Fingertip Feeling: A Synthesis of Ideas from Maneuver Warfare, 4GW, the OODA Loop, and Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card offers one of the best, if not the best, guides for understanding modern warfare. I encourage you to read the novel to see if any of the ideas mentioned here come to light. I used Ender’s Game to synthesize three specific concepts in warfare: Maneuver Warfare, Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW), and Colonel John Boyd’s OODA Loop (which is fundamental to the understanding of the first two concepts).

This discussion will proceed as follows:

First, a brief discussion of the SEE model. Second, a discussion of the three concepts mentioned above. Third, a final discussion on how I used Ender’s Game to synthesize these ideas.

SEE: Changing the Rules

image created via Thortspace.com
“You didn’t come here to make the choice. You’ve already made it. You’re here to try to understand why you made it.” — The Matrix

Fingertip feeling (Fingerspitzengefuhl) is intuitive knowledge. As discussed in The Ultimate Guide to the OODA Loop, fingertip feeling is most easily understood as intuitive skill or intuitive knowledge — where the value of fingertip feeling in terms of OODA (Observe — Orient — Decide — Act), is that it collapses the Orient and Decide stages down to nothing so you can go through the loop faster and more easily get inside your adversary’s OODA Loop. You go straight from Observe to Act.

image via Wikipedia.org

I propose we use Holcocephala (aka the killer or robber fly) as a model for intuitive decision-making, similar to the OODA Loop. Holcocephala possesses a visual targeting and intercepting system allowing it to make lightning-fast actions. In A Novel Interception Strategy in a Miniature Robber Fly with Extreme Visual Acuity, the authors of the study discuss its visual system. They found that, when an object is far away, the trajectory on the target location is relative to an external frame of reference and that this forms the basis for the constant bearing angle (CBA) model. As discussed in the Holcocephala study, the CBA model is predicated on the following: it is a reactive strategy; it ensures interception due to the bearing angle formed between the line joining the pursuer and target; and it is an external reference line held constant.

image via A Novel Interception Strategy in a Miniature Robber Fly with Extreme Visual Acuity

Like fingertip feeling, where we go straight from Observe to Act, in the CBA model, we move through something similar to the following:

1. Sense or detect the target.

2. Estimate the target, improvise around obstacles and lock on to the target.

3. Establish a constant bearing system to quickly catch the target.

Essentially, the killer fly is in an observe — act mode, or sense — estimate & establish. This leads to my idea. In order to develop a strong intuitive feedback loop, we must learn to SEE.

image created via Plectica.com

S = Sense Opportunities. First, get into a position of opportunity. To sense opportunity, we must first learn the current rules of the game or the situation.

E = Estimate and Improvise. Second, we must then estimate our current position, then improvise around obstacles. We do this by continuously looking for surface and gaps and changing the rules.

E = Establish (Speed). Third, quickly establish and attack the Schwerpunkt (the focus of effort).

Ultimately, the SEE model is a process for seeing your options, creating new options, and shifting rapidly among those options as the situation changes. The objective is to never do the same thing twice; with the overarching goal being: to master scale, space, and time gradually expanding our edges as discussed by John Lewis Gaddis in On Grand Strategy. In On Grand Strategy, Gaddis informs us,

“Scale sets the ranges within which experience accrues. If, in evolution, edges of chaos reward adaptation; if, in history, adaptation fortifies resilience; and if, in individuals, resilience accommodates unknowns more readily than rigidity, then it stands to reason that a gradual expansion of edges better equips leaders for the unexpected than those that shock, leaving little time to adapt, or those inherited, which breed entitlement and arrogance, its companion.”

Moreover, B. H. Liddell Hart provides the perfect analogy for this idea, which can be found in The “Man-in-the-Dark” Theory of Infantry Tactics and the “Expanding Torrent” System of Attack: Presented on Wednesday, November 3rd, 1920 and published in the Journal of The Royal United Service Institution.

