Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: RCAT

Playtesting RCAT


Last week I was invited to participate in a demonstration and playtest of the Rapid Campaign Analysis Toolset in Ottawa. RCAT has been developed by the (UK) Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and Cranfield University, and is intended as flexible, low-overhead wargaming system for military planning and analysis.You’ll find more on RCAT here and here (from Connections UK 2013), here (Falklands war operational commanders test, via the LBS blog), and here (in conjunction with a digital simulation, again from LBS).

DSTL.pngDefence Research and Development Canada are interested in seeing whether RCAT might be used to help refine the scenarios used for capability-based planning within the Department of National Defence. These scenarios aren’t based on current events, nor are they meant to represent actual planned operations. Instead they are intended to be broadly representative of the sorts of missions that the Canadian Armed Forces might be called upon to perform. They are thus intended to provide the Joint Capability Planning Team with plausible problems that might be  addressed by military means, enabling the identification and validation of various military capabilities.banner.jpg

To this end, the visiting RCAT team (Colin Marston of Dstl, Jeremy D. Smith from Cranfield University,and Graham Longley-Brown of LBS) had developed a version of RCAT that addressed an existing force development scenario—specifically, a hybrid warfare scenario that explored the ability of Canadian forces to operate as part of a larger coalition in a complex conflict environment running the gamut from high intensity combat to later stabilization operations.


RCAT design process


I headed up the Red Team, and proceeded to throw every plausible curve I could think of at both the Blue and Green players and the RCAT system itself. The sessions were very much a participatory seminar on the game’s design, as we discussed how RCAT modelled various kinetic and non-kinetic effects, how the system might be modified, and the extent to which it might offer insight into scenario design and capability issues. To this end, we gamed a few turns of everything from major campaign moves (days/weeks/months), through to tactical/operational vignettes (hours)—the former including one major surprise by me, and the latter including a very successful urban operation and airborne insertion by my opponents.


RCAT turn sequence (with apologies for the creases).


What impressions did I draw from all this?

I was impressed with RCAT. It is flexible and easy to understand, and can be easily modified (even during a game) to address issues and needs as they arise. The military outcomes all seemed highly plausible.  I thought the combat components worked better than the stabilization model, but then again the scenario was a challenging one. Moreover the political, social, and economic dynamics of stabilization are, in my view, much more complicated and much less well understood than the art and science of conventional military operations.

RCAT’s design lends itself to both training and analytical use—and possibly both at once. Many professional wargamers would suggest that analytical and training games are quite different things, and one should design a game to serve either one purpose or the other. I certainly accept that a game’s experimental design might be compromised by training requirements, and vice-versa. However, I do think there are cases where one can get two (simulated) bangs for one (very real) buck. Because of its elegant design it is easy to imagine RCAT being run as part of professional military education, while analysts use player behaviours to explore research questions of interest.

Game design and playtest sessions can themselves generate useful experimental data. The usual practice with many analytical wargames is the develop the game, playtest it to identify shortcomings, and refine the design. Having done this, the final wargame is conducted—and only then is data systematically recorded regarding the research question being examined. However, our RCAT discussions, although intended simply as introduction and game development sessions, themselves produced substantive findings relating to both scenario development and future Canadian Forces capability requirements. This suggests that we need to think about more systematically identifying insights generated by game design processes.

Scenario designers need to think seriously about politics. There were a few times in the force development scenario we were using where politically-appropriate behaviour by scenario actors threatened to compromise the ability of the scenario to fully explore the intended research questions. While RCAT is certainly not a role-playing or negotiation game, the adversarial (and coalition) nature of game play did force players to think critically about their interests and motivations.

Game facilitation skills matter—a lot. The RCAT team knew exactly when to play the rules-as-written, and when to tweak the system on the fly to best model the unfolding situation. They also had the wisdom and experience to keep the game flowing despite potential distractions (including incessant comments and suggestions from me!)—and, conversely, also knew when to slow things down to allow for a deeper-dive or extended discussion.

Such facilitation skills are not necessarily intrinsic to all wargamers. Indeed, if anything they’re more common among role-playing gamers, especially experienced dungeon/gamemasters, than among “grognard” conflict simulationists. That, however, is a PAXsims post for another day.

LBS: RCAT does the Falklands War

As part of the ongoing verification and validation process for the Rapid Campaign Analysis Toolset a simulation of the 1982 Falklands War was recently conducted on 13-14 January. RCT is intended “to enable the rapid testing (validation) of all phases of a campaign plan to identify areas of risk at the military strategic level.” It is being developed by Dstl (UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) and and Cranfield University, in conjunction with a team of top UK wargamers.

