Dupuy’s Verities: The Requirements For Successful Defense

A Sherman tank of the U.S. Army 9th Armored Division heads into action against the advancing Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. {Warfare History Network]

The eighth of Trevor Dupuy’s Timeless Verities of Combat is:

Successful defense requires depth and reserves.

From Understanding War (1987):

Successful defense requires depth and reserves. It has been asserted that outnumbered military forces cannot afford to withhold valuable firepower from ongoing defensive operations and keep it idle in reserve posture. History demonstrates that this is specious logic, and that linear defense is disastrously vulnerable. Napoleon’s crossing of the Po in his first campaign in 1796 is perhaps the classic demonstration of the fallacy of linear (or cordon) defense.

The defender may have all of his firepower committed to the anticipated operational area, but the attacker’s advantage in having the initiative can always render much of that defensive firepower useless. Anyone who suggests that modern technology will facilitate the shifting of engaged firepower in battle overlooks three considerations: (a) the attacker can inhibit or prevent such movement by both direct and indirect means, (b) a defender engaged in a fruitless firefight against limited attacks by numerically inferior attackers is neither physically nor psychologically attuned to making lateral movements even if the enemy does not prevent or inhibit it, and (c) withdrawal of forces from the line (even if possible) provides an alert attacker with an opportunity for shifting the thrust of his offensive to the newly created gap in the defenses.

Napoleon recognized that hard-fought combat is usually won by the side committing the last reserves. Marengo, Borodino, and Ligny are typical examples of Napoleonic victories that demonstrated the importance of having resources available to tip the scales. His two greatest defeats, Leipzig and Waterloo, were suffered because his enemies still had reserves after his were all committed. The importance of committing the last reserves was demonstrated with particular poignancy at Antietam in the American Civil War. In World War II there is no better example than that of Kursk. [pp. 5-6]

Dupuy’s observations about the need for depth and reserves for a successful defense take on even greater current salience in light of the probably character of the near-future battlefield. Terrain lost by an unsuccessful defense may be extremely difficult to regain under prevailing circumstances.

The interaction of increasing weapon lethality and the operational and human circumstantial variables of combat continue to drive the long-term trend in dispersion of combat forces in frontage and depth.

Long-range precision firepower, ubiquitous battlefield reconnaissance and surveillance, and the effectiveness of cyber and information operations will make massing of forces and operational maneuver risky affairs.

As during the Cold War, the stability of alliances may depend on a willingness to defend forward in the teeth of effective anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) regimes that will make the strategic and operational deployment of reserves risky as well. The successful suppression of A2/AD networks might court a nuclear response, however.

Finding an effective solution for enabling a successful defense-in-depth in the future will be a task of great difficulty.

Toward An American Approach To Proxy Warfare

U.S.-supported Philippine guerilla fighters led the resistance against the Japanese occupation of Luzon during World War II. [Warfare History Network]

U.S. Army Major Amos Fox has recently published the first two of a set of three articles examining nature of proxy warfare in the early 21st century and suggests some ideas for how the U.S. might better conduct it.

In “In Pursuit of a General Theory of Proxy Warfare,” published in February 2019 by the The Institute of Land Warfare at the Association of the U.S. Army, and “Time, Power, and Principal-Agent Problems: Why the U.S. Army is Ill-Suited for Proxy Warfare Hotspots,” published in the March-April 2019 edition of Military Review, Fox argues,

Proxy environments dominate modern war… It is not just a Russian, Iranian or American approach to war, but one in which many nations and polities engage. However, the U.S. Army lacks a paradigm for proxy warfare, which disrupts its ability to understand the environment or develop useful tactics, operations and strategies for those environments.

His examination of the basic elements of proxy warfare leads him to conclude that “it is dominated by a principal actor dynamic, power relationships and the tyranny of time.” From this premise, Fox outlines two basic models of proxy warfare: exploitative and transactional.

The exploitative model…is characterized by a proxy force being completely dependent on its principal for survival… [It] is usually the result of a stronger actor looking for a tool—a proxy force—to pursue an objective. As a result, the proxy is only as useful to the principal as its ability to make progress toward the principal’s ends. Once the principal’s ends have been achieved or the proxy is unable to maintain momentum toward the principal’s ends, then the principal discontinues the relationship or distances itself from the proxy.

