Economics of Warfare 11

Examining the eleventh lecture from Professor Michael Spagat’s Economics of Warfare course that he gives at Royal Holloway University. It is posted on his blog Wars, Numbers and Human Losses at:

This lecture discusses analysis of cross-country datasets, correlations, and then discussed some problems with statistical testing in general. This is worth reading carefully in its entirety.

The datasets they are discussing in the first slides I assume are from the “correlates of war” (COW) dataset, a publically available data set that many in academia have used. We have never used it. When we created the MISS (Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets…now called DISS), we built them entirely from our own research.

He then looks at two different studies on the probability of conflict, one done by Fearon and Laitin (slide 5) and the other done by Collier and Hoeffler (slide 15). Even though they are based upon the same data, they produced somewhat different results (all, of course, to 90% or 95% confidence intervals). He summarizes the conclusions of the Fearon and Laitin study on slides 8 and 10 and the conclusions to the Collier and Hoeffler study on slides 16 and 18. It is worth comparing the differences.

Throughout this paper, he starts giving warnings about the problems with this analysis. First he discusses “story lines” on slides 12 – 14. This is important. One you have a correlation….then most people are clever enough to be able to explain why such a correlation exists, be it right or wrong.

But the part of the lecture that hit home with me starts with the statement that “These reported results may just have come out out that way by luck or chance.” (slide 20). The cartoon on slide 22 makes the point. Basically, if you test 20 different things, even if they are completely irrelevant, even to a 95% confidence interval; then with average luck you will get at least one correlation! Test enough things, and you will get a correlation. By the same token, add enough variables to your regression model and you will get a fit.

This is done all the time and I did discuss it in America’s Modern Wars, page 73-75 on a study done by CAA (Center for Army Analysis) in 2009 using our MISS. As I note in the book they identified 34 variables and then built a regression model based upon 11 of them and then boiled the final model down to four: 1) Number of Red Factions, 2) Counterinsurgent per Insurgent Ratio (Peak), 3) Counterinsurgent Developed Nation and 4) Political Concept. As their model was based on force ratio and political concept, it was similar to my regression model, except they added two more variables to the model. The problem is that one of those variables, “Number of Red Factions,” should not have been added. As I note in my book “In our original research we did not systematically and rigorously establish a count of factions for insurgency…. It should not have been used as a variable without further research.”

To continue from my book: “My fear it that this variable (“number of factions”) worked in their regression model because it was helping to shape the curve even though there is not a clear cause-and-effect relationship here. Also, because of the methodology they choose, which was establishing variables based upon statistical significance, as opposed to there being a solid theoretical basis for it, then I believe that statistically there should be around two ‘false’ correlations among those 11 variables.”

I end up concluding: “My natural tendency as a modeler was to make sure I had clearly identified cause-and-effect relationships before I moved forward. That is why my approach starts simply (two variables) and moves forward from there. It is also why I independently examined each possible variable in some depth. In addition, I reviewed and examined a range of theorists before proceeding (see Chapter Seventeen). I have had the experience of dumping lots of variables into a regression model, and lo-and-behold, something fits. It is important to make sure you have clearly established cause-and-effect.”

Anyhow, what Dr. Spagat warns of on slide 22 is what some people are actually doing. It is not a mistake made by grad students, but a mistake that a professional DOD analytical organization has done.

Enough preaching; the link to the lecture is here:


Hybrid Warfare At Sea

“Who are you calling junk?”

During his Senate confirmation hearing on January 11th, Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson stated that the Trump administration is “going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building [in the South China Sea] stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.” Chinese state-run media outlets responded with vows to counter any attempts by the United States to block access to the artificial islands China is constructing in the South China Sea.

The possibility of a clash between the U.S. and China in the Western Pacific has been the subject of discussion and analysis for several years now. In the current issue of the U.S. Naval Institute’s journal, Proceedings, Admiral James Stavridis (ret.) takes a look at the potential challenges posed by maritime “hybrid warfare” capabilities. Noting that current assessments of hybrid war focus overwhelmingly on land warfare, he points out that both China and Iran have demonstrated the ability to apply asymmetrical approaches to sea warfare as well.

Stavridis outlines what a hybrid war at sea might look like.

Given its need to appear somewhat ambiguous to outside observers, maritime hybrid warfare generally will be conducted in the coastal waters of the littorals. Instead of using force directly from identifiable “gray hull” navy platforms, hybrid warfare will feature the use of both civilian vessels (tramp steamers, large fishing vessels, light coastal tankers, small fast craft, and even “low slow” skiffs with outboard engines). It also will be conducted and likely command-and-controlled from so-called white hulls assigned to the coast guards of given nations. Both the Chinese and the Iranians are using their coast guards (and revolutionary guards in the case of Iran) in this fashion in the South China Sea and Arabian Gulf, respectively.