According to the LBS blog:

RCAT-OCT-set-up-complete1The aim was ‘to compare an RCAT simulation of the 1982 Falklands War to the historical outcomes and command experience, identify variances and examine the reasons for these in order to improve the validity of the RCAT system.’ The operational commanders present were Gen Julian Thompson and Cdre Michael Clapp, respectively Comd 3 Cdo Bde and Comd Amphibious Task Group during the Falklands War. As such, they had perhaps the most immediate and detailed view of events at the level simulated at the OCT and were ideally placed to validate RCAT in accordance with the aim.

The two days delivered numerous insights and observations.

Phil-Julian-and-Mike1Perhaps the most telling quote was a joint statement from the two commanders: “We liked [the manual simulation] very much and wish we had had such a system in Ascension with Fieldhouse, Moore, Trant, Curtiss, Woodward, Comd 5 Bde and us sitting around the map table thrashing through possible courses of action and, hopefully, agreeing a thoroughly well-considered plan.”

And that, of course, is the point. Wargames, supported by both manual and/or computer simulations, deliver more than merely interesting events. The aim of the current RCAT V&V programme is to develop a system that is fit for the purpose of helping commanders make decisions. These might range from force development to operational situations. If Gen Thompson and Cdre Clapp recognised the utility of such a system in planning the Falklands campaign then I hope we are going in the right direction.

Indeed, Commodore Clapp’s closing comment was: “I feel that I’ve been properly de-briefed for the first time in 33 years.”

You’ll find the full LBS report here.

Simulation and gaming miscellany, 19 October 2014


Using the Rapid Campaign Analysis Toolset at HQ 3 UK Div Exercise IRON RESOLVE 14. Picture credit: LBS Consultancy.

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

* * *

At his LBS Consultancy blog Graham Longley-Brown has posted a very valuable account of the successful integration manual and computer simulations, in this case as part of the 3 (UK) Division headquarters exercise IRON RESOLVE, using the manual Rapid Campaign Analysis Toolset (RCAT) in conjunction with a computer simulation (ABACUS) and automated exercise management system (EXONAUT).

RCAT is an operational-level manual simulation designed for rapid set-up and execution that incorporates best practice from Course of Action (COA) Wargaming, Red Teaming and commercial off the shelf wargames. Mechanisms include options for stochastic and deterministic outcome resolution, but RCAT was primarily used during Ex IR 14 to provide a framework for, and prompts to, SME discussion. All RCAT mechanisms and results are transparent and can be moderated or adjudicated. The primary remit for the RCAT team was to provide the ‘soft’ and non-kinetic effects ‘wrap-around’ to the ABACUS computer simulation that would model movement and kinetic outcomes. However, RCAT went beyond that remit and became central to the exercise control process. References to ‘RCAT’ below can be taken as meaning any (good) manual simulation.

Integration of RCAT with ABACUS and EXONAUT

image002The broad processes required to integrate RCAT into Ex IR 14 are at Figure 1. The detailed processes specific to RCAT integration are broken out at Figure 2 and explained below. Note that the principle underpinning the entire process was that all kinetic combat outcomes and non-kinetic soft events were to be pre-considered at least 24 hours before they actually occurred, allowing the Game Controller (HQ 3 Div SO2 CT6) to shape the exercise to ensure Training Objectives (TOs) were met. The agreed outline events were then coordinated and enacted in real time the following day using the ABACUS computer simulation and EXONAUT events and injects management system….

He concludes his analysis to say:

Manual sims could be used to support future exercises in a number of ways:

1. MEL/MIL EXONAUT scripting week. A two- to three-hour facilitated play-through of the likely scenario(s) would enable MEL/MIL scripters to gain rapid situational awareness of the geography, ORBATs and likely ‘shape’ of the overall exercise. Armed with this understanding of the exercise context they could better prepare EXONAUT injects.

2. Exercise design. A good manual simulation enables consideration during exercise design of aspects such as balance of forces and the identification of key factors, factions and actors to be played into the exercise.

3. Execution. Little preparation is required to use manual sims to support brigade- and divisional-level exercises. The processes described above provide the starting point for future events.

For the full post, see Graham’s blog (linked above).

* * *

The Strategy Page has an interview with veteran wargamer, wargame historian, and Connections conference organizer Matt Caffrey, Wargame Coordinator at the US Air Force Research Laboratory. Matt is currently finishing up a book, On Wargaming, for the Naval War College Press.

* * *

Recently added to the PAXsims links sidebar: Gameology, a blog by Paul Franz devoted to “exploring game design, games as information, and games as art.”

* * *

PAXsims has so far resisted commenting on the so-called #GamerGate controversy that recently engulfed the digital games world, in part because so much of it is so very stupid. Whatever serious issues #gamergate raised about games journalism have by now been lost amid vicious trolling of female game designers/analysts and so-called “social justice warriors” (that is, those arguing for greater diversity and inclusion in the gaming industry, or anyone almost anyone undertaking serious analysis of the social and cultural meaning of gaming).

For coverage of the controversy in the mainstream press, see:

%d bloggers like this: