The following article was written for PAXsims by Captain Oli Elliot (BritishArmy). Capt Elliot has served as a rifle and reconnaissance platoon commander, as a trainer at the Infantry Training Centre, and most recently as the Adjutant of 2 MERCIAN, based out in Cyprus as the Regional Stand-by Battalion.
All but War Is Simulation. Using simulation for military training is certainly not a new concept; warriors have always trained with wooden weapons to simulate metal tipped weapons, the Prussian Military were using the wargame Kriegsspiel in the 1820s and computer simulation has been used for decades in weapons development, play testing doctrinal concepts and for training. The UK Fight Club is yet another way for the British Armed Forces to simulate warfare, but it is taking a unique approach. It is not only intending to make gaming far more accessible to every level of the Armed Forces, it seeks to change culture and make gaming a more common approach to improve thinking and fighting across all dimensions of conflict and competition.
This is a bottom-up initiative to use Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer games and other gaming modalities to drive change in military thinking and mimic realistic scenarios for its members. It is a flat and lateral organisation where rank and trade are not important, but your ability to think and make decisions are what is valued. Ideas have no rank and they are judged on their own merit. All members of the British Armed Forces are familiar with using computer simulations for training. Virtual Battlespace 3 (VBS3), currently also Defence’s Virtual Simulation (DVS), is operated at training establishments and available to units via the Unit Based Virtual Training (UBVT) contractual mechanism. Other virtual simulations are used at the Combined Arms Tactical Trainer (CATT) which most units will use as part of their formal training cycle. The BattleGroup Command Control Trainer (BC2T) and ABACUS are the Army’s constructive simulations found at JCSC(L) and CAST. However, most members of the Armed Forces see simulation training as an inaccessible tool, delivered once or twice a year which takes hours to set-up and can only be organised months in advance. Fight Club challenges this mentality and argues that you can use computer-based simulation right now, at little to no expense, amongst a community of likeminded peers who can aid and collaborate with you to achieve specific results. Fight Club wants people gaming in a ‘safe to fail’ environment, conducting many ‘reps and sets’, and sharing their learning amongst the wider community.
Fight Club was founded in March 2020 as a way of bringing together serving members of the armed forces, civil servants, computer simulation designers and many other members who work in the defence sector. The date of the founding may have coincided with the MOD (and the rest of the UK) starting to work from home, but it was a plan that has been in the pipeline for a number of months and it will continue after the lock down is lifted.
Fight Club seeks to use COTS computer games to provide its members with an opportunity to hone their tactical acumen and decision-making ability against an enemy that is seeking to outsmart them (whether this be the game AI or another human player). Military professionals must be conditioned to out think, out manoeuvre and adapt faster than any adversary prior to the final audit of battle or crisis. The question, accordingly, is not whether the military has people who can think this way already but whether we have a culture of process that conditions this type of thinking. Fight Club seeks to fill what is arguably the greatest deficiency in the training and education of leaders: repeated practice in decision making against a think enemy.In the few months that Fight Club has existed it has pursued these aims along a number of routes. In April some of its members formed the red team for a COVID-19 Grey Zone Competition Wargame with Special Operations Command – Europe. Since April the club has been playing through a campaign called: ‘Operation Rising Moon’ on the COTS computer game Combat Mission: Shock Force 2 (CMSF2), where club members complete the missions, post their results in a group chat and then discuss how they would tackle the missions differently in the future. A member of the fight club has also used CMSF2 to conduct professional military education for platoon commanders in a sub-unit in 2nd Battalion, The MERCIAN Regiment, an infantry regiment currently based out in Cyprus as the Regional Stand-by Battalion, by hosting a Fight Night where platoon commanders fought each other after they had conducted an estimate on the situation they were presented with.
The Fight Club slack chat group (a social networking forum) is already full of doctrinal and tactical discussions sparked by Operation Rising Moon. The discussions have ranged from the destructive effects of Offensive Support compared to direct fire assets to the most effective staff tools for planning a course of action.
As news of Fight Club spreads, more members of the Armed Forces are realising how they could already be using computer simulations for training. Members of Reservist and Regular units have been getting in touch with the Fight Club to ask for advice on how to deliver computer-based training in their own units. The Fight Club is committed to this type of collaborative working; there is no value in junior commanders all over the armed forces duplicating the same work. Fight Club is becoming like a “Git Hub” platform for planning and fighting solutions.
The Fight Club is still recruiting, still battling through Operation Rising Moon and still providing a forum for military professionals to discuss gaming, but it has ambitious plans for the future. It will host competitions, providing an opportunity for participants and participating teams to test their skills against greater, non-simulated opponents and provide objective feedback on their quality and competence. It will host conferences allowing club members to take advantage of commercial and academic events to improve gaming, thinking and collaboration. And the Fight Club will host concentrations, these will be bespoke events that will allow all members of the Fight Club Association to come together with industry and academic leaders in the field to learn from best practices and cutting-edge developments.
The big success of this nascent Fight Club effort is the expansive human network which continues to grow stronger by the day. There are already participants across all services, government, industry, academia, and most recently, Fight Club has formed an innovative partnership with a Hollywood film company to prototype a new VR simulation in human domain engagement. In less than three months, a small group of military professionals have ignited a fire which is spreading fast and positively changing military culture for the better.
The most recent issue of British Army Review 165 (Winter 2016) contains an article by Lt Col Ivor Gardiner on the merits of commercial wargames as a tool for officer education:
Within the British Army, wargaming is primarily used as part of the Seven Questions (7Qs) of the Combat Estimate. However, it lacks a proper adversarial element. During the planning phase, the plan will become awed if most, or all, dangerous enemy actions and responses have not been articulated.
The missing aspect in British military wargaming is the adversarial. It is this aspect, and the replacement of military judgement by the use of variable factors and the ever maligned use of dice to determine outcomes, which results in much of the misperceptions directed towards wargaming. The result is usually a somewhat dismissive attitude and an assertion that it is a game of dice not much different from Risk and is more associated with ‘childish things’.
In the piece he discusses his experience using commercial wargames within the 1st Battalion the Royal IRISH, and highlights its value for staff training, complimenting battlefield studies, and force and capability development.
Historical legacy in professional military wargaming is proven. I think we can draw much from the importance ascribed to wargaming by the Prussian Army. It would be trite to say Prussian military success was based on wargaming, but nobody could deny that the emphasis placed on the conceptual and educational aspects of training Prussian – and later German – officers, partly through the medium of wargaming, did not make a significant contribution. This utility has been recognised by British thinkers such as H.G. Wells and Basil Liddell Hart; more recently strongly encouraged by Major General (Ret’d) Andrew Sharpe CBE, who retired as Director of the Defence Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) and now heads up the newly established Centre for Historical Analysis and Critical Research (CHACR). Yet we fail to fully appreciate this fantastic tool. We place an emphasis on Understanding of the environment on modern operations, yet still fail ourselves to fully Understand the value that can be added to military conceptual development through the simple and affordable medium of commercial wargaming.