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Operationalizing Battlespace Agility


Dr. William Mitchell.

Battlespace agility is a Danish developed warfighting concept that is simply defined as the
speed at which the warfighting organisation is able to transform knowledge into actions
for desired effects in a battlespace and has its origins in the application of constructivism
in intelligence analysis and operational planning.

1 This article will present the origins of
this concept and discuss fundamental components of this concept and how they affect our

understanding of how we effectively fight wars in the 21st century. It begins with a concep-
tual breakdown of modern battlespace that accounts for the changes in information tech-
nology, and the resulting supercharged importance of understanding the cognitive domain

for battlespace management. This is followed by a presentation of ‘agility’ research built
on over a decade of international transformation studies, experimentation, and lessons

learned from the field. It is from this body of research that the Danish concept of battle-
space agility emerges in 20082, founded on the renewed focus on the quality of sense-
making through military intelligence support to Commanders in a battlespace. The argu-
ment made in this short article is simple: That in an age of split-second knowledge devel-
opment, sharing, and exploitation, the onus is on military intelligence to provide the best

situational awareness and understanding to Commanders at all levels, to inform military
action. As a consequence, military intelligence will be a defining capacity for successful
warfighting in the 21st century. In this regard, recent Danish efforts to reinvigorate the

scope and quality of military intelligence, is contributing to the delineation of Danish ap-
proach to warfighting that pursues battlespace agility.




The need for military operational agility has recently been reflected publically in the trans-
formation policies of several countries, and is the result of a decade’s worth of interna-
tional research.3 The objective of this article is to introduce readers to the concept of

battlespace agility, an emerging principle for effective warfighting in 21st century environ-
ments driven by Royal Danish Defense College (RDDC) contributions to US and NATO ap

plied research regimes. Its origins lie in 20 years of agility related research developed in

various international forums and bodies examining the dramatic changes in the environ-
ments in which militaries must fight.

The article is divided into three main sections and a conclusion. The first describes the

fundamental changes in our understanding of the warfighting environment, and the emer-
gence of greater complexities that surround how modern militaries conduct operations. In

the modern warfighting environment, the primacy of physical action is giving way to the

primacy of the discourse surrounding those actions. Whether it is a Campaign Plan or di-
rect action in a high value target in some distant mountain range, actions have become

navigational buoys in the sea of social media discourse. The advances of information
technologies for sharing, discussing, and defining meaning have pushed the importance of

the cognitive domain of the battlespace to heights never before seen in history. This trans-
formation of the external environment has for the last two decades fed the perception of

increasing warfighting complexity. Cold War military organizations and their outdated doc-
trines have constantly been challenged by the impact of new technologies internally, and

externally. This rise of perceived complexity has led to numerous research fields associat-
ed with the transformation of the military, first dealing with the exploitation of network

technologies, then moving to understanding the social and organizational impact of these

technologies. It is from this parallel focus that one constant theme has emerged for deal-
ing with the new environment – agility.

The second section presents the applied research concept of ‘agility’, and its key com-
ponents. It will start with the broad conceptualization of “agility” as developed by NATO

(including Denmark) and the US Department of Defense (US DoD) over the last decade.
This will include some insight into the direction the final stage of development is taking in
terms of offering a framework for operationalization in 2013, with regards to assessment
and measurement.
The third section introduces and describes the RDDC contribution to agility studies, the
sub-concept of ‘battlespace agility’, defined as the speed at which knowledge is turned

into actions for the desired effects. It looks specifically at agility within the context of effec-
tive warfighting. The RDDC contribution is unique, in that it focuses specifically on agility

within the battlespace where the military is conducting operations, and agility assess-
ments are framed within the cyclical language of planning, execution, and assessment. It

is within this context that battlespace agility clearly establishes the critical role of military
intelligence in achieving agility. It argues that in order to orient the complexities of modern
battlespace environments, the quality of military intelligence is of the up most importance
to ensuring the warfighting organization operates as effective as possible in the
battlespace. Battlespace characteristics such information timeliness and correctness, are
essential to providing the Commander with a situational awareness and understanding of

both the physical and cognitive domains of the battlespace, in which they are to take ac-


