A wargame, generally, is a type of strategy game which realistically simulates warfare. A military wargame, specifically, is a wargame that is used by some military to train its officers in tactical and strategic decision-making, to test new tactics and strategies, or to predict trends in future conflicts. As military wargames are used to prepare officers for actual warfare, there is naturally a strong emphasis on realism and current events. Wargames use the conceptual models that describe the properties, capabilities, and behaviors of the things the wargame attempts to simulate (weapons, vehicles, troops, terrain, weather, etc.)
Wargames have diverse range from table top exercises that use simple computer models to those that are hugely diverse: interagency decision-making seminars that involve conflict without fighting, crisis simulations adjudicated by subject matter experts, and operational warfare in which outcomes are determined by complex computer models. Table top These types of war games typically involve convening high-ranking military and political officials to play through scenarios that are representative of real-world situations. Insights gathered from the game are then used to inform decisions about policies, strategies and tactics. However, this approach has key shortcomings that limit its usefulness.
“Because you have a limited player set and only play through a few scenarios, you don’t get enough data from these scenario-based discussions to draw statistical inference. You may only get an idea of how these specific people would react,” said Bethany Goldblum, a researcher in UC Berkeley’s Nuclear Engineering department. “This is why traditional war-gaming is often described as an art rather than science.”
Andrew Reddie, a Ph.D. candidate in UC Berkeley’s Department of Political Science, adds that without statistical inference, researchers cannot generalize the insights that they get. “Traditional, discussion-based exercises have led to a theory-rich, but data-poor environment for scholarly inquiry. Using new tools, we’re arguing that board games and electronic games can complement traditional war-gaming by providing a science-based, experimental framework for gathering data. This provides a more data rich framework for analysis than games that play out a single scenario,” he said.
To overcome these limitations, Goldblum, Reddie and their colleagues leveraged state-of-the-art game engines and Amazon’s cloud computing platform to build an online, multi-player game that can examine the dynamics of nuclear deterrence and conflict escalation. “It’s a new era for war-gaming,” said Goldblum. “We wanted to introduce a concept for how the scientific community can approach collecting data from war games in a different way.” According to Reddie, there are now four or five research teams around the world looking at experimental war-gaming. “What we have developed that is unique, however, is an online environment to do the large-N data analysis,” he said. “While others collect data from a handful of plays, we can collect data from thousands of games.”
Developed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, this new multi-player computer game called SIGNAL was custom built to explore deterrence and decision-making in an escalating conflict. “The premise of the game is our research question: How does the introduction of different weapon capabilities effect escalation or deescalation during conflict?” said Whetzel. “Each player in our game is controlling a hypothetical country, and the goal is to have the most influence in this fictional world. You can do this by increasing your population, investing in infrastructure or controlling resources via alliances or military force.”
While playing online, each player’s scores are updated in real time so they can see how their actions are impacting their position in the fictional world. The data collected are anonymized and can be used as input for machine learning algorithms to create models of optimal behaviors given certain experimental conditions. These models can then be used to create autonomous players that operate according to strategies in training data, as well as human-machine and machine-machine game play.
In December 2019, more than 40 Royal Air Force (RAF) officers took part in Eagle Warrior 19, a command and control wargaming exercise. Split into teams, they tried out a series of wargames – based on a combination of digital modelling, maps and manual table-top games – as a means of assessing their decision-making acumen. In doing so, the RAF became the first customer to make use of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory’s (Dstl) new Defence Wargaming Centre (DWC), which was officially launched the following month. Situated at Dstl’s Portsdown West campus, the facility is the UK’s first dedicated wargaming centre, set up to serve the RAF, the Royal Navy and the British Army.
Reflecting on the inaugural Eagle Warrior 19 exercise, Group Captain Christopher Platt, Dstl’s senior air advisor, described it as “a genuinely ambitious experiment that challenged participants to think about command and control of the next generation Royal Air Force”. “Staying one step ahead of an information savvy adversary is a constant challenge,” said Platt. “We will need to embrace a combination of information technologies such as cloud computing, edge processing, machine learning and automation, so this wargame was a good step towards understanding the pros and cons of different approaches.”
Both interest and investment in the multi-domain space have grown rapidly in recent years. The US, for instance, sees this type of warfare as crucial to its future security and any success in conflict. Speaking at the Brookings Institution at the beginning of the year, Air Force General James M. Holmes said the US Army and Air Force were collaborating on working out how to fight a multi-domain battle.
“Multi-domain operations allows the warfighter to act and react to changing situations by using all domains – air, land, sea, space and cyber – to present dilemmas to an adversary at an overwhelming pace,” explains Kimberly Ponders, head of business development at Lockheed Martin’s C4ISR division.
“We have developed 13 initiatives… that the air force and army can work together on,” the commander of the Air Combat Command said. ”Our goal is to try to find a way that the joint force, working together, can hold the initiative. “In this world where both sides can see everything and know everything… the side that wins will be the side that can command the initiative by driving an optempo that the other side can’t keep up with.”