The transactional model is…more often like a business deal. An exchange of services and goods that benefits all parties—defeat of a mutual threat, training of the agent’s force, foreign military sales and finance—is at the heart of the transactional model. However, this model is a paradox because the proxy is the powerbroker in the relationship. In many cases, the proxy government is independent but looking for assistance in defeating an adversary; it is not interested in political or military subjugation by the principal. Moreover, the proxy possesses the power in the relationship because its association with the principal is wholly transactional…the clock starts ticking on the duration of the bond as soon as the first combined shot is fired. As a result, as the common goal is gradually achieved, the agent’s interest in the principal recedes at a comparable rate.

With this concept in hand, Fox makes that case that

[T]he U.S. Army is ill-suited for warfare in the proxy environment because it mismanages the fixed time and the finite power it possesses over a proxy force in pursuit of waning mutual interests. Fundamentally, the salient features of proxy environments—available time, power over a proxy force, and mutual interests—are fleeting due to the fact that proxy relationships are transactional in nature; they are marriages of convenience in which a given force works through another in pursuit of provisionally aligned political or military ends… In order to better position itself to succeed in the proxy environment, the U.S. Army must clearly understand the background and components of proxy warfare.

These two articles provide an excellent basis for a wider discussion for thinking about and shaping not just a more coherent U.S. Army doctrine, but a common policy/strategic/operational framework for understanding and successfully operating in the proxy warfare environments that will only loom larger in 21st century international affairs. It will be interesting to see how Fox’s third article rounds out his discussion.

What Multi-Domain Operations Wargames Are You Playing? [Updated]

Source: David A. Shlapak and Michael Johnson. Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016.








[UPDATE] We had several readers recommend games they have used or would be suitable for simulating Multi-Domain Battle and Operations (MDB/MDO) concepts. These include several classic campaign-level board wargames:

The Next War (SPI, 1976)

NATO: The Next War in Europe (Victory Games, 1983)

For tactical level combat, there is Steel Panthers: Main Battle Tank (SSI/Shrapnel Games, 1996- )

There were also a couple of naval/air oriented games:

Asian Fleet (Kokusai-Tsushin Co., Ltd. (国際通信社) 2007, 2010)

Command: Modern Air Naval Operations (Matrix Games, 2014)

Are there any others folks are using out there?

A Mystics & Statistic reader wants to know what wargames are being used to simulate and explore Multi-Domain Battle and Operations (MDB/MDO) concepts?

There is a lot of MDB/MDO wargaming going on in at all levels in the U.S. Department of Defense. Much of this appears to use existing models, simulations, and wargames, such as the U.S. Army Center for Army Analysis’s unclassified Wargaming Analysis Model (C-WAM).

Chris Lawrence recently looked at C-WAM and found that it uses a lot of traditional board wargaming elements, including methodologies for determining combat results, casualties, and breakpoints that have been found unable to replicate real-world outcomes (aka “The Base of Sand” problem).




C-WAM 4 (Breakpoints)

There is also the wargame used by RAND to look at possible scenarios for a potential Russian invasion of the Baltic States.

Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics

Wargaming at RAND

What other wargames, models, and simulations are there being used out there? Are there any commercial wargames incorporating MDB/MDO elements into their gameplay? What methodologies are being used to portray MDB/MDO effects?

Active Defense, Forward Defense, and A2/AD in Eastern Europe

The current military and anti-access/area denial situation in Eastern Europe. [Map and overlay derived from situation map by Thomas C. Thielen (@noclador) https://twitter.com/noclador/status/1079999716333703168; and Ian Williams, “The Russia – NATO A2AD Environment,” Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, published January 3, 2017, last modified November 29, 2018, https://missilethreat.csis.org/russia-nato-a2ad-environment/]

In an article published by West Point’s Modern War Institute last month, The US Army is Wrong on Future War,” Nathan Jennings, Amos Fox and Adam Taliaferro laid out a detailed argument that current and near-future political, strategic, and operational realities augur against the Army’s current doctrinal conceptualization for Multi-Domain Operations (MDO).

[T]he US Army is mistakenly structuring for offensive clashes of mass and scale reminiscent of 1944 while competitors like Russia and China have adapted to twenty-first-century reality. This new paradigm—which favors fait accompli acquisitions, projection from sovereign sanctuary, and indirect proxy wars—combines incremental military actions with weaponized political, informational, and economic agendas under the protection of nuclear-fires complexes to advance territorial influence…

These factors suggest, cumulatively, that the advantage in military confrontation between great powers has decisively shifted to those that combine strategic offense with tactical defense.

As a consequence, the authors suggested that “the US Army should recognize the evolved character of modern warfare and embrace strategies that establish forward positions of advantage in contested areas like Eastern Europe and the South China Sea. This means reorganizing its current maneuver-centric structure into a fires-dominant force with robust capacity to defend in depth.”