Extrapolating from this, Stavridis argues that

The United States must start to consider its responses to hybrid warfare at sea, which may require developing new tactics and technologies, working closely with allies and partners, and building U.S. hybrid capability to counter its deployment by other nations and eventually transnational actors.

In addition, the United States should be considering the role of naval forces—Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and even Merchant Marine—in helping counter hybrid attacks ashore. Many of the capabilities developed to conduct and counter hybrid warfare at sea could be employed in the littoral, coastal regions, and eventually deep inland. This might be called “hybrid warfare from the sea,” and certainly is a potential part of maritime hybrid warfare.

He makes several specific recommendations:

  • “The most important thing we can do today is to study, analyze, and fully understand how the ideas of hybrid warfare as practiced today will both translate to the maritime sphere and develop there in lethal ways.”
  • Work with Coalition Partners and “encourage cross talk, exchange best practices, and share intelligence on this emerging concern.”
  • Train and exercise against maritime hybrid warfare. “The ambiguity of these scenarios will require education and training in rules of engagement, operating our conventional systems against unconventional forces at sea, and learning to act more like a network at sea in the littoral.”
  • Leverage the U.S. Coast Guard. “Involving it in a leadership role in combating maritime hybrid warfare is crucial. Many of its systems and platforms already contain the technologies to counter maritime hybrid warfare techniques, and its ethos and fighting spirit applied in this tactical arena would be powerful.”

The article goes into much more depth on these points. It is a good starting point for considering what a another potential area of future global competition may look like.

Trevor Dupuy and Historical Trends Related to Weapon Lethality

There appears to be renewed interest in U.S. Army circles in Trevor Dupuy’s theory of a historical relationship between increasing weapon lethality, declining casualty rates, and greater dispersion on the battlefield. A recent article by Army officer and strategist Aaron Bazin, “Seven Charts That Help Explain American War” at The Strategy Bridge, used a composite version of two of Dupuy’s charts to explain the American military’s attraction to technology. (The graphic in Bazin’s article originated in a 2009 Australian Army doctrinal white paper, “Army’s Future Land Operating Concept,” which evidently did not cite Dupuy as the original source for the charts or the associated concepts.)

John McRea, like Bazin a U.S. Army officer, and a founding member of The Military Writer’s Guild, reposted Dupuy’s graphic in a blog post entitled “Outrageous Fortune: Spears and Arrows,” examining tactical and economic considerations in the use of asymmetrical technologies in warfare.

Dr. Conrad Crane, Chief of Historical Services for the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center at the Army War College, also referenced Dupuy’s concepts in his look at human performance requirements, “The Future Soldier: Alone in a Crowd,” at War on the Rocks.

Dupuy originally developed his theory based on research and analysis undertaken by the Historical Evaluation and Research Organization (HERO) in 1964, for a study he directed, “Historical Trends Related to Weapon Lethality.” (Annex I, Annex II, Annex III). HERO had been contracted by the Advanced Tactics Project (AVTAC) of the U.S. Army Combat Developments Command, to provide unclassified support for Project OREGON TRAIL, a series of 45 classified studies of tactical nuclear weapons, tactics, and organization, which took 18 months to complete.

AVTAC asked HERO “to identify and analyze critical relationships and the cause-effect aspects of major advances in the lethality of weapons and associated changes in tactics and organization” from the Roman Era to the present. HERO’s study itself was a group project, incorporating 58 case studies from 21 authors, including such scholars as Gunther E. Rothenberg, Samuel P. Huntington, S.L.A. Marshall, R. Ernest Dupuy, Grace P. Hayes, Louis Morton, Peter Paret, Stefan T. Possony, and Theodore Ropp.

Dupuy synthesized and analyzed these case studies for the HERO study’s final report. He described what he was seeking to establish in his 1979 book, Numbers, Predictions and War: Using History to Evaluate Combat Factors and Predict the Outcome of Battles.

If the numbers of military history mean anything, it appears self-evident that there must be some kind of relationship between the quantities of weapons employed by opposing forces in combat, and the number of casualties suffered by each side. It also seems fairly obvious that some weapons are likely to cause more casualties than others, and that the effectiveness of weapons will depend upon their ability to reach their targets. So it becomes clear that the relationship of weapons to casualties is not quite the simple matter of comparing numbers to numbers. To compare weapons to casualties it is necessary to know not only the numbers of weapons, but also how many there are of each different type, and how effective or lethal each of these is.

The historical relationship between lethality, casualties, and dispersion that Dupuy deduced in this study provided the basis for his subsequent quest to establish an empirically-based, overarching theory of combat, which he articulated through his Quantified Judgement Model. Dupuy refined and updated the analysis from the 1964 HERO study in his 1980 book, The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare.

