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Research Questions

  1. What are the core factors of will to fight?
  2. How can American advisers, intelligence analysts, and leaders influence will to fight?

Will to fight may be the single most important factor in war. The U.S. military accepts this premise: War is a human contest of opposing, independent wills. The purpose of using force is to bend and break adversary will. But this fundamental concept is poorly integrated into practice. The United States and its allies incur steep costs when they fail to place will to fight at the fore, when they misinterpret will to fight because it is ill-defined, or when they ignore it entirely. This report defines will to fight and describes its importance to the outcomes of wars. It gives the U.S. and allied militaries a way to better integrate will to fight into doctrine, planning, training, education, intelligence analysis, and military adviser assessments. It provides (1) a flexible, scalable model of will to fight that can be applied to any ground combat unit and (2) an experimental simulation model.

Key Findings

There is no generally accepted definition of will to fight

  • There are also no commonly accepted definitions or explanations of some of the key terms associated with will to fight, including morale, cohesion, and discipline.

Will to fight is essential to analyzing holistic combat effectiveness

  • If will to fight matters to some degree, then it must be assumed and accepted that it is, at the very least, one necessary part of holistic combat effectiveness in all cases.

To understand tactical-operational will to fight, all factors should be considered

  • Some experts on war propose unitary theories that seek to explain will to fight, but this report argues that these theories are unreliable and that many factors should be considered together.

Ground combat force and joint doctrine on will to fight is inconsistent and inadequate

  • Lack of continuous emphasis on will to fight in doctrine undermines its emphasis in training, education, assessment, and analysis.
  • When greater emphasis was placed on will to fight, the ground combat services described it as very important or most important in determining the outcome of war.

Adding will to fight changes combat simulation outcomes

  • Most U.S. military war games and simulations either do not include will to fight or include only minor proxies of it.
  • However, the simulated runs performed for this report showed that adding will-to-fight factors always changes combat outcomes and, in some cases, outcomes are significantly different.


  • U.S. Army and Joint Force should adopt a universal definition and model of will to fight.
  • Include will to fight in all holistic estimates of ground combat effectiveness.
  • War games and simulations of combat should include will to fight.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the United States Army and conducted by conducted within Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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