Studying The Conduct of War: “We Surely Must Do Better”

"The Ultimate Sand Castle" [Flickr, Jon]

“The Ultimate Sand Castle” [Flickr, Jon]

Chris and I both have discussed previously the apparent waning interest on the part of the Department of Defense to sponsor empirical research studying the basic phenomena of modern warfare. The U.S. government’s boom-or-bust approach to this is long standing, extending back at least to the Vietnam War. Recent criticism of the Department of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment (OSD/NA) is unlikely to help. Established in 1973 and led by the legendary Andrew “Yoda” Marshall until 2015, OSD/NA plays an important role in funding basic research on topics of crucial importance to the art of net assessment. Critics of the office appear to be unaware of just how thin the actual base of empirical knowledge is on the conduct of war. Marshall understood that the net result of a net assessment based mostly on guesswork was likely to be useless, or worse, misleadingly wrong.

This lack of attention to the actual conduct of war extends beyond government sponsored research. In 2004, Stephen Biddle, a professor of political science at George Washington University and a well-regarded defense and foreign policy analyst, published Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle. The book focused on a very basic question: what causes victory and defeat in battle? Using a comparative approach that incorporated quantitative and qualitative methods, he effectively argued that success in contemporary combat was due to the mastery of what he called the “modern system.” (I won’t go into detail here, but I heartily recommend the book to anyone interested in the topic.)

Military Power was critically acclaimed and received multiple awards from academic, foreign policy, military, operations research, and strategic studies organizations. For all the accolades, however, Biddle was quite aware just how neglected the study of war has become in U.S. academic and professional communities. He concluded the book with a very straightforward assessment:

[F]or at least a generation, the study of war’s conduct has fallen between the stools of the institutional structure of modern academia and government. Political scientists often treat war itself as outside their subject matter; while its causes are seen as political and hence legitimate subjects of study, its conduct and outcomes are more often excluded. Since the 1970s, historians have turned away from the conduct of operations to focus on war’s effects on social, economic, and political structures. Military officers have deep subject matter knowledge but are rarely trained as theoreticians and have pressing operational demands on their professional attention. Policy analysts and operations researchers focus so tightly on short-deadline decision analysis (should the government buy the F22 or cancel it? Should the Army have 10 divisions or 8?) that underlying issues of cause and effect are often overlooked—even when the decisions under analysis turn on embedded assumptions about the causes of military outcomes. Operations research has also gradually lost much of its original empirical focus; modeling is now a chiefly deductive undertaking, with little systematic effort to test deductive claims against real world evidence. Over forty years ago, Thomas Schelling and Bernard Brodie argued that without an academic discipline of military science, the study of the conduct of war had languished; the passage of time has done little to overturn their assessment. Yet the subject is simply too important to treat by proxy and assumption on the margins of other questions In the absence of an institutional home for the study of warfare, it is all the more essential that analysts in existing disciplines recognize its importance and take up the business of investigating capability and its causes directly and rigorously. Few subjects are more important—or less studied by theoretical social scientists. With so much at stake, we surely must do better. [pp. 207-208]

Biddle published Military Power 12 years ago, in 2004. Has anything changed substantially? Have we done better?

Scandinavia and the Baltics

During the Cold War Sweden and Finland were two nations that were democratic and independent but were neutral and not part of NATO. Norway and Denmark were a part of NATO since 1949 and the three Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) were part of the Soviet Union since 1940. Now the three Baltic states are part of NATO as of 2004 and Sweden and Finland are establishing ties to NATO.

An article on Finland from Michael Peck:   Finland: America’s Next Top Ally?

Article on Lithuania: Ground Zero in the new Cold War

Entirely irrelevant article on Norway: More than 300 reindeer killed lightning in Norway

Just a little demographics: the population of Scandinavia is around 27 million people, that is 5 million in Norway (which has a per capita income higher than the U.S.), 10 million in Sweden, 5.5 million in Finland, over 5.5 million in Denmark, plus Iceland and the Faroe Islands. The population of the three Baltic states is around 6 million people (and includes four major languages, including Russian). The population of Russia is 144 million (with 5 million in St. Petersburg and less than a million in the Kaliningrad Oblast).