Section 1: Battlespace 4th Generation (4G)


After 10 years of research4 informed by social theory, experimentation, NATO doctrinal
studies and lessons learned from field experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gulf of Aden, and
Libya, a generic conceptualization of the modern battlespace has developed. Emerging 

from this discourse is a distinct understanding of war that accepts that modern militaries
have to fight in a post-modernist5 battlespace, where all situational understandings for

determining military actions are assumed to be socially constructed realities and constant-
ly subjected to change. How effective one is at warfighting, is essentially the result of how

effective one is at managing the intersubjective relationship between itself and its

battlespace. Intersubjectivity refers to the interaction between knowledge6 and the mate-
rial world, neither of which are fixed.7 This definition has its origins in international rela-
tions and security studies, including the Copenhagen School8 of critical security studies,

dating back to the mid-90’s, and is well suited to working within the modern warfighting
context.9 The implications in short, that understanding the roll of concepts like norms,
culture, identities, as well as processes like, the projection of meanings, or , how support
or attack narratives10, is intricately related to successfully understanding the how and
when to destroy enemy capacities or occupy terrain. 11

Understanding ‘warfighting’ as an intersubjective activity, simply means that the mili-
tary recognizes the dynamic relationship between physical actions and their cognitive in-
terpretations within the battlespace. In practical terms, it means that both domains, and

the interaction between them, must constantly be assessed in order to execute the right

actions, at the right time, at the right place in the battlespace to achieve the desired ef-
fects. While military actions do not take place in a socially cognitive void, and never have12,

the universal adoption of revolutionary information technologies has exponentially in-
creased the ability of the world to engage in discourse like never before. The role of rapidly

developing information technologies cannot be understated in this regard, as it has singlehandedly brought the cognitive domain of the warfighting environment to the forefront -
like no other time in history.13

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This simplistic representation of modern warfare in Fig. 1.0 above does not escape the
more theoretical ontological assumptions stemming from its conventional constructivist
foundation14. Whether one chooses to discuss it or not however, is another factor. From
an ontological perspective, warfighting is a simply the expression of an organization trying
to manage intersubjectivity within a specific context, the battlespace. Therefore the entity
that manages intersubjectivity best – wins!
And though military history is rich with soldier poets, scientists, and philosophers,
there has been a tendency for military professionals of great intellectual calibre to resist
engaging the “long haired” ontological discussions. A possible testament to the strength of
the linear security found in military doctrines produced by industrial societies through

40yrs of Cold War routine emphasis on the balance sheets.15 The role of military intelli-
gence during this period was using the comparative method of counting soldiers, battle

ships, bombers, or ICBMs in order to determine strategy.16 However, there is a trail of
lessons learned since the end of the Cold War can be followed from Iraq I, to Somalia, the
Balkans, Kosovo, Iraq II and Afghanistan.17 Physical boundaries are of course determined
by the technical capabilities of assets brought to a battlespace and remain for physical
actions; yet how meaning is attached to those actions no longer has any clearly defined
physical boundaries. 18 Technology has pushed the cognitive domain of any warfighting
environment to a position of primacy over the physical in terms of determining the “final”
effects of physical actions. Consequently, there is no point in expecting decisive victories
when formulating strategies based primarily on calculations in the physical domain – if the
very opponent you are trying to defeat materially does not use the physical domain as the
main terms of reference for their own strategic19 decision-making. For example, they might
be designing their operations to promote a dominating “narrative.” The reality of
warfighting today is that the net value of any particular action, in any given battlespace, at
any given time, will be determined by the interaction between the physical and cognitive
domains. Be warned, it is not a zero-sum calculation between the two domains and the net
resulting effect no matter how desirable - is likely a perishable good.
The battlespaces in which we fight have become more complicated, fluid, and volatile

