Understanding Dupuy – Dr. Shawn R. Woodford

The final presentation of the day was Understanding Dupuy: Trevor N. Dupuy’s Theory of Combat by Dr. Shawn R. Woodford. The room was aware enough to restart the zoom recording after cutting Jim Storr’s previous presentation short, so we got this one fully recorded. It was kept short as it was getting late the in the day. 

The presentation is here: (9) Understanding Dupuy: Woodford – YouTube

The slides for the presentation are provided here: Presentations from HAAC – TND’s Theory of Combat | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Two other TMCI Reports

The Military Conflict Institute shut down early 2020. An associate of mine has been trying to chase down all of their work.

There are these three reports:

The Three TMCI Reports | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

There was this brief 20-page paper written by the late Roger Mickelson: /tardir/tiffs/a396349.tiff (dtic.mil)

One notes that Roger Mickelson titled this report “War on Terrorists” vice the “War on Terrorism.”

The fifth report or book is not known to me. Is it “The Classics of Military Thought: Appreciations and Agenda.” published in 1985 by John E. Tashjean under the name of the Military Conflict Institute. John Tashjean had written a number of articles on Clausewitz from 1979-1992.

The classics of military thought : apreciations and agenda (Book, 1985) [WorldCat.org]

There is a copy at University of Oxford, only some 3,600 miles from here. Apparently no one else on this planet has a copy. Could any of our UK readers by so kind as to scare up a hard or electronic copy of this?


P.S.: TMCI is officially closing this year | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)


The Three TMCI Reports

The Military Conflict Institute (TMCI) decided after a decade of existence that maybe the best use of their time was to write some papers and reports. So this they did over the years, all volunteer (unfunded) work done by some of the “graybeards” of the operations research and combat analysis community.

These three reports are provided here and will be available for as long as this blog exists:

First is called Anatomy of a Combat Model and was written in May 1995 by Lawrence J. Low. It was “prepared as part of a long-term contribution to the field.” It is 81 pages.:

Anatomy of a Combat Model (TMCI)

The second paper was from 1997 and is called A Concise Theory of Combat. It was written by Edmund L. DuBois, Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., and Lawrence J. Low “…in collaboration with The Military Conflict Institute.” It is 172 pages.

A Concise Theory of Combat (TMCI)

The third paper was from 2013 and is called A Philosophy of War Its primary authors were Frank Benedict, Rosser Bobbitt, Ted DuBois, Chuck Hawkins, John Honig, Wayne Hughes, John McIver, Roger Mickelson, Clayton Newell, Itzhak Ravid, Russ Vane, Gene Visco and Greg Wilcox. It is 245 pages.

A Philosophy of War (TMCI)

I would also argue that the books Understanding War and Attrition by Trevor Dupuy and my books America’s Modern Wars and War by Numbers are also very much in line with the original mission of TMCI , which Trevor Dupuy co-founded.

What Did James Mattis Mean by “Lethality?”

Then-Lt. Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command, speaks to Marines with Marine Wing Support Group 27, in Al Asad, Iraq, in May 2006. [Photo: Cpl. Zachary Dyer]

Ever since publication of the U.S. National Defense Strategy by then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s Defense Department in early 2018 made the term “lethality” a foundational principle, there has been an open-ended discussion as to what the term actually means.

In his recent memoir, co-written with Bing West, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead (Random House, 2019), Mattis offered his own definition of lethality. Sort of.

At the beginning of Chapter 17 (pages 235-236), he wrote (emphasis added):


History presents many examples of militaries that forgot that their purpose was to fight and win. So long as we live in an imperfect world, one containing enemies of democracy, we will need a military strictly committed to combat-effectiveness. Our liberal democracy must be protected by a bodyguard of lethal warriors, organized, trained, and equipped to dominate in battle.

The need for lethality must be the measuring stick against which we evaluate the efficacy of our military. By aligning the entire military enterprise—recruiting, training, educating, equipping, and promoting—to the goal of compounding lethality, we best deter adversaries, or if conflict occurs, win at lowest cost to our troops’ lives. …

While not defining lethality explicitly, it would appear that Mattis equates it with “combat-effectiveness,” which he also does not explicitly define, but seems to mean as the ability “to dominate in battle.” It would seem that Mattis understands lethality not as the destructive quality of a weapon or weapon system, but as the performance of troops in combat.

More than once he also refers to lethality as a metric, which suggests that it can be quantified and measured, perhaps in terms of organization, training, and equipment. It is likely Mattis would object to that interpretation, however, given his hostility to Effects Based Operations (EBO), as implemented by U.S. Joint Forces Command, before he banned the concept from joint doctrine in 2008, as he related on pages 179-181 in Call Sign Chaos.

