Kaliningrad Fires is war, but no game
A few days ago The Strategy Bridge posted the first of what will be a continuing series of wargames:
The Next War series on The Strategy Bridge publishes decision games designed to help military professionals visualize and describe the changing character of war and warfare. The games all consist of the same format:
- An overarching situation and objective
- An assessment of the enemy in terms of their disposition and composition
- A space to articulate how players would approach the situation in terms of a central idea, necessary capabilities, and spatial and temporal dimensions (e.g. deep, close, security or shaping, decisive, etc.)
- A course of action (COA) graphic and narrative
The games are designed to be short thought experiments that fit easily into training schedules. Individuals should take no more than one hour to complete the game and then one hour to compare results with other players in a group setting. These games can be used by military professionals in tactical units, from battalion to brigade, as well as on larger staffs to practice operational art and define new theories of victory. The wargames are experiments in which professionals can test their ideas (i.e. COAs = hypotheses) and identify candidates for further concept and capability development. By exchanging findings with the larger military professional network, practitioners crowdsource military innovation.
The first in the series, entitled Kaliningrad Fires, outlines a scenario in which US and Lithuanian forces are preparing to meet an imminent Russian invasion:
In this decision game, you are the lead elements of a NATO force sent to stop a Russian force from securing key terrain in the opening stages of a conventional fight. The game is designed to assist players in thinking through how to use fires in the defense to disrupt an adversary. You should assume the lead echelon of the advancing Russian force is just that, the lead echelon and likely to be followed by a larger force.
Following a stand-off with Lithuania regarding shipping tariffs between Kaliningrad and Belarus, Russia began mobilizing forces along the border between Kaliningrad and Lithuania. Initial NATO intelligence estimates suggest that Russia will cross the international border and attempt to secure a land bridge between Kaliningrad and Belarus, south of the Neman River, in 96 hours (D+0). The majority of their forces will secure Lithuanian highways A7 and A16, with additional forces guarding north and south of the route.
1/325 IN, B/1/82 AV, and 2/319 FAR (82d) were conducting operation IRON SENTINEL in Poland with other NATO units when Russia began its mobilization, and was re-tasked to fly to Lithuania and assist the Lithuanian Iron Wolf Brigade in defending Lithuania against a Russian attack. The remainder of 2/82, as well as 1/319 FAR and 3/319 FAR, are scheduled to fly in to Kaunas International Airport (1) NLT D-2. 2 CAV (Germany) will begin arriving on D+1 at the rate of one squadron per day.
It’s a great initiative, and I wish them every success with it.
…however, it isn’t really a wargame at all.
Rather, Kaliningrad Fires is a tactical problem, in which one reads the scenario and then develops a possible solution, possibly discussing it with others and comparing ideas afterwards. That can be very useful, but it lacks any sort of dynamic interaction with an adaptive opponent. It certainly isn’t a course of action (COA) wargame: as Graham Longley-Brown has (repeatedly and vociferously) noted, for a COA wargame to be a wargame it must be adversarial, and ideally conducted under some form of time pressure that reflects the real-life constraints on decision-making.
The scenario devotes much attention to the role of a new artillery system deployed by the (future) US side:
2/319 FA is outfitted with the Army’s newest system, the Advanced Artillery System, firing the Artillery Delivered Swarm System (ADSS).
Each of the [artillery] battalion’s 6 platoons has 8 HMMWVs (4 with howitzers, 4 with ammunition). 7 of the 8 are autonomously piloted and operated, slaved to the actions of the platoon leader’s vehicle.
The puzzle is clearly intended to address how this system might be employed:
- How would you integrate a Manned-Unmanned Teaming artillery swarm with attack aviation and ground units assuming hasty defensive positions?
- How would you tie into terrain to create a defensive line?
That’s fair enough: it is perfectly legitimate to ask how deployment of a new weapon system might affect battlefield dynamics, and to use both problem sets and actual wargames to explore its tactical employment.
However, to do that one really needs a lot more information. The tactical description says almost nothing about the entire Lithuanian mechanized infantry brigade that is also part of BLUE: no TOE (table of organization or equipment) is provided, nor any notion of how the Lithuanians would like to defend their country, or the degree of interoperability between US and Lithuanian forces. There’s also no discussion of BLUE air assets, or whether the Russians will enjoy temporary local air superiority in the opening stages of their assault. To my mind, those are all rather important considerations. It’s a bit like asking how the British Expeditionary Force should fight the Germans in 1940 using their newfangled 18/25pdr field artillery with little reference to French capabilities, no discussion of air control, and no reference to French plans.