Chapter9.gif (961 bytes) Wargames at War

Professional Wargames and Military Decision Making

A lot of American military planning and wargaming problems went right back to 1945, and the end of World War II. The first problem was the introduction of nuclear weapons and strategic bombers, which left the army without a mission. As nuclear weapons increased in importance, the Navy and Air Force became the principal services, with the Army reduced to the role of a "trip wire" force. If any Army units scattered about the globe got attacked, the plan was to throw nuclear weapons at the problem. Even the Korean war, where the US refrained from using nuclear weapons, did not change this attitude. Right through Vietnam, where nuclear weapons were again not used, the Army was struggling to find a "mission," some clear statement of what the Army was supposed to be doing. Although the Navy and Air Force were getting most of the money, the Army was traditionally the senior service and, despite everything else, acknowledged as the nations final line of defense against any enemy threat. Yet the official policy was that nuclear weapons would defend the nation, even though the army got called out time and again after 1945 whenever there was a problem.

The Department of Defense either had no wargames with which to explore this situation, or they had inadequate ones. This situation persisted until the 1980s. Before the 1980s, there were numerous attempts to use wargames to solve the armys "mission problem." Vietnam, and realization that nukes were not much good against guerrillas, produced one of the more successful attempts. This was a five year model building effort which produced a pretty good "low intensity conflict" (LIC) model in 1971. Like most Operations Research based efforts, it did not give all the potential "what if's" a real workout. Users of commercial wargamers learned to expect the unexpected, Department of Defense wargames tried as much as possible to eliminate the unexpected. Moreover, the LIC model required several people several months to learn how to use it before it could be run. But by the time the LIC was completed, the US withdrawal from Vietnam was in high gear and attention was shifting back to Europe and the concept of an increasing Warsaw Pact threat. The military decided it was unable to use combat modeling and simulation to solve the Vietnam dilemma, or similar ones. Still without decent wargames, yet another set of OR tools was turned towards wargaming the Russian threat in Europe.

While LIC was something of a high point in military "Black Box" wargames, there were few others. One of the principle combat models for wargaming operations against the Russians was ATLAS. This was a resource ("how much ammo, troops, etc., do we need?") model developed by the Army War College and IDA (Institute for Defense Analysis, a DoD think tank) in the 1960s for resource allocation in a European war that modeled air and land operations. It did so in a very primitive "piston" (two sides pushing at one another) style of modeling. Initially ATLAS had lookup tables that a human could understand, but later models got so abstruse that users had no idea how results were achieved. Another very complex model was IDAHEX which was a replacement for ATLAS. In the case the new model was ordered not so much to correct ATLAS's failures, but to support MBFR (Mutually, Balanced Force Reductions, and early 1970s attempt at reducing conventional force levels in Europe 50%, at the behest of the US Congress). MBFR negotiations required a model that would show the tradeoffs between air and ground resources (and naval too, as the Russians considered US air and naval resources major factors). The MBFR talks never accomplished anything, and neither did IDAHEX. There were a host of reasons for this lack of performance on the modeling end. The older "piston" type wargames like ATLAS and IDAHEX could not deal with maneuver warfare. Naturally, Russian doctrine then, as now, was premised on a lot of maneuver. These models tended to have great detail for one service and hardly any for the others. The major problem was that the key people in OR gaming were scientists who were trying to use the scientific method to solve all military problems. Before, military people had used history to do a top down analysis and solution. Scientists used a bottom up approach. A good example of this is the "monte carlo duel," in which a model of one tank fighting another tank is meticulously modeled. What is missed is that on the battlefield there are few strictly one on one engagements. Rather, there are many tanks, and infantry, interacting in a quite complex and chaotic fashion. The strictly technical method was rigid and scientifically complete, but unable to simulate the battlefield.

