Thursday, December 18, 2014

Why War Must be Studied

A colleague recently pointed me to LGEN H. R. McMaster’s excellent Veterans Day speech at Georgetown University last month in which he argued that the scholarly study of war is central to the prevention of war. I've excerpted some of his most eloquent observations below, as they speak for themselves:

There is a tendency in the United States to confuse the study of war and warfare with militarism. Thinking clearly about the problem of war and warfare, however, is both an unfortunate necessity and the best way to prevent it. As the English theologian, writer, and philosopher G.K. Chesterton observed, “War is not the best way of settling differences, but it is the only way of preventing them being settled for you.” As George Washington, who addressed Georgetown students in August 1797 observed, “To be prepared for war is the most effectual means to promote peace.” One of the patterns of American military history is to be unprepared for war either because of wishful thinking or a failure to consider continuities in the nature of war—especially war’s political and human dimensions…
…It was during the divisive Vietnam War that many universities confused the study of war with advocacy of it and tended to view military forces and weapons as propagators of violence rather than protectors of peace. Some saw war as the cause rather than the result of international tensions and competitions…
…It was Aristotle who first said that it is only worth discussing what is in our power. So we might discuss how to prevent particular conflicts rather than eliminate all conflict, and when conflict is necessary, how to win. And in the pursuit of victory, how to preserve our values and make war less inhumane.
And we might discuss war to understand continuities its nature and changes in its character. It was a misinterpretation of the lopsided military victory in the 1991 Gulf war that gave rise to what would become the orthodoxy of the Revolution in Military Affairs, the belief that American military technological advantages would shift war fundamentally from the realm of uncertainty to the realm of certainty. The language was hubristic. The United States would use dominant battlespace knowledge to achieve full spectrum dominance over any opponent. The U.S. military would shock and awe opponents in the conduct of rapid decisive operations. War would be fast, cheap, and efficient. The thinking betrayed what Elting Morison warned against in 1967 when he wrote the following in Men, Machines, and Modern Times.
"What I want to suggest here is the persistent human temptation to make life more explicable by making it more calculable; to put experience into some logical scheme that by its order and niceness will make what happens seem more understandable, analysis more bearable, decision simpler…."
The orthodoxy of the Revolution in Military Affairs aimed to make war more explicable and calculable. This fundamentally flawed thinking about future war set us up for many of the difficulties we would encounter in the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
So we should discuss war in places like this great university because we have much to learn and because the stakes are high.
LGEN McMaster’s other topic was on academia’s important roles providing bridges between a free society’s warriors and the citizens they serve. His focus was on society’s need to prevent further erosion of the warrior ethos due to the many forces and trends that have weakened the civil-military bond in America over the past half century. 
I want to pull the thread slightly, however, on an additional reason why the veteran’s presence in the classroom as a student or scholar is so vital. Regardless of whether a veteran saw combat or not, he or she was a witness at some level to the complexities and difficulties of military operations. His or her experiences can enlighten (or if necessary, counter) those who have never witnessed Clausewitzian fog and friction first-hand. He or she will often be best placed to appreciate how military theory, which Clausewitz asserted was nothing more than a tool for self-education, both informs and diverges from circumstance-based reality. The veteran’s service not only enriches his or her study of war, but also that of his or her peers.
McMaster thusly concludes:
Understanding war and warriors is necessary if societies and governments are to make sound judgments concerning military policy. It is our society’s expectations that allow our military to set expectations for ourselves and our fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. And in our democracy, if society is disconnected from an understanding of war or is unsympathetic to the warrior ethos, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain the fundamental requirements of military effectiveness and to recruit young men and women into military service.
I highly recommend the entire piece.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Travis Sharp Wins Hudson Center Seapower Stipend

From the Hudson Center for American Seapower website:

