Mayviation Interview With Matthew Caffrey, AFRL

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Brant Guillory, 31 May 2013

COL(R) Matt Caffrey works at the Air Force Research Labs wargaming office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.  He is also the organizer behind the Connections conference that brings together military wargaming practitioners, academics, and industry professionals to advance the art, science, and application of wargaming.

Splash-PMWSome opening comments from Mr Caffrey:
Before I answer your specific questions I need to make two disclaimers:
First, the views expressed in these responses are those of the author (myself) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
Second, I am not so pretentious to believe I know of all US defense Wargaming.  Growing up in New York City I heard the expression, “only the dead know Brookline.”  That is, that borough was (and is) so big and so diverse that no living individual could know all of it.  No one living individual can know all of defense wargaming. The Joint Staff and each Service use wargaming for a host of applications.  Though I a student of wargaming and have worked in defense wargaming as a primary or additional duty since 1983 I would be surprised if some wargame somewhere is an exception to my below generalizations.  I do not know what I do not know.

Tell us a bit about the history of Title 10 Wargames, and why they are so important to the military, especially the USAF.

The US Navy held the first of what is now known as Title 10 wargames in 1979.  At that time, most wargames were conducted by combatant commanders to gain insights into the outcome of theater war plans.  The Navy felt it needed a single wargame that looked at the potential employment of the entire Navy worldwide.   The name of the Navy’s wargame reflected this focus – “Global.”  As the Navy is a service, not a warfighting command, some questioned the appropriateness of the Navy conducting decision support wargames.  The Navy replied they had responsibilities under Title 10 of the US code; specifically to organize, train and equip.   They pointed out in order to be successful; they needed a way of anticipating needs and opportunities – hence the wargames.  By the late 1980s Global was very influential with Congress.  During the 1990s other services began conducting Title 10 wargames, with the Air Force starting in 1996.  Today, the Air Force conducts two Title 10 wargames on alternating years:  Unified Engagement, which focuses 10-12 years out into the future and the Air Force Future Capabilities Wargame, (or simply Futures Game) that looks out 20 to 24 years.

How does AFRL’s wargaming team fit into the larger Title 10 wargaming plans for the Air Force?

Each Air Force major command works with the Air Staff to ensure their area of responsibility is represented accurately within Title 10 wargames.  For example, Air Force Space Command assists the Air Staff in accurately depicting the campaign impacts of space.  Air Mobility Command helps ensure the times needed to deploy forces are consistent with their real world experience.   The Air Force Material Command (AFMC) works with the Air Staff to facilitate the accurate depiction of Agile Combat Support, (i.e. the beans, bullets, fuel as well as basing, force protection, and acquisition).  The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is subordinate to AFMC and hence supports their efforts. Specifically, AFRL works to both envision future systems that can meet future warfighter needs or create asymmetric advantages and ensure those envisioned systems can actually be fielded by the year the Title 10 wargame is set in.

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What are some of the key differences in the way professional wargames are designed and the ways that commercial, or hobby, wargames are designed?

I suspect what you mean is, “What are some of the key differences in the way defense wargames are designed and the ways that commercial, or hobby, wargames are designed?” as many commercial wargame designers are also professionals.

In some instances defense and commercial wargames possess quite similar designs; in other cases their designs are very different.  Key reasons include:

  • Intent.  While commercial wargames can and are used for many purposes, including some very serious ones, their first objective is to entertain.  Defense wargames objectives include, but are not limited ro:
    • Support specific decisions (which course of action (COA) to choose)
    • Develop people, concepts, insights – i.e. participants skills, tactics, techniques or procedures for future systems (creating virtual veterans through Top Gun, Red Flag or the National Training Center).
    • Enhance our understanding of future operations
  • Sphere of Influence.  While a commercial wargame may be influential in the long term in a way similar to how a good book can affect the reader’s future actions, defense wargames can be influential in a spectrum of ways.  A defense wargame may influence tomorrow morning’s patrol, next year’s defense budget, or the features of a future weapon system.
  • Accessibility/Classification.  Obviously commercial wargames are unclassified and can be purchased by anyone anywhere in the world.  While only a fraction of military wargames are classified others are for official use only and/or are only releasable to specified friendly governments.  Even completely unrestricted defense wargames are not radially available to the public.
  • Scope.  Defense wargames may be smaller, quicker, simpler or bigger, more complex and far longer than civilian wargames.  During the planning development process, alternative courses of action (COA) are wargamed very quickly with adjudication that is based entirely on military judgment.   It is not uncommon for a few planners to have four hours to wargame three COAs and prepare the briefing slides.  On the other hand, some military wargames have over 1200 participants.  Hundreds of participants are common for Title 10 and combatant command wargames, with composite adjudication methods involving dozens of subject matter experts, adjudication software and paper tables.

