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Subject: Commercial Wargames used by the Military - The Economist rss

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http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21599016-underst...
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Having participated in dozens of official/classified profession wargames during my career in the Navy, I can honestly say that I never once saw one that came as close to capturing the nuances of real conflict at the strategic level as most commercial wargames do. In most cases this was because the moderators (acting on behalf of the organization sponsoring the event) had certain over-arching objectives they wanted to acheive during the course of the game, so they carefully scripted/shaped events to acheive that.

Want to "prove" that a new communications interface will assure US dominance on the battlefield? Then set up a scenario that renders all US forces without that new system ineffective. Demonstrate that an amphibious landing on the west coast of North Korea is the most effective way to unhinge a DPRK attack? Have the Norks over-extend themselves trying to envelop Seoul and leave their rear area unprotected. If the players decide that a landing on the east coast at Wonsan would be more effective, announce that the local garrison has been heavily reinforced and beaches are mined -- force the players down a certain (pre-determined) decision path to ensure the game's objectives are met.

The key difference between professional and commercial/hobbyist games is that in most professional games the opposition side isn't playing to win, it's being played to prove a point, and often to make that point the umpires have to "artificially" manipulate outcomes. The game is less about a contest between the two sides/commanders and more about the process of decision making (how and why you choose to do things a certain way). That doesn't mean that professional wargames aren't excellent training tools, but it does mean that they can give participants skewed insights (which can be completely invalid if you don't fully appreciate/understand how you arrived those insights) if the moderators aren't clear and open about what the game's pre-conditions were during the post-game debrief.
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Lancer4321 wrote:
Having participated in dozens of official/classified profession wargames during my career in the Navy, I can honestly say that I never once saw one that came as close to capturing the nuances of real conflict at the strategic level as most commercial wargames do. In most cases this was because the moderators (acting on behalf of the organization sponsoring the event) had certain over-arching objectives they wanted to acheive during the course of the game, so they carefully scripted/shaped events to acheive that.

Want to "prove" that a new communications interface will assure US dominance on the battlefield? Then set up a scenario that renders all US forces without that new system ineffective. Demonstrate that an amphibious landing on the west coast of North Korea is the most effective way to unhinge a DPRK attack? Have the Norks over-extend themselves trying to envelop Seoul and leave their rear area unprotected. If the players decide that a landing on the east coast at Wonsan would be more effective, announce that the local garrison has been heavily reinforced and beaches are mined -- force the players down a certain (pre-determined) decision path to ensure the game's objectives are met.

The key difference between professional and commercial/hobbyist games is that in most professional games the opposition side isn't playing to win, it's being played to prove a point, and often to make that point the umpires have to "artificially" manipulate outcomes. The game is less about a contest between the two sides/commanders and more about the process of decision making (how and why you choose to do things a certain way). That doesn't mean that professional wargames aren't excellent training tools, but it does mean that they can give participants skewed insights (which can be completely invalid if you don't fully appreciate/understand how you arrived those insights) if the moderators aren't clear and open about what the game's pre-conditions were during the post-game debrief.

Insightful as hell, many thanks for taking the time.
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All that is very interesting information.

Thanks !
 
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Lancer4321 wrote:
The key difference between professional and commercial/hobbyist games is that in most professional games the opposition side isn't playing to win, it's being played to prove a point, ...

It depends on the definition of "prove". "Proving" a mathematical theorem is one definition (that is, demonstrating the truth of a proposition), but there is another. Consider the old expressions "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" and "the exception that proves the rule". In these expressions "prove" means "test".

You seem to be suggesting that the entire professional wargaming establishment is there to "prove" (in the mathematical sense) that some pre-determined conclusion is correct, in order to demonstrate that the politicians and the top brass are infallible, regardless of the actual truth. I find it very hard to believe that the entire wargaming establishment is so thoroughly corrupt.
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In limited experience with military run games I was really disappointed when the rules changed mid game because someone did something that was contrary to the view of the current doctrine. We were then told that the Soviets would not do that. So we were preparing for what we thought they would do and not all the possible things they could do. Sort of the opposite of what civilian gamers do when they try hard to break the system.
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tms2 wrote:
You seem to be suggesting that the entire professional wargaming establishment is there to "prove" (in the mathematical sense) that some pre-determined conclusion is correct...


