mcwl logo

Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory

Background for the Basic Analytic Wargaming Course from the Naval Postgraduate School at MCB Quantico, 8 to 12 January 2018

Design Phase

The second phase of a wargame project is to design the salient features of the game. As indicated in the diagram this consists of three steps.

By the start of this phase, war gaming has been selected as the main method for further analysis. Although this may now be only part of a larger study where parallel activity uses other techniques, say historical analysis or instrumented field trials.

At the conclusion of the the Initiate Phase, some direction for the study should have been issued. This direction should outline broad objectives for the study, the resources that have been allocated, and a deadline for completion. Local procedures may call for this to be a tasking directive or a op order signed off by senior leadership, perhaps the commander. If there are no such local procedures, or if the existing procedures are inappropriate, then there should be a Study Plan. If necessary, the Study Team itself might write drafts of their own tasking. But it needs to have support from the Executive Team, so they must be consulted. Since the resources for the study come ultimately from the Executive Team they should have final say over the contents.

Step 4: Determine Key Factors

With the focus established and initial collection of master questions and issues in progress, it is timely to outline key decision factors and drivers. The idea is certainly not to draw conclusions prematurely. But it is relevant at this point to develop a framework for the problem or decision.

The Study Team may use diagramming methods for this. Speculative cause-and-effect diagrams or influence diagrams may be useful; however these need to be viewed as prototypes at this step, since the subsequent steps may result in significant revisions.

This is another step where 'wicked problems'' are likely to be encountered, as in step 2. If this should be the case, techniques associated with soft OR or with problem structuring methods may be useful.

It is appropriate, even essential, to start developing lists of perceived resource requirements, constraints, limitations, and assumptions. As well, there may be a perception of what the commander's intent might be (which may be unstated so far). Perceptions of these elements often drive decisions -- and those perceptions may be wrong. A war game is an effective tool to question those perceptions in a relatively benign and frugal context, before significant resources, even lives, are on the line. At this stage recording the perceptions of drivers -- intent, resources, assumptions, constraints -- provides a framework for the subsequent steps.

Step 5: Search for Information (examples: Master Questions, Perspectives, Issues, Data)

Once the focus has been set and early members of the Study Team become available, a search for relevant information should be undertaken. Developing a list of master questions will be valuable even if specifying the focus may already provide some of this in general terms: what are the higher level questions that the Executive Team hopes may be resolved, or at least illuminated. As the project continues, some of these questions may be deferred, or re-worded. But beginning the documentation early will provide master questions for later steps as the scenarios are constructed and the data collection and analysis plans are developed.

As the master questions materialize, perspectives of the participants (both on the Executive Team and on the Study Team) should emerge. It may be that different members have perspectives that are diametrically opposed and the war game can determine flaws (and strengths) of each of these. For one participant the perspective may be that resources and logistics are the key to resolving the problem, while another's perspective may be that poor training is the obstacle. With an idea of the perspectives that are in play, the game can be designed to provide material that will assist with all of the critical perspectives, even if it should determine that some formerly key perspective is really a myth and needs to be of no further concern.

The term "issues" is for matters that the war game may illuminate without seeming to take sides. The participants are aware of issues where no one yet holds a position, but where a better understanding will benefit the whole organization.

As lists of master questions, perspectives, and issues are compiled it will become apparent that more information will be required in certain areas. This may be data on a country's armed forces, or the strength of its economy, or on geographic features that may become key in some conflict. The Study Team can pursue some this data at this stage as it will be required in subsequent steps. There is a step later (Step 7) where the quest for such information will be at a more refined level. For Step 4, the Study Team will need information at a granularity sufficient to begin Step 8 (Develop Scenarios).

• Master Questions. The Study Team should maintain a running list of master questions, questions that are usually open-ended and broad. As the Study Team moves through the various steps these master questions may be re-worded, say if the context was not properly understood at the start or if more nuances emerge. It is likely that many of the master questions cannot be answered even after conclusion of the gaming (Step 12). Some may be set aside entirely if they are seen as far beyond the agreed scope of the study. A good example of master questions are the ten proposed for General Zinni's DESERT CROSSING exercise of 1999 when he was CINC CENTCOM (Section II of the AAR Report).

• Perspectives. Perspectives from key individuals on what the study should deliver need to be recorded. In particular, perspectives of members of the Executive Team are particularly important, after all the fundamental decision or problem belongs to the Executive Team and they have been living with for some time.

