Thanks for a thoughtful and well-written post. Some further thoughts occur to me too, inno particular order:
First of all, casualties are not, in fact, the point to warfare. The point is to achieve the aim (whatever that might be). The true measure of effectiveness is how quickly/effectively/deftly etc the aim is achieved.
True, but the point isn't if casualties are the point of warfare. Rather, the question is if they are a measure of performance
, which is not neccessarily the same thing, and if so, the performance
of what exactly. I can see at least a couple of attractive points with the notion of losses inflicted relative to force employed, and also a few problems wit the alternative notion you suggest. One is pragmatical - different engagements have, as you point out, different aims. Hence, it is not possible to use them as the basis for an evaluation over longer periods of time or for broad sections of frontage - unlike casualties, they cannot be defined in a way that is generally valid for all engagements. Secondly, I do not see that the fact that most military operations aim at something more than merely inflicting losses is neccessarily an objection to using losses as the basis for evaluations of performance
. No matter which type of objective is pursued, pursuing it consists in engaging the enemy's forces and attempting to defeat them, and the measurable outcome of this activity is losses. Thirdly, it is by definition more efficient to achieve any given objective with lesser loss than it is to achieve the same objective with greater loss, hence there is a direct link between efficiency and losses. Fourthly, performance
as hitherto understood is by definition a relative concept, and as such cannot be reconciled with such a definition as you suggest - only one side can normally achieve its objective, and the two sides' objectives (to the extent that they can be precisely defined) are not neccessarily diametrically opposed. Fifthly, and perhaps most fundamentally - whether a given aim can be reached, or how quickly, depends on a large number of factors besides performance
or efficiency, hence it cannot be a measure of efficiency or performance
Generally, I would say that any reasonable definition of efficiency or performance
must be understood as in some sense achievement relative to means, and also I have some difficulty with how it can be fruitfully defined as anything but a relative concept. In this sense (and I would like to stress that the analogy does not go further than this), war is much like football. If you put 11 players on the pitch with no opposing side, there is no performance
to evaluate, though there are certainly a set of individual skills that you can measure. There is no performance
or effectiveness other than what emerges from actual games, and that performance
can only be understood as relative to the specific opposing team. In much the same way, combat is in an essential sense a reciprocal activity. Finally, anything that is used as a measure of performance
needs to have a predictable relation to it. Outcome for example does not have such a relation, but losses do. But you touch upon many of these points yourself.
I really am not competent to judge the statistical nitty-gritty of specific models of quantitative analysis that are in use. But at least in principle, I think the link between losses and efficiency is intuitively very strong. If an army proves itself capable of consistently inflicting disproportionate losses on its opponent after other factors have been accounted for, it is quite simply reasonable to conclude that the reason for this is that it is on the whole a more efficient instrument of war than its adversary. This superior efficiency may be present generally or it may be present only under certain circumstances or during certain periods. Furthermore, efficiency is neccessarily a composite concept that subsumes a large number of specific characteristics, and the advantage of a general assessment based on losses is that it can be said to reflect the sum total of them – in itself a valuable advantage analytically speaking, compared to attempting an analysis that assumes that a certain characteristic always has a certain weight (which is inherently virtually impossible). An underlying assumption, and in my opinion a reasonable one, is that all aspects of the fighting organisations’ efficiency –including such things as intelligence, f.e. – in the end manifest themselves as a factor on the battlefield, even if the characteristic is not in itself directly combat related. Hence, they also impact on (and are reflected by) the distribution of losses.
Efficiency so understood implicitly must accept some limits in application, in several senses. Firstly, this type of analysis is only really viable on the tactical level, for clearly delimited engagements. More general conclusions can be drawn from a large set of individual cases. In more macro terms – such as basic data for strength and losses for whole fronts over long periods of time – the logic can only be applied tentatively and with great care, and I think that firmer conclusions are only possible if the data are very one-sided and clear (as they are for most of the war in the East). There are also limits of application inherent in the very concept. It can only say something about the efficiency of a given army as a battlefield organisation, and there are many critical aspects of a more broadly understood efficiency it can say nothing about. One obvious example is the force generation and economic mobilisation of a warring state, which is largely an autonomous process rather than a reciprocal one, and which manifests itself more fundamentally in the force relation than in performance
. Another is strategy and high-level decisionmaking, which for a number of reasons is not readily susceptible to be integrated in any general judgment on performance
. Firstly, it can less obviously be assumed that performance
in this regard is a general characteristic of the organisation, as it is much more reliant on a small number of people. Secondly, it cannot readily be quantified, and its level of impact cannot be generalised – sometimes it has little effect on events, at other times its impact is critical. Thirdly, and most importantly, it cannot essentially be understood as a relative concept. Strategy relates to the ends and means of one’s own side primarily (though it is of course impacted by the actions of the adversary). Strategy prioritises ends, and seeks the optimal attainment of them by the most efficient use of the means available. It goes towards the use of the instrument of war rather than the general performativity of the instrument, to put it like that.
The only way around this is to begin to analyse how well a force actually fought. Ideally, by some objectively quantifiable measures. In that context, relative casualty rates can, I believe, be informative. Other measures (off the top of my head):
- speed of advance;
- (and therefore, conversely) length of delay imposed in the defence;
This however depends on many other factors than performance
- including terrain, weather and communications.
- success rate in each individual action (ie, did their tactical forces achieve their actual assigned objectives in each specific operation they undertook, or not? Surprisingly, this is often overlooked.)
Ditto - it is difficult to see how this would reflect performance
in any predictable way.
Plus certain more technical issues like:
- expertise at getting fire onto a target (ie, how much, how quickly, can they get on target?)
Well, arguably the losses inflicted would be both a simpler, more useful and more relevant measure of the effectiveness of the fires?
logistics (ability to sustain operations. boring, but critical, in many cases decisive even.)- intelligence (how accurate were they generally at understanding what they faced and anticipating what their opponent was going to do next?)
It would seem possible to argue that the extent to which effectiveness in logistics and intelligence were translated into battlefield advantages, their effect would be to heighten the practical combat power of that side's forces (allowing them advantages of such things as sustained mobility, greater firepower and engagement on favorable terms) - which should again manifest itself in the balance of losses.