PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: Michael Peck

C-WAM: Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model

At GovTechWorks, Michael Peck has a very interesting article on the Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model, or C-WAM:

Computers continue to revolutionize modern warfare, not the least of when it comes to putting battle plans to the test. Devise the scenario, feed it into the computer and out spews detailed estimates of risk, supply consumption and more.

But as it turns out, that there’s nothing like pitting humans against humans – at least to get the kinks out of a plan to begin with.

Indeed, Pentagon leaders right up to the deputy secretary of defense are using a house-built Army board game – complete with outcome tables and standard dice – to spot the flaws in battle plans before crunching the numbers with modern computing. Just as manned aircraft and drones can team to form a highly effective partnership, computer models linked to board games can bring out the best qualities of both.

The Army calls its board game C-WAM – short for the Center for Army Analysis Wargaming Analysis Model. Games pit (friendly) Blue versus (enemy) Red forces and results are fed into the Joint Integrated Contingency Model (JICM), a powerful computer simulation that analyzes plans and calculates losses and supply consumption.

First developed eight years ago, C-WAM is increasingly popular and has been used by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, a well-known vigorous advocate for analytical wargaming as well as the Joint Staff, multiple Combatant Commands (COCOMs) including Pacific (PACOM) and European (EUROCOM) commands, and other major component commands, such as U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Air Forces Europe.

The game has also been used to test potential effectiveness of new weapons during the acquisition process.

“Demand is far outstripping our capacity at this point,” says C-WAM creator Daniel Mahoney III, a campaign analyst for Center for Army Analysis at Fort Belvoir, Va. “We turn people down now for wargaming requests.”

Understanding the Game

Physically, C-WAM consists of a tabletop map typically about five-feet long and four-feet wide. Players maneuver their pieces (representing brigades) across the map, just like in any other tabletop game. The digital Battle Tracker– a simple computer database — rolls digital dice and tracks losses, supplies and so on. If they prefer, players may also choose to use conventional physical dice.

The Blue and Red teams are each led by a commander-in-chief and supported by ground, air and naval commanders. A White Cell umpire, supported by a few more people to run the Battle Tracker, oversees the game as it plays out. …

What’s more, Michael has gone a step further, and obtained a copy of the C-WAM rule book. You’ll find it here.

This detailed  April 2016 presentation on C-WAM by Daniel Mahoney to the MORS wargaming community of practice may also be of interest.

h/t Michael Peck

The return of wargaming?

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Is this wargaming’s MacArthur (“I have returned”) moment? 

 

At GovTechWorks, Michael Peck provides an overview of the US Department of Defense’s renewed focus on expanding and invigorating wargaming:

Over the past year, at least four directives from the highest levels of the Department of Defense (DoD) and the services, including a February 2015 memo from Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, called for more wargaming.

“I was concerned the Department’s ability to test concepts, capabilities and plans using simulation as well as other techniques, had atrophied,” Work said by email to GovTechWorks. “While resetting and reconstituting the Joint Force after so many years of war, we needed to turn our attention toward numerous emerging challenges to U.S. global leadership.

“In this dynamic environment, Department leaders are making important programmatic decisions to meet those challenges. Wargaming is an important means of informing those decisions and spurring innovation.”

The Pentagon requested more than $55 million for wargaming for fiscal 2017, and more than $525 million over the five-year Future Years Defense Program spending plan.

The new attention has wargame experts not just pleased, but amazed. “Wargaming has gone through periods of popularity and disfavor, but I have never seen in the past 40 years any situation like this with the senior leadership,” says Peter Perla, senior research scientist with the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) and a leading wargaming expert.

You’ll find Michael’s full article here.

For additional background, see also:

Incidentally, the MacArthur-returning-to-the-Philippines image above might also contain a lesson about the dangers of being too ambitious: the General was removed from command in Korea in April 1951 for failing to failing to recognize the limits of his own role. Understanding what analytical gaming doesn’t do well is an essential part of refining its ability to deliver what it can do well.

h/t Marc Guenette  

Simulations miscellany, 21 May 2015

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Some recent items on conflict simulation and serious games that might be of interest to PAXsims readers:

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Peter Perla’s recent article on “Work – ing” Wargaming has sparked much discussion among wargaming professionals, most notably at Phil Sabin’s Simulating War online discussion group. That in turn has spurred Paul Vebber to offer his own extensive thoughts on the subject, in a blog post at Wargaming Connection: “Wargaming – Does “better” mean more Art, or more Science?

Science is indeed a part of wargaming, but we must resist calls to scientism for our tool to prove its worth to those ready to embrace it. There is also art. Powerful art. Art that can greatly complicate efforts to use a “systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject”, but is nonetheless of critical importance to “goodness”. In the various discussions of Dr. Perla’s paper, many have described how to make games “good”. There are as many definitions of “good” as people weighing in. There is good design process. There are innovative and elegant game designs. Some are historically evocative, others effective in achieving specific purposes. I offer another – value. How does a game produce value? One measure is how it changes the way we think about things. I difficult thing to measure because it is a thing we experience, but to give in the idea that if we can’t measure something, it must not be important, or useful, or valuable, is to give in the scientism.

