PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Category Archives: simulation and gaming news

Distilling wargaming wisdom at Dstl

The following report has been cleared for release by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (public release identifier DSTL/PUB110424).


 

IMG_0106.jpg

The legendary Dstl coin holds off RED forces on the outskirts of a small village.

At the end of June I spent a very pleasant week at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Portsdown West (Portsmouth), discussing various topics with members of the wargaming team there and others. I made similar visits in 2016 and 2017, and—as with the earlier occasions—this trip was very stimulating, productive, and enjoyable.

Monday

Day 1 of my visit started with a presentation on wargaming and forecasting (slides/pdf). Wargamers often intone that “wargamers are not predictions,” largely so that clients and participants will not hold games to an unreasonable standard of predictive accuracy. However, while wargames do not generate detailed findings about the future, they do contain an element of prediction in that they are usually intended to explore plausible futures. Assessing that a future scenario is plausible is, after all, an act of forecasting in itself.

Dstl Forecasting

Given this, the literature on political forecasting offers some guidance as to how games might be better configured to increase foresight. I also suggested that wargames were best used as an adjunct to other forecasting methods (helping us to identify key junctures, challenge assumptions, and encourage discussion) rather than a method in and of themselves.

This was followed by a second presentation on ethical challenges in wargaming (slides/pdf). Here I addressed three major themes:

  • The use of serious games to teach about ethical decision-making, the laws of armed conflict, and similar topics.
  • The use of games to explore the dynamics of mass atrocity and human rights abuses, so that we might develop appropriate policy responses.
  • Finally, I discussed some of the ethical issues that might arise in game design and facilitation.

I was especially pleased with this presentation, since it raised issues that have not been discussed much within the professional community. How should games address sensitive issues such as religion and ethnicity? How can a game explore topics like torture, mass atrocity, or sexual and gender-based violence without having adverse effects on participants who may have had personal traumatic experience of such things? What is our ethical obligation to produce high quality games, given the implications of our work for policy or war-fighting? What is our obligation to produce games that have positive moral effects—and what should we do if we believe a game design might be put to unethical purposes? Interestingly, I was not the only one in attendance who had refused work from a client because we were uncomfortable with who might be using a game and what it might be used it for. (This is, of course, a rather more difficult choice if working on wargame design as a government employee.)

Dstl Ethical.jpg

Much of the latter part of the session involved case studies to which members of the audience were invited to respond. How does one deal with player humour that might be seen as insensitive or offensive by some, given the game scenario? How does one incorporate issues of (countering) sexual exploitation and violence in wargames given the possible effects on players who have experienced the same in their personal or professional lives?

Next, came a session devoted to gaming indirect social media and cyber effects (slides/pdf). I started off by warning that not everything is new under the sun, and that communities and combatants alike have always leveraged new information and communication technologies to enhance their influence and effect. Certainly, the digital age had made it easier to do this, and to reach more people faster than ever before. However, the magnitude of this change might sometimes be exaggerated.

Dstl Social Media Cyber

Maj. Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK) and I then moved on to discussing a variety of interesting games and game mechanics that might be adapted to explore such issues. These included:

 

Hostage.png

Demonstrating influence dynamics in Hostage Negotiator.

Tuesday

The second day of my visit largely involved me participating in, and commenting on, other people’s wargames, which is always an enjoyable task. In the morning, our focus was matrix gaming. I made a quick presentation on the status of the Matrix Game Construction Kit, then Tom facilitated a session of the High North matrix game. This went very well, with Russia, the US and Canada all using environmental concerns to project their regulatory influence well beyond their established Exclusive Economic Zones. Chinese efforts to meddle in a Greenland independence referendum went badly wrong, while “the spirit of capitalism” pursued a variety of economic opportunities as the polar ice cap slowly receded due to global climate change. The session provided ample opportunities to discuss both matrix game design and game facilitation.

High North.png

Gaming the “High North.”

After lunch, we discussed support for RAF wargaming. As part of this, Flt. Lt. Colin Bell (RAF) demonstrated three educational games he has developed for training cadets. I particularly enjoyed his air logistics games (in which players must move personnel and supplies using a variety of air assets to various locations, in response to randomly-drawn mission cards), and a game that explored mission planning and execution for offensive and defensive air operations. Playing a few turns of the latter, we lost a few Typhoons in our fighter sweep ahead of our main force but came out slightly ahead in air-to-air engagement. A heavy concentration of radar targets suggested an impending inbound enemy attack on our air defence command centre, so we ordered two other fighter groups to reposition themselves to respond. Meanwhile, we had two strike packages headed towards our target—an enemy destroyer, docked in port—when the game had to be brought to an early end.

RAF logs.png

RAF wargaming—teaching about air logistics.

RAF air power.png

More RAF wargaming. Strike package inbound!

Wednesday

Day three of my visit involved a morning spent at Dstl’s annual historical analysis symposium. My own paper explored strategic communications, signaling, and deterrence in the specific context of Syrian use of chemical weapons (slides/pdf). Here I drew upon both the scholarly literature on deterrence and the findings of wargames to suggest how it is that what one side regards as a robust signal of capability and credible commitment might be seen rather differently by the recipient—in part because each side operates in a very different organizational and political context.

Dstl Communications

Wednesday evening was spent at the mess of HMS Excellent, the Royal Navy “stone frigate” (shore establishment) on Whale Island, Portsmouth. After dinner, not surprisingly, we all turned our attention to some less serious gaming. While some of the group plotted to assassinate Hitler in Black Orchestra, the rest of us played Bloc by Bloc. I’m happy to report that fascism had a bad day: Hitler went down in the former game, while in the latter a progressive revolutionary coalition of workers, students, anarcho-neighbours, and prisoners brought down the repressive state system.

Thursday

The fourth day of my trip was wholly devoted to a day-long workshop on wargame adjudication (slides/pdf). In the morning, Tom and I started with a presentation on the topic, drawing upon our own experience. Adjudication runs along a spectrum from rigid (rules-based) to free kriegsspiel, with matrix games and hybrid approaches somewhere in between. Adjudication also varies depending on whether game play is turn-based, continuous, or a mix of these.

I suggested that wargame facilitators and adjudicators stand astride two essential mandates, sometimes complementary, but also sometimes in tension: that of the technician (committed to attaining the technical goals of the game) and the theatre director (responsible for bringing alive the imaginary world of the game narrative).

After lunch, we collectively discussed two recent Dstl games and the adjudication challenges each had presented. We then broke into smaller groups, and discussed how we might address a number of game adjudication vignettes:

  • Dealing with an adjudication error in combat resolution. Do you rewind the game, admit the error but press ahead regardless, or hide the mistake from the players?
  • What sort of adjudication would be most appropriate for a game intended to examine security planning for a forthcoming high-profile diplomatic visit, and why?
  • How should one deal with a (more senior, male) SME who is persistently pestering a (junior, female) player with criticisms of the game system?
  • How might adjudication approaches be configured to better withstand sponsor pressure to reach predetermined conclusions?

