Information Warfare: China Wargames The Future

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December 31, 2009: China has gone public with its professional wargames, releasing photos of the systems in action, including enough detail to discern what is going on. The wargame shown is the TCCST (Tactical Command and Control Simulation Training System), and it was being used by members of the 6th Armored Division for a training exercise. It's a typical "blue versus red" (where "red" is the good guys and "blue" is the enemy). 

The games look comparable to simulations used by U.S. troops, and those of other Western nations. The United States has been the leader in this field, and in the last decade professional wargames have absorbed much of the graphics and realism commercial games (not just wargames) have developed. It's obvious that the Chinese have adopted much of the technology available in the West. In fact, there are several wargames, useful for training battalion and brigade commanders, available to the civilian gamer market. These have been designed by active duty and retired military personnel, and some are used by professionals, as well as civilians, interested in military affairs.

While it's no surprise that the Chinese have obtained, and adopted, Western wargames technology, what is not known is what reality they are simulating. Put simply, that means how effective are Chinese and Western weapons, equipment and, most importantly, the subordinate leaders whose effectiveness is built into the game, portrayed. Some Western games allow the users to set these qualitative values at different levels. But in China, and East Asia in general, such playing around is not acceptable to most senior military commanders. There's more a tendency for the generals to want their forces to be portrayed in a positive light. So there are suspicions that the Chinese forces are portrayed, in their wargames, as more powerful than they actually are. This would be consistent with the large scale military exercises are organized, where the good (Chinese) guys are programmed to win.

Then again, winning and losing is not the main goal of professional wargames, or military exercises. The Department of Defense has always insisted that wargames are not to be used, "to validate courses of action or specific tactics and techniques." In other words, testing tactics or "fighting to win" is not allowed, or at least not encouraged. Despite the generally accepted idea that a wargame is a competitive exercise, this is not the way it works in the Pentagon. The higher level wargames tend to be driven by procedures, not a war of wits on a simulated battlefield. While this sounds absurd, it's a long used practice. There is a purpose to this approach, and that is to make sure the hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of staff officers involved in a major operation, know the many procedures required to get such a large organization functioning smoothly. In effect, this kind of "wargame" is used to see if everyone can follow the same script. Winning or losing is measured by how well everyone communicates and executes administrative drills. Or, as the military puts it, the main objective is to perfect ones "tactical decision making process" (TDMP). Thus much Department of Defense wargaming results in showing our commanders and staffs how to lose neatly, rather than how to scrape and scramble to a victory. Real world battlefields favor the latter, peacetime perfectionists favor the former. Military training for officers concentrates on learning procedures, not investigating different, and perhaps better, tactics.

Thus it would appear that the Chinese wargames shown in the photos are more about training staff officers to work together effectively. Other screen shots are similar to Western wargames that operate more at a tactical level. No doubt Chinese troops, and junior officers, like their counterparts in the West, were using commercial wargames that showed what looked like battlefield video. These began showing up about a decade ago, giving the Chinese military plenty of time to incorporate them into official tactical training wargames.

 

 


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