Fog of war
The fog of war is a term used to describe the uncertainty in situation awareness experienced by participants in military operations. The term seeks to capture the uncertainty regarding own capability, adversary capability, and adversary intent
Intent (military)
Intent is a key capability in 21st century military operations and is a vital element to facilitate subordinates initiative , self-synchronisation Intent is a key capability in 21st century military operations and is a vital element to facilitate subordinates initiative (U.S Army 2003, para.1-69),...

 during an engagement, operation, or campaign. The term is ascribed to the Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

n military analyst Carl von Clausewitz
Carl von Clausewitz
Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz was a Prussian soldier and German military theorist who stressed the moral and political aspects of war...

, who wrote:

"Der Krieg ist das Gebiet der Ungewißheit; drei Vierteile derjenigen Dinge, worauf das Handeln im Kriege gebaut wird, liegen im Nebel einer mehr oder weniger großen Ungewißheit. Her ist es also zuerst, wo ein feiner, durchdringender Verstand in Anspruch genommen wird, um mit dem Takte seines Urteils die Wahrheit herauszufühlen."

(War is an area of uncertainty; three quarters of the things on which all action in War is based on are lying in a fog of uncertainty to a greater or lesser extent. The first thing (needed) here is a fine, piercing mind, to feel the truth with the measure of its judgment).

And later on:

"Endlich ist die große Ungewißheit aller Datis im Kriege eine eigentümliche Schwierigkeit, weil alles Handeln gewissermaßen in einem bloßen Dämmerlicht verrichtet wird, was noch dazu nicht selten wie eine Nebel- oder Mondscheinbeleuchtung den Dingen einen übertriebenen Umfang, ein groteskes Ansehen gibt."

(The great uncertainty of all data in war is a peculiar difficulty, because all action must, to a certain extent, be planned in a mere twilight, which in addition not infrequently — like the effect of a fog or moonlight — gives to things exaggerated dimensions and unnatural appearance.)

The battle scenes in Tolstoy
Tolstoy, or Tolstoi is a prominent family of Russian nobility, descending from Andrey Kharitonovich Tolstoy who served under Vasily II of Moscow...

's War and Peace
War and Peace
War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published in 1869. The work is epic in scale and is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature...

 highlight the uncertainty and confusion described by Clausewitz.


The nature of the ambiguity described as the fog of war varies according to the level at which participants are engaged:

Grand strategic

Ambiguity is related to the political intent
Intent (military)
Intent is a key capability in 21st century military operations and is a vital element to facilitate subordinates initiative , self-synchronisation Intent is a key capability in 21st century military operations and is a vital element to facilitate subordinates initiative (U.S Army 2003, para.1-69),...

, capabilities and logistical strengths of an adversary. Sources of information include diplomatic intelligence, secret (or special) intelligence, strategic modeling and data derived from open source intelligence. Affected participants seek to understand intent
Intent (military)
Intent is a key capability in 21st century military operations and is a vital element to facilitate subordinates initiative , self-synchronisation Intent is a key capability in 21st century military operations and is a vital element to facilitate subordinates initiative (U.S Army 2003, para.1-69),...

 of and political motivations. Outcomes at this level may encompass military action but are more concerned with socio-political and economic outcomes from which it might cascade if left unattended.

Military strategic

Militarily, the ambiguity experienced at this level relates to the structure, strength, capability, and disposition of own and adversary offensive and defensive assets. Own-force ambiguity can be caused by failure to report material deficiencies or an unwillingness to escalate concerns, leading to an optimistic view of own capabilities. Adversary ambiguity may be a result of inaccurate intelligence, sources being subverted or deceived, or adversary intelligence presenting a superior picture allowing one's decision cycle
The OODA loop is a concept originally applied to the combat operations process, often at the strategic level in military operations. It is now also often applied to understand commercial operations and learning processes...

 to be compromised. In addition, if unanticipated situations occur they can hamper the execution of long term planning.