Gas Wars

By the way, there is still a very complex conflict in Ukraine. This article does a nice job of summarizing the problem: Russia is Hoping to Freeze Ukraine into Submission

Some major points:

  1. Ukraine has avoided using Russian natural gas for the last two years
  2. It is now a particularly cold winter there and it appears that they will run out of their own gas by the end of February or mid-March.
  3. Therefore, they will probably have to buy from Russia…but….
  4. They owe Russia $3 Billion that Russia loaned to the ousted Yanukovich regime.
  5. Also Gazprom is claiming from Ukraine:
    1. $32 billion for breach of contract lawsuit.
    2. $5.3 billion owed for a take-or-pay clause in their contract.
    3. Bills for sending gas to the separatist regions of Lugansk and Donetsk.
  6. Ukraine is paid $2 billion a year for the transit of Russian natural gas to the EU.

Russia is trying to bill Ukraine for gas delivered to a separatist movement that Russia supported. I am surprised they are not charging them for building the bridge across the Kerch Strait to Crimea (expected to be operational in 2019).

Daesh Claims First Combat Kill Of A Russian T-90 Tank

Russian-made T-90A allegedly destroyed by Daesh in northwest Syria, January 2017.

Earlier this week, Björn Stritzel, a journalist who covers the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa for the German newspaper Bild, reported via Twitter that Daesh claimed to have destroyed a Russian T-90A tank near the town of Khanaser in northwest Syria. The claim, which has not been officially confirmed, was made through the release of a Daesh propaganda video which shows what appears to be a T-90A with a fire steadily burning from the commander’s cuppola and machine gun ammunition “cooking off” in the flames. (Video at the link below.)

The tank was alleged to have been struck by an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), though by which type of missile and the circumstances are as yet unknown.T-90s are equipped with the latest generation of reactive armor and active protection systems.

The vehicle is flying a flag attributed to the Fatima Brigade (Liwa Fatemiyoun), a unit recruited from Afghan Shi’a but trained and equipped by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The Fatima Brigade was alleged to have been sent to fight in Syria in 2014, although Iran denies this. It is believed that Russia and Iran have equipped non-Syrian loyalist fighters with their latest generation of weapons, including the T-90A.

UPDATE: Twitter user Jonh pointed out that the T-90A is not the same as the newer T-14 Armata. Jonh is correct and the post has been edited to correct the mistake. I regret any confusion. — Shawn Woodford

U.S. Defense Budget

By the way, the defense budget is supposed to be going up (maybe). Now, it has been in decline a while. We were told by a U.S. Army director back in 2009 not to expect continued support because of upcoming budget cuts. This was before sequestration. Sequestration basically shrunk the Army’s budget by 5% or so every year for three years running (2013-2015). It was “lifted” for 2016, but this only meant that the budget did not decline further. The U.S. Army went from a high of around 570,000 troops in 2010 to around 475,000 troops now. They were preparing to continue drawing down to around 450,000 troops.

Now, budget is supposed to be increasing. The Army is supposed to grow to 540,000 troops, the navy from a 275-ship navy to a 355-ship navy and our nuclear forces are supposed to be upgraded. So far the only thing slated for reduction is the F-35 (maybe). The U.S. is still running a deficit and certainly tax increases are not on the horizon; in fact they are talking about tax cuts. Hard to know how this is going to all balance out.

The defense budget authorized for FY2017 is 618.7 billion. We are already four months into that fiscal year. It was 604.2 authorized in 2016.

The nominated head of OMB (Office of Management and Budget) is a tea-party fiscal conservative: mulvaney-defense-budget

P.S. The defense budget basically increased every year from 1996 to 2008, going from 266 billion (16.8% of the total government budget) to 696 billion (20.9% of total government budget). In was 698 in 2009, 721 in 2010, 717 in 2001, 681 in 2012, 610 in 2013, 614 in 2014 and 637 in 2015 (16.0% of total government budget). This is not inflation adjust dollars: Military_budget_of_the_United_States

P.P.S.: According to one source the size of the United States Army in 2010 was 566,045 in 2010: us-military-personnel-1954-2014


South China Sea

The South China Sea has moved front-and-center as a major issue (along with the one China policy): prevent-china-taking-over-territory

Just a few notes:

  1. Tillerson’s statement on Jan. 11 during confirmation hearings was “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”
  2. Presidential spokesman Sean Spicer said yesterday “The U.S. is going to make sure that we protect our interests there.”
  3. And from the article: “Aides have said that Trump plans a major naval build-up in East Asia to counter China’s rise.”

Not sure what the “clear signal” is and how confrontational this will be. Right now, it is just talk. But, does this mean that the Trump administration is intending to expand the navy?

