Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Wargaming Connection: Peter Perla on “Work – ing” Wargaming

pic1761812-1The Wargaming Connection blog has an excellent piece by Peter Perla reflecting on the recent renewed attention to wargaming within the US Department of Defense:

Over the past six months, wargaming has experienced a surge of attention among defense professionals. This upsurge was spurred in large part by a memo from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in November and especially a follow-on memo from Deputy Secretary of Defense (DepSecDef) Robert Work just this February. This high-level interest may be new, but serious, professional wargaming has been practiced for nearly 200 years. Sometimes it has pointed the way toward success. Too often it has been oversold by charlatans, abused by the cynical, and ignored by those who most need to learn from the insights it can provide. Today we face a critical historic inflection point. We can’t afford to screw up this opportunity. It’s time to get wargaming right. It’s too important not to.

After a thoughtful discussion of the many challenges involved in reinvigorating wargaming within the DoD, he concludes with four sets of recommendations:

First, the leadership must recognize that wargaming is a distinct tool—related to and building on both operations research and systems analysis but not a subset of either. That means realizing that the ORSA community is not the locus of wargaming expertise; indeed, that it is often the main impediment to wargaming’s best use. This is particularly the case with regard to the bloated software-contractor infrastructure supporting the department’s modeling and simulation bureaucracy. (Can you spell JWARS?)

Second, as such a distinct tool—as a discipline in itself—wargaming needs a home of its own on a par with the established advocates of M&S. That is not to say that it requires the sort of top heavy bureaucracy created by McNamara’s Whiz Kids. Wargamers are used to leveraging talent to make up for small numbers. No, what wargaming needs is a well-placed and carefully selected team of experts with direct access to and trust from the leadership. And by experts I mean not only experts at designing and playing wargames, but also experts at understanding and playing the REAL games of departmental and Washington bureaucratic politics. An office similar to but much smaller than CAPE is a solution worth considering. How about the office of Wargaming Application and Research?

Third, DoD needs to populate such an office with wargaming professionals who have lived with and practiced wargaming, and so intimately understand its strengths and weaknesses. Such experts exist today within the department and among all the services, as well as within the FFRDC and contractor community. But too often they have labored in isolation, separated by walls of organizational competition or classification. There have been self-generated attempts to break down these walls and connect the gamers to each other. The eponymous Connections Conference—begun in the United States in 1992 and in the past few years spawning “franchises” in the United Kingdom, Australia and the Netherlands— is a key nexus for wargaming and it deserves strong and explicit support, attention, and participation from both DepSecDef and SecDef. The wargamers who attend these Connections conferences, the wargaming community of practice started recently in the Military Operations Research Society, and the professional wargaming organizations at the various War Colleges and National Defense University are sources of the latent talent in the community, waiting and hoping to be called upon to energize innovation.

Fourth, the department as a whole—and we wargamers specifically, as the experts—need to understand just what we mean by “innovation” and how wargaming can help generate innovative solutions to real-world problems. It is not enough to create wargames that use innovative techniques and employ innovative designs. What we seek are innovative results, new insights, or new ideas stemming from such games. Innovation comes from inspiring and empowering people to draw deeply from within their own talents and experience. Wargames challenge players to go beyond their talents and experience to come up with innovative ways to overcome living opponents during the game, opponents who are striving to do the same to them. It is this process of competitive challenge and creativity that can produce insights and identify innovative solutions to both known and newly discovered problems.

Go read the whole thing here.

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