image via Newyorker.com
“We have learned by bitter experience that it is sheer waste of force, when we come against an enemy position, to press our attack equally at all points. We must feel and test the position everywhere, and endeavor to push the weight of our reserves where a weak spot is found or made.”
“I have endeavored to deduce such a system by examining and analyzing Nature’s method of attack. If we watch a torrent bearing down on each successive bank or earthen dam in its path, we see that it first beats against the obstacle, feeling and testing it at all points. Eventually, it finds a small crack at some point. Through this crack pour the first driblets of water and rush straight on. The pent-up water on each side is drawn towards the breach. It swirls through and around the flanks of the breach, wearing away the earth on each side and so widening the gap. Simultaneously the water behind pours straight through the breach between the side eddies which are wearing away the flanks. Directly it has passed through it expands to widen once more the onrush of the torrent. Thus, as the water pours through in ever-increasing volume the onrush of the torrent swells to its original proportions, leaving, in turn, each crumbling obstacle behind it.”
“Thus, Nature’s forces carry out the ideal attack, automatically maintaining the speed, the breadth, and the continuity of the attack. Moreover, the torrent achieves economy of force by progressively exploiting the soft spots of the defence.”

Maneuver Warfare — Responding to Uncommon Wisdom

“While striving ourselves to overcome the effects of friction, we must attempt at the same time to raise our enemy’s friction to a level that weakens his ability to fight.” — MCDP 1 Warfighting

William S. Lind’s Maneuver Warfare Handbook published in 1985 is the best military handbook I have ever come across. As mentioned in the foreword of the handbook, by Colonel John C. Studt, USMC (Ret.), it is pure intellectual innovation. Right from the beginning, Lind uses a metaphor that perfectly defines maneuver warfare,

“Maneuver warfare can be thought of as military judo. It is a way of fighting smart, of out-thinking an opponent you may not be able to overpower with pure brute strength.”

Moreover, Lind’s discussion of the theory of maneuver warfare starts with Colonel John Boyd. Boyd developed a theory of maneuver warfare beginning with air-to-air combat. He compared the U.S. military F-86 to the Chinese MiG, for which Lind provides Boyd’s conclusion,

“One side had presented the other with a sudden, unexpected change or series of such changes to which it could not adjust in a timely manner. As a result, it was defeated, and it was generally defeated at a small cost to the victor.”

In Patterns of Conflict, Boyd presented a lecture, for which Lind summarizes as follows: Conflict can be seen as a time-competitive observation — orientation — decision — action cycles. Each party to a conflict begins by observing. He observes himself, his physical surroundings and his enemy. On the basis of his observation, he orients, that is to say, he makes a mental image or ‘snapshot’ of his situation. On the basis of this orientation, he makes a decision. He puts the decision into effect, i.e. he acts. Then, because he assumes his action has changed the situation, he observes again and starts the process anew. His actions follow this cycle, sometimes called the ‘Boyd Cycle’ or OODA Loop. If one side in a conflict can consistently go through the Boyd Cycle faster than the other, it gains a tremendous advantage.

Thus, Lind found that the word “maneuver” means Boyd Cycling the enemy faster through however many OODA Loops it takes until the enemy loses cohesion. Furthermore, Lind found that maneuver warfare is successful when you not only accept ambiguity but also generate it.

Lind provides the following 7 traits commanders should strive for in maneuver warfare — these traits would be valuable for any specific endeavor: 1) Sense more than they can see; 2) Understand the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and their own; 3) find the enemy’s critical weaknesses in a specific situation; 4) Create multiple threats; 5) Keep the enemy uncertain as to which is real; 6) See their options in the situation before them; 7) Constantly create new options and shift rapidly among them as the situation develops.

Principles of Maneuver Warfare

image via https://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/Surfaces_Gaps_Primer.pdf
“No one thinks of becoming a great painter by simply imitating Michelangelo. Similarly, you can’t become a great military leader by imitating so and so. One man can do it and most never learn.” — General Hermann Black

The 7 traits for commanders listed above nest perfectly with the following principles of maneuver warfare outlined by Lind:

1. There can be no fixed schemes.

2. Every scheme, every pattern is wrong.

3. No two situations are identical.

4. Never do the same thing twice.

Tactics in Maneuver Warfare

image via https://tactdb.blogspot.com/2014/01/?view=classic
“All actions in war take place in an atmosphere of uncertainty, or the ‘fog of war.’ Uncertainty pervades battle in the form of unknowns about the enemy, about the environment, and even about the friendly situation. While we try to reduce these unknowns by gathering information, we must realize that we cannot eliminate them — or even come close. The very nature of war makes certainty impossible; all actions in war will be based on incomplete, inaccurate, or even contradictory information. War is intrinsically unpredictable.” — MCDP 1 Warfighting

One of the most salient points in Lind’s handbook is how he defines tactics — let’s unpack it now.