Interestingly, almost all of the participants felt that an adjudicator should cover up a minor error during a game if the mistake had no major game-changing effects and if informing players would “break the bubble” of narrative engagement—only disclosing the glitch after the game was over, depending on the participants and client. I concur and have done it myself, but I know others who don’t and wouldn’t. The issue was one that was further debated at the Connections US wargaming conference a few weeks later, during a session on in-stride adjudication.

Friday

The last day of my visit involved a trip to the Maritime Warfare School at HMS Collingwoodfor a playtest of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit naval escort game. PAXsims has extensively covered the work that Paul Strong and Sally David have done on WATU and its impressive contribution to World War Two naval tactics and training, and it was an absolute delight to see how it all worked.

WATU4.png

Playtesting the WATU wargame.

During the playtest, I commanded one of the Type-VII U-boats attacking a convoy headed from Liverpool to Halifax. I did well, using the darkness to maneuver within the convoy formation and torpedoing three merchantmen before ordering a deep dive and hard turn to port to evade the now-alerted escorts. Initial depth charges fell well wide of their mark, but a couple of escorts did manage to ping my boat with ASDIC and had turned course towards us.

Just then, explosions at the far side of the convoy signaled that another German submarine had found its prey—hopefully distracting them while I dived even deeper and headed to the rear of the convoy. My intention was to surface once the action had passed me by, and then use my deck gun to finish off any damaged ships that were straggling behind the main formation.

We had to bring the game to an end at this point, but I must say it went well for an initial playtest. I think all of us who were there were very proud to be recreating a great moment in wargaming history. Sally Davis has also written up a brief account, which I have also posted to PAXsims.

The WATU wargame will be demonstrated at King’s College London in September, during the Connections UK wargaming conference, and shortly after that in a special session at the Western Approaches Museum in Liverpool. I am especially looking forward to the latter—an opportunity to conduct a WATU game in the very rooms used to command the North Atlantic convoys during WWII.

IMG_0107.jpg

Before I left, Dstl presented me with both one of their rare challenge coins (see picture at top) and a copy of  their STRIKE! Battlegroup Tactical Wargame. Dstl has developed this manual wargame for the British Army to help it examine how the Strike Brigade would perform on the battlefield—we will be providing more detail on the game in a future PAXsims article. At McGill University I intend to use STRIKE in my conflict simulation course next year to illustrate fundamental elements of basic wargame design (such terrain and capability modelling), so you may see some after action reports here too.

 

Wargaming Wrens redux

The following report was prepared for PAXsims by Sally Davis and has been cleared for release by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (public release identifier DSTL/PUB110424). All photos are © IWM or © Crown Copyright.


In late June, a small invasion force landed at HMS Collingwood to test-play a recreation of ‘the game‘ used to teach convoy escort tactics at the Western Approaches Tactical Unit during 1942-45.

It was rather good fun! Rex Brynen and Tom Mouat played the dastardly U-Boat captains, sank a handful of convoy ships and were on the verge of a depth-chargey-comeuppance when we ran out of time. Here’s the after-action debrief.

wrens1

Left, above: The RCN tactical table at HMCS Stadacona, Halifax (which adopted the WATU game for Canadian naval training).

Right, above: The Dstl tactical table at HMS Warspite, early on in the game.

wrens2

Left, above: WATU 2nd Officer Wren Jean Laidlaw tells Lt Cdr Tooley-Hawkins, “You’re here, sir, and Jerry just sank your battleship!”

Right, above: The Dstl peeping experiment: our escort commander player (centre, between the screens) is looking at the map through a red filter, rendering the U-Boat tracks invisible. We don’t think WATU used red filters, but their screens and peep-holes achieved a similar effect.

wrens3

Left, above: The convoy has just altered course to port. Rex’s U-Boat is right in the middle of the convoy, the white markers are where our gallant escorts depth-charged him, but he went deep and evaded damage. The red straight-line in from the bottom right is Tom’s U-Boat creeping in on the surface, hoping to take advantage of a poor look-out at the other end of the action!

Right, above: A few more turns and we’d have something similar to the original game.

WATU4

The Dstl “Wrens.”

Next stop(s): the Connections UK professional wargaming conference (London) on the 5th September, and the Western Approaches Museum (Liverpool) on the 8th September. A huge shout out to everyone who played, helped with the pre-play-test-testing, or has expressed an interested in the Liverpool event!

Review: GridlockED

GridlockED. The Game Crafter, 2018. Project leader: Teresa Chan. $89.99.

Back in 2016 PAXsims reviewed Healthy Heart Hospital, a rather tongue-in-cheek hobby boardgame about managing staff and treating patients in a for-profit hospital. GridlockED is also about patient management in a busy hospital, but with a rather more serious purpose. Developed by a team of faculty members, researchers, and students at the Division of Emergency Medicine at McMaster University, it is designed to teach medical students and others serious lessons about triage, patient flow, and treatment. This article from the journal Academic Medicine explains the thinking behind the game.

B8874572Z.1_20180312131839_000_GL33I1MN.4-0_Super_Portrait.jpg

The goal of the game is to survive 8 turns and accumulate 500 points (from admitting and discharging patients) without suffering more than two patient safety adverse events. A number of patient cards are drawn randomly each turn. Each present a patient’s symptoms, and the medical steps necessary to address these so that they can be sent home or admitted for ongoing treatment. CTAS (Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale) Category 1 and 2 patients must be stabilized quickly before additional examination or treatment can occur. CTAS 3-5 patients can wait in the Waiting Room until staff and appropriate beds are available. The patient descriptions are excellent—we certainly learned a great deal about emergency room procedures.

The players start with a four nurses, a doctor, resident, radiologist, and consultant. Points can be expended on additional staff or beds as ward upgrades. Random events in the patient deck through unexpected challenges (for example, a needle-stick injury to a staff member) and the occasional bonus (such as a grateful former patient bringing treats!).

GridlockED-board-game-Teresa-Chan-web-size-16.jpg

The game includes the main game board and waiting room; patient, event, and staff cards; dry erase markers; and staff pawns—all very nicely produced. A brief quickstart guide explains some key game procedures, and an online video (below) provides a longer introduction.

The absence of a comprehensive rule set was our only major quibble with the game. The printed guide omits some key information, and it is awkward to advance through the video in search of a rule explanation which may or may not be there. We had a few specific questions:

Must a staff member complete all their actions before another staff member may act? Or can you switch back and forth between staff until all staff actions have been expended? (They may swap back and forth.)

When rolling for additional patients on some turns, do you simply add d6 patients to the base number indicated? (Yes, just add the score of the die.)

When spending an action to move a patient, must the nurse token move with the patient? (No, just move the patient.)

Card E15 mentions a “Observation Zone,” which doesn’t exist on the game board. (This should read “Intermediate Zone.”)

The video seems to show the players with 300 points on Turn 1. Do they start with some points? (No they don’t—the video is a little ambiguous.)

However, as you can see from the answers above, Teresa and the GridlockED team were quick in responding to our email queries—clearly they are used to dealing with emergencies. Revised rules are in the works, and will appear in a future version of the game.

