Small Wars Journal

A “Smarter” Army – Effective in War, Economical in Peace

Tue, 07/12/2022 - 2:52pm

A “Smarter” Army – Effective in War, Economical in Peace

By Juri Toomepuu

The greatest advantage our adversaries in autocratic dictatorships have over us, is their ability to man their forces with as many soldiers as needed, of the quality needed to effectively operate their technically advanced weapons systems.

Our all-volunteer, more accurately, all-recruited force, established a pernicious link between the nation`s economic well-being and military recruiting. When opportunities for civilian jobs are plentiful, recruiting suffers. Because job and educational opportunities for better qualified youth are always better than for their less qualified counterparts, armed forces need more incentives, requiring more resources, to attract them into military service.

Quality costs but is cost-effective

Studies conducted by the Rand Corporation (Dertouzos, 1986) found that it takes four times more recruiter effort to access into Army a high-quality youth, defined as high school graduate who scores above average on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT), than one with lower qualifications.

These days military recruiting is suffering. In the first half of the year, the Army has only achieved about 40% of its yearly numerical goal. To remedy the situation Army lowered enlistment standards, increased age limits, increased enlistment incentives up to $50 000, the highest ever, and added recruiters.

The Army also announced that they are allowing recruitment of youth who have not graduated from high school or passed its GED test equivalency. The outpouring of criticism about dumbing down the Army forced it to reverse this decision less than a week after it was announced.

Army`s knee-jerk reaction to difficult recruiting times is the lowering of recruit quality, particularly as measured by AFQT, to make the quantity recruiting mission.

This is a sure-fire way to compromise our nation`s military strength and defense readiness. It would be far better to accept a smaller but high quality, highly effective military force than recruit a large ineffective force. Our main battle tank can be a formidable fighting machine or its effectiveness for stopping enemy can equal a boulder of the same size, depending on how well soldiers operate and maintain it. Since manpower costs dominate the Department of Defense budget, a smaller but effective force would also be much more economical.

Soldier is the dominant factor on the field of battle. The strong relationship between manpower quality, as measured by AFQT scores and graduation from high school, and the effectiveness of weapons systems and combat effectiveness of the armed forces is well established. The evidence is overwhelming.

War-time evidence

The Research Branch of the War Department's Information and Education Division collected and analyzed copious amounts of psycho- and sociometric data on the relationships of soldier quality and combat effectiveness during World War II. The War Department documented and published these in numerous volumes (Stouffer et al., 1949; Hovland et al., 1949; Ginzberg et al., 1959a, b, c; U.S. Department of the Army, 1965).

Data overwhelmingly support the findings of strong relationships between educational attainment, mental aptitude as measured by the World War II era Army General Classification Test (AGCT), and soldier effectiveness in training and in combat.

Even graduation from airborne training, assumed to take more guts than brains, was shown by data to be highly dependent on mental ability. The graduation rate for those in AGCT category I was five times higher than for those in category V (Stouffer et al., The American Soldier: Combat and Its Aftermath, 1949).

            During the Korean and Vietnam Wars the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO) collected and analyzed soldier effectiveness data to identify the characteristics that differentiate the "fighter" from the "nonfighter" in combat (Egbert, et al., 1958). HumRRO found eleven characteristics that distinguished fighters from nonfighters; the first on the list was intelligence.

            The data from the Israeli-Arab wars also provide valuable information about the impact of soldier capabilities on the effectiveness of weapons, units, and forces. A number of studies were conducted by the U.S. Army and by American researchers (Pascal et al., 1979; Dupuy et al., 1976). All these studies conclude that a soldier's mental ability plays a vital role in combat effectiveness.

Israelis studied the characteristics of their best soldiers, the winners of the Israeli Medal of Honor (Gal,1982). The medal winners represent a remarkably high cross-section of the Israeli soldier population in terms of their quality. Their mean General Quality Score, an Israeli Armed Forces selection index consisting of the intelligence quotient and measures of the level of education, linguistic ability, and motivation, fell in the 93rd percentile of the military population.

Similar relationship exists for our Medal of Honor winners. The Medal of Honor winners in Vietnam war were four times as likely to have AFQT scores above average than below average.

