The Relative Combat Power Matrix

by Capt Robert F. Wendel

There is no recipe that guarantees sound tactical decisions, but having a technique for analyzing a tactical situation isn’t a bad idea. Thinking about maneuver, firepower, protection, and leadership can provide a sound start.

These factors of combat power are not new to Marines, in fact each one is deemed a critical aspect of combat power by our current doctrine. Now that we have defined what we are looking for, it is time to set up a simple system designed to find our relative combat power. The relative combat power matrix is a simple and quick technique designed to help commanders develop their courses of action. In it we use the dynamics of maneuver, Ɵrepowr, protection, and leadership to evaluate each force. We will then match our strengths to his weaknesses, and this will lead us to significant factors that will increase our chances for victory. These significant factors in turn lead us to tactics and techniques that will maximize our strengths in comparison to the enemy. For a demonstration of how this works, I will start with a simple scenario. I am a rifle company commander, and my company is reinforced with a squad of engineers and a section of Dragon missiles. My mission is to destroy the forward security element of an enemy motorized rifle battalion. The enemy unit consists of 9 BTR-OOs, 4 T-72s, and 2 BRDMs. I am defending in a sector 1,500 meters wide by 400 meters deep. The terrain is similar to Quantico, and there is one two-lane paved road running the length of my sector. In my terrain estimate I have concluded that the strip formed by the road and 50 meters to either side is the only terrain negotiable by vehicles. Now I will begin filling in the relative combat power matrix. (Figure 1). In the maneuver box I shall insert our greatest strength and weakness, in comparison to the enemy. 1 have determined that our greatest strength is that we are free to maneuver within the entire sec tor. Our greatest weakness is a slow speed in comparison to his armored vehicles. The enemy is hindered by being roadbound but has high speed. The significant factors I determine are: (1) I own the battlefield; he owns the road. (2) Once he gets past me I’ll never catch him. In the firepower box our strength lies in the large number of short-range antiarmor weapons we possess, such as our Dragons and AT4s. We are weak in long-range fires in comparison to the enemy. The enemy’s greatest strength lies in the large volume of long-range heavy weapons fire he has with his armored vehicles. This leads me to two significant factors: (1) I must get close to kill him. (2) If I am fixed in place, he will overwhelm me with his fires.

In the protection block I determine that stealth is our greatest asset; flakjackets and fighting holes are no match for massed firepower. The enemy’s weakness is in his ability to detect us from a moving vehicle, especially if he is buttoned up. Once he dismounts I am at a disadvantage since he will have both infantry support for the close fight and heavy weapons for suppression. This leads me to two more significant factors: (1) I should limit his visibility to the road. (2) I must kill him before he dismounts and can fight infantryman to infantryman.

Leadership is the fourth dynamic we evaluate. Here we evaluate the unit, its commanders, and doctrine. Early in batde there will not be enough data to input here, but as we get to know our enemy we will be able to fill in his weaknesses.

Now I must translate my six significant factors into tactics and techniques for the commander to consider. To do this I must take each significant factor and ask what this means to me:

* He owns the road: Take it away with various obstacles, such as mines, craters, and abatis.

* I can’t catch him: The obstacle must be heavy enough to block him. Attack in depth so he can’t reinforce his breaching attempt.

* Get dose to kill him: Think surprise, ambush.

* If I am fixed, I will be overwhelmed: Defend in sectors, not battle positions. Mobility is the key.

* Limit his visibility: Button him up with supporting arms.

* Kill him before he dismounts: Coordinated attack with multiple ambush sites and volley fires. Integrate fires for quick kills on BTRs.

Using the relative combat power matrix, I have come up with techniques and tactics that will help us accomplish the mission. These in turn lead us quite clearly into a course of action. A glance at these techniques show that there is nothing new or revolutionary here. In fact, all of the techniques are taught in the introductory tactics courses in The Basic School. What this matrix has done is to provide a tool to help the commander concentrate on the significant factors that bear upon this tactical problem. It helps the commander to evaluate his enemy in a logical and orderly fashion. It also helps to weed out unsuitable techniques quickly, allowing the commander to concentrate on the feasible techniques. The relative combat power matrix is neither a recipe for success, nor a system to stifle imagination; it is simply one more technique at the commander’s disposal-one that can help him win in battle.