Small Wars Journal

MANeuver in N-Dimensional Terrain (MAN^N)

Tue, 01/24/2012 - 8:46pm

Editor's Note:  The problem sets faced in recent operating environments have been described as uniquely complex, or even "wicked."  Can conceiving of campaigns as maneuver in n-dimensions provide a conceptual basis to deal with "wicked problems"?  Is this a unique phenomenon of modern conflicts, or have complex problems presented themselves in the past?  If so, have commanders and diplomats exercised maneuver in n-dimensional terrain before?  Does this concept provide commanders with a tool to be able to create predictable effects in the complexity of extended human interactions?

The views, opinions, and/or findings contained in this paper are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the official views or policies, either expressed or implied, of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or the Department of Defense.



            The nation’s armed forces have been at war for ten years.  Beginning with a stunning display of lethal operational maneuver and dominant precision firepower, the full spectrum operations our fighting forces now perform are extraordinary, encompassing lethal combat, and non-lethal missions such as training and governance1.  They do all of this while often operating in austere and physically demanding conditions.  One commander described his area of operations in Afghanistan:

A challenging climate: rains in the spring brought powerful floods, the summer heat limited aircraft loads, and extreme cold and snow in the winter cut off cities and even entire provinces from the rest of the country….Very difficult terrain varying from high plains 7,000 feet above sea level, to densely forested mountains over 10,000 feet high (with only camel travel access), to deep valleys with raging rivers.2


In this area equivalent in size to the state of Florida, he had 5,000 soldiers to conduct a counterinsurgency campaign.3  Add economic development to the non-lethal missions, and one starts to understand the challenging breadth of full spectrum operations conducted by our fighting units.  In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, all these actions are aimed at protecting and winning the support of the indigenous populations, developing the governance and security capabilities of the host nation, while defeating groups violently vying for control.  Thus, the human and cultural environments, and their effect on operations, have become important considerations.  These environments, together with the geospatial terrain, define a multi-dimensional operational environment in which the unit maneuvers.  Full spectrum operations in this terrain suggest a generalization of maneuver, which we call MAN^N, or MANeuver in N-Dimensional Terrain, where N extends beyond the four dimensions of position (x,y,z) and time.  MAN^N constitutes synchronized maneuver operations in the multi-dimensional terrain that includes culture and human interactions, as well as position and time, achieving a position of advantage in order to mass effects.

The Multi-Dimensional Operational Environment

            The expanding spectrum of conflict is a subject of much discussion in the literature. Two Chinese colonels, in a 1999 monograph titled “Unrestricted Warfare,” describe their concept of using all areas of human activity as a means to achieve victory.  They assert “mankind is endowing virtually every space with battlefield significance.  All that is needed is the ability to launch an attack in a certain place, using certain means, in order to achieve a certain goal.  Thus, the battlefield is omnipresent.”4

“Hybrid warfare” is another term that characterizes the increased breadth of conflict.  In a Joint Forces Quarterly article, Frank Hoffman describes hybrid warfare threats as

…a full range of modes of warfare, including conventional capabilities, irregular tactics and formations, terrorist acts that include indiscriminate violence and coercion, and criminal disorder. These multi-modal activities can be conducted by separate units, or even by the same unit, but are generally operationally and tactically directed and coordinated within the main battlespace to achieve synergistic effects in the physical and psychological dimensions of conflict.5


Hoffman adds that the effects are felt across all levels of war, and as a result, “the compression of the levels of war is complicated by a simultaneous convergence of modes.”6  Hizballah offers a good example of a group that embodies a hybrid threat.  A non-state entity, Hizballah “combines state-like technological and warfighting capabilities with a ‘substate’ political and social structure inside the formal state of Lebanon.”7  Hizballah’s relative success in its 2006 war with Israel offers an example for other groups across their region, such as the Mahdi Army in Iraq.8  Further evidence of hybrid warfare occurred in the Russian attack into Georgia in 2008.  Russia combined the effects of a cyber attack with the assault of its conventional forces “into a seamless, combined operation.”9

            The U.S. Army’s operations manual, FM-3.0 defines a hybrid threat as10, “diverse and dynamic combination of regular forces, irregular forces, and/or criminal elements all unified to achieve mutually benefitting effects.”  Before conducting full spectrum operations against complex, hybrid threats, military leaders need to define the problem.  COL (R) John Waghelstein and Donald Chisholm’s description of problem definition for insurgencies is applicable to hybrid conflicts in general:

Insurgencies [hybrid conflicts] represent what Simon has called “ill-structured” problems, and others have referred to as “ill-defined” or “wicked” problems. It is not that insurgencies [hybrid conflicts] are without structure; rather, the decision maker does not know very much about that structure, in part because it may be entirely novel, in part because such problems typically involve a large number of variables that interact in important, non-simple ways; that is, they are problems of “organized complexity.” The decision maker’s primary challenge is to ascertain what those variables are and how they interact, allowing him to move the problem of insurgency[hybrid conflict] from one that is ill-structured to one that is well-structured, and become more susceptible of manipulation and amelioration if not solution. That is, the bulk of the energy expended will typically be devoted to structuring the problem followed by generating alternative courses of action. Absent reasonable accuracy in assessing the problem’s structure, no courses of action developed will solve that problem.11

