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Old 10-06-2010   #1
Chris jM
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Default Force Ratios (the old 3-to-1 rule)

Falling further into the realms of doctrine-geekiness, I've become interested and obsessed with the golden rule in that we fight the enemy on a 3-to-1 ratio. From what I've seen it appears to reside in the area of corporate knowledge only, without it being doctrine in any ABCA nation.

The closest I've come to finding out info on the ration is in the British Army's Doctrinal Note 00/5 (Annex B - Calculating Force Equivalence/ Ratios) - a restricted doc, so unfortunately I can't post or fd it to anyone - which lays out various other ratios, such as a guide that we can undertake a delay mission with a 1:6 ratio. The doc is meant to assist as a guide for wargaming and has no links to other doctrine or history for further research.

Does anyone know where the 'ratio' system came from? WW2? Does it have any links to doctrine, logic, history or tactical practices that anyone knows of?

I don't doubt the validity of the concept when used as a very general rule for quick appreciations that are qualified by situational factors, however I do like to know as much about the tools I employ as is possible.
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Old 10-06-2010   #2
Tukhachevskii
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Actually, I think mapping doctrinal development is like an exercise in the history of ideas. Anyway, I'm sure I was taught at Uni that the 3:1 rule had something (for the life of me I can't recall what) to do with Lanchester's Square rule (or perhaps they are related).


Which see Chimpanzes and the mathematics of battle

Actually, scratch that, see this...

Aggregation, Disaggregation and the 3:1 Rule in Ground Combat...just stumbled onto it whilst look for schtuff on Lanchester! (by which I meant the chimp article above)

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Old 10-06-2010   #3
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The Soviets researched their experience form 43-45 and quantified a lot. Their conclusions pointed rather at a 6:1 ratio, and I don't remember older literature with focus on force ratios than 50's stuff right now.

The necessary ratio (usually a ceteris paribus thing) depends a lot depending on the mission and level anyway. A 1:1 ratio can suffice on the offence as demonstrated in 1940, whereas a 3:1 ratio can be insufficient.


I personally think that the culminating point distance is a more useful metric - and a badly neglected one.
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Old 10-06-2010   #4
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The necessary ratio (usually a ceteris paribus thing) depends a lot depending on the mission and level anyway...I personally think that the culminating point distance is a more useful metric - and a badly neglected one.
Distance is critical -- relative position, time, terrain and training, along with mission and distance are far more determinant than numbers. Ratios as low as .1:3 have been successful, as high as 6:1 not successful...
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Old 10-06-2010   #5
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Some citations for further research:

Quote:
Combat Data and the 3:1 Rule
T. N. Dupuy
International Security
Vol. 14, No. 1 (Summer, 1989), pp. 195-201
(article consists of 7 pages)
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2538771
Quote:
Assessing the Conventional Balance: The 3:1 Rule and Its Critics
John J. Mearsheimer
International Security
Vol. 13, No. 4 (Spring, 1989), pp. 54-89
(article consists of 36 pages)
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2538780
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Old 10-06-2010   #6
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Back in the Good Old Days (for me) of Knight Rider, Miami Vice, big hair and pastel clothing i.e. the early-mid 80s, as a young soldier we were taught the 3-1 ratio as applicable against a like opponent i.e. the classic Commonwealth section with 1 MG, and 7-9 riflemen (with semi-automatic rifles) ...so a rifle platoon should be able to successfully engage a rifle section, a company a platoon, etc etc...the reference material for this would have been one or some of the pubs in fine Aussie series The Manual of Land Warfare (MLW)...however...if the adversary was armed along the Soviet model where every soldier had an automatic weapon like an AK, the ratio was 10-1 especially if the adversary was in a defended position...

Going up to 10-1 may have been a simplification for young soldiers by simply increasing the level of engagement from platoon to company as I do recall that some instructors referred to this increase as a Soviet lesson so the 6-1 above may be quite correct...

Our network is down at the moment but I have most of these pubs in the library and will do some research once it is back up...
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Old 10-06-2010   #7
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Originally Posted by Chris jM View Post
Falling further into the realms of doctrine-geekiness, I've become interested and obsessed with the golden rule in that we fight the enemy on a 3-to-1 ratio. From what I've seen it appears to reside in the area of corporate knowledge only, without it being doctrine in any ABCA nation.