The US Air Force’s Multi-Domain Command and Control (MDC2) initiative has been a constant consideration for industry in its development of enabling technologies. Meanwhile Lockheed has been hosting table top exercises focused on integrating the command and control mission planning process across the air, space, and cyber domains since April 2017.
Through these wargames, the company and its military partners have created recommendations for developing a common lexicon, synchronising effects across domains, organising distributed planning teams, and using tools and decision aids for visualisation and dynamic, integrated planning. The wargames are as much about understanding the concept and how technology can be utilised as they are about learning how to control it.
US Army wargame shows the need for speed in multi-domain ops
The Army tested its current and future equipment and warfighting methods for the potential next war in a massive, weeks-long simulated experiment that ran in August 2019. The Unified Challenge 19.2 experiment in August involved more than 400 participants working with 55 formations, 64 concepts and 150 capabilities, said Col. Mark Bailey, chief of the Army’s Futures and Concepts Center’s Joint Army Experimentation Division.
The simulation allowed Army leaders to “understand some of the complex patterns” that come out of the very complex systems that the United States and its adversaries are using, or developing to use, in future scenarios, For example, the Army’s priorities in the Cross Functional Teams, from Future Vertical Lift to the Next Generation Combat Vehicle, are years away from fielding their platforms to the force, but through mathematical models and algorithms, researchers can plug in the day and play out a very detailed set of events. And the scope of the experiment dove deeper than what a typical tabletop exercise or wargaming scenario might.
It allowed experimenters to see down to the small unit level and all the way up to the division and corps level what would likely play out if those formations collided with a near-peer competitor on foreign turf in a battle for territory. Chris Willis, the chief of the Maneuver Battle Lab’s Model and Simulations Branch, said that for the first time, experimenters were able to use “nonlethal effects” in a simulation — electronic jamming, cyber-attacks and other methods — to support maneuver warfighting. That helped them gather data on concepts that Army leaders have been considering and theorizing about for years.
The Army is spearheading the multidomain battle concept for future warfare. The concept attempts to synchronize various domains including land, air, space, cyber and maritime, into a full-fledged battle plan. (Source: U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command) The Army is spearheading the multidomain battle concept for future warfare. The concept attempts to synchronize various domains including land, air, space, cyber and maritime, into a full-fledged battle plan.
The basic plan is to converge effects, fires or non-kinetic or other types, which create that window. Commanders can plan for that and they do. But to do that at the speed that leaders believe MDO will unfold presents a whole other set of challenges. “Things happen so fast you must have this flexibility to do that in a moment’s notice so that when you identify a target on a battlefield and don’t have the artillery tube in range you have to quickly identify what else you have in range to hit that target,” Bailey said. And also, to understand that even if you switch “guns” quickly enough to another asset, drone, missile, electronic warfare, that means the new tool you’ve chosen will now not be used on another quickly emerging target or threat.
That’s where artificial intelligence must fill the gap, by offering up those menus of options for commanders and identifying the targets so that the human can then fire. Unified Challenge is a twice a year event; this was the second. Though it provides a lot of data, it’s not something easily replicable. That means that in the near term, smaller experiments will unfold using some of the lessons learned from the larger experiment, further refining concepts and next steps on many of the ways in which the Army goes after MDO. The next step will be for the Futures and Concepts Center to compile a report of lessons learned and recommendations moving forward with some of the platforms, capabilities and doctrine. That will be delivered to the center director in the coming months, and once approved, spread across the Army to inform smaller scale experiments with portions of the larger effort to develop MDO doctrine and materiel, Bailey said.
Dstl’s Defence Wargaming Centre
In 2011 Dstl’s Peace Support Operations Model (PSOM), a computer-based decision-making tool, was used by NATO’s International Security Assistance Force Joint Command (IJC) to support its peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan. In a report from the time, IJC credited the tool with potentially saving many lives., Dstl’s wargames have constituted a mix of manual simulation, such as board games, and computer-based modelling. The new wargaming centre is a direct response to the growing demand from the military for wargames as a means of supporting decision-making and national defence policy. What is it that makes wargaming so appealing to branches of the military? In short, it allows participants to immerse themselves in the rigours and demands of developing strategies, but in a safe-to-fail environment where the risks and costs of live exercises and real operations are stripped away.
As commercial wargames have become increasingly popular with gamers, Dstl has been working more closely with video game developers to come up with novel approaches to military strategies. Last year, the agency awarded a two-year contract worth £1.5m to Slitherine, the publisher of the successful Command series of games who has supplied its professional edition military logistics simulator to a number of defence clients.
Dstl’s main rationale behind the decision was that commercial computer games are often more user-friendly and accessible than industrial simulation software. Whether they are manual or computer-based, all wargames share the same ultimate goal. They serve to encourage participants to think innovatively and outside the box. They are there to help identify emerging issues, test hypotheses, assess alternate options and, ultimately, highlight the potential consequences of choices.
Dstl is reportedly already sizing up future upgrades to the physical space of the new wargaming centre. As part of a new recruitment drive, it is also looking to add to its wargaming teams. As the MOD’s only dedicated wargaming facility, it will be interesting to see which strategic capabilities the new Defence Wargaming Centre will have in store for the armed forces.