The Vietnam experience finally caused a lot of reform minded officers to come out and demand a defined doctrine, a well thought out and practical plan for what the army was to do in combat. There had been none before other than to station army troops in Europe, backed by MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction, with nukes). This was fundamentally vague and basically meant a nuclear holocaust if it was ever used. Up through 1970s, no thought was given to "what if's" and what happens in a rapidly changing battlefield situation. Something had to change in the way the military operated.

Three things did change in the early and mid 1970s. First, less attention was paid to the traditional models like ATLAS. Second, all those officers who had been playing commercial wargames since the 1960s were now moving up in the ranks and were able to shift attention to these history based game and models because, increasingly, wargamers (or those who knew what a wargame was) were making the decisions. Third, and most important, the study of history returned to fashion. Aside from the reintroduction of wargaming at the Army War College and the wider use of wargames in general, these changes led to a new combat doctrine for the Army in 1976: "Active Defense." While a new look at World War II battles influenced this new development, the Israeli success in their 1967 and 1973 wars also was a big factor. The 1973 war in particular convinced many in the army that a high tech army could fight outnumbered and win. Active Defense was a departure from the nominal post World War II doctrine of attrition: of going head to head with an opponent and grinding him down. Active Defense borrowed from the German experience fighting the Russians in World War II. Although the Germans lost the war, on the battlefield they generally inflicted far more casualties than they received. The Russians, like the other allies, beat the Germans with superior numbers. But the Germans did demonstrate that you could fight battles outnumbered and win. As NATO forces were constantly outnumbered by Russian forces in central Europe, they had no choice but to develop a doctrine that did what the Germans had done, and do it a bit better.

At the same time "Active Defense" was being introduced as the new way of doing things, wargaming was demonstrating that the new doctrine wouldn't work without the cooperation of the Air Force. Getting the Air Force to cooperate with the Army in developing and using a joint doctrine was no simple task. But a combination of diplomacy and wargaming did the job and by the early 1980s "Active Defense" had turned into AirLand battle.

The US army had gotten good results from the air force in World War II because, at that time, the air force was still part of the army. But after World War II, the army air units became a separate service. Because of this, for thirty years, the Army and Air Force drifted apart in terms of doctrine. AirLand battle brought them back together.

During the 1980s, wargaming was now used throughout the Army, and to a lesser extent in the Air Force. Wargaming was slowly becoming established as an official way of thinking and planning. Wargames (including modified off the shelf commercial games) were used to clarify and focus warplans for middle eastern contingencies in the late 1970s and early 1980s. All could see the results of these changes in the 1991 Gulf war.

The Carlisle Phoenix

The Army War College (at Carlisle Barracks, in Pennsylvania) was established in 1901, in response to the disasterous lack of planning and coordination during the 1898 Spanish-American war. Wargaming was there at the beginning, but never really caught on. After disappearing before World War II, the War College officially re-established a wargaming department in 1981. This department lasted only a few years before disappearing in yet another school reorganization and re-emerging in 1988 as the Department for Strategic Wargaming. Wargaming survived, this time, because there were enough convinced wargamers around.

How wargaming returned to Carlisle is a typical tale of how a few individuals in a large bureaucracy can make a big difference. In the mid 1970s, the commander of the Armys Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), being a history buff and noting the mischief I was involved in with wargaming officers at the Army Infantry School, looked around the Army War College and selected recent graduate Colonel Raymond Macedonia (a paratrooper with OR training who had worked on OR type models at the Pentagon) and basically told him to get wargaming going once more at the War College. Ray asked around about who might know something about wargaming, and my name came up. I then got a phone call from Ray asking if I would volunteer to help re-establish wargaming at the War College. I said yes, and proceeded to regularly commute from New York City to central Pennsylvania for the next seven years. In 1978, the then Chief of Staff of the Army began using the wargaming facilities at the War College for planning future Army plans. One of the most amazing things Ray Macedonia did at the War College was to build a computerized wargame that worked, and that would be useful to the students. He pumped me for ideas, concepts, advice, information and prototypes and then turned all that over to programmer Fred McClintic. Fred turned all that stuff into a computerized wargame called, with some justice, the McClintic Theater Model (MTM). Now over ten years old, it is still one of the more popular models in the military. Ray liked to cast me as one of the "fathers" of MTM. But that's too generous, at best I was a Godfather. It was Ray and Fred who pushed the project to completion, on time and at a fraction of the cost of similar military wargaming projects.

