U.S. Army Releases New Iraq War History

On Thursday, the U.S. Army released a long-awaited history of its operational combat experience in Iraq from 2003 to 2011. The study, titled The U.S. Army in the Iraq War – Volume 1: Invasion – Insurgency – Civil War, 2003-2006 and The U.S. Army in the Iraq War – Volume 2: Surge and Withdrawal, 2007-2011, was published under the auspices of the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute.

This reflects its unconventional origins. Under normal circumstances, such work would be undertaken by either the U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute (CSI), which is charged with writing quick-turnaround “instant histories,” or the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH), which writes more deeply researched “official history,” years or decades after the fact.[1] Instead, these volumes were directly commissioned by then-Chief of the Staff of the Army, General Raymond Odierno, who created an Iraq Study Group in 2013 to research and write them. According to Odierno, his intent was “to capture key lessons, insights, and innovations from our more than 8 years of conflict in that country.[I]t was time to conduct an initial examination of the Army’s experiences in the post-9/11 wars, to determine their implications for our future operations, strategy, doctrine, force structure, and institutions.”

CSI had already started writing contemporary histories of the conflict, publishing On Point: The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (2004) and On Point II: Transition to the New Campaign (2008), which covered the period from 2003 to January 2005. A projected third volume was advertised, but never published.

Although the Iraq Study Group completed its work in June 2016 and the first volume of the history was scheduled for publication that October, its release was delayed due to concerns within the Army historical community regarding the its perspective and controversial conclusions. After external reviewers deemed the study fair and recommended its publication, claims were lodged after its existence was made public last autumn that the Army was suppressing it to avoid embarrassment. Making clear that the study was not an official history publication, current Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley added his own forward to Odierno’s, and publicly released the two volumes yesterday.


[1] For a discussion of the roles and mission of CSI and CMH with regard to history, see W. Shane Story, “Transformation or Troop Strength? Early Accounts of the Invasion of IraqArmy History, Winter 2006; Richard W. Stewart, “‘Instant’ History and History: A Hierarchy of NeedsArmy History, Winter 2006; Jeffrey J. Clarke, “The Care and Feeding of Contemporary History,” Army History, Winter 2006; and Gregory Fontenot, “The U.S. Army and Contemporary Military History,” Army History, Spring 2008.


Trevor Dupuy and Technological Determinism in Digital Age Warfare

Is this the only innovation in weapons technology in history with the ability in itself to change warfare and alter the balance of power? Trevor Dupuy thought it might be. Shot IVY-MIKE, Eniwetok Atoll, 1 November 1952. [Wikimedia]

Trevor Dupuy was skeptical about the role of technology in determining outcomes in warfare. While he did believe technological innovation was crucial, he did not think that technology itself has decided success or failure on the battlefield. As he wrote posthumously in 1997,

I am a humanist, who is also convinced that technology is as important today in war as it ever was (and it has always been important), and that any national or military leader who neglects military technology does so to his peril and that of his country. But, paradoxically, perhaps to an extent even greater than ever before, the quality of military men is what wins wars and preserves nations. (emphasis added)

His conclusion was largely based upon his quantitative approach to studying military history, particularly the way humans have historically responded to the relentless trend of increasingly lethal military technology.

The Historical Relationship Between Weapon Lethality and Battle Casualty Rates

Based on a 1964 study for the U.S. Army, Dupuy identified a long-term historical relationship between increasing weapon lethality and decreasing average daily casualty rates in battle. (He summarized these findings in his book, The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare (1980). The quotes below are taken from it.)

Since antiquity, military technological development has produced weapons of ever increasing lethality. The rate of increase in lethality has grown particularly dramatically since the mid-19th century.

However, in contrast, the average daily casualty rate in combat has been in decline since 1600. With notable exceptions during the 19th century, casualty rates have continued to fall through the late 20th century. If technological innovation has produced vastly more lethal weapons, why have there been fewer average daily casualties in battle?

The primary cause, Dupuy concluded, was that humans have adapted to increasing weapon lethality by changing the way they fight. He identified three key tactical trends in the modern era that have influenced the relationship between lethality and casualties:

Technological Innovation and Organizational Assimilation

Dupuy noted that the historical correlation between weapons development and their use in combat has not been linear because the pace of integration has been largely determined by military leaders, not the rate of technological innovation. “The process of doctrinal assimilation of new weapons into compatible tactical and organizational systems has proved to be much more significant than invention of a weapon or adoption of a prototype, regardless of the dimensions of the advance in lethality.” [p. 337]

As a result, the history of warfare has been exemplified more often by a discontinuity between weapons and tactical systems than effective continuity.

During most of military history there have been marked and observable imbalances between military efforts and military results, an imbalance particularly manifested by inconclusive battles and high combat casualties. More often than not this imbalance seems to be the result of incompatibility, or incongruence, between the weapons of warfare available and the means and/or tactics employing the weapons. [p. 341]

In short, military organizations typically have not been fully effective at exploiting new weapons technology to advantage on the battlefield. Truly decisive alignment between weapons and systems for their employment has been exceptionally rare. Dupuy asserted that

There have been six important tactical systems in military history in which weapons and tactics were in obvious congruence, and which were able to achieve decisive results at small casualty costs while inflicting disproportionate numbers of casualties. These systems were:

  • the Macedonian system of Alexander the Great, ca. 340 B.C.
  • the Roman system of Scipio and Flaminius, ca. 200 B.C.
  • the Mongol system of Ghengis Khan, ca. A.D. 1200
  • the English system of Edward I, Edward III, and Henry V, ca. A.D. 1350
  • the French system of Napoleon, ca. A.D. 1800
  • the German blitzkrieg system, ca. A.D. 1940 [p. 341]

With one caveat, Dupuy could not identify any single weapon that had decisively changed warfare in of itself without a corresponding human adaptation in its use on the battlefield.

Save for the recent significant exception of strategic nuclear weapons, there have been no historical instances in which new and lethal weapons have, of themselves, altered the conduct of war or the balance of power until they have been incorporated into a new tactical system exploiting their lethality and permitting their coordination with other weapons; the full significance of this one exception is not yet clear, since the changes it has caused in warfare and the influence it has exerted on international relations have yet to be tested in war.

Until the present time, the application of sound, imaginative thinking to the problem of warfare (on either an individual or an institutional basis) has been more significant than any new weapon; such thinking is necessary to real assimilation of weaponry; it can also alter the course of human affairs without new weapons. [p. 340]

Technological Superiority and Offset Strategies

Will new technologies like robotics and artificial intelligence provide the basis for a seventh tactical system where weapons and their use align with decisive battlefield results? Maybe. If Dupuy’s analysis is accurate, however, it is more likely that future increases in weapon lethality will continue to be counterbalanced by human ingenuity in how those weapons are used, yielding indeterminate—perhaps costly and indecisive—battlefield outcomes.

Genuinely effective congruence between weapons and force employment continues to be difficult to achieve. Dupuy believed the preconditions necessary for successful technological assimilation since the mid-19th century have been a combination of conducive military leadership; effective coordination of national economic, technological-scientific, and military resources; and the opportunity to evaluate and analyze battlefield experience.

Can the U.S. meet these preconditions? That certainly seemed to be the goal of the so-called Third Offset Strategy, articulated in 2014 by the Obama administration. It called for maintaining “U.S. military superiority over capable adversaries through the development of novel capabilities and concepts.” Although the Trump administration has stopped using the term, it has made “maximizing lethality” the cornerstone of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, with increased funding for the Defense Department’s modernization priorities in FY2019 (though perhaps not in FY2020).

