PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers. Robert Crandall, Aaron Danis and Colin Marston suggested items for this latest edition.
The UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) recently held their inaugural influence wargame conference, in which participants “tested their influencing and decision-making skills against a series of real-life international scenarios.”
The event provided an opportunity for civil servants and military officers to experience wargames based on influencing behaviours using physical and non-physical force, share specialist knowledge and identify potential user requirements for further investigation.
Held on Monday 19 July at QinetiQ’s Training Innovation Facility, and attended by UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) and government representatives seeking to integrate influence activities into their areas of work, the event was organised by a multi-disciplinary team comprising members from across academia, industry and defence.
The conference showcased wargames developed as part of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s Representation of Behavioural Effects (RBE) project. The RBE project conducts science and technology (S&T) activities to improve the representation, integration and synchronisation of non-kinetic / behavioural effects in decision-support tools such as wargaming, modelling and simulation.
Wargames provide structured and safe-to-fail environments to help explore what works (winning / succeeding) and what doesn’t (losing / failing). At the core of wargames are: the players; the decisions they take; the narrative they create; their shared experiences; and the lessons they take away.
The work from this conference will help determine how better to wargame influence and how to include influence within wargames that have not considered it before. Incorporating influence within wargames will better represent the current and future character of warfare, as set out in the Integrated Review and thus better informing decision-making within UKgovernment.
The Defense Futures Simulator, created by the American Enterprise Institute, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, and War on the Rocks, “allows users to see how various defense strategies and budget choices would alter the Defense Department budget.”
According to Defense One, “A brutal loss in a wargaming exercise last October convinced the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. John Hyten to scrap joint warfighting concepts that had guided U.S. military operations for decades.”
The Pentagon would not provide the name of the wargame, which was classified, but a defense official said one of the scenarios revolved around a battle for Taiwan. One key lesson: gathering ships, aircraft, and other forces to concentrate and reinforce each other’s combat power also made them sitting ducks.
“We always aggregate to fight, and aggregate to survive. But in today’s world, with hypersonic missiles, with significant long-range fires coming at us from all domains, if you’re aggregated and everybody knows where you are, you’re vulnerable,” Hyten said.
Even more critically, the blue team lost access to its networks almost immediately.
“We basically attempted an information-dominance structure, where information was ubiquitous to our forces. Just like it was in the first Gulf War, just like it has been for the last 20 years, just like everybody in the world, including China and Russia, have watched us do for the last 30 years,” Hyten said. “Well, what happens if right from the beginning that information is not available? And that’s the big problem that we faced.”
The October exercise was a test for a new Joint Warfighting Concept. But the new joint concept had been largely based on the same joint operations concepts that had guided forces for decades, Hyten said, and the red team easily defeated them.
The Taiwan Strait is about 80 miles wide. Although a formidable obstacle to cross, time and distance factors clearly favor China, as the distance between California and Taiwan is over 6,000 miles. Furthermore, although the United States maintains a strong presence in the Indo-Pacific Theater, they clearly would be at a numerical disadvantage if the PLA decided to initiate an invasion. Finally, the PLA’s significant Area Denial/Anti-Access (A2/AD)capabilities mean that any effort to move a US force across the Pacific will be contested, possibly from CONUS itself all the way across the Pacific. To understand the challenge we face, it is imperative that we imagine what such a fight would entail.
In November 2020, I wrote a previous post arguing that wargaming can help us visualize what the threat can be. It can help us imagine it and provide context to our thinking about it. It can help us check our assumptions, and perhaps even offer thoughts and ideas that we would never have considered. It will not tell us the future, or lay out with certainty what will happen. But it can offer us an opportunity to prevent a failure of imagination of the kind warned against in the 9/11 Commission Report. By imagining the threat, we may be in a position to make better decisions during moments of crisis. This time, I’m using a copy of GMT Games “Next War: Taiwan” to help visualize what such a fight could entail.
In the end, China largely achieves its objectives
The campaign lasted less than a month. The Joint Force and its Allies performed well in all their engagements with the PLA. The PLA was a capable adversary, whose modernization created a peer competitor whose capabilities were in general, on par with US capabilities. In cases where US and PLA forces entered into direct combat with each other, US forces generally prevailed tactically. However, the PLA was able to achieve three key effects which tipped the operational and strategic fight their way:
They relied on a time and distance equation that was in China’s favor, and then further expanded it through the a surprise ballistic missile strike which mitigated forward deployed Allied airpower and then a sophisticated cyber/information attack against the US Homeland, which caused mass confusion among the civilian population and interdicted the Joint Force’s ability to flow reinforcements to the theater.
The PLA’s sophisticated and capable A2/AD capabilities were an obstacle that could not quickly be overcome. These capabilities also were extended by the coup de main operations to seize the outlying island territories in the Spratlys, Paracels, Penghu, and the Ryukyus. The Allies were forced to fight to clear the outlying islands, while the A2/AD capability allowed China to retain all-domain superiority at critical moments in the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits areas.