Depends on your outlook. In many cases there's a bit of "self-fulfilling prophecy" at work. A very large majority of these professional games are prepared and run by civilian contractors, and there's a bit of an unspoken understanding that if their product fails to "please" the command that's sponsoring the event there's a better than even likelihood that their contract won't be renewed -- simply put, their jobs are on the line to deliver a product that pleases the customer. The smart contractor always reads between the lines and figures out what concept/doctrine/equipment the sponsor is trying to validate and then ensures the game is scripted in such a way to showcase that premise in a favorable light.

I'll give you two examples of what I mean based on my personal participation in those events:

(1) Combined Joint Forces Command Korea (CJFCK) hosts an annual wargame in Seoul in which US and ROK forces review their contingency warplan to deal with a possible DPRK invasion -- I participated in several of these, at different levels of command, throughout my career. During the game held in 1999 I witnessed a situation develop in which the game umpires (mostly civilian contractors) scripted the scenario so that North Korean forces came perilously close to penetrating a section of the Coalition lines.

As the representative running the afloat amphibious forces, I suggested that we might want to divert our Task Force and put our embarked Marine ground forces on alert to reinforce that segment of the line as a contingency in case the DPRK elements acheived a breakthrough. The senior officer who was representing Combined Naval Forces Korea (CNFK) told me that wouldn't be necessary because a breakthrough would never occur: apparently this had been allowed to happen once (back in the mid-80s) and the Korean flag officer in whose sector the breakthrough occurred was cashiered for the failure of his corps to hold their sector (again, this was just a game, and a 3-star general lost his job because of it). During the post-game discussions the ROK staff made very clear that if this ever happened again South Korea would completely withdraw from future participation in the annual wargame, and so CJFCK issued "unofficial" verbal instructions to the contractor to ensure there would never be a repeat of the incident. Thereafter, the game has always been played with the tacit understanding that no matter how badly the Coalition forces perform they have no reason to worry about there being a DPRK breakthrough.

(2) In 2000 the Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, Rhode Island, ran its annual Global Wargame ("Global" is the event name, not the subject of the game itself) with the premise of exploring whether the concept of "net-centric" warfare was enough of a force multiplier that the Navy should start investing in the idea as the wave of the future. The then President of NWC, RADM Cebrowski, was a strong proponent of the then emerging field of information warfare.

To meet that goal the contractor constructed a scenario (a war on the Korean peninsula which expanded to include a PRC intervention on behalf of a faltering DPRK) intended to provide clear evidence that the ability of warfare area coordinators (AAWC, ASUWC, ASWC, etc) to share information on a near real time basis was a major enhancement to the ability of Coalition naval assets to influence the course of the ground campaign. And, generally speaking, the game's results showed that this premise was indeed borne out by the evidence of how naval forces were able to support operations ashore.

However, during the post-game wrap up discussions several commands (including mine) which had participated in the game "remotely" (e.g. were not actually on-site at NWC, but were playing via encrypted data links from the US West Coast or Japan) reported that they were unable to either access or share their inputs in a meaningful manner. Instead, we were often forced to call NWC on the telephone and have our inputs (and input to us) relayed verbally by a second party. Effectively, the game showed that while the net-centric concept worked the current information technology systems were not up to the task of supporting it. This was a valid game result as it showed that work needed to be done on maturing the information warfare systems before the concept could be implemented operationally. But Cebrowski was so frustrated with the poor performance of the prototype net-centric systems we used that he had the contract terminated and that was the last time (to my knowledge -- this was almost 15 years ago and I've since retired) that NWC attempted to run one of their Global series games remotely.

I hope that clears up some of the confusion about what I meant regarding the use of professional wargames to "prove" various concepts.
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Lancer4321 wrote:
Having participated in dozens of official/classified profession wargames during my career in the Navy, I can honestly say that I never once saw one that came as close to capturing the nuances of real conflict at the strategic level as most commercial wargames do. In most cases this was because the moderators (acting on behalf of the organization sponsoring the event) had certain over-arching objectives they wanted to acheive during the course of the game, so they carefully scripted/shaped events to acheive that.

