PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Tag Archives: US Navy

Gaming for Congress?

At War on the Rocks today, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI8) of the House Armed Services Committee argues that the US Navy and Department of Defense need to to a better job of of selling their proposed naval force structure (Battle Force 2045) to members of Congress. The way this could be done, he suggests, is through a wargame:

Naval advocates in the executive branch need to sell a simple vision of integrated American seapower to the legislative branch in order to get budgetary buy-in. This will require the Pentagon to step out of its comfort zone.

This should start with a three-day trip, a short congressional delegation. Regardless of who is president and secretary of defense in 2021, this delegation should occur as soon as possible next year, as it may well be the most important government trip that will occur in the next decade. Pentagon leadership should gather congressional defense leaders, interested members, authorizers, and appropriators in the Mecca of seapower and wargaming at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. Over the course of 72 hours the department should walk Congress through a wargame that demonstrates the forces it needs, and how Battle Force 2045 will deny Chinese objectives in the Indo-Pacific generally and the first island chain specifically. The Pentagon needs to put it all out there: assumptions, vulnerabilities, unknowns, and risks being assumed in the absence of change, for legislators to understand and debate.

This idea of wargaming with Congress should have bipartisan support, if for no other reason than I stole it from Democrats. In an op-ed earlier this year with Gabrielle Chefitz, Flournoy argued that the Pentagon should invite members of Congress to observe its wargames in order to provide them with the context behind its budgetary proposals. This makes a lot of sense to me as a defense authorizer. The standard congressional hearings with the department are important, but are suboptimal forums for candid conversations, as neither members of Congress nor defense officials want to embarrass themselves on television and even classified discussions are frequently limited by time. A three-day wargame at Newport, on the other hand, would give members of Congress a rare glimpse behind the curtain of defense planning, allow members to ask stupid questions without generating negative press, and allow defense leaders to admit their intellectual or doctrinal blind spots without getting fired.

This does not need to be fancy. Congress just needs a map of the Indo-Pacific and a secure room filled with the Pentagon’s smartest people who can explain to members in simple terms the Chinese military threat, the blue force structure and capabilities needed to deter the People’s Liberation Army or defeat it in war should deterrence fail, and a clear understanding of what American allies bring to the fight. Defense officials should walk congressional leaders through how the current force structure in the Indo-Pacific is inadequate and how Battle Force 2045, in concert with the rest of the joint force, will turn an unfavorable military balance around and lead to victory. Armed with the analytical and tactical context behind the Future Naval Force Structure and the 30-Year Shipbuilding Plan, congressional leaders would then be in a position, despite budgetary headwinds, to make tough choices and convince their colleagues and the public to go along with them.

The idea has already received some pushback from those who fear that wargames can overemphasize military solutions to diplomatic problems.

This is a legitimate concern, although it is possible to run policy games on South and East Asia issues that don’t presume military solutions—as we did for Global Affairs canada in our South China Sea game.

A bigger concern, I think, is that of “gamewashing”—that is, designing and running a game designed to reach a preconceived conclusion. This is the issue that Jacquelyn Schneider raises:

Moreover, methodologically, it is simply impossible for a single wargame to “prove” the superiority of a particular force structure or set of defence investments, both because game outcomes depend (or should depend) on decisions made in the game and because you also need to test out alternatives. Did the US Navy emerge victorious in the wargame because of Battle Force 2045, or because of brilliant US game play (regardless of the asset mix), or because the Chinese side played poorly? Did eight nuclear aircraft carriers and six light carriers prove to be the key to victory, or would the US have done even better with fewer aircraft carriers and more investment in submarines, UAVs, or something else? How much advantage is gained from investing in Navy versus Air Force capabilities? Would the asset mix that proves most effective in defending Taiwan also be the most effective in other scenarios? And so on.

What you risk ending up with is wargame theatre—slickly-produced to engage and convince the audience, but telling only one possible story.

All that being said, I do think there is value in engaging legislators (and legislative staff) in games—largely to educate, to build the foundations for cooperation in times of crisis, and to seek their input into the political dimensions of policy analysis.

Which games would you suggest to the US Navy?

0026_Come_Prepared_Cropped_CRP-16-9.jpg

PAXsims is pleased to post this request from Peter Perla for game suggestions.


A couple of weeks ago at a meeting at the Naval War College in Newport, a USN admiral asked me to take a shot at drafting a Chief of Naval Operations’ “Recommended Games” list. In my copious free time, as we are wont to say. I am going to seek suggestions from as broad a community as I can, including this group. So many of you may receive this request multiple times.

I am not talking only wargames here. The goal of the CNO’s current initiative to explore how gaming can help sailors learn better, faster, and (my addition) cheaper. Not only warfighting skills but also general critical thinking and problem solving skills as well as creativity. And though the unwashed will certainly expect most of the games to be digital, I will want to include boardgames, of course.

At this point I am keeping the aperture open wide. Please let me know if you have any recommendations. You can write to me directly at perlap@cna.org.