Hudson Center for American Seapower (HCAS) is delighted to announce Mr. Travis Sharp as the recipient of the 2015 American Seapower Stipend. The $5000 stipend is awarded to a promising student in an accredited Ph.D. program worldwide, whose primary area of study is directly related to the strategic contributions of American seapower.
Travis Sharp is a Ph.D. student in security studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He serves as director of the Strategic Education Initiative at the school’s Center for International Security Studies (CISS) and is an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). He holds a B.A. from the University of San Francisco and an M.P.A from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton. He also serves as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve.
Mr. Sharp’s research will contribute to the study of conventional deterrence theory, focusing on the effectiveness of U.S. military power in dissuading rivals from provocative actions. Specifically, Mr. Sharp seeks to better understand the nature and proportion of deterrence attributable to American seapower within a concept he refers to as “silent deterrence,” or the promotion of international peace without fanfare.
Hudson received many excellent submissions from scholars around the world, and HCAS Director Seth Cropsey hopes to increase the number of stipends available in the future: “I am gratified by the depth and breadth of work ongoing in this field by a band of hardy scholars; I only wish we could have recognized more. I am committed to doing so next year.” Dr. Cropsey and HCAS Assistant Director Bryan McGrath thank all the scholars who applied for the stipend this year, and also their thesis advisers for providing valuable statements of support.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Enduring Myth of the Fragile Battlecruiser




The first battllecruiser HMS Invincible

     The repetition of the myth of the fragile battlecruiser continues even as the greatest victory of the class is now just over 100 years in the past. This particular capital ship has been on the receiving end of the naval world’s harshest criticism since three of their British number met untimely ends at the May 31-June 1, 1916 Battle of Jutland. In fact, the battlecruiser was a hybrid, cost saving platform designed specifically to support a mature British strategic concept of seapower. Its heavy losses at Jutland were more to do with early 20th century capital ship design and poor British tactical doctrine than the thickness (or lack thereof) of its armor belt. That particular myth was constructed in the wake of Jutland for good reasons of operational security, but there is no reason to continue to repeat it in the present day. The experience of the battlecruiser still has important lessons for contemporary warship designers. Every warship is a compromise of weapons, protective features, speed, and operational range. Operational employment is as important as physical design and construction in determining a warship’s vulnerability. Time marches forever forward and today’s invincible front line combatant can become tomorrow’s proverbial fighter with a glass jaw if not modernized to reflect technological change. Warship designers seeking lethal, high speed and survivable platforms on a limited hull would do well to consider the battlecruiser’s performance in their deliberations on how much of these qualities can be achieved in a single class. Sometimes operational employment and tactical doctrine can be just as deadly to a ship in battle as its lack of speed, armament and robust construction.

The ever-combative Admiral Sir John Fisher
    The battlecruiser was the brainchild of mercurial British technological innovator and strategist Admiral Sir John Fisher. Fisher’s well documented “need for speed” so denigrated in the battlecruiser myth was actually just one part of a well thought out plan to create a hybrid, cost effective, modern capital ship in support of British strategic interests. Fisher was appointed to a series of high level naval positions culminating in that of First Sea Lord in 1904 following his command of Britain’s Mediterranean Fleet from 1899-1902. While in that billet, Fisher became convinced that the high speed armored cruiser and the torpedo boat would prove significant threats to Britain’s fleet of slow, conventional battleships, still known in the late 19th century as “ironclads”.
      Fisher was appointed not so much for his ideas on naval warfare, but rather that Lord Selborne, the First Lord of the Admiralty and civilian head of the Royal Navy, recognized that Fisher “was the only admiral on the flag list willing and able to find economies in naval expenditure.”[1] His challenge was to reduce naval expenditures whilst combating the threat of armored cruisers to the Empire’s trade routes, meeting the threat of torpedo-armed small craft and submarines, and still maintaining a force of battle-worthy combatants to destroy hostile enemy fleets. Fisher’s elegant solution to these problems was what he called the “large armored cruiser” and massed flotillas of torpedo-armed destroyers and submarines. The large cruisers would protect British trade routes and carry the war to remote enemy colonies and bases. Destroyers and submarines would form the ideal defense for the “narrow seas” that Fisher defined as the Western Mediterranean basin and the English Channel.[2] The team of Fisher and his civilian superior Selborne was very successful in that their overall program of cutting old warships, geographic re-balance of the fleet, and introduction of new types of vessels kept British naval spending at or below the levels of 1906 for five years.[3]
     Unfortunately the British civilian and naval leadership did not buy into Fisher’s full scheme. While the feisty Admiral seems to have regarded his famous all big gun creation HMS Dreadnought as a mere interim step toward a high speed, high endurance heavy combatant, successive First Lords of the Admiralty from Selbourne through Winston Churchill hedged their bets by investing in both concepts. They refused to regard the traditional battleship as obsolete, and built successive “Dreadnoughts” as well as Fisher’s large armored cruisers which by 1911 were labeled as “battlecruisers” by the Royal Navy. Given that they were the same size as contemporary battleships, it is not surprising that naval traditionalists assigned them to capital ship duties within the British fleet. The balance of power in Europe also shifted in the period from 1905 to 1911 as Britain reached accommodations with its former imperial enemies of France and Russia, and the German Empire became a more significant threat. Rather than roam the sea in defense of colonial trade, the battlecruiser became the naval equivalent of heavy cavalry and found employment as the principle heavy scouting arm of the British battle fleet in home waters. These changes would place the battlecruiser in an environment not anticipated by Fisher and expose significant faults in British tactical doctrine.