“Tactics is a process of combining two elements, techniques and education, through three mental “filters” or reference points — mission-type orders, the focus of effort or Schwerpunkt, and the search for enemy surfaces and gaps — with the object of producing a unique approach for the specific enemy, time and place.”

Additionally, Lind defines tactics as a mental process or a way of doing something. He points out that it’s not a decision, but it’s how you come to your decision (your method).

Combination of Two Elements

Tactics is the combination of techniques plus education. The Maneuver Warfare Handbook outlines the following:

1. Techniques. Things you can do by formula. Sloppy techniques slow down your OODA Loop and make your action ineffective. But good techniques are not enough.

2. Education. Is the basis for selecting and creating your unique approach. Education not in what to do, but in how to think.

3. Synthesis. Education without excellence in techniques means action will not be timely or effective. But techniques without education means tactics will be formulaic, rigid, and predictable to the enemy.

Three Mental Filters

image via https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Filters-in-decision-making-based-on-Ansoff-1984_fig3_268744262

Lind uses the word “filter” as a reference point to help guide our thoughts. The following are the three mental filters as discussed by Lind:

1. Mission-type Orders. The key is decentralization, which is essential for the OODA Loop. Provides the subordinate commander with the “What” or the mission; leaving the “How” to accomplish the “What” to the subordinate. Thus, allowing the subordinate to do what is necessary as the situation changes, without having to ask for permission. An ideal way to approach mission-type orders is through “contracts” allowing for mutual trust to form between a subordinate and superior.

a. Intent (long-term contract). The commander’s vision is the long-term contract. This is the “What” or the commander’s intent.

b. Mission (short-term contract). The mission is the short-term contract. As Lind points out, “It is a slice of the commander’s intent, a slice small enough to be appropriate to the immediate situation.” This allows the subordinate to adjust to the changes of the situation on his or her own initiative, yet within the boundaries of the commander’s intent.

2. Schwerpunkt (Focus of Effort). The Schwerpunkt or focus of effort is where the commander believes he or she can achieve a decisive decision. Lind informs us that this is a conceptual focus and not merely a physical one. Moreover, it is not a point on a map. This is the focus enabling a force to direct its power to one purpose. Lind posits that it is the medium through which the contracts of the intent and the mission are realized. It pulls together the efforts of all the subordinates and guides them toward the goal — toward the desired output of the commander. A good question to continually ask here is, “What can I do to support the Schwerpunkt?”

3. Surface and Gaps. The last filter is where you should place your Schwerpunkt. Lind defines the third filter as:

a. Surface. Enemy strengths. Think of the “surface” as a line of enemy defenses. As Lind points out, we should strive to avoid the “surface” and place our strengths against the enemy’s weaknesses.

b. Gaps. A “gap” is a hole in the “surface” or line. We should strive to place our Schwerpunkt opposite a gap, not a surface. Commander’s should seek to find or create gaps, then exploit them.

Unique Approach

image via https://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/Surfaces_Gaps_Primer.pdf
“Like friction and uncertainty, fluidity is an inherent attribute of war. Each episode in war is the temporary result of a unique combination of circumstances, presenting a unique set of problems and requiring an original solution.” — MCDP 1 Warfighting

The unique approach is the goal of the process of tactics. As Lind states, “You always want to do something different, something the enemy does not expect.” Lind further remarks, “The process that is tactics includes the art of selecting from among your techniques those which create that unique approach for the enemy, time and place.”

The Maneuver Warfare Handbook provides a powerful guide to creating a unique approach. It demonstrates practical techniques that, if used, would provide the U.S. military a way to conduct Mission Command. Lind points out that there is a distinct difference between “responsibility” and “accountability” where one leads to a wider latitude and the other demands absolute knowledge of all actions.

1. Responsibility. Grants wide latitude to subordinates and allows for mistakes. It is closely related to leadership and monitoring, where monitoring allows for maximum information without interference with subordinates.

2. Accountability. Demands absolute knowledge of all subordinates’ actions. This seems to be the preferred method in the U.S. military; yet, it should not be.

Mission Command should resemble more of the definition provided by Lind for “responsibility.” As he writes regarding a discussion with a Marine officer, “Maneuver warfare tactics are trust tactics.” Lind informs us,

“This allows each Marine to be trusted to act appropriately to defeat the enemy without having to waste critical time requesting permission to take action or subsequently reporting the details.”

