Wargames: Winning and Losing

By Haffa , Robert P., Jr.; Patton, James H., Jr. | Parameters, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Wargames: Winning and Losing


Haffa , Robert P., Jr., Patton, James H., Jr., Parameters


"There are experts of land, sea and air warfare. But as yet there are no experts of warfare. And warfare is a single entity, having a common purpose."

-- Giulio Douhet [1]

The wargames currently being played by the US armed services have come to resemble the most recent engagement of those military forces in live combat in Kosovo: the good guys win convincingly and no one gets hurt. However, before we laud the ability of the services first to simulate a warfighting victory and then to transform the virtual into the real, we need to ask some questions. Are the nation's land, sea, and air wargames structured to produce Douhet's "experts of warfare"? Are the services anticipating the changing nature of future conflict in their wargaming? Are the experiences from those wargames enriching or challenging the services' vision? Are the lessons learned in the wargames played by the separate services being transferred into the joint arena? In other words, when it comes to wargames, who's winning and who's losing?

To address those questions, this article will examine the Title 10 games [2] currently being conducted at US war colleges from the perspective of personal experience as players on the Blue (friendly) and Red (opposing) sides in each of those wargames over the last few years, as well as that of neutral assessors. While applauding many of these efforts, we are principally concerned that the services are winning their wargames but losing opportunities to shape the armed forces for the future.

We need to acknowledge at the outset that wargames are necessarily wide in scope, narrow in application, and broad in purpose. Wargaming, in one form or another, has been around for as long as the armed forces of one nation needed to evaluate plausible offensive and defensive options against those of a potential adversary. As an analytical device, a wargame can stretch across a wide spectrum of employment: investigating near-term geopolitical situations, testing new operational concepts, developing new measures of merit, and determining capabilities and forces required to meet credible future contingencies. Wargaming is a valuable tool, but it can be misused--particularly when attempts are made to guide the future by championing defense programs caught up in contemporary budget battles. Moreover, no single wargame can simultaneously and equally serve to train warfighters, to inform outsiders, to test concepts and doctrine, and to evaluate future force levels. Just as combat requires clearly defined objective s, so does the gaming of force application.

Playing Wargames

Congress authorizes the US armed forces to conduct Title 10 wargames to investigate the application of military force as it might exist in the future. The US Navy conducts its games at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island (Global), the Army at the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania (Army After Next/Transformation), and the Air Force plays its Title 10 game at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama (Global Engagement). The Navy's program has emerged from its well-respected Cold War Global series, and the Army and the Air Force games are post-Cold War events, each now entering its fifth year.

The mechanics of the games, each typically involving hundreds of military and civilian professionals, are quite similar, positing a future conflict between the armed forces of the United States (occasionally assisted by allies) and a capable, although not necessarily symmetric, adversary. However, where once wargaming results were generated using look-up tables and manual computation, now combat models and computerized databases bring new dimensions to the art of wargaming. These computer programs can be used to evaluate the results of a massive air battle, the effectiveness of defense against cruise or ballistic missiles, and even the probability of the interaction of two submarines quietly searching for one another in several thousand square miles of ocean. …

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