Forward Defense, Active Defense, and AirLand Battle

To illustrate their thinking, Jennings, Fox, and Taliaferro invoked a specific historical example:

This strategic realignment should begin with adopting an approach more reminiscent of the US Army’s Active Defense doctrine of the 1970s than the vaunted AirLand Battle concept of the 1980s. While many distain (sic) Active Defense for running counter to institutional culture, it clearly recognized the primacy of the combined-arms defense in depth with supporting joint fires in the nuclear era. The concept’s elevation of the sciences of terrain and weaponry at scale—rather than today’s cult of the offense—is better suited to the current strategic environment. More importantly, this methodology would enable stated political aims to prevent adversary aggression rather than to invade their home territory.

In the article’s comments, many pushed back against reviving Active Defense thinking, which has apparently become indelibly tarred with the derisive criticism that led to its replacement by AirLand Battle in the 1980s. As the authors gently noted, much of this resistance stemmed from the perceptions of Army critics that Active Defense was passive and defensively-oriented, overly focused on firepower, and suspicions that it derived from operations research analysts reducing warfare and combat to a mathematical “battle calculus.”

While AirLand Battle has been justly lauded for enabling U.S. military success against Iraq in 1990-91 and 2003 (a third-rank, non-nuclear power it should be noted), it always elided the fundamental question of whether conventional deep strikes and operational maneuver into the territory of the Soviet Union’s Eastern European Warsaw Pact allies—and potentially the Soviet Union itself—would have triggered a nuclear response. The criticism of Active Defense similarly overlooked the basic political problem that led to the doctrine in the first place, namely, the need to provide a credible conventional forward defense of West Germany. Keeping the Germans actively integrated into NATO depended upon assurances that a Soviet invasion could be resisted effectively without resorting to nuclear weapons. Indeed, the political cohesion of the NATO alliance itself rested on the contradiction between the credibility of U.S. assurances that it would defend Western Europe with nuclear weapons if necessary and the fears of alliance members that losing a battle for West Germany would make that necessity a reality.

Forward Defense in Eastern Europe

A cursory look at the current military situation in Eastern Europe along with Russia’s increasingly robust anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities (see map) should clearly illustrate the logic behind a doctrine of forward defense. U.S. and NATO troops based in Western Europe would have to run a gauntlet of well protected long-range fires systems just to get into battle in Ukraine or the Baltics. Attempting operational maneuver at the end of lengthy and exposed logistical supply lines would seem to be dauntingly challenging. The U.S. 2nd U.S. Cavalry ABCT Stryker Brigade Combat Team based in southwest Germany appears very much “lone and lonely.” It should also illustrate the difficulties in attacking the Russian A2/AD complex; an act, which Jennings, Fox, and Taliaferro remind, that would actively court a nuclear response.

In this light, Active Defense—or better—a MDO doctrine of forward defense oriented on “a fires-dominant force with robust capacity to defend in depth,” intended to “enable stated political aims to prevent adversary aggression rather than to invade their home territory,” does not really seem foolishly retrograde after all.

Wargaming Multi-Domain Battle: The Base Of Sand Problem

“JTLS Overview Movie by Rolands & Associates” [YouTube]

[This piece was originally posted on 10 April 2017.]

As the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps work together to develop their joint Multi-Domain Battle concept, wargaming and simulation will play a significant role. Aspects of the construct have already been explored through the Army’s Unified Challenge, Joint Warfighting Assessment, and Austere Challenge exercises, and upcoming Unified Quest and U.S. Army, Pacific war games and exercises. U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. European Command also have simulations and exercises scheduled.

A great deal of importance has been placed on the knowledge derived from these activities. As the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command recently stated,

Concept analysis informed by joint and multinational learning events…will yield the capabilities required of multi-domain battle. Resulting doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel and facilities solutions will increase the capacity and capability of the future force while incorporating new formations and organizations.

There is, however, a problem afflicting the Defense Department’s wargames, of which the military operations research and models and simulations communities have long been aware, but have been slow to address: their models are built on a thin foundation of empirical knowledge about the phenomenon of combat. None have proven the ability to replicate real-world battle experience. This is known as the “base of sand” problem.