Critiquing Thought-Process and Injecting Friction into Education

image via https://www.dovepress.com/front_end/cr_data/article_fulltext/s151000/151727/Img/mder-151727_F002.jpg
“I do not want such a person to be hammered down by narrowness and dogmas: to have his mind crammed by compulsory details. It is my constant ambition to see the Marine officers filled with ambition, initiative, and originality; and they can get these attributes only by liberality of thought — broad thought — thought that differs from precedent and the compulsory imprint of others.” — Brigadier General J.C. Breckinridge

The final piece to discuss from the Maneuver Warfare Handbook is Lind’s thought on education and training. He describes education as the following: Education develops the ability to put immediate situations into a larger context built of history, philosophy, and an understanding of the nature of man. Inherent in education is the ability to think logically, to approach problem-solving methodically, but without a predetermined set of solutions.

Essentially, education should be more focused on teaching “How” to think and not “What” to think. We should not strive to learn formulas and memorize steps, instead, we should learn how to think, and study thought processes of successful commanders — and critique our own thought process.

Lind recommends that free-play exercises should be introduced early in our career and that we should be brought face-to-face with friction as it is the medium in which we will be expected to operate in combat. Lind remarks,

“Only by encountering an active enemy who is trying to confuse, surprise, and defeat them in an environment of uncertainty and rapid change can they begin to understand the nature of the business to which they have committed themselves.”

Finally, we should follow Lind’s advice and teach students to make quick decisions through a coherent, logical thought process while under pressure. We should stress that there are no “right answers”. Or as General F. W. von Mellenthin, a 1937 graduate of the German War College remarked (and this advice should be the cornerstone of all education programs),

“A student was never told his decision was wrong. He was criticized for only two things: failure to make a timely decision, and inability to give a logical, coherent explanation for his decision. But if he made either of these errors, he was criticized severely.”

4th Generation Warfare (4GW)

“They cannot ambush us because we follow no predictable patterns. They cannot surprise us because we are always watching, and they don’t know when or where they are being watched.” — Lieutenant Colonel Ed Burke

William S. Lind and LTCOL Gregory A. Thiele, USMC provide another handbook that should be closely examined by all military leaders — 4th Generation Warfare Handbook. The overarching theme of this book hits you immediately. Lind and Thiele point out that our enemies learn and adapt, and we must do the same or lose. This book serves as an intellectual framework to do to just that.

Let’s quickly examine the first three generations of war as provided by Lind and Thiele:

First Generation. Fought with line and column tactics and lasting from the Peace of Westphalia until the American Civil War. Typified by battlefield of order and military culture of order.

Second Generation. Developed by the French Army during and after World War I attempting to impose order on an ever-increasing disordered battlefield. Stressed that there is a “school solution” for every problem and, at times, is called attrition warfare. What’s more is that this is still the way we fight today in the U.S. military.

Third Generation. Also known as maneuver warfare. Developed by the German Army during World War I. Did not try to impose order on a disordered battlefield. Instead, this generation sought to adapt to disorder by taking advantage of it. This generation sought to present the enemy with unexpected and dangerous situations faster than he could cope with, by, as the authors point out, pulling them apart mentally as well as physically. This generation broke with the linear tactics of the first and second generation of war.

Everything old is new again. Fourth Generation war is similar to how war was fought prior to the first generation of war. Lind and Thiele inform us,

“Here, the past is prologue. Much of what state-armed forces now face in Fourth Generation wars is simply war as it was fought before the rise of the state and the Peace of Westphalia. Once again, clans, tribes, ethnic groups, cultures, religions, and gangs are fighting wars, in more and more parts of the world. They fight using many different means, not only conventional engagements and battles. Once again, conflicts have become many-sided rather than two-sided.”

Fourth Generation war is similar to how a police officer is assigned a beat. As Lind and Thiele point out, “It is important that the beat’s boundaries reflect real local boundaries, such as those between tribes and clans, and not be arbitrary lines drawn on a map at some higher headquarters.” They discuss a key dilemma typifying this generation of war, “What succeeds on the tactical level can easily be counter-productive at the operational and strategic levels.”