Invincible explodes during the battle of Jutland
     The outbreak of the First World War at first saw the battlecruiser performing as Fisher had intended. The crusty admiral had returned to the office of First Sea Lord at the behest of an admiring Winston Churchill and immediately set about finding ways to use his creations for the intended purpose. Two of the original battlecruisers fulfilled their mission exactly as designed when they were dispatched from home waters to the South Atlantic on short notice to intercept the commerce-raiding squadron of German cruisers commanded by Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee. HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible destroyed Spee’s flagship the armored cruiser SMS Scharnhorst and her sister SMS Gneisenau on 08 December 1914 with little damage and few British casualties in return. In combat in home waters, however, Fisher’s creations faced more significant threats. During the 1916 Battle of Jutland, three British battlecruisers exploded and sank with heavy loss of life. This is the starting point for the myth that the battlecruisers were destroyed because their combination of high speed, heavy guns and thin armor made them extremely vulnerable to German shellfire.
Invincible sinking

   On the conclusion of the first day of the Battle of Jutland, the exhausted British battlecruiser commander Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty collapsed on the bridge of his flagship HMS Lion and uttered the famous quote to his flag Captain Ernest Chatfield that “something is wrong with our damn bloody ships and our damn bloody system.”[4] Beatty was actually right on both counts, but not for the reasons the mythologists suggest. The supposedly thin armor belts of British battlecruisers were not penetrated in battle. Instead, their turret roofs (17% of the total surface area of some warships’ decks) with relatively thin armor were the locations of German hits.[5] The explosions that sank the ships however were more the result of British tactical doctrine rather than thin armor. The Royal Navy had extensively experimented with director-firing of heavy guns at medium range as a method of achieving critical hits on opponents early in battle. Admiral George Callaghan, Admiral Jellicoe’s immediate predecessor as Grand Fleet Commander, did not fully trust the new system, and decided to mitigate its potential failings by significantly increasing the ammunition supply aboard British capital ships.[6] British doctrine called for high rates of fire to smother an enemy before they had a chance to effectively respond. The battlecruisers were carrying 50% more ammunition then their designed capacity on the day Jutland was fought to accomplish this goal.[7] British gunners also failed to close safety hatches in their turrets designed to protect ammunition magazines from explosion. This was done to achieve the high rates of fire demanded as integral to British tactical doctrine.
Burned out turret of HMS Lion which narrowly avoided Invincible's fate
   Contrary to other parts of the myth, the British Admiralty reacted within days of Jutland to remedy these faults. One report by British inspectors submitted immediately after the battle found “magazine doors were left open, lids were off powder cases, and all (turret) cages were loaded (with propellant charges).[8] The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Henry Jackson, who had replaced Fisher in the wake of the Dardanelles disaster in 1915,   ordered immediate changes. By the spring of 1917 all of the faults in material condition of readiness, and doctrine were corrected. The battlecruisers under construction at this time, including the large Admiral Class warship that would become the HMS Hood were substantially modified with additional armor and protective measures designed to prevent further disasters such as those that befell HM ships Indefatigable, Queen Mary, and Invincible. Why then the false myth that thin armor caused the demise of the battlecruisers at Jutland?