It is must-read stuff for anyone involved in the field.

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Have you registered yet for the 2015 Connections interdisciplinary wargaming conference, to be held at National Defense University in Washington DC on on 27-30 July 2015? PAXsims will be there!

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Red Team Journal will be offering a two-hour online introductory course on, well, red teaming:

We are pleased to announce that our first two-hour online mini-course in the Becoming Odysseus series is now open for registration. In the course, titled “Framing the Red Team Engagement,” we introduce our high-level red teaming process model and address the challenge of incorporating your stakeholders’ problems, goals, and metrics in your design—all with the aim of helping you maintain a systems view while promoting analytical transparency. We add frames of reference, stakeholder modeling, and objectives trees to your red teaming toolkit. The course is designed for both beginning and experienced red teamers from all domains. To register, go to our WebEx Training Center page and find the course listed on 4 June. Registration terms and conditions are listed here and again at registration. The cost per individual is $149.

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Students at the University of Portsmouth recently completed a three-day disaster relief and crisis communication simulation, wherein “participants had to respond to a scenario where there had been an earthquake in a region that has a history of political conflict and deteriorating infrastructure, with existing humanitarian concerns.” You’ll find further details here.

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In a recent article in Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy 21, 2 (April 2015), Richard E. Ericson and Lester A. Zeageroffer an analysis of strategic interaction in the Ukraine crisis through a game theoretic lens:

This paper presents an analysis of the Ukrainian crisis of 2014 through the lens of the Theory of Moves as formalized by [Willson, S.J., (1998), Long-term Behavior in the Theory of Moves, Theory and Decision, vol. 45, no. 3, pp. 201–240]. It derives the equilibrium (ultimate outcome) states under various assumptions about Western and Russian preferences over outcomes. The “paths” of their generation, i.e., the sequences of strategic choices made by each side, are also explored, casting light on the structure of incentives guiding behavior in the conflict, and perhaps predicting what the actual outcome will be when the world moves beyond this crisis. Incomplete information on preferences prevents derivation of a unique prediction of the outcome of the crisis, but the analysis enables us to substantially narrow the range of possibilities.

You’ll find further discussion of their findings in an article at Bloomberg View.

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At the History of Wargaming Project blog, John Curry considers future directions for the project. Feel free to contribute to the conversation there.

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Interested in MegaGames? You may find this discussion on Reddit of interest. If you don’t know what they are, have a look at this article in The Independent.

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At the BBC News magazine, Dominic Lawson (President of the English Chess Federation) asks: “Has chess got anything to do with war?

So it seems fitting that one of my guests on the third series of Across the Board – in which I have interviewed eminent chess enthusiasts and the odd world champion while playing a game against them – is the military historian Antony Beevor.

Beevor’s books on the World War Two battles of Stalingrad and Berlin have sold in their millions across the globe, but his first career was as a British army cavalry regiment officer. And since he is also a passionately keen chess player, I was intrigued to know if he thought that great generals were like chess grandmasters – brilliant strategists of iron logic.

“Generals would love that parallel and they tend to see themselves in that way. But the truth is very far from that,” says Beevor. His point is that battle is indescribably chaotic, with luck and chance playing a large role in any outcome.

And he makes an additional point: “In modern warfare the idea of total victory is now almost irrelevant. You’ve won – and then you lose the victory in a short space of time. Look at Iraq.”

At Politico, Michael Peck discusses the hidden—and ometimes not so hidden—politics of video games:

Games and gamers inevitably reflect the values of their times. If today’s video games are laden with violence and frenetic with high-tech weapons, that is the nature of the society that created them.

But do games change their societies? Rivers of ink have been spilled over whether violence in video games leads to the real thing. Whether the link is true or not, a genre that started with harmlessly batting around a virtual ping-pong ball in the 1970s game Pong, now requires games to carry age ratings to shield children from virtual gore. Some politicians have even called for warning labels that would treat video games like tobacco and alcohol.

Games can be  criticized for being too violent, or a brain-dead waste of time. But they are not usually criticized for being political. Games are entertainment, not politics, right?

simulations miscellany, 12 November 2013

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Some recent items on conflict simulations and serious games that might be of interest to our readers:

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At Foreign Policy magazine, Michael Peck asks “Should You Be Allowed to Use Chemical Weapons in a Video Game?

Your next Call of Duty game might be a bit less colorful — or less ethically challenged — if the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has its way. 

The ICRC is now asking video game publishers to incorporate the laws of war into their games. The organization makes clear that it is not calling for a ban on violence in video games, nor does it consider — contrary to earlier reports in 2011 — that war crimes in video games equate to real crimes. But it does want games to penalize players for violating the laws of war. “The ICRC is suggesting that as in real life, these games should include virtual consequences for people’s actions and decisions,” notes the Red Cross website. “Gamers should be rewarded for respecting the law of armed conflict and there should be virtual penalties for serious violations of the law of armed conflict, in other words war crimes.”