All-in-all, GridlockED has much to offer as a pedagogical tool for medical training. It also nicely illustrates how a relatively simple board game can be used to explore practical real-world challenges.

 

 

Supporting PAXsims

Patreon.png

PAXsims is a volunteer, non-profit project. We do have a few expenses from time to time, however—Wordpress hosting, the CONNECTIONS NORTH annual conference, and support for various PAXsims gaming projects.

Some regular readers have asked how they can help, so we have set up a Patreon page where you can now make a small monthly donation. Any funds received will go to supporting our work on conflict simulation and serious gaming—and the creation of more great content on the website.

Lindybeige on WATU

Nikolas Lloyd—better known as popular military historian Lindybeige on YouTube—has produce a video on the important wargaming of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit during WWII.

Here on PAXsims you can read Paul Strong’s paper on WATU, as well as about the WATU wargame recreation that we will be conducting (with Dstl and the Royal Navy Maritime Warfare Centre) at the Western Approaches museum in Liverpool on September 8.

h/t Peter Perla

WATU wargame at Western Approaches war museum, September 8

IMG_8941.JPG

On Saturday,  8 September 2018, volunteers from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, the Royal Navy Maritime Warfare Centre, and PAXsims will be at the Western Approaches museum in Liverpool to recreate a WWII convoy escort wargame, of the sort conducted by the Western Approaches Tactical Unit.

This will be a unique opportunity to see the gaming techniques that helped turn the tide of the Battle of the Atlantic—and to honour the work of Captain Gilbert Roberts and the women and men of WATU. Hope to see you there!

2018 WATU WAM Poster 2.1

 

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 13 July 2018

wordle13-718.png

PAXsims is pleased to present a number of items on conflict simulation and serious (and not-so-serious) gaming that may be of interest to our readers.

PAXsims

The Connections US professional wargaming conference will be held at National Defense University on 17-20 July. Several of the PAXsims team will be there. We will have AFTERSHOCK: A Humanitarian Crisis Game and the Matrix Game Construction Kit (MaGCK) on display during the games demonstrations, and there will also be an opportunity to play We Are Coming, Nineveh! (The Battle for West Mosul, February-July 2017) or to discuss other games that are in development. Be sure to say hello!

If you miss us at Connections UK, members of the PAXsims team will also be at Connections UK in September, the Serious Games Forum (Paris) in December, and/or Connections North in February.

PAXsims

GettyImages-996209950.jpg

The “NATO Engages” public outreach component of the recent NATO summit in Brussels features an audience-participation simulation/seminar game/discussion on cybersecurity:

Cyber Crisis Simulation

Ambassador Sorin Ducaru , Special Adviser , Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace
Carmen Gonsalves , Head of International Cyber Policy Department , Kingdom of the Netherlands; Co-chair, Global Forum on Cyber Expertise
Tanel Sepp, Head of the Cyber Policy Department, Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Estonia
Moderator: Diana Kelley , Cybersecurity Field Chief Technology Officer , Microsoft

Concerns about cyber security have skyrocketed as governments, economies, and societies increasingly depend on the internet and digital technologies. The increasing number of cyber-attacks also places new pressures on top of long-existing coordination difficulties when EU and NATO countries find themselves in need to respond to a cyber-driven crisis. The scope and sophistication of modern cyber-attacks require quick, interoperable responses throughout all strategic and logistical layers, from the political leaderships to civil services to the private sector. The objectives of this cyber exercise will be to highlight challenges in decision-making and response procedures when facing a crisis situation caused by a cyber-attack; to identify what capabilities help the decision-making process and multi-stakeholder intelligence sharing; and to improve cyber awareness among the participants as well as highlighting lessons learned and best cyber practices. A panel of practitioners will be asked to respond in real-time to a realistic cyber crisis scenario unfolding in a fictional country. The audience will be asked to play an active role during this exercise by commenting and voting on the most convincing response options presented by the panelists as the crisis scenario evolves.

There is no word yet if the next NATO summit will include a simulation of diplomatic chaos within the alliance sparked by the unpredictable leader of a major NATO country.

PAXsims

FPWS Overview Brief (20180531).jpg

While on the subject of NATO, are you looking for an overview of the recent Supreme Allied Command Transformation urbanization wargame final planning workshop? Well, we’ve got that!

PAXsims

Still more NATO stuff: Simon Fraser University recently conducted its 2018 NATO Field School and Simulation.

The SFU-NATO Field School and Simulation program is a 12 credit intensive upper-level Political Science course that combines coursework with experiential learning. The program will be open to universities across Canada and provides the opportunity for students to observe and engage military personnel, policy advisors and diplomats in their workplace. This includes visiting and embedded experts from the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Armed Forces, NATO and academia, as well as high-level briefings at NATO HQ, SHAPE, and the Canadian Delegation to the European Union.

The cohort will attend familiarization visits at Canadian Armed Forces bases in Western Canada, then travel to NATO HQ in Belgium for a week of briefings by NATO officials. At the NATO Defense College (NDC) in Rome, the cohort will do four days of a professionally run NATO-simulation (NMDX) with NDC mentors and Senior Course curriculum. The 2018 field school will also visit the Canadian Battlegroup in Latvia, and NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Riga.

Details regarding the 2019 programme will be posted later to the SFU webpage.

PAXsims

The Australian Army professional development website The Cove features a recently-posted paper by Callum Muntz entitled “Gamification: Press ‘START’ to Begin.”

Gamification uses proven techniques to influence human behaviour, is used by big businesses the world over, and is an ever-growing industry (Pickard 2017). Most military training is dull, dry, and uninteresting – but it doesn’t have to be so. Gamification can be used to enhance the Army’s training, and should become a consideration in the Systems Approach to Defence Learning (SADL). Yu-Kai Chou’s Octalysis model could be considered a worthy starting point for improving Army training with Gamification.

Elsewhere at the website, you’ will also find a quick decision exercise, Takistan Ambush.

QDE-Smart-Soldier-52-Takistan-ambush-Optimised.jpg

 

PAXsims

Crashing.png

At Medium, “Oscar’ uses the Matrix Game Construction Kit and a repurposed game board from Labyrinth to produce Crashing the Gates: An Ad-Hoc “Wargame” Scenario About Migration.

PAXsims

 

WATU in the war diaries of A.F.C. Layard

large_000000-2.jpg

The Western Approaches Tactical Unit, Liverpool. The wardroom crest appears to have been taken from the WWI-era S-class destroyer HMS Tactician. During WWII, a T-class submarine sailed under that name, using a different crest (depicting a chess Knight) but the same motto (“checkmate”).

 

PAXsims has been closely following the research being done by Paul Strong and Sally Davis on the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, the pioneering group of (predominately female) RN/WRNS wargamers led by Captain Gilbert Roberts who played such a major role in developing anti-submarine tactics and training naval officers during World War Two.