The short path from turret roof to magazine
     When the after action reports were gathered and submitted to the First Sea Lord for approval and action, the occupant of that office had changed. The former Jutland commander Admiral Sir John Jellicoe suppressed the findings of the report, but left the changes it made in place. He repeated the false claims that the battlecruisers were built with inadequate armor and flash protection on numerous occasions. His unofficial reasoning was that fleet morale had suffered enough in the wake of the battle, but it was instead clearly a cover-up to protect the reputation of the Royal Navy in the midst of war.[9] John Jellicoe can probably be excused as it could be argued that it was prudent to avoid the disclosure of a deficient tactical doctrine in the course of an ongoing conflict. They story should not, however, be repeated a century on as gospel when it is clearly false. When historian Arthur Marder first began a systematic, independent investigation of the RN’s operational history during World War One, he turned to retired senior RN officers, some of whom had been on active duty during the First World War, as his first sources. They repeated the myth to Marder, he repeated it to the world, and it remained until the late 1980’s/early 1990’s when RN insiders / scholars such as David K. Brown, John Sumida, and Nicholas Lambert began to unravel and expose the false myth. 

     Why refer to the events of a century ago in conjunction with present U.S. naval strategy and operational and tactical doctrine? Every warship is a compromise in multiple characteristics including armament, survivability, endurance, and speed. A warship might be perfectly suited to perform in one strategic environment, but less effective in future situations. Continued modernization is vital to tactical success. HMS Hood was perfectly suited to the combat conditions of the 1920’s, but failure to modernize her as scheduled placed her in grave danger when exposed to 1940’s naval ordnance. Improper operational employment can be just as dangerous to a ship and her crew as lack of armor, or the active and passive defenses modern warships utilize in lieu of armor protection. Having an offensive ethos, like that of the battlecruiser, sometimes makes its advocates less observant of necessary defensive measures. The battlecruiser force was so concerned with rate of fire that they ignored their ships’ installed safety measures. If the U.S. Navy intends to transition to a concept of “Offensive Sea Control”, it might be tempted to omit or ignore defensive capabilities in order to achieve the perfect first salvo of cruise missiles against an opponent. Small concerns perhaps, but worth noting since the British battlecruiser force lost over 3000 sailors in one battle in large part because its offensive mindset blinded it to necessary defensive actions.



[1] Nicholas Lambert, Sir John Fisher’s Naval Revolution, Columbia, SC, University of South Carolina Press, 1999, p. 91.

[2] Lambert, p. 116.

[3] David K. Brown, The Grand Fleet, Warship Design and Development, 1906-1922, Annapolis, MD, Naval Institute Press, Reprint Edition, 2010, p. 13.

[4] Nicholas Lambert, “Our Bloody Ships or Our Bloody System, Jutland and the Loss of the Battlecruisers, 1916”, The Journal of Military History, Vol. 62, No. 1 (Jan., 1998), p 29

[5] Brown, p. 30.

[6] John Tetsuro Sumida, “The Royal Navy and the Tactics of Decisive Battle, 1912-1916”, The Journal of Military History, Volume 67, No. 1 (Jan 2003), p 110.

[7] Nicholas Lambert, “Our Bloody Ships or Our Bloody System”, pp. 29-55.

[8] Brown, p. 168.

[9] Brown, p. 169.

Rep. Forbes’s Congressional Oversight Topics for 2015

In a short piece last month, Rep. Randy Forbes outlined several topics he will explore this coming year as HASC Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Chairman.  He has long showed great interest in UCLASS requirements definition, so it is not surprising to see that issue on his list. Nor is it surprising to see that the sequester’s continued effects on defense readiness and procurement, the overall defense budget’s adequacy for supporting U.S. grand strategy, and the Defense Department's offset strategy initiative are also on his list.

There are a few unanticipated topics, however, that I'm quite happy to see he called out:
We also need to focus on developing new concepts of operation for conducting naval resupply missions in contested maritime environments, conducting joint operations in a communications degraded or denied environment and conducting air operations from austere, dispersed, or degraded airfields. Finally, we need to develop a munitions strategy that focuses on deploying new advanced munitions for land-attack, anti-surface, and mine warfare, and, just as importantly, procuring a healthy stockpile to have in storage ashore and afloat in the region.
ID readers know that the ability to operate effectively under cyber-electromagnetic opposition is one of my own major areas of interest. So are the strategic implications of advanced ordnance producibility and inventory management; the latter aspect is inseparable from combat logistics. These topics, and combat logistics in general, simply do not receive the attention they deserve from the U.S. defense analysis community. Hopefully any hearings Rep. Forbes may be planning to hold them over the coming year will help change that.

