The Rand Corporation had a look at the factors which led to effect war fighting, and found that ability was a key factor. Thanks to commentator Mac Tonight for the link.
Determinants of Productivity for Military Personnel: A Review of Findings on the Contribution of Experience, Training, and Aptitude to Military Performance
Prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Approved for public release; distribution unlimited, 1981.
The report reviewed previous studies where experience and training had been evaluated while service personnel carried out various tasks. The historical trends they identified were towards a more cognitively demanding, technically sophisticated type of warfare, which will have made their conclusions even more relevant to today’s warfare. The report illustrates a general principle that holds up in all settings: success is more likely in any enterprise if you recruit bright people.
We know from previous work on training, summarized by Linda Gottfredson, that brighter recruits complete training faster, better, and then go on to apply that training more quickly into new situations. Brighter recruits are faster learners and better appliers. For that reason, training is not quite what is seems. It is not a uniform causal variable. It can be completed faster by brighter recruits, and applied faster and more widely. For that reason, although training is required, it does not follow that more training will boost lower ability recruits to the levels of brighter persons, not in this lifetime anyway. Nonetheless, training has an effect, and skimping on it reduces performance.
All recruits take the Armed Forces Qualification Test, and this can be used to sort soldiers into five categories, from the brightest downwards: I, II, IIIA, IIIB, IV. The first three grades are above average, the last two below average.
In the carrier landing exercise, for example, individuals were scored on a seven-point scale, ranging from dangerous to excellent. The effect of a career decrease in training hours of 10 percent led to a 10 percent increase in the number of unsatisfactory landings, from 14 percent to 24 percent of the total, and a 5 percent decrease in the number of excellent landings, to 28 percent of flights.
Winkler, Fernandez, and Polich (1992)looked at the relationship between AFQT and the performance of three-person teams on communications tasks, including making a system operational and troubleshooting the system to identify faults. They find a significant relationship between the group’s average AFQT score and its performance on both activities. On the first task, they find that if the average group AFQT is lowered from the midpoint of category IIIA to the midpoint of category IIIB, the probability that the group will successfully operate the system falls from 63 percent to 47 percent. Similar results are found for the troubleshooting task; the probability that a group would identify three or more faults falls drastically as average AFQT score fell. Another important observation is that the effect of AFQT is additive, meaning that each additional high-scoring team member increases the overall performance of the team. This is particularly important in the military context, given the number of group-centered tasks the armed forces are required to complete.
On page 27 the author turns to mental ability measures. Once again, the Armed Forces Qualification Test sorts soldiers into five categories, from the brightest downwards: I, II, IIIA, IIIB, IV.
AFQT and experience appear to be fundamentally different measures of quality. While AFQT measures an individual’s innate ability, experience considers personnel performance and skill level as developed and manifested over time. This relationship is an important one from the perspective of our discussion because AFQT as a proxy for personnel quality can be used to guide military recruitment and requirement determinations and can aid in the development of a more effective and cost-efficient military structure.
Tank crews do better when the drivers and gunners are brighter:
For example, they find that an increase in AFQT score from category IV to category IIIA leads to an improvement of 20.3 percentage points in performance. A similar increase in AFQT for the gunner in the same exercise will lead to a performance increase of 34 percentage points. These results are consistent with the arguments that AFQT score is an effective indicator of personnel quality and that having a force made up of personnel with higher AFQT scores contributes to more effective and accurate team performance.
A study by Winkler, Fernandez, and Polich (1992) offers additional support and evidence for this finding. The authors examine the relationship between AFQT score and the performance of two communication activities. The sample included 84 groups from active-duty signal battalions and 240 teams recently graduated from the Signal Center’s advanced individual training (AIT) course. In the first task, the three-person teams were asked to make a communication system operational. In the second, the teams were expected to identify and repair a number of faults in the communication system.
The model predicts that for active-duty units with an average AFQT at the midpoint of category IIIA, there is a 63 percent chance that the unit will successfully operate the system in the allowed time. However, if the average AFQT is lowered to the midpoint of category IIIB, the probability of successful completion falls to 47 percent
The authors also note that the addition of another high- scoring member to the team improved the probability of success by about 8 percent. This suggests that the effect of AFQT on group performance is additive. This finding is significant for an assessment of the optimal force mix because it implies that AFQT continues to make a difference in team performance even when considering the contribution of a second or third team member.
Orvis, Childress, and Polich (1992)used controlled trials to assess how AFQT score was related to various aspects of air defense and Patriot air defense system operation. The study included several types of air defense situations: point defense, asset defense, missile conservation, area defense, and a mixed defense scenario (Table 4.3).
Service members were also tested on their tactical kills/success in air-to-air combat and their overall battlefield survival.
The authors argue that their results show a significant relationship between AFQT score and the outcomes of air battles or defense scenarios, both in terms of knowledge assessed by written tests and performance in simulations. The authors compared the effects of several explanatory variables, including AFQT score, years of operator experience, unit member, and simulation training each ten days. They found that AFQT demonstrated more significant relationships with simulation outcomes than did any of the other variables. In an effort to quantify the effect of AFQT on performance in their model, the authors note that the effect of a one-level change in AFQT category appeared to equal or surpass the effect of an additional year of operator experience as well as the performance effect of additional simulation training.
Note that intelligence counts for a bit more than an additional year of experience. Clearly, recruiting brighter soldiers speeds up the creation of a successful army. Having many recruits who cannot learn how to use the technology may mean that the army can never function properly.
In their summary, the author points out that armies are now smaller, and more reliant on technology. I think that this is relevant to Afghanistan. The US tried to train an army, but found that it could not operate and maintain complicated weaponry. When the US specialists left some weeks ago (reportedly without giving sufficient warning) the regime’s Afghan army found itself unable or unwilling to fight without the air cover on which they had relied. The Taliban, on the other hand, had weapons which were effective because they were simple and reliable. The political error was to assume that training would be enough to make Afghans capable of waging a technological war.
The larger political issue was to ignore the local way of doing business, which was to bribe and be bribed.
So, the Afghan Army took wages while the US offered them, and when it was clear that their officer class were not passing on their wages, accepted a lower but more believable long-term offer from their Taliban cousins, which had the added advantage of them not having to die in combat.
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