Dupuy’s original work on weapon lethality in the 1960s coincided with development in the U.S. of what advocates of a “revolution in military affairs” (RMA) have termed the “First Offset Strategy,” which involved the potential use of nuclear weapons to balance Soviet superiority in manpower and material. RMA proponents pointed to the lopsided victory of the U.S. and its allies over Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War as proof of the success of a “Second Offset Strategy,” which exploited U.S. precision-guided munitions, stealth, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems developed to counter the Soviet Army in Germany in the 1980s. Dupuy was one of the few to attribute the decisiveness of the Gulf War both to airpower and to the superior effectiveness of U.S. combat forces.

Trevor Dupuy certainly was not an anti-technology Luddite. He recognized the importance of military technological advances and the need to invest in them. But he believed that the human element has always been more important on the battlefield. Most wars in history have been fought without a clear-cut technological advantage for one side; some have been bloody and pointless, while others have been decisive for reasons other than technology. While the future is certainly unknown and past performance is not a guarantor of future results, it would be a gamble to rely on technological superiority alone to provide the margin of success in future warfare.

Interchangeability Of Fire And Multi-Domain Operations

Soviet “forces and resources” chart. [Richard Simpkin, Deep Battle: The Brainchild of Marshal Tukhachevskii (Brassey’s: London, 1987) p. 254]

With the emergence of the importance of cross-domain fires in the U.S. effort to craft a joint doctrine for multi-domain operations, there is an old military concept to which developers should give greater consideration: interchangeability of fire.

This is an idea that British theorist Richard Simpkin traced back to 19th century Russian military thinking, which referred to it then as the interchangeability of shell and bayonet. Put simply, it was the view that artillery fire and infantry shock had equivalent and complimentary effects against enemy troops and could be substituted for one another as circumstances dictated on the battlefield.

The concept evolved during the development of the Russian/Soviet operational concept of “deep battle” after World War I to encompass the interchangeability of fire and maneuver. In Soviet military thought, the battlefield effects of fires and the operational maneuver of ground forces were equivalent and complementary.

This principle continues to shape contemporary Russian military doctrine and practice, which is, in turn, influencing U.S. thinking about multi-domain operations. In fact, the idea is not new to Western military thinking at all. Maneuver warfare advocates adopted the concept in the 1980s, but it never found its way into official U.S. military doctrine.

An Idea Who’s Time Has Come. Again.

So why should the U.S. military doctrine developers take another look at interchangeability now? First, the increasing variety and ubiquity of long-range precision fire capabilities is forcing them to address the changing relationship between mass and fires on multi-domain battlefields. After spending a generation waging counterinsurgency and essentially outsourcing responsibility for operational fires to the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy, both the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps are scrambling to come to grips with the way technology is changing the character of land operations. All of the services are at the very beginning of assessing the impact of drone swarms—which are themselves interchangeable blends of mass and fires—on combat.

Second, the rapid acceptance and adoption of the idea of cross-domain fires has carried along with it an implicit acceptance of the interchangeability of the effects of kinetic and non-kinetic (i.e. information, electronic, and cyber) fires. This alone is already forcing U.S. joint military thinking to integrate effects into planning and decision-making.

The key component of interchangability is effects. Inherent in it is acceptance of the idea that combat forces have effects on the battlefield that go beyond mere physical lethality, i.e. the impact of fire or shock on a target. U.S. Army doctrine recognizes three effects of fires: destruction, neutralization, and suppression. Russian and maneuver warfare theorists hold that these same effects can be achieved through the effects of operational maneuver. The notion of interchangeability offers a very useful way of thinking about how to effectively integrate the lethality of mass and fires on future battlefields.

But Wait, Isn’t Effects Is A Four-Letter Word?

There is a big impediment to incorporating interchangeability into U.S. military thinking, however, and that is the decidedly ambivalent attitude of the U.S. land warfare services toward thinking about non-tangible effects in warfare.

As I have pointed out before, the U.S. Army (at least) has no effective way of assessing the effects of fires on combat, cross-domain or otherwise, because it has no real doctrinal methodology for calculating combat power on the battlefield. Army doctrine conceives of combat power almost exclusively in terms of capabilities and functions, not effects. In Army thinking, a combat multiplier is increased lethality in the form of additional weapons systems or combat units, not the intangible effects of operational or moral (human) factors on combat. For example, suppression may be a long-standing element in doctrine, but the Army still does not really have a clear idea of what causes it or what battlefield effects it really has.

In the wake of the 1990-91 Gulf War and the ensuing “Revolution in Military Affairs,” the U.S. Air Force led the way forward in thinking about the effects of lethality on the battlefield and how it should be leveraged to achieve strategic ends. It was the motivating service behind the development of a doctrine of “effects based operations” or EBO in the early 2000s.

However, in 2008, U.S. Joint Forces Command commander, U.S Marine General (and current Secretary of Defense) James Mattis ordered his command to no longer “use, sponsor, or export” EBO or related concepts and terms, the underlying principles of which he deemed to be “fundamentally flawed.” This effectively eliminated EBO from joint planning and doctrine. While Joint Forces Command was disbanded in 2011 and EBO thinking remains part of Air Force doctrine, Mattis’s decree pretty clearly showed what the U.S. land warfare services think about battlefield effects.

“Quantity Has A Quality All Its Own”: How Robot Swarms Might Change Future Combat

Humans vs. machines in the film Matrix Revolutions (2003) [Screencap by The Matrix Wiki]

Yesterday, Paul Scharre, director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, and prolific writer on the future of robotics and artificial intelligence, posted a fascinating argument on Twitter regarding swarms and mass in future combat.

His thread was in response to an article by Shmuel Shmuel posted on War on the Rocks, which made the case that the same computer processing technology enabling robotic vehicles combined with old fashioned kinetic weapons (i.e. anti-aircraft guns) offered a cost-effective solution to swarms.

Scharre agreed that robotic drones are indeed vulnerable to such countermeasures, but made this point in response:

He then went to contend that robotic swarms offer the potential to reestablish the role of mass in future combat. Mass, either in terms of numbers of combatants or volume of firepower, has played a decisive role in most wars. As the aphorism goes, usually credited to Josef Stalin, “mass has a quality all of its own.”

Scharre observed that the United States went in a different direction in its post-World War II approach to warfare, adopting instead “offset” strategies that sought to leverage superior technology to balance against the mass militaries of the Communist bloc.

While effective during the Cold War, Scharre concurs with the arguments that offset strategies are becoming far too expensive and may ultimately become self-defeating.

In order to avoid this fate, Scharre contends that

The entire thread is well worth reading.

Trevor Dupuy would have agreed with much of what Scharre’s asserts. He identified the relationship between increasing weapon lethality and battlefield dispersion that goes back to the 17th century. Dupuy believed that the primary factor driving this relationship was the human response to fear in a lethal environment, with soldiers dispersing in depth and frontage on battlefields in order to survive weapons of ever increasing destructiveness.

TDI Friday Read: Lethality, Dispersion, And Mass On Future Battlefields

Robots might very well change that equation. Whether autonomous or “human in the loop,” robotic swarms do not feel fear and are inherently expendable. Cheaply produced robots might very well provide sufficient augmentation to human combat units to restore the primacy of mass in future warfare.

TDI Friday Read: Lethality, Dispersion, And Mass On Future Battlefields

Armies have historically responded to the increasing lethality of weapons by dispersing mass in frontage and depth on the battlefield. Will combat see a new period of adjustment over the next 50 years like the previous half-century, where dispersion continues to shift in direct proportion to increased weapon range and precision, or will there be a significant change in the character of warfare?