We have sold the rights to use our combat model, the TNDM (Tactical Numerical Deterministic Model) to Sweden and Finland. We have never the rights to use the combat model to a NATO member.

Lawyers at War

There is a new dimension in warfare: legal. For example: Ukraine taking Russia to Court

Ukraine is taking Russia to court in multiple venues. This includes the multiple cases in the International Court of Justice in the Hague and the European Court of Human Rights. Not sure how this all plays out, but in the end, there has to be some additional cost to Russia if the judgments go against it. It is not like the bad old days when one could march into the Rhineland, annex Austria and take the Sudetenland facing only international condemnation. Now one has to deal with law suits!!! I gather these things are going to drag on for years.

U.S. Tank Losses and Crew Casualties in World War II

Attrition-CoverIn his 1990 book Attrition: Forecasting Battle Casualties and Equipment Losses in Modern War, Trevor Dupuy took a look at the relationship between tank losses and crew casualties in the U.S. 1st  Army between June 1944 and May 1945 (pp. 80-81). The data sampled included 797 medium (averaging 5 crewmen) and 101 light (averaging 4 crewmen) tanks. For each tank loss, an average of one crewman was killed or wounded. Interestingly, although gunfire accounted for the most tank and crew casualties, infantry anti-tank rockets (such as the Panzerfaust) inflicted 13% of the tank losses, but caused 21% of the crew losses.

Attrition, Fig. 50Casualties were evenly distributed among the crew positions.

Attrition, Fig. 51Whether or not a destroyed tank caught fire made a big difference for the crew. Only 40% of the tanks in the sample burned, but casualties were distributed evenly between the tanks that burned and those that did not. This was due to the higher casualty rate in the tanks that caught fire (1.28 crew casualties per tank) and those that did not (0.78 casualties per tank).

Attrition, Fig. 52Dupuy found the relationship between tank losses and casualties to be straightforward and obvious. This relationship would not be so simple when viewed at the battalion level. More on that in a future post [Tank Loss Rates in Combat: Then and Now].

Chinese Carriers II

The Type 001A Class carrier:

China’s First Homebuilt Aircraft Carrier

  1. Won’t be operational until 2020 “at the earliest”
  2. Had a ski ramp in the bow (like the Liaoning)
  3. Displacement is 60,000 to 70,000 tons
  4. Estimate to carry around 48 aircraft
    1. 36 J-15 multirole fighters
    2. 12 Z-9 or Z-18 helicopters

Not sure I believe the article in the previous post about China having four more of these ready-for-action by 2025.

The video in the article of the Liaoning landing and launching J-15s is worth watching.

Chinese Carriers

Chinese Carriers

There seems to be some buzz out there about Chinese aircraft carriers:

We usually don’t talk about seapower on this blog but doing a simple count of carriers in the world is useful:

  • Total Carriers (100,000+ tons): 10 (all U.S.)
  • Total Carriers (42,000 – 59,100 tons): 5 (China, Russia, India, U.S., France)
  • Total Carriers (40,000 – 41,649 tons): 8 (all U.S.)
  • Total Carriers (26,000 – 32,800 tons): 7 (Brazil, India, 2 Australian, Italy, Japan, Spain)
  • Total Carriers (11,486 – 21,500 tons): 10 (UK, 3 French, Egypt, 2 Japanese, South Korean, Italy, Thailand)

Summarizing the count (and there is a big difference between a 100,000+ Nimitz class carrier the Thailand’s 11,486 ton Charki Naruebet):

  • U.S. 19 carriers
  • U.S. Allies: 14 carriers
  • Neutrals: 5 carriers (India, Brazil, Egypt, Thailand)
  • Potentially hostile: 2 carriers (China, Russia)
  • Total: 40 carriers

China and Russian both have one carrier of over 55,000 tons. These Kuznetsov class carriers can carry around 36 – 41 aircraft. Each of our ten Nimitz class carriers carry around 80-90 aircraft. Our amphibious assault ships can carry 36 or more aircraft. In all reality, these carriers are their equivalent.

