Conflict Management

by Prof. Derek K Hitchins


  • Human Behaviour
  • What's It About?
  • Command in History
  • What makes an effective Fighting Force
  • Expectations of Command & Control
  • A view of the Defensive C2 Task
  • Command & Control and "Force Multiplier Effect"
  • The Command & Control (C2) Design Issue
  • Viewpoints
  • Deterministic Viewpoint
  • Human Viewpoint
  • Non-Linear Dynamic Viewpoint


Human Behaviour

Some view killing as an inevitable consequence of human behaviour. It seems likely that humans have a kill inhibition just as most other animals, for humans, there are two problems:-

  1. we have developed methods of killing remotely
  2. we learn to overcome the inhibition

The figure uses the methods of System Thinking to show the effects of technology and remote killing on our behaviour. it also shows the effect of different technology, communications and TV, in restoring our visibility of submission. As in so many cases, the technology that creates the problem may offer some solution, too.

What's It About?

Command & Control (C2 for short) is about the management of conflict. Actually, business management can be about the same thing at times, but C2 has connotations of extreme force either applied, or in reserve.

A naive reporter once asked General Schwarzkopf what it felt like to orchestrate Desert Storm.

"Orchestrated? You start conducting and then some son-of-a-bitch climbs out of the orchestra stalls and comes after you with a bayonet!"

General Norman Schwarzkopf

 Is Command & Control, in extremis, controlled aggression through fear, while excess testosterone and adrenalin make the legs tremble and the palms sweat?.

Command in History

  • Sumerian Phalanx. 4th millennium BC, 6-man deep, shields, pikes, battleaxes
  • Egyptian Square. 2nd millennium BC, 100-man deep, copper battleaxes, bows, quivers for volley fire, wings and centre, flanking movements, recruit training, cadence step.
  • Assyria, 9th Century BC, 120,000-man army, archers, mounted lancers. Archers mounted for mobility, fought on foot in pairs - one for bow, second for wicker shield. Engineer corps
  • Greek Phalanx, 7th Century BC, 8-man deep files, 8-ft pikes, 2-foot swords, centre & wings, advanced to flute.
  • Roman Legion, 4th Century BC, 120-man maniples, throwing spears, checkerboard formation.


  • Muslims, 7th Century AD, religious fanaticism-
    • "The sword is the key to Heaven and Hell" - Koran.
    • Mail and helmets, but no shields, brute force rather than tactics, sword, javelin, dagger, bow, scimitar, mounted lances.
    • Employed Europeans as mercenaries for phalanx operations.
  • Mongols, 13th Century,
    • Cavalry, 1 touman = 10,000 horsemen, 1 army = 3 toumans.
    • Battle regulated by black and white flags - no oral or written orders.
    • Cavalry in five lines.
      • First two wore leather armour, used sabres and lances.
      • Following 3 lines - bows and javelins, unarmoured.
  • Europe, 14th Century,
    • Crecy, long-bowmen vs French knights
    • End of 1000 years of mobility-by-cavalry - sacrificed for firepower
  • Swiss Phalanx, Spanish Square - 50-man front and per file.

And so to Napoleon and modern times, infantry, tanks helicopter-cavalry...

Throughout this time, and today, command is limited by the abilities of the force to respond as much as by any C2 technology.

What makes an effective Fighting Force?

Examples of Effective C2 abound in History:-

  • The ability of Alexander to sense tentativeness or outright fear among the troops at a certain point in the enemy lines and to exploit it with a rapid thrust there.
  • Caesar's care never to lose "control" of his legions so that, when a battle was going badly, he could disengage before tactical set-back turned into catastrophe
  • Wellington's skill in anticipating the thrust of the enemy's attack and manoeuvring laterally in time to avoid it

Johnson & Levis, Science of Command & Control

Expectations of Command & Control

  • Force Commander. Intelligence, Decision Support; Execution Management; Deployment Management
  • Out-of-Area Commander. Focus for Command Information; Centre for Control
  • Political Master. Political Situation Control
  • National MOD. Application of National MOD Influence
  • Procurement Financier. Force Multiplier to reduce overall defence costs
  • Lateral Force Commander. Intelligence Source; Coordinating Agent; Resource source; synergy management
  • Subordinate Commander. Control and Reporting (C&R) Authority; Mission Source; Resource Source.
  • Journalist. Source of up-to-the-minute information for public consumption

A view of the Defensive C2 Task

In practical terms, the Defensive C2 Task is to coordinate the defensive assets so as to:-