One point of departure for such an inquiry could be the work of TDI President Chris Lawrence, who looked into the nature of historical rates of dispersion in combat from 1600 to 1991.

The Effects Of Dispersion On Combat

As he explained,

I am focusing on this because l really want to come up with some means of measuring the effects of a “revolution in warfare.” The last 400 years of human history have given us more revolutionary inventions impacting war than we can reasonably expect to see in the next 100 years. In particular, I would like to measure the impact of increased weapon accuracy, improved intelligence, and improved C2 on combat.

His tentative conclusions were:

  1. Dispersion has been relatively constant and driven by factors other than firepower from 1600-1815.
  2. Since the Napoleonic Wars, units have increasingly dispersed (found ways to reduce their chance to be hit) in response to increased lethality of weapons.
  3. As a result of this increased dispersion, casualties in a given space have declined.
  4. The ratio of this decline in casualties over area have been roughly proportional to the strength over an area from 1600 through WWI. Starting with WWII, it appears that people have dispersed faster than weapons lethality, and this trend has continued.
  5. In effect, people dispersed in direct relation to increased firepower from 1815 through 1920, and then after that time dispersed faster than the increase in lethality.
  6. It appears that since WWII, people have gone back to dispersing (reducing their chance to be hit) at the same rate that firepower is increasing.
  7. Effectively, there are four patterns of casualties in modem war:

Period 1 (1600 – 1815): Period of Stability

  • Short battles
  • Short frontages
  • High attrition per day
  • Constant dispersion
  • Dispersion decreasing slightly after late 1700s
  • Attrition decreasing slightly after mid-1700s.

Period 2 (1816 – 1905): Period of Adjustment

  • Longer battles
  • Longer frontages
  • Lower attrition per day
  • Increasing dispersion
  • Dispersion increasing slightly faster than lethality

Period 3 (1912 – 1920): Period of Transition

  • Long battles
  • Continuous frontages
  • Lower attrition per day
  • Increasing dispersion
  • Relative lethality per kilometer similar to past, but lower
  • Dispersion increasing slightly faster than lethality

Period 4 (1937 – present): Modern Warfare

  • Long battles
  • Continuous frontages
  • Low attrition per day
  • High dispersion (perhaps constant?)
  • Relatively lethality per kilometer much lower than the past
  • Dispersion increased much faster than lethality going into the period.
  • Dispersion increased at the same rate as lethality within the period.

Chris based his study on previous work done by Trevor Dupuy and his associates, which established a pattern in historical combat between lethality, dispersion, and battlefield casualty rates.

Trevor Dupuy and Historical Trends Related to Weapon Lethality

What Is The Relationship Between Rate of Fire and Military Effectiveness?

Human Factors In Warfare: Dispersion

There is no way to accurately predict the future relationship between weapon lethality and dispersion on the battlefield, but we should question whether or not current conception of combat reflect consideration of the historical trends.

Attrition In Future Land Combat

The Principle Of Mass On The Future Battlefield

Recent Developments In “Game Changing” Precision Fires Technology

Nammo’s new 155mm Solid Fuel Ramjet projectile [The Drive]

From the “Build A Better Mousetrap” files come a couple of new developments in precision fires technology. The U.S. Army’s current top modernization priority is improving its long-range precision fires capabilities.

Joseph Trevithick reports in The Drive that Nammo, a Norwegian/Finnish aerospace and defense company, recently revealed that it is developing a solid-fueled, ramjet-powered, precision projectile capable of being fired from the ubiquitous 155mm howitzer. The projectile, which is scheduled for live-fire testing in 2019 or 2020, will have a range of more than 60 miles.

The Army’s current self-propelled and towed 155mm howitzers have a range of 12 miles using standard ammunition, and up to 20 miles with rocket-powered munitions. Nammo’s ramjet projectile could effectively double that, but the Army is also looking into developing a new 155mm howitzer with a longer barrel that could fully exploit the capabilities of Nammo’s ramjet shell and other new long-range precision munitions under development.

Anna Ahronheim has a story in The Jerusalem Post about a new weapon developed by the Israeli Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. called the FireFly. FireFly is a small, three-kilogram, loitering munition designed for use by light ground maneuver forces to deliver precision fires against enemy forces in cover. Similar to a drone, FireFly can hover for up to 15 minutes before delivery.

In a statement, Rafael claimed that “Firefly will essentially eliminate the value of cover and with it, the necessity of long-drawn-out firefights. It will also make obsolete the old infantry tactic of firing and maneuvering to eliminate an enemy hiding behind cover.”

Nammo and Rafael have very high hopes for their wares:

“This [155mm Solid Fuel Ramjet] could be a game-changer for artillery,” according to Thomas Danbolt, Vice President of Nammo’s Large Caliber Ammunitions division.

“The impact of FireFly on the infantry is revolutionary, fundamentally changing small infantry tactics,” Rafael has asserted.

Expansive claims for the impact of new technology are not new, of course. Oribtal ATK touted its XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) precision-guided grenade launcher along familiar lines, claiming that “The introduction of the XM25 is akin to other revolutionary systems such as the machine gun, the airplane and the tank, all of which changed battlefield tactics.”

Similar in battlefield effect to the FireFly, the Army cancelled its contract for the XM25 in 2017 after disappointing results in field tests.

UPDATE: For clarity’s sake, let me re-up my contrarian take:

Will This Weapon Change Infantry Warfare Forever? Maybe, But Probably Not

Technology And The Human Factor In War

A soldier waves an Israeli flag on the Golan front during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. (IDF Spokesperson’s unit, Jerusalem Report Archives)

[The article below is reprinted from the August 1997 edition of The International TNDM Newsletter.]

Technology and the Human Factor in War
by Trevor N. Dupuy

The Debate

It has become evident to many military theorists that technology has become increasingly important in war. In fact (even though many soldiers would not like to admit it) most such theorists believe that technology has actually reduced the significance of the human factor in war, In other words, the more advanced our military technology, these “technocrats” believe, the less we need to worry about the professional capability and competence of generals, admirals, soldiers, sailors, and airmen.

The technocrats believe that the results of the Kuwait, or Gulf, War of 1991 have confirmed their conviction. They cite the contribution to those results of the U.N. (mainly U.S.) command of the air, stealth aircraft, sophisticated guided missiles, and general electronic superiority, They believe that it was technology which simply made irrelevant the recent combat experience of the Iraqis in their long war with Iran.

Yet there are a few humanist military theorists who believe that the technocrats have totally misread the lessons of this century‘s wars! They agree that, while technology was important in the overwhelming U.N. victory, the principal reason for the tremendous margin of U.N. superiority was the better training, skill, and dedication of U.N. forces (again, mainly U.S.).

And so the debate rests. Both sides believe that the result of the Kuwait War favors their point of view, Nevertheless, an objective assessment of the literature in professional military journals, of doctrinal trends in the U.S. services, and (above all) of trends in the U.S. defense budget, suggest that the technocrats have stronger arguments than the humanists—or at least have been more convincing in presenting their arguments.

I suggest, however, that a completely impartial comparison of the Kuwait War results with those of other recent wars, and with some of the phenomena of World War II, shows that the humanists should not yet concede the debate.

I am a humanist, who is also convinced that technology is as important today in war as it ever was (and it has always been important), and that any national or military leader who neglects military technology does so to his peril and that of his country, But, paradoxically, perhaps to an extent even greater than ever before, the quality of military men is what wins wars and preserves nations.

