ adds a feedback loop to what was once just command, a one-directional function 129
- more computers led to a trend towards reductionism – everything’s an equation to be solved 137
- despite rigor, sys anlys gurus caution that modeling is neither reality nor objective 152-3 (even it's accurate it can look at the wrong things or have bad assumptions)
- After 1945 the length of procurement cycles increased with the time necessary for the research and development, production, and deployment of any new technology . Furthermore, closer cybernetic integration of vehicles, projectiles, communications, radar, and electronic counter-measures created weapon systems whose components could not be designed separately if integration into a functioning whole were to be successful.145

Chaoplexity (net-centric war)
- demands both order and disorder to generate truth 163
- networks allow self-organization and emergence 164
- positive feedback and non-linear processes led to chaos theory – scientists decided linear stuff was the aberration, and non-linear was the norm in nature 168-9
- chance isn’t random; we just can’t know enough about the initial conditions to make an accurate prediction 172
- complex adaptive systems do decentralized decision making with fast OODA loops 175
-- OODA is non-linear and will result in unpredictable, emergent behavior 193
-- quicker OODA loop isn’t about faster cycle time, it’s about faster response to stimuli, more sensitive to stimuli, faster to make interconnections 195
- Initiative, surprise, and deception are thus key; merely increasing the speed at which one acts by responding to stimulus from pre-established templates 195
- Clausewitz’s interaction, friction, and chance make Carl chaoplexic 196
- network is cyber and social, modifying how and why people do and think things 203
- swarming is the best of networking – hard to beat a swarm; it’s massively parallel, and each individual is of only small import 210
- swarms react and adapt rapidly and effectively to unexpected stimuli 211
- networked forces should be able to concentrate and disperse faster than hierarchical forces 213-4
- more conservative advocates suggest greater decentralization, to allow for self-organization and emergence 219

- info relieves uncertainty, and proponents differ as to how much uncertainty it can relieve (some suggest 100%) 220

-- three problems with this belief – sensitive dependence on initial conditions, no true adaptive system of C2, and no real acknowledgement that some of the info is bad 220-1

-- embrace uncertainty instead, by building flexible and adaptable structures 222

-- networking can provide decentralization and better big-picture understanding at the same time 227

- net-centric war makes the network a critical vulnerability; therefore net-centric war may not quite be chaoplexic war after all 237 – The historical record certainly substantiates the idea that attempts to render war predictable have been largely counter-productive … the most effective forms of warfare built into military organization a tolerance to uncertainty and even a capacity to profit from it. 242

Implications for Strategy:

- Network Enabled Warfare (has replaced Network Centric) gives the capacity to centralize & decentralize at the same time

- Information may overload actors rather than allowing them to self-synchronize

- Makes the network a critical enabler and potential target

- Standards (such as network standards) gives militaries significant leverage through sharing & cooperation of data, plans & action

- Today reveals cybernetic effects in a chaoplexic environment

- Military doesn’t have to change to defeat Al Qaeda – unless we can’t manage chaos

- The forces that have succeeded in remaining organized while precipitating their adversaries into disarray have almost invariably prevailed.

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