Want to "prove" that a new communications interface will assure US dominance on the battlefield? Then set up a scenario that renders all US forces without that new system ineffective. Demonstrate that an amphibious landing on the west coast of North Korea is the most effective way to unhinge a DPRK attack? Have the Norks over-extend themselves trying to envelop Seoul and leave their rear area unprotected. If the players decide that a landing on the east coast at Wonsan would be more effective, announce that the local garrison has been heavily reinforced and beaches are mined -- force the players down a certain (pre-determined) decision path to ensure the game's objectives are met.

The key difference between professional and commercial/hobbyist games is that in most professional games the opposition side isn't playing to win, it's being played to prove a point, and often to make that point the umpires have to "artificially" manipulate outcomes. The game is less about a contest between the two sides/commanders and more about the process of decision making (how and why you choose to do things a certain way). That doesn't mean that professional wargames aren't excellent training tools, but it does mean that they can give participants skewed insights (which can be completely invalid if you don't fully appreciate/understand how you arrived those insights) if the moderators aren't clear and open about what the game's pre-conditions were during the post-game debrief.


This reminds me of :

The Millennium Challenge

More here.

And contemporary article here.

Of course, it's also in the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

And there is, of course, the part in Heartbreak Ridge where Clint Eastwood takes his Recon and defies the wargame's orders for his unit to just sit down and die.

I need to watch that movie again....

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rmiller1093 wrote:
In limited experience with military run games I was really disappointed when the rules changed mid game because someone did something that was contrary to the view of the current doctrine. We were then told that the Soviets would not do that. So we were preparing for what we thought they would do and not all the possible things they could do.

Assuming this was a training game, then I would say you were not training for what you thought the Soviets would do, but rather you were training for what those on our side who studied the Soviets thought they would probably do. Not the same thing at all. If that was indeed the goal of the game, then it would be a waste of time and money to have the Soviet side in the game do something the Soviets would almost certainly never do.

That was the whole point of things like Top Gun and the NTC. The success of those programs speaks for itself.
 
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tms2 wrote:
rmiller1093 wrote:
In limited experience with military run games I was really disappointed when the rules changed mid game because someone did something that was contrary to the view of the current doctrine. We were then told that the Soviets would not do that. So we were preparing for what we thought they would do and not all the possible things they could do.

Assuming this was a training game, then I would say you were not training for what you thought the Soviets would do, but rather you were training for what those on our side who studied the Soviets thought they would probably do. Not the same thing at all. If that was indeed the goal of the game, then it would be a waste of time and money to have the Soviet side in the game do something the Soviets would almost certainly never do.

That was the whole point of things like Top Gun and the NTC. The success of those programs speaks for itself.


Nah, I don't follow you here. I mean, if Blue is going to behave according to Blue doctrine, and Red is going to behave according to what we think is Red doctrine, then what is the point? What are you really doing here? It seems to me that a professional wargame ought to involve some degree of discovery. I certainly don't see why any service branch needs to give a contractor millions of dollars to play a highfalutin version of Choose Your Own Adventure. Heck, if that's what you want, I'll do it for cold beer and a ride home.

I also don't buy your analogy to Top Gun and NTC (or Red Flag or anything else like that). I believe the point of those training programs is to immerse personnel in the first-person experience of combat. For example, sitting in a wargame and saying "the F-16 kills the MiG because the F-16 is better" is one thing. Having an element of Viper pilots practice that MiG kill in actual aircraft against experienced "aggressor" pilots is another -- maneuvering the aircraft in high G turns, hitting the right switches, communicating with your friendlies -- all under tremendous physical and psychological stress. The point there is develop the mental toughness and muscle memory to do the things that the theorists say should be done. My understanding is that these exercises and their debriefs are absolutely brutal. I totally get that, and support the military doing it as much as they can.
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The training conducted at NTC and Top Gun aren't "wargames," they're exercises. Exercises are distinctly different from wargames -- they're about improving troop/unit proficiency. Wargames are about testing concepts and plans. The two events may be complimentary in function but they have an entirely different focus.
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A training game that only prepares you for what your sides experts think the enemy will do is a poor training game. Leaves you vulnerable to anything else that comes up. If you throw those strategies out during game play as "unrealistic" you get classic military blunders like Midway where the Japanese did wargame it, and it was disaster for the Japanese fleet, and the umpires threw out the results saying the Americans would never react in that fashion and take those risks.
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Peter Perla's book, The Art of Wargaming, provides a great deal of insight regarding DoD wargaming as opposed to commercial wargaming. I highly recommend this read!