  • Deter ¥ Counter aggression • Face a changing Threat Direction • Counter Diverse Threat Elements • Protect own Latent Offensive Forces • Distinguish Friend from Foe, esp. own Returning Offensive Forces
  • Survive • Avoid Detection • Prevent Interception / Exploitation • Defend Defensive Assets • Defend own C2 • Tolerate Damage: redundancy, reconfiguration
  • Be available • Reliable • Dependable • Maintainable • Transportable • Mobile
  • Win the Cost-Exchange Ratio Battle: cost of Defence should not cost more than the Assets so saved, in the long term

Command & Control and "Force Multiplier Effect" (FME)

Force Multiplier Effect is a term used to describe the ability to make more out of your own forces than you might expect. It is a much-abused, much misunderstood term.

The Command & Control (C2) Design Issue

Knowing that...

  • war is generally chaotic
  • any future war will be a dynamic patchwork, not a series of set pieces

...The Task is to...

  • design a human-centred decision- support system for
    • an unknown rôle, in...
    • an unknown situation...
    • in an unknown area...
  • to address an unknown opponent, or...
  • police an alien culture


  • Deterministic
    • C2 is generic, therefore...
    • laws govern the design of CIS
  • Human
    • enemy and environment make situations unpredictable, therefore...
    • only human ingenuity, synergy, training, reactivity can cope
  • Non-linear Dynamical
    • real world is made from open, interacting systems, behaving chaotically, therefore...
    • we must learn to design adaptive systems without clear boundaries

Generic C2 N2

C2 can be described, crudely, in a generic way as follows:-

The N-squared (N2) chart show the basic roles (commander, intelligence, operations, logistics) and the information that they interchange. so, in the N2 chart,

  • Commander gives Decisions to Operations
  • Logistics gives Constraints to Intelligence

Fractal C2

The N2 chart above represents generically the activities at each of the circles containing C2. the whole diagram represents a nesting hierarchical organization. In army terms,

  • the outer ellipse might be a corps
  • next two inner ellipses might be divisions
  • smallest 4 ellipses might be battle groups
  • and so on

While it would be imprecise to insist that the structure in the figure is strictly fractal, there is evidently a degree of self-similarity at each hierarchy level.

Deterministic Viewpoint

In attempting to penetrate the mysteries of C2, I developed an analytic approach based on a created mathematics of pyramid hierarchies.

Pyramid Laws

  • C2 Law of Diminishing Lateral Communication. We know in practice that it is harder to get agreement with someone who is more distant laterally in the hierarchy, i.e. you have to go higher up the pyramid to find a common boss.
  • C2 Law of Vertical Data Compression.
    • Each of us has roughly the same brainpower - a so-called Crapper's Brainful (after Sir Thomas Crapper, inventor of the flush toilet).
    • So, if you have, say, five subordinates in the pyramid, and you all have the same brainpower, then you can interact and capture only one fifth of their information effectively.
    • As you go up the tree, data gets compressed at something like the span of control (= pyramid slope) at each level
  • Decision Rate Invariance - see below
  • Infrastructure is minimized by symmetrical partitioning

C2 Survivability

  • Functional survivability is inverse to the number of singular functional architecture nodes, and to the degree of their exposure

Equivalence Laws

The theory suggests as follows:-

  • Mean rate of issuing C2 order-sets is proportional to the mean rate of Action Element Turnaround
  • Mean rate of Intelligence reporting is proportional to the mean rate of Action Element Turnaround

To test the theory, I developed the following simple dynamic model:-

The top half of the model shows the command decision cycle, with information being used to develop objectives strategies, plans and orders. See the Generic Reference Model, Mission Management for further explanation. The lower half shows a force in various states: ready, in action, etc. The Laws emerge because of the cyclic behaviour of the action elements. Once they have been in action, they return and are replenished (perhaps repaired) before being ready to go again. Giving the action elements orders more frequently cannot result in those orders being implemented, because the force is temporarily unavailable. Similarly, the rate of Intelligence reporting coincides with the action frequency - no action, no intelligence to report.

The graph shows the results of running the model. At each step in the magenta line representing orders sent, the force undertakes actions and then recovers. The fastest that orders can be sent (sensibly, that is) is that action element turnaround cycle.

Human Viewpoint

An understanding of Mission Management and Behaviour Management in the C2 context can be gained from Systems Models. The following figure shows the way in which Belief takes a central role in command and control.

