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Military Transformation With Wargames
Discussion Board on this Wargame Articles
January 22, 2003
The Department of Defense is currently engaged in what it calls "transformation." This generally means turning the U.S. armed forces into, "a more mobile, lethal, networked, and smarter force." This process is meant to advance on several fronts. One of these efforts is the use of wargames. The following material was used as speaker notes by Jim Dunnigan during a recent Department of Defense conference on using wargames in the transformation effort.
Wargaming can be a catalyst for transformation if it can better deal with "what if's?" Current Department of Defense wargames avoid competitive play and inserting new systems and tactics. So new simulations, or modifications of existing ones, will be needed.
Historical wargames have long dealt with this, including those dealing with contemporary conflicts and the near future. This was done as early as the 1970s, as one of the new initiatives TRADOC pursued shortly after that command was created. Historical wargames have the advantage of knowing in advance what outcomes are possible. By examining numerous battles and campaigns from the same period, the boundaries of likely outcomes can be determined and then used in free play wargames to aggressively explore "What If's?" This means having a wargame that can easily and rapidly be modified and can iterate autonomously to create a relevant spread of outcomes for each scenario.
There are even recent historical examples for international terrorism. In the late 19th century, many nations had to deal with the Anarchists (who were opposed to government in general) and Irish Finians (who were opposed to British occupation of Ireland.) No one wargames these situations, so this is an open opportunity.
Before World War II, the Germans used wargames to develop the fine points of the blitzkrieg, including the "it can't be done" armored advance through the Ardennes forest in 1940. In the 1930s, the U.S. Navy wargamed out all the operations they would encounter during World War II in the Pacific. This revealed the critical effect of land based and carrier aviation on naval operations. Wargamer Al Nofi is studying these 1920s and 30s wargames up at the Naval War College. During the 1991 Gulf War, the Department of Defense used a commercial game ("Gulf Strike") for initial planning. Another commercial wargame, "Arabian Nightmare," clearly showed how Desert Storm would play out before the shooting began.
When commercial wargames flourished in the 1970s, there were many examples of these games (or their technology) being used to address transformation or predictive issues. The game Sinai predicted the innovative tactics the Egyptians used to breach the Bar Lev line. Games like Next War examined many, previously undiscussed, tactical and strategic options on the Central Front. Phil Karber of BDM set up a research project in a Pentagon basement, using a commercial game, Panzerblitz, to set up highly classified, multi-division level games of future operations in the Central Front. Other games uncovered such unthinkable tactics like using ATGMs to go after helicopters.
Most current Department of Defense wargames do not lend themselves to aggressive "What If" work. The existing products emphasize process and procedure and tend to be so opaque to the user that they are not trusted for speculative work.
New wargames aimed at "What If" work can be quickly created using RAD (Rapid Application Development) tools. This has already been done via individual initiatives (good example is "Decisive Action" from Ft. Leavenworth and many other efforts that can be uncovered if you beat the bushes.)
On the tactical level, you can use a COT (commercial off the shelf) product like TacOps (created by a retired Marine officer) for speculative experiments. This was already done to test Medium Brigade concepts (see After Action Reports for the "Team Trackless" project at http://www.strategypage.com/tt/msiepage.htm.
For operational level work you can use other COTs products like "Art of War."
Strategic level work can be done on a spreadsheet (using a lot of algorithms and the built in analytic tools.)
The Department of Defense, and contractors, also have some easily modified wargames, but most of these do not have the material for validating the game with historical battles. Even Janus had trouble with this. If you can't predict the past, you can't predict the future.
STRICOM has new wargames in the works, done in the style of commercial historical wargames, that allow for this kind of free wheeling and aggressive investigation, and could be a source of tools for studying transformation opportunities.
One thing that needs more emphasis for transformation wargames is the quality of the Red Team. New battlefield ideas often have flaws that a resourceful foe is quick to exploit. For example, note how quickly hostile Afghans learned to cope with JDAM.
To make transformation wargames work better and faster, you'll have to round up the wargamers in the active and reserve components and put them to work. Lots of them are out there and they know their stuff (both in terms of wargaming and the military art.)
Much of this experimentation should take place over the web, for the key people you need to develop, and use it, are spread all over the world. Moreover, you want operators to get their hands on these models so you can get as much end user input as possible. This dedication to user needs is much talked about in Department of Defense warganmes, but usually gets lost in the morass of more immediate problems project managers get hit with.
You can build confidence in your transformation wargames by stepping back to various points in the past century and gaming the transformation situation then. The two decades before World War I broke out in 1914 were full of military transformation activity. Some nations got with it better than other. Same thing happened from 1919-39. We saw similar patterns in the decade before Vietnam (remember all the talk that air-to-air missiles had made cannon obsolete?) History does repeat itself, but with the mistakes being made in slightly different ways each time. You want your transformational wargames to be capable of finding the mistakes before your troops die from them.
A reality check is also in order. Everyone in the Department of Defense talks about their wargames being customer-centric, but from what I hear from the users, very little gets done about this. Transformation wargaming that does not address users real needs will not work.
Most Department of Defense wargames try to do too much, rather than just what needs to be done. These feature laden wargames get in the way of the aggressive experimentation that is needed to explore transformation options.
If Department of Defense wargames followed "Fight as you train, train as you fight" rule, there wouldn't be a problem. But this is not the case, so transformation investigators are going to have to improvise unless they want to end up just going through another empty exercise.