Small Wars Journal


Wed, 02/10/2016 - 1:39pm


Patrick Duggan

“Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of

war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after the changes occur.”[1]

--General Giulio Douhet, 1921

When everything is connected to everything else, warfare will have a very different face.[2]   Science will change more in the next 50 years than the last 400,[3] and cyberspace is the key to unlocking its new opportunities.  In the not too distant future, every Special Operations Forces (SOF) practitioner will be required to understand the basics of cyberspace, computers, and coding, not because they’re expected to be programmers,[4] but because they’ll need those skills to conduct special operations in an era vastly more interconnected than now.  Even more, mastering cyber-skills is critical to the next step, examining theories like techno-social systems,[5] as potential new concepts to employ cutting-edge technologies against a growing zoo of technologically-savvy threats.  In the Information Era, societal interaction is indispensable to successfully integrating some FRINGE[6] (photo, robo, info, nano, geno, electro) technologies into new pathways of power connecting man and machine.  Tomorrow’s character of conflict will demand as many methods for competing in the minds of men, as the physical world, and will require forward-leaning concepts that challenge will, as much as brawn.  Ultimately, FRINGE is more than a catchword, it is an uncharted wilderness of ideas cyber-SOF must explore. 


General Giulio Douhet was a man ahead of his time.  A controversial figure, Douhet’s early 20th century theories on airpower are still being studied today.  Douhet was one of a handful of early visionaries who seized upon the emerging possibilities of airplanes in warfare, and zealously promoted ‘radical’ concepts which challenged conventional wisdom and the tactical-mindsets of the day.  While most of his ideas have been rightfully discredited, Douhet was at least partly correct on one, his focus on society and technology.  However, unlike Douhet, it is not the brutal power of one technology delinked from society which is effective in warfare, it is the interlocking power of many technologies within a society that is.     

Cyber Evolution Theory

Cyberspace and humans are growing codependent.  On one hand, cyberspace drives change in human behavior and shapes our action, while on the other, humans drive change and shape cyberspace.  In other words, humans and cyberspace are conjointly evolving.  These notions echo a popular multidiscipline theory, known as actor network theory (ANT), which posit “that the work of science is not fundamentally different from other social activities” and that humans, biology, and technology are actually connections in greater networks, and can only achieve individual “significance in relation to others.” [7]  ANT views all life and non-life as heterogeneous elements, which are interconnected; and asserts, that each element can only advance in its relation to the other.  Meaning, ANT “is considered as much a method as a theory,” and can be expressed in exercising the mechanics of power to stabilize and reproduce some interactions at the behest of others.[8]  Rather than viewing power as possession, “power is persuasion, ‘measured’ via the number of entities networked,” and is generated in relation to the distributed networks established.[9]

While sounding a bit sci-fi, the theory is useful to opening up one’s mind to visualize cyberspace’s mindboggling number of expanding interactions between man, machine, and the physical world.  More importantly, ANT helps illuminate conceptual vehicles to navigate an evolutionary tide steadily pulling us away from heterogeneous entities operating in isolation, to ones operating in mutual connectivity.

As an example, we have witnessed the Internet’s rapid evolution from the dial-up dinosaur of the early 1990’s, to the Web 3.0 of today.  Over time, humans have designed the Internet to link data and information, by standardizing computer languages and structuring communications, to feed thriving networks generating increasing access to an ever-growing landscape of disparate information, content, and links.[10]  This standardization was key to transforming the user-generated content of the early 2000’s Web 2.0, to the system-generated and network provided content of 3.0 today.[11]  Meaning, human influence provided the structure which allowed the Internet’s networks to evolve, and now, the Internet’s power is in the human influence it can make.  Tomorrow’s Internet, or Web 4.0, is expected to mirror man-machine co-evolution with “mind controlled interfaces,” [12] and interactive intelligent machines which anticipate human thoughts, wants, and needs, ranging from everyday life, to highly specialized fields.  The Web 4.0 of tomorrow will be populated by an Internet of Things (IoT) and global networks on an inexorable scale, and be teeming with artificial intelligence (AI) and countless human-machine-world interfaces.  In short, cyberspace will become real influence power, unlike anything man has ever seen.