Monday, December 15, 2014

AEI/Heritage Project for the Common Defense Weekly Read Board (Navy)

Navy:













Wargaming for Innovation

 

A naval war game in Pringle Hall during the early 1950s. Image courtesy of the Naval War College Museum.

Captain Robert C. "Barney" Rubel USN, Ret recently retired as the Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College and continues to serve as a member of the CNO Advisory Board.

In a recent department-wide memo announcing the Defense Innovation Initiative, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel calls for accelerating innovation throughout DoD.  Among other elements of the program, “A reinvigorated wargaming effort will develop and test alternative ways of achieving our strategic objectives and help us think more clearly about the future security environment.”1   The Secretary’s use of the word “reinvigorated” implies that some aspects of the current wargaming program, whether in DoD proper or throughout the Services, requires improvement.  Since each of the Services has in place a robust program of wargaming, the Secretary either is calling for additional effort in the joint and OSD arenas or is leery of the objectivity of Service gaming and wants more oversight of the process.  Whatever the Secretary’s true intent, an effort to improve wargaming support to innovation will face any number of pitfalls.  Just throwing money at the problem almost guarantees failure.  If this initiative is to bear fruit, wargames must be conducted under the proper circumstances by the right people using correct techniques. Although not specifically called for by the memo, the implied task for the Secretary and his staff will be to establish a DoD-wide policy and strategy on wargaming. This article will set forth some considerations and principles for doing so.

My Qualifications to Talk About Wargaming

I feel that since I am offering criticism and prescriptions, I should establish my bona fides for doing so.  I have been playing in, designing, directing, analyzing, overseeing and sponsoring professional wargames since 1981.  I served as a professor of planning and decision making at the Naval War College for six years and in that capacity was responsible for executing student end-of-course wargames.  Later, I served as director of the Research and Analysis Division within the Wargaming Department.  In this position, besides analyzing Title X and other games, I served as game director for a major advanced concepts game involving Joint Forces Command and the Navy (Unified Course 04).  Elevated to Chairman of the Wargaming Department, I completely reorganized it and substantially civilianized it, hand-picking the faculty.  In 2006 I was made Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies.  I was immediately assigned to design and lead a project to support the development of a new maritime strategy.  As part of that project I conceived of a six-week-long strategy game that produced the central insight upon which the resulting document, “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” was based.  As Dean I had seven departments reporting to me.  Three of those departments, Strategic Research, Wargaming and Warfare Analysis, conducted a substantial amount of their work using different types of wargaming, for which I established institutional policy and standards.  Throughout all of this I participated in many Title X games of each of the Services as well as teaching an elective course on wargaming theory and practice at the Naval War College.  I also wrote several articles on wargaming theory.
   
Over the course of the last sixteen years I have observed the Navy and Joint attempts to create innovation centers – the Navy Warfare Development Command and Joint Forces Command J9 – including sitting with LtGen (Ret) Paul VanRiper during Millenium Challenge 02.  I have had a front row seat, as it were, to see how the best institutional intentions, activated by a host of smart, experienced and dedicated people and funded by millions of dollars, failed to generate useful innovation, in part through the misuse of wargames.  In this article I will not provide a detailed critique of what went wrong, but my observations and prescriptions concerning wargaming are based on what I saw fail.
   