Reviews of NPW

I was just surfing Amazon.com yesterday and noticed that Trevor Dupuy’s book Numbers, Predictions and Wars had 8 reviews. This is odd as I think the book went out of print before Amazon.com existed. The version they were reviewing was the hardcover from 1979. All the reviews were from 2012-2018, all four and five stars. Interesting. Even I don’t have a copy of the hardback version.

Numbers, Predictions & War

Now, if only people would pay more attention to his greatest work, Understanding War. It only has two reviews.

Understanding War

What Does Lethality Mean In Warfare?

In an insightful essay over at The Strategy Bridge, “Lethality: An Inquiry,” Marine Corps officer Olivia Gerard accomplishes one of the most important, yet most often overlooked, aspects of successfully thinking about and planning for war: questioning a basic assumption. She achieves this by posing a simple question: “What is lethality?”

Gerard notes that the current U.S. National Defense Strategy is predicated on lethality; as it states: “A more lethal, resilient, and rapidly innovating Joint Force, combined with a robust constellation of allies and partners, will sustain American influence and ensure favorable balances of power that safeguard the free and open international order.” She also identifies the linkage in the strategy between lethality and deterrence via a supporting statement from Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan: “Everything we do is geared toward one goal: maximizing lethality. A lethal force is the strongest deterrent to war.”

After pointing out that the strategy does not define the concept of lethality, Gerard responds to Shanahan’s statement by asking “why?”

She uses this as a jumping off point to examine the meaning of lethality in warfare. Starting from the traditional understanding of lethality as a tactical concept, Gerard walks through the way it has been understood historically. From this, she formulates a construct for understanding the relationship between lethality and strategy:

Organizational lethality emerges from tactical lethality that is institutionally codified. Tactical lethality is nested within organizational lethality, which is nested within strategic lethality. Plugging these terms into an implicit calculus, we can rewrite strategic lethality as the efficacy with which we can form intentional deadly relationships towards targets that can be actualized towards political ends.

To this, Gerard appends two interesting caveats: “Notice first that the organizational component becomes implicit. What remains outside, however, is the intention–a meta-intention–to form these potential deadly relationships in the first place.”

It is the second of these caveats—the intent to connect lethality to a strategic end—that informs Gerard’s conclusion. While the National Defense Strategy does not define the term, she observes that by explicitly leveraging the threat to use lethality to bolster deterrence, it supplies the necessary credibility needed to make deterrence viable. “Proclaiming lethality a core tenet, especially in a public strategic document, is the communication of the threat.”

Gerard’s exploration of lethality and her proposed framework for understanding it provide a very useful way of thinking about the way it relates to warfare. It is definitely worth your time to read.

What might be just as interesting, however, are the caveats to her construct because they encompass a lot of what is problematic about the way the U.S. military thinks—explicitly and implicitly—about tactical lethality and how it is codified into concepts of organizational lethality. (While I have touched on some of those already, Gerard gives more to reflect on. More on that later.)

Gerard also references the definition of lethality Trevor Dupuy developed for his 1964 study of historical trends in weapon lethality. While noting that his definition was too narrow for the purposes of her inquiry, the historical relationship between lethality, casualties, and dispersion on the battlefield Dupuy found in that study formed the basis for his subsequent theories of warfare and models of combat. (I will write more about those in the future as well.)

Simpkin on the Long-Term Effects of Firepower Dominance

To follow on my earlier post introducing British military theorist Richard Simpkin’s foresight in detecting trends in 21st Century warfare, I offer this paragraph, which immediately followed the ones I quoted:

Briefly and in the most general terms possible, I suggest that the long-term effect of dominant firepower will be threefold. It will disperse mass in the form of a “net” of small detachments with the dual role of calling down fire and of local quasi-guerrilla action. Because of its low density, the elements of this net will be everywhere and will thus need only the mobility of the boot. It will transfer mass, structurally from the combat arms to the artillery, and in deployment from the direct fire zone (as we now understand it) to the formation and protection of mobile fire bases capable of movement at heavy-track tempo (Chapter 9). Thus the third effect will be to polarise mobility, for the manoeuvre force still required is likely to be based on the rotor. This line of thought is borne out by recent trends in Soviet thinking on the offensive. The concept of an operational manoeuvre group (OMG) which hives off raid forces against C3 and indirect fire resources is giving way to more fluid and discontinuous manoeuvre by task forces (“air-ground assault groups” found by “shock divisions”) directed onto fire bases—again of course with an operational helicopter force superimposed. [Simpkin, Race To The Swift, p. 169]

It seems to me that in the mid-1980s, Simpkin accurately predicted the emergence of modern anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) defensive systems with reasonable accuracy, as well the evolving thinking on the part of the U.S. military as to how to operate against them.

