Wargaming Insights

By de Czege, Huba Wass | Army, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Wargaming Insights


de Czege, Huba Wass, Army


Last year's U.S. Air Force Global Engagement and U.S. Army Vigilant Warrior war games, taken together, have been particularly enlightening in pointing out trends in future warfare. These so-called Title X war games explore the performance of currently programmed or potential force structures and service concepts in a range of scenarios that represent valid strategic security problems. I have participated in and followed the progress of these and others since 1997 and continue to derive valuable insights from them.

The Army's Vigilant Warrior war game is held annually in April. The most recent one focused on the consequences of having to deal with one major unexpected contingency requiring a substantial response and a smaller concurrent crisis that may escalate, while continuing to meet other worldwide commitments-in essence, the administration's national security strategy. It placed this in a 2015 setting and examined the performance of the projected Army of that time. The U.S. Air Force held its Global Engagement VI war game on November 3-8, 2002, to explore the performance of its currently programmed force structures and concepts in a 2015 campaign to change the regime of a determined and robust (but fictitious) Southwest Asian regional power with a limited nuclear capability. While valuable lessons were relearned and new insights emerged, the main benefit of the exercises may be in the important questions they raise.

This year they have raised these three: Are we in danger of underestimating the difficulty of concluding high stakes campaigns promptly? Has a useful unifying joint concept for campaigning in the 21st century already emerged? Is our tendency to focus on kinetic killing power and less on supporting enablers a common weakness shared by all the services and the Department of Defense?

1. Are we in danger of underestimating the difficulty of concluding campaigns promptly?

While we may be living in an era of very precise firepower of great destructive potential, the calculus of a war to evict the regime of a capable regional power or to achieve any other substantial strategic aim that might lead to war with a determined enemy will continue to involve many imprecisions. The dangers of wars of this nature are so great that it seems to me unthinkable to initiate such a war without some assurance that we can succeed promptly. The greater the time allowed to accomplish strategic objectives once hostilities are begun the more opportunity the enemy has to strike asymmetrically, adjust his defenses, diminish the cohesion of our coalition and extort concessions from our political authorities. It is common in such war games to experience more friendly casualties outside combat units than in them, and often there are more casualties in the coalition homelands than in the coalition military forces. Any thinking foe will fully comprehend not only our strengths but also our limitations and will adjust his tactics and defenses accordingly. We will not have the capabilities in the foreseeable future to fight such wars unilaterally, and coalitions tend to fray as optimistic expectations fade and the achievement of strategic aims is delayed. Once we become engaged in hostilities with a determined enemy the enemy's definition of winning promptly becomes not losing, or delaying defeat until the coalition tires of pursuing its original strategic ends.

The overall design and balance of any war effort is dependent on many strategic particulars and thus there is no set formula, but short wars depend on combining and optimizing every advantage and guarding critical vulnerabilities. Assuming that war is a last resort, after options short of force have failed to attain important strategic ends, it is prudent to pursue war along two complementary lines-a combination of strong measures aimed at softening the will of the enemy's top leadership and a campaign to defeat the enemy regime's power to resist any conditions we might want to impose. …

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