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Daily Archives: 10/01/2019

Rubel: Gaming the interface between strategy and operations

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At the Center for International Maritime Security website, Robert “Barney” Rubel is offering his thoughts on gaming the interface between strategy and operations:

Wargaming is ubiquitous throughout the U.S. Armed Forces as a tool for research, education, training, and influence. It is a flexible tool, adaptable to different scenarios, purposes, and levels of war. It is in this last arena, levels of war, that gaming organizations and their sponsors can bump up against the limits of wargaming.

The inherent nature of wargaming requires delineation and focus in game objectives and design. A game to address all three levels of war, strategic, operational, and tactical, is simply not feasible, requiring too many players, too much money, and too much time. The normal approach is to pick a level of war to play, with the other levels being either scripted, managed by the control cell, or ignored altogether. Even when a game is designed to incorporate free play at two levels, some kind of pruning of factors – frequently time – must occur to make the game feasible within budget and schedule constraints. The net result is that a robust exploration of the relationships among the levels of war becomes a casualty, missing in action.

Among the consequences of this gap in gaming could be a failure of communication and coordination among policy, strategy, and operational decision-makers, such as occurred in Vietnam and Iraq. This series will discuss the nature of this gaming gap and will offer some suggestions for closing it.

In Part 1 he discusses the problematic nature of the gap in policy-making and military operations. In Part 2, he focuses on combining strategy and operations in wargames:

It is often the case that scenarios for operational-level wargames include a “road-to-war” section that offers a plausible narrative of how the crisis or an attack that starts the game came about. As routinely as such narratives are produced, their influence on the game tends to wane as the game proceeds. Players and umpires become immersed in operational moves and counter-moves. Moreover, the road-to-war narrative may lack sufficient discussion of factors that would be needed to power analyses or move assessments farther downstream in the game. The bottom line is that unless a game is designed such that it includes specific measures to examine the matter, the strategy/operations interface gets short shrift in current gaming practice.

Of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy, so inevitably, once a war starts, a strategy/operations feedback loop of some sort must be established. Such loops automatically raise the issue of the degree to which operations are subject to detailed management from Washington. In some cases, such as Vietnam, operations such as air strikes into North Vietnam were micromanaged from the White House. In others, such as Desert Storm, General Schwarzkopf went into cease fire negotiations with little in the way of guidance from the president. In between those extremes are any number of cases, such as Lincoln and Grant, in which we find a good balance of delegation and oversight.

At this point it should be mentioned that each level of war contains its own logic and its own set of imperatives. The fundamental purpose of each higher command echelon is to coordinate and support the staffs and units that report to it. However, there is also the inherent requirement for higher echelons to override or sub-optimize the logic of lower echelon operations. If tactical victory was all that mattered, operational-level staffs would not have to worry about harmonizing strategy and tactics and could only focus on coordinating the tactical units below them. Similarly, if operational logic governed things once war broke out – a view that was widely held in earlier times – then political oversight would be unnecessary and likely counter-productive. The point is that there frequently arises occasions in which higher commands must impose guidance on lower level forces that exposes them to higher risk or reins them in somehow in order to protect or achieve higher level objectives.

 

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