To elevate the debate beyond generalities, and demonstrate convincingly that the human factor is at least as important as technology in war, I shall review eight instances in this past century when a military force has been successful because of the quality if its people, even though the other side was at least equal or superior in the technological sophistication of its weapons. The examples I shall use are:

  • Germany vs. the USSR in World War II
  • Germany vs. the West in World War II
  • Israel vs. Arabs in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982
  • The Vietnam War, 1965-1973
  • Britain vs. Argentina in the Falklands 1982
  • South Africans vs. Angolans and Cubans, 1987-88
  • The U.S. vs. Iraq, 1991

The demonstration will be based upon a marshaling of historical facts, then analyzing those facts by means of a little simple arithmetic.

Relative Combat Effectiveness Value (CEV)

The purpose of the arithmetic is to calculate relative combat effectiveness values (CEVs) of two opposing military forces. Let me digress to set up the arithmetic. Although some people who hail from south of the Mason-Dixon Line may be reluctant to accept the fact, statistics prove that the fighting quality of Northern soldiers and Southern soldiers was virtually equal in the American Civil War. (I invite those who might disagree to look at Livermore’s Numbers and Losses in the Civil War). That assumption of equality of the opposing troop quality in the Civil War enables me to assert that the successful side in every important battle in the Civil War was successful either because of numerical superiority or superior generalship. Three of Lee’s battles make the point:

  • Despite being outnumbered, Lee won at Antietam. (Though Antietam is sometimes claimed as a Union victory, Lee, the defender, held the battlefield; McClellan, the attacker, was repulsed.) The main reason for Lee’s success was that on a scale of leadership his generalship was worth 10, while McClellan was barely a 6.
  • Despite being outnumbered, Lee won at Chancellorsville because he was a 10 to Hooker’s 5.
  • Lee lost at Gettysburg mainly because he was outnumbered. Also relevant: Meade did not lose his nerve (like McClellan and Hooker) with generalship worth 8 to match Lee’s 8.

Let me use Antietam to show the arithmetic involved in those simple analyses of a rather complex subject:

The numerical strength of McClellan’s army was 89,000; Lee’s army was only 39,000 strong, but had the multiplier benefit of defensive posture. This enables us to calculate the theoretical combat power ratio of the Union Army to the Confederate Army as 1.4:1.0. In other words, with substantial preponderance of force, the Union Army should have been successful. (The combat power ratio of Confederates to Northerners, of course, was the reciprocal, or 0.71:1.04)

However, Lee held the battlefield, and a calculation of the actual combat power ratio of the two sides (based on accomplishment of mission, gaining or holding ground, and casualties) was a scant, but clear cut: 1.16:1.0 in favor of the Confederates. A ratio of the actual combat power ratio of the Confederate/Union armies (1.16) to their theoretical combat power (0.71) gives us a value of 1.63. This is the relative combat effectiveness of the Lee’s army to McClellan’s army on that bloody day. But, if we agree that the quality of the troops was the same, then the differential must essentially be in the quality of the opposing generals. Thus, Lee was a 10 to McClellan‘s 6.

The simple arithmetic equation[1] on which the above analysis was based is as follows:

CEV = (R/R)/(P/P)

CEV is relative Combat Effectiveness Value
R/R is the actual combat power ratio
P/P is the theoretical combat power ratio.

At Antietam the equation was: 1.63 = 1.16/0.71.

We’ll be revisiting that equation in connection with each of our examples of the relative importance of technology and human factors.

Air Power and Technology

However, one more digression is required before we look at the examples. Air power was important in all eight of the 20th Century examples listed above. Offhand it would seem that the exercise of air superiority by one side or the other is a manifestation of technological superiority. Nevertheless, there are a few examples of an air force gaining air superiority with equivalent, or even inferior aircraft (in quality or numbers) because of the skill of the pilots.

However, the instances of such a phenomenon are rare. It can be safely asserted that, in the examples used in the following comparisons, the ability to exercise air superiority was essentially a technological superiority (even though in some instances it was magnified by human quality superiority). The one possible exception might be the Eastern Front in World War II, where a slight German technological superiority in the air was offset by larger numbers of Soviet aircraft, thanks in large part to Lend-Lease assistance from the United States and Great Britain.

The Battle of Kursk, 5-18 July, 1943

Following the surrender of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad, on 2 February, 1943, the Soviets mounted a major winter offensive in south-central Russia and Ukraine which reconquered large areas which the Germans had overrun in 1941 and 1942. A brilliant counteroffensive by German Marshal Erich von Manstein‘s Army Group South halted the Soviet advance, and recaptured the city of Kharkov in mid-March. The end of these operations left the Soviets holding a huge bulge, or salient, jutting westward around the Russian city of Kursk, northwest of Kharkov.

The Germans promptly prepared a new offensive to cut off the Kursk salient, The Soviets energetically built field fortifications to defend the salient against expected German attacks. The German plan was for simultaneous offensives against the northern and southern shoulders of the base of the Kursk salient, Field Marshal Gunther von K1uge’s Army Group Center, would drive south from the vicinity of Orel, while Manstein’s Army Group South pushed north from the Kharkov area, The offensive was originally scheduled for early May, but postponements by Hitler, to equip his forces with new tanks, delayed the operation for two months, The Soviets took advantage of the delays to further improve their already formidable defenses.

The German attacks finally began on 5 July. In the north General Walter Model’s German Ninth Army was soon halted by Marshal Konstantin Rokossovski’s Army Group Center. In the south, however, German General Hermann Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army and a provisional army commanded by General Werner Kempf, were more successful against the Voronezh Army Group of General Nikolai Vatutin. For more than a week the XLVIII Panzer Corps advanced steadily toward Oboyan and Kursk through the most heavily fortified region since the Western Front of 1918. While the Germans suffered severe casualties, they inflicted horrible losses on the defending Soviets. Advancing similarly further east, the II SS Panzer Corps, in the largest tank battle in history, repulsed a vigorous Soviet armored counterattack at Prokhorovka on July 12-13, but was unable to continue to advance.

The principal reason for the German halt was the fact that the Soviets had thrown into the battle General Ivan Konev’s Steppe Army Group, which had been in reserve. The exhausted, heavily outnumbered Germans had no comparable reserves to commit to reinvigorate their offensive.

A comparison of forces and losses of the Soviet Voronezh Army Group and German Army Group South on the south face of the Kursk Salient is shown below. The strengths are averages over the 12 days of the battle, taking into consideration initial strengths, losses, and reinforcements.

A comparison of the casualty tradeoff can be found by dividing Soviet casualties by German strength, and German losses by Soviet strength. On that basis, 100 Germans inflicted 5.8 casualties per day on the Soviets, while 100 Soviets inflicted 1.2 casualties per day on the Germans, a tradeoff of 4.9 to 1.0

The statistics for the 8-day offensive of the German XLVIII Panzer Corps toward Oboyan are shown below. Also shown is the relative combat effectiveness value (CEV) of Germans and Soviets, as calculated by the TNDM. As was the case for the Battle of Antietam, this is derived from a mathematical comparison of the theoretical combat power ratio of the two forces (simply considering numbers and weapons characteristics), and the actual combat power ratios reflected by the battle results:

The calculated CEVs suggest that 100 German troops were the combat equivalent of 240 Soviet troops, comparably equipped. The casualty tradeoff in this battle shows that 100 Germans inflicted 5.15 casualties per day on the Soviets, while 100 Soviets inflicted 1.11 casualties per day on the Germans, a tradeoff of4.64. It is a rule of thumb that the casualty tradeoff is usually about the square of the CEV.