            Units in Iraq and Afghanistan have done a remarkable job of structuring the problem of hybrid warfare threats into detailed knowledge of a very complex environment, or N-dimensional terrain.  As one commander described this process, he “conducted ‘human recon’ for two months to gain an understanding of the perceptions of the civilian population.  He mapped the ‘contour lines’ of opinion and perceptions.”12

In general, the intelligence preparation of the multi-dimensional battlefield involves mapping the N-dimensional terrain as outlined in Figure 1.  Each dimension provides key terrain objectives that confer a position of advantage.  The lines interconnecting the different dimensions indicate interactions between them.  Intelligence collection is a continuous process, as represented by the cycle of plan, prepare, collect, and process.  Conditions constantly change as all parties in the conflict take action.  Armed with this knowledge, commanders conceptualize how to combine effects across these dimensions.  In our discussions with experienced commanders, they described this combination of actions and effects as a type of “multi-dimensional chess.”

Figure 1. Intelligence preparation of the multi-dimensional battlefield involves mapping the N-dimensional terrain that defines the operational space.  The dashed lines connecting the different dimensions (or planes) represent interactions between the dimensions. Each dimension provides objectives that confer a position of advantage.  Commanders conceptualize how to combine effects across these dimensions.

            The Army‘s manual on tactics in counterinsurgency discusses the requirement for a thorough understanding of the society and culture of the host nation.13  Further, the Army has developed a design methodology for dealing with complex problems.  Design “provides commanders with an additional layer of understanding for incomprehensible problem situations that promote conscious problem-setting and critical reflection.”14 Armed with knowledge of the N-dimensional terrain, they can plan and conduct a multi-dimensional MAN^N campaign.


What is MAN^N?

            MAN^N is synchronized maneuver operations in a multi-dimensional terrain, achieving a position of advantage in order to mass effects.  MAN^N generalizes spatio-temporal-centric maneuver terms and forms of contact that extend across many domains, including political, military, economic, information, infrastructure, physical environment, and social.15  MAN^N is complex, dynamic, adaptive, and distributed.

Like traditional maneuver, MAN^N operates at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war.  It is employed in all phases of conflict, from deterrence to post-hostilities.  In the initial response phase, commanders at every level will likely prioritize conventional combat as their decisive operation and resource it appropriately.  Strategic and operational level commanders will have a greater ability to resource and conduct MAN^N in this phase.  The other lines of operation are a shaping operation for the conventional fight.  As the conventional combat phase is wrapping up, and the commander needs to retain the initiative, he'll reallocate his resources to the other lines of operation.  The 2005 Capstone Concept for Joint Operations developed a useful graphic that shows how priority and resources would change over the phases of a notional full spectrum campaign (Figure 2).16

Figure 2. Simultaneous lines of effort in execution as shown in Figure D-2 of the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations Version 2.0, August 2005.  The vertical axis provides an indication of intensity of a given line of effort at a particular moment in time.  This intensity depends on the unique conditions of the local environment.


Four coordinates describe traditional geospatial maneuver: position in the x, y and z dimensions, and time (t).  MAN^N has more than four coordinates because MAN^N operates in a multi-dimensional terrain that spans culture and human interactions in addition to position and time (see Figure 3).  The challenge is identifying the MAN^N coordinates unique to a specific operational area, and using them in a similar manner as x, y, z and time for geospatial maneuver.  The objective is to achieve a position of advantage where this expanded range of effects can be massed.

Figure 3. Four coordinates describe traditional geospatial maneuver: position in the x, y and z dimensions, and the fourth dimension of time.  MAN^N has more than four coordinates because MAN^N operates in a multi-dimensional terrain that includes culture and human interactions, as well as position and time.


            Expanding the definition of maneuver terms to include coordinates beyond space and time helps to understand MAN^N.  Just as traditional maneuver terms reflect its geospatial nature, MAN^N terms reflect its full spectrum scope.  Figure 4 presents MAN^N’s generalized terms for movement, maneuver forms, and maneuver effects.

Figure 4. Generalized MAN^N terms for movement, maneuver forms, and maneuver effects.


            At any time, these activities can involve offense, defense, stability and/or support operations. The Army’s latest update to its operations doctrine provides a conceptual statement on this idea in its description of full spectrum operations:

Army forces combine offensive, defensive, and stability or civil support operations simultaneously as part of an interdependent joint force to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative, accepting prudent risk to create opportunities to achieve decisive results. They employ synchronized action—lethal and nonlethal—proportional to the mission and informed by a thorough understanding of all variables of the operational environment. Mission command that conveys intent and an appreciation of all aspects of the situation guides the adaptive use of Army forces.17


Full spectrum operations are emphasized in the counterinsurgency manual:

Counterinsurgency is a proactive approach involving all elements of national power; even down to the tactical level. COIN operations strive to achieve unity of effort amongst many joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational organizations. COIN includes tactical planning; intelligence development and analysis; training; materiel, technical, organizational assistance; advice; infrastructure development; tactical-level operations; and information engagement.18


In short, we see a transition from distinct categories of Offense, Defense, Stability and Civil Support operations to the Venn diagram in Figure 5, where these operations overlap with a hybrid core that contains generalized forms of maneuver as represented by MAN^N.

