Quanta of Competition: Quantum Mechanics, Multi-Domain Battle, and the Gray Zone (Part I)

Thinking about conflict in terms of quantum mechanics rather than Newtonian physics will produce more comprehensive grand strategy. Part I of this narrative applies quantum field theory to the “extended battlefield” where joint and multinational forces are quantum fields prone to excitable states. Multi-domain battle and gray zone phenomena are these states in the extended battle and political warfare fields. Part II will show how together they form the competition field. This field is the fundamental starting point for strategy design and systems of systems thinking

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

By Victor R. Morris

Advances in quantum mechanics offer us an avenue to better understand the concepts of Multi-Domain Battle/Operations and Gray Zone concepts. These interrelated topics include fields, physical system interactions, and information. Scientific and military advances have implications for understanding the nature of the world, strategic competition, and conflict. As the understanding of nature changes, so does what Clausewitz called the “diverse nature of war.”

The goal of this assessment is two-fold. Part I provides analyses that elucidate quantum mechanics, multi and cross-domain considerations, and Gray Zone interrelationships (i.e., competition below the threshold of conventional war). These correlations impact grand strategy design, long-term, strategic inter-state competition, and non-state actor considerations. Part II discusses the competition field concept developed from quantum physics outlining macro-scale complex political, informational, military, and economic interactions in the global operating model. The concept provides a needed framework for understanding natural competition including open warfare and considerations for future offset strategies and campaign planning

Part I: Examining the relationship between Quantum Mechanics and Multi-domain Battle, Cross-domain synergy, and the Gray Zone
First, this article briefly defines quantum field theory, then explains the three fundamental quantum mechanics postulates and the scientific notion of information that are core components underpinning multi-domain battle strategy, political warfare, and strategic competition. All six components form the competition field discussed in Part II.

Quantum Field Theory
Twentieth century physics is largely defined by two theories that help us understand the world: general relativity and quantum mechanics. Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity is the current description of gravitation in modern physics and governs physics at a large scale. Quantum mechanics, also called quantum theory, is science of the smallest and revolves around the smallest finite quantities or “quanta” that compose everything. The term “everything” refers to the quantum fields that compose the universe. Quantum mechanics defines fields and particles fundamental in nature. These quantum fields make up atoms, lights, and the contents of the universe. The model of quantum field theory treats particles as excited states within a field. These excited states are called field quanta.

Postulates Overview: Granularity, Relationality, and Indeterminacy
Three postulates underpin the study of quantum field theory. The postulates are granularity, relationality, and indeterminacy (or unpredictability). They describe particle structure and movement. In Carlo Rovelli’s book Reality is Not What It Seems The Journey to Quantum Gravity, he states “the world is a series of granular quantum events. They are individual interactions of one system with another.” The relational aspects of quantum mechanics were developed by Werner Heisenberg, a German theoretical physicist. In 1927, he published the indeterminacy principle. Indeterminacy means “uncertainty” and refers to the imprecise measurement of a sub-atomic particle’s variables like position and momentum. Heisenberg posited particles move or leap only during instants of excitations, not every instant. The instants of excitation occur when particles interact with something. For instance, an electron is a combination of quantum leaps from one interaction to another. From a military and geopolitical perspective, such instants of excitation describe system cross-domain synergy, cooperation and confrontation, and unintended consequences.

The Scientific Notion of Information, Information Environment and Competition
Information is a fundamental aspect of every life. Some physicists even believe information composes all of reality. Recently, the term “information” has been used to describe an environment containing dimensions, electromagnetic properties, and entities. Information operations, the “weaponization” of information, and information warfare are prominent topics describing the changing character of war and the critical requirement to maneuver in this space to achieve strategic objectives.

The scientific notion of information is more precise in quantum mechanics. Claude Shannon, an American mathematician, developed information theory based on measurement. The basic unit of measurement is a bit and a bit is the maximum amount of information conveyed by a binary digit. In quantum computing, a bit is called a “qubit.” Information does not measure what is known, but the number of possible alternatives for something. For instance, if someone is told to guess the number on a clock, there are 12 distinct possibilities or “S=12”. Side note: instead of the number of alternatives “N,” scientists measure information in terms of quantity called “S” after Shannon.

Information also has two key components that are fundamental to the competition field concept. One is the ability of physical systems to obtain new information and the second is the fact that information is finite. As physical systems manifest through interactions, information measures the ability for systems to communicate and correlate. Both systems and particles are described by interactions and probabilities of interactions and effects.

Next, the information environment is a field of fields. It exists with the physical, electromagnetic, cyberspace, and space-time fields. In joint doctrine, this is the holistic operational environment. The granularity, relationality, and indeterminacy of this field are described in the cognitive, informational, and physical dimensions. These dimensions or fields include the quanta of human beings, internet of things, data, and individual or group decision-making (micro and macro decisions). The cognitive dimension encompasses the minds of those who transmit, receive, and respond to or act on information. This dimension is the most important component of the information environment. The scientific notion of information is the largest contributor to understanding quantum physics and the concept of competition and armed conflict.