A similar comparison can be made of the two-day battle of Prokhorovka. Soviet accounts of that battle have claimed this as a great victory by the Soviet Fifth Guards Tank Army over the German II SS Panzer Corps. In fact, since the German advance was halted, the outcome was close to a draw, but with the advantage clearly in favor of the Germans.

The casualty tradeoff shows that 100 Germans inflicted 7.7 casualties per on the Soviets, while 100 Soviets inflicted 1.0 casualties per day on the Germans, for a tradeoff value of 7.7.

When the German offensive began, they had a slight degree of local air superiority. This was soon reversed by German and Soviet shifts of air elements, and during most of the offensive, the Soviets had a slender margin of air superiority. In terms of technology, the Germans probably had a slight overall advantage. However, the Soviets had more tanks and, furthermore, their T-34 was superior to any tank the Germans had available at the time. The CEV calculations demonstrate that the Germans had a great qualitative superiority over the Russians, despite near-equality in technology, and despite Soviet air superiority. The Germans lost the battle, but only because they were overwhelmed by Soviet numbers.

German Performance, Western Europe, 1943-1945

Beginning with operations between Salerno and Naples in September, 1943, through engagements in the closing days of the Battle of the Bulge in January, 1945, the pattern of German performance against the Western Allies was consistent. Some German units were better than others, and a few Allied units were as good as the best of the Germans. But on the average, German performance, as measured by CEV and casualty tradeoff, was better than the Western allies by a CEV factor averaging about 1.2, and a casualty tradeoff factor averaging about 1.5. Listed below are ten engagements from Italy and Northwest Europe during that 1944.

Technologically, German forces and those of the Western Allies were comparable. The Germans had a higher proportion of armored combat vehicles, and their best tanks were considerably better than the best American and British tanks, but the advantages were at least offset by the greater quantity of Allied armor, and greater sophistication of much of the Allied equipment. The Allies were increasingly able to achieve and maintain air superiority during this period of slightly less than two years.

The combination of vast superiority in numbers of troops and equipment, and in increasing Allied air superiority, enabled the Allies to fight their way slowly up the Italian boot, and between June and December, 1944, to drive from the Normandy beaches to the frontier of Germany. Yet the presence or absence of Allied air support made little difference in terms of either CEVs or casualty tradeoff values. Despite the defeats inflicted on them by the numerically superior Allies during the latter part of 1944, in December the Germans were able to mount a major offensive that nearly destroyed an American army corps, and threatened to drive at least a portion of the Allied armies into the sea.

Clearly, in their battles against the Soviets and the Western Allies, the Germans demonstrated that quality of combat troops was able consistently to overcome Allied technological and air superiority. It was Allied numbers, not technology, that defeated the quantitatively superior Germans.

The Six-Day War, 1967

The remarkable Israeli victories over far more numerous Arab opponents—Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian—in June, 1967 revealed an Israeli combat superiority that had not been suspected in the United States, the Soviet Union or Western Europe. This superiority was equally awesome on the ground as in the air. (By beginning the war with a surprise attack which almost wiped out the Egyptian Air Force, the Israelis avoided a serious contest with the one Arab air force large enough, and possibly effective enough, to challenge them.) The results of the three brief campaigns are summarized in the table below:

It should be noted that some Israelis who fought against the Egyptians and Jordanians also fought against the Syrians. Thus, the overall Arab numerical superiority was greater than would be suggested by adding the above strength figures, and was approximately 328,000 to 200,000.

It should also be noted that the technological sophistication of the Israeli and Arab ground forces was comparable. The only significant technological advantage of the Israelis was their unchallenged command of the air. (In terms of battle outcomes, it was irrelevant how they had achieved air superiority.) In fact this was a very significant advantage, the full import of which would not be realized until the next Arab-Israeli war.

The results of the Six Day War do not provide an unequivocal basis for determining the relative importance of human factors and technological superiority (as evidenced in the air). Clearly a major factor in the Israeli victories was the superior performance of their ground forces due mainly to human factors. At least as important in those victories was Israeli command of the air, in which both technology and human factors both played a part.

The October War, 1973

A better basis for comparing the relative importance of human factors and technology is provided by the results of the October War of 1973 (known to Arabs as the War of Ramadan, and to Israelis as the Yom Kippur War). In this war the Israeli unquestioned superiority in the air was largely offset by the Arabs possession of highly sophisticated Soviet air defense weapons.

One important lesson of this war was a reassessment of Israeli contempt for the fighting quality of Arab ground forces (which had stemmed from the ease with which they had won their ground victories in 1967). When Arab ground troops were protected from Israeli air superiority by their air defense weapons, they fought well and bravely, demonstrating that Israeli control of the air had been even more significant in 1967 than anyone had then recognized.

It should be noted that the total Arab (and Israeli) forces are those shown in the first two comparisons, above. A Jordanian brigade and two Iraqi divisions formed relatively minor elements of the forces under Syrian command (although their presence on the ground was significant in enabling the Syrians to maintain a defensive line when the Israelis threatened a breakthrough around 20 October). For the comparison of Jordanians and Iraqis the total strength is the total of the forces in the battles (two each) on which these comparisons are based.

One other thing to note is how the Israelis, possibly unconsciously, confirmed that validity of their CEVs with respect to Egyptians and Syrians by the numerical strengths of their deployments to the two fronts. Since the war ended up in a virtual stalemate on both fronts, the overall strength figures suggest rough equivalence of combat capability.

The CEV values shown in the above table are very significant in relation to the debate about human factors and technology, There was little if anything to choose between the technological sophistication of the two sides. The Arabs had more tanks than the Israelis, but (as Israeli General Avraham Adan once told the author) there was little difference in the quality of the tanks. The Israelis again had command of the air, but this was neutralized immediately over the battlefields by the Soviet air defense equipment effectively manned by the Arabs. Thus, while technology was of the utmost importance to both sides, enabling each side to prevent the enemy from gaining a significant advantage, the true determinant of battlefield outcomes was the fighting quality of the troops, And, while the Arabs fought bravely, the Israelis fought much more effectively. Human factors made the difference.

Israeli Invasion of Lebanon, 1982

In terms of the debate about the relative importance of human factors and technology, there are two significant aspects to this small war, in which Syrians forces and PLO guerrillas were the Arab participants. In the first place, the Israelis showed that their air technology was superior to the Syrian air defense technology, As a result, they regained complete control of the skies over the battlefields. Secondly, it provides an opportunity to include a highly relevant quotation.

The statistical comparison shows the results of the two major battles fought between Syrians and Israelis:

In assessing the above statistics, a quotation from the Israeli Chief of Staff, General Rafael Eytan, is relevant.

In late 1982 a group of retired American generals visited Israel and the battlefields in Lebanon. Just before they left for home, they had a meeting with General Eytan. One of the American generals asked Eytan the following question: “Since the Syrians were equipped with Soviet weapons, and your troops were equipped with American (or American-type) weapons, isn’t the overwhelming Israeli victory an indication of the superiority of American weapons technology over Soviet weapons technology?”

Eytan’s reply was classic: “If we had had their weapons, and they had had ours, the result would have been absolutely the same.”

One need not question how the Israeli Chief of Staff assessed the relative importance of the technology and human factors.

Falkland Islands War, 1982

It is difficult to get reliable data on the Falkland Islands War of 1982. Furthermore, the author of this article had not undertaken the kind of detailed analysis of such data as is available. However, it is evident from the information that is available about that war that its results were consistent with those of the other examples examined in this article.

The total strength of Argentine forces in the Falklands at the time of the British counter-invasion was slightly more than 13,000. The British appear to have landed close to 6,400 troops, although it may have been fewer. In any event, it is evident that not more than 50% of the total forces available to both sides were actually committed to battle. The Argentine surrender came 27 days after the British landings, but there were probably no more than six days of actual combat. During these battles the British performed admirably, the Argentinians performed miserably. (Save for their Air Force, which seems to have fought with considerable gallantry and effectiveness, at the extreme limit of its range.) The British CEV in ground combat was probably between 2.5 and 4.0. The statistics were at least close to those presented below:

It is evident from published sources that the British had no technological advantage over the Argentinians; thus the one-sided results of the ground battles were due entirely to British skill (derived from training and doctrine) and determination.

South African Operations in Angola, 1987-1988

Neither the political reasons for, nor political results of, the South African military interventions in Angola in the 1970s, and again in the late 1980s, need concern us in our consideration of the relative significance of technology and of human factors. The combat results of those interventions, particularly in 1987-1988 are, however, very relevant.

The operations between elements of the South African Defense Force (SADF) and forces of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA) took place in southeast Angola, generally in the region east of the city of Cuito-Cuanavale. Operating with the SADF units were a few small units of Jonas Savimbi’s National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). To provide air support to the SADF and UNITA ground forces, it would have been necessary for the South Africans to establish air bases either in Botswana, Southwest Africa (Namibia), or in Angola itself. For reasons that were largely political, they decided not to do that, and thus operated under conditions of FAPLA air supremacy. This led them, despite terrain generally unsuited for armored warfare, to use a high proportion of armored vehicles (mostly light armored cars) to provide their ground troops with some protection from air attack.

Summarized below are the results of three battles east of Cuito-Cuanavale in late 1987 and early 1988. Included with FAPLA forces are a few Cubans (mostly in armored units); included with the SADF forces are a few UNITA units (all infantry).

FAPLA had complete command of air, and substantial numbers of MiG-21 and MiG-23 sorties were flown against the South Africans in all of these battles. This technological superiority was probably partly offset by greater South African EW (electronic warfare) capability. The ability of the South Africans to operate effectively despite hostile air superiority was reminiscent of that of the Germans in World War II. It was a further demonstration that, no matter how important technology may be, the fighting quality of the troops is even more important.

The tank figures include armored cars. In the first of the three battles considered, FAPLA had by far the more powerful and more numerous medium tanks (20 to 0). In the other two, SADF had a slight or significant advantage in medium tank numbers and quality. But it didn’t seem to make much difference in the outcomes.

Kuwait War, 1991

The previous seven examples permit us to examine the results of Kuwait (or Second Gulf) War with more objectivity than might otherwise have possible. First, let’s look at the statistics. Note that the comparison shown below is for four days of ground combat, February 24-28, and shows only operations of U.S. forces against the Iraqis.

There can be no question that the single most important contribution to the overwhelming victory of U.S. and other U.N. forces was the air war that preceded, and accompanied, the ground operations. But two comments are in order. The air war alone could not have forced the Iraqis to surrender. On the other hand, it is evident that, even without the air war, U.S. forces would have readily overwhelmed the Iraqis, probably in more than four days, and with more than 285 casualties. But the outcome would have been hardly less one-sided.

The Vietnam War, 1965-1973

It is impossible to make the kind of mathematical analysis for the Vietnam War as has been done in the examples considered above. The reason is that we don’t have any good data on the Vietcong—North Vietnamese forces,

However, such quantitative analysis really isn’t necessary There can be no doubt that one of the opponents was a superpower, the most technologically advanced nation on earth, while the other side was what Lyndon Johnson called a “raggedy-ass little nation,” a typical representative of “the third world.“

Furthermore, even if we were able to make the analyses, they would very possibly be misinterpreted. It can be argued (possibly with some exaggeration) that the Americans won all of the battles. The detailed engagement analyses could only confirm this fact. Yet it is unquestionable that the United States, despite airpower and all other manifestations of technological superiority, lost the war. The human factor—as represented by the quality of American political (and to a lesser extent military) leadership on the one side, and the determination of the North Vietnamese on the other side—was responsible for this defeat.


In a recent article in the Armed Forces Journal International Col. Philip S. Neilinger, USAF, wrote: “Military operations are extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the side that doesn’t control the sky.” From what we have seen, this is only partly true. And while there can be no question that operations will always be difficult to some extent for the side that doesn’t control the sky, the degree of difficulty depends to a great degree upon the training and determination of the troops.

What we have seen above also enables us to view with a better perspective Colonel Neilinger’s subsequent quote from British Field Marshal Montgomery: “If we lose the war in the air, we lose the war and we lose it quickly.” That statement was true for Montgomery, and for the Allied troops in World War II. But it was emphatically not true for the Germans.

The examples we have seen from relatively recent wars, therefore, enable us to establish priorities on assuring readiness for war. It is without question important for us to equip our troops with weapons and other materiel which can match, or come close to matching, the technological quality of the opposition’s materiel. We must realize that we cannot—as some people seem to think—buy good forces, by technology alone. Even more important is to assure the fighting quality of the troops. That must be, by far, our first priority in peacetime budgets and in peacetime military activities of all sorts.


[1] This calculation is automatic in analyses of historical battles by the Tactical Numerical Deterministic Model (TNDM).

[2] The initial tank strength of the Voronezh Army Group was about 1,100 tanks. About 3,000 additional Soviet tanks joined the battle between 6 and 12 July. At the end of the battle there were about 1,800 Soviet tanks operational in the battle area; at the same time there were about 1,000 German tanks still operational.

[3] The relative combat effectiveness value of each force is calculated in comparison to 1.0. Thus the CEV of the Germans is 2.40:1.0, while that of the Soviets is 0.42: 1.0. The opposing CEVs are always the reciprocals of each other.

Strachan On The Changing Character Of War

The Cove, the professional development site for the Australian Army, has posted a link to a 2011 lecture by Professor Sir Hew Strachan. Strachan, a Professor of International Relations at St. Andrews University in Scotland, is one of the more perceptive and trenchant observers about the recent trends in strategy, war, and warfare from a historian’s perspective. I highly recommend his recent book, The Direction of War.

Strachan’s lecture, “The Changing Character of War,” proceeds from Carl von Clausewitz’s discussions in On War on change and continuity in the history of war to look at the trajectories of recent conflicts. Among the topics Strachan’s lecture covers are technological determinism, the irregular conflicts of the early 21st century, political and social mobilization, the spectrum of conflict, the impact of the Second World War on contemporary theorizing about war and warfare, and deterrence.

This is well worth the time to listen to and think about.

The Effects Of Dispersion On Combat

[The article below is reprinted from the December 1996 edition of The International TNDM Newsletter. A revised version appears in Christopher A. Lawrence, War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, 2017), Chapter 13.]

The Effects of Dispersion on Combat
by Christopher A. Lawrence

The TNDM[1] does not play dispersion. But it is clear that dispersion has continued to increase over time, and this must have some effect on combat. This effect was identified by Trevor N. Dupuy in his various writings, starting with the Evolution of Weapons and Warfare. His graph in Understanding War of the battle casualties trends over time is presented here as Figure 1. As dispersion changes over time (dramatically), one would expect the casualties would change over time. I therefore went back to the Land Warfare Database (the 605 engagement version[2]) and proceeded to look at casualties over time and dispersion from every angle that l could.

l eventually realized that l was going to need some better definition of the time periods l was measuring to, as measuring by years scattered the data, measuring by century assembled the data in too gross a manner, and measuring by war left a confusing picture due to the number of small wars with only two or three battles in them in the Land Warfare Database. I eventually defined the wars into 14 categories, so I could fit them onto one readable graph:

To give some idea of how representative the battles listed in the LWDB were for covering the period, I have included a count of the number of battles listed in Michael Clodfelter’s two-volume book Warfare and Armed Conflict, 1618-1991. In the case of WWI, WWII and later, battles tend to be defined as a divisional-level engagement, and there were literally tens of thousands of those.