As I got out of the Army Reserves as a captain, I didn't really participate in any of these higher level wargames. I primarily participated in field exercises and battalion-level staff exercises, and like Lance says, they are different from those senior-level military wargames. Of course, we have all heard the stories about how the Japanese "fixed" the wargame they conducted to practice the ill-fated Midway operation, so it shouldn't be so hard to believe that a military organization could bend the rules of a wargame to achieve the desired outcome. As Midway demonstrated, that's usually not a good idea!
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Lancer4321 wrote:
tms2 wrote:
You seem to be suggesting that the entire professional wargaming establishment is there to "prove" (in the mathematical sense) that some pre-determined conclusion is correct...

Depends on your outlook. In many cases there's a bit of "self-fulfilling prophecy" at work. A very large majority of these professional games are prepared and run by civilian contractors, and there's a bit of an unspoken understanding that if their product fails to "please" the command that's sponsoring the event there's a better than even likelihood that their contract won't be renewed -- simply put, their jobs are on the line to deliver a product that pleases the customer. The smart contractor always reads between the lines and figures out what concept/doctrine/equipment the sponsor is trying to validate and then ensures the game is scripted in such a way to showcase that premise in a favorable light.

I didn't mean to suggest that things like that never happen, but I still have trouble believing that it is routine to rig a game.

Quote:
I'll give you two examples of what I mean based on my personal participation in those events:

Examples are good; concrete is better than abstract.

Quote:
(1) Combined Joint Forces Command Korea (CJFCK) hosts an annual wargame in Seoul in which US and ROK forces review their contingency warplan to deal with a possible DPRK ...

It seems to me that the problem here was diplomacy, not so much the game itself. Did the same thing happen with US-only games?

Quote:
(2) In 2000 the Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, Rhode Island, ran its annual Global Wargame ("Global" is the event name, not the subject of the game itself) with the premise of exploring whether the concept of "net-centric" warfare was enough of a force multiplier that the Navy should start investing in the idea as the wave of the future. ...

Again, the problem seems to be not with the game, per se, but with the hardware and software and whatnot that supports the game. In the hobby world, the equivalent would be criticizing a game system because the printing on the counters is too small. Yes, it is a problem that needs to be fixed, but it does not affect the game system itself.
 
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desertfox2004 wrote:
Of course, we have all heard the stories about how the Japanese "fixed" the wargame they conducted to practice the ill-fated Midway operation, so it shouldn't be so hard to believe that a military organization could bend the rules of a wargame to achieve the desired outcome. As Midway demonstrated, that's usually not a good idea!

From this paper: http://www.strategypage.com/articles/default.asp?target=WARG..., which someone linked to a little while ago:

Quote:
The Japanese war game in preparation for the Battle of Midway was easily the most notorious war game ever played. During the game the American side's airpower sank two Japanese carriers. Rear Admiral Ukagi Matome, Yamamoto's chief of staff and commander of their carrier force for the operation, unilaterally reversed the umpires' ruling on the loss of the carriers. The carriers were restored to the game, and the Japanese side went on to capture Midway. Weeks later, during the actual battle, the Americans sank the same two carriers, plus two more. This time Admiral Ukagi was not able to reach into the "dead pile" and replace his ships.

