This study may be viewed as an exploratory effort designed to examine the military as an instrument of policy. The policymaker, if he is to be successful in establishing control, among other things, must have an intimate knowledge of the quantity, quality, and the nature of the means at his disposal. There is a large body of literature which addresses the quantitative and qualitative aspects of combat power. The purpose of this paper, however, is to examine the concept of combat power with an aim toward understanding it as an instrument of policy. The approach taken here is neither quantitative nor qualitative but, rather, ontological; that is, the locus of analysis is the nature of combat power.

What I hope to do, therefore, is to provide a conceptual framework for gaining an understanding of what combat power is and, later in the paper, to ground some of the concepts in empirical reality through the use of an historical example. The methodology employed in this study consists of a review of the literature to develop the conceptual framework and an analysis of historical data.

We in the military have a responsibility to educate our civilian leaders on the capabilities, limitations, and the nature of the instrument of violence, which is military combat power. It is my assertion in this paper that the political instrument of force is in fact, combat power and that there are likely to be situations in the near future where it will be necessary to use force in this form again.

We are living at a time when violence or threats of violence have permeated the very fabric of our lives. Never before have so many people lived in an environment so charged with the imminence of violence. As a nation or a community of nations we will always be faced with the possibility, if not the probability, of violence in some form--spontaneous or premeditated. We must be prepared to respond.

It is in the formation of military strategy that the interface between the military and civilian leaders takes place. "Politically, we must insure that our civilian leadership is fully informed of the capabilities and limitations of our military power. Part of the problem in the past was that our civilian leaders were misled by our failure to tell them the hard truths, the unpleasant realities, our shortcomings as well as our strengths."

If we accept the Clausewitzian view that war is a continuation of political intercourse and that battle is a means of continuing that intercourse, it should be recognized that success at the lower level may not always achieve the result desire on the higher level. Military objectives must support the political objectives for they are only the means to a political end, and the political leaders must understand the instrument they are using in order to be able to exploit the success which results from its use.

The military power of a nation is the combined potential of all the services to actualize force in the form of combat power. Combat power, therefore, is the actual instrument which is used to gain control. However, not all the potential military power of a nation may be actualized at any given time.

The ultimate objective of combat power (if the intent is control) is the opponent's mind; more specifically, it is his perception of reality. If we can, we want to create a reality for the opponent that will allow us to control him. During non-violent periods political leaders attempt to create a reality that will convince a potential opponent not to resort to violence. The political approach usually assumes rationality--"To the rational actor, the availability and use of military force has utility only so long as expected gains exceed expected costs." The perception we hope to create, therefore, is that the potential opponent cannot win now - and, it must be remembered: "...the opponent's perception of one's commitment is decisive"--but, that he may win at some time in the future. "In terms of policy, one would combine a strong military posture (LOSE NOW) with Machiavellian manipulation of Nation Y's 'Value of Peace' (WIN LATER)." I wish to emphasize, of course, that this is a "created perception" and not the actual reality. "We would like the Soviets to perceive a WIN LATER outcome, although we naturally hope that reality is quite different from that perception." If the opponent perceives a no-win in the future, he may be willing to risk a possible loss now rather than a certain loss later. This created reality is the product of skillful political action which exploits our national strengths and the opponent's weaknesses. Military power as a potential--that is, as potential combat power--is one of the tools the political leaders may use.

In a violent environment the objective is still the opponent's perception of reality and, therefore, his mind. As always the ultimate objective is control. Let us turn now to a descriptive model of the violent instrument of political control - combat power.

Combat Power - The Concept

The concept of combat power may be seen as an equation consisting of two elements; mass and fire. This conceptual bifurcation is an analytical technique which is much neater in the abstract than in the dynamics of actual combat operations. When addressing the concept of combat power we must not lose sight of the fact that it is made up of these two elements (mass and fire), and that they are variable relative to each other and relative to a specific opponent.

For the purposes of this paper, combat power may be defined as the actualization of force in armed combat. Force, in the broadest of terms may be viewed as the power to effect change. Combat power is restricted in that it exists in time as actualized force. Furthermore, it exists in time only at the point of contact which is a spatiotemporal concept. That is, it has a beginning and an end in time and specific geographical boundaries.


Mass consists of personnel, equipment, and material which is the physical, and usually psychological, center of balance. Mass survives by avoiding the effects of fire. Physically, it is made up of two variables; size and mobility. In determining the size of one's mass, it will be large or small relative to a specific opponent. Size of mass is relatively easy to quantify. It may include the entire population and the resources of the nation or be limited to the military services.

