Decision in Battle

Breakpoint Hypotheses and Engagement Termination Data

by Robert L. Helmbold


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The validity of breakpoint hypotheses is of interest to the Air Force because such hypotheses are imbedded in several models presently used to evaluate weapon systems in terms of the effect of air-delivered munitions on the course of a land combat engagement. This report investigates a popular assumption regarding the relationship of casualties to the decision to terminate a battle — the assumption that a military force gives up the battle when its personnel casualty fraction reaches a certain level, which may be either a fixed quantity or one determined on a probabilistic basis. Theoretical implications of a basic breakpoint hypothesis are developed, and these are quantitatively compared with casualty-fraction distribution data from various investigations of land combat. Tentative observations are offered regarding future attempts to resolve the problem of decision in battle.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Report series. The report was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 1993 that represented the principal publication documenting and transmitting RAND's major research findings and final research.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.