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CNA is seeking an experienced wargamer

CNA is hiring an experienced wargamer for its Gaming and Integration Program. They are looking for someone with significant design experience with demonstrated ability to independently design and facilitate wargames, TTXs, and workshops. This will be a joint position between CNA’s Center for Naval Analyses (the FFRDC) and CNA’s Institute for Public Research (non-FFRDC arm), so interagency experience is a plus.

Additional information on the position and application details can be found here.

CNA endorses the Derby House Principles and is committed to diversity and inclusion in wargaming.

Connections Global 2020 professional wargaming conference report

This past week was the first ever Connections Global conference—that is, the annual Connections US professional wargaming conference, but organized as a virtual, online event because of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The conference ran for five full days, and featured over fifty presentations, panels and keynotes (split between two virtual rooms), plus associated online gaming and social events. I don’t know how many people registered in total, but keynotes typically had in excess of two hundred participants. The event was cosponsored by CNA, which also provided technical expertise to make it all work.

From a technical point of view, I thought it went really well. Zoom proved easy to use and reliable. There were few hitches. I enjoyed the ability to listen to a speaker, ask questions (using the Q&A function) through the moderator, and have discussions with other participants via the text chat. I did find that if a presentation was less interesting to me, I tended to multitask, answering email or doing other work while semi-listening to the conference. Unlike previous conferences, moreover, I didn’t take detailed notes for this report–I was either too engaged with the presentation via questions or discussions, or doing something else in the background.

I found the social events were less effective, with the exception of the one meeting of the Women’s Wargaming Network I attended (having asked to attend, lest anyone think I was crashing their space).

This question of how well the conference format worked will be important for other conferences that are going virtual because of the pandemic, including Connections North in February 2021. I was very pleased. Some others I know, however, found it a little unengaging to watch a speaker via Zoom from the privacy of their own home. The organizers have asked attendees to complete a survey and we will see what that indicates. Attendees are also welcomed/encouraged to leave thoughts in the comments below.

Connections US is one of the cosponsors of the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming. On the plus side the Principles were referred to frequently in presentations or discussions, badges and icons made appearances, and they were referred to in the rotating intermission slides. On the negative side, a little under 15% of the participants were female (by my rough count), and only 10% of the panelists and presenters were. Visible minorities were also underrepresented. Digital conferences, because of their ability to bring in speakers from anywhere in the world, ought to have an easier time being more inclusive. This point was brought up several times, and the organizers took it on board. I think we’ll see even greater efforts in this direction in future both here and elsewhere.

Although I attended the entire conference, the two-room format meant that I only saw and heard half the presentations. No one should feel slighted, therefore, if a pick a few personal favourites:

  • On Monday, I was especially impressed with the lively panel discission on building capacity in the university. In an earlier talk, ED McGrady also had some very interesting things to say about on adjudication.
  • On Tuesday, Graham Longley-Brown‘s talk about his practitioners guide to wargaming (which you can see here) covered a lot of fertile ground. Hank Brightman‘s presentation on Urban Outbreak 2019 and pandemic gaming was timely and useful.
  • On Wednesday,the keynote by Phil Sabin was outstanding, highlighting the ways in which many of wargaming challenges of today are rather different than the sorts of issues grappled with by the women and men of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit during WW2. Sawyer Judge‘s very articulate presentation on wargaming as an art and science won widespread plaudits. I actually disagree with some of what she argued: I’m not sure debating the art vs science is very useful, and instead think that wargaming should be thought of a humble methodological tool much the same as other research techniques in the social sciences. However, it it was a excellent example of a talk that stimulated a great deal of valuable discussion.
  • On Wednesday, Pete Pellegrino’s presentation on distributed gaming was excellent, to the point that I had colleagues discussing it in emails even before he had finished speaking. (He recorded it too.) He (and, the previous day, Sawyer) also set the standard for clear and effective presentations at the conference, so I am officially proposing the Pellegrino-Judge Unit (PJU) to be the official measure of visual, verbal and overall information clarity in PowerPoint wargaming presentations. It should be noted that PJU scores are not only inversely correlated with the amount of text and logos crammed on a slide but also the number of military acronyms. In any sort of global conference, 98% of the latter should be banned. Half of your fellow national services DKWTDASF (Don’t Know What The Damned Acronym Stands For), let alone your foreign or non-military colleagues. Those receiving low PJU scores are strongly recommended to go and watch this. Chad Briggs also had a number of insightful things to say about the design and execution of wargames during COVID-19.
  • On Friday, in addition to Tom Mouat’s pithy comments on AI and expensive new toys, I very much enjoyed Jeffrey Sugden’s presentation on course of action generation with machine learning and Andrew Reddie’s talk about the SIGNAL project on nuclear signalling, use, and escalation. I took part in “Connections international” panel discussion together with Matt Caffrey (Connections US) and Colin Marston (Connections UK). In addition to summarizing past and future Connections North events, I also updated everyone on the status of the Derby House Principles. However, I will address the latter in a future PAXsims post, since there is a lot going on.