Mass, which exists in each medium, is usually based on some particular element around which all else develops. Current examples of this phenomenon would be the tank (land), the aircraft carrier (sea)--possibly being replaced by the submarine as the 'captital' ship, and the fighter aircraft (air). These 'platforms' emerged out of World War II as dominant in their respective mediums and, according to most, remain dominant today. There are indications that these base elements form not only the physical center of balance but also the psychological center of balance. The result of such psychological grounding is illustrated by the physical and psychological unbalancing experienced by the Israelis in the 1973 war.

These base elements are seen as dominant in the particular medium in which they exist and, therefore, become the bases for determining the relative size of mass. It is critical, therefore, that the base element selected is actually the dominant element in that medium. Technology or tactics may change the base element, and the change may go unrecognized by one side or the other until hostilities begin.

The other physical variable of mass is mobility. Once again we must remember that mobility, like size, is relative to a specific opponent at the point of contact. Mobility provides for the concentration or dispersion of mass. In this age of nuclear fire the ability to disperse mass is more critical than ever before. Keeping in mind the relativity of movement, both sides could be in motion relative to a given medium, but in a steady state relative to each other. To have superior mobility one must have the ability to initiate a change from the steady state at will. When comparing the relative mobility of two masses, therefore, the one which can change the steady state at will is considered to have the greater mobility.

This concept is extremely important to an understanding of the relativity of combat power. More than ever, "the time factor is of crucial importance in relation to the ratio of force to space." Speed of movement permits rapid concentration and dispersion of mass. Technology has provided the means to accelerate greatly the 'tempo' of operation. Unless this tempo is understood by those involved in combat they are likely to be psychologically unbalanced and 'shocked' by the rapidity of change.

Specialized platforms have been developed which are designed to give high mobility to mass within a specific medium. The platforms survive the opponent's fire by avoiding or by being impervious to it.

That part of a mass which is made up of personnel is subject to social-psychological phenomena. This is, in fact, the most crucial aspect of combat power for it is here that control resides, and the sense of balance is ultimately grounded.


Fire is measured in terms of its effect on an opponent's mass. It is usually the product of a munition, and it has both a manifest and latent function. Anything which will neutralize a mass--that is, render it incapable of effective action--or which can physically destroy a mass, would fall under the rubric of fire. Therefore, when considering the combat power equation one must address conventional, nuclear, chemical, bacteriological, or electromagnetic munitions as fire producers.

It is important to understand fire as having both a manifest and latent function. Its manifest function occurs when it is actualized. Its latent function occurs only in the perception of the individual. Thus, destruction is a result of the manifest function of fire. Fear of being destroyed is a result of the latent function.

Most munitions are projected through a medium by a weapon. Weapons, which must be seen as weapon systems--man and equipment--exist as part of mass and can be quantified. Fire, however, is only potential until actualized in time and space against a mass. The effectiveness of fire is dependent on the vulnerability of the mass at which it is directed and the degree of concentration. Some have argued that there has been a 'revolution' in warfare with the introduction of large numbers of precision guided munitions (PGM) - "A guided munition whose probability of making a direct hit at full range on a tank, ship, radar, bridge, or airplane (according to its type) is greater than half." In terms of the combat power equation, the advent of PGMs coupled with the exponential increase in the explosive power of munitions has dramatically altered the relationship between mass and fire. As long as the value of fire was completely linked to the individual man, one could only increase the value of fire by increasing the number of men, thus increasing mass. The introduction of munitions and the weapons to project them fundamentally changed the linkage between man and the value attached to fire. Now a man or unit of mass can project a munition with a fire value many times greater than his own mass value. Carried to an extreme, a small mass could project fire of such a value that it would totally destroy all mass--the mythical doomsday weapon.

Through the act of formulating military strategy, the civilian leaders define the proper scope of action for the military by defining the combat power equation relative to a specific opponent. If the enemy mass is defined as military personnel only, then the level of violence is, by definition, limited. If, on the other hand, the opponent's civilian population is included in the definition of mass, that is, as part of the combat power equation, then the level of violence may not be limited. Traditional American morality prefers 'military' targets only: however, the popular understanding of the 'lex talionis,' the Law of the Talon, can be seen operating in the rationalization of strategic bombing. In defining the combat power equation the civilian leaders also specify the type of fire that will be used. Thus, in some situations, the fire available to the military commander at the point of contact is of a lower intensity than what it could be. Many of the current 'scenarios' specify exactly what type of fire will be part of the combat power equation. It should be emphasized that defining the combat power equation is a continual process once hostilities begin. Not only can the definition of mass and fire change, but the point of contact can expand or contract, geographically.

If war is a state of sustained violence then combat power must also be sustained. Thus, logistical support is essential to maintain combat power during time of war. Logistical support is not only important to sustain combat power but also essential to project it to the point of contact. The validity of this concept is apparent when one recalls the plight of the Russians during the Cuban missile crisis or our own dilemma during the October War of 1972. "...if large (military) resources exist but cannot be moved to the point because they are too far away or because there are geographical barriers, then the point is relatively invulnerable. If large military resources can be moved cheaply to a point, it is highly vulnerable." The reality of our large naval forces makes immense geographical areas 'highly vulnerable' to our military forces.