The ICRC fears that the next generation of soldiers will have their notions of ethical battlefield behavior shaped by video games. “Certain game scenarios could lead to a trivialization of serious violations of the law of armed conflict,” the organization says. “The fear is that eventually such illegal acts will be perceived as acceptable behavior.” Such virtual behavior includes “the use of torture, particularly in interrogation, deliberate attacks on civilians, the killing of prisoners or the wounded, attacks on medical personnel, facilities, and transport such as ambulances, or that anyone on the battlefield can be killed.”

How widespread the problem is can be seen in an article on game site Gameranx, which identified 10 egregious cases of war crimes in video games, such as executing wounded prisoners in Call of Duty 2, genocide in Gears of War 3, and using torture against captives in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

But the ICRC is not calling for removing war crimes from games, on the grounds that including them is actually educational, allowing players to make the same difficult choices that real combatants face. “We do not suggest that games be sanitized of all illegal acts,” ICRC spokesman Bernard Barrett said in an email to Foreign Policy. “Also, games must remain fun and challenging. A boring game is of little interest to the players, to the manufacturers or to us. We would prefer that players not be required to commit illegal acts to move to another level or be rewarded in some other way.”

For previous discussion of this issue at PAXsims, see here and here.

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Can a wargame spark a real war? It has long been known that a 1983 NATO military exercise named “Able Archer” caused some in the Soviet Union to fear an impending surprise attack. An article in The Observer reports on further evidence of how dangerous this all became:

Chilling new evidence that Britain and America came close to provoking the Soviet Union into launching a nuclear attack has emerged in former classified documents written at the height of the cold war.

Cabinet memos and briefing papers released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that a major war games exercise, Operation Able Archer, conducted in November 1983 by the US and its Nato allies was so realistic it made the Russians believe that a nuclear strike on its territory was a real possibility.

When intelligence filtered back to the Tory government on the Russians’ reaction to the exercise, the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, ordered her officials to lobby the Americans to make sure that such a mistake could never happen again. Anti-nuclear proliferation campaigners have credited the move with changing how the UK and the US thought about their relationship with the Soviet Union and beginning a thaw in relations between east and west.

The papers were obtained by Peter Burt, director of the Nuclear Information Service (NIS), an organisation that campaigns against nuclear proliferation, who said that the documents showed just how risky the cold war became for both sides.

“These papers document a pivotal moment in modern history – the point at which an alarmed Thatcher government realised that the cold war had to be brought to an end and began the process of persuading its American allies likewise,” he said.

“The Cold War is sometimes described as a stable ‘balance of power’ between east and west, but the Able Archer story shows that it was in fact a shockingly dangerous period when the world came to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe on more than one occasion.”

The Observer piece doesn’t really add anything we didn’t know, however—indeed, there is even a Wikipedia entry on the exercise. It also doesn’t mention the glitch in the Soviet early warning system that, on 26 September 1983, gave a false warning of a US nuclear missile launch against the USSR. Fortunately the Soviet officer on duty at the time violated protocol and waited for further evidence, rather than immediately passing on the warning to already nervous superiors.

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Wondering how Bayesian inference can help you understand Iranian nuclear negotiations with the P5+1? Harry Hale discusses the issue at Arms Control Wonk:

Life can be modeled as a tree of future events with branches that will be realized with different probabilities.  Each branch can be thought of as forked paths in the forest.  Each branch in the past or the future relates to other branches.

Bayesian inference offers a method to relate the conditional probability of a certain branch to the probabilities of other branches.  This can be a useful tool in improving the odds of achieving a desired result.  I have applied such a tool to the Iranian nuclear negotiating portfolio, looking at the situation from the perspective of the P5+1 negotiation team (a tree created from Iran’s perspective would have different nodes and primary goals).  It is simple in concept, yet surprising in results.  This tool, which I have modeled in Excel spreadsheet form, can help to realize the implications of various decisions on the ultimate outcome: an Iran with or without “the Bomb.”

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In a forthcoming article in International Studies Perspectives, Emre Hatipoglu, Meltem Müftüler-Baç, and Teri Murphy discuss “Insights from a Multi-Day, Multi-Stage, Multi-Issue Simulation on Cyprus.”

This article reviews experiences from a large-scale student simulation, which concluded the Istanbul Conference on Mediation: Enhancing Peace through Mediation that took place in February 2012. We share insights on two unique aspects of the simulation. First, the paper examines a rare case where the simulation crossed paths with real life: a number of the impersonated officials (and offices) including the president of the General Assembly of the UN, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, and the Director of the Policy and Mediation Division of the UN Department of Political Affairs were in the audience and shared their impressions. Second, the setup of the simulation was more complex than its typical in-class counterparts. Our insights from this multi-day, multi-stage, and multi-issue simulation can inform colleagues who plan to run larger scale simulations. Besides sharing experiences on a number of logistical points, we especially draw attention to the constructive role facilitators can play in augmenting the learning benefits accruing to the students from simulations.

