Modeling and Simulation Support to Wargaming


Posted: December 1, 2016 | By: John Lawson III

If you deal in computer models and simulations (M&S), and you aim to support wargaming, you need to understand what type of wargame you are supporting, and you need to understand the wargame’s purpose. This article is about understanding those two aspects of M&S support to wargaming: wargame type and wargame purpose.

The first thing you need to do is think of wargaming along a spectrum.

One end is more qualitative and subjective. As you move toward this end of the wargaming spectrum, M&S will have a supporting role, a peripheral role, or no role at all.

The spectrum’s other end is more quantitative and objective. As you move in this direction, M&S will have a valuable role, a central role, or it may even be the wargame’s heart and soul.

It is possible to spend a lot of time arguing over whether a wargame should be run by a traditional wargamer, a numbers-oriented analyst, or some combination of the two. If you are an M&S person, you do not need to worry about that debate. No matter who is running a wargame, it should not be you. You are responsible for a tool or a set of tools supporting a wargame that someone else devised and that someone else will run.

In addition to the different types of wargames, there are different purposes for wargames. A wargame’s purpose might involve training, education, experimentation, analysis, or any number of other concerns. The important thing for an M&S person supporting a wargame is to understand the wargame at hand. If it is a decision-making wargame to help senior leaders think through a current crisis, tailor your M&S support to those specific circumstances. If it is a training wargame designed to train numerous battalion staffs over the next several years, tailor your M&S support to those specific circumstances.

Do not let M&S support to wargaming become an entrenched, encumbered, monolithic process. Do not let M&S support to wargaming degenerate into off-the-rack, cookie-cutter “solutions.” Wargames are supposed to provide insight into unpredictable topics. If M&S support to wargames gets rigid and highly predictable, then M&S support to wargames will produce unimaginative, inside-the-box thinking. At that point, a successful wargame would be successful despite M&S support, rather than because of it.

Before going any further, it is probably a good idea to define computer models, computer simulations, and wargames. The definitions are deliberately loose, as the purpose of this article is to promote conceptual thinking rather than pedantic hair-splitting.

We will treat a computer model as an algorithm coded into a representation. It could be a representation of a vehicle, a weapons system, a unit of troops, a group of refugees, or any number of other entities.

We will treat a computer simulation as one or more models representing behavior over time. To use the examples above, a simulation might show how a vehicle with a weapons system would attack a unit of troops while trying to avoid harming a group of refugees. The simulation would probably be multi-faceted, which means it would probably illustrate additional considerations, such as how much fuel the vehicle would use and how the refugees might behave if they found themselves on the edge of combat.

We will treat a wargame as a representation of conflict in which the decisions people make are central to the wargame’s outcome.

Wargaming has enjoyed a much higher profile over the past two years, starting with a memo from then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. In 2014, he called for a “reinvigorated wargaming effort” that will “develop and test alternative ways of achieving our strategic objectives.”

In 2015, the call for improved wargaming intensified when Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work wrote a memo saying wargaming has “atrophied.” To better think about concepts, capabilities, and plans, Deputy Secretary Work wrote, it will be necessary “to reinvigorate, institutionalize, and systematize wargaming across the Department.”

Shortly after releasing his memo, Deputy Secretary Work gave a speech in which he emphasized the relationship between better wargaming and keeping up with change. Technologies change faster than they used to change; challenges arise more quickly; and our collection of adversaries is wider and more diverse. Wargaming, he said, can “spur innovation” and “provide a mechanism for addressing emerging challenges.”

At this point, the best way to think about wargaming and M&S is to temporarily stop thinking about wargaming and M&S. The Department of Defense (DoD) is an enormous sprawl which contains very big organizations which contain big sub-organizations which contain somewhat big sub-sub-organizations, etc., etc., etc. The end result of all that enormity is a legion of specialists and sub-specialists who are so absorbed in the details of their work that they lose track of the larger goals.

To reiterate, the best way to think about wargaming and M&S is to temporarily stop thinking about wargaming and M&S. For just a little while, do not think about what the wargame is or what the M&S support will be. For just a little while, do not think about how the mechanics of the wargame will look, and do not think about how to plug M&S into the wargame.

Instead, think about why someone would ask for the wargame. Remind yourself that whoever asked for the wargame almost certainly is not a wargamer or an M&S specialist. Whoever asked for the wargame undoubtedly has much larger fish to fry.

Writing from the perspective of the Marine Corps M&S Office, it is easiest for us to illustrate the point we are trying to make by using Marine examples, but the ideas are the same, whether you are in the Navy, the Air Force, the Army, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, or whatever.

Right now, in the Marine Corps, one of the most important calls for wargaming comes from the process we refer to as the Marine Corps Capabilities Based Assessment (MC CBA) which in the end produces the Marine Corps Enterprise Integration Plan (MCEIP). So, in this example, when we talk about wargaming and M&S support to wargaming, everything needs to map back to the MC CBA process and the MCEIP.

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