Evidence from peace-time experiments and studies

Perhaps the largest social experiment ever conducted in the world was the U.S. Department of Defense Project 100,000, conducted between 1966 and 1971. The Army accepted about 340,000 low aptitude youths into low-skill jobs with the expectation that good military training would turn them into effective soldiers and later into productive, successful civilians. Six years later, sixty-two study reports on the findings had been published (Ratliff and Earles, 1976). All the studies found that job performance is related to the AFQT score, with differences in performance for soldiers with differing scores increasing with the difficulty of the task.

For example, there was no statistically significant difference between high and low ability cooks to scramble eggs, but for the more complicated task of making a jellyroll, the difference was highly significant. The most important HumRRO finding is that of the 849 subtests for the four simple jobs in the study, all, except the making of scrambled eggs, showed a significant difference in performance based on AFQT categories (Vineberg and Taylor, 1970).

            The US Army Training and Doctrine Command study “The Army's Soldier Capability–Army Combat Effectiveness (SCACE)” (Toomepuu, 1981) found and concluded:

  • The data from the reviewed literature overwhelmingly support the premise of the study, i.e., soldier capabilities are a major determinant of the combat effectiveness of weapons, units, and forces.
  • There is an essentially linear relationship between the combat and peacetime performance of soldiers and their mental ability.
  • The complexity and the number of systems, and thus the need for highly trainable soldiers, has increased tremendously since World War II.
  • High school graduates are much more likely to complete their term of enlistment and to have less disciplinary problems than non-graduate soldiers.

The study recommended making manpower quality improvement the top priority for the Army.

Multiplicative model of combat effectiveness

Highly capable soldiers do their jobs more effectively and get greater effectiveness out of their equipment and weapons than their less qualified counterparts. Consequently, units and armies composed of such soldiers also become more effective.

In addition to this direct effect, there is an even greater effect derived from the multiplicative effects of numerous steps inherent in force deployments. This is analogous to the quality increases derived by the Japanese Kaizen method, which has been adapted by American military services and civilian enterprises as the Total Quality Control system.

            We can demonstrate the multiplicative effects by going through the steps required for a military deployment, sending, for example, a tank battalion with hundred battle tanks to Nonistan. Starting with the two tasks of getting the tanks from an Army post to a staging area and loading them on transport aircraft, let’s say there are eighteen additional distinct steps to complete before we get them into combat positions around the front lines in Nonistan, fully equipped, with main guns bore sighted, with crews and mechanics, as well as maintenance and fueling units in place.  If we postulate that all the steps are completed by high quality soldiers, who manage to get their specific part of the task done with 99 percent probability of success, then only one thank falls by the wayside at the first step, leaving ninety-nine. Nobody is perfect! At the next step one percent of ninety-nine is again left behind, and so forth. We can now calculate the number of tanks we can expect to have after all twenty steps have been accomplished by multiplying .99 with .99 twenty times, which is bringing .99 to twentieth power. This gives us eighty-one tanks ready for combat.

            If we have also fine, but less qualified soldiers performing the twenty tasks, and they manage to complete each step with a .95 probability of success, which is not bad, our final number of tanks drops to only 34 (.95 to the power of twenty).

            Military commanders are aware of this multiplicative effect on force deployments. The number of tanks transported to Saudi Arabia far exceeded any reasonable need for them in the Gulf War, and the massive task of shipping them back started soon after the last ones arrived.

            The multiplicative effect is simplest to demonstrate with such an example of force deployment, but it operates just as well where the fog of war is thickest, where soldiers are engaged in battle. Accumulation of small mistakes in judgment or inadequate performance of any of the many tasks that must be accomplished by soldiers in combat can make a decisive difference in the outcome of the battle.


The evidence is overwhelming. The higher cost of smart soldiers associated with recruiting and manning is more than well off-set by their better performance in both peacetime and especially in combat.

That the Army needs high-quality soldiers is a proposition easy enough to accept. The question that inevitably arises is: “Can we afford it?” The question we must ask is: “Can we afford not to?”