East Mosul Taken

By the way, amid all the discussion in the news on crowd sizes, Eastern Mosul fell, sort of. Article here: Iraqi-forces-complete-control-eastern-mosul


  1. “The deputy parliament speaker [of Iraq] announced the capture of the east of the city.”
  2. “Mopping-up operations were still under way on Monday….”
  3. “The west side of Mosul could prove more complicated to take than the east as it is crisscrossed by streets too narrow for armored vehicles.”
  4. “Iraq forces estimated the number of militants inside the city at 5,000 to 6,000 at the start of operations three months ago, and says 3,300 have been killed in the fighting since.”
  5. Took 100 days from the start of the campaign. Two weeks to get there and twelve weeks to clear the east side of the city.

An Additional Comment on the Link Between Operations, Strategy, and Policy In Russian Hybrid Warfare

A conclusion that Fox alluded to in his article, but did not state explicitly, is that in a sense, the Russians “held back” in the design of their operations against the Ukrainians. It appears quite clear that the force multipliers derived from the battalion tactical groups, drone-enabled recon-strike model, and cyber and information operations capabilities generated more than enough combat power for the Russians to decisively defeat the Ukrainian Army in a larger “blitzkrieg”-style invasion and occupy most, if not all, of the country, if they had chosen to do so.

This clearly is not the desired political goal of the Russian government, however. Instead, the Russian General Staff carefully crafted a military strategy to fulfill more limited political goals, and creatively designed their operations to make full use of their tactical capabilities in support of that strategy.

This successful Clausewitizan calibration of policy, strategy, operations, and tactics by the Russians in Ukraine and Syria should give the U.S. real concern, since itself does not currently seem capable of a similar level of coordination or finesse. Now, the Russian achievements against the relatively hapless Ukrainians, or in Syria, where the ultimate outcome remains very much indeterminate, are no guarantee of future success against more capable and well-resourced opponents. However, it does demonstrate what can be achieved with a relatively weak strategic hand to play through a clear unity of political purpose and military means. This has not been the U.S.’s strong suit historically, and it is unclear at this juncture whether that will change under the incoming Trump administration.

Linking Operations, Strategy, and Policy In Russian Hybrid Warfare

Map depicting the encirclement and withdrawal of Ukrainian forces in the Debaltseve area, 14 January – 20 February 2015 [Map by Goran tek-en (Wikipedia)]

U.S. Army Major Amos Fox, who is quickly establishing himself as one of the brighter sparks analyzing the contemporary Russian way of land warfare, has a new article, “The Russian–Ukrainian War: Understanding the Dust Clouds on the Battlefield,” published by West Point’s Modern War Institute. In it he assesses the linkage between Russian land warfare operations, strategy, and policy.

In Fox’s analysis, despite the decisive advantages afforded to the Russian Army and their Ukrainian Separatist proxies through “the employment of the semi-autonomous battalion tactical group, and a reconnaissance-strike model that tightly couples drones to strike assets, hastening the speed at which overwhelming firepower is available to support tactical commanders,” the actual operations executed by these forces should be characterized as classic sieges, as opposed to decisive operational maneuver.

Fox details three operations employing this approach – tactical combat overmatch enabling envelopment and the subsequent application of steady pressure – that produced military success leading directly to political results advantageous to the Russian government.

According to Fox, the military strategy of siege operations effectively enabled the limited political goals of the Russian government.

What explains Russia’s evident preference for the siege? Would it not make more sense to quickly annihilate the Ukrainians? Perhaps. However, the siege’s benefit is its ability to transfer military power into political progress, while obfuscating the associated costs. A rapid, violent, decisive victory in which hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers are killed in a matter of days is counterproductive to Russia’s political goals, whereas the incremental use of violence over time accomplishes the same objectives with less disturbance to the international community.

Fox believes that this same operational concept was applied by the Syrian Army and its Russian enablers to capture the city of Aleppo last month, albeit with somewhat different tactics, such as substituting airstrikes for long-range artillery and rockets.

He advises that the U.S. would be prudent to plan for and prepare to face the new Russian land warfare capabilities.

These new features of Russian warfare—and an understanding of them in the context of that warfare’s very conventional character—should inform US planning. The contemporary Russian army is combat-experienced in combined arms maneuver at all echelons of command, a skill that the US Army is still working to recover after well over a decade of counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This fact could prove troublesome if Russia elects to push further in Europe, infringing upon NATO partners, or if US and Russian interests continue to collide in areas like Syria. Preparing to combat Russian cyber threats or hybrid tactics is important. But the lesson from Ukraine is clear: It is equally vital to train and equip US forces to counter the type of conventional capabilities Russia has demonstrated in Ukraine.

UPDATE: An Additional Comment on the Link Between Operations, Strategy, and Policy In Russian Hybrid Warfare