Support: February 1, 2005

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After eight years of effort, and spending over $300 million, the U.S. Army has officially received its new wargame (WARSIM) for training battalion, brigade, division, and as big as you want to get, commanders, and their staffs. Now even the most elaborate commercial wargame would not get $300 million for development, and eight years to create the system. But wargames for professional soldiers have different requirements, and a troublesome Department of Defense bureaucracy to deal with. First, the requirements. Commercial wargames shield the player from all the boring stuff (support functions, especially logistics.) But professional wargames must deal with these support activities, because in a real war, these are the things commanders spend most of their time tending too. Sad, but true, and its why you have the ancient military quip, amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics. Professionals also study personnel issues. A division commander will also know his half dozen combat and support brigade commanders very well, and the 15 or so battalion commanders well enough to know who is ready for a promotion to brigade commander, and who has to be supervised a little more carefully. Actually deciding where the combat units go, and when they attack or defend, takes up little of a commanders time, especially for higher level commands (divisions and larger.)

WARSIM covers a lot of complex activities that a commander must deal with to achieve  battlefield success. Besides logistics, theres intelligence. Trying to figure out what the enemy is up to is, next to logistics, the commanders most time consuming chore. Then there is maintenance (keeping equipment running, and getting it fixed), transportation (especially helicopters) and personnel (particularly finding people capable of replacing leaders lost to combat, disease or accidents.) 

Another unique aspect of WARSIM is data capture. Every action by the players is recorded, so that after the game, it is possible to identify which decisions were responsible for success, or failure. 

Dealing with all these elements is a major reason why WARSIM cost so much. And it wasnt just that there was a lot of stuff to measure and get working in software. No, the major problem was dealing with the representatives of each of these communities. The logistics, intelligence, maintenance and transportation experts not only had specific (and welcome) ideas about how their work should be simulated, but they often had ideas (generally not welcome) about how all the other folks should work with them. This leads to bureaucratic battles that gum things up, generate a lot of wasted effort and drag out the entire process. People in the Department of Defense dont like to talk about this aspect of wargame development (except to each other, behind closed doors, preferably in a soundproof room, so all the yelling and screaming cannot be heard.) Another reason for the high cost of WARSIM was the original plan to make it part of JSIMS, a joint wargame system that would allow all four services to wargame together. JSIMS failed, as the services had too many differences. Much money was wasted in trying to resolve all the technical, and tactical, differences. JSIMS came to be called a billion dollar boondoggle, for the total cost of all the wargames involved (one for each service, and JSIMS which tied them all together.) JSIMIS was quietly put to death in 2003. 

But each of the services were able, with varying degrees of success, to make their own wargame useful, at least for their service. But this wasted several years. Work on JSIMS began in 1996, and WARSIM (originally called WARSIM 2000) in 1997. The original target date of 2000 was missed, and, well, you can see what happened. WARSIM didnt get delivered until 2005. 

One advantage of such a large wargame like WARSIM is that some of the component parts can be used alone for training. The portions of WARSIM that deal with intelligence work are used that way. Other components are equally beefy enough for standalone training.

WARSIM still has a lot of the bad habits that have dogged professional wargames for decades. For example, the military still uses a lot of people to control subordinate units. This could be done via software, but there is still a lot of resistance to this. So games like WARSIM require dozens of pucksters (as the subordinate players are called) to make decisions and transmit it to the officers who are actually being trained. The military still has trouble validating the data used to drive their games. Commercial wargame developers use lots of historical data, and this has worked quite well for decades. Indeed, this was one of the features of commercial wargames that first drew the military back to using wargames in the 1970s. But since World War II, there has been a powerful clique in the Department of Defense that demanded near-perfect data. But the problem has always been that you cannot collect near-perfect data on the battlefield, and the commercial developers worked out techniques to get around that. But many of the military wargame developers never accepted those techniques, and still try to run their games with huge quantities of, often questionable, data on weapons and troop performance. But WARSIM may be the last army wargame to go that route. WARSIM runs on a Unix server, with dozens of workstations that talk to the game via a web browser. This is a big step forward, as the systems people in the military have encountered fewer obstacles to their innovations. As a result, there are plans to install wargame systems in tanks and aircraft, as well as the portable computers carried by company and platoon commanders.

Many of the people working on WARSIM had long experience with commercial wargames, and it is felt that the next generation army wargame (or even a later version of WARSIM), will use a lot more techniques found in commercial wargames, without giving up any of the special needs of military users.

 


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