A good example of this is looking at an opponent’s strategic centers of gravity. Centers of gravity in 4GW are intangible. Lind and Thiele provide a powerful example of this with the Soviet Army in Afghanistan,

“The Soviet Army could not operationalize a conflict where the enemy’s strategic center of gravity was God.”

Just as in the Maneuver Warfare Handbook, also by Lind, Colonel John Boyd and the OODA Loop are fundamental to understanding 4GW. Boyd’s definition of grand strategy must be understood in order to grasp this idea. Boyd defined it as the art of connecting yourself to as many other independent power centers as possible, while at the same time isolating your enemies from as many other power centers as possible.

Three New Levels of War

image via 4th Generation Warfare Handbook
“In an environment of friction, uncertainty, and fluidity, war gravitates naturally toward disorder.” — MCDP 1 Warfighting

Boyd identified three new levels of war:

1. Physical

2. Mental

3. Moral

He informs us that the physical level (killing and breaking things) is the least powerful, the moral is most powerful, and the mental lies between the other two. Lind and Thiele point out that this leads to the central dilemma of 4GW,

“What works for you on the physical (and sometimes mental) level often works against you at the moral level. It is therefore very easy to win all the tactical engagements in a Fourth Generation conflict yet still lose the war.”

The following remark illustrates this point perfectly:

“To the degree you win at the physical level by utilizing firepower that causes casualties and property damage to the local population, every physical victory may move you closer to moral defeat, and the moral level is decisive.”

Perhaps the most salient point regarding the three new levels of war is provided by the authors in their discussion of the Golden Rule, where winning at the moral level is,

“Do not do anything to someone else that, if it were done to you, would make you fight. If you find yourself wondering whether an action will lead more of the local people to fight you, ask yourself if you would fight if someone did the same thing to you. When you make a mistake and hurt or kill someone you shouldn’t or damage or destroy something you shouldn’t — and you will — apologize and pay up fast. Repair and rebuild quickly, if you can, but never promise to repair or rebuilt and then not follow through.”

Lind and Thiele continue,

image via https://www.theintentionallife.com/words-actions-match/
“This brings us to the bottom line for winning at the moral level: Your words and your actions must be consistent. Any inconsistency between what you say and what you do creates gaps your enemies will be quick to exploit.”

Moreover, the 4th Generation Warfare Handbook provides key fundamental elements, for which the first three carry over from Third Generation war:

1. Outward Focus. Focus outward on the situation, the result, and the action the situation requires. Commanders should be judged by the results achieved, not whether they followed the book answer.

2. Decentralization. Information and intelligence must flow (and be disseminated) and be decentralized down through the most junior level of command. Since the best intelligence comes from the lowest levels, decentralization provides subordinates the ability to act upon new information.

3. Accuracy. Move through your OODA Loop (Observe — Orient — Decide — Act) faster than the enemy; however, accuracy of Observation and Orientation might be more important than speed.

4. De-escalation (added to 4GW). Our best hope, in most situations, is to win by de-escalating, rather than escalation. The authors point out that no one likes bullies using their physical superiority in order to win at anything. Or as Martin van Creveld writes and compares a state military that, with its vast superiority in lethality, continually turns its firepower on poorly-equipped Fourth Generation opponents to an adult who administers a prolonged, violent beating to a child in a public place. He writes, “Regardless of how bad the child has been or how justified the beating may be, every observer sympathizes with the child. Soon, outsiders intervene, and the adult is arrested. The power mismatch is so great that the adult’s action is judged a crime.”

Ambush Mentality

“Speed is rapidity of action. It applies to both time and space. Speed over time is tempo — the consistent ability to operate quickly. Speed over distance, or space, is the ability to move rapidly. Both forms are genuine sources of combat power. In other words, speed is a weapon. In war, it is relative speed that matters rather than absolute speed. Superior speed allows us to seize the initiative and dictate the terms of action, forcing the enemy to react to us.” — MCDP 1 Warfighting

Lind and Thiele provide quite a bit of discussion around the mentality needed for 4GW. They recommend traveling light… fast, agile, and be expected to adapt to your situation. In my mind, this is like traveling at an airport. If you travel alone, you can travel light, fast, agile, and can easily adapt to your situation. However, if you travel with your family… you can’t travel light, you will move slower, you will be less agile, and it will be more difficult to quickly adapt to the situation. I am not saying don’t travel with your family, just thought this was an interesting analogy.

