Chapter9.gif (961 bytes) Wargames at War

Wargaming and the Professional Warriors

In the 1970s the commercial wargames began to have an influence on the design and use of professional wargames. At first there was an indirect influence of the hobby games, as the troops bought and played them, which had a subtle and enduring impact. By the end of the 1970s, the military wargamers (users first, then the designers) found that the simpler techniques used by commercial wargames were more effective at simulating warfare than their own highly complex and heavily computerized efforts. A common criticism directed towards professional wargames during the 1970s was insufficient attention to historical experience in order to validate the military simulations and models.

The rumblings within the professional wargaming community was one of the causes of the 1977 Leesburg conference. This was the first gathering of all the major forces in military wargaming. Two others were held, one in 1985 and another in 1991. I was invited to all three, but the first invitation was a clear sign that things were changing as I was clearly an outsider. It was obvious that the winds of change were blowing strong when Andrew Marshall, a senior official of OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) and one of the key sources of funding for professional wargames, got up in front of the assembled multitude and stated bluntly: "You people have never given me anything I can use."

When my turn came to speak, I pointed out that what was needed was a wargame the commander could sit down with and operate himself. Having the ultimate user of wargame results actually operate the wargame would save a lot of time, get much better results and eliminate a lot of confusion. It would also enable the commander to experiment with options that he might be reluctant to try through his staff (because the idea, or the results, might prove embarrassing). This last point is important, as the sociology of senior command makes it difficult for a commander to appear ignorant of anything or capable of doing something stupid, especially in front of subordinates.

By the late 1980s, the technology existed for such "commander games", it didn't in 1977, and you can pretty much play the "commander game" with many current commercial computer wargames. This spotlighted a major deficiency of military wargames, what commercial wargamers call the "interface." Creating a commercial wargame, be it paper or computer based, requires that up to half (or more) of the effort (and budget) on the project be devoted to how the game looks and how easy the game is to use. If a game looks ugly and is too difficult to use, it won't be used and, more importantly, won't be bought. Because of a lack of commercial pressures, the military games never had very user friendly interfaces. Moreover, the people who created military games were the principal users, or computer professionals accustomed to arcane interfaces. There was never any big incentive to develop efficient interfaces.

At Leesburg, and subsequently, I urged the military wargamers to buy the interface (and wargame) technology from commercial publishers. I had already sounded out several publishers and most were quite eager to work with the military. In time, some military organizations did obtain technology from commercial wargame publishers, but only on a limited basis. The resistance to this approach was threefold: First, commercial publishers were not accustomed to all the paperwork and bureaucracy required to work as a "government contractor." Second, many government agencies were not experienced in going out and contacting firms that were not actively seeking government work. Third, the existing government suppliers of wargame technology did what they could to discourage the purchase of these "toys" (commercial wargames), as the "toys" were a lot cheaper and more competitive than the multi-million dollar military wargame projects that kept so many defense consultants (and many government employees) comfortably employed.

Even before Leesburg, I had been approached to help integrate commercial wargames into the military. Yet this demonstrated that helping the military develop wargames was not without its pitfalls. In 1972, while running a wargame publishing company, I was approached by a group of young officers at the Army Infantry School asking me to design and publish a game on a contemporary subject. So I designed "Red Star/White Star," which went on to become a great success after publication in 1973. This attracted the attention of more senior officers in the Army who encouraged the development of a commercial type wargame for use in training troops. It took a few years but eventually, with the help of a $25,000 development contract from the Army, we produced the game, called Firefight. The Army initially accepted, but ultimately dropped, Firefight for training purposes because it was "too complicated." But they did get a couple of thousand copies circulating among combat units. However, I estimate that we sold more copies of Firefight to soldiers than the Army distributed since our contract allowed us to publish it for the general public. The game was a bestseller and as of early 1992, was still in print.

The Firefight project was an interesting example of how the military (or, I should say, the large peacetime military organization) operates. All reports I got back from evaluators of Firefight recommended it. I spoke to one fellow who headed the evaluation team for the Fifth Corps in Germany; he said that his team's review was highly favorable. The Army even went to the expense of rewriting the rules in a much more expanded and illustrated format. This undoubtedly cost much more than it cost us originally to do the game. I concluded that for most training purposes, the game probably was too complicated for many potential users (senior NCOs and junior officers). Firefight required too much work to play. It should have used a computer. But computers were not yet generally available and Firefight was. However, many of those troops who were able to get a copy found it useful. At least it showed them was a manual wargame was and what it could, and could not, do for them.

Manual wargames require work, more work than a nongamer who does not have a requirement to use the games professionally might want to invest. I have repeated this observation to any number of military organizations when questioned about using wargames for training. The obvious solution is to use microcomputers. In the late 1970s I was talking about the future, but now the future has been with us for a few years. The military has been using microcomputer based wargames increasingly through the 1980s and with increasing success, although never to the PCs full potential.

Yet even before personal computers became common and powerful, there were examples of military wargamers successfully combining existing computer technology and common sense to produce accurate and useful wargames. In 1976, Colonel Ray Macedonia asked me to come down to the Army War College and help him reintroduce the use of wargaming to train the Armys future generals. This effort also resulted in the design of the McClintic Theater Model (MTM), which was based on a manual game I had designed a few years earlier. MTM became popular and widely used during the 1980s. In 1980 I met with Andrew Marshall and agreed to design for a global simulation called the Strategic Analysis Simulation (SAS) for the National Defense University. Mark Herman completed that game and implemented its use. It's still being used.

During the late 1970s, the Army and Navy began using a number of wargames based in part on commercial wargame designs or techniques. These included Dunn-Kempf, Pegasus, and First Battle for the Army, and NAVTAG and NEWS for the Navy. Many of these were computer assisted, while Dunn-Kempf (named after the two Army officers who designed it) used miniatures.

I was also called upon to do a lot of lecturing to military audiences. My main theme was that commercial wargame techniques were readily available, quite easy to implement and did not require a lot of money. My main point was that there were already a lot of wargamers within the military and if you put the word out they would present themselves, ready to design the games the military needed. These military wargamers soon came forward, in the thousands. Not only the troops themselves, but often their teenage sons who were also wargamers. Ray Macedonia used such young wargamers in developing games at the Army War College.

Over the years, I received many letters and verbal reports of units implementing their own wargames, reflecting their local situation, as a supplement for field training. Eventually, several of these military wargamers made it to the big time, having their designs published. The most notable of these were Air Force F-16 pilot Gary Morgan (Tac Air, Flight Leader, Borodino and Jihad), Army officer Bill Gibbs (Ranger, Main Battle Area, AirLand Battle) and Navy civilian analyst Larry Bond (Harpoon, in manual and computer versions).

Gary Morgan's experience was most interesting. His first two published designs (Tac Air and Flight Leader) began as official Air Force wargames called FEBA and Check Six.

This was unusual, although many other manual wargames designed by uniformed wargamers for professional use were of commercial quality.

A lot of the wargaming activity in the military after 1975 was a result of the soul searching and restructuring that followed the trauma of Vietnam. It wasn't until the US Air Force and Army made mincemeat of the Iraqi armed forces in 1991 that most people realized how drastically the American armed forces had transformed themselves in the previous sixteen years. One of the primary engines of that transformation was wargaming, the kind of wargaming covered in this book. After 1975, new ideas were welcome in the American military. If a new idea worked, it was widely adopted. That's what happened with wargames.

  The Military Experience with Wargames

  Professional Wargames and Military Decision Making

  Table of Contents

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