Within the operational theatre the commander undertakes tasks as directed by the Military Strategic level, ambiguity continues to relate to adversary capability and intent
Intent (military)
Intent is a key capability in 21st century military operations and is a vital element to facilitate subordinates initiative , self-synchronisation Intent is a key capability in 21st century military operations and is a vital element to facilitate subordinates initiative (U.S Army 2003, para.1-69),...

 but is coupled with own directive ambiguity, the commander not having the full sight of the strategic imperative. As operational tempo increases at this level the ambiguity experienced by the commander is susceptible to delays in communication of the tactical situation and the ebb and flow of own force, and adversary force interaction. The commander seeks to penetrate the fog of war through significant use of reconnaissance assets and a comprehensive Joint Operational Picture.


Ambiguity stems from several factors at the tactical level, both by deliberate means by the enemy (including active deception and/or electronic attack on communications and sensors) as well as factors inherent to battle resulting in lack of comprehension by commanders as to the tactical environment, the logistic status of their own units, how they are interacting with each other, or their intentions. This lack of comprehension can stem from many factors, individually or in combination, such as poor reconnaissance; inaccurate intelligence; or faulty communication. The tempo of decision making at the tactical level is much greater than at other levels, increasing the risk of escalating ambiguity as assumptions build and resources are allocated based on those assumptions.


The practical experience of the fog of war is most easily demonstrated in the tactical battlespace. It may include military commanders' incomplete or inaccurate intelligence about the enemy's numbers, disposition, capabilities, and intent
Intent (military)
Intent is a key capability in 21st century military operations and is a vital element to facilitate subordinates initiative , self-synchronisation Intent is a key capability in 21st century military operations and is a vital element to facilitate subordinates initiative (U.S Army 2003, para.1-69),...

, regarding features of the battlefield, and incomplete knowledge of the state of their own forces. Fog of war is caused by the limits of reconnaissance
Reconnaissance is the military term for exploring beyond the area occupied by friendly forces to gain information about enemy forces or features of the environment....

, by the enemy's feints and disinformation, by delays in receiving intelligence and difficulties passing orders, and by the difficult task of forming a cogent picture from a very large (or very small) amount of diverse data.

When a force engages in battle and the urgency for good intelligence increases, so does the fog of war and chaos of the battlefield, while military units become preoccupied with fighting or are lost (either destroyed by enemy fire or literally lose their way), reconnaissance and liaison
Liaison officer
A liaison officer or LNO is a person that liaises between two organizations to communicate and coordinate their activities. Generally, they are used to achieve the best utilization of resources or employment of services of one organization by another. In the military, liaison officers may...

 elements become unavailable, and sometimes real fog and smoke obscure vision. Much of the modern military's technological efforts, under the rubric of command and control
Command and Control (military)
Command and control, or C2, in a military organization can be defined as the exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commanding officer over assigned and attached forces in the accomplishment of the mission...

 seek to reduce the fog of war. Although even the most advanced technology cannot eliminate it, military theorists continue to develop ways to reduce it.

Simulations and games

Abstract and military board game
Board game
A board game is a game which involves counters or pieces being moved on a pre-marked surface or "board", according to a set of rules. Games may be based on pure strategy, chance or a mixture of the two, and usually have a goal which a player aims to achieve...

s sometimes try to capture the effect of the fog of war by hiding the identity of playing pieces, by keeping them face down or turned away from the opposing player (as in Stratego
Stratego is a board game featuring a 10×10 square board and two players with 40 pieces each. Pieces represent individual officers and soldiers in an army. The objective of the game is to either find and capture the opponent's Flag or to capture so many of the opponent's pieces that he/she cannot...

) or covered (as in Squad Leader
Squad Leader
thumb|Squad Leader game package.Squad Leader is a tactical level board wargame originally published by Avalon Hill in 1977. It was designed by Hall of Fame game designer John Hill and focuses on infantry combat in Europe during World War II...