To be commissioned in the future:

  1. 2016    U.S.                 100,000 tons (CVN-78)
  2. 2016    Egypt                 21,300 tons
  3. 2017    Japan                27,000 tons
  4. 2017    UK                     70,600 tons !!!
  5. 2018    India                  40,000 tons
  6. 2018    U.S.                   45,000 tons
  7. 2019    Russian             14,000 tons
  8. 2019    South Korea      18,800 tons
  9. 2020    UK                     70,600 tons   !!!
  10. 2020    China                 65,000 tons   !!!
  11. 2020    U.S.                 100,000 tons (CVN-79)
  12. 2021    Turkey               26,000 tons
  13. 2022    Italy                 TBD
  14. 2025    India                  65,000 tons
  15. 2025    Russia             100,000 tons !!!
  16. 2025    U.S.                 100,000 tons (CVN-80)
  17. 2028    South Korea      30,000 tons
  18. 2029    Brazil               TBD
  19. 2036    South Korea      30,000 tons
  20. TBD    India                   4 carriers at 30,000 tons
  21. TBD    Singapore        TBD
  22. TBD    U.S.                   7 carriers at 100,000 tons  (CVN 81-87)
  23. TBD    U.S.                   9 carriers at 45,693 tons (LHA 8-16)


Now, the first article states that the Chinese plan to have six carriers deployed by 2025. There are only two shown in these listings, the active Liaoning (CV-16) and the newly build CV-001A to be commissioned in 2020. So maybe four more 65,000-ton carriers by 2025?

Needless to say, we are probably not looking at a “carrier gap” anytime in the near or mid-term future.

TMCI Agenda

The Military Conflict Institute (TMCI) latest agenda shows me making two presentations on Monday, October 3: “War by Numbers” and “Data for Wargames.” Dr. Shawn Woodford is presenting on Tuesday with “Studying Combat: Where from Here?”

There are also presentations by Rosser Bobbitt, Roger Mickelson, Gene Visco, John Brinkerhoff, Chuck Hawkins, Alenka Brown, J. Michael Waller, Seyed Rizi, Russ Vane and probably a couple of others.

Contact Roger Mickelson for a copy of the agenda at

Putin Step Backs

This article had appeared on numerous sites as “Putin Steps Back from Brink of War with Ukraine.” The original article is here: After Crimea incursions Russia and Ukraine step back from all out war

A couple of interesting points here:

 1. He actually has a section called “Metrics.” This is so nice to see. It should be required in all articles about military affairs.

2. “Ukraine has about 100,000 troops deployed in its eastern territories.”

3. “This is roughly on par with the 45,000 pro-Russian separatists and regular Russian troops deployed inside eastern Ukraine and the approximately 45,000 Russian troops staged across the border in western Russia.”

4. “Ukraine has about 10,000 troops deployed in southern territories near the Crimean border; Ukrainian officials estimate Russia has about 45,000 military personnel inside occupied Crimea.” (I would note that a significant of these are naval personnel)

Decent article from Mr. Nolan Peterson.

Twitter exchange on Ukraine

There was a brief exchange on twitter concerning the previous article, which I was not involved in. The initial response to my previous post was: “40,000 professional troops w/combat experience could go through go through 200,000 conscripts like a hot knife through butter.” The discussion continued with more agreement than disagreement. But it does bring up the issue of the relative capability of both armies.

We do not how good and capable each army is. Just a few observations

  1. The Russian Army is a mixed professional and conscript army. They have been using conscripts in the fighting in Ukraine (as the mothers of deceased Russian soldiers continue to remind us).
  2. The Ukrainian Army is a mixed professional and conscript army.
  3. Both armies had the same roots, traditions, training and leadership up through 1991. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, both armies were very similar for several years after that and both were in decline.
  4. After a period of serious decay in the 1990s, the Russian Army began to rebuild itself, including revising its doctrine.
  5. At the same time the Ukrainian Army began to rebuild itself, revising itself to some extent based upon U.S. doctrine. It joined NATO’s partnership-for-peace program in 1994.
  6. The Ukrainian Army suspended its active participation in the NATO partnership-for-peace program after President Yanukovich was elected in February 2010. The army was reduced and conscription ended.
  7. Since Yanukovich has left office in February 2014 (for the second time), the Ukrainian Army has reintroduced conscription and have begun the process of rebuilding themselves.
  8. Both armies have shown gaps in discipline and professionalism at times. For example, both armed forces have managed to each shoot down a civilian airliner.

