Murphy's Law: April 7, 2003


Wargaming Battlefield Friction- Terrorists car-bomb a command post. CNN crews wander a hotly contested urban firefight. Non-government organization personnel dot the battlefield. Coalition allies create a tense identification crisis in the heated fog of a shooting war.

These are modern elements of Clausewitzs friction on the battlefield. The tactical computer simulations used to train American officers have always emphasized the fundamentals of Red-on-Blue engagements -- teaching them how best to overcome a military formation arrayed against them. But in a media-saturated age of asymmetric warfare and real-time public opinion, Department of Defense computer simulations are rapidly evolving to address many of the modern elements of friction that todays battlefield commanders can expect to face.

The first innovators in this trend were, not surprisingly, commercial developers of niche-market wargames for the PC enthusiast. USMC Maj. I.L. Holdridge (Ret.) is the developer of TacOps, a simulation licensed in various iterations to the Marine Corps, Canadian armed forces, and the militaries of Australia and New Zealand.
Its no longer adequate to classify markers on a map simply as Friendly, Hostile, or Neutral, says Holdridge. Friendly has been replaced by Anyone shooting in the same direction as we are today. Hostile has become Hostile today but maybe not tomorrow. And Neutral has turned into a dozen flavors of More or less harmless, but still in the way.

When it came time to deliver a tailored version of TacOps to the Army, the modeling of such considerations was made a contractual obligation. There was a lot of discussion and testing on how to do it but there was no discussion on whether to do it. It was a mandatory minimum requirement of the Army contract for TacOpsCav v4.

Current training makes extensive use of computer wargames. At the Armor Captains Career Course, which prepares tank platoon leaders for company command, lieutenants are subjected to a classroom experience that melds networked desktop PCs with lifelike restrictions on perception and communication.
The lieutenants use the PC sim to monitor the minute-by-minute battlefield situation, but can communicate between each other only by radio. The intelligence officer is often in a separate room. The structure of the exercise is designed to best simulate the fog of war as it applies to unit command, even in the context of a computer-driven simulation. 

Major Michael Muller, a classroom instructor at the Armor Captains Career Course at Fort Knox, does his utmost to throw friction at his students. We not only include civilians, but also terrorist units, and get them to react to it, says Muller. Exactly where they plan to approach, well place a big bunch of civilians.
Muller describes such simulated elements as the third color -- outside the usual Red or Blue force-on-force paradigm. The presence of this third color in the computer simulation forces armor lieutenants to consider the battlespace as more than a force-on-force sand table.

Despite such steps to address the 21st-century battlefield in its simulations, verisimilitude is impossible to achieve, and major shortcomings remain.
Patrick Proctor is an Army artillery captain and a designer of commercial PC wargames. An observer-controller at the Fort Irwin National Training Center, hes done his best to model modern friction into his games. His newest release, Air Assault Task Force, includes such factors as refugee evacuation and enemy aggression against civilians. He cites a few examples of current Army training that have yet to develop the techniques needed for the asymmetry of the current battlefield.

Speaking strictly as Pat Proctor, computer wargame developer, and not as Captain Pat Proctor, U.S. Army, I think that the Army, and the military, is still struggling with how to effectively integrate these elements into training, both computer simulations and live training exercises, he says.Anecdotally, I think of the Man a Checkpoint mission that the Army asks rotational brigades to execute at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin. A platoon of soldiers stands at a checkpoint on a barren road in the middle of miles and miles of trackless desert. Two trucks, the only two trucks in sight for miles in any direction, just happen to choose their road to drive down. The first truck sports an AK-toting terrorist who sprays them with bullets in a drive-by shooting. The second truck is a truck bomb which pulls up to their position and explodes, simulation-killing half of them. That's the exercise. What lesson about operating in an asymmetric battlefield full of COB's (Civilians on the Battlefield) is the brigade supposed to glean from this?

Proctor points to a need for effective human interactors in successful computer training. The computer models the tactical impact, but a human interactor is still needed to explain the tactical cause and provide real-world context.In several Warfighter Exercises in which I participated, hypothetically set on the Korean peninsula, the roads were choked with civilian refugees fleeing south, Proctor remembers. They were simply a fact of the battlefield. Frustration with this limitation, in later years, spawned super units like Civil Affairs teams and MP traffic teams that could be employed to mitigate congestion in areas, but these ended up being gameisms rather than real training enhancers. The trained staffs didn't really learn more about how to deal with civilians on the battlefield; they simply learned how to defeat the negative impacts of a type of icon in the game.
Military simulations have a long way to go before they can accurately depict a battlefield full of civilians, potential combatants, terrorists, or counter-insurgent allies, all at the same time. But the militarys first steps toward such simulations are indicative of how much impact the third color will be making in the evolution of the militarys training tools. -- Daniel Morris


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