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Coming soon to PAXsims: a review of another volume in GMT Games “COIN series,” Cuba Libre.

simulations miscellany, 11 April 2013

 

Having now partially recovered from the 2013 Brynania civil war simulation (and the 13,148 emails that the participants made me read over that week), I’m now back to offering the usual periodic PAXsims assemblage of simulation-and-serious-games-related news.

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GCN features an article on “Gaming moves to the forefront in government:”

As a learning tool, Hackathorn thinks games have no equal. “Games have a unique ability to engage people, to make them do things,” he said. “They can make a child do homework, or improve someone’s data entry skills.”

Hackathorn said that most of the current game-like efforts in government actually fall into the more general category of gamification, which is different from games. He explained that what makes games interesting to players are the elements in them, which can be broken down and applied to everyday tasks. “We can take game elements that we know players enjoy — like earning badges, getting names posted to leaderboards and reward schedules — and use them to help a player reach ‘flow,’ where time just stops,” he said. “And that can make learning effective, even for tasks that would otherwise be uninteresting” and thus difficult to teach.

President Barack Obama supports gamification efforts through the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  In 2011 he issued a call for more educational games as well as games that address national challenges during a speech at the TechBoston conference. “I’m calling for investments in educational technology that will help create…educational software that’s as compelling as the best video game. I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that’s teaching you something other than just blowing something up,” the president said.

Part of that effort led to the formation of the Federal Games Working Group, which is affectionately called the Federal Games Guild by members, a name invoking World of Warcraft, where likeminded players organize themselves into guilds. Today that group has over 200 members representing 34 agencies, four White House offices and four other federal entities. The group regularly meets to discuss gaming strategy and share experiences.

Not surprisingly for a CGN website that is all about public sector IT issues, the piece all about digital gaming only. Somewhat surprisingly, it says nothing about the largest user of digital games in the US government: the US military and Department of Defence.

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Michael Peck defends North Korea from the imperialist aggressors at Foreign Policy magazine.

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The latest issue of  the US Department of Defense Modeling and Simulation Coordination Office M&S Newsletter (January-February 2013) is now available. At the moment the link on the M&SCO website is wrong, but with some guessing at the probable file name I found it here.

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Want see what they’ve been up to lately in terms of online learning and simulations at the Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding at the United States Institute of Peace? You’ll find a video overview below.

simulations miscellany, 28 November 2012

As is our periodic habit, PAXsims brings you some recent simulations-related news that might be of interest to readers.

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At the Arms Control and Regional Security for the Middle East blog, Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova recounts the results of a simulated 2012 Conference on a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)-Free Zone in the Middle East:

…a group of 25 United Nations Disarmament Fellows – young diplomats from all over the world – played out the last hours of the planned Middle East conference during a half-day simulation in New York on October 23, 2012. The simulation’s outcome may be too ambitious compared to what the “real” 2012 MEWMDFZ Conference is expected to achieve, considering that many observers still doubt if it would even convene this year (or ever). Certainly, to run a simulation one has to suspend the disbelief, and in this case, we assumed away one of the biggest perceived obstacles: getting all relevant states to attend. The simulation’s scenario thus was that all the Middle Eastern states, including Iran and Israel, showed up and did so in good faith, working toward a meaningful outcome. Unrealistic as they may appear, such exercises help explore what can be achieved if more political will is in place and, at the same time, highlight some of the more problematic aspects of reality.

Negotiating simulations can provide space for greater flexibility, imagination, and compromise. Specifically, by skipping over roadblocks such as lack of political will and direct communication between the major actors, simulations can help look for practical solutions that otherwise seem completely beyond reach. At the same time, simulations can raise new questions and draw attention to challenges that are overlooked or overshadowed by immediate concerns. In the case of the 2012 Middle East Conference simulation, assuming all parties’ participation and goodwill – the most immediate concern about the conference today – brought to the fore a number of other difficult issues. In this sense, the Middle East simulation held up a mirror to a rather harsh reality but did not leave the participants without hope.

For a more detailed report, check out the link above.

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At Foreign Policy, Michael Peck offers readers an opportunity to “launch your own Gaza war” by playtesting a relatively simple boardgame that examines Israel’s response to the threat of rockets from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Readers are then invited to provide feedback via the Foreign Policy website, for possible incorporation into a revised version of the game. The experiment was spurred by an earlier column by Michael, drawing parallels between the 2012 Gaza war and the 1944 V-1 blitz on London via the wargame War with a Vengeance.

I suspect some FP readers may be a little queasy about “gaming” a war so soon after the fact—even as a rather hardened wargamer who doesn’t blanche at  ongoing conflicts, I must admit to a little disquiet at trying to model a conflict in an area I know well, and with the death and destruction still very recent. Still, we’ll try to give the game a try on the weekend and post some thoughts as a way of exploring how design choices might try to capture essential real-life military and political-tradeoffs.

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The PC gaming website Rock, Paper, Shotgun had an interview earlier this month with (past PAXsims contributor) James Sterrett (Digital Leader Development Center, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth) on professional wargaming. In it he offers some thoughtful reflections on—among other things—the requirements of military simulation and gaming, and the differences between this and most civilian/hobby wargames.