). Other games, such as the Kriegspiel
Kriegspiel (chess)
Kriegspiel is a chess variant invented by Henry Michael Temple in 1899 and based upon the original Kriegsspiel developed by Georg von Rassewitz in 1812. In this game each player can see their own pieces, but not those of their opponent...

chess-variant, playing pieces are hidden from the opponent by tracking them on paper or by using a duplicate, hidden game board.

Solitaire games also by their nature attempt to recreate fog of war using random dice rolls, card draws, or flowcharts to determine events, for example Ambush!
Ambush! is a man-to-man wargame developed by Avalon Hill. It was released under Avalon's Victory Games label and was developed by Eric Lee Smith and John Butterfield. In 1984, Ambush! won the Origins Award for Best 20th Century Boardgame of 1983...

. Complex double-blind miniatures wargames, including cloth model training exercises for military commanders, may make use of two identical maps or model landscapes, one or more referees providing limited intelligence to the opposing sides, participants in the roles of sub-unit leaders, and the use of radio sets or intercoms.

The term "fog of war" has become jargon in military and adventure video and computer games, in the more limited sense of enemy units or characters being hidden from the player. Often this is done by obscuring sections of the map already explored by the player with a grey fog whenever they do not have a unit in that area to report on what is there. The player can still view the terrain but not any enemy units on it. One early use of fog of war was the 1978 game Tanktics designed by Chris Crawford
Chris Crawford (game designer)
Christopher Crawford is a computer game designer and writer noted for creating a number of important games in the 1980s, founding The Journal of Computer Game Design, and organizing the Computer Game Developers' Conference.- Biography :...

, which was criticized for its fog of war system detracting from the fun of the game. Crawford later noted that "...when the games get too realistic, they lose their appeal."

Two of the most successful Blizzard
Blizzard Entertainment
Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. is an American video game developer and publisher founded on February 8, 1991 under the name Silicon & Synapse by three graduates of UCLA, Michael Morhaime, Allen Adham and Frank Pearce and currently owned by French company Activision Blizzard...

 franchises, Warcraft
Warcraft: Orcs & Humans is a real-time strategy game , developed by Blizzard Entertainment and published by Blizzard and Interplay Entertainment. The MS-DOS version was released in November 1994 and the Macintosh version in late 1996. Sales were fairly high, reviewers were mostly impressed, and the...

and StarCraft
StarCraft is a military science fiction real-time strategy video game developed by Blizzard Entertainment. The first game of the StarCraft series was released for Microsoft Windows on 31 March 1998. With more than 11 million copies sold worldwide as of February 2009, it is one of the best-selling...

, also use a similar fog of war which only reveals terrain features and enemy units through a player's reconnaissance. Without a unit actively observing, previously revealed areas of the map are subject to a shroud through which only terrain is visible, but not changes in enemy units or bases. EA Games' (formerly Westwood Studios') Command & Conquer
Command & Conquer
Command & Conquer, abbreviated to C&C and also known as Tiberian Dawn, is a 1995 real-time strategy computer game developed by Westwood Studios for MS-DOS and published by Virgin Interactive. It was the first of twelve games to date to be released under the Command & Conquer label, including a...

franchise has incorporated a similar fog of war through the series, as has Activision's
Activision is an American publisher, majority owned by French conglomerate Vivendi SA. Its current CEO is Robert Kotick. It was founded on October 1, 1979 and was the world's first independent developer and distributor of video games for gaming consoles...

 Dark Reign; the same type of effect is present in EA Games' Genie Engine which powers games including Age of Empires
Age of Empires (video game)
Age of Empires , is a history-based real-time strategy computer game released in 1997. Developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft, the game uses the Genie, a 2D sprite based game engine...

 and Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds
Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds
Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds is a real-time strategy computer game set in the Star Wars universe.Players have a choice of factions and campaigns. The factions in the original game include the Wookiees, Royal Naboo, the Trade Federation, the Empire, the Rebels, and the Gungans...