A Brief History of The Base of Sand

All combat models and simulations are abstracted theories of how combat works. Combat modeling in the United States began in the early 1950s as an extension of military operations research that began during World War II. Early model designers did not have large base of empirical combat data from which to derive their models. Although a start had been made during World War II and the Korean War to collect real-world battlefield data from observation and military unit records, an effort that provided useful initial insights, no systematic effort has ever been made to identify and assemble such information. In the absence of extensive empirical combat data, model designers turned instead to concepts of combat drawn from official military doctrine (usually of uncertain provenance), subject matter expertise, historians and theorists, the physical sciences, or their own best guesses.

As the U.S. government’s interest in scientific management methods blossomed in the late 1950s and 1960s, the Defense Department’s support for operations research and use of combat modeling in planning and analysis grew as well. By the early 1970s, it became evident that basic research on combat had not kept pace. A survey of existing combat models by Gary Shubik and Martin Brewer for RAND in 1972 concluded that

Basic research and knowledge is lacking. The majority of the MSGs [models, simulations and games] sampled are living off a very slender intellectual investment in fundamental knowledge…. [T]he need for basic research is so critical that if no other funding were available we would favor a plan to reduce by a significant proportion all current expenditures for MSGs and to use the saving for basic research.

In 1975, John Stockfish took a direct look at the use of data and combat models for managing decisions regarding conventional military forces for RAND. He emphatically stated that “[T]he need for better and more empirical work, including operational testing, is of such a magnitude that a major reallocating of talent from model building to fundamental empirical work is called for.”

In 1991, Paul K. Davis, an analyst for RAND, and Donald Blumenthal, a consultant to the Livermore National Laboratory, published an assessment of the state of Defense Department combat modeling. It began as a discussion between senior scientists and analysts from RAND, Livermore, and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sponsored an ensuing report, The Base of Sand Problem: A White Paper on the State of Military Combat Modeling.

Davis and Blumenthal contended

The [Defense Department] is becoming critically dependent on combat models (including simulations and war games)—even more dependent than in the past. There is considerable activity to improve model interoperability and capabilities for distributed war gaming. In contrast to this interest in model-related technology, there has been far too little interest in the substance of the models and the validity of the lessons learned from using them. In our view, the DoD does not appreciate that in many cases the models are built on a base of sand…

[T]he DoD’s approach in developing and using combat models, including simulations and war games, is fatally flawed—so flawed that it cannot be corrected with anything less than structural changes in management and concept. [Original emphasis]

As a remedy, the authors recommended that the Defense Department create an office to stimulate a national military science program. This Office of Military Science would promote and sponsor basic research on war and warfare while still relying on the military services and other agencies for most research and analysis.

Davis and Blumenthal initially drafted their white paper before the 1991 Gulf War, but the performance of the Defense Department’s models and simulations in that conflict underscored the very problems they described. Defense Department wargames during initial planning for the conflict reportedly predicted tens of thousands of U.S. combat casualties. These simulations were said to have led to major changes in U.S. Central Command’s operational plan. When the casualty estimates leaked, they caused great public consternation and inevitable Congressional hearings.

While all pre-conflict estimates of U.S. casualties in the Gulf War turned out to be too high, the Defense Department’s predictions were the most inaccurate, by several orders of magnitude. This performance, along with Davis and Blumenthal’s scathing critique, should have called the Defense Department’s entire modeling and simulation effort into question. But it did not.

The Problem Persists

The Defense Department’s current generation of models and simulations harbor the same weaknesses as the ones in use in the 1990s. Some are new iterations of old models with updated graphics and code, but using the same theoretical assumptions about combat. In most cases, no one other than the designers knows exactly what data and concepts the models are based upon. This practice is known in the technology world as black boxing. While black boxing may be an essential business practice in the competitive world of government consulting, it makes independently evaluating the validity of combat models and simulations nearly impossible. This should be of major concern because many models and simulations in use today contain known flaws.

Some, such as  Joint Theater Level Simulation (JTLS), use the Lanchester equations for calculating attrition in ground combat. However, multiple studies have shown that these equations are incapable of replicating real-world combat. British engineer Frederick W. Lanchester developed and published them in 1916 as an abstract conceptualization of aerial combat, stating himself that he did not believe they were applicable to ground combat. If Lanchester-based models cannot accurately represent historical combat, how can there be any confidence that they are realistically predicting future combat?

