In modern materialistic society, where value of everything – including human life – is considered in monetary terms, many people see more complex and more expensive weapons as being automatically more capable than cheaper weapons, thus justifying the costs. Defense spending proponents argue that “nothing is too good for troops”, thus justifying procurement of ultraexpensive weapons. In reality, more expensive is not automatically better – if there is no discipline to specify what is important and stick to it, mounting requirements will start requiring very heavy trade-offs, thus compromising specifications in primary mission.
For example, battle rifle has to have powerful round capable of reaching long ranges, which also means lot of recoil; this means that bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles are best for that role. Assault rifle’s primary requirement is to put lots of rounds down the range quickly, enabling suppressive fire, which does not allow for powerful rounds. As infantry combat has, ever since World War I, usually happened at ranges of 100 meters and below, it can be seen that assault rifle, and not battle rifle, is best suited for standard infantry weapon, with bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles being relegated to special roles. Yet for person who does not understand reality of infantry combat, bolt-action rifles with their very long range may seem superior to assault rifles.
Thus only way to see what works and what not is to study combat data, over long period, and understand what makes an effective weapon. That is what I am going to do here.
While in ancient combat, where lines of soldiers fought, each unit of army that was outnumbered by factor of 2 had to be twice as effective as each unit of outnumbering army in order for it to break even (or, as more commonly said, force a stalemate), that does not hold true in modern combat.
Modern combat is a ranged affair, and individual units are highly mobile, and no not fight in relatively static formations. Result is that combat between units becomes several-on-one affair, unlike phalanx’ one-on-one affair, which automatically means that equation is different; no longer does army outnumbered by 2:1 have to have two times as effective units, but four times as effective. It is not always applicable, as ground combat (particularly infantry combat) still faces force-size-to-area constraints, so exponent is often adjusted to 1,5.
But while it would appear to give large advantage to quantity, there are times where numerically inferior force won over numerically superior one. These victories, however, could only very rarely to never be attributed to quality of weapons alone.
Quality versus quantity – a false dilemma
This lack of understanding among general populace, and even many military personnell, has led to definition of effectiveness as “how loaded with high technology this weapon is”. Hugely costly weapons are being justified under “troops deserve the best”, “we can’t win the war with inferior weapons”. But while at first look it would seem a reasonable assumption, reality is often that, when combined with above-mentioned lack of understanding of combat, it results in costlier weapons that are less effective than cheaper ones, both individually and as a system. Still, in some cases more effective weapon also is more costly and expensive; such is case with air-to-ground precision-guided munitions when compared to dumb munitions dropped from same altitude.
Quality vs quantity through history Read the rest of this entry »