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Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory

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

Technology Seminar War Games

Experiences in Allied Nations

Considerable experience has been gained in technology seminar war games by NATO as an alliance and by several individual nations including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

Some useful reports of their experiences are:

Key Elements

Mapping Between Capabilities and Concepts

A technology seminar war game draws together two communities represented in a military group and a technology group.

The Military Group

Members of the military group come with their experiences with tactical, operational, and strategic issues and the with notions of capability requirements that some technology may be suitable to satisfy. While they may not have a clear image of how some technology may be implemented to satisfy their requirements, they may have some broad vision of where technology may help them or their successors on future battlefields.

In addition to their impressions of what requirements for technology they may have, the military group should also be aware of ancillary issues of introducing new technology. These issues may include the ability to train military personnel to employ future technology appropriately, the feasibility of maintaining high-tech systems on the battlefield, or the ability to integrate some futuristic prototype with legacy systems. Note: Some strongly held beliefs on such ancillary issues may be the result of myths that can develop within military communities -- science and technology can play a role in "myth busting" here, just as they do in the civilian world.

As illustrated in the diagram, some military requirements may be decomposable into "sub-requirements". (And these may be decomposable in additional levels, not shown in the diagram.) Before a technology seminar war game, there may also be requirements of which no one is yet aware: the unrecognized requirement shown at the bottom.

A technology seminar war game is an excellent venue for members of the military group to clarify their ideas on exactly what some requirement really is. For example: "Do we just need a longer range sensor?" "Yes, of course... ummm, but it should also be stealthier than what we have now. Oh, and it would be better than what we have now if we could get by with less tech support for maintenance."

The Technology Group

Members of the technology group may come with fleshed out technology concepts for which they hope military colleagues will provide a critique. Members of the technology group often lack the military experience to visualize how their ideas will be applied to military operations, and they may be blind to constraints that the military may consider vital, e.g., easy to train, efficient in the use of scarce battlefield resources, frugal in demands for highly trained technical support personnel.

There may also be technology subject matter experts without their own pet concepts, who are participating to provide reference material on the scientific or technological constraints of some proposals.

Many members of the technology group may come to the game with concepts, but without a well-developed idea of how they may be employed on military operations. For them, one of the benefits of a war game is to see more explicitly how the military could be employing their concepts. And there may be surprises, innovative military participants may well find an unanticipated application for some proposed technology concept.

Another benefit to members of the techology group is that they may come to realize that some technologies might be configured in a way that was not obvious before the game. It may take the interaction of military and technology subject matter experts to find such undeveloped concepts


Members of the technology group should be given advanced notice of certain aspects of the scenarios of the wargame, e.g., the locale, the general nature of the operations, the types of equipment the military expect to employ. This will give them a contextual understanding for the natures of technology that may be appropraiate (and what may be entirely inappropriate).

Technology concepts should be developed to the point of the an "artist's impression" -- enough for game players to visualize how the concept would be implemented on the battlefield. In future-thinking games, this should be sufficient for an appropriate discussion.

Filtering of Technology Concepts

Often after a call for candidate technology concepts, there are too many to address with limited resources for a short war game. This happened in the NATO studies of future land operations (NATO LAND OPS 2020 and URBAN OPS 2020). The reports on these studies outline how the study group "down selected" from a large number of candidate techology concepts (over 100) to a more manageable number (about 30). The down-selected concepts were then incorporated into a series of technology seminar war games.

Benefits to the Military Group

Military participants in a technology seminar war game may leave with their eyes opened in many respects. They may discover new technologies that will affect their specific military speciality; they may come to realize they had a requirement that had gone unrecognized; they may develop social contacts with members of the technology group that can be exploited later to develop new applications of technology.