There was a lot of other valuable material at the conference which I haven’t mentioned—this is just a list of my personal favourites from among the presentations I attended.

Overall, I think it was a very successful event. Kudos to the organizers, who adjusted well to the challenges of a once-in-a-century global pandemic and adapting the conference to the digital realm.

CNA Talks: Diversity and inclusion in wargaming

Episode 67 of the CNA Talks podcast addresses the topic of diversity and inclusion in wargaming.

On this episode of CNA Talks, Dr. Chris Ma discusses the Derby House Principles on Diversity and Inclusion in Professional Wargamming with their creators: Dr. Yuna Wong of the Institute for Defense Analyses, Professor Rex Brynen of McGill University, and Sally Davis of the UK Ministry of Defence.

Biographies

Chris Ma Ph.D directs CNA’s Gaming and Integration Team.

Yuna Huh Wong Ph.D is a defense analyst at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA). She is a frequent organizer for the Connections Wargaming Conference series, and co-chaired the 2016 and 2017 Military Operations Research Society (MORS) special meetings on wargaming.

Sally Davis is a senior analyst at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, part of the UK Ministry of Defence. She writes software in support of analysis, simulation, and wargaming.

Rex Brynen is professor of political science at McGill University, where he specializes Middle East politics, complex peace and humanitarian operations, and serious games. He is senior editor of the conflict simulation website PAXsims (http://www.paxsims.org).

CNA is a cosponsor of the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

CNA endorses the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion

We are very pleased to announce that CNA—one of the world’s leading centers of wargame design and practice—is the latest organization to endorse the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming.

CNA President and CEO Katherine McGrady writes:

CNA is committed to building and sustaining a diverse workforce and an inclusive environment. We believe that employees with differing​ frames of reference and ranges of life experiences bring an energy and unique advantage that is essential to delivering on our mission.

At CNA, we believe diversity reflects the world in which we live. Inclusivity creates a dynamic work environment that fosters trust, innovation, and excellence, while providing an atmosphere where every employee feels respected, motivated, and empowered to perform at peak level.

We recognize that wargames benefit from a diverse range of participants, designers, developers, and analysts. Since the best wargames reveal the unexpected, they are always enriched by a diversity of viewpoints.We pledge to carry these values forward in the wargames we execute, consistent with the Derby House Principles.

If your organization would like to be listed as a supporter of the Derby House Principles, email us.

Two recent wargaming podcasts

A couple of recent podcasts may be of interest to PAXsims readers.


At Controversy and Clarity (the official podcast of the Warfighting Society), Eric Walters discusses the value of wargaming:

• Wargames and the different ways to define them
• The trouble with the term “games”
• How Eric got into wargaming
• How wargaming led Eric to study all kinds of military history
• Eric’s thoughts on wargames as teaching tools for grade schoolers
• The many benefits of wargaming
• How wargames and reading helped Eric understand “the why” of doctrine, enemy tactics and organizations, and maneuver warfare
• How we should be wary of using games as a means of evaluating Marines as combat leaders
• Eric’s reaction to the explosion of interest in and acceptance of wargames in the Department of Defense
• Some recent wargame developments in the Army and Marine Corps
• Eric’s thoughts on General Berger’s focus on wargaming
• Eric’s experiences running wargames in the fleet as a company-grade officer
• How well the Marine Corps taught decision-making during Eric’s time as a young officer
• On the power of being supported by your superiors
• Eric’s thoughts on professional military education (PME) and what “professional” means to him
• What good PME looks like
• The need for one-on-one coaching in PME with accomplished masters
• The dangers of self-directed PME
• The need for study in the absence of experience
• The role formal schools should play in PME
• Eric’s thoughts on “lifelong learning”
• The coaches Eric has had over his career and life
• The value of belonging to a community of practice
• American Military University’s influence on Eric
• How decision games help build trust
• Eric’s approach to building PME programs while on active duty and the results of those programs
• What is critical thinking?
• Some critical thinking models and resources that Eric uses
• The relationship between decision games and critical thinking
• Eric’s admonition to Marines to remain relevant and take a long view of future threats


Meanwhile, at the CNA Talks podcast (episode 63), Samantha Hay and Cate Lea discuss wargaming too.