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On the subject of military games/simulations, Defense News (Michael Peck again!) reported on November 26 that TRADOC (Training & Doctrine Command of the US Army) has issued a directive “warn[ing] Army training centers against using unauthorized games, simulators and other training aids.”

TRADOC Policy Letter 21, signed in August by TRADOC commander Gen. Robert Cone, decrees that before any TRADOC organization may acquire or develop any games or training aids, devices, simulators and simulations (TADSS), it must contact the appropriate TRADOC capability manager (TCM) at the Combined Arms Center-Training at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

“The Army cannot afford TADSS that provide singular solutions or cannot be integrated with other TADSS in the integrated training environment,” Cone wrote. “We also cannot afford to have money diverted from other programs to support procurement of non-program of record, school-unique TADSS and high-licensing fees.”

The move has caused some concern:

A captain at an East Coast training installation fears that depriving local commanders of the freedom to procure training aids will stifle creative solutions.

“In the end, the memo will kill innovation and creativity as organizations seek to maintain the status quo within their shrinking budgets. All the letter reinforces is how the higher level managers are out of touch with where education actually takes place,” said the officer.

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BenthamFish’s Game Blog has a report by Alan Paull on a recent two-day workshop on games and systems thinking at the School of Transformative Leadership, Palacky University, in the Czech Republic:

Our focus for the workshop was on the learners learning about systems thinking. We intended to introduce how to play and think about the games through systems thinking techniques and vice versa

We alternated between playing the games and covering the theory illustrated by the games. We started by having plenary sessions for the theory, but found that getting responses from the whole group was difficult, as individuals were reluctant to speak. Therefore we switched to individual and group tasks, followed by discussions in which we could ask individuals to respond for the group. This worked very well.

Essential systems thinking concepts that we covered were:

  • Holism
  • Interconnectedness and relationships
  • Perspective
  • Purpose
  • Boundary
  • Emergent properties
  • Closed mechanical systems vs open living systems

And we introduced the following techniques:

  • Systems maps
  • Sign-graph diagrams
  • Control model diagrams
  • Very basic process model diagram
  • Systems model diagrams
  • Rich pictures

You’ll find more at the blog.

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At McGill University, we take preparedness for the forthcoming zombie apocalypse very seriously—we really do. However, a recent simulation revealed that only 50% of graduate students were likely to survive even basic academic activities like visiting the library should the campus be overrun by cannibalistic hordes of undead abominations. Clearly more practice is needed.

Peck on “Washington’s War on Wargaming”

Pentagon budget-cutters descend upon NDU.

At Kotaku today, Michael Peck decries the Pentagon decision to cut funding for National Defense University, and especially the Centre for Applied Strategic Learning:

The only thing that’s cheap about war is the gaming. The US military services and their assorted war colleges, the Department of Defense and various thinktanks do quite a bit of wargaming of potential conflicts such as Iran. Compared to a billion-dollar aircraft carrier, wargaming isn’t terribly expensive (all you really need is a table, chairs, coffee and danish, and PowerPoint). It’s a lot less expensive than learning the hard way in war.

Now, to the military, wargaming doesn’t mean games. It’s actually an analytical technique in the Military Decision Making Process, which essentially means analysing the likely outcomes of various choices and then making the best one. Nonetheless, what Joe Gamer thinks of as wargames — simulations involving players, maps, playing pieces and goals — is done by the military.

But one bastion of military wargaming is under assault. National defence University, at Fort McNair in Washington DC, is the Pentagon’s flagship for joint professional military education. It’s where officers leave the cloistered world of their individual service and come together to study joint high-level strategy and operations. “Jointness” is a fuzzy word but an important concept. Though sometimes the American military services seem to be at war with each other, modern warfare is a combined endeavour; the army needs ships and planes to get overseas, the navy needs the army because ships can’t occupy territory, and the air force provides an umbrella for both (and needs both to protect its airfields).

A vital part of that training is the centre for Applied Strategic Learning (CASL), which conducts wargames for military and civilian personnel, Congressional staffers, and even a journalist like me, who had a chance to play the Gemstone counterinsurgency game.

But NDU’s budget is being slashed by Pentagon staffers who believe that the college is too expensive, wasteful and is doing too much namby-pamby intellectual education instead of focusing on real military education. CASL is being chopped by half, which means a much less robust wargaming capability. Though all of the military is feeling the pain of budget cuts, what is happening to NDU and CASL is an example of the military mind at its narrow worst….

Michael has weighed in on this before, in a piece back in August at Foreign Policy. We agree with him, too—see our earlier take on the situation at NDU.

Picture above: The Gamer’s Table blog.

