PAXsims is pleased to offer some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers.
At the Modern War Institute (US Military Academy) website, Garrett Heath and Oleg Svet offer some thoughts on wargaming within the US Department of Defense. Col. Heath leads the Studies, Analysis, and Gaming Division at the Joint Staff, which manages the Wargaming Incentive Fund and supports the Wargaming Repository. Dr. Svet (AT&T) is a senior defense analyst who supports SAGD and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Each month we analyze new and updated Repository information in order to produce a report that we share with over five hundred government officials of the Defense Wargaming Alignment Group (DWAG). Each report highlights results from multiple recently completed wargames and a listing of upcoming wargames. These reports provide wargaming community members from across all the services, combatant commands, and other DoD organizations with useful information and situational awareness for planning purposes. Perhaps most important is that members gain information that leads to contributing and participating in wargames that they were not previously aware of, but align with topics their organization is interested in. In addition, members share information that they submitted to the Repository during biweekly DWAG meetings. These meetings provide a venue for participants to elaborate on Repository information and begin collaboration on upcoming wargames. During most meetings, we have witnessed firsthand how—just as DoD senior leaders had envisioned—the Repository enables inter-service and cross–combatant command cooperation and collaboration that helps in the development of wargaming concepts and plans, as well as dissemination of wargame lessons learned and results.
To answer the second question, we examined how well games aligned with senior leader priorities and to what extent leaders were involved. Between May 2016 and August 2018, WIF supported fifty-four wargames, which account for 20 percent of all wargames in the Repository during that period. The scenarios for these games addressed the top priorities in the National Defense Strategy that the Secretary of Defense announced in January 2018. The strategy’s principal priorities are China and Russia, while its secondary priorities are North Korea, Iran, and counterterrorism. Our analysis showed that 68 percent of game scenarios focused on peer competitors (the principal priorities in the strategy); and 24 percent looked at rogue states (the secondary priorities). Ninety-two percent of games have been directly aligned with the National Defense Strategy priorities and the most pressing needs of department leaders. The remaining 8 percent focused on topics outside of these priorities but relevant to national strategy. For example, high-level political and military officials from a wide variety of our partners have participated in wargames. These games supported the second line of effort of the strategic approach outlined in the National Defense Strategy, which is strengthening alliances as we attract new partners.
Wargame results were being shared up the chain to influence senior level decision making. Nearly all, fifty-two of fifty-four, WIF-funded wargames’ results, high-level insights, and lessons learned were briefed to senior leaders. Additionally, 32 percent of these games involved direct participation of general and flag officers, or members of the Senior Executive Service. Many of these games had profound impacts. The majority of game results are classified; however, an unclassified example of how a WIF-funded wargame informed senior-level decision making is TRANSCOM’s contested environment wargame. In April 2018, the top commander of US Transportation Command testified to Congress that his wargame revealed critical security vulnerabilities and that lessons learned “drove changes in how we plan for attrition, cyber, mobilization, authorities, access, and command and control.” Instances like this where a commander directs a game and uses the results in his or her decision-making process speaks volumes about the value and need for the WIF.
The latest issue of CounterFact Magazine features a Joe Miranda-designed wargame exploring modern war in a megacity:
War in the MegaCity is a simulation of a fight for a city in the near future. It covers conventional, unconventional and civil disturbance operations. One player controls Government forces, the other the Insurgents.Designed by Joseph Miranda
War in the Megacity (WMC) is a simulation of hypothetical near-future battles fought in metropolitan areas with populations of 10 million or more. The objective is to show the spectrum of operations–conventional, special operations and unconventional–in this type of fighting on the grand tactical level. There are two sides, both controlled by one player, in WMC: the Insurgent player, who wants to seize control of the city. Opposing him in that effort is the Government player. The Infowar Index is central to play. Each player has an Infowar Index, which indicates how successful his is in achieving his goals–representing the amount of overall public support each side is getting.
Each game turn represents from two days to two weeks of real time, depending on the tempo and scope of the activities conducted in each one. The various units represent force sizes–most either task-organized or spontaneously generated–varying between battalion and brigade sizes: anywhere from about 500 to 5,000 total personnel.
The Game Map shows a megacity and its environs. The large rectangular boxes are called sectors. Each sector is named after the predominant structure within it or the main activity conducted across it. Players organize and move their units within the sector boxes.
Separately, Ty Bomba posted some thoughts on “The (Im)Possibility of War in the Mega-City” on the CounterFact Facebook page:
Given the phenomena of “casualty aversion” that’s overtaken Western societies since the end of the Cold War – that is, a general unwillingness by electorates to sustain any government prosecuting a war longer than one election cycle or bloodier than a relative handful of total deaths – and it can be seen it’s effectively impossible for us a society to engage in that kind of war.
