Validating A Combat Model

The question of validating combat models—“To confirm or prove that the output or outputs of a model are consistent with the real-world functioning or operation of the process, procedure, or activity which the model is intended to represent or replicate”—as Trevor Dupuy put it, has taken up a lot of space on the TDI blog this year. What this discussion did not address is what an effort to validate a combat model actually looks like. This will be the first in a series of posts that will do exactly that.

Under the guidance of Christopher A. Lawrence, TDI undertook a battalion-level validation of Dupuy’s Tactical Numerical Deterministic Model (TNDM) in late 1996. This effort tested the model against 76 engagements from World War I, World War II, and the post-1945 world including Vietnam, the Arab-Israeli Wars, the Falklands War, Angola, Nicaragua, etc. It was probably one of the more independent and better-documented validations of a casualty estimation methodology that has ever been conducted to date, in that:

  • The data was independently assembled (assembled for other purposes before the validation) by a number of different historians.
  • There were no calibration runs or adjustments made to the model before the test.
  • The data included a wide range of material from different conflicts and times (from 1918 to 1983).
  • The validation runs were conducted independently (Susan Rich conducted the validation runs, while Christopher A. Lawrence evaluated them).
  • The results of the validation were fully published.
  • The people conducting the validation were independent, in the sense that:

a) there was no contract, management, or agency requesting the validation;
b) none of the validators had previously been involved in designing the model, and had only very limited experience in using it; and
c) the original model designer was not able to oversee or influence the validation. (Dupuy passed away in July 1995 and the validation was conducted in 1996 and 1997.)

The validation was not truly independent, as the model tested was a commercial product of TDI, and the person conducting the test was an employee of the Institute. On the other hand, this was an independent effort in the sense that the effort was employee-initiated and not requested or reviewed by the management of the Institute.

Descriptions and outcomes of this validation effort were first reported in The International TNDM Newsletter. Chris Lawrence also addressed validation of the TNDM in Chapter 19 of War by Numbers (2017).

2 thoughts on “Validating A Combat Model

  1. Yes, we did some analysis at company-level based upon a database we assembled of 98 company-level actions. This work is discussed in Chapter Twelve: The Nature of Lower Levels of Combat in my book War by Numbers.

    Needless to say, the lower you go the more volatile the results. Therefore that database needs to be expanded. So far, we have never received any government funding for our work at battalion and company level. Almost of our battalion and company level work was either self-funded or covered under commercial contracts. Apparently it is not a level of combat that DOD feels a need to examine.

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