• Issues. In many respects the master questions and the issues may be indistinguishable (the DESERT CROSSING AAR report Section II for example, uses the terms interchangeably). Sometimes it can be useful to maintain a Master Questions List or MQL (actually framed as questions) and an Issues List. The entries in the MQL will suggest that the war game will provide an answer (although often it will clarify some aspects of the question, but then propose codicil questions). Using a question format, may have an advantage in making clear there is presently no good answer, so study is required before committing to one.

• Data. In preparing for a war game, the required data may cover a broad spectrum: maps and charts for the geographic area of interest, orders of battle for military components and specification sheets for weapons, platforms, and sensors, geo-political positions of the main players, and so on. As shown in the diagram at the top, the process of gathering this sort of data will continue through to the execution phase (to the start of Step 12). The quest for data in this step should be in harmony with Step 7, Step 8, and Step 9 -- namely what details are necessary to provide the players with a plausible scenario and support tools.

Step 6: Prepare Models, Methods, and Tools

A war game may require a variety of models, methods, and tools (MMT). MMT may be applied in various areas. There are MMT that could be used by players, e.g., a C2 system they use in their day-to-day operations. MMT could also include simpler planning tools that players might need, for example, spreadsheet formulae, look-up tables, "cheat sheets", namograms/nomographs, or aides mémoire. Mental models and schematics that are used to design and develop war games and data collection and statistical software used in analysis should also be included in MMT. Additionally any computer-based models and simulations required to support a war game should also be included as MMT.

While many adjudications in war games rely upon the judgement of the facilitator (or umpire), there are many areas where support tools may be required. These may be of four general types: command and control (C2) assistance for players, planning aids for players, the means for resolving combat outcomes for interactions within the game (to aid in adjudications), and data collection and analysis procedures.

• Command and Control Systems. Players in war games may be cocooned in a network of command and control systems. For instance, if a "command team" can use familiar C2 support systems, they can collaborate using approaches and procedures for which they have been trained. But if they have to develop a bespoke C2 approach specifically for the war game, this may be a drain on resources or a distraction. Furthermore, having the players use unfamiliar systems may confound the results of the study -- e.g., a failure within a game may be due to problems associated with the issues the sponsor wanted investigated, or it may be due to players lacking familiarity, comfort, or confidence in some new C2 systems, and it may not be clear from the analysis which is the source of the failure.

• Planning Tools. Players may be provided with the typical tools they would have available for planning, or surrogates of those tools. For example, they may have geographic information systems that can give them time and distance estimates, say to move a convoy from one location to another, or a spreadsheet to calculate the consumption of fuel, water, and rations. Players can use these tools, as they would if they were planning a real operation, to estimate various outcomes. Note: these are generally tools used to estimate results without regard for what an enemy or opponent may do (or even what fate might impose).

• Adjudication. Adjudication will be applied when factors that are unknown to the players affect results. The unknown factors may be as simple as environmental factors, e.g., the weather. Or, they may be the results of the decisions of others, e.g., a thinking enemy. Computer support, say in the form of a combat simulation, may be essential here to account for complex aspects of weapons and sensor systems of friendly and hostile forces. However, panels of experts may be required to adjudicate other results; this is generally the case when subtle human reactions are a critical component of the result -- say the response of a local population to collateral damage.

For adjudication in military operations, combat simulations have proven to be particularly effective. Even gaming techniques developed for the commercial market can be employed to determine the outcomes of military operations (these often are called "serious games"). While computer-based combat simulations provide excellent support for games, developing bespoke combat simulations or adapting existing ones often require considerable resources and preparation time.

• Data Collection and Analysis. Finally, for the sake of the study itself, support tools may be required for data collection and analysis. These may range from a facilitator tracking issues on a flipchart in point form, to audio or visual recordings, to surveys or questionnaires and associated statistical analysis. Consult a list of candidate tools for more.

Note: Some aspects of preparing models, methods, and tools can be time consuming, thus time and resources for this may govern the time required before a game can be conducted. Typically of the MMT required for a game, it is those that rely on information technology that require the most time, e.g., computer-supported models and simulations, command and control support systems, or communications networks. Preparing these may involve an intricate process of laying out a specification, building or adapting software and hardware, and testing components and the final product to ensure they meet specification. Since the circumstances for this sort of support within a study is highly variable -- some MMT preparation may take a year or more -- it would be a challenge to provide guidance that can cover all possible situations. A study team is urged to review appropriate local documents and to make suitable allowances in time and resources.