In 1981, in recognition of Ray's five years of effort, a Wargaming Department was formally re-established at the Army War College. In 1984, I turned down an offer to become a "Professor of Wargaming" at the War College. I felt that it's much more effective, and safer, to give advice from the outside. The title did have a nice ring to it, though. This professorship was offered partially as a result of Ray Macedonia retiring. The primary reason for Ray retiring was medical. The after effects of his tour in Vietnam were catching up with him, and it seemed a good idea to get out while there was still time to have any retirement at all.

Ray's departure left the Wargaming Department to the vagaries of bureaucratic infighting, and it ceased to be a department for a while. But the point had been made, and wargaming survived. Wargaming had come full circle at the War College. First established there at the turn of the century to avoid planning and mobilization disasters in a future war, the War College was again being used plan the Armys move into the next century.

The curious aspect of all this is why the army moved away from wargaming in the first place. The Army had abandoned wargames just before World War II due of a feud with the Navy and because wargaming never really took hold (officially) within the Army. There were always individual officers (and some troops) who wargamed, but without strong official backing, these efforts had little impact on combat capability.

The feud in question came about when the Army and Navy were attempting to develop joint war plans in the years immediately before World War II. These "Rainbow" plans called for closer coordination of Army and Navy efforts than ever before and neither service was able to square their own strategy with that of the other. It took efforts by the President and several other senior officials to get (and keep) the Army and Navy working together. One result of this split was that the Army did not get full use out of the extensive (and quite accurate) wargaming the Navy had done during the 1930s on the subject of a future war with Japan.

After World War II, another attempt was made to get the Army and Navy to work together. One of the major areas of cooperation was to have been wargaming. Even though the Army transferred most of it's wargaming assets to the new National War College in Washington DC (each service has it's own War College, the Army's is in Pennsylvania, the Navy's in Rhode Island), the Navy refused to cooperate, and got away with it this time. The National War College turned from the study of war to an emphasis on politics and management. The Army never tried to retrieve its wargaming program, and wargaming disappeared from Army schools for over thirty years. It also disappeared from the National War College.

In another one of those oddball ironies, the Army War College wargaming operation got another shot in the arm in the mid 1980s as a component for a new "school for generals." Odd as it may seem, new flag officers (generals and admirals), have not been given any specific training on how to operate in their new, and exalted, ranks. Flag officers are an entirely different breed in the military. While they don't walk on water, many of their subordinates are encouraged to believe the super brass are capable of similar wonders. Fortunately, one of the earliest projects of the new wargaming department at the War College was a "theater level" wargame (MTM). Such a game would be the type a general (a senior one at that) would deal with. The Lieutenant Colonel students at the War College were on the fast track to flag rank and such a game was intended to give them a taste of what command would be like if they ever made flag rank (and about a third of them did).

All this wargaming that allowed lieutenant colonels to command armies generated the idea for a school for generals, once they became generals. The air force was also working on the idea of a "school for generals" and had dragged me in to work out some of the concepts. Initially, there was a lot of enthusiasm for a united (all services) school for flag officers. But this never really got off the ground and eventually the army came back to the War College to get one going for their own newly minted generals. While not the only reason for keeping wargaming alive at the Army War College, it was a big help.

Amidst all this enthusiasm for wargaming, it was decided in the early 1980s that a wargaming center was to be set up at the National Defense University (or NDU, an all services military graduate school in Washington, DC). I was asked to set this center up and serve as its first director. While I declined this offer, I did assist in finding a suitable replacement and the NDU center got going and continues to operate.

  Wargaming and the Professional Warriors

  The Payoff, and Warnings

  Table of Contents

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