Techno-Social System Theory

Academically speaking, techno-social systems (TSS) are information based infrastructures composed of different technological layers which interoperate “within the social component that drives their use and development.”[13]  TSS theory views technological systems as subsystems of social systems, and emphasizes the social nature of technology.[14]  TSS theory sees technology not as stand-alone elements, but defines them by, and how, they interact with a society.  Meaning, a piece of technology is only as valuable as its interaction with a society, and can only achieve significance within the overall system, in as much as a society values it.  Technology is an extension of societal ideals and their expressed thoughts.[15]  Thus, a technology’s development and employment will mirror a society, so techno-social systems, just like societies, will vary.    

From a military perspective, TSS theory constitutes technologies like the IoT, Virtual Worlds, and Augmented Reality, among others.  All of them, are products of human behaviors and actions, even now, still shaping their virtual and physical space.  Each one, also represent potential pathways to integrate emerging FRINGE technology to change not only a society’s habits, but “habits of mind.”[16]  As TSS theory is human-centric, military valence hinges upon a concept’s understanding of a specific society’s cultural and psychologic interactions with technology, and how that interaction benefits or degrades one another.  So, from the military lens, technology’s true meaning and value to a society is culturally and psychologically determined, and therefore, is subject to influence.  In the future, technology’s power will increasingly turn away from problems of intensity, substance, and energy, to problems of structure, organization, and persuasion.[17]    

Techno-Social System Concepts

TSS concepts are meant for warfare in an Information Era, where their foundations are laid upon societal technologies.  TSS concepts will require a networked-mindset that blends the human expertise of Special Warfare with the technical expertise of Cyberwarfare.  TSS concepts are akin to layering webs of seemingly disparate technology on one level, which then, set conditions to weave together the next.  They could potentially monitor, steer, or adjust, interplay between man and machine, as well as, look for early warning signs of danger, unrest, and conflict.  TSS concepts require the integration of emerging, and possibly yet to be invented, FRINGE technologies designed around a set purpose, potentially, a regulatory one.  FRINGE integration into TSS concepts are meant to exploit new pathways at the intersection of key societal and technology links.  As TSS concepts are layered into societal and technology interaction, their power is derived by deep understanding of a society’s human machine interface; and, it is precisely that deep understanding which is an accelerant for some FRINGE technologies.  So, for TSS concepts, FRINGE power must not be delinked from society, but increasingly interlocked with it. 

As a starting point to visualize TSS potential, think of the ongoing Syrian Refugee crisis in Europe, where security officials are grappling with ways to spot and separate terrorists amongst thousands of refugees.  Security officials require advanced tools to quickly turn unstructured data, on a global level, into actionable intelligence.  To meet the demand, technology is being developed which harnesses the power of deep-learning tools to rapidly process meta-data, using algorithms to assimilate unstructured and unlinked datasets ranging the gamut, from dark web, Internet, public information, phone records, personal applications and finances.[18]  The software then takes the next step, and predicts the probability of a person being or becoming a terrorist, much like a credit score.[19]  This real-time “baseball card” is a result of on the spot, massive ingestion of disaggregated meta-data across global networks, and is a first step to actuating a system which predicts behavior.[20]  In other words, human standardization is feeding another network evolution whose real-time power, is not solely influence, but action.  

Now, scale this one technology up and merge it with others that scrape, aggregate, and mine Social Media, Social Networking sites, census, and survey data in a specific area.  Then add known human mobility-patterns, cultural intelligence, and ethno-histories, to better account for individual, group, and societal layers.  Next, scale the technology up again, and integrate ubiquitous and innocuous FRINGE technologies like, RFID tagging, smart and organic sensors, robots, (some that look like flocks of birds or swarms of bugs), cyber-bots, and IoT devices in an increasingly smaller micro-region.  In short, crank up socio-technology connectivity while zooming the focus of it on a set problem, in a specific area. 

Now ask, what if a TSS concept was available way before the Refugee crisis ever began?  Perhaps, to assist nascent pockets of resistance forces or to support social movements before President Bashar al-Asad fully galvanized a response?  Or perhaps, even to shred the loose societal patchwork of terrorist groups like lSIS, long before they ever became a state?  Most importantly, what can the Department of Defense (DoD) do differently, in similar circumstances in the future?           