My gut reaction is that the Russian Army may be more professional at this moment in time, but certainly not to a degree that would allow 40,000 to conquer a country protected by 200,000. A ratio of 1-to-5 for conducting a major invasion is rarely seen in history. It was certainly not the case when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

Two more points:

  1. There is invasion and there is occupation. For example, in 2003 the U.S. invaded Iraq, a country of 24 million, with 75,000 troops. The occupation over the next couple of years did not go well, as an insurgency blossomed in that poor security environment. The population of Ukraine is around 42 million.
  2. The best time to invade a country is at the start of the summer (like Germany did with France in 1940 and the Soviet Union in 1941). Waiting until August does not make a lot of sense. Fall operations have been done (World War I started in August 1914 and Poland was invaded in September 1939), but in general, you want the longest period of good campaign weather.

My conclusion is that there is almost no chance of a full-scale Russian invasion at this stage. They would need a couple of hundred thousand troops to do so. They have not massed those forces yet and almost certainly will not this year.

On the other hand, they do have enough force to do something more limited, like take Mariupol, or cause problems around Kharkiv/Kharkov. Kharkiv is the second largest city in Ukraine (population 1.4 million) and has a large Russian-speaking population. It was the failure of the pro-Yanukovich/pro-Russian forces to obtain a foothold there in 2014 that severely limited the effects of the revolt in eastern Ukraine. I suspect that now doing anything significant against Kharkiv would be difficult.

Mariupol seems to the “prize” that everyone is focusing on. Even then, it is only another city (population: around 460,000). While it is the major port for the Donetsk province, it does not connect the Russians overland to Crimea. There is another 250 of so miles to make a land bridge all the way to Crimea. This is a lot of territory to take and a lot of territory to then have to protect.

My tentative conclusion as this this conflict for now is effectively stalemated, with perhaps only Mariupol in the balance. This does not mean it will remain peaceful, as there is regularly violence there, and this does mean that there will not be significant increases in violence, but other than the threat to Mariupol, I do not see any other major territorial shifts occurring between now and next spring (2017).

There is a lot you can do with 40,000 troops…

There is a lot you can do with 40,000 troops, but conquering Ukraine is not one of them.

This article does not state that, but it does lay out an overly frightful scenario: 40000 Russian Troops are Preparing for War in Crimea

The scenario they lay out towards the end of the article is “…a full-scale Russian military offensive likely would aim to seize key military-industrial area such as tank plant at Kharkiv, the missile factory at Dnepropetrovsk, the shipyard at Mykolyev, and the port of Odessa. Russian forces also could drive into Ukraine from the northeast to the outskirts of Kiev and place the capital within artillery range in a bid to force a change of government.”

As the article notes: “Still, Russia does not appear to have all the forces in place for a major military operation…”

So how big is the Ukrainian Army? Well, according to Wikipedia they had 250,000 active armed forces personnel in March 2016. Their source was a Reuters article: Reuters

According to Wikipedia the ground forces were 204,000 in 2009 (Air Force was 36,300 in 2009 and Navy was 6,500 in August 2015).  In October 2013 President Yanukovich ended conscription (both the Ukrainian and Russian armies rely heavily on conscripts), but it was reinstated in 2014 after Russia intervened in Ukraine. As Wikipedia notes in a dated posting: “Due to the reintroduction of conscription, and partial mobilization, Ukraine’s armed forces is expected to nearly double from approximately 130,000 personnel in December 2014 to approximately 250,000 personnel in 2015.”

Anyhow, not the best and most current data, but safe to say that the Ukrainians probably have 200,000 or more ground troops available. Numbers do matter, and while 40,000 Russian troops are certainly a threat to Ukrainian security and stability, it is not a force that ready to march to the outskirts of Kiev or take Odessa. It would require a very serious mobilization effort on the part of Russia to do that.