Since the earliest conceptions of Kriegsspiel, militaries have employed wargames as an educational tool for leaders. In The Strategy Bridge #Wargaming Series, our authors laid out their own theories to improve wargames to answer the challenges of informing policymakers and producing better decision-makers on the battlefield.
Recently the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Army, Strategic Studies Group used future decision games to investigate major contingencies possible in the next twenty-years. Similarly, a group of Marine, Army, and Air Force officers in the Marine Corps University, Advanced Studies Program are constructing a series of campaign-level decision games to hypothesize new manned-unmanned teaming concepts. In each case, small teams visualize future war and describe the military problems likely to confront Coalition and Joint forces engaged in multi-domain battle. These teams develop a mission, a concept of operations and articulate a theory of victory and the required capabilities, joint functions, and considerations to achieve it (such as doctrine, organizations, training, etc.). They learn and adapt short of the feedback of actual battle.
With these games will come a far greater deluge of information, requiring of leaders a greater skill, a more urgent need to make sense of it all and inform decisions. Since the dawn of man and war, we have seen technology improve our ability to strike targets and wage war, and we should expect the same learning curve in our application of these three principles for communicating uncertainty together with advances in simulation and computation. At the dawn of airpower in World War I, hundreds of bombs fell before single targets were destroyed. Today we hit single targets within hundreds of centimeters. In the next war, we will be required to use information, like the uncertainty implicit in the outcomes of a hundred wargames, to create strategic effects with the same precision. This simple introduction to communicating uncertainty may be analogous to those early days, to a single bomb dropped in the first World War. Hopefully, though, the utility of these ideas is more readily apparent and their potential will be realized more quickly.
Wargaming is not just a planning process step for military staffs but includes a variety of methodologies that are useful in informing strategic decision making and aiding in the development of strategies and contingency plans prior to or during detailed planning. By bringing wargaming into the planning process early and often, a staff can enable the inclusion of a wide variety of information and escape the often-hyper-focused mentality that comes at the initiation of a headquarters planning process. Finally, for those potential wargame sponsors, there are numerous military, academic, and private capabilities to enable the design, execution and analysis of wargames to address their objectives.
One challenge in wargaming, and especially political-military (POL-MIL) games, is how to best model the behavior of unpredictable, even apparently irrational, foes. Is the mercurial behavior of North Korea’s “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un, Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, or Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army truly irrational, or is it a simply the product of a very different set of interests and objectives sustained by a very different world-view? To what extent do seemingly erratic aspects of their strategic behavior derive instead from factors we don’t understand well, such as internal politics or decision-making process? It has been well established since the POL-MIL wargaming of the 1950s and 1960s that actions that one actor believes to be rational signals of intent or deterrence are often entirely misunderstood by their intended recipient, in large part because they are deeply shaped by internal decision making processes that opponents fail to appreciate or understand. How do we incorporate this into wargames when, almost by definition, we do not fully understand what is going on?
Over the last eighteen months, the Australian podcast the Dead Prussian has asked each of its guests a simple yet deeply contested question: “What is war?” Answers have ranged from Professor Hal Brand’s insightful “war is a tragic but inescapable aspect of international politics” to my own citation of John Keegan’s “war is collective killing for some collective purpose.”Nobody so far has said that war is a “game”. Thankfully this isn’t surprising; anyone who has fought in war, or just studied it, will be aware that this would trivialise the destruction that can lie within. But it is also of note that nobody so far has labeled war as a duel.
This latest series on #wargaming will spend this week analyzing that process and assess factors that may be overlooked. The Strategy Bridge has lined up a broad community of subject matter experts and stakeholders to explore several types of wargames to spark a conversation not only about how we design war games, but also about how we communicate the critical lessons learned.