 It takes high-quality soldiers to yield a cost-effective Army. More important, it is the quality of soldiers that decides battles. Most important, high-quality soldiers play the dominant role in winning wars.




Dertouzos, James N. "Recruiter Management Research at Rand Corporation." Briefing             presented to USAREC staff. Monterey, CA:  Rand Corporation, September 1986.


Dupuy, T. N., et al. Comparative Analysis, Arab and Israeli Combat Performance, 1967 and 1973 Wars. AD B012740. Dunn Loring, VA: Historical Evaluation and Research Organization (HERO), June 1976.


Egbert, Robert L., et al. Fighter 1:  A Study of Effective and Ineffective Combat Performance. HumRRO Special Report 13. AD 158581. Presidio of Monterey, CA:  U.S. Army Leadership Human Research Unit, under the technical supervision of the Human Resources Research Office at George Washington University, 1958.


Gal, Reuven. "Characteristics of Heroism," in S. Breznitz, ed., Stress in Israel. New York:

            Van Nostrand Rheinhold, 1982.


Ginzberg, Eli, et al. Breakdown and Recovery. Vol. II of The Ineffective Soldier:

            Lessons for Management and the Nation. 3 Vols. New York:  Columbia University Press, 1959a.


Ginzberg, Eli, et al. The Lost Divisions. Vol. I of The Ineffective Soldier:  Lessons for

            Management and the Nation. 3 Vols. New York:  Columbia University Press, 1959b.


Ginzberg, Eli, et al. Patterns of Performance. Vol. III of The Ineffective Soldier:

            Lessons for Management and the Nation. 3 Vols. New York:  Columbia University Press, 1959c.


Hoiberg, A and N. H. Berry. Fifteen Years of Research on the Attitudes and Performance of Marines, 1977.


Hovland, Carl I, Arthur A. Lumsdaine, and Fred D. Sheffield. Experiments in Mass Communication. Vol. III of Studies in Social Psychology in World War II, Frederick Osborn et al., ed. 4 Vols. Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1949.


McFann, H.H. HumRRO Research on Project 100,000. Professional Paper 37 69. AD 703516. Alexandria, VA:  Human Resources Research Organization, December 1969.


Pascal, Anthony, et al. Men and Arms in the Middle East:  The Human Factor in Military Modernization. R 2460 NA. AD A072955. Santa Monica, CA:  The Rand Corporation, June 1979.


Ratliff, Forrest R., and James A. Earles. Research on the Management, Training, and Utilization of Low-Aptitude Personnel: An Annotated Bibliography, 1976.


Stouffer, Samuel A., et al. The American Soldier:  Combat and Its Aftermath. Vol. II of Studies in Social Psychology in World War II.  Frederick Osborn et al., eds. 4 Vols. Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1949.


Toomepuu, Juri. Soldier Capability–Army Combat Effectiveness (SCACE). Vol. 1, Main Report. AD B062417. Fort Benjamin Harrison, IN:  U.S. Army Soldier Support Center, April 1981.


U.S. Department of the Army. Marginal Man and Military Service:  A Review. Washington: Government Printing Office, January 1965.


Vineberg, Robert, and Elaine Taylor. Performance in Four Jobs:  The Role of Mental Ability and Experience. Professional Paper 31 70. Alexandria, VA:  Human Resources Research Organization, December 1970.



About the Author(s)

Juri Toomepuu is the former Chief of Research and Studies of the US Army Recruiting Command and the author of the TRADOC „Soldier Capability – Army Combat Effectiveness” study. On active duty he served as an Airborne and Ranger qualified infantryman, Special Forces Officer and Fixed and Rotary Wing Senior Army Aviator. Awards for his combat service include The Distinguished Service Cross, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, two awards of the Combat Infantryman`s Badge and 15 Air Medals.



Thu, 03/02/2023 - 3:13pm


Thu, 02/09/2023 - 9:28am

I believe that our army is the strongest in the world! Like our economy, which is the largest and most efficient! Of course, China is starting to catch up with us, but we will have time to break out ahead! Although I am often busy creating drawing manuals how to draw, but I follow the latest events in army life!


Thu, 01/19/2023 - 9:53am

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