Again, I decided to develop my own understanding of the salient points found in 4GW. The following is my interpretation of the salient features of a 4GW mentality:

1. Inborn self-reliance.

2. Comfortable with ambiguity.

3. Does not feel defeated when surrounded by the enemy or isolated.

4. Can go for long periods of time without logistical support.

5. No need for consistent communication with higher headquarters.

6. Both self-confident and self-reliant.

7. Prefers unpredictability and is reluctant to follow rigid and specific methods.

8. Can easily adapt and exploit the terrain.

9. Readily adaptable to a broad range of missions.

10. Hunts enemies the same way they hunt game.

Moreover, Lind and Thiele provide the following points that, if understood, would benefit all those who serve in the U.S. military:

1. Embrace free-play.

2. Strive to out-think the enemy.

3. Embrace the ability to do the things that could not be created, measured, or improved by any comparative standards.

4. Qualitative factors are more important than quantitative factors when determining the qualities and abilities of people and groups.

5. In training, intentionally provide vague orders to spark creativity.

6. Create scenarios compelling leaders to adapt to the unexpected and ever-changing situations.

7. Seek feedback from all levels.

8. Become experts in surveillance and be able to uncover enemy weaknesses.

9. Be able to communicate information clearly and succinctly.

PowerPoint Is An Achilles’ Heel — And Our Greatest Weapon!

Finally, the best idea from this book is provided in the first chapter at the end of a discussion between Lieutenant Colonel Ed Burke and Major General Montgomery Forrest,

Forrest: “One final request, Colonel Burke. Do you think you might present the division’s Operation David to me without PowerPoint?”

Burke: “Yes, sir! With your permission, I’d like to do with the division’s PowerPoint stuff what I did with my battalion’s.”

Forrest: “What is that, Colonel?”

Burke: “I let the insurgents capture it. It’s slowed their OODA loop down to a crawl.”

Forrest: “Another good idea, Colonel. I always knew PowerPoint would be useful for something.”

Change the Rules — Ender’s Game and Maneuver Warfare

image via Ender’s Game film
“One is poison, one is not. Choose right, and you’ll go to Fairyland — Which you gonna choose? — Neither.” — Ender’s Game

As I was reading Ender’s Game, I came across an article by Kyle Mizokami called ‘Ender’s Game and Maneuver Warfare: How the famed sci-fi novel reflects a revolution in military thinking. Mizokami provides a fascinating comparison between the novel and maneuver warfare. I wanted to quickly examine some of this discussion prior to moving on to the novel itself. Mizokami provides the following key points:

1. Ender’s keen mind and his ability to innovate new tactics make him mankind’s best bet.

2. Focal Point. Like the discussion of Schwerpunkt (Focus of Effort), Ender is able to discover the focal point of each battle. Additionally, he realizes that the traditional grinding battles of attrition are meaningless and that in the end the only thing that matters is fulfilling the conditions of victory.

3. It is not the raw force that wins the battle, rather the proper application of force that wins. This idea is encoded in the very DNA of maneuver warfare.

4. Giant’s Game — run by the Battle School computer. Ender faces off against a giant that kills players in, particularly gruesome ways. No matter what the players do, the giant always wins. So, what did Ender do?

a. Force the giant to play by Ender’s rules. Ender initially believes the Giant’s Game is unwinnable until, in a moment of frustration, he attacks the giant by burrowing through the monster’s eyeball. The only way to win is to not play by the giant’s rules — and force the giant to play by Ender’s rules.

b. Ender refused to play to the giant’s strength. Thus, he dislocated the enemy.

5. Variation in tactics. Battle School’s focus on attrition strategy has stalled innovation in tactics. Ender realizes this and varies his tactics to gain the advantage. He hurries his troops out into the battle arena to gain the initiative. When the enemy begins to expect this trick, Ender inverts it — and deploys slowly, forcing the opposition to wait.

6. Constantly think up new tactics and retire them before the enemy can adapt. Ender maintains the initiative by continually thinking up new tactics and retiring them before his enemies can adapt. The faster you can observe the enemy, orient yourself to react to him, decide what to do and act on your decision, the more likely you are to win.

