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What motivates a Soldier to fight?

“There is no activity more human than warfare,” said Angie Mallory, PhD, an ARLIS assistant research scientist. “In the age of instant information sharing, even kinetic actions (think bombs and bullets) impact and are impacted by humans’ experience of conflict and will to fight, shared across the information environment.”

ARLIS researchers are exploring what drives an adversary’s will to fight. A small team focused on this area of research recently traveled to Fort Cavazos, Texas by invitation from the III Armored Corps (IIIAC) G2, Colonel Darius Ervin, to collect insights from seasoned experts and to determine how to integrate academic research into practical application.

Their journey was fueled by a pursuit to address longstanding challenges in military training and warfare. Historically, there has been no practical or ethical means to test what motivates a person to fight. There has been no test range where Soldiers can practice messaging and receive feedback based on a real population’s response; and no method for understanding the tipping point of an enemy Soldier’s will to fight.

Enter the Information Competition Simulator (ICS) project, an initiative developed by the University of Maryland’s Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security. This project seeks to simulate and test information warfare scenarios with accuracy, offering Soldiers a glimpse into local population and enemy responses during military exercises.

After observing a demonstration of ICS to support non-lethal targeting during an Army warfighter training exercise, IIIAC intelligence professionals were intrigued with further developing the simulator aligned with other efforts to assess an adversary’s capacity, resolve, and/or motivation to pursue their objectives (will-to-fight).

In the words of III Armored Corps Commanding General, Lieutenant General Sean Bernabe, “The ability to assess an adversary’s will to fight, using a wargaming simulation tool, would fundamentally change how information operations and non-kinetic effects are represented in virtual training events, allowing the Corps staff to continuously assess if operations are meeting intent and desired end state.”

“The concept of the will to fight is as old as warfare itself but has proved difficult to define and apply in training and warfare,” said Jonathan Rotman, a University of Maryland graduate student working on the project through the ARLIS Research for Intelligence and Security Challenges (RISC) internship program.

Rooted in fundamental social science research and intensive case studies, the ARLIS Will-to-Fight simulation module was created. This module identifies 58 key human motivation factors influencing the decision to fight or surrender. It equips the Army with a powerful tool to assess an adversary's will to fight, thereby enhancing strategic decision-making and operational effectiveness.

"It was enlightening to interact with the Soldiers. They embody the will to fight concept we've only studied. I was surprised by both their relatability as regular humans and their unique resilience, which I couldn't have imagined," said Joseph Coles, a Texas A&M University graduate student who is also part of the RISC program.

The III Armored Corps plans to support full integration of the Will-to-Fight simulation module into the ICS system for an upcoming exercise. The intent is for Corps and Division staffs to think about complex military problems while incorporating the practical aspects of will-to-fight knowledge into planning and operations. Once fully tested, this module will predict the behavior of simulated combatants in response to friendly multidomain operations, empowering staffs with the requisite insight necessary to generate sound recommendations across the full spectrum of military operations.