Battle Lab #3:The Fog of War

By Brant Guillory 14 Jan 2007 0

What is the Fog of War?

If ask you 10 different people, you'll get 10 different answers. In fact, I did just that, and here are some excerpts

"Fog of War is the state of affairs on the battlefield (or pertaining to it) that is beyond a commander's knowledge. For example, a commander may have a unit which has achieved a specific objective, but the commander is unaware of it due to the fact not having been relayed back to him. A second example may be that a specific objective may house an enemy commander's HQ but that knowledge is withheld for whatever reason; in terms of conditions on the battlefield may appear to be an irrelevant objective or one that seems a dangerous, undefined, or irrelevant mission."

"?the enemy's course of action is unknown and/or unconfirmed."

"Fog of War refers to the confusion and lack of certainty a commander faces while making decisions on how to conduct a battle or war. Since modern war occurs over an area too large for a single commander to view, they rely on information from various sources to develop a mental model of what is occurring. They make their judgment and issue orders based on what they believe is occurring. Lack of information, wrong information, late information, all contribute to create an imperfect perception of what is occurring. This disconnect between what the commander thinks is occurring and what actually is occurring is referred to as the Fog of War."

"The Fog of War is the lack of certainty in regard to the intent and composition of the enemy."

"It is summed up as uncertainty based on lack of knowledge."

"The Fog of War is that period of uncertainty from when the Enemy's intentions are surmised and the enemy's actions are known."

"All the things everyone doesn't know for sure during an armed conflict."

Adding Fog of War to Boardgaming

So, generally, the "Fog of War" is the lack of perfect situational awareness that comes about naturally as a result of actions on the battlefield. Of course it can be present in varying degrees - it is never either "on" or "off". Curiously enough, the US Army and Marine Corps have no official definitions in their field manuals defining operational terms and graphics.

When examining the issues around "Fog of War" however, how can we apply the problems, and their potential solutions, to boardgaming? This is one area in which our computer-gaming brethren have our butts kicked. Computer models can integrate a variety of Fog of War effects, in large part because the computer can hide or reveal as much or as little as the programmers desire. It's much harder to hide information when it's all printed on a counter in front of you.

Fog of War: Bad Guy Version

When Fog of War comes up in conversation, most people immediately assume the lack of situational awareness is related to information about the enemy. Not knowing everything about the enemy rather typical on the battlefield. What information does the commander need about the enemy? It depends on the actions he needs to execute (see previous article on tactical intel in wargaming). Typically, however, commanders are most interested in enemy (a) locations (b) strength (c) capabilities (d) supply status and (e) morale. When developing an enemy situation in the military decision-making process (MDMP), these are the areas on which staff officers focus.

Some of these issues can be seen during the typical boardgame. When playing the newest Axis & Allies game, Battle of the Bulge, for instance, enemy supply convoys are moved on the map, and therefore enemy supply status is not difficult to see. Similarly, the Lock 'n' Load series games have morale values printed on the counters. Other games make tracking such information potentially more challenging; PanzerGrenadier games inform the players of the morale values of either side in the scenario instructions. It would not be too much additional effort to keep those values from each other and play without specific knowledge of the enemy's morale.

See below for the rest of this vignette.

In any case, there is certain information about the enemy which may be desired, but not known, or it may be known now and ever-changing. On the real battlefield, this information may be extremely difficult, or outright impossible, to get. On the hexagonal battlefield, however, much of this information isn’t just easy to get. It often does not change, and it is often printed open and available for everyone to see.

Additionally, when looking for enemy units on the battlefield, wargamers seldom have to deal with three different scout teams reporting a sighting of a tank platoon, leading the staff in the command post to believe that an enemy tank platoon is actually three tank platoons. It is clear to the players that only one counter is occupying the space, not three. In the real world it is rarely clear to the command post that the scouts are all looking at the same unit, especially if they all report slightly different map grids for the tank platoon.

As mentioned above, the information may change as well, and accurate information from 30 minutes ago is no longer useful. While this is easiest to understand with regards to unit locations (when units are moving), the status of a unit’s fuel consumption is likely to be changing regularly as well. Morale may vary up and down, depending on the circumstances. That doesn’t mean the information received 30 minutes ago was wrong, but it is still useless. As one of my former commanders used to say, “The truth is a moving target.”



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