Figure 5.  Transition from separate categories of offense, defense, stability and civil support operations to a Venn diagram where these operations overlap with a hybrid core that contains generalized forms of maneuver and other operations/forms.  Figure on the left half adapted from the Chief of Staff of the Army Briefing.  Field Manual 3-0 Operations, 31 March 2008.


            MAN^N is consistent with full spectrum operations and specifically with the Army’s tactical counterinsurgency manual in its depiction of multi-dimensional lines of operations shown in Figure 6.  The start and end states are the conditions of the population, the aim is to combine activities of each line of operation into a concept of operation and a scheme of maneuver that gains a position of advantage over competing groups, protecting and winning the support of the population.

Figure 6.  Multi-dimensionality of the battlespace is exemplified by counter-insurgency lines of effort.  Source is FM 3-24.2, Tactics in Counterinsurgency. Department of the Army. Washington DC. April 2009.


            In interviews with commanders that have faced this operational environment, all agreed on the complexity of the contemporary battlefield and the challenges in understanding and managing it.  There was also wide recognition of lost opportunities due to poor information management and failures to identify the second and third order effects of actions.  They recognized that the large volume of data available to them needs to be made manageable.  They want to understand possible outcomes, and the ripple effects from the actions of their units and others across the theater.  There is a strong need for “what if analysis” at the small unit level.  A good example is the organization of the Company Intelligence Support Teams.  This strong need for analysis comes at a time when these commanders feel that staffs are losing analytical skills in basic warfighting functions, which hurts their ability to adapt.  While they know that “every soldier is a sensor,” they recognize that this puts a premium on timely analysis that leads to not just situational awareness, but situational understanding.19

            Clearly today’s military operations are not just lethal force-on-force, but a complex mix of lethal and non-lethal operations influenced by and aimed to influence the indigenous culture and people.  The operational terrain for our forces, the enemy, and the population is not only the geospatial terrain defined by position and time, but includes additional dimensions spanning culture and human interactions.  A gap exists between the need to maneuver effectively in the N-dimensional terrain for Offense, Defense, Stability and Civil Support, and what currently is available for geospatial maneuver approaches.  The concept of MAN^N is intended to help close this gap.

It is worthwhile to view MAN^N from a commercial business perspective because the constraints on business encourage one to think beyond traditional military maneuver.  Business maneuver can be seen to involve changes in asset coordinates in geospatial and/or cultural/human domains, combined with products/services (or their potential) in the market of interest, to achieve a position of advantage over the competition.  Changes in asset coordinates can be explicitly geospatial such as moving a factory to a location with reduced costs, or indirectly geospatial such as rebranding products for a particular market in a given country.  Sales, marketing, legal and R&D (product/service development) teams are examples of business entities that are organized, trained, and equipped primarily for business maneuver.  Business leaders maneuver these forces to create conditions for operational success, which include denying/hindering market entry by competitors through new products/services, patents/trademarks, direct and indirect sales of products/services, or threat of these sales.

The use of business maneuver concepts in a multi-dimensional operational space such as counterinsurgency is supported by Steven Metz’s observation that:

...the dynamics of contemporary insurgency are more like a violent and competitive market than war in the traditional sense where clear and discrete combatants seek strategic victory. Thinking of insurgency in this way not only offers valuable insights into how it works, but also suggests a very different approach to counterinsurgency.20


It is noted that John Kendall describes the importance of combined political maneuver in counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan21, where this maneuver is unity/synchronization of David Kilcullen’s political maneuver:22

…an operational plan that seeks to separate the insurgents from the people by finding local allies amongst the power players, connecting the government to the population, and increasing the local governance capacity in order to generate progress across the four principal dimensions of counterinsurgency (security, governance, development, and information).

Thus, the coordinates and terms used to describe maneuver are already expanding as a result of the hybrid conflicts in which we are engaged.  This emphasizes the importance of developing a more generalized concept of maneuver such as MAN^N.

The MAN^N forms of contact are those in traditional maneuver involving lethal action, plus non-lethal forms of contact.  The challenge and art of MAN^N is the synchronization of these traditional (lethal) and non-traditional (non-lethal) forms of contact.  In Figure 7, traditional forms of contact are primarily force-on-force engagements between both friendly and enemy fighters and reflect strongly the M in a Diplomatic-Information-Military-Economic-Social (DIMES) effort.  The non-traditional forms of contact include the civilian population, and emphasize the D, I, E and S.

Figure 7.  MAN^N includes traditional and non-traditional forms of contact. Non-traditional forms of contact are illustrative.


