Air Force Research Laboratory Innovation – Pushing the Envelope in Analytical Wargaming


Posted: December 1, 2016 | By: Jaime J. Bestard


The Air Force Research Laboratory has taken steps to revitalize wargaming across its Enterprise to evaluate the military utility of innovative technology concepts in combat. The integration of Modeling and Simulation (M&S) to improve the analytical rigor of wargames is a fundamental part of this effort. In a period of growing strategic challenges and increased fiscal pressure, analytical wargames offer a unique opportunity to evaluate the multi-dimensional capabilities of advanced technologies and overcome technology stovepipes. Concerns on how to operate freely in the primary Air Force domains (i.e., air, space and cyberspace), exploit big data, integrate autonomy, and provide Air Force and Department of Defense leadership with seamless command and control solutions are some of the many issues that can be explored through analytical wargames. Moreover, participation in analytical wargames offers Defense professionals a unique and synergistic opportunity to explore the realm of the possible with advanced technologies while sharpening their operational and strategic thinking skills.


In February 2015, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Mr. Robert O. Work, issued a memorandum to “revitalize” wargaming across the Department of Defense in light of the Defense Innovation Initiative (Third Offset Strategy). In his missive Mr. Work acknowledged that “wargames spur innovation” and “can potentially make the difference between wise and unwise investment trajectories and make our forces more successful in future conflicts”. This guidance, coupled with Air Force M&S initiatives in support of strategic developmental planning and experimentation, led the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Corporate Board to decide, in August 2015, to manage wargaming at the Enterprise level by:

  • Establishing a Wargaming Working Group and a corresponding governance structure,
  • Creating a vetted AFRL Concept Portfolio,
  • Forming a cadre of wargaming technologists,
  • Promoting the use of M&S in support of wargames.

Since then, the AFRL Enterprise has established a portfolio of technologies that support the Third Offset Strategy in the primary Air Force domains. In May 2016, the AFRL conducted a workshop to establish a baseline of its M&S capabilities supporting wargames. This initiative led to a general understanding of existing tools available to the Enterprise with the potential to influence wargame outcomes. With this in mind, the AFRL war-gaming staff has a vision to incorporate M&S products into game preparation, play, adjudication and analysis and provide an analytical foundation to our wargame outcomes. Most recently, in August 2016, the AFRL conducted the first of a series of events titled Futures Analytical Science and Technology (FAST) wargames with an emphasis on advanced technology concepts operating in an anti-access/area denial (A2AD) environment. This event had multiple objectives, among which was the integration of M&S products into different stages in the wargame process (e.g., concept development, scenario design, game play and adjudication, and post-game analyses).

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