Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 27/08/2009

Ascertaining Validity in the Abstract Realm of PMESII Simulation Models (and other thoughts)

Yes, it is a very long title (and that’s only part of it), but those interested in the use of simulation for training and education on peacebuilding may find much of interest in Benjamin Marlin’s recent MA thesis at the Naval Postgraduate School: Ascertaining Validity in the Abstract Realm of PMESII Simulation Models: An Analysis of the Peace Support Operations Model (PSOM):

The Department of Defense has recently declared that irregular warfare is as strategically important as traditional warfare. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of mature training and analysis tools that can be used to support contemporary military operations. One popular wargaming simulation is the campaign-level Peace Support Operations Model (PSOM). This thesis provides a quantitative analysis of PSOM. The results are based on over 75,000 simulated runs of an Operation Iraqi Freedom scenario. The study concludes with the identification of the critical factors within PSOM, recommended potential uses for the model, an accuracy assessment, and an assessment of the risks assumed by using the model. Results indicate that the critical factors within the model are indicative of contemporary operations. PSOM should be used for its original purpose, as a wargame to further study the societal implications of modern military operations. As a wargame, PSOM has strong potential as a high-level staff and leader training tool and as a planning aid for course of action development. Within the confines of this study, the model proved limited in its ability to model changes in force capabilities. Due to its limited ability to model uncertainties in irregular warfare without the human-in-the-loop, or give multiple potential outcomes, further development and analysis is required before the model is used for large scale analysis.

PMESII is, of course, the military acronym for “Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure, and Information,” and reflects the increasing attention in the US and elsewhere to the importance of “non-kinetic” elements in the outcome of peace and stabilization operations. (Not surprisingly, fighting costly counter-insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan rather tends to highlight this dimension in recent professional wargame development) Marlin’s thesis looks at one such insurgency/COIN simulation, the UK-developed PSOM, and subjects it to repeated runs to determine how the model (and, in this case, a simulated Iraq) responds to changing conditions, including unit stances, firepower, rules of engagement, service provision, the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and a host of other variable. The PSOM itself allows for multiple factions to be modeled, along with associated ideologies, ethnicities, resources, and other components.

Of course (as the thesis notes), a simulation of this kind is only as good as the algorithms buried inside it. For some earlier skepticism about how well we can model these sorts of things, see my earlier post on Simghanistan.

There is, however, a great deal of work being done in military operations research on these issues—how to simulate the behaviour of civilians in warzones, for example, or on Human, Social, and Cultural Behavior Modeling for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction Operations.

Interesting stuff, and largely outside the notice of the humanitarian assistance and development communities (who, I suspect, would be doubtful of its utility as well as lacking the budgets for its development). Although I’m sure that military simulation developers do call upon subject matter experts in these fields from time to time in the development phase, I wonder how often they involve non-military agencies in their efforts to validate the simulations that they produce?

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