in the information age; therefore our capacities to provide situational awareness and un-
derstanding must be improved in terms of quality and timeliness accordingly. The 2Oth

century contests of quantity and strength of actions to determine success on ‘a hill top’
with a formal treaty of surrender is no longer valid; but rather the ‘many and small’ beat
the ‘few and large,’ and ‘finding matters more than flanking’ notions are the requirement
of the day.20 And this entails quality, speed, and precision of actions to maintain a set of
desirable dynamic conditions, rather than achieving a static end-state. It will obviously not
be easy to engage the new nature of war - if you are only geared for the old.
There is one strain of research that directly tries to deal with the management of

intersubjectivity; it focuses squarely on the necessity for ‘agility’ and transitioning our mili-
taries to be more situational responsive warfighting organizations.


Section 2: Agility

When agility is seen as a generic organisational ‘capability’, it represents a potential:
measuring it requires an understanding of the characteristics, attributes, and behaviours
that either enable or inhibit agility21. The idea of agility as a key Command & Control (C2) -
related concept / capability that requires research by the military community began almost 

a decade ago in discussions between U.S. and UK researchers and analysts22. These

discussions grew to include colleagues from Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Can-
ada and others. The resulting generic definition from this joint research endeavour is pre-
sented below and is further specified in order to assist with its operationalization in terms

of observations and measurements.23 AGILITY: Agility is the capability to successfully
effect, cope with and/or exploit changes in circumstances.

This generic definition is further specified in the language of the coming NATO SAS-
085 report as follows: “Successfully is defined as operating within acceptable bounds.

This includes defining the significance of “out of bounds performance” as a function of
both magnitude (how far) and duration (how long).” This understanding acknowledges the
role of relativity and subjectivity in determining the boundaries for assessing when agility is

being enabled or inhibited. In terms of military operations this translates into the bounda-
ries’ set by situation awareness, situational understanding, and the determination of de-
sired effect(s), setting the parameters for the agility assessment.

“Change in Circumstances includes both changes to the State of the Environment
(including other entities) and/or to the State of Self. These changes are not restricted to
the physical domain, but also include changes to variables in the Information, Cognitive,
and Social domains as well.” This is the ‘agility’ recognition of the intersubjective dynamic,

where the both the physical and cognitive domains are represented externally in the sur-
rounding environment and internally in the organization.

“Effect implies being proactive and therefore able to bring about a change in circum-
stances in order to improve performance, effectiveness or efficiency.” It suggests directly

that intersubjectivity can be subjected to strategic thought and management, a necessary
fundamental for operational planning.
“Cope with implies dealing with one or more of the above changes in circumstances
that, if not appropriately addressed, would adversely affect performance (effectiveness
and efficiency).”

“Exploit implies capitalizing on an opportunity to take advantage of changed circum-
stances, that if not seized would result in an opportunity loss (a failure to improve per-
formance – improved effectiveness or efficiency or both).” This inherently invites the stra-
tegic thinking into the dynamics of agility and will be intimately linked to the setting of

boundaries for agility measurements.


Components of Agility24


The following six components of agility were first introduced into the literature circa 2003

as aspects of agility. These components form the framework for establishing measure-
ments of agility and provide guidance as to the merits of particular descriptors/indicators

of what to assess within a given situation for an organisation. These components are not
mutually exclusive of one another and in terms of operationalizing battlespace agility will
use, as it point of departure, the same definitions adopted by SAS-06525.