Simpkin’s vision of task forces (more closely resembling Russian/Soviet OMGs than rotary wing “air-ground assault groups” operational forces, however) employing “fluid and discontinuous manoeuvre” at operational depths to attack long-range precision firebases appears similar to emerging Army thinking about future multidomain operations. (It’s likely that Douglas MacGregor’s Reconnaissance Strike Group concept more closely fits that bill.)

One thing he missed on was his belief that rotary wing helicopter combat forces would supplant armored forces as the primary deep operations combat arm. However, there is the potential possibility that drone swarms might conceivably take the place in Simpkin’s operational construct that he allotted to heliborne forces. Drones have two primary advantages over manned helicopters: they are far cheaper and they are far less vulnerable to enemy fires. With their unique capacity to blend mass and fires, drones could conceivably form the deep strike operational hammer that Simpkin saw rotary wing forces providing.

Just as interesting was Simpkin’s anticipation of the growing importance of information and electronic warfare in these environments. More on that later.

Richard Simpkin on 21st Century Trends in Mass and Firepower

Anvil of “troops” vs. anvil of fire. (Richard Simpkin, Race To The Swift: Thoughts on Twenty-First Century Warfare, Brassey’s: London, 1985, p. 51)

For my money, one of the most underrated analysts and theorists of modern warfare was the late Brigadier Richard Simpkin. A retired British Army World War II veteran, Simpkin helped design the Chieftan tank in the 60s and 70s. He is best known for his series of books analyzing Soviet and Western military theory and doctrine. His magnum opus was Race To The Swift: Thoughts on Twenty-First Century Warfare, published in 1985. A brilliant blend of military history, insightful analysis of tactics and technology as well as operations and strategy, and Simpkin’s idiosyncratic wit, the observations in Race To The Swift are becoming more prescient by the year.

Some of Simpkin’s analysis has not aged well, such as the focus on the NATO/Soviet confrontation in Central Europe, and a bold prediction that rotary wing combat forces would eventually supplant tanks as the primary combat arm. However, it would be difficult to find a better historical review of the role of armored forces in modern warfare and how trends in technology, tactics, and doctrine are interacting with strategy, policy, and politics to change the character of warfare in the 21st Century.

To follow on my previous post on the interchangeability of fire (which I gleaned from Simpkin, of course), I offer this nugget on how increasing weapons lethality would affect 21st Century warfare, written from the perspective of the mid 1980s:

While accidents of ground will always provide some kind of cover, the effect of modern firepower on land force tactics is equally revolutionary. Just as we saw in Part 2 how the rotary wing may well turn force structures inside out, firepower is already turning tactical concepts inside out, by replacing the anvil of troops with an anvil of fire (Fig. 5, page 51)*. The use of combat troops at high density to hold ground or to seize it is already likely to prove highly costly, and may soon become wholly unprofitable. The interesting question is what effect the dominance of firepower will have at operational level.

One school of thought, to which many defence academics on both sides of the Atlantic subscribe, is that it will reduce mobility and bring about a return to positional warfare. The opposite view is that it will put a premium on elusiveness, increasing mobility and reducing mass. On analysis, both these opinions appear rather simplistic, mainly because they ignore the interchangeability of troops and fire…—in other words the equivalence or complementarity of the movement of troops and the massing of fire. They also underrate the part played by manned and unmanned surveillance, and by communication. Another factor, little understood by soldiers and widely ignored, is the weight of fire a modern fast jet in its strike configuration, flying a lo-lo-lo profile, can put down very rapidly wherever required. With modern artillery and air support, a pair of eyes backed up by an unjammable radio and perhaps a thermal imager becomes the equivalent of at least a (company) combat team, perhaps a battle group. [Simpkin, Race To The Swift, pp. 168-169]

Sound familiar? I will return to Simpkin’s insights in future posts, but I suggest you all snatch up a copy of Race To The Swift for yourselves.

* See above.

The Origins Of The U.S. Army’s Concept Of Combat Power

The U.S. Army’s concept of combat power can be traced back to the thinking of British theorist J.F.C. Fuller, who collected his lectures and thoughts into the book, The Foundations of the Science of War (1926).

In a previous post, I critiqued the existing U.S. Army doctrinal method for calculating combat power. The ideas associated with the term “combat power” have been a part of U.S Army doctrine since the 1920s. However, the Army did not specifically define what combat power actually meant until the 1982 edition of FM 100-5 Operations, which introduced the AirLand Battle concept. So where did the Army’s notion of the concept originate? This post will trace the way it has been addressed in the capstone Field Manual (FM) 100-5 Operations series.

