Mission success vs. casualties

It's a classical problem of the military; to achieve something in the organized violence called war you need to take risks.

Demographic factors and sociological changes made human life more precious in the West than in previous generations.
Mothers often have only one son if at all and they didn't experience dying children in their own family and among neighbours as was usual just a couple generations ago.
We live much longer, therefore lose rather 60 than 40 years of life if we died at the age of 20.
News reports focus less on battle results but more on those things that today stimulate emotions: Suffering, casualties. Women holding dead babies in their arms as well as own casualty figures did never appear in World War news reports.

This is the background for the modern consideration of risks vs. chances.
It seems as if so-called "Force protection" is often being emphasized too much. The internal sanctioning mechanism of the officer corps does obviously threaten with severe consequences too much if an officer produces bad news or own casualties. No matter what he achieved by that in terms of local mission success.

I thought a while about how it should really be - and the result demands a lot from officers on different levels and even politicians. In addition to competence, a lot of considerations, courage and communication seems necessary.

1. The generals are responsible to explain risks and so on correctly to the politicians in advance of a conflict.

2. Once the political leadership gave a mission to the military leadership, the military leadership needs to start the snowball system of missions.

3. The missions need to be accomplished if possible and if the mission remains unchanged.

4. If the mission is impossible or has low probability of success, this fact needs to be reported upwards in time.

5. If considered possible, but only at losses that the executive officer deems unacceptable, he needs to report this expectation in time, with appropriate emphasis. If necessary right through the leadership system to the political leadership.

This requires that orders are given in a way that makes changes easy. An officer who gives a command but learns that all subordinates consider it as too risky for convincing reasons is too likely to press the order despite it's suboptimal. He should instead open the conversation more openly, telling the intent and asking for remarks on that.
As you see, I'm convinced that it's a lot about internal officer corps culture whether the balancing of mission success and casualties is well done or not. A wrong 'culture' can both lead to too few of both as well as can incompetence do.

To try to execute missions but to fail with small losses because loss minimization was a superior motivation than mission accomplishment is simply wrong. It's a waste of lives and accomplishes nothing. It can easily be more a waste of lives than a very bloody battle.
Care for soldiers is best done by good training, supply and appropriate missions, not by extremely careful execution of missions with probable mission failure.
It's hard, but nobody wants to spend years and lose friends/body parts and then see that everything was in vain because too few had the will to press for success.


1 comment:

  1. Very good points, Sven. It's a difficult situation. Life is darn good. The more one values life, the more horrible the prospect of death is. Ironically, this paralyzing aversion to risk puts us even more at risk. It is somewhat of a paradox.