Silver Flag: A Concept for Operational Warfare

By Wilkes, BobJ | Aerospace Power Journal, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Silver Flag: A Concept for Operational Warfare


Wilkes, BobJ, Aerospace Power Journal


Editorial Abstract: Wargaming is like deterrence. It has to be credible, believable, and clearly communicated. Red Flag exercises have internalized this concept very well in a training context, but as Colonel Wilkes points out in this article, AirForce wargaming would improve if it incorporated the Red Flag approach. Just as Red Flag exercises the tactical level of war, so would Silver Flag wargaming steer to the operational level. In doing so, our wargaming could rally back to a valuable use of the human dimension of gaming and better organize its processes and infrastructure by capitalizing on available assets.

WITH THE WAR on terrorism and homeland defense in full swing, along with many other national-- defense challenges, the urgent but continuing need for effective education and training is enormous. Wargaming can and should play an important role in that process.1 Red Flag has become a monumental success in "training as we fight" at the tactical level, and we should capture the same visionary approach by using wargaming in education and training at the operational level of war (OPWAR). A Silver Flag, based on an effective use of wargaming, could complement our present Blue Flag exercises to round out an overall systemic approach to OPWAR. For nearly two centuries, wargames have proven vital in teaching military leadership how to think better-how to ask the right questions, how to anticipate, and how to adapt.2 Wargaming promotes understanding of the "operational art" of war. It provides experience in decision making. It makes book learning and classroom study come alive, reinforcing the lessons of history and illuminating the theories behind effective planning and execution. These tremendous benefits from wargaming, however, do not come without an investment that starts with recognition of the value of wargaming to professional military education (PME) and training as well as to military operations. This article promotes wargaming as an innovative tool for achieving successful war-fighting strategies. It shows how wargaming is an integral part of the "organize, train, and equip" mission of the service. It argues for a back-to-the-future focus on the human aspects of wargaming to enhance greater effectiveness in how the Air Force approaches wargaming today. Finally, it recognizes the need for improved organizational efficiencies in the service's wargaming infrastructure to better meet current and future national-security needs.3 Historically and pragmatically, strong reasons exist for refocusing and refining our use of this invaluable tool in order to better plan and execute war.

One should not argue about whether wargaming represents education or training-or whether it is operational or analytical. It is all-inclusive. All tenets are instrumental in producing issues that prepare war fighters and planners to be good decision makers (fig. 1). Along with its supporting tools of modeling and simulation, wargaming teaches people to process issues more effectively in making good decisions. In that sense, the professional application of wargaming can span a broad spectrum of times, scenarios, and circumstances. No doubt, professional wargaming is a misnomer in that it reflects a very serious business. Considering it a luxury is foolish. Our military personnel and organizations must be well prepared, and wargaming can make the difference, in terms of decisive training and education, in leaders' competence (or incompetence) in the heat of battle.

One finds many historical examples of wargaming's contribution to successful strategies, operations, or tactics, and it is tempting to try to prove the value of gaming by pointing to direct causality between wargames and success in war. But that ploy, which constitutes an abuse or misuse of history, is not the purpose here.4 For one thing, historians can only guess as to how frequently and substantially previous wargaming experiences may have influenced wartime commanders' decisions. …

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