The latest account comes from Commanding Canadians: The Second World War Diaries of A.F.C. Layard, edited by Michael Whitby and published by the University of British Columbia Press in 2005 (footnotes have been removed below for clarity). Commander A.F.C. Layard was a Royal Navy officer who was assigned to the Royal Canadian Navy for much of the war. He first attended the tactical school in September 1943:

Monday, 6 September 1943 – Liverpool

Arrived at Lime Street at about 0700. No taxis but eventually got a lift from a Wren in a small navy van to H.M.S. Mersey where after some difficulty I got a cabin and some breakfast. Apparently I ought to have asked for accommodation.

At about 0730 I went to Derby House and saw Gardner, who has been put ashore on account of deafness, and fixed up that I should take passage out to Canada in an escort leader that gives me a few days leave after this course. I then walked to the cathedral and found there was a special 4th war anniversary service at 1100, which I attended. A great many people there. F.O.I.C. [flag officer in command] read some prayers, an Air Marshal read the lesson, and the Bishop of Wilkesley preached a good sermon. Among the hymns we sang was “John Brown’s Body,” which was somewhat unusual. Back to the Mersey for lunch. This is really a T124 training depot with a certain amount of spare officers’ accommodation. In the p.m. I read and slept in my cabin. Put a call through to J. at 1900, which eventually I got through at 2000. The accommodation here is pretty seedy, but I suppose good enough. Nice sunny day.

Monday, 6 September 1943 – Liverpool

After breakfast I checked in at Derby House at 0900 for the Tactical Course. There are some 25 of us ranging from myself, the only Commander, down to Mids. R.N.V.R. Scott Thomas18 is one of us. The Director is Capt. Roberts, 33 who is a v. good lecturer but v. theatrical and, of course, would like you to know that he was 75% responsible for the recent defeat of the U-boat in the N. Atlantic. He’s probably right and is certainly thought very highly of here. The Deputy, Jerry Cousins, shouts while he lectures so that you are quite stunned. We had a certain number of lectures, and we began the first game where I am S.O. of the escort. I immediately began to feel woolly and helpless, but much as I dislike displaying my ineptitude I’m sure this course is going to be first class value. We lunched at the Derby House canteen and who should Scott and I meet there but Air Commodore Ragg who we knew in the Vivacious days at Kyrenia in Cyprus as a Flight Lt. After packing up at 1700 I went to Liver Building about pay and travelling expenses, and then Scott and I had early supper at the Mersey and then went out to a cinema and saw some mediocre sort of film.

Tuesday, 7 September 1943 – Liverpool

A lecture and then two hours of the game, which came to an end at lunch time. With a good deal of help from the staff I managed alright as S.O. G.N. Brewer was in the bar at Derby House having just had the Egret sunk under him by the new German gliding homing bomb. Sounds most unpleasant. Raymond Blagg was also there, and he took me across to a sandwich bar close by for lunch. In the p.m. more lectures and a summing up of the game. Went to the Derby House canteen for tea and then returned to the Western Approaches Tactical Unit and spent about ¾ hour reading A.C.I.s [Atlantic Convoy Instructions] and thinking about the night attack game we play tomorrow when I am S.O. again of the syndicate.

Back to Derby House and called on Commodore Russell who is Chief of Staff. He greeted me with “What have you done to be sent out there?” which seems to imply it is a God awful job. Collected Gardner from his office and brought him back to the Mersey for drinks and dinner. He, Scott, and Marjoribanks sat talking afterwards.

Wednesday, 8 September 1943 – Liverpool

After a bit of preliminary discussion we started in on a night encounter exercise. I was S.O. of our syndicate and had Eardley Wilmott for Staff Officer. Lunch at the canteen and then on with the game until about 1500 when it was summed up. My side didn’t do too badly. We then had a short lecture followed by a demonstration on the board of the sort of search operation that support groups are carrying out in the Bay of Biscay, and finally Roberts gave us a few remarks on the new German weapon, the glider bomb. Scott and I went back to the Mersey and shifted and at 1800 it was announced that Italy had surrendered unconditionally. Grand news. Scott and I then went to Derby House and met Ragg and his wife in the Senior Officer’s Lounge where we had drinks. There were all the big shots. The A.O.C. [air officer commanding] (Slatter), another Air Commodore, F.O.I.C. (Ritchie), and the Chief of Staff, Russell. Finally the Raggs took Scott and me off to the Bear’s Paw for dinner. He is an extremely nice chap, but she is developing into the typical senior officer’s wife. They have no children, which is probably her trouble. We walked back to the Mersey where we said goodbyes, and Scott told me the tale of his disappointment at being passed over after all the high ups had more or less told him he was a cinch for it.

Thursday, 9 September 1943 – Liverpool

I think one way or another I had a bit too much booze last night and my brain is feeling a bit woolly. On arrival at the Tactical School we were first shown the layout of the big and final game, which covers a period from an hour before sunset to sometime at night. There are 2 convoys, a carrier, and a support group. I am S.O. escort of our convoy. We then withdrew and decided on our policy, what the support group should do, and what the aircraft should do, etc., and then at about 1000 we started the game. I didn’t have very much to do, but there was a flood of signals and a lot of plotting to do. Chavasse and I were bidden to lunch by the C. in C., Admiral Sir Max Horton, at Derby House. Some Captain who was also there told Chavasse he had just been awarded the D.S.O. for some convoy fight which he had conducted successfully some months ago. The conversation at lunch consisted of the C. in C. pumping Chavasse about his new B.D.E. rather late. We stopped at about 1630, by which time in the game it was practically dark. Scott and I had tea at the Canteen, and then I returned to the Mersey and shifted and listened to the 1800 news. We have made another large scale landing near Naples. In spite of the Armistice we are still meeting fierce opposition from the Germans who are now estimated to have 18-20 divisions in the country. Walked to the Adelphi where I met Raymond and Venetia, and they gave me dinner. They have found a house up here and so will be leaving Little Orchard for good very shortly. Sad.

Friday, 10 September 1943 – Liverpool

A beastly hot day when Liverpool looks its very worst. At the Tactical School we carried on with our game, which today became a night encounter. I didn’t have a great deal to do as S.O. of my convoy owing to the brilliant way in which Chavasse’s support group rode off the U-boats. We finished at about 1600, and then we were taken down to the Plotting Room at Derby House and shown around. Scott and I then had tea in the Canteen and then I walked back to the Mersey and shifted and then went back to Derby House, called for Gardner, and we both caught a train to Crosby. Hector Radford who came out for a short trip with us in the Broke had asked us to drinks and supper. It turned out to be quite a big party because in addition to ourselves and Radford’s three sisters, there was an R.N.V.R. 2 striper, the old “pilot” on D’s staff and his wife, a naval padre, and three small children. We had a terrific supper. The table before we started looked rather like the food advertisements in American magazines. Quite a good party. Gardner and I caught the 11:16 back to Liverpool. The news from Italy seems confused, but the Germans seem to be fighting us and the Italians and they claim to have sunk an Italian battleship which was trying to escape from Spezia.

