Constant Multiplication of “Force Multiplier”
Our guest columnist for this edition of “The Emperor’s New Concept” is Dr. Craig Koerner of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies, U.S. Naval War College
Some terms and phrases are self-explanatory; these have obvious utility. Others are incomprehensible; these at least have the advantage of doing little harm. The intermediate category, oddly enough, is the most dangerous. Some phrases connote deep meaning, or once possessed a useful meaning, but have now come to indicate almost anything the author desires without reference to their original use. One such phrase is “force multiplier.” Once upon a time, it was a literal and valuable expression that clarified many complex arguments. Now it is “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” (“And something quite atrocious.”)
When Colonel Trevor N. Dupuy was calculating the “combat value” of units in land warfare [See Dupuy, Numbers, Predictions and War (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1979)], and was also trying to predict battle outcomes as a function of combat value and other factors such as terrain, posture, and difficulty of mission, he discovered that some militaries seemed to succeed more often than the model suggested, while others failed far more often than suggested. Since the model tended to go wrong predictably by military nationality, he multiplied their combat power (as judged by physical weaponry, and adjusting for terrain, mission, etc.) by fixed amounts.
These quite literal “force multipliers” augmented the hardware-based measures of combat power to account for factors invisible to the analyst given the data set. Training, morale, effects of HQs and FOs, and other such factors consistently seemed to cause some militaries to fight noticeably better than, or worse than was suggested by a measure based purely on the weaponry. The military “force” implied by the weaponry was quite literally multiplied by a factor encompassing the invisible factors, or omitted data. Actual numerical values were involved, both for weaponry based force and, via the force multiplier numbers, for the effects of the invisible factors. It would be difficult to find a more literal or more direct use of “multiplier.” Its intuitive meaning turned out to be exactly the same as its dictionary meaning.
A second, and equally laudable, use of the term came from the Israeli air war in 1967. When the Egyptian journalist Mohamed Heikal alleged that the Israelis had direct military help from the US in that war, he calculated how many air sorties the Israelis could launch, determined that the air strikes against Egypt greatly exceeded these, and filled in the “gap” with US air missions. However, he assumed that the Israelis spent far more time on the ground between missions rearming and re-fueling, something like 4 hours, rather than the 15 minutes the Israelis actually achieved. By flying more sorties per day (and with the sometimes allowable simplification in ignoring losses), the Israelis literally multiplied the air-to-ground effectiveness of their air force by getting more out of each aircraft in a very direct and mathematical sense. Rapid ground turnaround was a literal force multiplier for the Israeli Air Force; the intuitive and dictionary meanings were again in complete agreement [See A.J. Baker, The Six Day War (New York: Ballantine Books, 1974)].
Fast forward to our modern world and our modern Defense Department. “Force Multiplier” has become a very popular term. A few examples from memory may indicate the somewhat broader usage of the term than in my previous cases.
One student of war, referring to a maritime contingency in East Asia, wrote that “the addition of Japanese forces would be a significant force multiplier for the US.” If there is one thing that additional forces do not do, it is multiply previous forces. Combat power increases with more forces, but multiplication is not a proper characterization of the benefit of simply having more. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that “force multiplier” is simply a synonym for useful thing.
Various details of weaponry are said to be force multipliers, for instance greater range of munitions. No doubt there is great military value in being able to fire for effect from beyond the range of enemy response. However, it’s a great oversimplification to view this as making each unit more effective in a general sense; these units have their effectiveness increased in a very specific sense that has very different implications for combat outcomes. With high probability of kill [P(k)] weapons, firing first from long range may be utterly decisive; with low P(k) weapons, it may have little utility. In neither case is the result similar to what would occur if each unit seemed to do more of what it did previously, which is what “force multiplier” implies (or states explicitly, if you prefer).
Strategy has been called a force multiplier, as it increases the likelihood of mission success holding constant the force levels of both sides. This is, again, the all-inclusive use of “multiplier” to mean anything that increases the chance of success; the concept of multiplication in this usage means only multiplying the initial chance of success by some unspecified number greater than one. At that level of generality … additional forces might as well be force multipliers.
Unfortunately, a quick internet search for the military use of “force multiplier” yields “A capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that force …” and other, virtually identical definitions. This is perhaps due to the common usage being exactly that. It’s not clear if there is still a compact way to say that a force, or its effectiveness, is a multiple of some value that is well-defined by conventional attributes, e.g. military hardware before taking training and doctrine into account, or number of aircraft before taking sortie rate into account.
So, a perfectly reasonable, intuitive, useful phrase has been co-opted into meaning “stuff that’s good.” Rapid runway repair kits may be a force multiplier for air forces basing within missile range, because the aircraft fly more often. However, such useful, well-defined, quantifiable effects will be lumped together with PSYOPS, allied force contributions, cyber effects, and higher-G fighter maneuvers as “force multipliers,” once everything at all useful in any way is lumped together within this nomenclature. A useful term has been diluted to death … today’s example of a negative … Oh, I just can’t bring myself to say it.