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Lanchesters Law
July 14, 2005 6:09 AM   Subscribe

Lanchester's Law (pdf file) broadly states that in warfare it takes an N-square-fold increase in quality to make up for an N-square increase in quantity. In other words, gains in technological superiority do not multiply as fast as increases in in troop strength. When the warfare is asymmetrical, numerical superiority become even more important. With complaints that the US Army is understaffed (there are 1/3 fewer troops now than in 1991 when the US fought the first Gulf war) Democrats in the House and Senate - led by Joseph Lieberman and Hillary Clinton - are proposing to increase the size of the US Army by 80,000 troops - more than twice what the Army asked for and counter to the argument made by the the CATO institute that troop strength should be decreased.
posted by three blind mice (27 comments total)

 
Ugh. And how exactly do the Democrats plan to achieve these increases without conscription? What a fucking mess. Thanks, Bush and friends!
posted by Rothko at 6:13 AM on July 14, 2005


Nitpicking perhaps but you write:
"it takes an N-square-fold increase in quality to make up for an N-square increase in quantity"

you meant that:

"it takes an N-square-fold increase in quality to make up for an N-fold increase in quantity"
posted by talos at 6:14 AM on July 14, 2005


talos I think I got it right. It takes a 3x3=9-fold increase in quality to make up for a 3 fold increase in quantity. That is, it takes nine times as much technology to make up for three times as many soldiers. Spending more on increasing troop strength - at the expense of new toys - is the better investment.

Rothko, good question. Honestly, the red staters who make glib statements about "only" 1700 U.S. soldiers being killed are probably not as concerned about a Vietnam style draft as you think they are. Like it or not, some of those voters have to drawn to the Democrats if the GOP is going to be frog-marched out of power. Hillary Clinton seems to have figured this out. At least this proposal suggests that the Democrats are trying to put forth an aggressive agenda on defense.
posted by three blind mice at 6:42 AM on July 14, 2005


Funny, the Brits had the same problem during the American Revolution: Benjamin Franklin said that the colonists were breeding faster than the Redcoats were killing them and offered it as a mathematical problem for their lordships to work out. Not exactly the same equation, but it shows the difference between a linear and a geometric series.
posted by warbaby at 6:47 AM on July 14, 2005


Lanchester's Law seems to be about winning.

An equivalent-strength high-technology force may risk fewer lives on your side than a larger low-technology force, and this is going to be a major political factor in how you organise your country's defence.

A modern war, especially one fought by a wealthy country, is not necessarily best fought as the cheapest winning strategy.
posted by edd at 7:08 AM on July 14, 2005


talos I think I got it right. It takes a 3x3=9-fold increase in quality to make up for a 3 fold increase in quantity

Sorry to insist, but that means a N-squared (9) increase in quality for an N-fold (3) increase in quantity, (not an N-square increase in quantity), which would be a 3x3=9 fold increase in quantity as well.
posted by talos at 7:20 AM on July 14, 2005


If this war were a little more honest, people would be lining up around the block.

However, as a corporate takeover, no one wants any part of this evil enterprise.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 7:32 AM on July 14, 2005


Rothko writes "And how exactly do the Democrats plan to achieve these increases without conscription?"

Ya that was my first thougt. It seems they are having problems recruiting for the spots open now.
posted by Mitheral at 7:37 AM on July 14, 2005


Sorry to insist, but that means a N-squared (9) increase in quality for an N-fold (3) increase in quantity, (not an N-square increase in quantity), which would be a 3x3=9 fold increase in quantity as well.

talos you are right. My FPP says it takes an N-square-fold increase in quality to make up for an N-square increase in quantity. What I should have said is: it takes an N-square-fold increase in quality to make up for an N-square-fold increase in quantity.

I throw myself on the blue carpet and beg forgiveness.
posted by three blind mice at 7:58 AM on July 14, 2005


Many people continue to say they're all in favor of the war, but very few folks are signing up to actually fight in it.

Time to face the facts, folks: If you're of military age, and you won't go and sign up (and your kids won't sign up, and none of your friends are signing up) then you don't support the war. Bumper stickers and slogans just don't cut it.

If it's not worth getting your own ass shot off (or the asses of your loved ones), then how can you expect anyone else to make the same sacrifice? For all you pro-war cheerleaders, it's time to step up to the plate.

And yes, I already served my time in the Army. And no, I wasn't in favor of the war, and I won't be re-enlisting.
posted by Gamblor at 8:01 AM on July 14, 2005


edd: A modern war, especially one fought by a wealthy country, is not necessarily best fought as the cheapest winning strategy.

