Assessing a War Game

War is chaotic, unpredictable, and not a good training ground, although senior commanders are selected from battle-hardened soldiers. As new officers advance through the ranks, they must be given the opportunity to practice their decision­making skills in war-like scenarios. War games fill that need. They make people think about war. Players can apply their theoretical knowledge, acquired in com­mand and staff colleges, to specific military conflicts and become battle-hardened without the terrible cost of war.

New strategies and tactics can be explored in war games without risk of life and loss of equipment, except, possibly, the loss of ego. Battle planning, force sizing, and logistic preparations can be conducted. If the commander and his staff make bad decisions, the war is not lost, only the computer has to be reset for replay.

War games are cheaper than command post and field exercises. No actual troops have to be deployed, and no farmer’s field is ravaged by tank tracks. They can be played anywhere on the globe or, stretch your imagination, anywhere in space. Because battles are fought over maps and not over actual territory, international treaties are not violated. Furthermore, war games are unaffected by cumbersome safety and environmental restrictions.

Even the technologist clamors for participation in war games. He brings his newest weapon concept to the games and hopes for a rousing support from the training audience. Thus emboldened, he can go home and begin the task of planning a development program.

War games embody many advantages. Ultimately, competing nations may settle their conflicts by simulated war, without firing a single bullet. However, until that age dawns, we have to assess war games in the critical light of real, cruel, and chaotic war. Here lie the shortcomings. War games do not match reality. The movement of troops, aircraft, and space assets can be approximated, but models never can predict what will really occur during their deployment. Human relations, the threat of death, and mechanical failures contribute to the confusion. Without the physical threat players may be more complacent or more aggressive than in actual combat, whereas others may be tempted to play the expected solution, to satisfy the sponsor’s preference.

The participants determine the success of a war game. The most common pitfall is the complaint that something about the model is not quite right. Particularly, the losing players are tempted by that response. They may not understand the scenario or the constraints placed on their movements. If the game deals with new doctrines or advanced weapon concepts, their know-how fails them, and they may lose interest in continuing the exercise. Senior experienced commanders have their own ideas how a game should play. To convince them otherwise is often difficult. After all, the model could be wrong!

The sponsoring agency must not prejudge the outcome. Using a game to prove or disprove a point is a travesty. War games are played to raise issues not to settle them. They rarely produce quantitative measures of performance and are unique and do not provide a statistical basis for decision making.

War games do not predict the outcome of a conflict; they only sharpen the decision-making skills of the officers. They can convey a false picture of time pas­sage and combat effects. Particularly, they conceal the reality and difficulty of the command and control functions. The free message flow between the commander, his staff, and the response cell lulls the players into the illusion that the information flow in war is unimpeded.

11.3.1 Summary

1 have laid out before you the strength and weaknesses of wargaming. Used with caution, war games become a great tool in the hands of a seasoned leader. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz acknowledged, “The war with Japan has been enacted in the game room here by so many people and in so many different ways that nothing that happened during the war was a surprise—absolutely nothing, except the kamikaze tactics towards the end of the war; we had not visualized those.”

Wargaming inhabits the pinnacle of the pyramid of model hierarchy. It is the ultimate campaign simulation. Beneath it are the mission simulations whith single force-on-force conflicts, followed by the engagement simulations of few players. The bedrock foundation is fashioned by the engineering simulations, to which this book is dedicated. All of these tools are necessary to build the pyramid and to undergird the genuineness of war games.


‘Rolfe, J. M.. and Staples, K. J. (eds.). Flight Simulation, Cambridge Univ. Press. Cambridge. England, U. K., 1986.

2 Young, L. R., "Fundamentals of Flight Simulation,” Summer Course. Man-Vehicle Lab., Dept, of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Inst, of Technology. Cambridge, MA. 1996.

’Proctor. R, "Boeing Hones Computer-Based Fighter Training System,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, 29 Nov. 1999, pp. 50-53.

4Perla. P. P.. The Art of Wargaming: A Guide for Professionals and Hobbyists, U. S. Naval Inst. 1990.

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