Saturday, 11 September 1943 – Liverpool/Prinsted

I got up early and did my packing before breakfast. It was pouring with rain when I walked to the Tactical School. The whole forenoon was spent summing up the big game, which was most interesting, and at 1200 we broke up. A first class course for which Roberts deserves full marks. Went to Derby House and had several at the bar before having lunch. I then went to the Exchange Station and after waiting some time managed to get a taxi, which I shared with 3 other people who agreed to go to the Mersey and pick up my gear and then go to the Lime Street Station. I caught the 1400 train to London and was lucky to get a seat as the train was crammed before it left. Got to Euston just before 1900 and so went to the station restaurant and had dinner and then got a taxi to Waterloo and caught the 8:45 to Havant. Joan met me there with the car, thank God, at 2215 and we drove home. A hot muggy day.

Layard attended a second WATU course in December 2013:

Monday, 13 December 1943 – In the air/Liverpool

We touched down at Prestwick [Scotland] at about 0830 after a 9½ hours’ trip. I couldn’t have been more comfortable. After checking up papers, customs, etc., I had a shave and a wash and then some breakfast. Didn’t feel a bit hungry. I tried to fly on to Liverpool but as there was nothing going I was taken to Kilmarnock station in a car and I caught a 1030 train to Liverpool. There was a heavy frost all over the country and I had a long cold wait at Carlisle. Eventually got to Liverpool (Exchange Station) at about 1700 and took a room at the Exchange Hotel. Feeling rather sorry for myself. Perhaps the height and the oxygen is something to do with it. I rang up J. soon after 1800, but as I didn’t know my plans we couldn’t decide whether or not she should come up. Turned in early.

Tuesday, 14 December 1943 – Liverpool

Feeling very much better I’m glad to say. I went along to the Tactical School and reported to Roberts just before 0900. At 1200 after a lecture the rest of the course went to finish off the first makee train game, and so as I had missed the start yesterday I went over to Derby House and saw the Chief of Staff – MacIntyre. I thought perhaps I could do a bit of the course and also do a bit of discussion with other support group S.O.s, but there don’t seem to be any support groups in just now. Lunched at the Derby House officers’ canteen and saw Gardner and his wife – now a 3rd officer Ciphering Wren. In the p.m. we had more lectures and a short plotting exercise, after which I went to Liver Building and made some enquiries about ration cards and warrants. Back to the Exchange and rang up J. again, who said she was coming up tomorrow – whoopee!!! At lunch time I met Smitty in the Bar. He has left Whaley and is now Fleet Gunnery Officer up here with an acting brass hat. He came to dinner with me at the Exchange and we had a long chat. He told me Peter Knight had been killed in Sicily a few months ago. I am sorry. Poor Bob Knight!!

Wednesday, 15 December 1943 – Liverpool

Clocked in at the school at 0900 and after our lecture we started a night battle game. I was bidden to lunch with the C. in C. with a 2½ striper, a 2 striper R.N.R., and a French naval officer who are all doing the course. C. in C. was very affable. Went on with the game in the p.m., summing up, and had one more lecture. I went back to the hotel and shifted and then went along to Lime Street Station to meet J’s train due at 6:30. It was ½ hour late and when it came in no J. Met Ragg at the station also waiting to meet his wife on the London train due 7:10, which I now imagine J. is catching. This train is known to be hours late and so we adjourned to the new British Officers Club at the Adelphi and had some drinks. It is a very nice place. As the transportation office was keeping Ragg in touch and there was plenty of time I went back to the Hotel for dinner. Then I got a telephone call from the station, and eventually I found J. waiting for me there at about 2115 having arrived by some unknown train. Anyway we eventually got back to the Hotel and I got J. some sandwiches and drinks in our room. We had a tremendous chat and it was lovely to see her again.

Thursday, 16 December 1943 – Liverpool

I went to school at 0900 and for about 1½ hours we had preliminary discussions and preparations for the big day and night game and then we started to play it. I am in command of one of the support groups, which is about the most interesting command, and have a chief of staff to help me in the plotting. At lunch time met J. at the State Restaurant, but we had to wait such a long time for a table that I had to dash back to my battle before I’d really finished. There was a great deal of activity on the board in the p.m. Went back to the Hotel and met J. for a late tea and at 1830 the Gardners came and had drinks with us. They are a nice couple. Sat about in the lounge before going to bed. This is infinitely more pleasant to stay at than the Adelphi.

Friday, 17 December 1943 – Liverpool

J. caught the 10:00 train to London as she had promised to be home for Gillian’s breaking up play. My battle raged all day on the table and finally came to an end at about 1600. Very good value and I think I didn’t disgrace myself. I had some tea at Derby House and then rang up S.C.N.O. London from Gardner’s office and had a talk with the Signal Officer about one or two W/T points. I went back to the hotel and shifted then after almost ½ hour’s wait I caught a tram out to the other side of the town and went to dinner with Speak and his wife. He was with me in Firedrake as a Sub R.N.V.R. He is now a Lieut. His wife is American and very pleasant. They gave me a lot of whisky and got me talking much too much, with the result that I missed the last tram and it took me the best part of an hour to walk back to the Hotel.

Saturday, 18 December 1943 – Liverpool/London

Roberts took the whole of the forenoon summing up our game. He is extremely good and it was most interesting. I had an early lunch at the Derby House canteen and then went back to the hotel and tried to get a taxi. After waiting as long as I dared I finally walked with my suit case to Lime Street station and caught the 2:00 train to London. Six of us from the course had reserved a carriage. It was terribly slow and we were 2½ hours late at Euston arriving at 2045. That meant I missed the 10:45 to Havant, so I went to the Euston Hotel and rang up J. to say I couldn’t get down and then rang up Lillian to ask if she could give me a bed. Had some sandwiches at the hotel and then tubed to Earl’s Court and walked to the Robinsons’ House where I was given a camp bed in the drawing room.

large_000000.jpg

For more PAXsims coverage of WATU, see the blog posts here. The WATU pictures here are from the photo archives of the Imperial War Museum.

large_000000-1.jpg

Plans are underway to recreate a WATU wargame at the Western Approaches museum in Liverpool in early September. Stay tuned for for further details!

 

Avoiding the “resource curse” in Petronia

petronia-postcard.jpeg

Extractive industries can be an important part of the economy in developing countries, providing substantial export earnings and employment. However, oil and other mineral wealth can also come at a cost: royalties can be siphoned off by corruption; mineral rights might be allocated through murky processes, mired with bribery and other illicit influence; exports might cause overvaluation of the national currency (“Dutch disease”), stunting other industries; environmental degradation might be overlooked; and state revenues may be used to finance repression and patronage politics (“rentierism”), dimming the prospects for democracy. Collectively this is often referred to as the resource curse.

The National Governance Resource Institute has created an online educational game to explore these issues: Petronia.

NRGI is proud to announce the arrival of Petronia, an interactive online course unlike any other in the resource governance field, where learners can “play” at influencing resource governance outcomes in a simulated context.

More than any other NRGI resource to date, Petronia makes learning about resource governance fun and interactive with dynamic animations and a close focus on learning through roleplaying and gamification. It is ideal for online learners with limited background in the field, but a desire to understand key issues.