Study Plan

By the time the project has moved into the Design Phase, a Study Plan should have been finalized and signed off by the study's Sponsor, or someone deputized to make commitments from the Executive Team.

The Study Plan is needed to specify the objectives of the project, to allocate resources, to nominate a number of key personnel and provide an accountability chain, and to set milestones and deadlines. Generally the study plan does not specify details on items like the methods, analysis approaches, or the scenarios and players to be used during the war game; these details can be left to the Study Team to develop as the project unfolds. However the Study Plan may include more general guidance in proposed methods and what the analysis should deliver.

Note that objectives for the Study Plan may not include the Sponsor's objectives for a war game, indeed a war-game method may not have been selected for the study before the Study Plan has been finalized. A study objective may be something like "investigate NATO's potential role in a US confrontation with hostile forces in the South Pacific Ocean". After the study has started, a war game may be selected as an appropriate method. Then further consultation with the sponsor might identify more specific objectives for the war game.

If the Sponsor's organization (the Executive Team) already has an administrative procedures for a counterpart for a study plan, this format may be suitable, and may provide a familiar product. Local counterparts to a study plan may be called, for example, a tasking directive, an operations order, or an exercise plan.

If there is no local guidance on preparing a study plan, consult the ABCA handbook.

Analysis Plan

Directly after the Study Plan has come into effect, the Study Team should initiate work on an Analysis Plan. The Analysis Plan will typically be a "living document", subject to frequent revisions until Step 13 (Conduct Game). Clearly the Analysis Plan must conform to the Study Plan since that sets the constraints on resources and specifies milestones and deadlines. The Analysis Plan will include details on how and where data should be collected, but much more (see the ABCA handbook)

Cycling in the Timeline

For simpler war games, it may be appropriate to conduct the Design Phase and complete it, then move to the Development Phase and complete it, and then move directly to conduct the game. However, the process is rarely that simple. More generally there is some design work, and this moves to development. Then some more design work is conducted, and that then moves into development. Sometimes some aspect that is in development may not meet expectations, and there must be a return to design to consider some alternative for development.

Since cyclic behavior between the Design Phase and Development Phase is common, it is shown explicitely shown in the diagram.

Return Loops in the Timeline

Apart from the cyclic design-development behavior already mentioned, there are many aspects of the project diagram where steps that were viewed as completed may have to be re-opened. The most drastic is to find at step 15 that the war game did not deliver what was expected; in such a case the Sponsor may want a new project to start again at Step 1. Fortunately such drastic action is rarely needed. However, it may be that a step does not deliver to expectations and this forces the team to move a few steps back and progress though the subsequent steps working a bit differently. Computer-based simulation is often a fragile part of wargaming. It may be that in Step 9 (Test and Rehearse) some combat simulation is not ready, perhaps critical data is not available or some prototype algorithms do not suit the sensor systems that players will want to use. Returning to Step 6 (Prepare Models, Methods, and Tools) some different simulation method might be chosed, e.g., something less reliant on computer support.

In the interest of keeping the project diagram from looking like a plate of spagetti, the many return loops that could be drawn have not been. The Study Team, however, needs to be aware that if some step is not delivering to expectations, rather than continuing to flail, taking a return loop back to an earlier step might be the best solution.

Workshop 1

During the Design Phase, the Study Team should conduct a workshop of all involved, or of their surrogates. It will be critical to include representatives of personnel who may not be personally involved at this stage, but will be involved in later steps. This could include representatives from the Executive Team, from units or staffs that are expected to contribute players, from technical groups (e.g., communications, audio-video systems, databases, computer-based simulation), from augmentees for analysis or data-collection/observer teams, and from administrative staffs.

The timing of this workshop should be late enough that the "design picture" is taking shape, affording the workshop participants an ability to visualize what will transpire as the project continues. The participants who are not already on the Study Team will need this to determine if their community will be able to support the plan as it is unfolding.

But this workshop should be early enough that there are some resources that can be applied to any necessary "course correction". One intention for the workshop is to allow representatives to object, when they must, to incipient plans from the Study Team. Clearly, if these incipient plans need to be revised, there will need to be time and resources available to do this.