The importance of these concepts and a clearer understanding of the model presented here may be derived from the grounding of it in an empirical example. Qur most recent application of forces on a large scale was in Vietnam. In light of that fact, using our experience and that of the French, I have briefly attempted to link some of the concepts with empirical reality. An examination of Chapters IV and V will provide illustrative material which tends to support my assertion that relative combat power is a function of mass and fire at the point of contact. Furthermore, there are indications that fire has reached a level of effectiveness which may render the mobility of mass extremely difficult.

The primary vehicle for maintaining mobility in land combat has been the tank. However, the use of relatively inexpensive munitions, such as mines and PGMs coupled with the high cost per armored vehicle may greatly curtail the use of these vehicles. Will we be forced to react in an historically predictive pattern of accepting exorbitant losses in a vain attempt to gain the initiative? Is our only response to extremely heavy armor losses more and more tanks? I suggest we examine once again the essence of combat power and try to understand why the tank became the base element of land combat. The tank rendered fire ineffective by being invulnerable to it and by avoiding it. However, today the vulnerability of the tank is growing, and its ability to avoid fire is decreasing. There is, however, in my opinion, clear indication that mobility on the battlefield can and will be retained through the employment of another vehicle-- the helicopter.

While it is true that the helicopter is vulnerable to a wide spectrum of fire, it is also true that it has a tremendous ability to avoid fire through speed and by using the protective cover and concealment of the ground. This last point is especially important. The helicopter must be viewed more as a surface vehicle than as a supra-surface vehicle in that it is terrain dependent for its survival in combat. Furthermore, its unique capability to land almost anywhere, create a mass anywhere on the surface, or extract a mass makes it, in essence, more of a land oriented platform than an airplane.

I believe a crucial issue which must be examined in greater detail is the relative strength in terms of helicopters at the point of contact. In rough terms, potentially the United States enjoys a 3 to 1 advantage over the Soviet Union in helicopter strength. However, when we look at our projected deployment for the year 1984, we find only about 15% of our total assets deployed in Central Europe. In relative terms, therefore, the Soviets may enjoy parity at the point of contact.

If the tank is stopped on the battlefield, helicopters can be used to regain the initiative. Though we have a tendency to see enemy AA weapons as ubiquitous we can use helicopters to conduct high speed, small mass paralyzing attacks on enemy 'nerve' centers.


Combat power, as an instrument in the hands of our political leadership, can be an effective means for gaining our national objectives. However, it must be understood by those employing it. We live in a violent world which often requires a violent response. Combat power as actualized force is the violent response by which we may gain control. A point made here which must not be forgotten is that military power is merely potential until actualized as combat power against a specific opponent at a point of contact. Crucial to this point is that relative combat power is measured at the point of contact. Furthermore, since our perceptions are greatly affected by what we can actually see and measure, mass as an element of combat power plays a more important role in shaping perceptions than does the potential of fire. Therefore, if we intend to limit the escalation of violence at a point of contact, we must be capable of creating a mass of sufficient size to influence the perception of our opponent. On the other hand, it has become clear that the relationship between mass and fire has been significantly altered by the technological advances made in recent years. The introduction of high value fire in the form of nuclear munitions has greatly increased the vulnerability of all mass to the effects of fire. Thus, large concentrations of mass in a nuclear environment may be an intolerable liability in future conflicts. In addition, the advent of large quantities of PGMs has greatly increased the vulnerability of high value mass. Overall, the increased effectiveness of fire greatly reduces the effect an imbalance of mass may have on relative combat power.

This, of course, is a gross oversimplification of a complex issue. However, I believe the assertions made here are important to our understanding of the true nature of combat power. We are caught in a dilemma. If we rely strictly on effective fire in order to strike a balance of combat power with an opponent, we may be able to significantly reduce the size of our mass. However, we are more likely to be required to actualize fire in order to gain control than if we had a large mass. On the other hand, if we rely on a large mass, we may suffer heavy losses to an opponent who relies on effective fire to strike a balance. There is a way, however, to increase the effectiveness of a relatively small mass, and that is by being more mobile than an opponent's mass. Thus, relative mobility may be the crucial issue in determining relative combat power. Mass which cannot be brought to the point of contact may have little effect on the outcome of the combat.

In terms of combat power, I have attempted to demonstrate that we can have superior mobility in land combat. Our huge helicopter fleet can be the means of insuring superior mobility in central Europe if we have them, in sufficient quantity, when and where they are needed. In light of the difficulty we anticipate in introducing any additional mass at the point of contact once hostilities have begun, I argue here that a larger portion of our helicopter mass should be deployed to central Europe than is currently envisioned.

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