The development of cyber-SOF capabilities is a strategic option which could help build future TSS concepts.  Cyber-SOF could tap into indigenous revolutions, resistance movements, and insurgencies,[21] and harness the human factors of techno-social interaction, whether operating on the ground with them, or continents away.  Adopting a discreet push-approach, cyber-SOF could “channel the steady accumulation of small human and technical acts into an eventual psychological tipping point that changes” societal actions and behavior.[22]  Cyber-SOF could monitor and employ inconspicuous sensors and unmanned platforms to relay information across “mobile deep learning” devices equipped with “neural networks” capable of processing massive amounts of data, even classified, in someone’s hand.[23]  Whether connected to Web 4.0, or not, cyber-SOF could unilaterally or indirectly, via indigenous, proxy, and surrogate partners, discretely take both human and technical actions.  Ultimately, cyber-SOF could employ TSS concepts to subtly change an adversary’s society from the outside, hollow-out autocratic regimes from the inside, or shred terrorist groups from within, by exercising ‘power with persuasion,’ and tapping into societal technologies for a new and different type of warfare.

What is FRINGE?

Obviously a play on words, FRINGE means several things.  First, FRINGE is a memory mnemonic for strategists to integrate advanced technology, not in isolation of each other, like General Douhet, but in conjunction with others.  Next, FRINGE means that the value of technology in warfare is not defined in of itself, but only so far as technology drives new concepts to warfare and generates new ways to think about waging it.  FRINGE is also a reminder to visualize future challenges within technology’s rapidly growing capabilities, and then push contemporary concepts to the fringe of possibility.  However, most practically, FRINGE is simply a catchword, to categorize technology and ideas, with some of the major ones in the following.

‘Photo’ stands for emerging photonics and quantum computing technology.  It includes technologies ranging from imaging sensors, photoacoustic, chemical sensing spectroscopy, optoelectronics, fiber lasers, photon detectors, and quantum information science.[24] Some of these new sensors may think for themselves, while others use crowd-think to pass data, or self-organize around problems according to pre-set parameters. 

‘Robo’ stands for emerging autonomous machines and cybernetic technology.  It includes “unmanned air, ground, and undersea systems for surveillance, communication relay, and lethal operations”[25] with capabilities to cover air to air, air to ground, swarm, tethered, and precision strike capabilities.  Autonomous robots would “be robustly networked, dynamically interacting with each other and their human controllers, clients, and collaborators…they will, when required, self-organize.”[26]  There could also be “cyberspace-robots” which access, disseminate, and disrupt a variety of informational based and physical networks.[27]  Cybernetics includes recent advances in human-robotic interfaces, such as chips being implanted into a person’s brain to convert neuron signals into digital ones, and translate computer speak to neurological signals.[28]

‘Info’ stands for emerging big data, supercomputing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Information Technology (IT).  It includes, information fusion systems, computational intelligence, machine learning, and AI multi-domain systems.  These technologies could conduct rapid ‘reality mining’ to discern exploitable insights into the nature of exchange between people and technology by using “machine-sensed environmental data that are related to human social behavior.”[29]   

‘Nano’ stands for nano-materials, nano-medicince, and other nano-technologies.  They include ways to improve lethality, strength, and reduce logistical requirements like weight, energy, and consumption.[30]  Nano is also the smallest scale humans can assemble something[31] and is being explored for nano-body armor, nano-robots, and nano-camoflouge that blends into its surroundings.

‘Geno’ stands for bio-sciences, bio-neurology, bio-chemistry, and other bio-technology. It includes technology like bio-medical to improve soldiers’ survivability, advanced prosthetics, and exoskeletons.[32] Geno-based research is exploring human metabolism, aging, enhanced combat performance, and creating resilient soldiers “both in terms of resisting and recovering from physical injury and resistance to disease.”[33]

‘Electro’ stands for electro-magnetic (EM) technology and includes EM pulse (EMP) weapons, EM energy, EM projectiles, rail-guns, directed energy weapons, high energy lasers, and EM immersive environs which digitize all analog RF signals in a specific area.  EM research is developing EMP weapons that can use “a precise beam of high-energy microwaves at one target or multiple targets,”[34] as well as, EM bombs that can disrupt or destroy whole areas.  