. Similarly, in the classic Empire
Classic Empire (computer game)
Empire is a turn-based wargame with simple rules, conceived by Walter Bright in 1971 based on various war movies and board games, notably Battle of Britain and Risk. In the game, each player starts with one city in an unexplored world, and uses the city to build armies, aircraft, and various...

 computer game, a player can only observe an enemy unit if it is in the vicinity of one of the player's units or cities. In some games, such as Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 is a 2.5D real-time strategy computer game by Westwood Studios, which was released for Microsoft Windows on October 23, 2000 as the follow-up to Command & Conquer: Red Alert. Set in the early 1970s, Red Alert 2 supposedly picks up at the conclusion of the Allied...

, it is possible for the player to artificially recreate a fog of war against his opponent. In turn-based strategy games of the Advance Wars
Advance Wars
Advance Wars, known in Japan as is a turn-based tactics video game developed for the Game Boy Advance by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo. It was released in North America on September 10, 2001, but put on hold in Japan and Europe due to the following day's terrorist attacks in the USA...

, Field Commander
Field Commander
Field Commander is a military turn-based tactics game for the PlayStation Portable. The player takes on the persona of a new Advanced Tactical Legion for Allied Security recruit, an international military alliance...

 and Fire Emblem
Fire Emblem
is a fantasy tactical role-playing video game franchise developed by Intelligent Systems , the maker of Advance Wars , and published by Nintendo...

 series, "Fog of War" literally refers to a fog which shrouds the most part of a map. Sid Meier
Sid Meier
Sidney K. "Sid" Meier is a Canadian programmer and designer of several popular computer strategy games, most notably Civilization. He has won accolades for his contributions to the computer games industry...

's turn-based franchise Civilization
Civilization (computer game)
Sid Meier's Civilization is a turn-based strategy "4X"-type strategy video game created by Sid Meier and Bruce Shelley for MicroProse in 1991. The game's objective is to "Build an empire to stand the test of time": it begins in 4000 BC and the players attempt to expand and develop their empires...

and its spin-off
Spin-off (media)
In media, a spin-off is a radio program, television program, video game, or any narrative work, derived from one or more already existing works, that focuses, in particular, in more detail on one aspect of that original work...

 Alpha Centauri
Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri is the critically acclaimed science fiction 4X turn-based strategy video game sequel to the Civilization series. Sid Meier, designer of Civilization, and Brian Reynolds, designer of Civilization II, developed Alpha Centauri after they left MicroProse to join the newly...

obscure parts of the map not occupied by the player or allies until the advent of orbital flight is reached by the player.

By extension, "Fog of War" is also used to describe the limited view distance of many first person shooters, where unlimited view is considered either bad for gameplay or, more often, because of technical limitations, in that a Fog of War allows for the rendering of a smaller part of the game area. In the Commands & Colors series of boardgames, designed by Richard Borg, the fog of war is simulated by a deck of cards from which the players can pick their actions. Different sides of the battle usually have a different number of cards (each one describing a possible action) and players have to choose which card to use. It often happens that the best action imaginable in that moment is impossible to do because the player does not have a useful card for it. This is to simulate the difficulty of in-battle communication in the heat of the moment.

See also

    In military usage, a number of abbreviations in the format C followed by additional letters are used, based on expanded versions of the abbreviation C2 - command and control.C2I stands for command, control, and intelligence....

  • Network-centric warfare
    Network-centric warfare
    Network-centric warfare, also called network-centric operations, is a military doctrine or theory of war pioneered by the United States Department of Defense in the 1990's....

  • Fingerspitzengefühl
    Fingerspitzengefühl is a German term, literally meaning "finger tips feeling" and meaning intuitive flair or instinct, which has been appropriated by the English language as a loanword...

  • Fog
    Fog is a collection of water droplets or ice crystals suspended in the air at or near the Earth's surface. While fog is a type of stratus cloud, the term "fog" is typically distinguished from the more generic term "cloud" in that fog is low-lying, and the moisture in the fog is often generated...

    (weather phenomenon)

Further reading

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