Peter Perla
CNA  

US Navy Secretary calls for greater attention to wargaming in USN and USMC

In a memo sent to the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps on May 5, US Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has called upon the USN and USMC to “evolve our approach to wargaming so that it contemplates the future challenges our Sailors and Marines will encounter, and the types of decisions they must make.” The memo lays out a series of steps to be taken, and emphasizes that “Diversity of thought is fundamental to game design and execution. Using the inventive thinking of the [Department of the Navy] workforce – from all ranks, backgrounds, and professional and academic communities – we will create solutions to complex problems and significantly enhance the outcome of games.”

DONwargaming1

DONwargaming2

The memo reflects a general push within the US Department of Defence to renew its commitment to innovative, high-quality wargaming, as directed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work in a DoD-wide memo on “wargaming an innovation” issued in February.

Has the US navy considered the drawbacks of designing its latest ship “for the video gamer generation?”

zumwalt

CNN published a report today on the US Navy’s new, sophisticated, and somewhat stealthy Zumwalt-class destroyers. Rather than doing any actual investigative reporting on the new ships (for example their $3.5 billion cost per ship–that is, about the same as the annual budget of the entire UK Royal Navy—or questions about their mix of sensors and weapons systems, or even their stability in rough seas), CNN decided to highlight what is clearly most important from an operational and strategic perspective—namely that the ship was designed for the video gamer generation.

Thus the reader is told:

In the operations center — which in many ways is the heart of the ship — sailors are surrounded by an array of video displays that have been designed to be used by a generation raised on video games, Knudson says.

Raytheon tested the technology configuration in the operation center with young, gamer sailors, Knudson says. “We’ve brought them down to our labs and we got direct feedback from them using human-factor engineers in order to make sure that we’ve integrated all the displays and information in a way that they can use the systems most effectively.”

And:

The way all the ship’s weapons, radar and other systems are displayed to users and the captain, Knudson told CNN, “it really give them unprecedented situational awareness.”

That ability is truly going to be a game-changer.

And:

The whole operations center technology array saves manpower by allowing sailors to monitor multiple weapons systems or sensors, Gallagher reported. The Zumwalt, Gallagher wrote, also includes limited wireless networking capability.

And:

…one day it could be fitted with advanced weapons systems that are currently experimental, including a laser weapon and an electromagnetic railgun.

Electromagnetic railguns don’t need to fool around with needless explosive warheads or propellants. These fearsome weapons inflict damage by sheer speed. The gun uses electromagnetic force to blast a missile 125 miles at 7.5 times the speed of sound, according to the Navy.

The laser weapon — which could be fired by one sailor on a video game-like console — is designed to take on aircraft or small surface vessels.

I don’t doubt that (as one would expect) the Zumwalt class has very sophisticated C3I capabilities, and that computerization, automation, and mechanization reduces crew requirements. However, CNN (and the US Navy) appear to have entirely missed all the possible drawbacks of having the “gamer generation” drive and fight their expensive new ship. For example, anyone who has ever played a first-person shooter can imagine all of the following:

  • Gamer-sailors refuse to use some of the most effective weapons systems on the ship, decrying them as “n00b tubes” used only by unskilled combatants. “Sure, we’ve got all these Vertical Launch System cells with Tomahawks, but who uses those? Real sailors run up to a Chinese ship and stab it with a knife.”
  • Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the stealth architecture of the new ships, gamer-sailors view stealthy “camping” as unsportsmanlike. Instead they prefer to rush about at high speed, trash-talking their opponents by radio using the computer-generated voice of a foul-mouthed semi-literate 13 year old.
  • No one worries about the ship’s lack of vulnerability to anti-ship missiles or its lack of a close-in weapons system because of an almost religious belief that they’ll simply “respawn” in San Diego or Norfolk, Virgina if sunk.
  • When bored, crews entertain themselves by ganking newbie navies that haven’t worked out the intricacies of naval combat yet.
  • Someone attaches the ship’s controls to a Xbox Kinect, requiring the crew to prance about in the Operations Centre to operate basic ship’s systems, with often hilarious results.
  • Much time wasted cruising around Pacific looking for “power-ups.”
  • The voice-activation capability of the ship systems means that sailors accidentally sink neutral shipping when casually saying “kill Panamanian tanker” in unrelated conversation.
  • The ship’s “limited wireless networking capability” is constantly overloaded with pirate music downloads and Netflix.
  • The ship insists on having an active internet connection, and becomes obsolete quickly unless the Navy pays for expensive downloadable content.
  • Naval victories rewarded by badges and the ability customize the ship with bling, such as cool (but militarily-counterproductive) colour schemes for the hull.
  • Shortly after ship is ordered into combat for the first time, Captain realizes s/he lost the necessary “activation code.”
  • Rival navies wait a few years and then buy Zumwalt class ships at one-tenth original cost on Steam.

I’m sure I’ve missed a few, so additional suggestions are welcomed.

%d bloggers like this: