Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Military Deaths: Ops Tempo NOT Force Size is the Driver

Visiting Instapundit after work, I came across an item that I couldn’t pass up without adding my two cents. Glenn Reynolds picked up a story at Redstate (Lies, Damn Lies, and (MSM) Statistics) that pointed out how small the differences were between total military deaths during President Bush’s first term and those that occurred during various administrations when there was relative peace. Instapundit later updated the post with a comment from a reader that pointed out the relative size of the services has changed so a direct number comparison was inappropriate.

But I submit the real driver is not either numbers or necessarily ‘war’, although war would be considered a subset of the real driver: Ops Tempo. Another subset is ‘training’ which is mentioned in the Red State piece. But there are other aspects to Ops Tempo: it is all the things that add up to the rate at which the military ‘does its job’. Just going to work for a lot of specialties is extremely hazardous, either due to the environment or the tasks required. One would be hard pressed to find a career Airman in either of my old specialties (both involving explosives and flight test) that could not cite a specific event during their service where someone died in the line of duty. Most could relate a close experience of their own when asked.

We have a smaller, leaner, and meaner military, but when used at a higher Ops Tempo we break things and wear them out faster. Those ‘things’ include people.
If I have a fleet of cars, but never drive them I’ll never get in a wreck. If I have 2000 paratroopers, but they never jump out of airplanes I’ll never lose any in a jump.If I have 20 paratroopers that jump every day, none of them could buy life insurance at any price.

All other things being equal, when one has a smaller military doing now the same amount of work as a larger military once did, one should have at least as many death-producing situations in the smaller military: it just means any single individual runs a higher probability of being one of the casualties when the pool is smaller. If we are using the new smaller military MORE than the old larger military (and we are), I would expect to see much higher raw numbers of deaths than we see in the data.

We are riding the military, both Active and Reserve, hard and putting them away wet at this necessary Ops Tempo, and for that you can thank the Clinton Administration: especially Les Aspin and his “Bottom Up Review” that drew down the military to dangerously low levels given our national security needs and commitments.

I know this sounds cold-blooded discussing the topic this way, and stats makes most people go catatonic, but somebody has to think about these things.

To eliminate some confusion (my fault no doubt), please note that I stated "...war would be considered a subset of the real driver: Ops Tempo." My point is that whatever the military is engaged in, if they are operating at a high Ops Tempo, the risks are greater than those at a low Ops Tempo. Given the nature of the activities now, the relatively low casualty (killed and wounded) numbers is better than I would have expected to find. The ratio of wounded to killed is higher than in years past for a lot of reasons, the most obvious being better medical protocols and capabilities. But the total number is still remarkably low, though the MSM and professional dissenters would have you think differently.

The unspoken (so far) dynamic is the effect of the enemy's Ops Tempo. Does anyone think they wouldn't hit us harder than they have been if they could step up operations against us? They would (and will if we let them). Right now, I think if we added people to the theater, the number of non-combat deaths would go up faster than the number of combat deaths. We'd be giving the enemy more targets to select from, but they can (and do) only hit so many at a given time.

This only scratches the surface of the dynamics involved, but let's move on to happier topics. I have too many friends and loved ones still subject to getting CENTCOM assignments to dwell on this stuff for very long.

1 comment:

potemkinpillager said...

The idea that the same amount of work performed by fewer individuals should result in similar raw numbers of casualties seems plausible, but there are a few caveats:

1. Some types of accidents are more likely to affect larger populations. For instance, more people being transported means more people that can be killed in transportation accidents.

2. Technological gains that allow one individual to do the work that used to be performed by several will generally have some other safety benefits. For example, UAVs allow one controller to monitor several flight missions, where before, each one of those missions would have exposed a pilot to risk.

3. Accidents may always happen, but as Winds of Change points out, the increase in casualties under Bush II is largely due to hostile fire. There is an accompanying increase in accidents that could be attributed to the factors you describe, but the fact remains that when wars are fought, alot of people are going to be killed on purpose.

4. We're better than we were 20 (even 10) years ago at keeping WIA from turning into KIA.