This morality play is arguably the most often told incident from the history of wargaming. While the above is true, it makes the argument against the Admiral more "open and shut" then was actually the case. Most authors fail to mention that the American aircraft that sank the carriers during the wargame were B-17s. In the actual battle the B-17 proved completely ineffective (they never hit an enemy ship), so, in a narrow sense, Ukagi was right. Still, Admiral Ukagi failed to address the issue the loss of his carriers in the wargame should have brought up - what if the American's get in the first hit? Would we have enough strength to win anyway?
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rmiller1093 wrote:
If you throw those strategies out during game play as "unrealistic" you get classic military blunders like Midway where the Japanese did wargame it, and it was disaster for the Japanese fleet, and the umpires threw out the results saying the Americans would never react in that fashion and take those risks.


See, I'd argue the opposite. The Japanese wargame before Midway did precisely what it was supposed to do: it clearly identified problems with their search scheme in the NE sector and they did actually modify their plans accordingly. The umpires "throwing the result out" wasn't the problem: in fact, it makes perfect sense from a practical standpoint. They have the entire senior staff of the Kido Butai present for the game, people whose time was exceptionally valuable, they couldn't very well tell everyone "well, go ahead and take a couple hours off while we re-set the game clock back a few days and re-start."

Now, with perfect 20/20 hindsight we know that their search plan modification was insufficient to prevent disaster, but the issue wasn't with either the "game" itself or the way the umpires ran it, but rather with the lessons the Kido Butai learned from the game and how those lessons were applied afterwards. Rather than deciding the NE sector was a major threat that might require special attention, they simply chose to push a couple more search planes out in that direction -- and when one of those planes was late launching during the actual event, nobody seems to have thought back to the game and said, "hmmm, this might be a problem..."
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Lancer4321 wrote:
The training conducted at NTC and Top Gun aren't "wargames," they're exercises. Exercises are distinctly different from wargames -- they're about improving troop/unit proficiency. Wargames are about testing concepts and plans. The two events may be complimentary in function but they have an entirely different focus.


While it's true these are exercises, it's also true that the Red side plays to win and often does, which is different than the usual canned result one gets from other exercises.

Although it's also worth recording that I took part in a Reforger back in the 80s that had to have a couple of resets because the Orange force (equipped with Abrams and Bradleys) so thoroughly ran circles around Blue (M-60 tanks and M-113 APC) that they simply couldn't cope. I remember leading my Lance Missile Platoon in a one-day 60 km retreat that barely outpaced the 'enemy' advance. I felt like Dervishes at Omdurman facing Maxim guns.
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theduke34 wrote:
tms2 wrote:
rmiller1093 wrote:
In limited experience with military run games I was really disappointed when the rules changed mid game because someone did something that was contrary to the view of the current doctrine. We were then told that the Soviets would not do that. So we were preparing for what we thought they would do and not all the possible things they could do.

Assuming this was a training game, then I would say you were not training for what you thought the Soviets would do, but rather you were training for what those on our side who studied the Soviets thought they would probably do. Not the same thing at all. If that was indeed the goal of the game, then it would be a waste of time and money to have the Soviet side in the game do something the Soviets would almost certainly never do.

That was the whole point of things like Top Gun and the NTC. The success of those programs speaks for itself.

Nah, I don't follow you here. I mean, if Blue is going to behave according to Blue doctrine, and Red is going to behave according to what we think is Red doctrine, then what is the point? What are you really doing here?

Training to fight your expected opponent using his expected doctrine.

Quote:
It seems to me that a professional wargame ought to involve some degree of discovery.

Some games, but not all. Each game has a specific purpose, and should be tailored to meet that purpose.

Quote:
I certainly don't see why any service branch needs to give a contractor millions of dollars to play a highfalutin version of Choose Your Own Adventure.

It sounds as though you are agreeing with me.

Quote:
I also don't buy your analogy to Top Gun and NTC (or Red Flag or anything else like that). I believe the point of those training programs is to immerse personnel in the first-person experience of combat.

Not just any combat. The so-called Aggressor forces trained very hard in enemy doctrine.
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Lancer4321 wrote:
The training conducted at NTC and Top Gun aren't "wargames," they're exercises. Exercises are distinctly different from wargames -- they're about improving troop/unit proficiency. Wargames are about testing concepts and plans. The two events may be complimentary in function but they have an entirely different focus.

Some games are analytic, others are for training, and it sounded to me like the previous poster was talking about a training game.
 