On this episode of CNA Talks Samantha Hay, CNA’s newest wargamer, sits down with Cate Lea, CNA’s most experienced wargamer. They discuss the process of designing a wargame and CNA’s role in the broader wargaming community. 

Catherine Lea directs CNA gaming efforts on Asia-Pacific operations and U.S. installation support. She is an expert on Japanese security policy and U.S. base politics in Japan. Her field work at CNA includes assignments at Amphibious Group Two, U.S. Fleet Forces, and three years in Yokohama, Japan, providing analytical support to U.S. Navy commands.

Samantha Hay is a research analyst with CNA’s Operational Warfighting Division. Prior to joining CNA, Samantha served as a senior research analyst with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), where she analyzed US security assistance efforts in Afghanistan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The paradigm should change.

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

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

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

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

CNA: After the wargame

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In the third part of their wargaming trilogy, the CNA Talks podcast explores data collection and analysis in professional wargames:

In part three of our occasional series on wargaming, CNA’s chief wargame designer Jeremy Sepinsky returns, accompanied by Robin Mays, research analyst for CNA’s Gaming and Integration program, to discuss how they analyze the results of a CNA Wargame. Jeremy starts by describing the “hotwash” discussion that occurs immediately after a wargame concludes, and what insights participants often take away. Throughout this episode, Jeremy and Robin describe the type of information note takers record during a wargame, and how that data gets used in the final analysis. Using examples from actual wargames about logistics, medical evacuation and disaster relief, they explain how analysis reveals insights not readily apparent to those who played the game.

The link above also contains links to Parts 1 and 2.

Also, for those interested in game analysis, be sure to read the results of our DIRE STRAITS experiment on how analysts can influence (or bias) analysis.

CNA Talks: Playing a Wargame

CNA’s occasional podcast series discusses how to play a wargame.

In part two of our occasional series on wargaming, CNA’s chief wargame designer Jeremy Sepinsky returns, accompanied by Chris Steinitz, director of CNA’s North Korea program, to discuss what it’s like to play a CNA Wargame. Jeremy describes the different players in a wargame, emphasizing the value of people with operational experience who can accurately represent how military leaders would make decisions. Jeremy and Chris lay out the differences between playing Blue team and Red team. They also take us down the “road to war,” describing how the wargaming team lays out the scenario that starts the game.  Finally, Chris and Jeremy take us though the player’s decisions and how the results of a turn are adjudicated.

CNA Talks: How to make a wargame

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The latest edition of CNA’s podcast series features Jeremy Sepinsky discussing “how to make a wargame.”

In part one of our occasional series on wargaming, Don Boroughs sits down with CNA’s lead wargame designer Jeremy Sepinsky to discuss what it takes to create a CNA wargame. Jeremy describes CNA’s games as bespoke, informed, immersive and diverse, designed to solve very specific analytical problems. To illustrate this, Jeremy talks Don though a hypothetical wargame designed to determine whether the military should invest in an airborne laser. If you enjoy this episode, keep an eye out for part two of our series, in which Don and Jeremy will discuss what it’s like to play in a CNA wargame.

If you are interested in learning more about CNA wargaming program, please contact Jeremy Sepinsky at sepinskyj@cna.org. Go to www.cna.org/CNAtalks to learn more about the participants and listen to more CNA Talks episodes.

Food Chain Reaction: A Global Food Security Game

On November 9-10 the World Wildlife Fund and the Center for American Progress conducted a crisis game examining global food security, Food Chain Reaction. The game design was undertaken by CNA, with funding and technical support from Cargill and Mars.

According to a report on the simulation by Bloomberg:

The year is 2026. Flooding, worsened by climate change, has devastated Bangladesh and driven millions of hungry refugees to its border with India. Worried about unrest and disease, India asks other nations for help.

The U.S. and China respond — China with aid deliveries, the U.S. by boosting aid to Pakistan, which has its own food crisis that’s adding to India’s tensions. That assistance helps India focus on Bangladesh. The crisis recedes.

While the scenario was fictional, two food-price shocks since 2008 have prompted riots and fueled revolutions around the world. Experts say such disruptions are likely to occur more frequently as a warming climate plays havoc with global food production. That fear brought together representatives of corporate food producers, aid groups and governments for two days this week in Washington where they role-played a simulated food crisis. Bloomberg News also participated, representing how media would react to a crisis.