Syria, intervention, and the limits of wargaming

Today’s PAXsims post is something that I’ve been meaning to write about in a general way for a while, but is triggered this week by the confluence of several events. The first was a question raised by Michael Peck on the milgames email list, in which he asked how policy planners might usefully wargame the current civil war in Syria and the political and military complexities of possible external intervention. The second was a presentation by Stephen Downes-Martin at the recent Connections conference which focused, in part, on the ethics of wargame design, coupled with a follow-up point that he made in a comment on the Wargaming Connection blog about knowing the limits of our craft. Third, the Saban Center at Brookings has just released a report on a recent policy game they conducted on Syria, entitled “Unravelling the Syria Mess: A Crisis Simulation of Spillover from the Syrian Civil War.” Finally, I’ve been spending much of the week working on Syria-related research.

My answer to Michael’s question about wargaming Syria was fairly straightforward: while I felt that gaming could offer insight into the military challenges of intervention in Syria, I didn’t think it had much to offer in exploring the possible first, second, and third order political effects of intervention in such a complex and dynamic environment—especially given how many “known and unknown unknowns” lurk in the situation there. On the contrary, if I wanted to illuminate the Syria question I would prefer to do it through a workshop or well-run BOGSAT  (“bunch of guys/gals sitting around a table”) discussion, with a team of participants and moderators who knew how to move the discussion along in interesting and thought-provoking ways.

The advantages of this are two-fold, I think. First, a wargame usually (although not always) embeds a single model of a situation, and unless there are opportunities for multiple plays (a rarity in policy games) there is little  scope to explore a variety of possible relationships between key elements of the scenario. A workshop or BOGSAT discussion, on the other hand, allows you to unpack critical assumptions, debate them, consider alternatives, and talk through the policy implications of all that. This is especially important in a case where there is genuine disagreement about the causal processes and relationships at work. Such a discussion can also be very agile, allowing you to rapidly explore new directions when interesting ideas are put forward. That can be much more difficult to do in a wargame, especially the heavily-scripted three-move seminar games of the sort that often predominate in policy settings.

The report of the Syria wargame undertaken at Brookings, unfortunately, rather illustrates my point. The report itself is rather badly done: it isn’t at all clear how large the teams were, how they were formed, how much experience and expertise they had, what range of policy options they considered (or were allowed to considered), or how the white cell and game adjudication operated. The write-up itself is also extraordinarily vague in recounting who actually did what, when, and with what effects. Even the initial scenario is poorly described, as are any injects that might have been introduced during the game. Only three actors were represented by active players in the crisis game: the US, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. The Syrian government wasn’t represented, nor were the many Syrian opposition actors. With no Syrian actors represented, it isn’t clear that any creative countermoves were taken by Damascus to deter or offset the creeping  intervention that took place in the game, nor that the locals could act to manipulate foreign engagement to their own local advantage. Many of the games findings seem to be self-evident, and hardly needed multiple players to give up a day to identify. The game report notes, for example, that Turkey is important in what happens in Syria—a fact that ought to be evident to anyone who has read the news, or who can even read a map.

Even more serious than this, however, is the extent to which many of the “findings” of the game seem to be as much presuppositions of the game model as they are actual findings. For example, the report notes:

Nevertheless, despite Turkey’s significance, American power still went a long way. For instance, the Saudi team evinced interest in the battles for the arms‐ supply routes through Lebanon which the scenario depicted as escalating—and in the deteriorating situation in Lebanon more generally. But the Saudi team again found itself relatively unable to explore options there without support from the U.S. team. The Saudi team also considered working with Jordan as an alternative (or supplement) to Turkey, but the other teams (principally the U.S. team) showed little interest in pursuing the feasibility of that option.

The paragraph, and the game, presumes that there are “battles for the arms supply routes in Lebanon.” It isn’t clear what exactly that means, nor does it sound especially realistic to me. The report also suggests the game was configured in such a way that the Saudis couldn’t influence events in Lebanon without US assistance—which I also think is fundamentally wrong.

To take another example:

…the Saudi team found that Saudi Arabia had only a modest impact on events in Syria itself, and made little headway with either the American or Turkish teams until the Americans and Turks had decided on their own—and for reasons having nothing to do with Saudi efforts—to intervene in Syria. At that point, Saudi/Arab help became extremely useful, but even then it was not decisive: the American and Turkish teams had made up their minds to do so based on their own interests, and would have intervened (and felt they could have intervened) with or without Arab support, although the Arab support was certainly welcome.

Potentially, Saudi and Gulf influence on events in Syria is (I would argue) much greater than the report, and the crisis game model, seem to suggest—especially regarding financial and material support to the Syrian opposition.

Overall, one gets the sense that the game was rigged to tilt the process towards certain policy conclusions, either because of the policy preferences of the game sponsors and designers or because of the particular worldview that it was built on.

In his comments at Wargaming Connection, Stephen warns of the dangers of “trying to sell war gaming as a solution when other solutions might be better.”  He’s right, of course. It is often the case that a wargame or policy game is not the best way of exploring an issue; indeed, I would argue that it is very often not the best way of exploring complex political issues.

On the other hand, if (say) you’re a think tank in Washington and you want to (say) influence policy on Syria, running a game and putting “crisis simulation” in the title of your report is one way of making it seem somehow more weighty and special. It is, after all a crisis—you know, important and urgent—and a simulation—which, of course, must mean that it bears some relationship to reality. Which means it’s got to be correct, right?

