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Daily Archives: 19/10/2019

Pournelle: Can the cycle of research save American military strategy?

Pournelle cycle.png

Phil Pournell has added his thoughts to the debate over Pentagon wargaming, with a piece in War on the Rocks:

There’s a debate in the Pentagon about wargaming, and it’s heating up. With a recent War on the Rocks article, John Compton, senior analyst and wargame subject-matter expert in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, has put his hat in the ring. Titled “The Obstacles on the Road to Better Analytical Wargaming,” the essay lays out a powerful case that the Defense Department’s wargaming enterprise is broken.

Compton argues that wargamers have ignored Peter Perla’s call to reform of the art of wargaming. Many practitioners continue to execute wargames which aren’t wargames (e.g. Bunch of Guys and Gals Sitting Around a Table), and have failed to adapt their types and styles of games to what the customers ask for. He then describes, accurately in my view, how many wargaming practitioners lack “analytic ownership,” and fail to properly construct their games using multiple methods.

While I largely agree with Compton’s criticism, I think he paints with too large a brush. Many in the wargaming community are working for the very reforms he calls for. Others work in fields which don’t directly apply, such as training or education. In some areas, however, he doesn’t go far enough. His article fails to highlight the danger of the status quo, and the real risk that poorly-constructed analysis (not just wargaming) can lead to battlefield losses. The future force is in danger of being designed based on the impetus of services’ prerogatives and history rather than on a proper inquiry, exploration, and evaluation worthy of a joint force. The detachment of wargaming and the other elements of analysis from an integrated approach cuts the military adrift from its analytic moorings just when the nation and its allies need it the most.

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