Benefits to the Technology Group

Some members of the technology group may leave a technology seminar war game with their egos bruised: that concept that looked so great back in the lab might get demolished by members of the military group. Often, such criticisms are not over what a new concept might contribute to future military operations, but more over how difficult it may be to train troops, or how expensive it could be to maintain, or how difficult it may be to provide necessary resources in the middle of a fire fight. Or, the criticism may be even bruising: the concept is simply not required -- there may already be something almost as good available. Perhaps there are substitutes to meet some apparent requirement that are as good, and even more appealing to the military group.

Cautionary Note

Millennium Challenge '02 -- A Test of Transformation Technologies?

Exercise Millennium Challenge '02 (MC02) was conducted from 24 July to 15 August 2002 and reputatedly cost $250 million. It was sponsored by Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) and consisted of a federation of computer-based combat simulations as well as live exercises.

MC02 was meant as a test a variety of future technologies, part of what was widely viewed as the coming of a military transformation. This was to be a transformation toward new technologies in weapons, tactics, and command and control. The transformation, particularly the command and control component, was closely related to network-centric warfare.

The simulated combatants were the United States on one side, referred to as the Blue Force, facing an unknown and unnamed adversary in the Middle East called the Red Force. LtGen Paul Van Riper, recently retired as Commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, played the Red Commander.

LtGen Van Riper was well aware that the Blue Force dominated in high technology, and that his own force had high technology capabilities in only limited areas, e.g., cruise missiles. Thus, LtGen Van Riper adopted an asymmetric strategy intentionally employing obsolescent methods to evade Blue's surveillance networks of sophisticated electronic sensors. LtGen Van Riper used motorcycle messengers to transmit orders to front-line troops and World-War-II-style light signals to launch airplanes without radio communications. While unable to provide the enormous bandwidth used by Western-style command and control systems, these apparently obsolescent methods carried enough information to issue orders for attacks at a given time and location -- enough for the Red Force to operate almost undetected.

Early in the exercise, the Blue Force delivered an ultimatum to the Red Commander, essentially demanding that LtGen Van Riper surrender to the overwhelming US force that was approaching. LtGen Van Riper expected that the Blue Force would launch a surprise strike, consistent with the US administration's new doctrine of pre-emption... "so I decided I would attack first", he later said.

Thus warned that the Blue Force was approaching, LtGen Van Riper used a fleet of small boats to determine the position of the Blue fleet by the second day of the exercise. Then, in a preemptive strike, the Red Force engaged with a massive salvo of cruise missiles. Many were engaged by Blue defenses, but the barrage overwhelmed the Blue fleet's sensors and resulted in sixteen warships sunk, including an aircraft carrier, ten cruisers, and five amphibious ships. Following the missile barrage, many more ships in the Blue fleet were sunk by a fleet of small boats from the Red Force. These boats conducted both conventional and suicide attacks that exploited Blue's inability to detect them, to confirm them as hostile, and to engage or intercept them.

With most of the Blue Force eliminated in the first couple of days, the exercise was halted and the ships of the Blue fleet "re-floated". Then the exercise was restarted, but played now to a tightly constrained script -- with many of the innovations the Red Force had employed now ruled "out of play".

LtGen Van Riper later claimed that from this point exercise officials denied him the opportunity to use his own tactics and ideas against the Blue Force. Furthermore Red Force was not allowed to use certain weapons systems against Blue Force and was even ordered to reveal the location of certain Red Force units.

As a measure of his concern about how the game objectives had been altered, LtGen Van Riper resigned from MC02 in the middle of the war game. Later, in discussions with journalists, Van Riper criticized the scripted nature of the restarted exercise. He later said that the exercise's purpose had become a reinforcement of existing doctrine and support for notions of infallibility within the U.S. military rather than serving as a learning experience. His driving concern, he told journalists, was that "when the real fighting starts, American troops will be sent into battle with a set of half-baked tactics that have not been put to the test".

LtGen Van Riper also stated that the war game was rigged so that it appeared to validate the modern, joint-service war-fighting concepts it was supposed to be testing. According to LtGen Van Riper: "A culture not willing to think hard and test itself does not augur well for the future."