 

Gaming a new Korean war

Over at Kotaku, Michael Peck suggests Even Our Best Video Games Can’t Predict What Kim Jong-Un Would Do To Win a New Korean War.

It is curious that there are far more  games on a Soviet invasion of West Germany that never happened than a Communist assault on South Korea that actually did. It is even more curious that there haven’t been more games on a Second Korean War, given how volatile the region is.

The Demilitarized Zone between the two nations is the most heavily armed border in the world. The two Koreas together are only about the size of Nebraska, but they have close to two million soldiers, 10,000 tanks, and enough firepower – even without North Korea’s nukes – to turn the peninsula into a wasteland.

The specter of war has hovered for 60 years, but the dogs of war are barking more loudly than ever, incited by hard times in the Hermit Kingdom. North Korea’s economy has collapsed, its people have been reduced to eating grass, and its latest rocket ended up in the Yellow Sea instead of outer space. So we have a desperate regime that, like the high school juvenile delinquent, believes that bluster and threats will terrify the world into meeting its demands.

At the same time, South Korea is taking a harder line against North Korean artillery barrages and attacks on South Korean warships, and it won’t take much in the way of malice or miscalculation to ignite a conflict. The First Korean War was a UN “police action” (as Alan Alda complains in “MASH”, “If this is a police action, where are the cops?”). The Second Korean War could be anything from a targeted strike against Pyongyang’s nuclear facilities, to all-out regime change by U.S. and South Korean armies, to a “what the hell, we’re going down, let’s throw the dice” invasion of South Korea by the North.

Can wargaming illuminate a Second Korean War? To some extent, yes.

The piece mentions Seoul’s vulnerability to North Koreas large arsenal of conventional artillery, although it doesn’t raise the question of what the DPRK might do with its few poorly-designed nuclear weapons (which, at the moment, are probably not small enough to fit on ballistic missiles) or how others might respond to their first use. Then again, Michael does stress that “One reason why wargames were invented was so that commanders wouldn’t be surprised by what happened on the real battlefield. But we can pretty sure that whatever happens in Korea, it won’t be what we expected.”

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Regarding boardgames, there are a handful that cover possible wars in the 1970s through to the 2000s, including Crisis Korea: 1995 and  Millennium Wars: Korea. GMT’s Next War: Korea, which has optional rules for an initial DPRK nuclear strike at the South Korean port of Busan, is slated for publication later this year.

simulations miscellany: 10 January 2012

Some recent simulation and gaming items of interest:

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In his regular gaming column at Foreign Policy Magazine this week, Michael Peck invades Syria. Milgeek note to Michael: the Turks have several hundred Leopard 1s and 2A4s, so perhaps using a modern German Army wasn’t entirely unrealistic after all.

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At the Smart War Blog, a graduate student discusses his ongoing work on developing an insurgency/counter-insurgency simulation of the 2007 Baghdad Security Plan for his class assignment  in Professor Philip Sabin’s well-known course on conflict simulation at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London:

Free tip from PAXsims: black counters with white printing might work nicely for the Sadrists’ “Mahdi Army,” given their usual parade uniform. Also, while periodic PAXsims contributor Brian Train is rightly considered the reigning king of small-box insurgency simulations, judging from your draft map you may already have him beaten on the graphic arts front. Watch out, Brian!

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As for Professor Sabin, this seems a good time to mention that his forthcoming book Simulating War: Studying Conflict through Simulation Games (Continuum Press) will be published shortly. It seems destined to join Peter Perla’s The Art of Wargaming (1990) as an instant classic in the field.

Simulating War explores the theory and practice of conflict simulation, as applied in the many thousands of wargames published over the past 50 years. It discusses the utility of this form of conflict simulation by setting it in its proper context alongside military and professional wargaming, as well as more academically familiar techniques such as game theory and operational analysis. The book explains in detail the analytical and modelling techniques involved, and provides complete illustrative simulations of three specific historical conflicts, as used in Professor Sabin’s own courses on the wars concerned. It gives readers all the intellectual skills they need to use published wargames and to design their own simulations of conflicts of their choice, whether for interest or as a vehicle for teaching or research.

You can preorder it via Amazon.com and elsewhere.

simulations miscellany

FP Gets Its Game On

We’re very happy to report that Michael Peck, US editor at the Training & Simulation Journal and some-time PAXsims contributor, will now be writing on games and simulations at Foreign Policy magazine too. As Michael notes:

I am now the Games Editor at Foreign Policy magazine. I’ll be doing a column – possibly a weekly column – on games as they relate (or as I relate them) to foreign and defense policy. It will a fun column with a serious purpose, which is to show that games can make a difference in this world and still be enjoyable. The fact that games will be covered by such an influential magazine is extremely significant.

Publishers and designers that think their games might be of interest can contact me. And I look forward to seeing the comments from the gaming and simulation communities on the Foreign Policy site. It’s important that you make your voices heard.

