Tracer Rounds – Another “Resurgence” of Military Wargaming?

frontier wars 728x90 KS

The military wants to ‘get back’ to wargaming.  Are they serious this time? ~

There’s been a recent trend in the media covering some developments in the military that I hope or at least slightly heartening. I’ve started to see multiple articles here and there on well-respected online sites about the reinvigoration of wargaming in the military. tracer-wgI’ve written before about the way the professionals use wargaming and how it differs from hobby games and what is commercially realistic. That said, there is certainly some crossover between the two given that so many professionals are also hot scammers, or have been taught by them. (As an editor note, voice recognition just picked up “hobby gamers” as “hot scammers”; maybe Google knows something we don’t?)

There have been articles from the Marines, the Navy, think tanks, and high ranking DoD officials about ways in which the military can start using wargaming again. Part of this is being driven by budget constraints.  My hope is that at least part of this trend is being driven by explorations of uncertainty in our future conflicts.  This type of exploratory wargaming drove US naval innovations in aviation in the inter-war years, and has also been credited with the development of German blitzkrieg tactics around the same time.  So the track record exists of using wargaming as a forward-looking tool for examining doctrine and concepts.  It’s already known as a tool for training, even if a misunderstood one on a regular basis.  Again, I’ve talked about the uses of wargaming in a previous column, so I won’t rehash too much here, just go read the earlier article.

Despite the good news, I am still concerned about a couple of trends that I see in the discussions. First, there seems to be a continuing love affair with power cords. I will get back up on my soapbox about this – certainly not for the last time – but a “wargame” does not inherently require a power cord. There are a great number of easy-to-use tabletop systems that can be employed to great affect for any number of training purposes. Quite frankly, many of those same table top systems can also be used to great affect for decision support.  After all, when was the last time you saw a battalion staff wargaming their courses of action for the MDMP huddled around a computer wargame?

Every single time I ever executed a course of action war game in a staff exercise, it was over a table-sized paper map with a bunch of sticky notes representing the units.  Why not the same paper map with cardboard counters representing the units as you move them around?  And once you’re past the mental roadblock of those cardboard counters, why not take it a step further and start varying the combat results?  Why not use the same map / counters / results paradigm for a training session instead of just an MDMP planning session?

What’s going to be the most telling about whether or not this process actually ’sticks’ is the extent to which wargaming infiltrates the bastions of doctrine in the services.  The schoolhouses are the common denominator for everyone in the military, whether it’s initial-entry training (aka, “boot camp”) or a mid-career school focused on E-6s and O-3s.  There are two signs that are going to be telling.

GHLogoTextThe first is that wargames are actually used in the curriculum – are the students using wargaming as a tool for learning new concepts, or practicing the ones they’ve recently acquired?  Wargaming in this context inculcates the participants to the ‘normalcy’ of wargaming – it’s no longer an anomaly, because it’s an expected part of the learning process in all of the schoolhouses.  This is the given, right?  If we’re going to bring wargaming back to the military, then putting it into as many places we can only makes sense.

The more telling marker, however, is going to be how (or if!) institutional wargaming takes hold by training the trainers.  It’s one thing to simply start incorporating wargames into basic instructional contexts.  It’s a whole new level of commitment when the military starts developing multiple road shows to train the instructors in the schoolhouses, and creates a block of instruction that teaches not just how to play the games, but how to properly incorporate them into the lessons being taught.  The true nature of the military’s commitment is going to be measured by the ways in which wargaming is not merely pasted on to existing activities, but in the ways in which the next generation(s) of leaders and instructors are “raised” with wargaming as an expectation in their careers, not merely an occasional sideshow or one-off distraction.

Now, I will save for a future column my personal thoughts on how ‘unwieldy’ some of the professional wargames can be, and why, and why their cumbersome nature creates such a negative feeling towards their use among the professionals.  I completely understand why there are negative reactions among certain folks in uniform whenever the word “wargame” is brought up.  But the failure of execution (to be addressed later) should not obscure the propriety of the intention.


This week’s soundtrack:

My personal music collection is probably a 1/3-1/3-1/3 split between 80s hard rock, contemporary smooth jazz, and other stuff.  Something that much of the other stuff has in common (along with at least some of the hard rock and a lot of the contemporary jazz) is an appreciation of complex, layered production, in which there are multiple instruments and effects that blend into a solid sound.  I like listening to tracks multiple times to get an appreciation of how each part contributes to the whole, and while I really enjoy certain riffs in their songs, it is simultaneously frustrating and gratifying when you can’t just isolate them to convert them to a cell phone ringtone, like the horns in Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”


Game that caught my eye:

Putin Strikes.  I’ve designed a similar game that still needs polishing before it escapes into the wild.  We’ve discussed these topics at least twice on the GrogCast, in season 1 and season 2.  The guys at OSS make kick-ass excellent games.  I’m dying to see this one.


What I’m doing this week when I should be playing games:

Well, the Christmas tree is down, so that excuse has now run its course.   We’re at the point in the semester where we’re starting have the first wave of writing assignments trickle in, so I’m probably going to be grading papers more than anything else during “down time” – which is only going to make me want to be playing games even more.


Wouldn’t it be cool if…

Doing the right things for the right reasons got you the same amount of attention, adulation, acclaim, and adoration that doing the wrong things for popular reasons gets you?  Think about that during our non-stop 10-month all-politics all-the-time news cycle leading up to the first week of November.


This week’s quote:

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. – Winston Churchill

Let’s face it, you could run entire websites devoted to the quotablisms of Churchill.  This one kind of defines our approach here at GrogHeads, as we’ve tried all sorts of ideas that haven’t quite caught on (GameTalk, Gaming Research articles), or managed to run their course (Tuesday Screenshots), or ran out of steam (AARsday), or just didn’t come off as well as we wanted them to (March Mayhem).  Guess what, we’re still trying new stuff, whether the #TBT Nostalgia articles, or this column, or our GrogCast.  And we’re still enthusiastic about it 🙂


See you after your Super Bowl hangover!   Bayonet 06 – out!

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