Surveying the Spectrum of Human Behaviour in Front Line Combat

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[abstract based on the first two paragraphs]

Live combat, with intentional killing and wounding at its core, provides an environment obviously more threatening and extreme than anything normally encountered in peacetime conditions. Clausewitz (1832) in his classic treatise On War devotes four chapters to its nature, starting with IV. Of Danger in War'. Later military historians, such as Keegan (1995) and Holmes (2004) have sought to provide even more detailed descriptions of the realities of the battlefield, relying heavily on the recollections of those who have had first hand experience. These are impressionistic, rather than quantitative, accounts of combat, designed to give graphic and multi-faceted descriptions of the many grim features of war. Small wonder, then, that in this abnormal environment not all men function in a normal and efficient peacetime manner. As Clausewitz has put it: Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult'. Previous quantitative assessments by the British Defence Operational Analysis Centre (Rowland, 1987, Rowland & Richardson, 1997) have shown that, compared to the performance levels measured in tactically realistic peacetime trials which featured weapon simulators, those to be expected in battle may be seriously impaired. Table 1 below lists the degradation factors for some weapon systems in the defence, in terms of their ability to inflict casualties on the opposition.

Kellett (1982) has provided an excellent and exhaustive account of those studies then published in the open press dealing with factors that might affect performance in battle. Nevertheless, despite the inclusion of the phrase the Behavior of Soldiers in Battle in the title, the book does not really attempt to provide a descriptive or functional breakdown of that behaviour, let alone put numbers to any categories or scales that might then result. There can be little doubt that modelling an abstract version of warfare, in which all men perform to their peacetime potential, can be of value. However, if we are to provide models that aspire to genuine combat validity, then a proper representation of likely behaviour in real battles is of the essence. If, as we believe, there are marked individual differences in likely patterns of behaviour, then knowledge of the sorts of overall factor listed in Table 1 will not move us very far towards our eventual goal that of constructing models that will have true utility as descriptors of real warfare.

Keywords: Application Area: Land and Expeditionary Warfare; OR Methodology: Analysis

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2007

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  • Military Operations Research is the leading peer-reviewed journal publishing articles in the fields that describe operations research (OR) methodologies and theories used in key military applications.

    MOR specifically invites papers that are significant military OR applications. Of particular interest are papers that present case studies showing innovative OR applications, apply OR to major policy issues, introduce interesting new problem areas, highlight educational issues, and document the history of military OR.
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