            The importance of non-traditional forms of contact is summarized well by Jeffrey Race in his book, "War Comes to Long An," where he analyzes the victory of the Vietcong during the Vietnam War:

If a single factor could explain the victory of the revolutionary movement in Long An, it could be stated as the communist leadership's comprehensive view of revolution as a stage-by-stage social process.  The sophistication of communist strategic thought was never matched on the [South Vietnamese] government side.  Instead, the government's one-dimensional conception of a multidimensional process ensured its defeat, regardless of its resources.23


MAN^N and Outthinking the Enemy

The MAN^N terrain spans human/cultural dimensions that are governed by different blends of analytical and non-analytical thinking.  Understanding the forms of thinking of the population is essential.  Knowing how the people see what we do and listen to what we say, and from that infer what they believe are our true intentions is critical to successful MAN^N.  The form of thinking reinforced in US military doctrine is analytical, which emphasizes a reductionist worldview that, as an example, divides space and time into smaller and smaller increments.  Non-analytical thinking emphasizes a holistic worldview that in the case of space and time is typically more relaxed with respect to accuracy and precision.  Differences in spatio-temporal perception can complicate efforts when working with allies and/or an indigenous population, but also can create opportunities when dealing with adversaries.  Key aspects that help distinguish analytical and non-analytical thinking are presented in Figure 8.  These aspects are based on Ernst Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms.24

Figure 8.  MAN^N terrain spans human and cultural dimensions that are governed by different blends of analytical and non-analytical thinking.


The effect of an ongoing conflict on the population cannot be ignored.  It has been suggested that during settled or stable periods analytical thinking dominates in the population with emphasis on individual responsibility.25 But in unsettled periods, or periods perceived as unsettled, non-analytical thinking and myths tend to rule with emphasis on collective responsibility.26

The successful commander in this multi-dimensional operational space must adopt a mode of thinking that wins over the population, who watches the commander’s activity through their culturally unique lens.  This complex combination of activities is a daunting challenge, beginning with a thorough understanding of the operational environment defined by the expanded activities, elements, terms, and thinking of MAN^N.

As MG (R) Robert Scales says in his 2004 paper in the United States Naval Institute Proceedings:

War is a thinking man's game. A military too acculturated to solving warfighting problems with technology alone should begin now to recognize that wars must be fought with intellect. Reflective senior officers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have concluded that great advantage can be achieved by outthinking rather than outequipping the enemy. They are telling us that wars are won as much by creating alliances, leveraging nonmilitary advantages, reading intentions, building trust, converting opinions, and managing perceptions-all tasks that demand an exceptional ability to understand people, their culture, and their motivation.27


            Returning to the “multi-dimensional chessboard” analogy, Figure 9 presents MAN^N within this construct, which is continually changing as actions occur.  The commander develops an N-dimensional concept to achieve a position of advantage in order to attain a given objective. In the context of “chessboard “ in Figure 9, this concept could include movement in the Geospatial dimension (Action G1 at time = tG1), an information operation in the Information dimension (Action Info1 at time = tInfo1), a cyber operation in the Cyber dimension (Action C1 at time = tC1), two infrastructure building efforts in the Infrastructure dimension (Actions Infr1 at time = tInfr1 and Infr2 at time = tInfr2), and probing social networks in the Social Network dimension (Action S1 at time = tS1).  The dashed lines connecting the different dimensions (or planes) in Figure 9 represent interactions between actions in these dimensions.  The key is that the actions are synchronized in space and time for greatest effect.  Naturally a given unit may not have the capability to act in all dimensions. A battalion may have the resources for an action in the Social Network dimension, but the synchronized action in the Information dimension may be better conducted at the division level or higher.

Figure 9. Example of a multidimensional “chessboard” for MAN^N. The yellow triangle represents an action in a given dimension that is connected to a key terrain feature in that dimension.


The importance of a broader set of key terrain features/objectives was recognized by MG (R) Robert Scales in his 2006 Armed Forces Journal article: “Victory will be defined more in terms of capturing the psycho-cultural rather than the geographical high ground.”28

            How does a commander gain the detailed understanding of each of these dimensions, identify the key terrain features in each that gives him a position of advantage in order to mass his effects on the enemy and population?  It is to their great credit that our commanders have figured it out over the course of the war. Again, FM 3-24.2 captures these characteristics and their effect on intelligence analysis:

Since the COIN environment comprises an interconnected “system of systems,” considerations among the key elements of the environment will overlap during a COIN intelligence analysis. For example, boundaries, regions, or areas relate to a physical location on the ground. Hence, they have terrain implications. These boundaries, regions, or areas often stem from some historical, religious, political, administrative, or social aspect that could also be considered a characteristic of the society. Overlaps can also occur in a specific category, such as infrastructure. For instance, dams are a consideration for their potential effects on transportation and distribution (mobility), administration and human services (water supply), and energy (hydroelectric).

This overlap recognition is a critical concern for commanders and their staffs. In “taking apart” the COIN environment and analyzing the pieces, commanders and staffs cannot lose perspective of how each piece interacts with any other and as part of the whole.29

It is clear that MAN^N is a complex undertaking.  The next section discusses planning tools that can help in the conduct of MAN^N.


