Economist Article on Urban Warfare

The Economist published an in-depth article this week on urban warfare. It is here: Armies are re-learning how to fight in cities | The Economist

You will not be able to read the entire article without a subscription, but I think I can quote the two most important paragraphs as fair use:

The biggest question is whether a lack of familiarity with city fighting has over-amplified its grim reputation. A study by Christopher Lawrence of the Dupuy Institute, which collects historical data on warfare, analysed urban operations towards the end of the second world war, including three battles over Kharkiv, a Ukrainian city which has been battered in the current conflict. It found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that cities slowed down armies: rates of advance were one-third to one-half what they were in non-urban combat.

But cities were not necessarily deadlier than other battlefields. The attacker’s casualties were no higher in urban operations than non-urban ones, and losses of vehicles were the same or lower. In more recent urban battles—those for Fallujah in Iraq in 2004 or Marawi in the Philippines in 2017—the attackers’ casualties were low, just over one death a day, and far lower than those of defenders. In fact the highest casualties in urban offensives have been borne by Soviet or Russian armies—a fact which says as much about Russian tactical prowess as it does about urban warfare.

Anyhow, thanks to the Economist for the shout-out. The three urban warfare studies that we did were done by both Richard C. Anderson and I. The first study (see: Microsoft Word – Urban Warfare Phase I _W2K_.doc (dupuyinstitute.org)) was a joint effort by the two of us. The sections on combat stress and logistical expenditures from pages 58 to 75 was Richard Anderson’s work based upon Richard Anderson’s idea.

The second study on the three battles of Kharkov was primarily my work. The third study, which covered Manila and Hue was mostly Richard Anderson’s study. The fourth study was cancelled by Hurricane Katrina: Urban Phase IV – Stalingrad | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org).

and then there is this following paragraph:

Nor does this sort of fighting seem to be uniquely traumatic (at least for those carrying guns). A report by the Rand Corporation, an American think-tank, concludes that rates of combat stress—what was once called shell shock—were no higher than usual in the battles for Brest in Brittany in 1944, Manila in the Philippines in 1945 or Hue in Vietnam in 1968 (though most civilians had, wisely, left before the fighting started). The report suggests that the intensity of urban combat paradoxically gave soldiers a greater sense of initiative, control and purpose than those fighting in open terrain. Anecdotally, Ukrainian forces facing distant and relentless shellfire in Donbas say that the inability to see the enemy is as demoralising and disempowering as anything else.

Now, this was really Richard Anderson’s work redone as a RAND study. In our first report, I put in a section called “Appendix VII: Recent MOUT Literature” (page 112-121). This was because I was appalled at what other people were claiming about urban warfare and their methodology for how they developed these ideas. While I usually try to refrain from addressing other people’s work, sometimes I can’t help myself. Anyhow, this resulted in RAND doing another study on urban warfare in 2005 called Steeling the Mind: Combat Stress Reactions and Their Implications for Urban Warfare (see: Steeling the Mind: Combat Stress Reactions and Their Implications for Urban Warfare | RAND) This effort included a section done by Dr. Todd C. Helmus (Chapter 4, pages 39-67) that was really the core of the RAND report. This effort repeated the research done by Richard Anderson. In fact, Dr. Helmus called us, and Richard ended up giving him a list of the exact NARA files we looked at. Our work is footnoted in Chapter Four the RAND study on pages 46 (along with the comment: “We would like to thank the authors of this report for their helpful comments”) and is listed in the bibliography on page 145. Otherwise, we are not mentioned, even though clearly the entire reason for their revised study was because of our study. 

Now, overall this is a good thing. We produced a report that contradicted previous RAND studies, they then conducted an independent effort to replicate our research and double-check our results. The end result is that they found our research was good and our finding were correct. This is kind of how part of the scientific process should work. 

Now, perhaps I am overly sensitive about this, but the RAND report that was published never stated up front that it was a revision of their previous work. In fact, it directly contradicted some of their previous work. Furthermore, they never stated that the basic idea for the research and the conclusions were The Dupuy Institute‘s or Richard Anderson’s. They kind of carefully avoided mentioning us other than one footnote in Chapter Four of the report. In my view, this kind of looks like they stole our ideas, claimed them as their own, and did not give us proper credit. Maybe I am truly overly sensitive about this, but this is not the first time that people at RAND have done that and this was not the last time it happened. So yea, still carrying a little bit of a grudge. Especially as before the end of 2005 I had to lay Richard Anderson off because of a lack of budget. In the end, it was our ideas, research and work, not RAND’s.

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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.
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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.
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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).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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7 Comments

  1. Are there any referees in the field of military research? Is there any recourse concerning copyright infringement? Is it just a matter of common courtesy? Is it due to a desire by practitioners in academic fields not wanting to stifle collegial give-and-take (even if some practitioners take more than their rightful share of credit)?

    • There is no “referee” obviously. In fact DOD has “borrowed” from our work 3-4 times that I can recall, several times without any attribution.

      The only recourse would be legal. The first question is do I even have a case? Our study is linked in the above post as is the RAND study. I would need a knowledgeable lawyer to read through both of them and then determine if it was enough of a “borrowing” to establish a legal case and then whether the one footnote and bibliography reference in their report is sufficient to protect them.

      Then there is the problem of actually pursuing a legal case against RAND, which would be expensive. They are a corporation of $300+ million. They can afford an extended legal fight.

      • That’s what I figured. Without an in-the-field arbitrator (with the authority to shame or broadcast a bad reputation), there’s probably not much recourse. Proving plagiarism would be difficult difficult unless they included unattributed direct quotes from what you’ve published. Replicating your “experiment” (unless re-using a technique for which you have a patent) and then coming to the same conclusion is just part of the scientific method. One of the problems occurring when science is conducted as a business is that marketing goals might trump acknowledging that if one sees further then it is because of standing upon the shoulders of past giants (intellectual giants, whom the potential customer might want to hire instead of the business giant). Still, didn’t one of the Beatles have to pay a hefty amount because of a song that had a combination of notes resembling what someone else had composed? I guess that was a case for which the folk music spirit of “he stole from me and I steal from everyone” didn’t fly!

  2. Although, I guess he did try using that license by claiming a ’60s arrangement of “Oh, Happy Day” (with long-expired copyright, if there was such a thing in the 1700s) as the inspiring song (pun intended : – )

    Guess that if you asked nicely (think “A Few Good Men”) then RAND might share some work contracts with you.

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