As then-U.S. Army Major David Boslego explained in a 1995 School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) thesis[1], the Army’s original idea of combat power most likely derived from the work of British military theorist J.F.C. Fuller. In the late 1910s and early 1920s, Fuller articulated the first modern definitions of the principles of war, which he developed from his conception of force on the battlefield as something more than just the tangible effects of shock and firepower. Fuller’s principles were adopted in the 1920 edition of the British Army Field Service Regulations (FSR), which was the likely vector of influence on the U.S. Army’s 1923 FSR. While the term “combat power” does not appear in the 1923 FSR, the influence of Fullerian thinking is evident.

The first use of the phrase itself by the Army can be found in the 1939 edition of FM 100-5 Tentative Field Service Regulations, Operations, which replaced and updated the 1923 FSR. It appears just twice and was not explicitly defined in the text. As Boslego noted, however, even then the use of the term

highlighted a holistic view of combat power. This power was the sum of all factors which ultimately affected the ability of the soldiers to accomplish the mission. Interestingly, the authors of the 1939 edition did not focus solely on the physical objective of destroying the enemy. Instead, they sought to break the enemy’s power of resistance which connotes moral as well as physical factors.

This basic, implied definition of combat power as a combination of interconnected tangible physical and intangible moral factors could be found in all successive editions of FM 100-5 through 1968. The type and character of the factors comprising combat power evolved along with the Army’s experience of combat through this period, however. In addition to leadership, mobility, and firepower, the 1941 edition of FM 100-5 included “better armaments and equipment,” which reflected the Army’s initial impressions of the early “blitzkrieg” battles of World War II.

From World War II Through Korea

While FM 100-5 (1944) and  FM 100-5 (1949) made no real changes with respect to describing combat power, the 1954 edition introduced significant new ideas in the wake of major combat operations in Korea, albeit still without actually defining the term. As with its predecessors, FM 100-5 (1954) posited combat power as a combination of firepower, maneuver, and leadership. For the first time, it defined the principles of mass, unity of command, maneuver, and surprise in terms of combat power. It linked the principle of the offensive, “only offensive action achieves decisive results,” with the enduring dictum that “offensive action requires the concentration of superior combat power at the decisive point and time.”

Boslego credited the authors of FM 100-5 (1954) with recognizing the non-linear nature of warfare and advising commanders to take a holistic perspective. He observed that they introduced the subtle but important understanding of combat power not as a fixed value, but as something relative and interactive between two forces in battle. Any calculation of combat power would be valid only in relation to the opposing combat force. “Relative combat power is dynamic and can be directly influenced by opposing commanders. It therefore must be analyzed by the commander in its potential relation to all other factors.” One of the fundamental ways a commander could shift the balance of combat power against an enemy was through maneuver: “Maneuver must be used to alter the relative combat power of military forces.”

[As I mentioned in a previous post, Trevor Dupuy considered FM 100-5 (1954)’s list and definitions of the principles of war to be the best version.]

Into the “Pentomic Era”

The 1962 edition of FM 100-5 supplied a general definition of combat power that articulated the way the Army had been thinking about it since 1939.

Combat power is a combination of the physical means available to a commander and the moral strength of his command. It is significant only in relation to the combat power of the opposing forces. In applying the principles of war, the development and application of combat power are essential to decisive results.

It further refined the elements of combat power by redefining the principles of economy of force and security in terms of it as well.

By the early 1960s, however, the Army’s thinking about force on the battlefield was dominated by the prospect of the use of nuclear weapons. As Boslego noted, both FM 100-5 (1962) and FM 100-5 (1968)

dwelt heavily on the importance of dispersing forces to prevent major losses from a single nuclear strike, being highly mobile to mass at decisive points and being flexible in adjusting forces to the current situation. The terms dispersion, flexibility, and mobility were repeated so frequently in speeches, articles, and congressional testimony, that…they became a mantra. As a result, there was a lack of rigor in the Army concerning what they meant in general and how they would be applied on the tactical battlefield in particular.

The only change the 1968 edition made was to expand the elements of combat power to include “firepower, mobility, communications, condition of equipment, and status of supply,” which presaged an increasing focus on the technological aspects of combat and warfare.

The first major modification in the way the Army thought about combat power since before World War II was reflected in FM 100-5 (1976). These changes in turn prompted a significant reevaluation of the concept by then-U.S. Army Major Huba Wass de Czege. I will tackle how this resulted in the way combat power was redefined in the 1982 edition of FM 100-5 in a future post.


[1] David V. Boslego, “The Relationship of Information to the Relative Combat Power Model in Force XXI Engagements,” School of Advanced Military Studies Monograph, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 1995.