Potential New Practice

“This is a hyper-connected world producing increasingly adaptive and technologically-savvy threats.”[35]  Increasingly, some of these threats are reaching “for indirect, proxy, and technical solutions to implement their strategies and national interests” and will engage in strategies “meant to change a competitor’s decision-making calculus more than facing them in traditional fields of battle.”[36]  Even more, the increasing velocity of global connectivity only empowers these adversaries with the means to continue their aspirations unabated.  In short, the pace, diffusion, decreasing costs, and increasing sophistication of technology will only encourage and enable adversaries to do more of the same in the future.

In response, it is imperative that DoD explore new concepts to take advantage of the explosion of technologies and seek constructs which capitalize on potential adversaries’ weakest vulnerabilities; and often times, the weakest links are societal based.  Ironically, some of the adversaries which are exercising societal-based technologies as instrumental power against their own people, are some of the same ones most susceptible to ‘influence reflection.’  Meaning, due to their autocratic, kleptocratic, or dysfunctional governance where societal fractures, domestic conditions, and social unrest are endemic, techno-social systems can cut both ways. 

Acquiring deep insights into “the cultural and societal systems that drive an adversary’s interests and behavior” provide potential levers, in the shape of human and technology interactions, and could provide a “psychological force to defeat an enemy without a fight.”[37]  Even more, TSS concepts could provide a deep-understanding of “the complexity between how an adversary processes, perceives, and interprets information and how it influences his behavior.”[38]  Whether changing what an adversary’s society perceives, or how they perceive it, TSS concepts could persistently nudge an adversary to unwittingly make decisions which thwart their anti-American interests.  TSS concepts also provide boundless potential to induce an adversary to engage in strategically self-defeating behaviors.[39]

In of themselves, TSS concepts are as benign as the technology they use, with options for employment as limitless as the circumstances for how, where, and why they are to be employed.  Ranging from countering terrorists, near-peer competitors, or non-state actors, TSS concepts are an innocuous and less evocative means to tamp down, steer, and drive human behavior and actions.  They offer new leverage at the intersections of societal and technology interaction, and could be used to ratchet-up pressure quickly or over a generation.  Below are meant to serve only as a sample of some edgier thoughts categorized by humans, narratives, and networks.

Humans:  Concepts could accelerate instability through inflaming domestic strife, civil unrest, fomenting or injecting societal problems, and amplifying social biases.  They could be used in conjunction with resistance movements, insurgencies, rebellions, and social movements; and especially, to unravel insurgent and terrorist organizations.

Narratives:  Concepts could psychologically make it “Y2K every-day” for adversaries by tapping into their anxieties or forcing them to invest or divert efforts and time into virtual based or “unreal” problems.[40]  Concepts could capitalize on the screen obsessed cultures of some societies to plant seeds of doubt or shape opinion.  Concepts could also ‘mood-hack’ key demographics in a variety of ways.  

Networks: Concepts could bend the course of a technology’s evolution[41] over time by undermining the degree of trust a society places in some technology versus others.  Concepts could adjust circumstances for how a society employs some technology, as a result of perceived or real benefits, resources, and funding.  Concepts could employ cyber-bots to wage cyber-skirmishes and harassment attacks akin to robotic guerrilla warfare.  Or even, to retard specific industrial growth, deny technology advantage, or other forms of passive techno-social sabotage. 


Cyberspace is the key to unlocking future paths in warfare, and cyber-SOF must become some of its first pioneers.  Tomorrow’s hyper-connected wilderness will be unlike anything humans have ever seen, and the zoo of technologically-savvy threats it produces will change the character of conflict.  To be successful in the Information Era, DoD must vigorously seek new constructs that challenge human minds, as much as brawn, and explore concepts which integrate FRINGE technology to the edge of possibility.  Techno-social concepts provide boundless potential, as their foundations are laid in societal technologies, whose power to influence is contextually exercised within technology’s psychologic and cultural value.  Ultimately, success in future warfare will not be realized by any one technology in isolation of a society, but only through the interlocking power of many.

End Notes

[1] Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, trans. Dino Ferrari (New York: Coward-McCann, 1942;

reprinted Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, 1983), 30.

[2] Modification of “When everything is connected to everything else, manufacturing will have a very different face.” Mark, Albert “Seven Things to Know about the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0,”Modern Machine Shop,” September 1, 2015, 75. (accessed February 8, 2016)

[3] Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants (New York, NY: Penquin Group, 2010), 339.