The course explores the policy challenges in the Republic of Petronia, a fictional developing country that has made a potentially game-changing oil discovery. Learners join a team of experts deployed to advise the country’s policy-makers in a series of missions exploring different aspects of resource governance over time. Learners build their knowledge of the technical issues while developing an understanding of the different perspectives and complex trade-offs of managing resource wealth for development.

Learners not only think and reflect about policy choices in Petronia, they can also “do” by consulting stakeholders, analyzing government and international data, and developing recommendations with their team. We hope this “serious gaming” aspect will appeal to both adult and youth learners alike.

In the game, the newly-elected President of Petronia and her team of advisors must decide how to address current and future development of the oil sector. Much of it is “click and be told information or be given things to read” variety, which is then followed by periodic quizzes. Players get few (if any) chances to make meaningful choices that impact game play, so it’s all rather more like an instructional video than a game, with a lot of clicking things/sliding things/reading along the way. That will work with some audiences, but I suspect that others (many university students, most development professionals) will find it a somewhat fiddly and time-consuming way of accessing information and insight.

In this regard, I think that Mission Zhobia (previously reviewed at PAXsims) did a better job of harnessing the strengths of a game-based approach to development education. Still, the National Governance Resource Institute are to be praised for their innovative effort. The supporting materials in the simulation are also very good, and players will learn much if they read them.

You’ll find an article on Petronia here, from the The Economist.

h/t Rory Aylward

War Plan Tangerine

Warplan Tangerine.jpg

From the ever-prolific Tim Price comes yet another matrix game, War Plan Tangerine. In this, the government of the UK must prepare for the impending state visit of the rather unpopular President of the Generic Senior Ally.


This is, of course, a COMPLETELY FICTIONAL scenario. Any resemblance between the President of the GSA and any current world leader is ENTIRELY COINCIDENTAL.


 

The scenario allows for six players or teams:

  • UK Government
  • Police and Emergency Services
  • Generic Senior Ally (GSA) Government
  • Anti-POTGSA Activists
  • Pro-POTGSA and UK Alt-Right Supporters
  • UK Media

You’ll find the scenario details and player briefings here. Maps and counters are included, as is a short introduction to matrix gaming. The scenario is, of course, fully compatible with the Matrix Game Construction Kit.

MaGCK

Personally, if I were playing it I would either use two competing teams of activists (one more militant than the other), or allow the activists to make an immediate bonus move every time another player rolls a double (thus reflecting the tendency of the President of the GSA to say or tweet inflammatory things at sensitive moments).

 

Simulation NATO Trilemma: Strategic Direction South

ss-750x390.jpg

The NATO Civil-Military Center of Excellence has issued a report, written by Natalia Wojtowicz, on their NATO Trilemma: Strategic Direction South (SDS) simulation.

TIME The starting point of the simulation was year 2018. The simulation proceeds in turns. Average duration of 4-players iteration is approximately 60 minutes.

SPACE The board represented the SDS/MENA region and the risk level of particular area. There are three categories (see picture below), marked as high risk (RED), medium risk (YELLOW) and low risk (GREEN). This distinction also dictates possible actions of the participants.

PARTICIPANTS This simulation is designed for 2-4 players. The participants have to assume the role of a decision-maker in the region. They will choose between possible actions and try to balance the strategy in three aspects: security, development and population.

MODEL A successful strategy requires a balance between security, development and population. This means, that all actions affect the three elements, providing the view on effects in military, civilian and local perspective.

The general goal is to improve security and development in the region while simultaneously achieving the acceptance of the local population. This goal is supported by resources available to the participants and action which can be undertaken by paying the indicated price.

MAIN FACTORS Improvements are tracked by a scale, ranging from 0 to 10. All participants are starting the simulation at point 0 and can move up the scales. Population is a special scale, which affects the effects of the actions. If the population is not accepting the player, the action remains without effect. In case of neutral attitude, the effect is normal. If the player manages to become recognized as friendly to the population, the effects of improvement are doubled.

WINNING The winning player has to achieve 15 points on two scales in any combination – for example 10 security and 5 infrastructure.

RESOURCES To play an action card, participants have three resources to use: funding (money), personnel and supplies. Those are the costs of possible actions and improvements. To receive more resources, participants have to come back to the Headquarters.

You can read the full report here (pdf). There is also an overview available on the CCOE website.

hg.jpg

Wargaming and wartime tactical training in the Royal Canadian Navy

176_original.jpg

Lieutenant Carol Hendry (kneeling at right) and WRCNS colleagues plotting positions during a tactical wargame, 1944. Royal Canadian Navy

We at PAXsims have been enthusiastically following the work that Paul Strong and Sally Davis have been doing at the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in uncovering the story of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit—one of the most outstanding examples of wargaming for training and analytical purposes during World War Two.

Now Sally has come up with something else equally interesting: the existence of a similar tactical training unit in the Royal Canadian Navy. The story comes from Carol Duffus (née Hendry), a former officer in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS), via The Memory Project:

My name is Carol Duffus, formerly Hendry. I was born in Toronto, September 25th, 1918. I did finally get called up in March of 1943. So, I stayed in until September 1945. Then I served as a WREN. We were called WRENS. The British women in the navy were called WRENS too and we took that name on only we called ourselves WRENs with a C, WRCNS, Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service. And we were associated with the navy. In Britain, it wasn’t so, they were a separate unit.

And then after a while, a position came free in the training office, a staff officer training was leaving, and so I took over at the staff officer training. And turned into the person who arranged training for the crews of any of the ships that came in, escort ships, when they needed training and tactical work or action stations or signaling or gunnery. I assigned the training in that job to, to anyone who needed it. So that was kind of interesting too. It was a good job.

The tactical table was to teach the tactics to the escort vessels when they were taking a convoy across the Atlantic. And it was six of the WREN officers took over a on a, well the tactical table wasn’t really a table, it was more like a, sort of a gym floor. Only, it had a wall all the way around it, about a little bit above a waist level. And the WRENS, who were taking over, whenever the escorts went out, there were six taking a convoy across. So we had representatives from six escort vessels there on, on the other side of a wall, they couldn’t see us, but we could look over at them. So each of us was assigned a ship. And each ship in this escort group would send their captain and their navigating officer and the signals man up. And they would sit on the other side of the wall, they couldn’t see what we were doing up on the table. And each of us was assigned a ship so they would give us the instructions that that ship would take, in so many periods of time. It was a tactical game that was, given to the escorts, in this case, a game, a tactical game where they were taking a convoy across. There would be one at the head of the convoy and one at the stern. And then there would be one stationed on each quarter of the convoy. And they were to protect the convoy from submarine attacks.

So it was a game played, it was sort of set and they would give them situations and it was all plotted out on the table by, by the WRENS who were doing the plotting on the table. It was all marked off in sections and we would chalk everything down as they’d tell us. Each of us would have one ship. They would instruct us what that ship was to do and we would plot it on the table, which was really the floor. We were down on our hands and knees for that.