Tools for MAN^N Planning

            Our understanding of the N-dimensional environment and ability to act is aided by well-established planning tools used for traditional lethal operations, and by an emerging set of tools that rely upon human/social behavioral modeling and simulation.  A comprehensive assessment of the different types of behavioral modeling and simulation approaches relevant to military applications is provided in a recent report by The National Research Council.30   System dynamics is an example of a modeling tool that can provide a logical approach to identify key lethal/non-lethal variables for complex, full spectrum operational challenges (or “wicked” problems) such as counter-insurgency.  As such, there are system dynamics studies of insurgencies.31  One brigade in Afghanistan used a systems approach to guide reconstruction and development efforts.32  System dynamics modeling provides a means of representing the key drivers of dynamically complex environments.33  Such models are composed of linked cause-effect relationships, and incorporate time delays and non-linearities that characterize such relationships in the real world.  System dynamics models explicitly capture feedback loops formed from chains of relationships.  The nature of the relationships and feedback loops that define the environment are reproduced in a computer model via coupled mathematical equations.33

            Models should serve as methods for the commander to better comprehend the operational environment and then focus on the MAN^N courses of action.  Commanders are familiar with models through the IPB process, where threat and adversary models are created and analyzed.  These models provide the capability to better understand possible outcomes, and the ripple of higher order effects from the actions of one's own organization, and those of others.  Fundamental to the success of a model is that it is able to provide a validated representation of the present, which the commander uses to gain better insight into the future.

            There are guidelines in using a system dynamics methodology, and a modeling approach in general.  First, in building the model, start at a high level of generality and work down.  Model the entire conflict space as indicated by the dimensions of the MAN^N terrain.  Ensure the model is built from hard data that is objective (or tangible), as well as from subjective impressions that seek to capture the intangibles, e.g., “atmospherics.”  A user of system dynamics and other models must understand the biases and distortions of one’s own analytic and decision-making processes, i.e., strive to provide other perspectives in the MAN^N maps and analysis.  For example, compare your model with one generated by someone from the indigenous population, or someone who can represent the thinking of the population.  Analysis of the complex operational space can begin once a model is built that is a reasonable representation of the current environment.  The model is not a static entity, but dynamically changing through updates as one interacts with the terrain that is being described by the model.

            It is stressed that a model is not a predictive tool, but a method to allow the commander to better comprehend the complexity of the operational space and to enable focus on the most critical objectives.  The model seeks to provide the capability to better understand possible outcomes, and the ripple of higher order effects from the actions of one’s own unit, and those of other units across the theater.  Mapping the N-dimension operational environment including the human terrain and using models to help analyze this information can help execute MAN^N.  These models are a step in the right direction, but several challenges remain to the full implementation of MAN^N.


Challenges to the Implementation of the MAN^N Concept

            Key challenges to maturing MAN^N are presented below as a series of questions:

Intelligence Preparation of the N-Dimensional Conflict Continuum

How do we map the N-dimensional terrain, and keep the map updated in a timely fashion?

  • How do we leverage modeling approaches such as system dynamics for mapping the terrain?

The action of building a comprehensive model of the full-spectrum operational space forces one to map the terrain and the key features.  For example, social network analysis results in a map of the social domain.  One does not necessarily need an elaborate model.  Recall COL (R) John Waghelstein and Donald Chisholm’s statement above that the decision maker’s primary challenge is to ascertain what are the key variables and how they interact, allowing him to move the problem from one that is ill-structured to one that is well-structured, and become more susceptible of manipulation and amelioration if not solution.11

  • What is the potential of geographic metaphors and cartographic techniques for MAN^N mapping, which are often at the heart of many knowledge domain visualizations?

Given that our actions are grounded in the geospatial dimension, it makes sense to reference all MAN^N dimensions with respect to position and time.  This anchoring facilitates the use of geographic metaphors such as “distance,” “peaks” and “valleys” in each dimension.

How do we define key/decisive features in the N-dimensional terrain?

  • What are the MAN^N equivalents to “high ground” and its converse?

We are very familiar with key/decisive features in geospatial terrain, but what about the “psycho-cultural high ground” mentioned above by MG (R) Robert Scales?  In the case of social and communication networks, a node with high connectivity is a potential key/decisive feature.

How do we navigate in the N-dimensional terrain?

  • We have GPS for navigation in the geospatial terrain.  What would be an equivalent capability for the N-dimensional terrain?

We need to know where we are on our N-dimensional map.  The commercial smartphones that integrate GPS with apps providing additional information are a step in this direction.  Note also the Tactical Ground Reporting System (TIGR) 34 developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which makes information collected by patrols searchable via map-based user interface and enables dissemination.

  • Are human guides always necessary to some extent?  If so, how do we select, train and equip these guides?

Guides could be recruited from the indigenous people in the operational area of interest and/or developed within our military.  MG (R) Robert Scales mentions the need for global scouts, 27 “At the heart of a cultural-centric approach to future war should be a cadre of global scouts, well educated, with a penchant for languages and a comfort with strange and distant places. These soldiers should be given time to absorb a single culture and to establish trust with those willing to trust them.”  Gerald Hickey and W. Phillips Davison make similar points in their insightful 1965 study35 of the American military advisor and his foreign counterpart during the Vietnam War.



How do we conduct ISR in the N-dimensional terrain?

  • What are the appropriate sensors for the N-dimensional terrain?  Are the sensors inanimate, animate and/or a combination of the two?

Multiple sources of intelligence need to be fused to provide high confidence detection/characterization with low false alarms for stationary and moving objects of interest in the operational area.  These sources include HUMINT, open source intelligence, as well as technical intelligence such as electro-optical/infrared imagery correlated with signal intelligence.  Multi-INT fusion of diverse sources leading to the construction of a Common Operating Picture is an area of active research and development.

  • Do traditional support functions such as legal assume a more operational role?  For example, ISR of the indigenous legal system may be critical.