1. Timeliness/Responsiveness- For an organization to be agile, it must be able to re-
spond to change of circumstances when required. Being responsive is simply a matter

of being able to react in a timely manner. This is a function of the ability to accom-
plish the tasks required to take action and the time it takes for the action(s) to have

an effect. This includes the time, relative to the change in question, a need for a re-
sponse is recognized (in anticipation or in reaction to an event), when an appropriate

response is determined, and when the actions necessary can be taken. But respon-
siveness alone does not guarantee that an entity26 will manifest agility, that is, be suc-
cessful. To be successful, one not only to be responsive, but also the actions taken

need to have the intended result. That is, enable the entity to keep performance

within acceptable bounds, to return to an acceptable level of performance, or to im-
prove effectiveness and/or efficiency so that resources expended can be reduced.

Four of the components of agility -- flexibility, resilience, innovativeness and adaptabil-
ity each and in combination address different kinds of stresses or provide various

means to respond to changes in circumstances.

2. Flexibility - provides more than one way of accomplishing something. Thus, if the cur-
rent approach is rendered ineffectual or too expensive as a result of a change in cir-
cumstance, flexibility offers at least one alternative. Responsiveness, flexibility, in-
novation, and adaptability are all “active” and involve orchestrating a response.

3. Versatility27 requires no response. It refers to the possession of a set of characteris-
tics that makes it possible for that entity to successfully cope with a set of changes

without taking action. That is, under certain circumstances, a change in entity behav-
ior may not be necessary to exhibit agility. Thus, agility has components that are both

passive and active. Passive agility involves characteristics that allow the entity to con-
tinue to operate effectively as is, despite changes in circumstances or conditions. An

example of this passive quality is versatility.
4. Innovativeness involves creating something new, i.e. a new ways of accomplishing
something in the event that current practice does not provide adequate capability or
performance. While flexibility refers to have more than one choice, innovativeness
adds new ways and means to the toolkit.

5. Adaptability refers to making changes to self in response to changes in the environ-
ment. In this case, it is not what one does that needs to change, but what one is and

how one operates. Thus, adaptability could involve changes in organization and/or

6. Resilience can be either passive or active or both. Resilience pertains to changes that

damage or degrade an entity. Being resilient involves an ability to maintain perform-
ance within acceptable bounds despite suffering damage. Being resilient may require

that some action being taken (e.g. bring some offline capability on-line) or it may re-
quire no action be taken (e.g. existing redundancies provide the protection needed).

For example, an appropriately designed network can still provide acceptable services
in the event a number of links goes down.

There are numerous ways these components could interact, creating synergies that
enhance an entity’s agility28. As mentioned above, innovativeness and flexibility have some
obvious interactions. Innovativeness makes it possible to create new options to add to
one’s toolkit; while flexibility enables entities to take full advantage of the available options
(having options in the toolkit is not an end unto itself). Responsiveness interacts with a
number of components. One way to be more responsive is to anticipate changes rather
than wait for an event to be detected. If one is able to do this, then the time available to
mount a response increases. Having more time available may mean that some options
that were not feasible because they took too much time to implement or took too much
time to create effects may become feasible, enhancing flexibility. More time may also
provide an opportunity for being more innovative.

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Operationalizing Agility


Operationalizing Agility in the generic understanding is about moving Agility from a desire
to a capability, from a theory to a practice, and that requires that we are able to:

 Observe agility or a lack of agility

 Measure the degree to which that is manifested by an entity in a particular situation


 Estimate the degree of effectiveness that an entity will manifest in a particular situa-

 Estimate an entity’s agility potential with respect to a set of possible circumstances


This situation is depicted in Fig 2.1 29 which involves an event that has had, after some

delay, an adverse impact that results in an unsatisfactory level of performance, an out-
come that indicates some lack of agility.

The event is detected at the time performance became unsatisfactory. After some pe-
riod of time, a response is decided upon, and after some delay, action is taken. The

measure of value is ultimately restored to a value that is within the acceptable range.
However, because performance has not remained in the acceptable range, the entity has
not displayed sufficient responsiveness.

