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Daily Archives: 19/02/2016

Pettyjohn and Shlapak on obstacles to reinvigorating defense wargaming

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War on the Rocks features a piece by Stacie Pettyjohn and David Shlapak (RAND Center for Gaming) on the obstacles confronting current efforts by the US Department of Defence to reinvigorate wargaming:

These are laudable goals. Nevertheless, creating, orchestrating, and observing recent games across the Department of Defense — and conferring with the broader gaming community — has made us aware of a number of potential challenges. These are important to keep in mind for a reinvigorated wargaming enterprise to succeed.

Bonanza or Bust

A failure to appreciate the strengths, weaknesses, and limitations of wargames and wargamers could lead to a situation in which “bad games drive out good ones.” This is not a new concern. As wargaming expert Peter Perla has observed, wargames have often been “oversold” and “abused,” and wargaming as a method has suffered as a result. Given the current zeitgeist, this could become a problem again.

Supply and Demand

The growing demand for wargames also might outstrip the wargaming community’s capacity to successfully execute good games. This mismatch between supply and demand could negatively impact the quality of wargames and contribute to a potential backlash against gaming. The professional wargaming community may have already reached a point where the demand for games is exceeding the current supply of experienced game designers, skilled players, and other subject-matter experts vital to conducting first-rate games. As the number of wargames has swelled, the increased operational tempo also has the potential to stress organizations that are now being asked to run many small games each year instead of one large annual or biannual exercise, taxing short-handed staffs (especially if those small games need to be executed simultaneously or in quick succession).

Failure is an Option

To facilitate the dissemination of information about wargames, the Department of Defense has created a wargaming repository that will house the results of all completed games as well as information about planned exercises. Additionally, a Defense Wargaming Alignment Group is being created to ensure that senior leader priorities shape wargames while the insights from wargames inform senior leaders. These are important initiatives. But like all good initiatives, the Pentagon needs to be mindful of the unintended consequences that could emerge.

One of the main virtues of wargames is that they offer a low-risk and “intellectually liberating” environment. Yet the current effort to catalog, scrutinize, and utilize game results might inadvertently undermine this environment by raising the stakes of each game. This, in turn, could have two effects.

First, players might become more reluctant to criticize current plans, policies, and programs. For wargames to succeed, participants need to set aside parochial interests and try their best to identify, assess, and solve problems, even if their insights challenge the status quo. Increased oversight of the wargaming enterprise — and greater dependence on wargame findings to shape budgets in a time of resource scarcity — could actually make games more conservative when the intent may be exactly the opposite.

Second, organizers might exaggerate their findings to demonstrate that games are indeed the driver of innovation that many assume. Yet not all wargames uncover new insights, no matter how well-designed and well-executed they might be. Thus organizers and their sponsors need to adopt a “venture capital” model and understand that the failure to identify new solutions is not itself a failure of the game.

It’s a terrific piece, and well worth reading.

For more on current efforts to reinvigorate wargaming, see also these PAXsims posts:

Gardiner on wargaming as an overlooked educational tool

BAR.jpgThe most recent issue of British Army Review 165 (Winter 2016) contains an article by Lt Col Ivor Gardiner on the merits of commercial wargames as a tool for officer education:

Within the British Army, wargaming is primarily used as part of the Seven Questions (7Qs) of the Combat Estimate. However, it lacks a proper adversarial element. During the planning phase, the plan will become awed if most, or all, dangerous enemy actions and responses have not been articulated.

The missing aspect in British military wargaming is the adversarial. It is this aspect, and the replacement of military judgement by the use of variable factors and the ever maligned use of dice to determine outcomes, which results in much of the misperceptions directed towards wargaming. The result is usually a somewhat dismissive attitude and an assertion that it is a game of dice not much different from Risk and is more associated with ‘childish things’.

In the piece he discusses his experience using commercial wargames within the 1st Battalion the Royal IRISH, and highlights its value for staff training, complimenting battlefield studies, and force and capability development.

Historical legacy in professional military wargaming is proven. I think we can draw much from the importance ascribed to wargaming by the Prussian Army. It would be trite to say Prussian military success was based on wargaming, but nobody could deny that the emphasis placed on the conceptual and educational aspects of training Prussian – and later German – officers, partly through the medium of wargaming, did not make a significant contribution. This utility has been recognised by British thinkers such as H.G. Wells and Basil Liddell Hart; more recently strongly encouraged by Major General (Ret’d) Andrew Sharpe CBE, who retired as Director of the Defence Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) and now heads up the newly established Centre for Historical Analysis and Critical Research (CHACR). Yet we fail to fully appreciate this fantastic tool. We place an emphasis on Understanding of the environment on modern operations, yet still fail ourselves to fully Understand the value that can be added to military conceptual development through the simple and affordable medium of commercial wargaming.

You’ll find the full piece here.

h/t Tom Mouat 


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