Building a War Game

Long before the start of a game, possibly a year or so, the responsible agency defines the objectives and the scenarios. The objective is simply the purpose toward which the game is directed. It may be tactical, operational, or strategic. It may serve the evaluation of a weapon concept, the development of doctrine, strategy, or policy, and provide guidance in resource planning. Answers to the following questions can be sought: what is the required number of tactical fighters needed to protect offensive bombers against an air attack, or what are the best tactics of an armored battalion to conquer a heavily defended city? At the operational level the scope is broader, and the objective may be, for instance, the optimum deployment sequence of fighter wings and army corps against an invading adversary. Games with strategic objectives are the favorites of four-star generals. They take on global implications. What strategies should the national command authority pursue to prevent the annihilation of a friendly country? How do space assets enhance global power projection? As you can imagine, the examples are innumerable.

The objectives must be played out in scenarios. The players are immersed in real-life situations that challenge their decision-making capacity. They may be confronted with actual scenarios to prepare for war or with generic situations to explore new weapon concepts. In either case much thought goes into the prepa­ration of scenarios. Only if they stress the players in all aspects of the intended objectives will the game be productive.

Scenarios are categorized by the capability of the opposing forces. Peer com­petitors are nations with similar infrastructure and weapons. A niche competitor is inferior to the blue force but may have innovative concepts of deployment or certain political advantages. Among the niche competitors one distinguishes fur­ther regional conflicts or small-scale contingencies. These are scenarios of limited scope but can be politically explosive.

A typical peer scenario may consist of two world powers claiming the same oil – rich territory. Their own energy resources have been depleted to such a degree that their economical prosperity depends on the exploitation of these new oil resources. Both competitors have colossal conventional forces and atomic weapons. Their leadership is aware that an all-out war would be catastrophic for both countries. However, the red side believes that through a quick preemptive strike they could occupy the contested territory before the blue side can respond. Faced with the fait accompli, the blue nation may acquiesce to the occupation. Afterwards, over the years, the red nation should prosper economically and would become the dominant world power.

This scenario sketch must of course be expanded in several areas. Detailed maps must be provided with key cities, military installations, and choke points like bridges, mountain passes, and shipping lanes. Question must be addressed like what is the time frame—is it today or 30 years from now? What is the time line of the conflict—build up of tensions, massing of forces, political intervention, and first strike? (Once the first shot is fired, the events are determined by the play.) Given the time frame, the war fighting capability of each side is to be assembled in databases, also called toolboxes. Finally, rounding out the scenario, the political landscape and the infrastructure of both competitors need to be described.

This elaborate process of fleshing out the scenario is called modeling. As you may already have suspected, that word has taken on quite a different flavor from that so familiar to us through the preceding 10 chapters. The war gamers like to define a model as a “representation of some aspect or attribute of a system,’’ and modeling as “the process of constructing a model that represents some aspects of a system.” These are quotes from the wargaming literature. As you see, the definition is very broad; it is as broad as you may want to interpret the word “system.”

On the heel of modeling follows simulation. You will find that the words mod­eling and simulation are used by war gamers as often as by engineers, but be aware of the difference in meaning. We already dealt with modeling. The definition of simulation is similarly broad: simulation is the use or exercise of a model. Another definition reads: Modeling and simulation is the process of designing a model of a system and conducting experiments with this model for the purpose either of understanding the behavior of the system or of evaluating various strategies for the operation of the system. Clearly, a model does not have to be mathematical or be some kind of breadboard, just as simulations do not have to run on computers.

However, I do not want to create the impression that war games do not use computers. To the contrary, you find more computer terminals in a wargaming facility than at a NASA launch pad. As part of the planning process, the game designer must allocate carefully the computer resources. The first question he needs to ask is what computer models will be required. It could be any of the major models, like AWSIM, the U. S. Air Force’s warfare simulation; TACWAR, the U. S. Army’s tactical warfare model; or ITEM, the U. S. Navy’s integrated theater engagement model. In the future it may even be JTLS, the Joint Theater Level Simulation, representing the aggregate wisdom of all three services. Many more examples could be given. Building war-game simulations is big business outside the beltway of Washington, D. C.

If existing computer models do not suit the objectives of the game, the planner must engage a team of experts to develop specialized tools. Prior to usage, the new model must be verified, validated, and accredited. Verification is the responsibility of the developer. He must ensure that the implementation accurately models the conceptual description. Then, jointly with the customer, he validates that the model accurately represents the real world. Finally, the customer or a higher authority certifies that the simulation is acceptable for the intended purpose. Only then is the computer tool accredited for the war game.

Based on the type of war game, the planner specifies the simulation models. If the game is to be played in real time, the simulations must be synchronized to the clock, or for more flexibility the time could also be accelerated or delayed. In either case, as long as the time marches in constant increments, the game is said to be time stepped. However, a conflict that extends over months or years is better simulated by dynamic event scheduling, i. e., the clock jumps from event to event rather than in constant steps. The three games AWSIM, TACWAR, and ITEM are time stepped, whereas the new JTLS supports both phasings.

Another decision the planner has to make is the fidelity of the models. High – fidelity war games require the display of movements of entities and fly-out tra­jectories of weapons. Low-fidelity engagements are limited to iconic symbols, representing flights of aircraft or tank battalions. Be cautioned however concern­ing the use of the word fidelity. The trajectories of high-fidelity war games are at best three-DoF trajectory models, which we considered low-fidelity trajectory simulations in preceding chapters.

Should our world be deterministic or stochastic? This is the puzzling question often asked during planning meetings. Deterministic models capture only specific events and do not lend themselves to generalizations. Stochastic simulations take the fuzziness of the “fog-of-war” into considerations, but stir up much controversy when the numerical results are to be interpreted. Often, random number generators are enlisted to cover sins of sloppy modeling. Be aware of ignorance hidden in stochastic simulations!

Once the simulation support is defined and the databases established, the rules of engagement must be laid down: who strikes first; will weapons of mass destruction be used and under what conditions; will the combatants abide by the Geneva conventions; when is the game over; and what are the win-lose criteria? At this point in the planning cycle, it is necessary to bring in the umpires who will referee the game. They need to participate in the rule development because they will have to enforce them later.

Although computers have an important part in wargaming, they are dispensable. The further we play in the future, the vaguer the data and the harder it becomes to computerize the moves. We escape to the so-called seminar games. Here, a BOGAG (bunch of guys and gals) sit around tables forming the blue and red forces and making alternate moves. An umpire decides the outcome of each engagement and declares the winner. Seminar games are popular with technologists and are the favorite form played in the corporate boardrooms.

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