The only exception would be if the stakes involved were readily perceived by a majority the electorate as truly and fully existential at the national level. In turn, to get to that level, you have to posit near science fictional scenarios, such as the Chinese landing en masse along the US west coast or armies of Jihadis surging into Europe’s cities. Short of such epochal hypotheticals, one is hard pressed to name any mega-city anywhere on Earth the control of which would be important enough for a US administration, or that of any other Western democracy, to be willing to sacrifice so much to get it.
Mega-city wars will therefore likely remain the domains of criminal gang turf fights and civil wars fought among groups with nowhere else to go. Until such time as aerial and ground drones and autonomous robots are further perfected, no Western democracy can make war effectively in mega-cities.
That in turn led Brian Train to offer his own thoughts on the subject at his Ludic Futurism blog:
I find I cannot disagree with what Ty has written here, having read some time ago all the articles and papers he cites, and more besides. Yes, we will not see the entire rifle-company strength of the US Army and Marine Corps squandered in an enormous mega-Aachen, or even a restaging of the Second Battle of Seoul (not least because Seoul is ten times the size it was in 1950). Ridiculous notion.
Ty published the designer’s notes to the game over on Consimworld some time ago, wherein Joe seems to be walking back the game’s initial impression that you are fighting a massive, primarily kinetic battle for a huge city (wherein Fallujah or Grozny would fill only three or four of the map’s 30 abstract sectors). He uses the triple-CRT, units-rising-and-falling-in-strength method first done in James Dunnigan’s game Chicago-Chicago!, and reused by him in LA Lawless, Decision Iraq, and by me in Greek Civil War (this last by order of Decision Games, though somewhere in between my submission and eventual publication there were a lot of changes to both my game and to Joe’s system, including collapsing the 3 CRTs into one, and radical changes in unit typology and abilities). He also speaks of the ridiculous troop-to-space ratio in a city of 10 million or more, but does note that the troop scale in the game is brigades (thousands of uniforms) vs. crowds (tens of thousands in size); even the guerrilla units are estimated to be a thousand or more fighters (though in fairness, because it’s a Joe Miranda near-future game, there are also small detachments of “”Fifth Generation” troops whose weaponry, and sometimes their own physicality and mental states, have been enhanced by leading-edge technologies.”).
But I added the emphasis in Ty’s penultimate paragraph. Megacities will not be the arenas where entire brigades and divisions square off against each other, but they will see a great deal of low-level irregular conflict, by and among irregular forces, who will be opposed much of the time by uniformed forces in modest amounts. However, I do not share his enthusiasm for autonomous robots.*
Joe and I are on the same wavelength on a lot of things, but often we differ considerably in our design approaches to the same kind of problem. To my mind, a more realistic and sobering pair of books to read on this subject are Planet of Slums by Mike Davis and Out of the Mountains by David Kilcullen (especially his chapter on the Tivoli Gardens operation in Kingston, Jamaica). What would be interesting from my point of view would be a game in a megacity that emphasized limited intelligence, surveillance, building and degrading organizations, positioning and threats, information warfare, for both insurgent and counterinsurgent. All precursors to kinetic operations, which are kept to a minimum. So far the megacities in the world that have experienced problems severe enough to see actual conflict involving their national militaries have all been outside of NATO, and the conflicts have all been pretty one-sided; government moves in against insurgent gangs, they scatter obligingly and civil disorder continues, though turned down to a dull roar until the uniforms leave and the gangs return.
I tried to do this in one of my first games, Tupamaro, which took place entirely within one large city (1.5 million, which was kind of large for 1968). And maybe that’s more typical of what went on in Baghdad (pop 6-7 million, give or take) for years. This was my thinking in developing the “Maracas megacity” module for the District Commander system over the last couple of years, available here for free PnP at least until Hollandspiele publishes it some time in the next few years.
It all makes for some thought-provoking reading.
The Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation has released an “online first” article by Donald Brown et al on “Design and evaluation of an avatar-based cultural training system.”
The need for cultural training for members of the military, and supporting government and industrial organizations, has become more important because of the increasing expectations of effective collaborations between people of different cultures in order to achieve common security objectives. Additionally, the number and mix of countries, and cultural groups within those countries, make traditional classroom training less feasible. While good simulations have been built for cultural understanding, they have not been developed widely or used for pre-deployment training. This paper describes and evaluates an avatar-based game for pre-deployment training. The game is built around two scenarios from the Afghan culture: a market scenario, and a local leadership council scenario. The game also allows participants to reverse roles and play the part of an Afghan interacting with an American solider. To evaluate this avatar-based game, we developed an experimental design to test the effectiveness of the game versus commonly used video instruction, and to test the effectiveness of role reversals in training with games. Results show that participants trained with the avatar-based game had significantly improved understanding of Afghan culture (p<0.01p<0.01). However, role reversal did not improve performance. Additionally, responses to a questionnaire showed that participants in the avatar-based game had a much greater appreciation for their understanding of the Afghan culture than the more video-trained control group.