[snip]

I don't doubt the validity of the concept when used as a very general rule for quick appreciations that are qualified by situational factors, however I do like to know as much about the tools I employ as is possible.
I suggest that it is the standard rule of thumb. I would look in the Infantry Platoon in Battle and the Infantry Battalion in Battle both circa 1960 as I recall something about when your advanced patrols came into contact with a small unit of enemy with a machine gun (deemed then to be a section) the platoon commander would probably put in a platoon attack. The same or similar for a platoon or for a company.

Another indication of why you will need this sort of ratio can be found in your SORHB (Staff Officers Reference Handbook) which lists the scale of casualties you can expect attacking positions in day/at night, with different type of field defences etc etc. Remembering also that as defences are organised in depth so must attacks be planned in depth.

In training (in my experience) 3:1 in the attack was used as standard while accepting that operational circumstances may alter that. Wartime operational discretion would be up to the commander.

A good example of this I remember from Slim's Defeat into Victory and I dug out my copy and paste as follows relating to ratios in the context of the war in Burma:

Quote:
Chapter IX
The Foundations

From page 187 – (paperback)

Thus many of those who had scrambled out of Burma without waiting to get to grips with the invader or who had been in the rear areas in 1943 had the most hair-raising stories of Japanese super-efficiency. Those of us who had really fought him believed that man for man our soldiers could beat him at his own jungle game and that in intelligence and skill we could excel and outwit him. …

… In August and September of 1942 Australian troops had at Milne Bay in New Guinea inflicted on the Japanese their first undoubted defeat on land. If the Australias in conditions very like ours had done it so could we. Some of us may forget that of all the allies it was Australian soldiers who first broke the spell of invincibility of the Japanese Army those of us who were in Burma have cause to remember.

But all this could not be convincingly put over by talking and education alone. It had to be demonstrated practically. This is what my predecessors had tried in Arakan, but they had been, are amongst other things, too ambitious. A victory in a large-scale battle was, in our present state of training, organization, and confidence not to be attempted. We had first to get the feel through the army that it was a we who were hunting the Jap, not he us.

All commanders therefore directed their attention to patrolling. In jungle warfare this is the basis of success. It’s not only gives eyes to the side that excels at it, and blinds its opponent, but through it the soldier learns to move confidently in the element in which he works. Every forward unit, not only infantry, chose its best men, formed patrols, trained and practised them, and then sent them out on business. As it was to be expected, that the superior intelligence of our officers and men told. The trials came back to their regiments with stories of success, of how the Japanese had walked into the ambushes, and how they had watched the enemy place their observation posts a day off today in the same place, and then had pounced on them, how they had followed their patrols and caught them asleep. …

The stories lost nothing in the telling, and there was a are lack of competition for the next patrol. It went up with new men but under an experienced leader, and came back with more tails of success. Even if it returned with little to report, it had stalked its quarry without finding him, and that is one way to whet a hunter’s appetite. By the end of November our forward troops had gone a long way towards getting that individual feeling of superiority and that first essential in the fighting man - the desire to close with his enemy. …

… Having developed the confidence of the individual man in his superiority over the enemy, we have now to extend that to the corporate confidence of the units and formations in themselves. This was done in a series of carefully planned minor offensive operations, carried out as the weather improved, against enemy advanced detachments. These were carefully staged, ably led, and as I was always careful to ensure in greatly preponderating strength. We attacked Japanese company positions with brigades fully supported by artillery and aircraft, platoon posts by battalions. Once when I was studying the plan for an operation of this kind submitted by the local commander, a visiting the staff officer of high rank said, “Isn’t that using a steam hammer to crack a walnut?” “Well,” I answered, “if you happen to have a steam hammer handy and you don’t mind if there’s nothing left of the walnut, it’s not a bad way to crack it.” Besides, we could not at this stage risk even small failures. We had very few, and the individual superiority built up by successful patrolling grew into a feeling of superiority within units and formations. We were then ready to undertake larger operations. We had laid the first of our intellectual foundations of morale; everyone knew we could defeat the Japanese, our object was attainable.
Slim's book is a must read for certainly all officers and has lessons for Afghanistan.

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Old 10-07-2010   #8
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Originally Posted by JMA View Post
A good example of this I remember from Slim's Defeat into Victory and I dug out my copy and paste as follows relating to ratios in the context of the war in Burma:
Apologies, that the voice recognition software I use is not as accurate as I would like. This quote gives the idea but best to revert to the book itself.
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Old 10-07-2010   #9
William F. Owen
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I have never really considered the 3:1 "Idea" as having any validity in fact or theory. Never made sense to me. I would really like to know if the idea existed prior to WW1.
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Old 10-07-2010   #10
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Thanks for the responses. Much appreciated, especially Tom and Tukhachevskii for the links. It'll take me a few days to get through them as I've got a 'healthy' work-load on, but it all looks like interesting stuff.

Likewise JMA and SJP, cheers for the snippets.

SJPONeill - firstly, I hope your new job is going well. Secondly, with regards to the 1-6 against a conventional enemy, I'd be interested if you dig anything out on that as all the info I have to hand indicates it is 3-1 against a conventional enemy when the ratio is normally applied (excluding Fuchs mentioning of it applying to Soviet theory - from 'our' side I haven't seen any mention of it, at least).

Wilf - at the very least, I think the 3-1 "idea" is a good sanity checking device for a conventional commander in a conventional battle to determine if he is walking to his imminent doom, or if he has weighted success in his favour. It provided a good conceptual basis when I started to be assessed tactically - if you find a section, put a platoon up against it. If I find more than a section, get on the means and hit up the Company Comd for some more resources. I wasn't the smartest tactically so any and every idea available to me to simplify my job did help.
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Old 10-08-2010   #11
William F. Owen
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Wilf - at the very least, I think the 3-1 "idea" is a good sanity checking device for a conventional commander in a conventional battle to determine if he is walking to his imminent doom, or if he has weighted success in his favour. It provided a good conceptual basis when I started to be assessed tactically - if you find a section, put a platoon up against it. If I find more than a section, get on the means and hit up the Company Comd for some more resources. I wasn't the smartest tactically so any and every idea available to me to simplify my job did help.
Checks on sanity may be very necessary. 3:1 may not serve that purpose, and I believe we can do better. Essentially it MAY be an aid to planning, but after that it really fails the "So what" test of effectiveness, because it is at best simplistic and at worse very misleading.
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Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

- The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
- If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition
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Old 10-08-2010   #12
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Checks on sanity may be very necessary. 3:1 may not serve that purpose, and I believe we can do better. Essentially it MAY be an aid to planning, but after that it really fails the "So what" test of effectiveness, because it is at best simplistic and at worse very misleading.
My opinion FWIW is that for a peacetime army 3:1 in training is probably essential. It certainly provides commanders (at junior levels) in battle for the first time with the ability to roll off a plan which will probably work just fine in most cases.

Yes also to the fact that as one gains combat experience against a specific enemy in a particular environment one no longer needs this 3:1 crutch... but that takes some time and a number of contacts at varying ranges, durations and intensities.

In our little war we did not have the resources in terms of helicopter lift and CAS to get anywhere near this sort of ratio on the bigger attacks into Mozambique and Zambia and subsequently had to rely heavily on the initial air strikes by aging Canberras and Hawker Hunters to get the comrades to adopt the swastika position and run into the stop lines. For example on Op Dingo - Zulu 1 - Chimoio of the 1,200 ZANLA fighters killed about half were killed by the airstrikes and the rest by the 184 men (96 SAS paras, 48 RLI paras, 40 RLI heliborne). Cost to us 2 KIA, 7 WIA. So it was a .04:1 ratio - made possible by accurate and decisive air strikes. In many cases the time of the daily muster parade when the whole camp was formed up on the parade square was a sitting duck for the Canberras and their cluster bombs.

Two days later Op Dingo - Zulu 2 - Tembue was also a turkey shoot except that their morning parade had been delayed so they missed their appointment with the flechettes which were dropped that day from a Hawker Hunter.

Op Barras - Sierra Leone - year 2000 the Brits applied a similar force level (180) against 600 West Side Boys to release hostages and suffered 1 KIA and 11 WIA. It is assumed that the aim was to free the hostages and not to get maximum kills. So 25 confirmed kills must be accepted. The ratio here was .3:1 ratio

Now contrast all this with the final Dien Bien Phu attack of 25,000 Viet Minh against fewer than 3,000 garrison troops. An 8.33:1 ratio.

In the end you do what you need to do to win... and to win you need to know your enemy!

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Old 10-08-2010   #13
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Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
Checks on sanity may be very necessary. 3:1 may not serve that purpose, and I believe we can do better. Essentially it MAY be an aid to planning, but after that it really fails the "So what" test of effectiveness, because it is at best simplistic and at worse very misleading.
How? In what way? What would your prefered method of a "sanity/reality" check look like?

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Old 10-08-2010   #14
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My opinion FWIW is that for a peacetime army 3:1 in training is probably essential. It certainly provides commanders (at junior levels) in battle for the first time with the ability to roll off a plan which will probably work just fine in most cases.

