March 03, 2005

Payoff vs. Value

Henley has some thoughts on the "what they fear most" cliche. I would revise his synopsis somewhat, though.

He writes: "Stripped of morale-building rhetoric, all the formulation really claims is that Combatants operate against targets on which they place high value."

Not necessarily. A target can be worth striking for at least two distinct reasons... because its destruction significantly improves your chances of success, or because the enemy requires it for their success.

In military targeting-speak, that's why there's a distinction between a "High Value Target (HVT)," meaning something the enemy requires, and a "High Payoff Target" (HPT), meaning something that stands in friendly forces' path to success. Military targeters generally keep two separate priority lists (an HVTL and an HPTL). Some things (like heavy artillery, or Saddam Hussein) could appear on both lists. But many things do not, and the more asymmetrical the conflict is, the more the lists tend to diverge. For instance Iraq, in 2003, where Iraqi tanks would have been seen as a High Payoff Target, as destroying them could only accelerate the U.S. rate of advance to Baghdad, but were not necessarily High Value (Saddam's escape was not contingent upon still having them.)

(Generally, in a symmetrical battle where enemy and friendly aims are apposite, the HVTL should be almost a subset of the HPTL, although something can certainly still be High Value without being High Payoff. For instance, in 1991, Republican Guard units in reserve deep in Iraq were essential for the regime's continuing post-war survival, making them High Value, but destroying them would not have helped much in the reconquest of Kuwait, so they weren't High Payoff.)

To take Henley's examples:

The Hilla bombing: High Value (a non-demoralized Iraqi security force is an essential condition for American victory).
The conquest of Afghanistan: High Value. (Al Qaeda required Afghanistan to operate as it had been doing.)
The World Trade Center: High Payoff. (Not required by the US to dominate the Middle East, but still, like any civilian target at that time, seen as likely to improve international terrorism's chances to spark an American reaction.)
Archduke Ferdinand: High Payoff. (Ferdinand's existence was not an necessary condition for the subjugation of Bosnian Serbs, but his death may have been seen by the radicals seen as improving the Serbs' chances through regional destabilization.)

So I'd say adding "or represent a high payoff" to Henley's summary, above. There is a distinction worth making there.

Posted by BruceR at 10:14 AM