And so they would play the game as situations arose, in this imaginary game that would happen. Perhaps it would be announced that there was a submarine sighted somewhere or someone had seen a, a ship blow up, so they knew a submarine had done that. These were all just cases that might happen, that was the game.

So we were, we were given these little chits every two minutes or so from our ship, each one of us had their ship and we would plot it on this tactical table. And this would go on for perhaps an hour, maybe two, as the situation arose and the uh, training commander would be there giving the instructions.

So at the end of the game, all the people who were doing the plotting, the captains and so on, came up on the table and they would see what they had done. And the training commander, who would review the whole situation, would see what had been done over the whole period of time by us plotting their instructions to us, as they would say, I’m going, you know, a certain degree for so, for so long and we would plot that.

So it was all laid down in chalk and when the game was over, everybody would come up on the table and then the whole thing would be criticized by the training commander. He would say to each of them, now, in this case, perhaps it would have been better if you had done this or that and so on. So it was very, it was a good educational tool and tactics, and they learned a lot that way I think.

And you often hear about women looking, being looked down on because they were women, doing a certain job. But I never, never, never felt that, ever. I was treated with tremendous respect and, and knowledge of what I was doing. And so you know, I, I think that was probably why I advanced to the staff officer training because I was respected and that I knew what I was doing and why I was there. So it was, it was fine. I had no problem at all being a woman.

An awful lot of people don’t know what the women did in the services during the war. And I think they should have a little more publicity because if it weren’t for what they did, a lot of things would not have been done. So I felt that I was able to do something useful. That was good and I think there are an awful lot of other women too who did useful things and they would never probably be recognized for what they did. I’d like to have people know that they did serve, they were very important.

You can hear the audio of the interview at the link above. Carol passed away on May 5, 2012

177_original.jpg

Lieutenant Carol Hendry (standing) during a tactical game, 1944. Slacks were only worn on the job due to the the amount of time spent on the floor. Royal Canadian Navy

Connections UK conference registration now open

connectionsuk

The Connections UK 2018 conference for wargaming professionals will be held at King’s College London on Tuesday 4 – Thursday 6 September.

Registration is open. Go to the KCL eStore website and register now! Registration closes on Friday 24 August.

Purpose. The purpose of Connections UK is to advance and sustain the art, science and application of wargaming. We help to achieve this by bringing the wargaming community together to share best practice and network. Responding to your feedback, this year we will go into greater depth than previously, with more “how to” rather than “we did this…”

Duration. The conference will last three days. Tuesday 4 September will feature a concurrent megagame and a day-long Introduction to Wargaming Course for newcomers. This is an ‘either/or’ choice, although you simply sign up for Day 1 when you register. The main conference is on Wednesday 5 and Thursday 6 September. You can pay separately for Day 1 and Days 2 & 3—see below.

Programme. The latest programme is available on the Connections UK web site at http://professionalwargaming.co.uk/  Events and plenary topics include:

  • Key note address by Volko Ruhnke: Wargames and systems thinking.
  • Megagame.
  • Introduction to Wargaming Course.
  • Wargame design plenary:
    • Dilemmas and trade-offs in wargame design.
    • Game design as a form of journalism.
    • Working within design constraints.
  • Wargame development plenary:
    • Developing the KCL Crisis Simulation.
    • Developing an Arctic High North nested games family.
    • Model calibration.
  • Wargame execution plenary:
    • Play as pedagogy.
    • Business wargaming case study: ‘Cheese, butter & milk powder.’
    • Empowering Defense wargaming through automation.
  • Wargaming validation plenary:
    • Selecting, playing and assessing a COTS wargame (A Distant Plain).
    • Wargaming and reality: a case study of the Ukraine conflict 2014 – present.
  • Wargame refinement plenary:
    • Creating and sharing best practice.
    • Lessons learned from recent MOD wargames.
  • Analysis plenary:
    • US/DoD analysis: best and worst practice.
    • Designing analytical wargames with a view to successful data capture, management and analysis.
    • In the eye of the beholder? Cognitive challenges in wargame analysis.
    • SPECULAR STRIKE experimentation analysis.
  • Games fair: two sessions, as usual.
  • Facilitation workshop: a hands-on breakout session.
  • Automation tools: stands and demonstrations.

Cost. Costs are unchanged from last year (and the year before!). Connections UK is non-profit; it is a service to the wargaming community. Charges are as small as possible, sufficient to cover food, venue hire and whatever minimal administration is required. All food and refreshments are included. The Introduction to Wargaming/megagame day has been costed separately from the main conference days:

  • Introduction to Wargaming/megagame: £60.
  • Main Days: £135.

Location. The location will be Kings College London Strand Campus. Directions are on the KCL eStore web site at the ‘Location’ tab.

Accommodation. Finding accommodation is an individual’s responsibility, but there are two Connections UK-specific deals to be aware of. The Strand Palace offers reduced rates for Connections UK delegates (£150 per night depending on room type), and KCL has cheap and cheerful student accommodation available (£59 per night). Details and links are on the KCL eStore web site at the “More Info” tab, and don’t forget to quote “King’s College London” when booking.

Points of contact and further information. Consult the Connections UK website http://www.professionalwargaming.co.uk/ for programme updates and contents of former conferences (it is a wonderful resource). Please send general questions to graham@lbsconsultancy.co.uk and detailed queries concerning registration or administration to Bisi Olulode at olabisi.olulode@kcl.ac.uk

Privacy. As a non-profit, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) does not affect us that much. There is a privacy statement on the home page of the Connections UK website.

17-P1000898.jpg17-P1000427.jpg

 

New Yorker Radio Hour: Rolling the Dice in a Battle with Russia

Radio-Hour-135-War-Games-4x3.jpg

The New Yorker Radio Hour features an excellent 15 minute audio report by Simon Parker on “Rolling the Dice in a Battle with Russia.”  He starts by discussing the Western Approaches Tactical Unit with PAXsim’s very own Tom Mouat (Defence Academy of the UK), and wargaming with David Shlapak (RAND). The report ends up with an account of a matrix game at the Defence Academy exploring contemporary Russian policy.

The complexity of world events can’t be modelled by a flow chart or even the most sophisticated algorithms. Instead, military officers, diplomats, and policy analysts sometimes turn to an old but sophisticated set of tools: war games. Simon Parkin writes for The New Yorker on gaming, and he recently observed officials playing what’s known as a matrix game led by Major Tom Mouat, an expert on war games, at the Defense Academy of the United Kingdom. Parkin describes Mouat’s game as being a cross between Dungeons & Dragons, Risk, and a rap battle. On the day of the game play, Britain had expelled Russian diplomats in retaliation for the poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil, and the game focussed on trying to predict and contain Putin’s response.

Gaming the strike on Syria?

syria-missile-air-strike-chemical-weapons-damascus-trump-assad-putin.jpg

On 14 April 2018, US, French, and British military forces launched missiles against Syria, in response to a chemical weapon attack by the Asad regime against the rebel-held town of Douma a week earlier. This followed a pattern of repeated use of chemical weapons by the Syrian military, despite a previous US retaliatory attack in 2017. Three sites, all associated with the regime’s chemical weapons programme, were hit.