This is a good observation. A friend of mine in the US defense industry sends me video files from Iraq. The last one I got was of a laser guided Maverik missile taking out an "insurgent" firing on US and "Iraqi-government" troops hiding behind a burned out car. (Overkill, but effective.)

The thought occurred to me... is the US going to arm the Iraqi army with F-16s and Maverick missiles when they turn over the defense of Iraq to the Iraqi government? Obviously, the answer is no. (The Israelis would never permit it.) But if this is the case, why are the Iraqi forces being taught high technology warfare? This training has no value in the long term if they don't have the high technology weapons.

The future of Iraq is going to be all about Lancasters Law...
posted by three blind mice at 8:08 AM on July 14, 2005


And how exactly do the Democrats plan to achieve these increases without conscription?
They don't. The bill isn't designed to pass. It's pure politics - tactical maneuvering so that they can attack the administration's handling of the war from both the left and the right.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:24 AM on July 14, 2005


Lanchester's Law isn't like a law of physics, but is a strategic principle most relevant to set piece battles. I'm not sure it really applies as directly to counter-terrorism in an urban warfare setting.

In Iraq, tactics are constrained by a strategy which is seeking to minimize collateral damage, and in which, massive technological advantage is self-nullified. The U.S. could probably have saved the lives of some American troops by conducting a more intense air campaign against cities like Mosul and Fallulah, but the price of leveling these cities by massive bombing would have been greater levels of destruction and civilian death than the terrorist threat seemed to warrant to the wider world.

I think it is still an open question whether any modern army can successfully defeat a determined insurgency. The cost of doing so, while limiting casualties and destruction to "acceptable" levels is that an army gives up much of it's mobility and tactical advantage, almost becoming a reactionary and stationary defender of the urban environment, instead of a highly mobile striking force. In that situation, no number of additional grunts with light arms is likely to be clearly decisive, and the problems of force protection become greater, when there are more forces to protect.
posted by paulsc at 8:33 AM on July 14, 2005


three blind mice writes "is the US going to arm the Iraqi army with F-16s and Maverick missiles when they turn over the defense of Iraq to the Iraqi government? "

And in turn poses the question: "Is the US ever going to turn over defense of Iraq to the Iraqis?"
posted by Mitheral at 9:29 AM on July 14, 2005


What Ganblor said.

As for ending the war, it will eventually end somehow, after the US and coalition troops have withdrawn. The folks in that part of the world have been fighting amongst themselves since the days of Ur, and they ain't killed themselves off yet. But by occupying their country "we" are just keeping the quarrel going by giving them something to fight amongst themselves about and by arming and paying "our" protegees (and often, I hope inadvertently, "the Enemy"). As long as the occupying forces are playing "let's you and him fight" the Iraqis will do so, because the alternative of uniting to tell "us" to go away, like Kirk and the Klingon told that glowing spirit of discord, is too risky for the US clients currently comprising "the Iraqi Government". (Note I said "client" not "puppet".)

The US and its slowly diminishing stable of bribed-in buddies cannot win the war without a massive increase in troops and/or a massive weapons upgrade (say to robots, death rays and nukes) and/or a massive die-off among the Iraqi people (as helped the white colonists conquer North America). It might have helped if the "coalition" had offered better terms in the first place instead of relying so heavily on armed might, but it's too late to fix that now.

"Dubya pull out like your daddy shoulda!"
posted by davy at 9:59 AM on July 14, 2005


Ugh. And how exactly do the Democrats plan to achieve these increases without conscription? What a fucking mess. Thanks, Bush and friends!

A couple of ways can be made without conscription. Both of them suck, frankly, in that they are both proposals which will either cost us troop effectiveness or cost us a fuckton of money.

The first is to lower the standard requirements for enlisting. People are turned away from the military all the time because they do not meet the relatively strict (compared historically) requirements to get into the military. This could work, but it has a potential to lower the overall effectiveness of our forces, which could lead to higher casualties and bad PR incidents.

