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A broadside from CNA gamers: Analytical wargaming and the cycle of research

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Jon Compton’s recent piece in War on the Rocks bemoaning the state of analytical wargaming in the US defence community has already sparked a cautious and partial rejoinder from Phil Pournelle for “paint[ing] with too large a brush.” Now Peter Perla, Web Ewell, Christopher Ma, James Peachy, Jeremy Sepinsky, and Basil Tripsas—all affiliated with the CNA gaming team—weigh in on the debate in another War on the Rocks article. It’s a pretty heavy, and well-aimed, broadside.

We certainly agree about the need to integrate wargames with analyses, exercises, and assessments as part of — dare we say it? — the cycle of research. Indeed, CNA and others have striven to do exactly that — when the sponsors of our work have been open to doing so. We disagree with Compton, however, about giving the wargaming community the central role and responsibility for integrating all aspects of the cycle of research.

It is long past time for the leadership of the Department — perhaps acting through the groups Compton calls on the carpet (federally funded research and development centers, other contractors, and educational institutions) — to break apart the stovepipes of analysis, wargaming and, indeed, of “analytical wargaming” as Compton terms it. Pentagon leadership needs to focus on integrating those stovepipes into a new paradigm for providing comprehensive advice to senior leadership. These senior leaders should include not only those within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, but also those of the services, the various operational and functional commands, and the research community writ large. That senior leadership will best be served not merely by better analytical wargaming but primarily by their own broad-based commitment to integrate wargaming with analysis, exercises, experiments, and real-world assessments. It is through such integration that senior leaders — indeed, leaders at all levels — can base their crucial strategic, programmatic, operational, and tactical decisions on the most comprehensive information and insight available.

Quite rightly, they put appropriate emphasis on the sponsor to integrate all elements of research and analysis:

The organizations that make up the “wargaming community” that Compton criticizes so harshly — federally funded research and development centers, other contractors, and educational institutions — are not all in the position of being their own master distinct from the government agencies who must sponsor and fund such work. Although Compton implied that federally funded research and development centers, as well as others, should “take analytical ownership” of this process, it is important to recognize that the CAPE effort was sponsored and executed with government leadership. The Naval War College’s Halsey Alfa group has been using a similar paradigm for more than a decade.

Indeed, we use that term, paradigm, with malice aforethought. Since the McNamara era’s introduction of the concepts of systems analysis into the Pentagon’s lexicon, analysis has become a mantra of truth. Even the term Compton uses — analytical wargaming — demonstrates obeisance to the concepts of analytical rigor and objectivity based on the principles of economics and the physical sciences. For too long that paradigm has seduced both the analysis and wargaming communities within the Defense Department into judging the value of all tools, regardless of their character and use, by standards of validity and utility too narrow to encompass the full range of truth and value.

The paradigm should change.

Instead of imposing the tenets of systems analysis and operations research on wargaming, or those of wargaming on analysis, it is time for the Department — not their supporting contractors and institutions — to recognize the essential need to integrate all the intellectual tools at its disposal across all levels of decisions. And it is at the locus of those decisions that the need should be recognized and the supporting expertise tasked and funded to meet new requirements.

In short, they suggest, “It is the Department of Defense — not the federally funded research and development centers, contractors, and educational institutions — who should take the “analytical ownership” Compton calls for.”

The opinions they express, it should be noted, are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of CNA. Then again, I suspect there are more than a few in the outside-DoD/DoD contractor wargaming community who share their view.

See also comments on the CNA website by Joel Sepinsky: “Wargaming is Just One Part of the Solution.”

2 responses to “A broadside from CNA gamers: Analytical wargaming and the cycle of research

  1. RockyMountainNavy 25/10/2019 at 6:33 am

    What this all comes down to is a search for a “wargaming champion” within DoD to “replace” Bob Work, who in my view was more an “advocate” than a “champion” to begin with. An alliance between wargaming and modeling & simulation communities is a start but given the different levels of acceptance by senior leaders (the M&S community being slavishly accepted by too many) wargamers have good reason to be cautious less they get swallowed up (pushed aside?) by the simulationists.
    There are glimmers of hope out there. I was in a brief recently where a M&S tool was discussed and the advocate was extolling it’s virtues as a wargaming tool. It can do hundreds of Monte Carlo runs and get you to a high statistical confidence level! One senior spoke up and cautioned that the tool looks useful for sensitivity analysis but he would be loathe to use it for campaign design.

  2. Mark Jones 24/10/2019 at 12:55 pm

    Why do we say “writ large” when “ar large” will do?

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