Douma.png

This led Graham Longley-Brown to ask whether the British government had conducted a wargame of the proposed attack before carrying it out:

  1. Did anyone wargame the geo-political situation? Were expert players and decision-makers engaged to represent Syria, Russia, Iran, China, The Arab nations et al to elicit plausible reactions and risks, various categories of ‘unknowns’, and maybe even a Black Swan or two circling just out of sight… Having just re-read Tom Schelling’s Zones of Control chapter ‘Red vs Blue’, it struck me that something at the pol-mil level along the lines of his games would have delivered significant benefits to our decision-makers, both in terms of an enhanced understanding of the situation and their actual decision-making process.

  2. If no wargaming occurred, why not? The answer to that question might shed light on the attitudes to wargaming within the MOD, despite the recent success of the second VCDS Wargame. There was time to put some combination of matrix/seminar game on the table, possibly informed by M&S and/or other wargame results. Rex Brynen suggested that even a well-facilitated and well-moderated BOGSAT would have been useful. There was time to design and play such games, either in parallel, in sequence, or both. While not quite a cycle of research, some sort of triangulation or cross-pollination would have reinforced insights arising and shaped more detailed analysis. This would all have been TBD during whatever rapid design process would have been implemented. If no gaming occurred because ‘it takes too long to develop these games’, do we need to have a bank of Schelling/matrix-like games developed for identified trouble-spots and waiting to be pulled off the shelf? This along with a wargaming ‘rapid response team’ to tweak these and then facilitate rapid gaming?

  3. If wargaming did occur, did someone in the MOD reach for a phone and speed-dial ‘wargamers’?  If ‘yes’, who was at the other end of the speed dial number? It should be (certainly include) Dstl’s Wargaming Team and Tom Mouat. Did this happen, and is the process formalised? If not, why not? Did the call recipients respond by putting a series of appropriate games on the table within hours (Mark Herman-like)? Was Dstl involved? If not, why not? Crucially, what lessons were identified with the process of rapidly designing and executing a wargame, and how will these be captured and turned into lessons learned?

  4. Did anyone model the attack in detail? It would have taken Jeremy Smith about 2 minutes to ‘RCAT’ this using open source data, playing tunes with variables such as Russian SAMs engaging or not engaging and different permutations on Syrian AD. I suspect this would have been insightful. However, computerised sims would have been far more important. Were any used?

  5. Finally, how might the non-MOD professional wargaming community (e.g. Cranfield) get hold of classified data from the attacks to further validate their sims? We have previously used open source data from real-world examples such as Mosul and Sirte – before, during and after those events – to validate and refine our irregular warfare RCAT models. Doing the same with near-peer, peer and peer + adversaries in a high-intensity warfighting context, will become increasingly important. What AD engaged? What was the success rate of the missiles launched? What are the BDA results? How was targeting conducted, and how effective was it? What Collateral Damage was caused? Etc. If the results are too highly classified to release then we are missing the opportunity to improve the simulations we all espouse the utility of and use for actual Defence planning. Access to real-world data such as this is crucial. Let’s hope examples remain rare, but we should leverage them when they occur.

Any such wargame would have been classified, so there’s a chance we wouldn’t know. However the consensus among UK wargamers was that no, they probably didn’t. Should they have?

One experienced UK wargamer replied:

I’ve had a think about this (with some help) and we need to be careful. There is no way we will get the great and the good to spend half a day away, in the middle of a crisis, to play a wargame.

We need them to play wargames regularly to get an appreciation of what wargames offer, but in a crisis we need a parallel process to run alongside the crisis planning. It needs someone with a trusted ear to the commander (VCDS?) who heads off and gets us lot together and then reports back with what we found…

We then need somewhere we can do that, at the right classification, that is available (like the JFC Battlelab).

As for validating our sims – I think I’m looking at a higher level (the Pol/Mil implications or the crisis and subsequent reactions, rather than the detail of the military action), so I’m less worried about building a better mousetrap, as getting insights to the commander.

The important observation here was that crisis wargaming might not (for reasons on time, among other things) be a central part of the process, but it could be a useful adjunct. To do that, however, there has to be an existing on-call capability to design, populate, run, and assess a game—quickly enough that it can raise issues for planners to consider, and with a solid enough track record that any such inputs were welcomed by planners and decision-makers. One experienced observer questioned whether the UK would ever be in a position to deploy a wargaming team quickly enough to support this sort of compressed decision-making cycle.

My own response was that this might be a case where digital simulation and modelling would be far more useful than manual games, since much hinges on the interaction of really technical variables (topography and radar shadow generated by the Anti-Lebanon mountain range, the exact placement of Syrian and Russian EW and target acquisition radars, SAM effectiveness against low flying targets amid considerable ground-clutter, and the hit (Ph) and kill (Pk) probabilities of Tomahawk/JASSM/Storm Shadow/SCAMP, and so forth).

Regarding the political dimensions of the attack, I may be a wargamer but I am not convinced this would best be explored in a wargame at all. Instead, based on my own experience, a  well-moderated BOGSAT (bunch of guys/gals sitting around a table) might work better, Much would depend, of course, on the BOGAT form, the expertise at the table, and the skill of the facilitator. It is also possible that a relatively quick wargame might provide input into those discussions, something we had previously noted in our various matrix games of the counter-ISIS campaign in Iraq.

For what it is worth regarding the attack itself, I think the target set was way too narrow, and that the regime was genuinely pleasantly surprised that so little of so little value was hit: a research facility and a few bunkers. No key regime assets or capabilities were struck. None of the units or facilities involved in the Douma attack were attacked. Nothing that signals any significant cost to Asad was destroyed—indeed, the regime secured the Douma area and almost all the Damascus suburbs in the meantime. One American contributor to the discussion similarly noted “The aparent dearth of notable results makes me suspect that no one cared over much about militarily effective action but rather focused on ‘doing something’ that looked like ‘punishing Assad’ without risking a serious confrontation with [Russia]” A wargame might have brought all that out, but so too would a half hour conversation with a reasonably competent Syria analyst.

An experienced American wargamer commented that if the strike had been wargamed, the most useful insights might be in the area of coordination and process:

The real war-game here is the inter-coalition coordination of the strikes, how the C3, legalities, and permissions worked, and how the planning process leading up to the strikes would work across the different coalition partners.  Who was in charge?  How was the coordination done (NATO or multi-lateral)?  What C3 systems were used and how did they interoperate?  How did authorization flow and deconfliction occur?  The technical side of the strikes is, as I believe someone said, pretty much physics and targeteering, which affects C3 but is not necessarily an interesting game in itself.  I’m sure there have been many games done that look at coalition strike C3 in both a NATO and a multi-/bi-lateral context amongst the countries involved.  That gaming probably informed some of the experiences and decisions of the officers making the call as to how to organized the event.

Further thoughts are welcomed in the comments section.

%d bloggers like this: