War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat

War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat

War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat

War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat


War by Numbers assesses the nature of conventional warfare through the analysis of historical combat. Christopher A. Lawrence establishes what we know about conventional combat and why we know it. By demonstrating the impact a variety of factors have on combat he moves such analysis beyond the work of Carl von Clausewitz and into modern data and interpretation.

Using vast data sets, Lawrence examines force ratios, the human factor in case studies from World War II and beyond, the combat value of superior situational awareness, and the effects of dispersion, among other elements. Lawrence challenges existing interpretations of conventional warfare and shows how such combat should be conducted in the future, simultaneously broadening our understanding of what it means to fight wars by the numbers.


Out of World War ii, initially as part of the effort to integrate uk radar systems within uk air defense efforts, a new discipline came into being called operational research (operations research in the United States). As a result of the use of these more quantitative analytical efforts in the uk and us. war efforts, a series of analytical centers was established after the war. This included the Operations Evaluation Group (OEG) in 1945 for the U.S. Navy, Project rand (“research and development”) in 1946 for the U.S. Air Force, Operations Research Office (ORO) in 1948 for the U.S. Army, and the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group (WSEG) in 1956 for elements of the Department of Defense.

In the 1960s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara instituted systems analysis as the basis for Pentagon decision making on force requirements, weapons systems, and other such matters. This led the Defense Department to better incorporate into their analysis the new operations research methodologies and directly led to the growth and influence of various studies and analysis centers, like rand, Research Analysis Corporation (RAC, the replacement for ORO), the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA, the renamed OEG), and the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA, the descendant of WSEG). It led to the incorporation of the new discipline of operations research and the use of civilian defense planners as an integral part of the U.S. defense planning process. It also led to computerized combat models.

These computerized combat models first appeared in 1953 at oro as a simple tank-versus-tank model. By 1965 they had expanded the models to be able to fight entire campaigns. By the early 1970s the models were being used to war game a potential war in Europe for the sake of seeing who would win, for the sake of determining how we could structure our forces better, and for the sake of determining what supplies and other support were needed to sustain this force on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

This development of models created a need to understand the quantitative aspects of warfare. While this was not a new concept, the United States suddenly found itself with combat modeling structures that were desperately in need of hard data on how combat actually worked. Surprisingly, even after 3, 300 years of recorded military history, these data were sparse.

It was this lack of hard data on which to base operational analysis and combat modeling that led to the growth of the organizations run by Trevor N. Dupuy . . .

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