The Nature of Wargames

Wargames have been used by militaries for centuries to educate, test plans and to explore future warfare environments.  As distilled simulations of warfare, their attraction stems from the embedded narrative and their ease of use.  Wargames can range from simple table-top, map-based discussions to large, computer-supported events involving hundreds of participants.  However, whether small and simple or large and complex, all true wargames share a common intellectual underpinning.
  • Wargames are revelatory and indicative, not predictive and prescriptive.  Just as looking at a map provides a better understanding of geography and terrain than does reading about it in text, playing through a scenario provides a better understanding of the dynamics of warfare than does reading history.  Relationships among physical entities like ships or positions, under various military circumstances, are revealed, as are potential incentives to act or not act.  The famous series of games at the Naval War College in the 1920s and 30s revealed that a strategy of sending the Fleet directly to the relief of the Philippines courted disaster.  Based on this insight an alternate strategy of progressive advance through the Mandated Islands was developed.  It is important to note that the games did not, could not, predict what would happen, nor did they prescribe an alternative.  Officers with authority had to decide to accept game results and act on them.  
  • Wargames are sensitive and equivocal tools.  It is all-too-easy to design and execute a game that produces dangerous distortions.  If a game is designed to validate a concept that is a favorite of top leadership, it will, whether or not the concept has actual merit.   Organizational politics can influence games, especially when competing equities are involved.  Even well-designed and well-executed games can fail to produce the insights necessary for effective innovation if players, umpires and analysts are unable to hear the “whispers” the game produces.2   Whispers are those counter-intuitive, counter-cultural insights - the weak signals - that are easy to miss.  In Japanese Navy staff wargames prior to the Battle of Midway, a junior officer playing the US Pacific Fleet placed a task force northeast of Midway.  Admiral Yamamoto’s staff ignored this move, believing that Admiral Nimitz would not be so prescient or aggressive.3  Organizations sponsoring games must be ready for the games to tell them things they do not want to hear.
  • Wargames require commitment and involvement.  If Secretary Hagel’s use of “reinvigorated” is to have any meaning, it will be because the chain of command commits to getting its “hands dirty” with the wargaming process.  Defense and Service leadership has been busy for the past decade and it has become a frequent practice to “contract out” wargames.  There are plenty of consultants and contractors as well as government organizations that are happy to receive a bundle of money to run a game, and of course hope that the game makes the sponsor happy enough to engage in a series of games.  With little more involvement than providing a topic and a check, the sponsor awaits the wisdom and answers it expects to find neatly bulletized in the game report.  This practice is condemned.  This writer has too often been frustrated in trying to establish a meaningful dialogue on game objectives and design with OPNAV and other sponsors that are too busy to engage. A research wargame is a thinking tool that requires participation by those who must do the thinking and wield decision authority.  Sponsoring leadership must maintain direct involvement from game conception and design through game execution.  Whether acting as players or not, sponsoring leadership must be willing to engage in an in-depth dialogue with game designers.  Participation in the game, beyond showing up on the last day for a hot wash, is salutary.
  • Multiple games are better than one.  Individual games, if conducted well and under the right circumstances, can be revelatory, but each game is simply one foray into a limitless forest of possibilities.  Like blind men feeling the elephant, multiple inputs help create a clearer picture.  Moreover, multiple games increase the odds that someone will hear a critical whisper or have a flash of insight that produces a big idea.  Conducting a campaign of gaming also can produce a more effective gaming process, including the creation of adept gaming organizations and a more sophisticated set of game consumers.  However, care must be taken when trying to “connect the dots” between and among games.  The results of games conducted for different reasons, by different organizations and using different methods cannot be easily compared.  The temptation is to gather disparate game data and subject it to statistical analysis in order to squeeze additional meaning out of it.  This is also a practice that is condemned.  For the reasons set forth in the previous bullets, game experiences, not game reports, are the key to learning from them.
Gaming for Innovation
   
