January 10, 2016

Anatoly Karlin's Military comparison and analysis seems well researched and useful

There is still no commonly agreed method on quantifying and ranking national military power. Anatoly Karlin is a California based Russian analyst and blogger. He proposes the concept of comprehensive military power index (CMP index) as a rating for comparing military power. It seems to be well thought and reasonable analysis.

Other attempts at military power index ranking come up with absurd rankings. Other indices have not been applied across current and historical contexts. Other indices cannot be applied in a meaningful way to predict the actual outcome of military conflicts.

There is one index for economics. It is called GDP (gross domestic product). You can make somewhat different arguments on relative economic size or living standards based on various ways of measuring GDP – e.g., the eternal debates over whether nominal or PPP is best. However, GDP make discussions comparing economic strength factually “grounded” in a way that military discussions (at least as they are carried out in the popular press and comments sections) are not.

Anatoly tries to convert to apply GDP concepts to military power.

Nuclear war power is a totally different and is entirely excluded from the CMP index. The CMP index is exclusively for conventional military power.


* World Bank’s figures for total armed forces personnel go back to 1989. They include paramilitary forces, which rarely match up to the quality of the conventional forces. The figures are used in the absence of figures just for active duty personnel

* Military capital is the tools – tanks, artillery, airframes, etc. – that militaries use to deal out damage. Historical references were used for the pre-1989 estimates. Military capital stock figures for post-1990 were based off of assumptions of military spending.


  1. 25% of military spending everywhere is assumed to be devoted to procurement. This is acknowledged to be weak. However there are major uncertainties over the size of military budgets in countries as big as China – to say nothing of individual components of that budget – trying to individually estimate the share of procurement spending across many countries would have been an extremely time-consuming and utterly pointless. In any case, swings of 5% or even 10% points up or down would not have had absolutely cardinal effects, since the main factor here is total military spending, for which we have relatively reliable figures for the 1988-2014 period from SIPRI. This military spending data was adjusted to take into account yearly international price level differences.
  2. Military capital depreciates. A tank built in 2005 will be worth considerably less today. An assumption of 5% throughout is used. There are exception where military capital stays useful. The B52 bomber could be used for 100 years with updates to electronics.
  3. Combat Effectiveness is a multiple of three components: Technology; Troop Quality; and Cultural Modifier.


Military technology progress is estimated at 3% per year except for 1935-1975 where it is estimated at 7% and 5% during 1975-1985. Anatoly lists which countries could be on the military technology frontier (USA and its main allies). He notes that not all countries have top notch gear. This is because they chose not to buy or make it. It is not because they have a technological lag in being able to achieve it. Lag of 5 years – Small NATO countries, close NATO clients, and the USSR and modern Russia as well as Russia’s closest allies and small rich countries like Singapore that devote a lot of attention to their militaries. Russia could lag in ten years in some technology but it is at the leading edge in tanks, diesel subs and anti-aircraft missiles. Lag of 10 years – China, India, most middle income countries and buyers of Western and Russian “monkey model” equipment – China is fast closing the gap and will soon reduce its lag to 5 years. Lag of 15 years for the rest.


Troop Quality is estimated to be equal to per soldier spending times 4 in the last year, plus per soldier spending times 2 in the year before that, plus per soldier spending times 1 three years back. This loosely reflects the idea that it is the most recent spending that will have the most effect.

Anatoly then took the cube root of this figure to account for diminishing returns. After all, doubling spending on a soldier can hardly be expected to double his combat effectiveness. But a 25% increase is quite reasonable.

Analtoly looked WW2 history to start assessing cultural factors to modify the index.

In both the World Wars, as Trevor Dupuy recounts in his books such as A Genius for War, the Germans consistently had a 25% combat effectiveness advantage over the Allies – the French, the British, and the Americans – and in individual engagements, they inflicted 50% more casualties adjusted for personnel numbers, equipment, local geography, and offensive/defensive status. Over the Russians, their combat effectiveness advantage was more along the lines of 100%+. This was not the Hollywood myth of “two soldiers per rifle”. The high Soviet:German casualty ratios was because the Germans were better organized and better at fighting. WW2 war production statistics showed Russians outproduced Germany in virtually all weapons categories.

A 25% across the board advantage to a few other countries that have displayed unusually impressive military “feats” in their history, such as Finland (Winter War), Israel (the Arab Wars), Mongolia (that Ghengis guy), Switzerland (Swiss pikemen), etc.

25% is taken off countries that were deemed to be “Southern” (the Latin, African, Arab, and Indian subcontinent peoples) to account for the traditional stereotype of them being generally inferior soldiers to “northerners.” However, this penalty extend this to Turks, Greeks, and Armenians/Israelis, who have somewhat better military reputations. Another 25% off from countries that were perceived to have excessive levels of clannishness in their societies. Clannishness is antithetical to being a good soldier as part of the army of a nation-state.


Projecting power and applying CMP index to actual conflicts

Conventional modern combat follows the classic Lanchester model, in which the damage your army inflicts over time is a function of the size of your army.

China is still developing the ability to effectively project power. This limitation is handled with the index by dividing the index by the fraction of the forces that can be brought to a conflict. 25% of the US military power was brought the second Iraq war. This meant the 45 times USA advantage over Iraq was only about 15 times.

What if Russia confronts NATO in the Baltics ?

The conventional answer is that Putin gets smashed and the Russian hordes get sent back fleeing to Eurasia.

Anatoly applies his CMP concept. The CMP concept and mention Pentagon war games – suggest NATO wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Russia’s CMP is a third of that of the US, and a fifth of NATO’s. However, a great percentage of it is already concentrated at its western borders. The Balts themselves collectively have less than 1 in CMP, compared to Russia’s 66. There is no way that NATO will be able to mass in sufficient force to have any shot at defending the Baltics. Should they attempt to do so anyway, they will merely be destroyed piecemeal with minimal damage on Russian forces. The only hope of reversal would be either fullscale mobilization across NATO (not going to happen no matter how shrill the neocons get), or draconian economic sanctions (which is what will happen).

SOURCES - Anatoly Karlin, UNZ.com, Wikipedia, Rand,

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