Ignoring the brown arrows, figure above, for the moment, we can see three interlocking loops.

  • The top loop is about the individual. Beliefs give him or her a straightforward view of the world, offering simple, comfortable explanations of everyday events and phenomena. This reduces psychological uncertainty, so reinforcing the Beliefs, simply "because they work".
  • Beliefs generate role models of "good" and "bad" behaviour, where these terms are relative.
  • These in turn promote conformant behaviour, generating social cohesion, the development of power structures, etc., as the figure shows.
  • Power structures enable formal education to be established, which will generally reinforce the Beliefs which enabled it to emerge in the first place
  • Icons form a vital coordinating focus. Icons may be people, or things - charismatic generals, regimental colours, etc.

The brown arrows show how military ideas map on to a map which is essentially generic.

A variation on the previous model shows the top lop to be the same. This model shows, however, how individuals fare when seeking to join a group. They find themselves either resonating sympathetically with the ideals of the group, or antipathetic and dissonant with those ideals. In the latter case, we should expect the individual to find another group to which to belong.

It is surprising what you can find in old Bibles. The figure above shows the Assyrians attacking a fort about 880BC. they are using a mobile battering ram to breach the garrison walls. Lulls during such events occasionally saw the garrison commander throwing food and wine over the battlements for the enemy. This appears to have been early psychological warfare: "do your worst, we have plenty of provisions and are rather enjoying ourselves".

In summary, then:-

Non-Linear Dynamic Viewpoint

The third viewpoint is so difficult to accept that many pretend it does not exist. But, the facts are there:-

  • we cannot know the future
  • the world s generally chaotic, especially on the edge of conflict
  • linear predictive views are untenable
    • we do not know what is going to happen
    • we do not know what the enemy will do
    • any decisions we make must be intelligent guesses at best

The figure shows one view of the kind of messy architecture one might get in a Peacekeeping assignment such as Bosnia in the former Yugoslavia. In fact, the real situation is much more complex, since each of the neat ellipses and rectangles would be spread out across the geography of the country concerned, all mutually overlaid, intertwined and entangled.

Complex systems like this are not designed - they happen. And, unlike neat linear systems, there is no beginning and no end. Instead it is all tangled loops.

So, in such situations how can one cope? Or, can one cope at all?

Unified Systems Hypothesis - Map

One approach is to develop a much more open way of addressing complex system issues. I have developed the Unified Systems Hypothesis (USH) to deal with such problems.

The USH Map integrates a number of simple principles into one powerful causal loop. Key to understanding is that Variety is viewed as a commodity, of which you can have more or less. Connected variety forms complementary sets, which create a stable network, resistant to change. This is represented in the map by Systems Cohesion. Dominance can arise, and has the effect of suppressing variety which leads eventually to decay and breakdown, and the cycle repeats.

It is possible to maintain cohesion by maintaining variety, i.e. by injecting new variety. It is possible to maintain cohesion with domination by maintaining variety, i.e. by stopping its suppression. it is possible to generate more variety by injecting more energy, top right of figure. Some of this new variety may connect, others may remain isolated and become dispersive variety, attempting to break down systems cohesion.

Using these ideas carefully results in a guide to designing non-linear systems to exist in a non-linear world - the one we actually live in!

Open System Design Guidelines

Step 1 Establish CIS objectives and requirements by reference to Containing System(s) (look outwards)

Step 2 Establish sibling systems and their interactions to be perturbed by new/altered CIS

Step 3 Conceive complementary systems to neutralize unwanted perturbations

Step 4 Design CIS as an Open System to complement siblings in contributing to Containing Systems' objectives (i.e. design outwards first)

Step 5 Partition CIS, promoting internal connected variety, limiting dominance (then inwards)

Step 6 Enhance SOI cohesives, diminish dispersives

Step 7 Interconnect the variety to promote sibling stability, mutual self-reward

Viewpoint Summary

  • As many viewpoints as "experts"?
  • C2 - linear, controlled, predictive system in chaotic, unpredictable, unknowable world?
  • Predetermined C2/CIS solutions may apply to some situations (e.g. SDI, AD?)
  • Some C2 can only be developed in operation
    • must connect with evolving range of alien systems
    • e.g. Peacekeeping/enforcing
    • conventional ethics, morals, methods, tools, techniques inapplicable
  • Are these really about technology?
  • ...or, more about human talents for being smart and adaptable?

Last updated: Feb 2000

 Systems World

© D K Hitchins 2016