Captain Ronald Alcala states in his recent article, 36 “Rule of law operations, however, cannot succeed without a thorough understanding of local laws and judicial traditions….”



How do we target/defeat in the N-dimensional terrain?

  • How do we control key/decisive MAN^N terrain features?

Once we identify the key/decisive features, it is important to know how to control them.  We are skilled in the control of features in the geospatial dimension.  Our mastery of features in other MAN^N dimensions is dependent on the accuracy of our maps, e.g., social network maps for the social dimension.

  • In the case of maneuver, how do we penetrate, perform frontal attack, infiltrate, envelop, perform turning movement, block, fix, turn, and disrupt in the N-dimensional terrain?

The generalized MAN^N terms for movement, maneuver forms, and maneuver effects in Figure 4 are a starting point to answer this question.  Specific implementations are dependent on the operational area.  In the case of counter-insurgency operations, “winning the hearts and minds” of an indigenous population involves applying the MAN^N maneuver effects of block, fix, turn and disrupt.  These effects can be a combination of lethal and non-lethal actions.



How do we perform after action assessment in the N-dimensional terrain?

  • How are methods/measures of performance and effectiveness set in the N-dimensional terrain?

We have seen in the complex conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan that methods/measures of performance and effectiveness for war in the traditional sense are not sufficient to assess progress.  In the case of stability operations in these theaters, one lesson learned by field commanders is that progress is better assessed relative to norms for the given operational area rather than by US standards, e.g., infrastructure expectations are higher in the United States than in Afghanistan.



  • How do we assure our mapping of the N-dimensional terrain, navigation, ISR and other aspects of MAN^N?

We need to assure MAN^N for our forces, while denying it to adversaries.


These challenges are intended to stimulate more discussion on MAN^N and the multi-dimensional operational terrain.  These challenges will be modified and more added as the MAN^N concept undergoes refinement.

            The last few years have borne witness to the constantly evolving conduct of war.  We’ve noted the continuing discussion trying to describe contemporary warfare.  We’ve also noted how our armed forces have adapted to those conditions and captured that knowledge in doctrine.  Thankfully, the nation’s armed forces have figured out how to gain a position of advantage in this complex environment.  It’s reassuring to know that our leaders are smart, tough, intelligent and adaptive.  We can capitalize on this hard won experience to inform and help future leaders as they face new battlefields.  To this end, MAN^N - synchronized maneuver operations in a multi-dimensional terrain that includes culture and human interactions, as well as the kinematic variables of position and time – can provide a distinct advantage.



1.  Lethal and non-lethal are as defined in 3-17 of FM 3.0 Operations, Department of Army. Washington D.C.

2.  COL Patrick Donahue, LTC Michael Fenzel. “Combating a Modern Insurgency: Combined Task Force Devil in Afghanistan.  Military Review.  U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.  Fort Leavenworth, KS. March-April 2008. p. 25-26.

3.  Authors’ notes from a telephone interview with COL Pat Donahue, 24 June 2008.

4.  Qiao Liang, and Wang Xiangsui.  “Unrestricted Warfare.”  PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House.  Beijing, China.  February 1999.  Foreign Broadcast Information Service translation. P. 43.  These authors provide a list of military, trans-military, and non-military methods of operations that are included in their concept, p. 146.

5.  Frank G. Hoffman. Hybrid Warfare and Challenges.  Joint Forces Quarterly. Issue 52, 1st quarter 2009. p. 36.  Accessed from

6.  Ibid, p. 36.

7.  U.S. Joint Forces Command. The Joint Operational Environment 2008. Challenges and Implications for the Future Joint Force., accessed 18 Sep 2009. p. 36.

8.  Guy Chazan, Karby Leggett, and Neil King. Troubled Foray: Why Israel's Plans To Curb HezbollahWent So Poorly. The Wall Street Journal. August 19, 2006; p. A1.

9.  David A. Fulghum. Cyberwar Is Official. Aviation Week & Space Technology. Sep 14 , 2009 . Washington. p. 54.

10.  See TC 7-100, Hybrid Threat.  Department of the Army. Washington D.C. 29 Oct 2011. p. 1-1. Also, FM 3.0 Change 1, Operations. Department of the Army. Washington D.C. 22 Feb 2011. p. 1-5.

11.  Colonel John D. Waghelstein, USA (Ret.) and Dr. Donald Chisholm. “Analyzing Insurgency,” Syllabus NWC 3099. Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, February 2006.

12.  Author notes, meeting with LTC Lou Lartigue, former commander of 2nd Squadron 9th Cavalry, 9 Jan 2008.  For other examples see Lieutenant Colonel Jack Marr, Major John Cushing, Major Brandon Garner, Captain Richard Thompson, Human Terrain Mapping: A Critical First Step to Winning the COIN Fight, Military Review, The U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, KS. March-April 2008; LTC James R. Crider, A View from Inside the Surge, Military Review, The U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, KS. March-April 2009.

13.  See FM 3-24.2.  Tactics in Counterinsurgency.  Department of the Army.  Washington DC. 21 April 2009. p. 1-25 – 1-26, A-2 for the discussion of intelligence preparation of the battlefield in COIN, p. A-5 – A-6 for an excellent chart of the societal factors that now must be evaluated.