Yes also to the fact that as one gains combat experience against a specific enemy in a particular environment one no longer needs this 3:1 crutch...
This reminds me of what I read about the German army in (surprise!) WW2:

'Green' units were assigned especially simply tasks at first (if the situation allowed for it). A Battalion was tasked with what would be a veteran company's task, a green company would do what a veteran platoon would and so on.



I do also remember having read that a study of historical battles showed no significant correlation between numerical superiority (of an army) and victory (in battle).


It seems to be of much greater importance to fight when the opponent isn't really ready for a fight (that's another way to look at the topic of tactical surprise).
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Old 10-08-2010   #15
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I do also remember having read that a study of historical battles showed no significant correlation between numerical superiority (of an army) and victory (in battle).

It seems to be of much greater importance to fight when the opponent isn't really ready for a fight (that's another way to look at the topic of tactical surprise).
The teaching of so-called rules of thumb like the 3:1 rule are bad practice and lead to tactical group think. They do not aid tactical thinking at all, they actually hinder it.
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Old 10-08-2010   #16
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The teaching of so-called rules of thumb like the 3:1 rule are bad practice and lead to tactical group think. They do not aid tactical thinking at all, they actually hinder it.
Ken, you're so right on this one, the 3:1 madness that has polluted our thinking is destroying a lot of good options. The 3:1 metric was designed for a frontal assault against a peer enemy, so if our officers are still no better than they were in WWII Italy where they simply throw mass against mass, then hell we may need 10:1; however, if you're better trained, equipped and no how to maneuver forces you probably won't need a 3:1 advantage. This is group think at its worse. So typical of our force to look for simple rules to do their thinking for them, instead of actually thinking on their own.
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Old 10-10-2010   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
Assessing the Conventional Balance: The 3:1 Rule and Its Critics
John J. Mearsheimer
International Security
Vol. 13, No. 4 (Spring, 1989), pp. 54-89
(article consists of 36 pages)
Published by: The MIT Press
The above paper is avaliable at a more friendly location (i.e., for free) here


Other works by Mearsheimer avaliable here
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Old 10-10-2010   #18
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It's probably noteworthy that a different strain of thought about necessary ratios does not look at friendly / allied forces, but at friendly forces / frontage in kilometres.

This was often done in regard to breakthrough battles (guns/km, tanks/km, AT weapons/km) and there were also rules of thumb about acceptable frontages for battalions or brigades (of specific type, such as mechanized infantry) in various forms of combat (attack, defence, delay).

The latter seems to have been favoured for scenarios with unusual force densities (such as the Cold War when 26 NATO divisions were supposed to defend a 1,000 km front line - this took rather 50+ divisions in WW2).
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Old 10-10-2010   #19
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This reminds me of what I read about the German army in (surprise!) WW2:

'Green' units were assigned especially simply tasks at first (if the situation allowed for it). A Battalion was tasked with what would be a veteran company's task, a green company would do what a veteran platoon would and so on.

I do also remember having read that a study of historical battles showed no significant correlation between numerical superiority (of an army) and victory (in battle).

It seems to be of much greater importance to fight when the opponent isn't really ready for a fight (that's another way to look at the topic of tactical surprise).
It all makes sense to use these rules of thumb or assumptions during basic and routine training.

It is folly to assume that we can present a blank tactical canvas during training and let commanders at every level exercise their initiative. Further when in times of total war when officers are being produced via a conveyor belt (90 day wonders) and experienced NCOs are produced in weeks rather than years they will need every crutch they can lean on.

If we look at the abject failure of Brit and US troops to adapt to the type of warfare required in Afghanistan we should not look at the use of rules of thumb (like 3:1) in their training but rather go look elsewhere...

And yes Fuchs you are correct, adapt to the enemy and the theatre. Let the decision like in your example be enforced just like Slim did in Burma. It gets a little more tricky in insurgency scenarios where more skilled leadership is required in depth... this may be lacking in most armies.
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Old 10-10-2010   #20
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Originally Posted by Tukhachevskii View Post
The above paper is avaliable at a more friendly location (i.e., for free) here

Other works by Mearsheimer avaliable here
OK, having read the free copy I see where the problem lies. The 3:1 ratio should apply at platoon and company levels and less so further up the line. By the time you get to division it would not apply as the greater battlefield intelligence picture would dictate actions. If you have no battlefield intelligence then you would not know what you are up against to apply the ratio of three against, would you?
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