Leadership: Classified MMOGs Go To War


March 28, 2013:   The U.S. Navy recently completed a classified MMOG (massively multiplayer online game, like World of Warcraft) to determine what changes had to be made in how it planned to deal with current and near-future electronic warfare (EW) threats. The navy game was called MMOWGLI (Massive Multiplayer Online War Game Leveraging the Internet) and involved 650 players operating over the public Internet rather than the Department of Defense SIPRNET (a classified net using Internet tech but not connected to the commercial Internet). Players were located in 18 states plus Guam, Japan, United Kingdom, Bahrain, Germany, Afghanistan, and several ships at sea. After some pretty intense play the participants made 5,000 separate suggestions, which resulted in 41 action plans to work on the best ones. Many of the suggestions were duplicates from different players who basically noted, in effect, the same problems or opportunities.

Most of the details, as well as the exact form of the MMOWGLI mechanics, are classified. What was revealed was how many of the suggestions were reminders of ideas that have long been proposed by those involved in EW. This included more aggressive training exercises that emphasize putting the sailors under as realistic conditions as possible. In the past doing this has often caused chaos because many units were not prepared for that kind of highly realistic EW. Commanders avoided that kind of realism so they could have more manageable and routine EW exercises. This was worse than no training at all because it left sailors feeling they were ready when they were not. Another oft suggested (but usually not implemented) idea was to develop backup communications for those times when enemy EW was unexpectedly effective. This means, for example, training sailors to use signal flags or lights to communicate between ships. This is time consuming and commanders are inclined to not do it or not do it well. There were a lot of classified suggestions about specific U.S. EW technology and tactics, along with useful ideas on what potential enemies might do.

The U.S. military has been using commercial game technology for three decades now, so it's no surprise that virtual worlds, in massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs), came to use adapted for military training over the last decade.  The virtual world approach would provide troops with a much broader array of training opportunities and, obviously, an identical user interface for all of them.

The military use of MMOGs has led to some interesting improvement in MMOG technology. The military has been particularly interested with capitalizing on how to go beyond the major NPC (Non-Player Character) technology advances of the last few years. For decades, game programmers have been making NPCs more intelligent. As a result, current NPC tech produces very realistic non-player characters, which are essential for military training (to represent civilians and other troops, friendly and enemy). Combined with photo-realistic images, troops can be confronted with very realistic training situations. This is particularly true when it comes to dealing with civilians in a war zone. This is the most difficult sort of thing to train for. With virtual worlds and MMOGs, troops and units can also create their own scenarios and training exercises. This is essential for troops heading for a specific area, and situation, in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Over the last six years there has been a new generation of MMOGs that are restricted to just military personnel, and some are classified and not even reachable via the Internet (because they use SIPRNET). Some of this training technology is also showing up in businesses. There it can be used for everything from management to sales, customer service, and even manufacturing.




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