14.  COL Stephan J. Banach, Alex Ryan. The Art of Design: A Design Methodology.  Military Review.  U. S. Army Command and General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, KS. March-April 2009. p. 113. This article provides a good introduction to design.

15.  FM 3-0 Operations. Department of the Army. Washington D.C.  February 2009. p.  1-5.  Political, military, economic, information, infrastructure, physical environment, time and social domains are the operational variables.

16.  Capstone Concept for Joint Operations Version 2.0.  The Joint Staff.  Pentagon, Washington D.C. August 2005. p. D-3

17.  Change 1, FM 3.0 Operations, Department of the Army. Washington D.C.  22 February 2011.  p. 3-1.

18.  FM 3-24.2. p. 3-1. See also FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency. Department of the Army. Washington DC, 15 December 2006. p. 1-22 – 1-23.

19.  Authors’ notes from visit to National Training Center, Ft Irwin, CA, 11-12 Feb 2008.

20.  Steven Metz. Rethinking Insurgency. Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Carlisle, PA, June 2007

21.  John A. Kendall. Afghanistan: The Importance of Political Maneuver in Counterinsurgency Operations. Small Wars Journal. 22 July 2010. (

22.  David Kilcullen. The Accidental Guerilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One, New York: NY. Oxford University Press. 2009. P. 71.  Also see Dr. Mark Moyar. The Third Way of COIN: Defeating the Taliban in Sanjin. Orbis Operations. 2011.  Dr. Moyar discusses leader-centric counterinsurgency concepts.

23.  Jeffrey Race.  War Comes to Long An. University of California Press. Los Angeles, California. 1972. p. 141.

24.  Ernst Cassirer, “The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms – Volume 1: Language,” New Haven, Yale University Press, 1955; Ernst Cassirer, “The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms – Volume 2: Mythical Thought,” New Haven, Yale University Press, 1955; Ernst Cassirer, “The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms – Volume 3: The Phenomenology of Knowledge,” New Haven, Yale University Press, 1957.

25.  Ann Swidler, Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies, American Sociological Review, Vol. 51, No. 2. (Apr., 1986), p. 278.

26.  Ibid, p. 278-279.

27.  Major General Robert H. Scales, Jr. (RET.). Culture-Centric Warfare. United States Naval Institute Proceedings. October 2004. Vol. 130. Issues 10. Pp.32-36.

28.  Major General Robert H. Scales, Jr. (RET.). Clausewitz and World War IV. Armed Forces Journal. July 2006. (

29.  FM 3-24.2. p. A-3, paragraphs A-9 – A-10.

30.  Behavioral Modeling and Simulation – From Individuals to Societies, The National Academies Press, Washington DC, 2008.

31.  Two papers offer examples of the use of system dynamics to study insurgencies:  Baker, James, “Systems Thinking and Counterinsurgencies,” Parameters, U.S. Army War College.  Carlisle Barracks, PA. Winter 2006-07, pp. 26-43. Edward G. Anderson Jr. “A Preliminary System Dynamics Model of Insurgency Management: The Anglo-Irish War of 1916-21 as a Case Study,” University of Texas, Austin, Texas. March 2006.

32.  Donahue and Fenzel in Ref[2].  Pp. 34-36.

33.  For an introduction to system dynamics, see John D. Sterman, “Business Dynamics: Systems thinking and modeling for a complex world,” McGraw Hill, 2000.


35.  Gerald C. Hickey and W.Phillips Davison, “The American Military Advisor and His Foreign Counterpart: The Case of Vietnam,” Memorandum RM-4482-ARPA, March 1965.

36.  Captain Ronald T. P. Alcala. Vanquishing Paper Tigers: Applying Comparative Law Methodology to Enhance Rule of Law Development. The Army Lawyer. March 2011. Pp. 5-16


About the Author(s)

Dr. Pierce has almost 30 years of experience developing advanced technologies in the aerospace/defense industry, and at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  Prior to his current position at Raytheon Company, Dr. Pierce was the Deputy Office Director for the Strategic Technology Office at DARPA (2005-2010), during which the concept of Maneuver in N-Dimensional Terrain was inspired and developed.

COL (R) Zanol served in the U.S. Army for 29 years, commanding armor units from company through brigade, and serving as Operations & Plans officer at battalion through division.


Michael P. Dorris

Sat, 02/11/2012 - 11:36pm

I agree with other commentators that using military tools to tackle political problems will seldom achieve either military or political success. Relying solely upon those tools available in the military counterinsurgency toolbox will yield equally unsatisfactory results. Nevertheless, I like this article because it squarely confronts the conflicts faced in the current era, and hints at the beginning of comprehensive solutions with wide applicability for operations in ungoverned and under-governed spaces. For the time being, U.S. economic interests are threatened by breakdowns in order across an ever-shrinking world. While order in the modern era was (until very recently) enforced by government actors such as the former Soviet Union, or by strong men (cloaked in government finery) like those we've seen in the Middle East, we can no longer rely on others to preserve order without which markets cannot thrive. The U.S. cannot unilaterally confront non-state actors and bring about order, just as we cannot continually expect our military to resolve these issues. We simply can no longer afford to bring about or enforce order where we seek to harvest inexpensive resources or develop markets, as we were able to do in the near-aftermath of the second world war. Most importantly, in considering the ideas offered by Pierce and Zanol, we cannot realistically rely upon non-military government organs to "step up" and utilize the political and "rule of law" tools which may better suit these tasks, even as we expect that they should.