Given the very wide readership of Foreign Policy magazine, this is really great news for the simulation community. We look forward to seeing what he has to say, and certainly encourage PAXsims readers to pass on story ideas to him.

Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran

Michael’s recent pieces at Foreign Policy magazine and Wired’s Danger Room about the boardgame Persian Incursion has stimulated considerable virtual discussion (including a lively discussion on the milgames discussion list as to when wargaming may not be the best way of exploring policy options, an issue about which I’ll blog soon). Among the recent contributions is a two part series of reflections by Charles Cameron at Zenpundit on wargaming a strike against Iran. Worth a read.

MMOWGLI

MMOWGLI (the “Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet”) recently ran a couple of games, sessions “Alpha” and “Bravo”.  You can track some of the results, and keep up on other MMOWGLI news, at their game blog.

Simulating insurgency and counter-insurgency

In the latest issue of the Training & Simulation Journal, Michael Peck examines the simulation of insurgency, counter-insurgency, and irregular warfare within the military and broader national security establishment:

Counterinsurgency, vast and nebulous, has long been intellectual quicksand for the defense modeling and simulation community. But the sands may be firming up.

“Frankly, the best modelers in the Army were uncertain what could be accomplished and at what pace, in the face of many new and different challenges to the modeling of military operations in [irregular warfare],” said Garry Lambert, director of the U.S. Training and Doctrine Command Analysis Center (TRAC) at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

Steve Goodwin, director of the strategy and operations division of National Defense University’s Center for Applied Strategic Learning, echoes Lambert’s assessment. “The exercise community has not generally been successful in developing COIN models and simulations that can predict outcomes with a reasonable degree of confidence,” he said. “This is particularly true of games looking at complex contingencies, where psychological and social lines of operation, such as information operations and political negotiation, are hard to capture in mathematical models.”

But in just the past few years, the mood has changed. Don’t call it optimism. Call it realism, a sense of what is possible and what isn’t. Irregular warfare models and simulations are coming. But if you’re hoping for a computer program to tell you how to beat the Taliban, don’t hold your breath.

In the piece, Michael discusses a number of recent COIN simulations, including the Army’s Irregular Warfare Tactical Wargame, NDU’s Gemstone, and UrbanSim. He also highlights the evolution of simulation modelling in this area, such as changes to the military’s Joint Non-Kinetic Effects Model (JNEM).

One of the problems he identifies concerns both the absence of sustained engagement with social scientists working in these areas and uncertainty among scholars of insurgency themselves as to how best understand the dynamics of insurgency:

While there has been progress in modeling irregular warfare, the obstacles remain daunting. At the top of the list is a lack of social science theory. Put 10 political scientists in a room, and you’ll have 10 theories of what causes insurgencies or why people support certain political parties. If political scientists, economists and sociologists can’t agree, then the theoretical foundations of COIN models will always be shaky. But the defense modeling community is adapting.

“We haven’t in the past reached out to social scientists, and we need to do so,” said Jeff Appleget, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and the former head of TRAC’s effort to improve irregular warfare analysis. “Think of us analysts as kinetic guys. We understand the physics behind shooting a tank round. We don’t need social scientists to understand that. If we’re talking about how a foot patrol in Baghdad affects how the populations view their government and the insurgents, I’ve got no idea how to model that.”

Part of the problem here is that social science is generally talking about causal relationships that seem to be common among large numbers of cases, but which only explain part of the variance across cases. Moreover, they tend to focus at upper levels of analysis (regions, countries) and longer time frames. Military simulation modelers are often interested much more specific, tactical relationships, at lower levels of analysis (province, village, clan, individuals), and over shorter as well as longer time periods. Plus, on top of that, yes—the academic field is very far from having an agreed theoretical model of either insurgency or counter-insurgency.

In this context, the T&SJ article also notes that part of the challenge of modelling COIN is communicating to senior leaders what simulation can, and cannot, provide:

In the end, modeling and simulation can only make a difference if users trust it. Much will depend on whether the military accepts the new wave of irregular warfare simulations.

“Most interesting to me is how this will play out with senior leaders,” Lambert said. “They are used to the kind of results we portrayed in the past, the combat simulations where you get X percent of goodness via metrics like the number of threats killed. It will be interesting to see how they respond to these softer assertions where we say, ‘If you put five more civil affairs teams in, it changes how company commanders conduct operations.’”

Appleget agrees. “Our senior leaders were spoiled by the way we did combat modeling. We came up with numbers that they could use to support acquisition decisions. Then we became involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, and DoD said, ‘OK, where are my models? You’ve been at this for six months. What’s taking you so long?’ Ignoring the fact that our physics-based combat models took years and years to develop, and if you look under the hood, they’re not perfect, either.”

Perfection is the last word Appleget would use to describe COIN simulations.

“In irregular warfare, we’re never going to get there,” he said.

“The best you’re going to do is get insights and give senior leaders a kind of probability space of different outcomes if they do this or that.”

Have any thoughts on the piece? If so, post them below and we’ll try to get Michael to respond to them.

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