Secretary Hagel was right to mention gaming in his memo on innovation.  Games can be powerful tools for generating new ideas, testing them and socializing them with the Services.  However, a gaming policy and strategy should be approached with more caution than enthusiasm in order to maintain intellectual discipline and avoid pitfalls.  Here are some principles and practices that should be followed:
  • New ideas cannot be conjured on demand.  Games whose purpose is idea or concept generation must be seen as venture capital investments that may or may not bear fruit.  It is too often the case that up-front expectations of success result in the substitution of euphemisms and slogans for substantive new ideas if these are not produced by the game.  Lip service has often been paid to the idea that we must be prepared for experiments to fail, but when it comes to games, it’s hard to think of any game in recent history that has not been declared a success.  A game can be competently designed and executed and still not produce useful new ideas.  Idea generation games must be a regular diet of any organization hoping to support innovation with them.  Having said all this, exploratory games, such as the first few Navy Global Wargames in the 1980s, can be expected to produce useful insights on the potential nature of future warfare.
  • Joint operational level games can easily deteriorate into political correctness in terms of not threatening Service equities.  If Secretary Hagel wants to reinvigorate military wargaming, he must generate an organization capable of designing and executing games in which move adjudications and analyses are conducted without bowing to Service pressure.  This is a very difficult thing to do.  Hiring civilian companies is no guarantee of objectivity as Service pressure can be exerted through other contract vehicles the company may have.  One answer is the creation of an in-house wargaming organization that is mission funded and imbued with an ethos of independent thought (but avoiding the “not invented here” syndrome) and dedication to quality gaming.
  • Wargames may have multiple embedded objectives, but should have only one main purpose.  Among the many defects of Millennium Challenge 2002, a large game/experiment/exercise conducted by the former Joint Forces Command, was the multiplicity of purposes loaded upon it.  It was a wargame meant to explore (if not validate) “Rapid Decisive Operations,” but this was superimposed on a set of field training exercises involving thousands of soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors.  Inevitably, the requirements of a large training exercise distorted the play of the game, with resulting controversy that ruined the game’s legitimacy and utility.4  A wargame should never be bigger or more complex than necessary to fulfill its one main purpose.
  • Secretary Hagel’s bullet on gaming calls for games to “develop and test alternative ways of achieving our strategic objectives.”  It is one thing to use operational level games to develop and test concepts and plans at that level, but attempting to do so with strategic level games invokes profound intellectual difficulties.  The many degrees of freedom of problems at the strategic level make development and testing of policies and strategies very problematic.  Politics being what it is, there will always be a sufficient number of “unknown unknowns” to confound any attempt to test strategies or policies via gaming.  However, strategic level games can be useful in revealing potential incentive structures in various situations.  In a six-week long game that supported development of the Navy’s 2007 Cooperative Strategy (CS21), the fundamental insight that emerged at the end was that all nations, including such “rogues” as North Korea and Iran, had a stake in the proper operation of the international system of commerce and security.  Key phrases of the ensuing strategy document leveraged this insight and subsequently had a catalytic effect on generating increased global maritime security cooperation.
  • Gaming the future.  Since research games deal with scenarios that have yet to take place, all such games deal in futurity.  As sponsoring agencies attempt to use games to probe more far term issues – generally involving procurement and force structure decisions – the likelihood of distortion increases.  Gaming longer term scenarios is certainly necessary, but the design of such games must be approached with caution.  The question most often asked is how would a future Blue force of specified characteristics perform against a future Red force of specified characteristics?  The respective orders of battle are derived from current intelligence on Red development trends and on own force R&D.  To the extent that these lists of capabilities are based on a conservative estimate of how new developments will pan out and how long they take to get fielded, the games are useful.  However, too often, especially in games involving multiple Services, future Blue forces are imbued with too much capability and fanciful concepts are inserted that have no solid basis in research investment.  In a 2003 future concepts game the author designed and directed (Unified Course 04), one in which an attempt to impose discipline on future forces definition was made,  one Service threatened to pull out if certain “advanced” concepts were not included.
    One way to approach future force structure is to adopt a “challenge-response” methodology either in advance of the game or as part of the game itself.  Each side is given a menu of capabilities under development and a constrained budget that does not permit full or rapid development of all technologies.  One side, say Blue, goes first and makes a set of future investment decisions.  These decisions are divulged to the other side, Red, who then makes its decisions at least in part influenced by Blue’s.  Blue gets Red’s decisions and reacts, and so forth for the number of cycles that would be judged to occur up to the projected gaming point.  Now both sides have feedback-based force structures, which, if not an accurate prediction of the future, at least are not straight-lined and have a form of discipline underpinning them.  Since some long term future developments such as information technology are almost impossible to game, a “futures” game is more about a chain of potential interactions than it is about exploring projected conditions.
  • Constrain the roles of retired flag and general officers.  Certain retired senior officers have been highly valuable as mentors and advisors as well as players during games.  However, they should not be used, as has been done on occasion, as interpreters of game results.  Their comments have displaced the actual game results when they constitute panels of “senior concept developers.”  This occurs because of their prestige and it disrupts and distorts the gaming process.  Some senior retired officers are collegial and make fellow players feel able to speak freely.  Others do not.  Senior folks that constantly are in the transmit mode inhibit rather than facilitate the gaming process.
  • Games cannot validate concepts.  What games can do very well is uncover potential flaws in concepts and plans.  Thus, when Secretary Hagel calls for using games to test new concepts, everyone involved in the gaming process must be prepared to hear “bad news.”  Of course, finding concept flaws in games is much better than finding them on the battlefield.  However, candidate concepts can become politically charged soon after articulation.  The coining organization and/or its leadership become professionally invested in the concept.  Rapid Decisive Operations, Effects-Based Operations and AirSea Battle are three that come to mind.  When this happens, the chances for objective testing via gaming evaporate.  The real issue in gaming new concepts is not whether flaws will be found – they will – but the nature of those flaws and under what circumstances they emerged.
  • Technology insertion cannot substitute for good wargame design.  The “network-centric” Global Wargames held at the Naval War College between 1998 and 2001 were focused on exploring how networks empower command and control.  Massive effort and funding was poured into these huge games.  While there was indeed a significant benefit that emerged from the Global 2000 game (a web-based situational awareness system called KWeb, which was used by RADM Zelibor to command the initial portion of OEF), the infusion of so much new and different technology served to blur the focus of the games and compromise their legitimacy, so much so that the VCNO ordered a halt to the Global series.  My policy to wargamers at NWC was that if they could not design the game as a manual board game, they had no business bringing in technology.  Computer simulation has its place (not a huge one), as do communications networks (a larger role), but the heart and soul of gaming is the intellectual structure that underpins the game.  Technology’s potential role in the game can only be properly understood once that structure is in place.
  • Beyond just gaming and considering innovation in general, the following ingredients are necessary (and not easy to acquire):
    •  An independent organization, as either a separate command (probably a bad idea) or cell within an existing command or staff.
    • This independent organization must be left alone.  This is hard for leadership to do.  The history of the Navy’s Deep Blue is illustrative.  Staffed with top notch officers, after a while the CNO started using them as troubleshooters and quick response generators.  Once that happened, there was no chance of innovation to occur.
    • Someone has to ask the right questions.  This is probably top leadership if they would take the time to craft them with some care.  Once these questions are asked, problems can be defined and after that, innovation will take place in the process of problem solving.
    • The cell must have some kind of sandbox to play in.  The CNO Strategic Studies Group (SSG), composed of flag-eligible O-6s, does extensive travel and research, but does not “play” in a virtual sandbox.  Serious play is necessary for upping the odds that useful innovation will occur, but this has to be self-directed play with no deadline.