The solid black line depicts actual performance levels over time. The dotted line de-
picts performance levels that would have occurred had the event not taken place (serves

as a baseline). The difference (area) between these two lines is the consequence of the
entity’s agility, or as in this case, a lack of agility. Translating this area into a measure of
value is context dependent. In analysing the significance of this size / shape of this area,
the part of the area within acceptable bounds should be treated differently than the part of
the area that is outside of the acceptable bounds.
Readers can imagine how the area between these curves would change if the entity’s

responsiveness could have improved. For example, the time between detection and ac-
tion were reduced or if the event was anticipated and a response was initiated prior to the

event actually occurring. Another way to improve the agility manifested here would be to
reduce the time it takes for a response to have the desired effect. Fig. 2.2 depicts the 

consequences a reduction in response time (the time between the event and the restora-
tion of performance to within acceptable bounds) would have on the area between the

curves. In this case, the reduced response time (agility manifested) mitigates the adverse
impact of the change so that the measure of success never goes outside of the acceptable

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Section 3: Operationalizing Battlespace Agility


As part of a Danish contribution to NATO and US DOD studies in agility, the RDDC focused
on exploiting its active participation in the Afghanistan conflict in battlespace Helmand to
further test and assess several aspects of military agility specifically within the context of
real battlespace doctrinally defined by a systems of systems understanding, PMESII30. This
approach ensured a unique contribution to the general agility research, as Denmark was

the only contributing country with a case study not simulated in a battle lab but was con-
ducted in real-time operations in Afghanistan.

It is here, within the context of actual warfighting that key issues relating to battle-
space agility were fleshed out, especially the action-effects dynamic that drives the rela-
tionship between the warfighting organization and its environment that resulted in the

following definition of battlespace agility.

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BATTLESPACE AGILITY: The speed at which knowledge is turned into actions for
desired effects. 31 Though all the generic components of agility still apply, battlespace
agility specifically looks at the engagement of the military organisation in the environment

within the context of existing operational doctrines and principles. In this regard the defini-
tion reflects effect-based thinking as in its most general sense as driving the operational

processes. The definition also represents the three main components of battlespace sub-
ject to quality discussions within the context of measurement.

1. Knowledge: The battlespace situational awareness of the warfighting organisation, as

well as situational understanding defined for operational planning purposes. It is de-
termined within the given context of a battlespace and used to inform the com-
mander’s decision-making.

2. Speed: Refers to the time it takes for the warfighting organisation to turn situational
awareness and understanding in to actions through operational planning. (Please note
here that operational planning does not refer to any set timeline or process, it could
be 3 months at NATO command corridors at SHAPE or 3 minutes in front of pick-up

truck in the sand in theatre). Whether or not actions are timely is a function of situa-
tion specific desired effects.

3. Actions: Both kinetic and non-kinetic activity executed by the warfighting organisation
in the battlespace.
4. Desired effect: The intended change of the warfighting organization as regards the
state of a battlespace system or ‘system of systems’ as defined by PMESI, resulting
from one or more deliberate actions, including deliberate in-action.
These four components of battlespace agility have a well-established taxonomy of
measurement variables available for assessment, the majority of which are presented in C2 variable definitions of NATO SAS 050 Report of 2006. Here is a sample of some of this
variables that can be used to assess the above components of battlespace agility for a
given warfighting organisation in a given situation.