Multi-domain Battle, Cross-domain Synergy, and the Gray Zone
The Multi-Domain Battle concept is an evolution of offset strategies and concepts like AirLand Battle and Full Spectrum Operations in military competition. The Gray Zone is “the hostile or adversarial interactions among competing actors below the threshold of conventional war and above the threshold of peaceful competition.” In this assessment, the Gray Zone is united with multi-domain battle and political warfare because they exist in the same field. The threat of nuclear warfare is also in the political warfare field. This view takes quantum field theory and applies it to the “extended battlefield” where joint and multinational forces are quantum fields prone to excitable states. Multi-domain battle and gray zone phenomena are these states in the extended battle and political warfare fields. Together, they form the competition field. This field is the fundamental starting point for strategy design and systems of systems thinking.

Multi-Domain Battle resembles quantum field theory by accounting for an expanding and contracting battlefield and integrating the traditional physical domains of land, sea, and air with space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum to confront security challenges. Cross-domain synergy refers to convergence and systems integration to achieve positions of relative advantage. Systems and sub-systems analysis is granular in nature and involves assessing systems’ behavior and parts. Synergy is particle excitation within a field and their interactions that produce holistic effects greater than the sum of their parts. The relational aspects are manifested through interactions as well. Multi-Domain Battle specifies land components cannot dominate without convergence across domains and interaction with other components.

In quantum mechanics, convergence occurs as well. The electromagnetic field contains electromagnetic radiation such as light. Photons are light’s quanta and a single photon is an example of granularity. It is the smallest observable amount or “quantum” of the electromagnetic field. Other elementary particle quanta are electrons which are the quantum of the electric field and can generate a magnetic field in specific cases. Electrons absorb energy in the form of photons when accelerated. The electron field describes interaction in a four-dimensional space-time by exchanging photons with itself or other particle fields. Much like Multi-Domain Battle, these fields cannot manifest without convergence across fields and interaction with other particles.


Army Field Manual 3-0 Operations states “The Army conducts operations across multiple domains and the information environment. All Army operations are multi-domain operations, and all battles are multi-domain battles”. The draft operational framework for Multi-Domain Battle quantized the AirLand Battle concepts into physical spaces and operation plan phases as shown in Figure 1. The next draft quantized geographic space further by adding a strategic deep fires area as shown in Figure 2. The “point of physical manifestation of effects” are the particle interactions and the “pathways to create effects” are the processes between interactions.


Next, indeterminacy or uncertainty is apparent in the joint assessment of Multi-Domain Battle as an operational concept, stating challenges are more interrelated across domains. Coincidently, the joint assessment argues for indeterminacy in the Strategy Bridge article entitled “The Integrated Joint Force: A Lethal Solution for Ensuring Military Preeminence” . The authors assert, “The U.S. needs to deploy an integrated joint force capable of responding rapidly to seize the initiative, control the narrative, and reestablish order regardless of the threat or situation posed by its adversaries.” Recall that in quantum physics particle positions are described by their movement during instants of excitations, not every instant, and these excitations occur when particles interact with something. Political warfare by nature is uncertain and generates unintended consequences and unpredictable outcomes.

Uncertainty, ambiguity and interactions below the threshold of conventional war are characteristics of the Gray Zone. The Gray Zone is a field where political, informational, military, and economic interactions occur. Military, non-military, territorial defense, and/or protected coercive interactions occur to degrade joint force power projection advantages and further political ends. These are the excited states from quantum field theory and involve granular narratives, geo-economic manipulation, integrated air and ground defense systems, and subversive interactions.

Other quantum mechanics theories state variables like acceleration and force have spectrums like light, and spectrum values are predicted in the form of probability waves based on interactions. The same phenomenon occurs throughout the Gray Zone from the potential military threat to military conflict spectrum. Gray Zone strategies involve combining diverse conflicts or relational aspects that exhibit common complex system characteristics like shared ethnic or religious correlations. This does not imply a single solution, but highlights combination and addition of unique aspects to obtain desired effects or likelihood an event will occur (probability).

Next, boundaries are relative and detrimental to developing unbounded grand strategy to enable political ends. Additionally, geopolitical competitors develop strategies across the continuum of conflict relative to perceived rival advantages and national interests without incurring the costs of a full-scale military operation. In this context, the continuum of conflict refers to competition short of conflict, conflict, and return to competition.


Part I of this narrative applies quantum field theory to the “extended battlefield” where joint and multinational forces are quantum fields prone to excitable states. Multi-domain battle and gray zone phenomena are these states in the extended battle and political warfare fields. Having laid out these fundamental concepts, Part II will show how together they form the competition field. This field is the fundamental starting point for strategy design and systems of systems thinking.

Victor R. Morris is an irregular warfare and threat mitigation instructor at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Germany. He has conducted partnered training in sixteen European nations, with four NATO centers of excellence, and at the NATO Joint Warfare Center. A civilian contractor and former U.S. Army officer, he has experience in both capacities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

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