The list of considerations and principles in this article are challenging to anyone attempting to craft a gaming policy and strategy.  The wrong approach is to simply pick a command or a contractor and direct money at them.  The Secretary and his leadership team must become directly involved and engage in a continuing dialogue and oversight of whatever team is selected or created.  If the OSD Staff does not wish to create its own wargaming organization, it should at least establish some kind of wargaming oversight board that can develop and oversee the Secretary’s policies.

Innovation is a consequence of a corporate culture and ethos of objective inquiry, collegial and open dialogue, and a common understanding of and commitment to institutional goals.  Such an environment must be created or at least facilitated by top leadership through its actions and decisions.  There is plenty of innovation taking place within the Department of Defense, particularly at the technical level, but in many cases, at the operational and strategic levels, despite lip service to innovation, what many leaders really want is revolutionary new ways of maintaining the status quo. In one sense, that is a perfectly proper objective.  The US is a status quo power that seeks to maintain the current international system of commerce and security with itself as the prime guarantor of system security.  Defense efforts at innovation should be aimed at finding ways to maintain this status quo within increasingly severe resource constraints and in the face of rising revisionist powers and new and more challenging technology.  However, below this broad strategic level of regard, everything ought to be on the table for revision.  There will be considerable pushback from vested interests, and nowhere can the pressures be exerted as effectively as through the wargaming process.  I therefore behooves the Secretary and his leadership team to establish a wargaming policy and environment in which the whole wargaming process is “reinvigorated” with discipline and objectivity.


1 Secretary of Defense, Memorandum entitled “The Defense Innovation Initiative,” dated November 15, 2014, OSD 013411-14
2 Robert Rubel, “The Epistemology of Wargaming,” Naval War College Review, Spring, 2006, Vol 59, no 2, pp. 124-126.
3 Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully, Shattered Sword,(Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2005), p. 62 and 410.
4 Julian Borger, “Wake-up Call,” The Guardian, September 8th, 2002. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/sep/06/usa.iraq   See also, Fred Kaplan, “War-Gamed,” Slate, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/war_stories/2003/03/wargamed.html

site stats