Ed Farren is developing a simple two player counterinsurgency game, Viva La Revolution. The print-and-play version will be available on BoardGameGeek, and an online version can be found for Tabletop Simulator on Steam.
It looks very good, and we hope to review it here at PAXsims in the near future.
The International Organization for Migration recently held another one of its simulation exercises on cross-border mass migration, this time in Niger.
More than 500 members from communities, local authorities, civil society and security forces participated in IOM’s fourth crisis simulation exercise this week (17/10) in Tillabéri, Niger.
The exercise took place in close partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Humanitarian Action and Natural Disaster Management, and the Ministry of Health in Niger.
The exercise was organized under the project Engaging Communities in Border Management in Niger – Phase II, funded by the US Department of State. This was the fourth simulation exercise organized by IOM in Niger, having previously held similar exercises in 2017 and 2018 – two in Zinder region and one in Agadez region.
Tillabéri, site of this latest exercise, lies in a region covering southwest Niger which is regularly affected by population displacement flows. After the internal armed conflict in neighbouring Mali in 2012, over 50,000 Malians sought refuge in Niger. More recently, intercommunity clashes and the presence of terrorist armed groups in Niger triggered the internal displacement of more than 32,000 Nigeriens.
As with previous exercises, the simulation this week used a scenario conducted under real-life circumstances to test local and regional authorities’ ability to respond to a mass migration movement into Niger, precipitated by a crisis at the border.
This was the first time IOM Niger organized a simulation exercise on the Niger river, which entailed new logistical and coordination challenges. The new setting allowed for new actors to be involved in the exercise, such as the Gendarmerie’s River Brigade and the Environmental Services.
In addition to building the capacities of the authorities in responding to cross-border crises, the simulation exercise also enhanced community involvement in crisis management, as communities from the surrounding area played the roles of both displaced populations and of welcoming community….
Chris Bennett of the Game Design Thinking Research Group at Stanford University asks “How Do You Create Paper AI?”
One of the challenges of board games, and especially more sophisticated historical simulation games, is finding the opponents and the time to play. In the past decade or so, we have seen a shift in the hobby towards games that support more robust solitaire play. But until more recently, most solitaire play felt very luck based, and seemed to have little strategic thought behind it. In short, it rarely felt like playing against a “real” player.
But in 2010, GMT Games published ‘Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-?’ by game designer and CIA national security analyst Volko Ruhnke. And as part of this card-driven two-player boardgame about the complex political and military nature of the War of Terror, there was an option to play the game “solo” using a paper AI to tell the human player what to do in various situations….
You can read the full item at the link above.
Earlier this month, the G20 Health Ministerial Meeting in Argentina featured a drug-resistant E. Coli pandemic crisis simulation, as part of an international effort to tackle antimicrobial resistance. According to the UK government:
The governments of the UK and Argentina will lead on the exercise to test G20 world leaders on how they would tackle the spread of an infection that is resistant to antibiotics.
The crisis simulation will put ministers in a fictional scenario where an E. Coli outbreak that is resistant to antibiotics spreads across borders, putting public health, livestock, trade and travel at risk. The exercise takes place today (Thursday 4 October) at the G20 Health Ministerial Meeting in Mar del Plata Argentina.
The simulation will test leaders’ and countries’ ability to act quickly if antibiotic resistant bugs cross borders and lead to a pandemic affecting global public health, placing pressure on health systems and the economies of the fictional countries involved. It will be led by Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Dame Sally Davies and Argentine journalist Dr Nelson Castro.
The exercise will raise awareness and understanding of the key challenges of AMR, and encourage G20 ministers to ensure countries are doing everything they can in the global fight against superbugs.
The aim is to help governments across the world confront difficult issues around reducing antibiotic resistant bugs, including how to reduce the overuse of antimicrobial drugs, while making sure patients who need them have access to them….
You’ll find further coverage at the Daily Mail.
Can you do better than Theresa May and the British government as they try to negotiate an exit from the European Union? Bloomberg gives you a chance to find out in their online Pick-Your-Own Brexit Game.
Last month we posted a report on RAND’s Will To Fight project. At the Bravo Zulu blog, Mountain Navy offers some additonal thoughts:
…Wargame designers may benefit from the Will-to-Fight Model (p. xx) presented in this study. It certainly provides a different way of looking at those factors that affect a soldier on the battlefield.
My own reaction to the study is mixed; I like the model but shake my head ruefully at the games selected for study. If nothing else, maybe Will to Fight will give another generation of wargame designers and publishers a chance to assist the military and create a better war fighting force. I can only wonder what designers and publishers like Mark Herman or Uwe Eickert or Volko Ruhnke, or even small start-up companies like Covert Intervention Games think as all in the past or presently support government or military gaming.