[4] Christopher Coker, Future War (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2014), 36.

[5] Alessandro Vespignani, “Predicting the Behavior of Techno-Social Systems,” Science 325 (July 24, 2009): 425. (accessed February 8, 2016)

[6] There are several popular acronyms for emerging advanced technology, to include GNR, GRIN, etc.

[7] George Ritzer ed., Encyclopedia of Social Theory: Volume I (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2005), 1.

[8] Ibid., 2.

[9] Ibid., 2.

[10] Sareh Aghaei, Mohammad Ali Nematbakhsh, Hadi Khosravi Farsani, “Evolution of the World Wide Web: From Web 1.0 to Web 3.0,” International Journal of Web & Semantic Technology 3, no. 1 (January, 2012): 5. (accessed February 8, 2016)

[11] Ibid., 6.

[12] Ibid., 6.

[13] “Predicting the Behavior of Techno-Social Systems,” 425.

[14] Celina Raffl, Hofkirchner Wolfgang, Christian Fuchs, and Matthias Schafranek. “The Web as Techno-Social System: The Emergence of Web 3.0.” In Cybernetics and Systems 2008, ed. Robert Trappl, 604-609. Vienna: Austrian Society for Cybernetic Studies. 605.  (accessed February 8, 2016)

[15] What Technology Wants, 263.

[16] Ibid., 194.

[17] Ibid., 41.

[18] Patrick Tucker, “Refugee or Terrorist? IBM Thinks its Software has the Answer,”, January 27, 2016, (accessed February 8, 2016)

[19] Ibid.,

[20] Ibid.,

[21] United States Army Special Operations Command, (accessed February 8, 2016)

[22] Patrick Duggan, “Why SOF in US Cyberwarfare?” Cyber Defense Review, January 8, 2016 (accessed February 8, 2016)

[23] Patrick Tucker, “New Microchip Could Increase Military Intelligence Powers Exponentially,”, February 4, 2016 (accessed February 8, 2016)

[24] United States Army Research Laboratory, (accessed February 8, 2016)

[25] National Commission on the Future of the Army Report to the President and the Congress of the United States, January 28, 2016, 33. (accessed February 8, 2016)

[26] Alexander Kott, David S. Alberts, Cliff Wang, “War of 2050: A Battle for Information Communications, and Computer Security,” 2. (accessed on February 8, 2016)

[27] Ibid., 2.

[28] Allison Barrie, “Could the US deploy ‘Cyborg’ Troops?,”, January 28, 2016 (accessed February 8, 2016)

[29] “Predicting the Behavior of Techno-Social Systems,” 426.

[30] National Commission on the Future of the Army Report to the President and the Congress of the United States, 33.

[31] Future War, 101.

[32] National Commission on the Future of the Army Report to the President and the Congress of the United States, 33.

[33] George Dvosrsky, “DARPA’s New Biotech Division Wants to Create a Transhuman Future,”, April 2, 2014 (accessed February 8, 2016)

[34] David Szondy, “CHAMP missile test flight knocks out electronic devices with a burst of energy,”, October 25, 2012 (accessed February 8, 2016)

[35] Patrick Duggan, “Man, Computer, Special Warfare,”, January 4, 2016 (accessed February 8, 2016)

[36] Thomas G. Mahnken, “Small States Have Options Too: Competitive Strategies Against Aggressors,” January 27, 2016 (accessed February 8, 2016)

[37] “Why SOF in US Cyberwarfare?” 4.

[38] Ibid., 4.

[39] “Small States Have Options Too: Competitive Strategies Against Aggressors,” 1.

[40] Future War, 174.

[41] What Technology Wants, 269.



About the Author(s)

COL Patrick Duggan is a career Special Forces Officer, participating in both invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and commanding combat and operational deployments across the Middle East and Asia.  He is a designated Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and Information Systems Security Management Professional (ISSMP), and has authored numerous articles about Cyber-Operations, to include the 2015 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategic Research and National Security Paper, "Strategic Development of Special Warfare in Cyberspace."



Wed, 02/10/2016 - 10:20pm

COL Duggan is a true visionary and decades ahead of the traditional military strategist. SOF cyber provides an unmatched ability to address national and strategic level gaps.

In the next 10 years, it will be very interesting to see his work serving as the bedrock for academia and strategist alike.