Game Theory, Predicatibility and Route Selection

By Colas, Brandon | Infantry, July 2009 | Go to article overview

Game Theory, Predicatibility and Route Selection


Colas, Brandon, Infantry


Although it's not one of the five principles of patrolling, it should be. Learning how to avoid setting patterns is vital for the small unit leader, especially in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. The concept that "constant and unpredictable activity ... over time, deters attacks and creates a more permissive environment" had been discovered by our NCOs and lieutenants long before David Kilcullen's "28 Articles" was first published. But Army doctrine stops at this point. We are told to be unpredictable with the implication that this is easy. Unfortunately, humans are inherently predictable - unless they learn how to make decisions that cannot be patterned.

In this article, I'll discuss how the basic principles of Game Theory can aid in route selection during your mission-planning process. Game Theory is a mathematical method used to determine the various results from competing strategies, but you don't need much math to make it work. Think of Game Theory as a tool, like an S-2 brief, that can help with troop-leading procedures.

After reading this article, you'll know enough to never pattern yourself again, which will disrupt the enemy's planning cycle. Of course, that doesn't mean you won't get attacked. However, when attacks occur, they will be because the enemy got lucky - not because they knew your route based on previous patrols.

The use of game theory and randomness as a security measure is nothing new. Security officials at the Los Angeles International Airport have been using game theory (via a computer program) to generate truly random patrols since 2007, according to the November 2007 Hypercube article "Practice Random Acts of Security" by Lauren Cox. COL Kevin Brown, the garrison commander of Fort Riley, Kan., observed that the concept of randomization of activity for installation security measures is well established. If we need random activities to protect our airports and CONUS bases, it is much more vital to do so with our combat patrols.

You're Not as Random as You Think

Humans think and act in habits and patterns. For instance, when asked to think of a random number between one and 10, the majority of people say three or seven. Likewise, marketing campaigns are based on humans acting in a consistent manner. For instance, people spend more money at grocery stores on products placed at eye-level.

In a similar manner, the Army trains Soldiers to fall back on previous patterns, like battle drills, when they are tired and under stress. This isn't always a bad thing, but it's a problem when it comes to route selection.

Not only are you naturally predictable, "the harder you try to be random, the more predictable you become," wrote Mark Burnett and Dave Kleiman in their book Perfect Passwords: Selection, Protection, and Authentification. By trying to avoid patterns, you create them. For instance, when people are asked to scatter a handful of pennies randomly, patterns emerge such as all pennies being equally spaced apart. Although the subjects of the test might not realize it, they are far less random than they think, according to Burnett and Kleiman.

Why do humans struggle with being unpredictable? In his book The Compleat Strategyst: Being a Primer on the Theory of Games of Strategy, J.D. Williams observed, "Habits, prejudices, orderliness, and so on all militate against . . . being random."

When humans try to be unpredictable, they aren't. And whether or not you realize it, you are probably fairly predictable in your patrolling.

What Is Game Theory?

As mentioned. Game Theory determines the various results of different strategies. It attempts to predict benefits and costs for competing groups when they make choices.

Game Theory began in the mid-20th century with a mathematician, John von Neumann, who was looking for new ways to model economic behavior. In the Small Wars Journal article "Game Theory: Can a Round of Poker Solve Afghanistan's Problems," author Richard Gash wrote that von Neumann discovered three key components to games of strategy, such as poker. …

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