Man-in-the-Dark

“Simplicity is the key to victory.” — B. H. Liddell Hart

Liddell Hart provides one last analogy which fits with Ender’s Game. This is the analogy of the “The Man Fighting in the Dark” for which Hart informs us,

“Certainly, we agree, but the situation in war will resemble that of two men fighting under similar conditions, such as in the dark, wherein a man can only locate and reconnoiter his enemy by actually touching and feeling him. Thus, the man-in-the-dark resembles the commander in modern war. Let us examine the correct principles of action which a man seeking to attack an enemy in the dark would naturally adopt.”

The following is my interpretation of Hart’s analogy, with each principle in parentheses:

1. Seek out your enemy by stretching out your arm (protective formation).

2. With an outstretched arm, rapidly feel and find the enemy throat (reconnaissance).

3. Seize the enemy throat, holding him at arm’s length preventing him from striking you (fixing).

4. While you have the enemy’s whole attention, with your other fist, strike him in an unexpected direction — in an unguarded spot allowing you to deliver a decisive knock-out blow (decisive maneuver).

5. Prevent your enemy from recovering and render him completely powerless (exploitation of success).

Ender’s Game

image via Ender’s Game film
“There is no combat without movement.” — Ender’s Game

Finally, let’s now examine the novel itself, for which the novel served as my way of synthesizing the ideas found in the Maneuver Warfare Handbook, 4th Generation Warfare Handbook, and the OODA Loop.

“Let’s see how they handle a formation — We’ve never done a formation — Then they won’t expect one.” — Ender’s Game

Synthesis of Ideas:

1. Sense. Before Ender could change the rules, he had to first learn the rules.

a. In chapter four of the novel, Ender challenged an older boy to a game — one in which he (Ender) had no experience with. He had to first learn the unfamiliar controls. They played three games. Ender learned the basics in the first game. In the second game, he was able to pull off a few maneuvers the other boy had not seen before. In the third game, Ender won easily by forcing the opponent to play by Ender’s rules. The older boy could no longer cope with Ender’s patterns. As pointed out in the novel, “All he had to do was watch the game and understand how things worked, and then he could use the system, and even excel.” This is similar to the Giant’s Eye discussion mentioned earlier.

2. Estimate. Ender was constantly surrounded by enemies. This forced him to always estimate where the surface and gaps were located. Ender was able to estimate enemy patterns, yet Ender’s attacks were fluid and un-patterned.

a. In chapter seven of the novel, Ender found that well-rehearsed formations were a mistake. “Even as Ender learned how much he did not know, he also saw things that he could improve on. The well-rehearsed formations were a mistake. It allowed the soldiers to obey shouted orders instantly, but it also meant they were predictable. Also, the individual soldiers were given little initiative. Once a pattern was set, they were to follow it through. There was no room for adjustment to what the enemy did against the formation. Ender studied Bonzo’s formations like an enemy commander would, noting ways to disrupt the formation.”

b. Chapter ten provides further discussion on Ender’s isolation, “It was strategy. Graff had deliberately set him up to be separate from the other boys, made it impossible for him to be close to them. And he began now to suspect the reasons behind it. It wasn’t to unify the rest of the group — in fact, it was divisive. Graff had isolated Ender to make him struggle. To make him prove, not that he was competent, but that he was far better than everyone else. That was the only way he could win respect and friendship. It made him a better soldier than he would have ever been otherwise.” Ender rationalized this as he was doing the same thing to another. “That’s what I’m doing it to you, Bean. I’m hurting you to make you a better soldier in every way. To sharpen your wit. To intensify your effort. To keep you off balance, never sure what’s going to happen next, so you always have to be ready for anything, ready to improvise, determined to win no matter what.”

c. you always have to be ready for anything, ready to improvise, determined to win no matter what.”

3. Establish. Ender realized the importance of shifting patterns of movement. As described in chapter eleven of the novel, “Keep a shifting pattern of movement going in front of the door. You never hold still when the enemy knows exactly where you are.”

a. Ender came to understand the importance of free-play and learning from mistakes. This point is illustrated perfectly in chapter ten of the novel, “No I’m not going to assign lanes. I want you bumping into each other and learning how to deal with it all the time, except when we’re practicing formations, and then I’ll usually have you bump into each other on purpose. Now move!”

b. We find that Ender became an expert tactician in chapter eleven. He is now training his unit to operate unsupported, alone, and on their own initiative. “No army had ever fragmented itself like that before, but Ender was not planning to do anything that had been done before, either. Most armies practiced mass maneuvers, performed strategies. Ender had not. Instead he trained his leaders to use their small units effectively in achieving limited goals. Unsupported, alone, on their own initiative.”