I then tested my data again looking at the 14 wars that I defined:

  • Average Strength by War (Figure 2)
  • Average Losses by War (Figure 3)
  • Percent Losses Per Day By War (Figure 4)a
  • Average People Per Kilometer By War (Figure 5)
  • Losses per Kilometer of Front by War (Figure 6)
  • Strength and Losses Per Kilometer of Front By War (Figure 7)
  • Ratio of Strength and Losses per Kilometer of Front by War (Figure 8)
  • Ratio of Strength and Loses per Kilometer of Front by Century (Figure 9)

A review of average strengths over time by century and by war showed no surprises (see Figure 2). Up through around 1900, battles were easy to define: they were one- to three-day affairs between clearly defined forces at a locale. The forces had a clear left flank and right flank that was not bounded by other friendly forces. After 1900 (and in a few cases before), warfare was fought on continuous fronts

with a ‘battle’ often being a large multi-corps operation. It is no longer clearly understood what is meant by a battle, as the forces, area covered, and duration can vary widely. For the LWDB, each battle was defined as the analyst wished. ln the case of WWI, there are a lot of very large battles which drive the average battle size up. ln the cases of the WWII, there are a lot of division-level battles, which bring the average down. In the case of the Arab-Israeli Wars, there are nothing but division and brigade-level battles, which bring the average down.

The interesting point to notice is that the average attacker strength in the 16th and 17th century is lower than the average defender strength. Later it is higher. This may be due to anomalies in our data selection.

Average loses by war (see Figure 3) suffers from the same battle definition problem.

Percent losses per day (see Figure 4) is a useful comparison through the end of the 19th Century. After that, the battles get longer and the definition of a duration of the battle is up to the analyst. Note the very dear and definite downward pattern of percent loses per day from the Napoleonic Wars through the Arab-Israeli Wars. Here is a very clear indication of the effects of dispersion. It would appear that from the 1600s to the 1800s the pattern was effectively constant and level, then declines in a very systematic pattern. This partially contradicts Trevor Dupuy’s writing and graphs (see Figure 1). It does appear that after this period of decline that the percent losses per day are being set at a new, much lower plateau. Percent losses per day by war is attached.

Looking at the actual subject of the dispersion of people (measured in people per kilometer of front) remained relatively constant from 1600 through the American Civil War (see Figure 5). Trevor Dupuy defined dispersion as the number of people in a box-like area. Unfortunately, l do not know how to measure that. lean clearly identify the left and right of a unit, but it is more difficult to tell how deep it is Furthermore, density of occupation of this box is far from uniform, with a very forward bias By the same token, fire delivered into this box is also not uniform, with a very forward bias. Therefore, l am quite comfortable measuring dispersion based upon unit frontage, more so than front multiplied by depth.

Note, when comparing the Napoleonic Wars to the American Civil War that the dispersion remains about the same. Yet, if you look at the average casualties (Figure 3) and the average percent casualties per day (Figure 4), it is clear that the rate of casualty accumulation is lower in the American Civil War (this again partially contradicts Dupuy‘s writings). There is no question that with the advent of the Minié ball, allowing for rapid-fire rifled muskets, the ability to deliver accurate firepower increased.

As you will also note, the average people per linear kilometer between WWI and WWII differs by a factor of a little over 1.5 to 1. Yet the actual difference in casualties (see Figure 4) is much greater. While one can just postulate that the difference is the change in dispersion squared (basically Dupuy‘s approach), this does not seem to explain the complete difference, especially the difference between the Napoleonic Wars and the Civil War.

lnstead of discussing dispersion, we should be discussing “casualty reduction efforts.” This basically consists of three elements:

  • Dispersion (D)
  • Increased engagement ranges (R)
  • More individual use of cover and concealment (C&C).

These three factors together result in the reduced chance to hit. They are also partially interrelated, as one cannot make more individual use of cover and concealment unless one is allowed to disperse. So, therefore. The need for cover and concealment increases the desire to disperse and the process of dispersing allows one to use more cover and concealment.

Command and control are integrated into this construct as being something that allows dispersion, and dispersion creates the need for better command control. Therefore, improved command and control in this construct does not operate as a force modifier, but enables a force to disperse.

Intelligence becomes more necessary as the opposing forces use cover and concealment and the ranges of engagement increase. By the same token, improved intelligence allows you to increase the range of engagement and forces the enemy to use better concealment.

This whole construct could be represented by the diagram at the top of the next page.

Now, I may have said the obvious here, but this construct is probably provable in each individual element, and the overall outcome is measurable. Each individual connection between these boxes may also be measurable.

Therefore, to measure the effects of reduced chance to hit, one would need to measure the following formula (assuming these formulae are close to being correct):

(K * ΔD) + (K * ΔC&C) + (K * ΔR) = H

(K * ΔC2) = ΔD

(K * ΔD) = ΔC&C

(K * ΔW) + (K * ΔI) = ΔR

K = a constant
Δ = the change in….. (alias “Delta”)
D = Dispersion
C&C = Cover & Concealment
R = Engagement Range
W = Weapon’s Characteristics
H = the chance to hit
C2 = Command and control
I = Intelligence or ability to observe

Also, certain actions lead to a desire for certain technological and system improvements. This includes the effect of increased dispersion leading to a need for better C2 and increased range leading to a need for better intelligence. I am not sure these are measurable.

I have also shown in the diagram how the enemy impacts upon this. There is also an interrelated mirror image of this construct for the other side.

I am focusing on this because l really want to come up with some means of measuring the effects of a “revolution in warfare.” The last 400 years of human history have given us more revolutionary inventions impacting war than we can reasonably expect to see in the next 100 years. In particular, I would like to measure the impact of increased weapon accuracy, improved intelligence, and improved C2 on combat.

For the purposes of the TNDM, I would very specifically like to work out an attrition multiplier for battles before WWII (and theoretically after WWII) based upon reduced chance to be hit (“dispersion”). For example, Dave Bongard is currently using an attrition multiplier of 4 for his WWI engagements that he is running for the battalion-level validation data base.[3] No one can point to a piece of paper saying this is the value that should be used. Dave picked this value based upon experience and familiarity with the period.

I have also attached Average Loses per Kilometer of Front by War (see Figure 6 above), and a summary chart showing the two on the same chart (see figure 7 above).

The values from these charts are:

The TNDM sets WWII dispersion factor at 3,000 (which l gather translates into 30,000 men per square kilometer). The above data shows a linear dispersion per kilometer of 2,992 men, so this number parallels Dupuy‘s figures.