Please note though in other ways commercial and defense wargames can be very, very similar.  In fact, sometimes commercial wargames become defense wargames.  While they sometimes remain as developed, it is more common for them to be tailored to meet specific military needs.

What are some lessons that the military has learned from commercial wargame designs?  Similarly, what are some of the pros doing that commercial gamers have adopted?

The key lesson that the military has learned from commercial wargames is that wargames with more user friendly interfaces/adjudication processes can be learned and conducted more quickly.  This lesson has been unevenly learned.  The lesson commercial wargames could learn from the military is the spectrum of uses wargames are put to in the military.  If commercial wargame publishers could develop analogous civilian applications they would provide a public good – and sell more titles.

Can you give us an example of professional wargame that changed an airpower plan or a force development decision with a successful payoff?

You could write a book with all the historical examples.  There are two fairly good, recent examples.  Prior to the invasion of Iraq, then Lt Gen Wallis conducted a wargame using the Army’s draft invasion plan.  The wargame indicated that the US would suffer heavy casualties when moving through several locations on the drive toward Bagdad.  The route of advance was changed and the heavy casualties avoided.  In a second example, wargames were played to understand the challenges to keeping the straights of Hormuz open in the face of a Soviet drive from Afghanistan.  It demonstrated the value of prepositioning munitions and expanding ramp space at airfields in nearby friendly countries.   While the Soviets never attacked, the preparations served the US well when Kuwait was attacked.

With defense wargames being used for training, force development, and testing courses of action during planning, where do you see points of convergence on wargames across these three areas, and what are some important points of divergence?

The main point of convergence is that increasing the knowledge of wargaming within the military will help all these applications be more effective.  However, you picked three wargame applications that illustrated the breadth of military applications.  Educational wargames are typically unclassified with a moderate level of detail as much detail can actually distract students from the main points. Force development wargames are more detailed, take more time to execute, and are usually classified.  Wargames that enable comparisons of courses of action (COAs) must be conducted very fast.

What is the biggest misconception about defense wargaming, and why do you think it persists?

The biggest misconception about professional military wargaming is that they are all highly classified.  This misconception is probably due to the Hollywood image of the military.  Also, because some military wargames are highly classified, people hear of the classified ones and assume all others are also classified.

Given the current defense budget situation, and the projections of continually-shrinking budgets for the next few years, how can wargaming help the DoD maintain (or even enhance) their capabilities in training, development, and testing?

The most obvious way wargames can help is by saving funds.  Wargames are far less expensive then live exercises yet can provide many of the same benefits to the military.

Less obvious, though perhaps the biggest benefit, wargames can help us fight smarter.  Live exercises by necessity unfold in real time, while wargames can look deep into campaigns, catching problems exercises would miss.  It is also easier to attract the right subject matter experts to wargames then to exercises.   If a wargame indicates a proposed future system is of limited military utility, the procurement may be stopped before millions are spent.  Wargames may also save some testing costs by helping to clarify which tests are most useful.  On the other hand, if wargames indicates a future system could provide great military utility, or if they help future strategists be more effective then wargames may not only save money but lives and time through shorter conflicts..

What should we have asked you that we didn’t?

How can civilian wargames help military Wargaming?

If commercial wargaming can help defense wargames become cheaper and quicker, then the military could save money on existing wargame applications and additional applications may become feasible. would like to thank Mr Caffrey for chiseling free some time in his busy schedule for discussing his views of professional wargaming with us.  We greatly appreciate his insights and perspectives, and hope that our audience has learned something about how the military approaches wargaming.

One Response to Mayviation Interview With Matthew Caffrey, AFRL

  1. […] a godsend, as virtually every chapter holds something of interest to me.  Chapters as diverse at Matt Caffrey discussing lessons learned from recently-declassified US military wargames on the Persian Gulf […]

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