PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

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.

 

One response to “Rubel: Gaming the interface between strategy and operations

  1. brtrain 11/01/2019 at 2:21 pm

    “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.”

    Exactly!
    I’ve tried to reflect this tendency (inevitability?) in some of my recent design work, in the form of variable and shifting rewards.

    Example: in my game Kandahar (One Small Step 2015), the players are in the role of regional commanders and not national-level decision makers (as was the case with some of my other designs.
    Instead of an overall Political Support Level, which is a usable but national-level datum used in these other games, the main unit of game currency is the Support Point (SP).
    These are an abstraction of the amount of support the higher authorities to which the players are responsible are prepared to provide, representing both material and intangible resources.
    Players use SP to earn Victory Points, which are granted in accordance with objectives set them by the same higher authorities that provide them with those SP (and summarized on Objective Cards).
    Players will frequently find themselves in the position of having, if they wish to continue to get high levels of support, to follow courses of action that are maybe not the most effective in opposing the enemy but are more valued by their superiors.
    Therefore, the Objective Cards contain some seemingly perverse incentives, where engaging the enemy in kinetic operations may actually take second place (especially for the Government player).
    In the game these are set randomly at the beginning and change during play of the game, either through other random events or through an Appeal to Authority mechanism where you can plead your case and hope to engineer a change in objectives; still a roll of the dice whether you get it.
    A professional application of a game like this would not make it a random exercise to annoy players, it would be something set by agreement (or play of a second game, e.g. a quick matrix exercise, to set initial priorities).

    Also, because it’s Afghanistan, there’s an opium harvest mechanism that generates SP for both sides.
    It’s no secret that both sides profit enormously from it, as do the peasants who plant and harvest the poppies, and so have at least as great an incentive to let it continue as the criminal gangs do.
    Players can consider the SP gained from this game feature as not only personal enrichment by the personnel involved, but also the tacit encouragement by higher echelons to let it continue, as they profit from it too.
    Yet this comes at a price, reflected in the loss of organizational Morale (=efficiency) by players.

    Kandahar is also a bit different in that it can end in several ways: at a fixed point in time, or if one player has demonstrated a significant and sustained lead in Victory Points, or when either player’s SP level reaches zero.
    In the last case it is assumed that some crisis or decision point has been reached, play stops and players compare their respective totals of Victory Points (VP) to determine a winner.
    In truth, the war (and game) would go on, in the latter case with a different commander replacing the one who had exhausted the patience and resources of his superiors.

    I have also implemented a similar mechanism in the District Commander series of games (coming soon from Hollandspiele, and one of which is currently available for free from my website https://brtrain.wordpress.com/2018/07/11/new-free-game-maracas/ ).

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