“With climate change, how we deal with food-security threats requires some serious rethinking,” said Kathleen Merrigan, a former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture who participated in the exercise. “The ups and downs of prices and surpluses will only become more extreme.”

In the simulation — some called it the “hunger games” — at the U.S. headquarters of the World Wildlife Fund a fictional narrative was created to simulate real dangers that can emerge quickly as an increase in greenhouse gases contributes to volatile weather. In 2011, a real-life drought in Russia fueled food riots in North Africa that fed the Arab Spring uprisings, the aftermath of which reverberates in Syria today.

The fictional scenario began in 2020, with El Nino devastating crops in India and Australia, followed by a major drought in North America the following year.

Eight teams represented the U.S., European Union, Brazil, China, India, Africa, multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and World Bank, and global businesses.

Global food inventories declined through the first half of the simulated decade, with the Mississippi River flooding and drought in Asia. Food-importing nations in Africa saw demonstrations against rising food prices, while rising oil prices diverted more production to ethanol, further stressing supplies.

The crisis peaked in 2024, with record food prices generating unrest in Africa, South Asia and Ukraine. Both the U.S. and EU teams decided to repeal mandates requiring ethanol use, while Brazil ramped up production of all crops, including sugar used for biofuels. China invested in dams to protect scarce water.

‘Lifelike, Realistic’

The EU added a meat tax to discourage expensive livestock production and temporarily relaxed environmental regulations to boost its own production. The U.S. enacted a carbon tax, India taxed coal and support for a global climate deal was universal.

One point of the simulation was to create plausible scenarios to prepare participants to respond to real-life threats, said Kate Fisher, a game director with CNA Corp., a research organization that creates crisis simulations for the Defense Department and other federal agencies.

“It’s planning by doing,” forcing participants to make decisions and react to one another, she said. “We try to make it realistic. The players make it lifelike.”

These hunger games proved to be never-ending.

By 2027, the EU repealed its emergency measures on meat and regulations, as a series of large harvests built up supplies, though trouble persisted in Chad, Sudan and other parts of Africa that hadn’t invested in agriculture. Countries began working more closely with the United Nations to handle refugees from climate catastrophes.

New Normal

But prices, and temperatures, rose again at the end of the decade, showing how abnormal is expected to be the new normal in food and agriculture.

You’ll also find a report on the Cargill corporate website:

Over two days, the players – divided into teams for Africa, Brazil, China, the EU, India, the U.S., international business and investors, and multilateral institutions – crafted their policy responses as delegations engaged in intensive negotiations.

Cooperation mostly won the day over the short term individual advantage. Teams pledged to build international information networks and early warning systems on hunger and crops together, invest jointly in smart agricultural technology and build up global food stocks as a buffer against climate shocks.

In the face of a steep price spike with looming global food shortages in 2022, the EU at one point suspended its environmental rules for agriculture and introduced a tax on meat. Both measures were quickly reversed in 2025, as harvests went back to normal and tensions eased in the hypothetical universe.

The most eye-catching result, however, was a deal between the U.S., the EU, India and China, standing in for the top 20 greenhouse gas emitters, to institute a global carbon tax and cap CO2 emissions in 2030.

“We’ve learned that a carbon tax is a possibility in years ahead,” acknowledged Stone. “But before we can consider moving ahead with a measure like that, we must study it and understand it much better. We have to avoid sudden market distortions and unforeseen consequences.”

Stone said he was impressed with the complexity of the game and the second and third order consequences of some of the decisions that were taken. “Take the meat tax Europe wanted to impose, and think through that. What meat are you going to tax – does that mean poultry and beef or aquaculture as well? Where do you levy the tax, where does the money go, what are the unintended consequences?”

‘Not just putting out fires’

The game was built over the course of months, with maximal realism in mind. The scenario was extrapolated from events that have actually occurred in the real world, such as the food crisis of 2008-2009 or the recent string of hottest years and months on record.

Cargill economist Tim Bodin, who helped design the game and sat on the judges’ panel that evaluated the team’s moves, said he was surprised by the degree of cooperation. “Most people started out with a short-term perspective, but transitioned to long-term measure pretty quickly – they started working to strengthen resiliency instead of just putting out fires.”

The realism of the exercise exceeded expectations, said former U.S. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, who acted as a mentor to the players. “It’s much closer to the real world than you’d think. The people who play here are very committed and serious.”

Additional summaries can be found at the Food Chain Reaction and WWF websites.

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