The second is to increase the compensation given to both new recruits as a signing bonus and to existing soldiers. With more incentive to join, people who are on the fence about joining could be persuaded to. The problem with this is that it increases spending at a time when we really need to either raise revenue or lower spending. The other problem is that it could recruit people who are in it only for the money, instead of a desire to enlist, which could cause a shift in morale (albeit highly unlikely).
posted by shawnj at 10:01 AM on July 14, 2005


Gamblor has it.
The problem with the internet (and people) is that we seem to think that talk = action.
Nobody but the people who manufacture the cheesy bumper stickers cares about what you tout as right and wrong. Your actions are what determines what is right and wrong in this world.
Do you support this war enough to go and do the killing with your own hands? No.... Then stop beakin like you are gonna change the world and know what is best.
Just who do we think that we are anyway?
On a sidenote.... Why should people who do not have the gumption to do this themselves be empowered to send others to do it for them? Is that freedom?
posted by TheFeatheredMullet at 10:20 AM on July 14, 2005


And how exactly do the Democrats plan to achieve these increases without conscription?

They don't. H.R. 163 Universal National Service Act of 2003 by Rep Rangel (D-NY) last year was another attempt at this.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 11:18 AM on July 14, 2005


Thinking of the future, rather than the past or the present.

It is now being speculated that China and the US are on an almost inevitable course towards war. And while there are many reasons given as to why this will happen, there are only two considerations as to means: naval war, or naval and land war.

Both sides have been aggressively building up their navies for 25 years, always with each other in mind. And while China currently admits naval inferiority requiring "unconventional" means to defeat the US navy, little speculation has been made about how a naval war might migrate into a land war.

China has an enormous army, and yet, per capita, it is a tiny fraction of the size it *could* be. With perhaps 50 to 100 Million males who could serve in uniform, with little impact on their nation's economy, they could field an army almost beyond imagination.

Without the use of nuclear weapons, the US literally does not have enough high explosive to kill even a percentage of that many men.

To put this in very comparative terms, in the Korean War, the US forces were clearly overwhelmed by the Chinese, who demonstrated they could muscle the US off the peninsula by sheer numbers. What saved the day for the US was an outbreak of hemorrhagic smallpox, which devastated the Chinese ranks.

So does this force the US to use either nuclear or biological weapons? Not necessarily. Some of the space-based weapons on the drawing board may create the effect of nuclear weapons without radiation or fallout, and could prevent or destroy any significant enemy concentration.

And if you think that by refusing to fight a war could be averted, an important 'white paper' on the subject by two high-ranking Chinese officers suggested that "unconventional" attacks against the US could both include nuclear or biological WMDs, with some degree of deniability, and could be used preemptively.

That is, it doesn't matter if you don't want to fight. Your alternative is to die.
posted by kablam at 11:20 AM on July 14, 2005


"I'm not sure it really applies as directly to counter-terrorism in an urban warfare setting....etc"
Well said paulsc.

kablam, it's a war the U.S. will inevitably win. Not that the victory won't be Pyrric. Our navy is vastly superior, plus our combat systems, etc. etc.
If we fight the Chinese on land, they would be knocking the snot out of us for quite a long time. However, as long as it's fought on their turf it will be bloody, but we'll be busting up their infrastructure and their toys. We'll be able to keep rolling on. They won't.
The tricky part is if we hurt them bad enough fast enough to where they get desperate and use nukes or what-have-you. From there it would likely spin way out of control and any number differences would become negligible.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:33 AM on July 14, 2005


In that situation, no number of additional grunts with light arms is likely to be clearly decisive, and the problems of force protection become greater, when there are more forces to protect.

I think this is an important point, paulc. There was a time, back in March of 2003, when 300K to 500K troops would have made a difference. America could have properly run the post-offensive occupation. There would have been a smaller (although certainly still significant) risk of fomenting an insurrection.

Instead, the Bush administration chose to, literally, completely ignore the post-invasion situation. All evidence indicates that Bush's defense advisors simply refused to envision any scenario where America was not warmly welcomed and able to leave in a matter of months.

As a result, it is not clear that bringing in additional troops now (as opposed to then as we should have), will make any difference. It certainly didn't change things in Vietnam. Of course, the troops that are looking at their third combat deployment probably don't want to hear shit like that.

That's why I think this bill is a political maneuver. Nobody wants a draft, but it is the only realistic way to get 80K more troops, which probably still isn't enough. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with it as a political maneuver.

America needs to wake up to the fact that Bush fucked up royally. People are dead and a country is in chaos because Bush and his advisors were fucking idiots living in fantasy land.

How do we fix things? Who the hell knows, but letting the idiots in Bush's cabinet run things still, after repeated failure, sure as hell is not the right way to go. There is the remote possibility that stuff like this might wake Bush up and get him to fire the imbeciles he hired to run the war.
posted by teece at 11:52 AM on July 14, 2005


How do we fix things?