These authors do not seem to be asking our warfighters to go into asymmetrical problem-spaces unilaterally. Rather, the maneuver they describe seems (to me) to more clearly define how best to use all the tools available in Westernized societies (including those best applied by non-government actors) when planning maneuver at both tactical and strategic levels. For good or for ill, politicians will continue to "try to turn a knife into a spoon" (as MikeF aptly observes in another comment), and will order the military to do so. Alas, the U.S. military is a victim of its own success. Lessons learned in small wars and large continue to evolve the design of the knife into a sort of multi-function tool --- one irresistible to short-sighted policy-makers. Even as a wide-range of commentators agree that it is improper and inefficient to ask the military to repair broken places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa, the reality is that it will continue. The rationale will continue to be: "Who else?"

Therefore, ideas like those presented by Pierce and Zanol should be considered and refined (in my view), so that military planners (who actually have a better ability to "think outside the box" and identify nimble solutions, than do their political, diplomatic and academic counterparts) can better articulate and recommend non-military options when they're brothers-in-arms are being thrown into the fray. By applying ideas distilled through the experiences of Race, Waghelstein, Lartique and others (developed in theatres like Vietnam, Latin America, Iraq and Afghanistan), the authors demonstrate that their concept is about more than Iraq and Afghanistan "nation-building." I am hopeful that others will pick up the torch lighted by these authors, and apply these ideas in synchronization with those offered by Dan McCauley in his subsequent SWJ article (Strategic Thinking: Providing the Competitive Edge, Feb 11, 2012), and Robert C. Jones in his comment on McCauley's excellent article.

I'm very impressed with the effort Dr. Pierce and COL (R) Zanol put into their MAN^N project, and I applaud SWJ for publishing their work.



Thu, 01/26/2012 - 6:08am

I have to agree with you here. I've just finished reading Losing Small Wars by Frank Ledwidge. When I got to the part where you are quoted, I suddenly came around to your viewpoint, and realised I had fallen victim to the British COIN myth. However, that does not mean I think a lot of principals and tactics within modern understanding of COIN don't make sense, because a lot of them are correct and highly relevant for a military thrust into the position of having to conduct COIN campaign by blundering politicians, civilian administrators and over ambitious generals. My point being, if you have to conduct COIN tactics, something has probably already gone awfully wrong.

Instead I see FM-324 and the resultant debate as a gigantic exercise in damage limitation, and we do not yet know the outcome, but it does not mean that the damage limitation was the wrong course.

What we need, as Ledwidge implies, is a civil military culture in NATO countries that actively tries to avoid provoking insurgencies, either against ourselves or our allies, and that requires understanding of the cause as much as the cure. Now it's time to update the field manual, put in on the shelf, move on to the next thing, whether that is cyber warfare or better anti ship missile capability etc. and just hope no more dumbass politicians decide to put boots on the ground to do jobs that are not right for the military or will not win public support.

gian gentile

Wed, 01/25/2012 - 6:55am

Adding to Outlaw's last point about how parts of the article read like General Flynn's critique of intel in Afghanistan of a few years ago, I would take it a step further and say that this piece is nothing more and a rehash of current doctrine on coin and stability operations, albeit with some concepts and ideas that try to link various efforts within them.

The other problem i have with the piece is that (in answering one of SWJ Ed's questions) it assumes that warfare is somehow very different today from the past and uses terms like "traditional" and "non traditional". New age warfare of course is of the "non traditional" type but when i read the description of non traditional warfare except for something like cyber the other elements have been a part of war for ages.

Lastly this piece at least to me reflects the army's continuing embrace with the past 10 years of coin war as if they offer the model for everything we will do in the future. If we read the latest strategic guidance from the President it was pretty clear that the likelihood of doing major nation building, coin operations in the years ahead is close to nil (not saying here folks that we shall not do them, of course we might if told to). So why not start thinking in fresh ways about the army, our driving concepts for things like maneuver, and how we will proceed in the years ahead?

This article IMO only offers a rethinking of how to do Iraq and Afghanistan better based on the flawed theories of population centric coin and wars amongst the people. The flaw in these theories is a faith in the unquestioned assumption that a foreign occupying power in a limited amount of time can "win the support of the population" over to its side. In other words the authors of this piece have a very typical American military predisposition that military force has utility in any situation. It does not.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 01/24/2012 - 11:01pm

Noticed the mentioning maybe just once in the entire article-- but I admit I did not read each and every word--- of the term "synchronization".

Synchronization (especially in maneuver) is and has been the supposed backbone of MDMP and it is just as broken now as is MDMP.

If we cannot get to a concensus on the concept of Design not sure we can ever get to MAN^N. Missed a discussion on how to convert this concept into a battle staff decision making process that adapts as fast as the current adaptive complex OE that is/has been seen first in Iraq and now in AFG.

Also some of the comments on intel could have come straight out of MG Flynns recent critique of the information data flows not being understood.

Just my opinion.