Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 22 August 2022

PAXsims is pleased to present some recent items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming.

Episode 63 of the US Army Mad Scientist podcast is all about wargaming, featuring Ian Sullivan (TRADOC), Mitchell Land (GMT Games Next War series), Peter Soendergaard (Royal Danish Army), Jennifer McArdle (Improbable U.S. Defense & National Security), Becca Wasser (CNAS), Stacie Pettyjohn (CNAS), Sebastian Bae (CNA), Dan Mahoney (Center for Army Analysis), and Jeff Hodges (US. Army Modeling and Simulation School).

Key points from the discussion:

  • Learning from Wargaming can be broken down into two categories: discovery/analytic and experiential. Both categories are important but have different end-goals. Discovery/analytic wargaminghelps one develop new insights or better understand some type of phenomena (e.g., concept or capability development). Experiential wargaming supports training and education and is designed to instill best practices, lessons learned, and develop creativity and agility among future leaders. Wargaming allows players to transcend their current realities and build cognitive warfighting proficiencies. 
  • Experiential learning leads to far higher learning retention than traditional passive methods of instruction, such as classroom-based lectures. It allows individuals to follow their ideas, work through problems as they arise, experience failure in a safe environment, and ultimately learn how to overcome challenges. 
  • The key to a successful wargame is an informed, accurate, and thinking adversary. It is vital that the Red Cell depicts an adversary as close to reality as possible, providing players with the best opportunities to learn about adversarial tactics and capabilities, decision-making, and thought-processes. 
  • Wargaming is used extensively at different levels in the Army — to explore ideas, look at alternatives, and think about the future, but also to test concepts and capabilities. Wargaming formats range from traditional table top board games, to discussion-based exercises, to computerized simulationsthat provide players with a realistic, immersive environment to visualize the fight. 
  • Designing an effective and successful wargame is dependent on one’s focus and learning demands. Designers should start the process by identifying the goal(s) that they want to accomplish and then work backwards. Carefully selecting the correct tools and technology to support players achieving the end-goal(s) is pivotal to eliciting the desired learning outcome. 
  • While wargaming can provide an accurate and realistic representation of a real-world adversary’s tactics, techniques, and procedures,it can also uncover unexpected TTPs that our forces may not have anticipated.  Encountering these actions in the game allows players to develop and implement courses of action in a consequence-free environment, helping them to avoid operational surprise on the battlefield, while building confidence in their ability to successfully overcome it when it inevitably occurs. 
  • The future of wargaming will likely be more technology-heavy, interactive, distributed, and realistic while still having a significant amount of traditional and manual games. Learning goals can be achieved via both conventional (e.g., table top) wargaming and immersive simulations employing emergent technologies. Regardless of the media, some posit that the golden age of wargaming is coming to an end, as there is a dearth of young talent in the pipelineto replace the old guard.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies has developed “simple software tool to stress test a hypothetical People’s Republic of China (PRC) surprise attack against U.S. facilities in the Indo-Pacific.”

The past 10 years have seen a steady cadence of reporting on highly classified and time-consuming wargames showing that the United States consistently “loses” to China. The results, easily summarized as “bad!,” lack sufficient publicly available detail to enable informed debate on how best to resolve the potential shortcomings.

Wargames that are classified or complex can offer benefits to policymakers, though frequently to a small number of highly technical individuals; however, open-source analysis and DOD’s own publications create a wealth of information which can—and should—be closely analyzed to encourage DOD leaders, lawmakers, and the public to consider how best to prioritize limited resources, including money, time, and personnel. Combined with simple and affordable modern software capabilities, this information should be leveraged to improve and focus more time-intensive wargaming efforts.

That is why, over a six-week period, the authors developed a relatively simple and low-cost tool to assess what might happen in the first hours of a potential future conflict in the Western Pacific. The model assumes China conducts a surprise missile attack using only its land-based People’s Liberation Army Rocket Forces (PLARF). Drawing on DOD’s annual China Military Power Reports and available data on PLARF operating locations, organization, and capabilities, the study team created an algorithm to compute the most likely U.S. and allied targets along with a rough assessment of the operational consequence of such strikes.

Despite an initial hypothesis that, “it won’t be that bad,” this analysis suggests that early phases of a conflict could be very bad for U.S. forces and facilities in the Western Pacific.

You can access the full brief here.

In Military Strategy Magazine, Benjamin E. Mainardi discusses Towards Better Civilian Strategic Education: A Case for Tabletop Wargames.

Recently, it has become commonplace to hear arguments that the United States military ought to place a greater emphasis on incorporating wargaming into its professional military education programs, so as to better prepare future military leaders for the challenges of the twenty first century.[i] Of course, critics have acutely identified issues with the preexisting practice of wargames and their value as planning tools; notably, that participants often fail to connect the military action with political considerations or objectives and that wargames are seldom able to simulate the realities of combat situations. The fact remains; however, that wargaming already has a long history of use by the armed services and continues to be a significant aspect of crafting operation plans and strategic futures. What is most interesting about the wargaming discourse, however, is the comparatively minor presence of arguments for incorporating wargaming into the education of civilian foreign policy and national security practitioners. This is especially confounding when one considers that it is civilians who occupy the chief roles in defining the political ends, directing the strategic ways, and approving the military means of national security policies.

In the Jerusalem Post, Ehud Eiran, Michal Hatuel Radoshitzky, and Scott Lasensky discuss “Simulating the Jewish future – gaming-out possible scenarios.”

What will the looming Israeli elections mean for the country’s anchor alliance with North American Jewry? How could escalations in Gaza or Ukraine impact Jewish interests? These are just two of the top concerns weighing on Jewish communities, but rather than worry, now is an ideal time to game-out future scenarios.

Those in positions to guide and steward Jewish affairs in Israel and across the Jewish world all-too-often find themselves in crises for which they have not drilled, even though careful preparation and planning are utilized in so many other realms. As we explored in-depth at the Z3 conference in Palo Alto, there is much to be gained from the broader adoption and utilization of crisis simulations.

Gaming is one of the most highly developed practices in the national security and foreign policy community, which explains why Israelis are so comfortable with war gaming and why the concept is mostly foreign to Jewish leaders elsewhere.

This wargaming update from the Kansas US National Guard:

According to the Washington Post, military fans of War Thunder have been leaking classified documents in player forums during online arguments about weapon effectiveness in the game.

Beginning in 2021, players of “War Thunder,” a popular, free-to-play vehicular combat video game, have thrice posted classified documents related to three tanks of British, French and Chinese origin in an online forum dedicated to the game. The posting of the documents was reported first by UK Defence Journal, which wrote that one poster, who uploaded the manual to a British Challenger 2 tank, said he was motivated by a desire to get a “War Thunder” developer to make the tank more accurate in the game. Another poster, who claimed to be part of a French tank unit, uploaded a Leclerc S2 manual while engaged in an online debate about its turret rotation speed. The motivations of the user who posted allegedly classified information about China’s DTC10-125 tank and a piece of materiel were not clear.

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