[In light of the U.S. Army’s recent publication of a history of it’s involvement in Iraq from 2003 to 2011, it may be relevant to re-post this piece from from 29 June 2016.]
As Chris Lawrence mentioned yesterday, retired Brigadier General John Hanley’s review of America’s Modern Wars in the current edition of Military Review concluded by pointing out the importance of a solid empirical basis for staff planning support for reliable military decision-making. This notion seems so obvious as to be a truism, but in reality, the U.S. Army has demonstrated no serious interest in remedying the weaknesses or gaps in the base of knowledge underpinning its basic concepts and doctrine.
In 2012, Major James A. Zanella published a monograph for the School of Advanced Military Studies of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (graduates of which are known informally as “Jedi Knights”), which examined problems the Army has had with estimating force requirements, particularly in recent stability and counterinsurgency efforts.
Historically, the United States military has had difficulty articulating and justifying force requirements to civilian decision makers. Since at least 1975, governmental officials and civilian analysts have consistently criticized the military for inadequate planning and execution. Most recently, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq reinvigorated the debate over the proper identification of force requirements…Because Army planners have failed numerous times to provide force estimates acceptable to the President, the question arises, why are the planning methods inadequate and why have they not been improved?
Zanella surveyed the various available Army planning tools and methodologies for determining force requirements, but found them all either inappropriate or only marginally applicable, or unsupported by any real-world data. He concluded
Considering the limitations of Army force planning methods, it is fair to conclude that Army force estimates have failed to persuade civilian decision-makers because the advice is not supported by a consistent valid method for estimating the force requirements… What is clear is that the current methods have utility when dealing with military situations that mirror the conditions represented by each model. In the contemporary military operating environment, the doctrinal models no longer fit.
Zanella did identify the existence of recent, relevant empirical studies on manpower and counterinsurgency. He noted that “the existing doctrine on force requirements does not benefit from recent research” but suggested optimistically that it could provide “the Army with new tools to reinvigorate the discussion of troops-to-task calculations.” Even before Zanella published his monograph, however, the Defense Department began removing any detailed reference or discussion about force requirements in counterinsurgency from Army and Joint doctrinal publications.
As Zanella discussed, there is a body of recent empirical research on manpower and counterinsurgency that contains a variety of valid and useful insights, but as I recently discussed, it does not yet offer definitive conclusions. Much more research and analysis is needed before the conclusions can be counted on as a valid and justifiably reliable basis for life and death decision-making. Yet, the last of these government sponsored studies was completed in 2010. Neither the Army nor any other organization in the U.S. government has funded any follow-on work on this subject and none appears forthcoming. This boom-or-bust pattern is nothing new, but the failure to do anything about it is becoming less and less understandable.
 Major James A. Zanella, “Combat Power Analysis is Combat Power Density” (Ft. Leavenworth, KS: School of Advanced Military Studies, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2012), pp. 1-2.
 Ibid, 50.
 Ibid, 47.