The PLA’s modernization efforts created a flexible force capable of carrying out its preferred way of war. This force was superior in terms of personnel and capabilities over its ROC adversary, and was on almost-even terms with the US Joint Force. With time and distance in its favor, and while holding all-domain advantages (or at least parity) at critical moments and areas of the battlespace, the PLA was able to wage a successful campaign.
In dealing with complex security issues and imperfect information, decision-makers frequently rely on mental models that limit their capacity to make fully rational decisions. Wargames can provide an innovative option for challenging assumptions based on past experience, exposing unassessed risk, and gaining insight into future events. This paper reports on five high-level wargames on the United States – North Korea nuclear standoff. Player actions, reflections, feedback, and anonymous surveys indicate that the games provided ample opportunity to understand different viewpoints, explore non-worst-case options, think about the unexpected, and expose the implications of subtle interactions.
The game used was based on the DPRK matrix game previously featured here at PAXsims.
Last year our WARGAMING ROOM editor, Ken Gilliam, sat down with a soon-to-graduate War College student to get her impression of the use of wargames in the classroom. A BETTER PEACE welcomes War College graduate Tina Cancel to the studio to share her thoughts and experiences with LEGO® Serious Play® and the War College created game, Joint Overmatch. Ken has recently retired and moved on to a new career and this was fitting as his final episode because Tina confirms the benefits of all of his hard work during his time as the Director of Strategic Wargaming at the Center for Strategic Leadership and gives him some great feedback to pass on to his successor.
Boutique board games have been around for years, but in the mid-2000s, as “Catan”—which was formerly called “Settlers of Catan,” and which also employs a colonist mechanism, this time in a fictional place—permeated the culture, people started latching on to a hobby most commonly associated with the fringes of nerdom. These games are far more involved than the Parker Brothers catalog, and their designers ask players to embrace complicated rule sets and deep critical thinking; players will rarely do something as simple as just rolling a die and moving a pawn. For a seemingly narrow market, it keeps growing: In 2020, the research firm Euromonitor International noted that the “games and puzzles” market had eclipsed $11 billion.
But recently, players have started asking more incisive questions about their hobby—questions that reach beyond design elegance or component quality, that get at the nature of games as political objects and whether they should be held to the same standards that we demand from our other entertainment. One of the longest active threads on the BoardGameGeek forums for “Puerto Rico” discusses the game’s sanguine perspective on colonialism. (“Puerto Rico is the only game I ever turned down even a single trial play of, because of a literal curl of my lip in distaste as I was being taught the game,” one user writes.) Earlier this year, the board-game YouTube channel No Rolls Barred uploaded something of a mea culpa for having recommended “Puerto Rico” as one of its favorite strategy games. In 2019, the war-gaming giant GMT canceled a game called “Scramble for Africa” after mounting objections from its customers.
But why did anyone look at that concept and think it was a good idea? Why did game designers ever fall in love with colonial fantasy anyway?
You can read more at the link above.
Controversy and Clarity, the podcast of the Warfighting Society, has recently interviewed a number of prominent professional wargamers, including Sebastian Bae, Tim Barrick, and Eric Walters. See the full lineup here.
The Register features a report on the Western Approaches museum in Liverpool, focusing on the role of the WRENS there and especially the Western Approaches Tactical Unit.
The upper floor of Derby House was home to the Western Approaches Tactical Unit under the command of Captain Gilbert Roberts, who had designed wargames while serving at the Royal Navy’s Tactical School in Portsmouth before the war, and his predominantly female staff from the Women’s Royal Naval Service or WRENs.
The task given to Roberts and his team when it was established on 1 January 1942 was simple – develop tactics for the Royal Navy that would defeat the U-boats and win the Battle of the Atlantic. Wargaming was Robert’s chosen medium, re-enacting Atlantic engagements and trying out new tactics in what looked like a vast and complex version of the popular board game Battleship.
By the time WATU closed in 1945 more than 5,000 naval officers had played the wargames run by Roberts and his WRENs (66 in all) and attended more than 130 different courses covering all aspects of anti-submarine warfare. And it wasn’t just the Royal Navy that benefited. Crews from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Denmark, and Belgium to name but a few were trained in WATU’s tactics.
The final room of the museum gives a taste of what the WATU game floor would have looked like with its canvas booths and the plots of convoys, U-boats and escorts chalked out on the floor in different colours. The booths were designed to restrict the view of naval crews who came to train at WATU in such a way as to mimic the limited view they would have from the command decks of their warships.
On the floor, the chalk tracks of the U-boats were drawn in green, to make them invisible to the escort commanders in their booths.
The white chalk lines that denoted the position and course of the escorting warships and their merchantmen wards could be seen from the booths. In this way, WATU hoped to match the situation on the high seas as closely as possible.
DEV The Solution “s a nonprofit organization that encourages game development to help solve significant global problems. A major part of that will be hosting regular game jams centered around the theme of helping educate about real life challenges facing humankind as well as providing potential solutions.”