The final chart I have included is the Ratio of Strength and Losses per Kilometer of Front by War (Figure 8). Each line on the bar graph measures the average ratio of strength over casualties for either the attacker or defender. Being a ratio, unusual outcomes resulted in some really unusually high ratios. I took the liberty of taking out six

data points because they appeared unusually lop-sided. Three of these points are from the English Civil War and were way out of line with everything else. These were the three Scottish battles where you had a small group of mostly sword-armed troops defeating a “modem” army. Also, Walcourt (1689), Front Royal (1862), and Calbritto (1943) were removed. L also have included the same chart, except by century (Figure 9).
Again, one sees a consistency in results in over 300+ years of war, in this case going all the way through WWI, then sees an entirely different pattern with WWII and the Arab-Israeli Wars

A very tentative set of conclusions from all this is:

  1. Dispersion has been relatively constant and driven by factors other than firepower from 1600-1815.
  2. Since the Napoleonic Wars, units have increasingly dispersed (found ways to reduce their chance to be hit) in response to increased lethality of weapons.
  3. As a result of this increased dispersion, casualties in a given space have declined.
  4. The ratio of this decline in casualties over area have been roughly proportional to the strength over an area from 1600 through WWI. Starting with WWII, it appears that people have dispersed faster than weapons lethality, and this trend has continued.
  5. In effect, people dispersed in direct relation to increased firepower from 1815 through 1920, and then after that time dispersed faster than the increase in lethality.
  6. It appears that since WWII, people have gone back to dispersing (reducing their chance to be hit) at the same rate that firepower is increasing.
  7. Effectively, there are four patterns of casualties in modem war:

Period 1 (1600 – 1815): Period of Stability

  • Short battles
  • Short frontages
  • High attrition per day
  • Constant dispersion
  • Dispersion decreasing slightly after late 1700s
  • Attrition decreasing slightly after mid-1700s.

Period 2 (1816 – 1905): Period of Adjustment

  • Longer battles
  • Longer frontages
  • Lower attrition per day
  • Increasing dispersion
  • Dispersion increasing slightly faster than lethality

Period 3 (1912 – 1920): Period of Transition

  • Long Battles
  • Continuous Frontages
  • Lower attrition per day
  • Increasing dispersion
  • Relative lethality per kilometer similar to past, but lower
  • Dispersion increasing slightly faster than lethality

Period 4 (1937 – present): Modern Warfare

  • Long Battles
  • Continuous Frontages
  • Low Attrition per day
  • High dispersion (perhaps constant?)
  • Relatively lethality per kilometer much lower than the past
  • Dispersion increased much faster than lethality going into the period.
  • Dispersion increased at the same rate as lethality within the period.

So the question is whether warfare of the next 50 years will see a new “period of adjustment,” where the rate of dispersion (and other factors) adjusts in direct proportion to increased lethality, or will there be a significant change in the nature of war?

Note that when l use the word “dispersion” above, l often mean “reduced chance to be hit,” which consists of dispersion, increased engagement ranges, and use of cover & concealment.

One of the reasons l wandered into this subject was to see if the TNDM can be used for predicting combat before WWII. l then spent the next few days attempting to find some correlation between dispersion and casualties. Using the data on historical dispersion provided above, l created a mathematical formulation and tested that against the actual historical data points, and could not get any type of fit.

I then locked at the length of battles over time, at one-day battles, and attempted to find a pattern. I could find none. I also looked at other permutations, but did not keep a record of my attempts. I then looked through the work done by Dean Hartley (Oakridge) with the LWDB and called Paul Davis (RAND) to see if there was anyone who had found any correlation between dispersion and casualties, and they had not noted any.

It became clear to me that if there is any such correlation, it is buried so deep in the data that it cannot be found by any casual search. I suspect that I can find a mathematical correlation between weapon lethality, reduced chance to hit (including dispersion), and casualties. This would require some improvement to the data, some systematic measure of weapons lethality, and some serious regression analysis. I unfortunately cannot pursue this at this time.

Finally, for reference, l have attached two charts showing the duration of the battles in the LWDB in days (Figure 10, Duration of Battles Over Time and Figure 11, A Count of the Duration of Battles by War).


[1] The Tactical Numerical Deterministic Model, a combat model developed by Trevor Dupuy in 1990-1991 as the follow-up to his Quantified Judgement Model. Dr. James G. Taylor and Jose Perez also contributed to the TNDM’s development.

[2] TDI’s Land Warfare Database (LWDB) was a revised version of a database created by the Historical Evaluation Research Organization (HERO) for the then-U.S. Army Concepts and Analysis Agency (now known as the U.S. Army Center for Army Analysis (CAA)) in 1984. Since the original publication of this article, TDI expanded and revised the data into a suite of databases.

[3] This matter is discussed in Christopher A. Lawrence, “The Second Test of the TNDM Battalion-Level Validations: Predicting Casualties,” The International TNDM Newsletter, April 1997, pp. 40-50.

Combat Readiness And The U.S. Army’s “Identity Crisis”

Servicemen of the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (standing) train Ukrainian National Guard members during a joint military exercise called “Fearless Guardian 2015,” at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center near the western village of Starychy, Ukraine, on May 7, 2015. [Newsweek]

Last week, Wesley Morgan reported in POLITICO about an internal readiness study recently conducted by the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade Combat Team. As U.S. European Command’s only airborne unit, the 173rd Airborne Brigade has been participating in exercises in the Baltic States and the Ukraine since 2014 to demonstrate the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) resolve to counter potential Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.

The experience the brigade gained working with Baltic and particularly Ukrainian military units that had engaged with Russian and Russian-backed Ukrainian Separatist forces has been sobering. Colonel Gregory Anderson, the 173rd Airborne Brigade commander, commissioned the study as a result. “The lessons we learned from our Ukrainian partners were substantial. It was a real eye-opener on the absolute need to look at ourselves critically,” he told POLITICO.

The study candidly assessed that the 173rd Airborne Brigade currently lacked “essential capabilities needed to accomplish its mission effectively and with decisive speed” against near-peer adversaries or sophisticated non-state actors. Among the capability gaps the study cited were

  • The lack of air defense and electronic warfare units and over-reliance on satellite communications and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) navigation systems;
  • simple countermeasures such as camouflage nets to hide vehicles from enemy helicopters or drones are “hard-to-find luxuries for tactical units”;
  • the urgent need to replace up-armored Humvees with the forthcoming Ground Mobility Vehicle, a much lighter-weight, more mobile truck; and
  • the likewise urgent need to field the projected Mobile Protected Firepower armored vehicle companies the U.S. Army is planning to add to each infantry brigade combat team.

The report also stressed the vulnerability of the brigade to demonstrated Russian electronic warfare capabilities, which would likely deprive it of GPS navigation and targeting and satellite communications in combat. While the brigade has been purchasing electronic warfare gear of its own from over-the-counter suppliers, it would need additional specialized personnel to use the equipment.

As analyst Adrian Bonenberger commented, “The report is framed as being about the 173rd, but it’s really about more than the 173rd. It’s about what the Army needs to do… If Russia uses electronic warfare to jam the brigade’s artillery, and its anti-tank weapons can’t penetrate any of the Russian armor, and they’re able to confuse and disrupt and quickly overwhelm those paratroopers, we could be in for a long war.”

While the report is a wake-up call with regard to the combat readiness in the short-term, it also pointedly demonstrates the complexity of the strategic “identity crisis” that faces the U.S. Army in general. Many of the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s current challenges can be traced directly to the previous decade and a half of deployments conducting wide area security missions during counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The brigade’s perceived shortcomings for combined arms maneuver missions are either logical adaptations to the demands of counterinsurgency warfare or capabilities that atrophied through disuse.

The Army’s specific lack of readiness to wage combined arms maneuver warfare against potential peer or near-peer opponents in Europe can be remedied given time and resourcing in the short-term. This will not solve the long-term strategic conundrum the Army faces in needing to be prepared to fight conventional and irregular conflicts at the same time, however. Unless the U.S. is willing to 1) increase defense spending to balance force structure to the demands of foreign and military policy objectives, or 2) realign foreign and military policy goals with the available force structure, it will have to resort to patching up short-term readiness issues as best as possible and continue to muddle through. Given the current state of U.S. domestic politics, muddling through will likely be the default option unless or until the consequences of doing so force a change.