Casualty Effectiveness versus Combat Effectiveness

I have been involved in an off-line discussion related to combat modeling. This is a discussion relevant to that conversation. It is from page 56, Chapter 7: Measuring Human Factors in Combat, of War by Numbers.


Casualty Effectiveness versus Combat Effectiveness

            Much of the above analysis was based upon a measurement of casualty effectiveness. This is an outcome. The actual factor we are trying to measure is combat effectiveness. We have no means of directly measuring that. For his combat models, Trevor Dupuy was able to produce a Combat Effectiveness Value (CEV) based upon comparing the results of the model runs to the historical outcomes. The CEV served as a force multiplier for one side. As such, if a force with the CEV of two was attacking at even odds, it would be treated the same as if it was attacking at two-to-one odds. This would then result in better outcomes, more favorable casualty exchange ratios, and higher advance rates. While there was a not a direct linear relationship in the model between combat effectiveness and casualty effectiveness, a higher combat effectiveness value clearly improved casualty effectiveness. Casualty effectiveness was usually higher than the combat effectiveness value.

            There is a sense that one can determine “combat effectiveness” as the square root of casualty effectiveness. In this construct, a casualty effectiveness of four would mean a combat effectiveness value of two. In effect, being twice as good as your opponent results in a favorable casualty exchange being four times better. This has not been systematically tested.[1]

            Added to that there are some armies that are “casualty insensitive.” This certainly describes the Soviet Army in World War II, which was more than willing to take casualties for the sake of completing the mission or fulfilling their orders. The failure to encourage individual initiative at the lower levels and the insistence that orders must be followed regardless just amplified this tendency. It appears that the Soviet Army rather needlessly suffered additional casualties above and beyond that which other armies would suffer in the same scenario, and that this “casualty insensitive” regime also influenced the casualty effectiveness figures. This certainly also applies to the Japanese Army in World War II, especially with their “banzai charges” and tendency to fight until exterminated.

            Still, casualty effectiveness is an important metric and one that gets the analyst closer to combat effectiveness; it is just not a perfect measure.


[1] And we do not know how to test this outside of using a combat model structure.

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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  1. But which is the cause and which is the result ? Is a unit or army considered the more combat effective Because it accomplishes missions with fewer casuallties?
    Or that it has fewer casuallties because it trains – is organized – and operates with that in mind and Then can be called more combat effective?
    Or what about the influence of the enemy? Is it’s policy to seek to inflict high casualties on the opponent as a goal that follows? Or is it’s policy to accomplish its mission without such desire to inflict high casualties? Some armies do and others do not have infliction of high enemy casualties in its tactical doctrine. And certainly when it comes to specific individual battles casualty infliction on the opponent may or may not be part of its agenda. john sloan

  2. Trevor Dupuy discussed this in Chapter 16 of Understanding War. He noted that there was a correlation between his calculated Combat Effectiveness Values (CEVs) and historical casualty infliction rates derived from gross casualty figures. He developed a new measure which he called Lethality (L), computed by dividing historical casualty inflicting rates (K) by the combat posture factors (u) from the QJM/TNDM (L=K/u). When he graphed these figures for L against his calculated CEVs, he found the general L correspondence to the square root of the CEVs (or L=CEV2). He went on to propose some revised Lanchester equations using K as a coefficient, which he called a New Square Law.

    As Chris mentioned, neither Trevor nor TDI did any analysis to test this hypothesis. Trevor never explored possible cause and effect, but it does make sense that there would be a correlation between combat effectiveness and ability to inflict casualties. Higher quality forces would logically be expected to inflict higher casualty rates on lower quality forces, and they do demonstrate this in historical casualty data. It would be very interesting to find out if the correlation holds when looked at at the individual engagement level and what factors might influence cause and effect, if a willing funder could be found.

  3. I am a bit sceptical about the belief that their doctrine might have been the driving factor for higher casualties. The Nazis were not hesitant about sacrificing the population under their control either, unless we assume that their grip was never as strong as it is often asserted.
    This certainly has some merit, but remains merely a variable in the equation – Sonderkommando Elbe might have been an oddity.

    In both the RKKA’s and IJA’s case, this only seems to hold true if facing German or US troops, respectively. I am not aware if Japanese troops resorted to Banzai charges against Chinese forces (after all, last resort attacks seemed to have ramped up in the Summer of 1944), or whether the Soviets suffered from an inferior casualty exchange ratio in the Soviet-Afghan war.
    Regardless, this definitely calls for more sophisticated models that describe the interaction between two combatants.
    In fact, two significant factors for higher CEVs and CIPs remain: The development and militarization levels of a society, commonly two competing factors in non-authoritarian regimes.

    • “I am a bit sceptical about the belief that their doctrine might have been the driving factor for higher casualties.”

      Most likely not. You find the same observation in WW1. In the west the Germany army had over a period of 4 years on average inflicted 14-15 KIA for 10 of its own.
      The largest casualty discrepancy is found in the 5 months of 1914, for 195 000 German KIA we see around 360 000 French, British and Belgian KIA.

  4. Regarding casualty sensitivity, I am particularly interested in military history and at present I am trying to broadly categorise battlefield behaviour within certain historical periods. The categories are based on observable battlefield behaviour and tactics favoured by certain groups at certain periods in history. They are not behaviour patterns that are ‘eternal’ through history.

    Taking the 19th century colonial era as an example and using inputs from Paddy Griffiths at Sandhurst I have hypothesised that the following are some of the identifiable groups in that era:

    1. European Regulars.
    2. Sepoys (trained by European Regulars to use their tactics).
    3. Centralised societies (e.g., Zulu, Hausa).
    4. Decentralised societies (e.g. Boer, Xhosa ).

    IMHO casualty insensitivity is also strongly influenced by these as well as morale, fatigue, command and control structure and leadership ability of officers.

    Although there has been little OR analysis that I know of, from the point of view of military history there is a lot of data out there in personal accounts and other documentation of battles and campaigns. While it may not be as tightly calculated as a formal OR study it does give a lot of information that allows us to estimate what happened on a battlefield of that period. One example (out of many) is the book Firepower by Hughes which, for the black powder period, gives us a good idea of the staying power of troops under fire and an estimate of the breakpoints and other key indicators.

    I have developed calculations for simulating breakpoints, combat degradation, command and control, recovery from setback (rallying) as well as the tactical styles of different combatants and (IMHO) they seem to parallel actual battles fairly well. The calculations are complex and interrelated but seem to work well. I have a number of historically literate users of my wargame simulations, and they have tried them in historical battle simulations with similar results.

  5. There is also the difference between armies that choose to take some casualties because they feel that it is required to get better results, and others who are indifferent and/or insufficiently competent.

    The Germans were generally willing to take casualties on the front end in order to reap large gains quickly. When combined with a firepower advantage (if only through more effective concentration of resources) this made them extremely effective. The casualty effectiveness – combat effectiveness idea almost seems designed to fit their methods.

    The Chinese in Korea were frequently able to get very good results. But the high firepower of their opponents pretty much meant that they were going to take casualties. I am not sure the casualty effectiveness – combat effectiveness works well with them. The Japanese, in their early mobile phase of WW2, also don’t seem to fit well. An awful lot of Allied troops were forced to surrender to relatively low firepower light infantry.

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