There are a few additional salient points provided in the novel that apply to the U.S. military.

1. Develop new ideas daily. The following is a discussion between Ender and Bean: “There’s a limit to how many clever new ideas I can come up with every day. Somebody’s going to come up with something to throw at me that I haven’t thought of before, and I won’t be ready.”

2. Learn to think with no up and down. As Card discusses in the introduction of Ender’s Game, when discussing how soldiers would train for combat in the future, “Soldiers and commanders would have to think very differently in space, because the old ideas of up and down simply wouldn’t apply anymore. I had read in Nordhoff’s and Hall’s history of World War I.” “Flying that it was very hard at first for new pilots to learn to look above and below them rather than merely to the right and left, to find the enemy approaching them in the air. How much worse, then, would it be to learn to think with no up and down at all?”

3. Change the training environment to meet the conditions of warfare. Card found that to train in the future, “The environment would need to be changeable, to simulate the different conditions of warfare.” And that, “Play-combat didn’t evolve into something as rigid and formal as the meaningless marching and maneuvers that still waste an astonishing amount of a trainee’s precious hours in basic training in our modern military.”

4. Think of and try crazy things that no one would ever think about trying. Continuing the discussion between Ender and Bean: “I need you to be clever, Bean. I need you to think of solutions to problems we haven’t seen yet. I want you to try things that no one has ever tried because they’re absolutely stupid.” Bean was curious why Ender was asking him, for which Ender informs him, “There’s nobody who can think better and faster than you.”

5. There is no teacher but the enemy. In chapter fourteen, Ender finally meets Mazer Rackham. “I surprised you once, Ender Wiggin. Why didn’t you destroy me immediately afterward? Just because I looked peaceful? You turned your back on me. Stupid. You have learned nothing. You have never had a teacher.” Ender was angry now and made no attempt to control or conceal it. “I’ve had too many teachers, how was I supposed to know you’d turn out to be a — “ “An enemy, Ender Wiggin. I am your enemy, the first one you’ve ever had who was smarter than you. There is no teacher but the enemy. No one but the enemy will tell you what the enemy is going to do. No one but the enemy will ever teach you how to destroy and conquer. Only the enemy tells you where he is strong. And the rules of the game are what you can do to him and what you can stop him from doing to you. I am your enemy from now on. From now on I am your teacher.”

6. The enemy will teach you how to defeat him. Continuing the interaction between Ender and Rackham, “You will learn to be quick and discover what tricks the enemy has for you. Remember, boy. From now on the enemy is more clever than you. From now on you are always about to lose. You will be about to lose, Ender, but you will win. You will learn to defeat the enemy. He will teach you how.”

image via https://snsnepal.com/?p=409

In the novel, Ender possessed the ability to synthesize the unique characteristics of his teams. He was the key piece of the puzzle to bring it all — all the unique characteristics together. Characteristics including:

1. Surprise

2. Deception

3. Cunning

4. Mobility

5. Imagination

6. Patience

In addition, Ender recognized the importance of changing the rules of the game, the consistent creation of new techniques, and the ability to adapt to any situation. Ultimately, he follows the advice offered by Lind and Thiele in 4GW,

“Third Generation militaries recognize that any technique usually has a short shelf life in combat. As soon as the enemy comes to expect it, he turns it against you. This, in turn, means that the ability to invent new techniques is highly important.”

Just prior to his final battle with the buggers, Ender’s awareness of two concepts is clear. These two concepts should sound familiar by now: 1) Surface and Gaps; and 2) Schwerpunkt.

image via Newsweek.com
“It was subtle. Ender couldn’t see it for a long time. The bugger ships kept moving, all of them. There was no obvious flagship, no apparent nerve center. But gradually, as Mazer played the videos over and over again, Ender began to see the way that all the movements focused on, radiated from a center point. The center point shifted, but it was obvious, after he looked long enough, that the eyes of the fleet, the I of the fleet, the perspective from which all decisions were being made, was one particular ship.”

Lastly, in the novel, Ender possesses one unique trait — the irrational tenth.

“Nine-tenths of tactics are certain, and taught in books: but the irrational tenth is like the kingfisher flashing across the pool, and that is the test of generals.” — T.E. Lawrence