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Using Table 1.0 as an example, one can see how the actual operationalization of battlespace agility occurs. For example, if action accuracy is assessed to be low for an operation or a campaign, battlespace agility is reduced, if information relevance is assessed as high then battlespace agility is improved. Important to retain here is the fact that agility is not just about being quick - but also about precision, or making the correct moves at the right time. One can certainly be fast and not agile or worse, clumsy. Therefore achieving the ‘desired effects’ will be the net result of both precision and speed. It is for this reason that the role of knowledge development and dissemination is primal in terms of battlespace agility. If the situational awareness in is off target, it is likely the actions will be less appropriate for the time and space and therefore less likely to produce the desired effects. It is because of this that quality and timeliness of military intelligence/sense-making to support the commanders is the fundamental determining factor for achieving battlespace agility in any given situation.32 At the core of the operationalization of battlespace agility is the belief that there can be no agility in the battlespace if knowledge development33 and dissemination is not timely enough, or of a sufficient quality. The implication of this fact to goes to the heart of the why military intelligence, as the tool for providing situational awareness and understanding, must be seen unequivocally as the essential capability of the warfighting organisation. You could have the best weapons platforms available for operational use, but the when, where, and why to use them in a more cognitively complex world, places the onus of pursuing desired effects squarely on the human capacity to analyse and contextualise. Every situation is in a constant state of change - intersubjectivity is constant, what maybe a desired effect under one circumstance ay suddenly be no longer desired as something in that context has changed. Without a knowledge development capacity striving to translate that change as fast as and as accurately as possible, the likelihood that the campaign, operation, or tactical engagement will produce the desired effects - is reduced. This is not to suggest that the other aspects of warfare such as operations, logistics, and fires are not subject to the assessment components of agility in general. The primacy of military intelligence however, as a precondition for agile warfighting, cannot be denied. Nor more than the importance of the initial situational awareness & understanding in determining what follows operationally - cannot be understated. Especially if one intends to marry capability, economic efficiency, and desired effect, via situational awareness and understanding - in a fight. Where it concerns the amalgamation of intelligence, capacities, economics, and effect, operational experience from Afghanistan brings this point home. Research in the battlespace found that on a comparative calculation of desired effect, combining PMESII34 driven intelligence analysis with a small unit of soldiers owning a ‘sniffer’ dog produced more freedom of movement (FoM) and desired effect over 3 days, than traditional intelligence analysis and a squadron of heavy tanks over a month. Contrasting the economic calculations of this comparison will likely produce just as stark a result. It was our collective failure to correctly understand the context in which we were fighting – a failure of knowledge development - that led to campaign planning, that in hindsight, were expensive and relatively ineffective.



Denmark has recognized that being able to do the right thing at the right time and at the right place is essential to achieving desired effects in modern battlespace.35 In this regard, the Cold War habits for how military intelligence capacities are developed and managed are in the process of being revised. The military intelligence community in Denmark has also recognised that the times ahead will require better quality intelligence analysis capabilities to ensure battlespace agility in military operations in the 21st century.36 It is not simply a matter of more ISTAR37, on the contrary as illustrated by the US in Afghanistan, one can have all the high-tech ISTAR in play, and yet one poorly trained all-source analyst could undermine the totality of the investment in a few minutes. Amongst NATO allies, Denmark is quietly leading the way along with US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), NATO School (NSO), NATO Special Operations Headquarters (HSHQ), European Command (EUCOM), with a renaissance in the military intelligence research, education, and practice. There are on-going research streams with a direct focus on sensor exploitation, social network analysis, structured analytical techniques, and a variety of other off-shooting topics, including dual use sensors and analysts (ISTAR sensors and analysts that can be used in peace time for supporting disaster relief or analysts that can cross over to support police if circumstances call for it). However where the biggest progress has been is in improving the quality of military intelligence analysts via education and training. This includes establishing and synchronising various intelligence training programs to slowly build up a military intelligence community that is built solidly on the nexus of academic research and practice. This includes progressively building and strengthening a line of specialisation within the military while significantly contributing to the strengthening of intelligence analysis community in Denmark in general. It also includes promoting the establishment of ascending level based training programs starting at the very basics, but already here including network analysis with some supporting structured analytical techniques being taught at the tactical level. On this particular aspect, Denmark is emerging from transition as a driving force behind fundamental changes inside the military intelligence community across NATO.38 This in turn bodes well for the Danish armed forces ability to effectively deal with future conflicts through an organizational confidence and belief in its own ability to operationalize battlespace agility – come what may.


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