Others, such as the Joint Conflict And Tactical Simulation (JCATS), MAGTF Tactical Warfare System (MTWS), and Warfighters’ Simulation (WARSIM) adjudicate ground combat using probability of hit/probability of kill (pH/pK) algorithms. Corps Battle Simulation (CBS) uses pH/pK for direct fire attrition and a modified version of Lanchester for indirect fire. While these probabilities are developed from real-world weapon system proving ground data, their application in the models is combined with inputs from subjective sources, such as outputs from other combat models, which are likely not based on real-world data. Multiplying an empirically-derived figure by a judgement-based coefficient results in a judgement-based estimate, which might be accurate or it might not. No one really knows.

Potential Remedies

One way of assessing the accuracy of these models and simulations would be to test them against real-world combat data, which does exist. In theory, Defense Department models and simulations are supposed to be subjected to validation, verification, and accreditation, but in reality this is seldom, if ever, rigorously done. Combat modelers could also open the underlying theories and data behind their models and simulations for peer review.

The problem is not confined to government-sponsored research and development. In his award-winning 2004 book examining the bases for victory and defeat in battle, Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle, analyst Stephen Biddle noted that the study of military science had been neglected in the academic world as well. “[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,” he wrote.

This state of affairs seems remarkable given the enormous stakes that are being placed on the output of the Defense Department’s modeling and simulation activities. After decades of neglect, remedying this would require a dedicated commitment to sustained basic research on the military science of combat and warfare, with no promise of a tangible short-term return on investment. Yet, as Biddle pointed out, “With so much at stake, we surely must do better.”

[NOTE: The attrition methodologies used in CBS and WARSIM have been corrected since this post was originally published per comments provided by their developers.]

TDI Friday Read: Multi-Domain Battle/Operations Doctrine

With the December 2018 update of the U.S. Army’s Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) concept, this seems like a good time to review the evolution of doctrinal thinking about it. We will start with the event that sparked the Army’s thinking about the subject: the 2014 rocket artillery barrage fired from Russian territory that devastated Ukrainian Army forces near the village of Zelenopillya. From there we will look at the evolution of Army thinking beginning with the initial draft of an operating concept for Multi-Domain Battle (MDB) in 2017. To conclude, we will re-up two articles expressing misgivings over the manner with which these doctrinal concepts are being developed, and the direction they are taking.

The Russian Artillery Strike That Spooked The U.S. Army

Army And Marine Corps Join Forces To Define Multi-Domain Battle Concept

Army/Marine Multi-Domain Battle White Paper Available

What Would An Army Optimized For Multi-Domain Battle Look Like?

Sketching Out Multi-Domain Battle Operational Doctrine

U.S. Army Updates Draft Multi-Domain Battle Operating Concept

U.S. Army Multi-Domain Operations Concept Continues Evolving

U.S. Army Doctrine and Future Warfare


U.S. Army Multi-Domain Operations Concept Continues Evolving

[Sgt. Meghan Berry, US Army/adapted by U.S. Army Modern War Institute]

The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) released draft version 1.5 of its evolving Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) future operating concept last week. Entitled TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1, “The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028,” this iteration updates the initial Multi-Domain Battle (MDB) concept issued in October 2017.

According to U.S. Army Chief of Staff (and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff nominee) General Mark Milley, MDO Concept 1.5 is the first step in the doctrinal evolution. “It describes how U.S. Army forces, as part of the Joint Force, will militarily compete, penetrate, dis-integrate, and exploit our adversaries in the future.”

TRADOC Commander General Stuart Townsend summarized the draft concept thusly:

The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 concept proposes a series of solutions to solve the problem of layered standoff. The central idea in solving this problem is the rapid and continuous integration of all domains of warfare to deter and prevail as we compete short of armed conflict. If deterrence fails, Army formations, operating as part of the Joint Force, penetrate and dis-integrate enemy anti-access and area denial systems;exploit the resulting freedom of maneuver to defeat enemy systems, formations and objectives and to achieve our own strategic objectives; and consolidate gains to force a return to competition on terms more favorable to the U.S., our allies and partners.

To achieve this, the Army must evolve our force, and our operations, around three core tenets. Calibrated force posture combines position and the ability to maneuver across strategic distances. Multi-domain formations possess the capacity, endurance and capability to access and employ capabilities across all domains to pose multiple and compounding dilemmas on the adversary. Convergence achieves the rapid and continuous integration of all domains across time, space and capabilities to overmatch the enemy. Underpinning these tenets are mission command and disciplined initiative at all warfighting echelons. (original emphasis)

For a look at the evolution of the Army and U.S. Marine Corps doctrinal thinking about multi-domain warfare since early 2017:

Army And Marine Corps Join Forces To Define Multi-Domain Battle Concept

U.S. Army Updates Draft Multi-Domain Battle Operating Concept


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.