Put Saddam Hussein back in power. He will fix those insurgents, put a stop to any civil war, and clamp down on the Islamic terrorism in Iraq.. just like he was doing before this ill-advised invasion.

The Iraqi people will welcome him back with rose petals.
posted by three blind mice at 12:14 PM on July 14, 2005


Um, kablam, sorry to burst your bubble but seeing as the US economy wouldn't survive a war with China, I highly doubt war is "inevitable." Such a war wouldn't be 'Pyrrhic' it'd be suicide. The only possible reason for a war would be resource contention but most everybody understands and agrees that markets are far better at settling resource issues than armies. Particularly if the result is war with one of your largest trading partners. Arm-chair strategists love to speculate about such match-ups so they can continue to do so, and of course it's the job of generals to do so, but politically, a US-China war is the last thing anybody on the planet wants.

As for Iraq, that war, unfortunately, is very real and will most likely continue for a long, long time. I wouldn't be surprised at all to open up a newspaper in 15 years and read about the latest troubles in Iraq. The only questions that remain are 1) if the US can create a stable, self-renewing democracy to counter the insurgents 2) how the US can get the hell out of Dodge without looking like a coward. I think most everybody--who's rational at least--understands that the insurgents will never be defeated totally and completely and 'Mission Accomplished' will never occur.
posted by nixerman at 12:51 PM on July 14, 2005


nixerman: Right now, after I wrote that, a piece has appeared in the Financial Times.

China is prepared to use nuclear weapons against the US if it is attacked by Washington during a confrontation over Taiwan, according to a senior Chinese military official.
"If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition on to the target zone on China's territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons," Zhu Chenghu, a major general in the People's Liberation Army, said at an official briefing...

...He added that China's definition of its territory includes warships and aircraft...

"...We Chinese will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all of the cities east of Xian. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds. . . of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese..."

...China's official doctrine has called for no first use of nuclear weapons since its first atomic test in 1964. But Mr Zhu is not the first Chinese official to refer to the possibility of using such weapons first in a conflict over Taiwan...

******************

In any event, a likely scenario that the US is aware of, and is working to counter, is this: the Chinese plan a pre-emtive attack against San Diego and Bremerton, Washington, to significantly impair the Pacific Fleet. This would be a covert operation, most likely pre-positioned nuclear bombs. This could be accompanied by widespread acts within the US resulting in large-scale disruptions, but not obviously linked to China. Deception is critical. All parts of the US would be temporarily distracted.

Deprived of these two deep-water ports, the Pacific Fleet would be unable to get refuel-repair-resupply in a timely enough manner to support defense of Taiwan operations.

Because the Panama Canal is now managed by the Chinese, a single merchant vessel scuttled in the canal could prevent the US Atlantic Fleet from entering the Pacific directly, having instead to travel around Cape Horn. Additional support may be provided by the enormous Chinese owned and PLA affiliated shipping company Hutchinson-Whampoa, that now has significant assets in the Caribbean and South America.

The actual invasion of Taiwan is straightforward, and not unthinkable in its planning. The D-Day invasion was prepared to accept 90% losses to achieve the beachhead, and the Chinese would be prepared for a similar attrition.

Initiated with a massive rocket barrage (700 rockets are already in place along the coast), along with airborne drops to secure or control essential targets, then followed by a huge floatilla of every kind of ship capable of crossing the strait.

Once large portions of the island have been secured, the PLA would disperse into cities and prepare for a counterattack from the US. But from this position, they would be almost impossible to dislodge without massive civilian casualties, so China would "win" Taiwan. The rest of the war would be called an "aggressive war against China by the US".

Ironically, Taiwan is only *part* of what the Chinese would hope to gain from this war. They would also hope to kick the US out of the Pacific Ocean, establish hegemony throughout SE Asia and Oceania, to include Japan, NZ and Australia, and significantly reduce the economy of the US.

(If this scenario sounds depressing, it is only because it is one side of the war. For each and every action the Chinese have plotted, the US has significant counters, and many of its own efforts to prevent them from succeeding.)
posted by kablam at 3:10 PM on July 14, 2005


Can't we all just get along?
posted by flabdablet at 6:05 PM on July 14, 2005


kablam - frick!

Yes, the Chinese don't give worth a damn. Hopefully we have some smarter heads in office next few years.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:31 PM on July 14, 2005


>> kablam: "Chinese ready to nuke the States in case of conflict over Taiwan"

That's it. I'm moving to Puerto Rico.
posted by Target Practice at 12:40 AM on July 15, 2005


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