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rmiller1093 wrote:
A training game that only prepares you for what your sides experts think the enemy will do is a poor training game. Leaves you vulnerable to anything else that comes up.

I was thinking more of tactical games or exercises, where you should have a good idea of the other guy's doctrine. Of course you need to be prepared for everything, but you have limited time to game and train, and it doesn't make much sense to train against tactics you'll probably never face.
 
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Way to go HD. Thought provoking as always.
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tms2 wrote:
It seems to me that the problem here was diplomacy, not so much the game itself. ...the problem seems to be not with the game, per se, but with the hardware and software and whatnot that supports the game.


Now you're getting into "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" territory. I'm confused -- what's your point here?

I contend that the methodologies employed in professional wargaming are too dissimilar to those in commercial/hobby games for them to be realistically compared to one another: apples and oranges. When you play a hobby game you can (to some extent) walk away afterwards and say "player X is better than player Y," but in professional wargaming you can't do that because the "opponent" typically controls the not just his side but also the CRT and the die used to resolve combat. If he's doing his job properly he's not trying to win, he's trying to uncover the flaws in your plan/doctrine/equipment so that you can improve it.

tms2 wrote:
In the hobby world, the equivalent would be criticizing a game system because the printing on the counters is too small. Yes, it is a problem that needs to be fixed, but it does not affect the game system itself.


No. In the hobby world the equivalent would be criticizing a game because the victory conditions were imbalanced to the point where one side had no chance of winning. It may not affect the game system, but it absolutely impacts whether gamers are going to want to play the game again (at least without imposing "house rules" to rectify the problem).
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OK, let's see if I can find some constructive common ground here.

My attitude -- as a layperson with only a peripheral involvement with the military -- is that doctrines don't fight each other, people do. I want to make sure I'm understanding how you're using that term. The JCS dictionary says that doctrine consists of "Fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgment in application."

Now, I see nothing in there which suggests that "doctrine" should peremptorily rule out certain courses of action by the enemy. My guess is that when forced into a choice between doctrine and life, most soldiers on the battlefield will choose the latter. If you're conducting a wargame, and the Red team does something that is against enemy doctrine, it seems to me that the wargamers can deal with it in one of two ways. The first way is the one Mr. McMillan describes: say, "no the enemy can't/won't/shall not do that because it is not doctrine, so let's start over and tell Red team to behave." Or you can say, "Hmm. Red team has come up with something novel here. Would the enemy be able to pull that off, doctrine be damned? If so, how would we deal with it?" I want my nation's military to use the second approach.

When you say it's not worth the time to train against tactics you "probably" won't see, I'd say you're right, up to a point. The military has to meet the objectives of the national strategy, and has a limited amount of time and resources to do so. At the same time, I doubt you want a military comprising officers who can't do anything but apply the "school solution", or who think that their enemies will oblige them. I think there's value in throwing unexpected/improbable tactical problems at personnel simply to test their adaptability and intelligence.

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Lance McMillan
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theduke34 wrote:
I think there's value in throwing unexpected/improbable tactical problems at personnel simply to test their adaptability and intelligence.


Totally agree, but there's also an aspect of diminishing returns. You can only devote so much time to gaming in a professional environment -- there are simply too many other things to do. In my experience most officers tend to view wargames as major imposition on their time (not quite a "waste of time," but bordering on it). In fact, that's why I got to participate in so many professional wargames -- I was the only officer at my command who was actually interested in doing so (you volunteer for the opportunity and everyone's more than happy to let you take that bullet).

Anyway, in order to ensure maximum participation at an event, the wargame's host understands that he has to "cut to the chase" and try to focus gaming time on those areas which will produce useful results. That usually means a two-fold approach:

= first, what is the most likely enemy course of action? (e.g. given what we know about enemy capabilities, doctrine, and objectives, this is our best guess of what he's going to do)

= second, what is the most dangerous enemy course of action? (e.g. given the current situation, this is the one thing the enemy could potentially do which will hurt us the most, regardless of how unlikely it might be that they'd actually do it)

Once you've covered those two eventualities, everything else is pretty much gravy.

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