Chapter9.gif (961 bytes) Wargames at War

On August 2nd, 1990, as Iraq was invading Kuwait, the high command of the American armed forces in Washington, DC, swung into action. One of the first things the Pentagon officials did was to wargame out the unfolding situation. All of the Pentagons computerized wargames were too slow off the mark for this job. So later that day, the first wargame used at the Pentagon was a commercial one. With all the billions spent on computerized wargames since 1945, Americas most efficient military operation in this century was initially planned using a game (Gulf Strike) that could be bought by anyone in most hobby stores for under fifty dollars.

During World War II, the German army regularly wargamed operations in much the same way that reaction to Iraqs Kuwait invasion was gamed out in the Pentagon. The manual wargames used by the Germans were very similar in style to current manual games (although the Germans considered there games military secrets and not available to civilians). When the allies invaded France on June 6th, 1944, the Germans were in the middle of a wargame dealing with just such a possibility. As reality had overtaken the games hypothetical premise, the German commander ordered the game to proceed, but not as a game but as a command tool. Wargaming had been a common practice in the Germany for a century before the Nazis came along. The British, Russians and Japanese
also wargamed every major operation. In the United States, only the navy used wargames for planning.

However, for many years after World War II, traditional wargames got little respect from the professional military wargamers because these older, history based, manual wargames were not considered precise enough for current needs. The development and application of computers, operations analysis (OR) and systems analysis during World War II firmly implanted the idea that simulations of war had to, and could, provide precise and unambiguous answers. It was ignored that history based wargames, despite being relatively imprecise and ambiguous, had usually been accurate enough to be useful. So, as the decades rolled by after 1945, even the slow learners realized that the precise and unambiguous approach could not be realized, much less match the reliability and accuracy of the older style wargames. Finally, in the 1980s, chaos theory emerged and (without getting into the technical aspects of THAT) gave the high precision crowd a scientific reason for admitting that the older wargaming techniques did indeed work. Not that chaos theory alone changed a lot of minds. A lot of the OR style wargamers began to realize that absolute accuracy was not only difficult to attain, but often unnecessary. Several military wargamers summed up the problem very succinctly by pointing out that there is a trade off between the accuracy of your wargame and how much time and resources you have available. The relationships for these various analyses, performed by an experienced analyst, can be expressed thusly:

  • A one hour, +/- 20 percent accurate solution can be done on a piece of paper with a calculator. For example, trying to solve the problem of how long it would take an armored division to travel a distance and fight a battle and what resources would be needed and what losses would be incurred. The method described here would give you an answer either 20 percent higher or lower than reality. Well, that may be a little optimistic, but it's in the ball park and makes the point.
  • A one day, +/- 10 percent accurate solution can be done on a spreadsheet program running on a personal computer. This approach uses much more data, calculation and accuracy.
  • A one week, +/- 5 percent accurate solution can be done on a spreadsheet with current data gathered from many sources and elaborate data handling and calculation routines created in the spreadsheet. Much of the time would be spent gathering the information, always a neccessary and tedious task for producing wargames.
  • A one month, +/- one percent accurate solution can be used with linear programming or other analytic tools (also on a personal computer)
    and even more data. Linear programming can also be used in conjunction with a spreadsheet model (a technique I favor).

Until recently, professional wargaming tended to go after the less than one percent deviation in accuracy and consume years and millions of dollars in the process. Indeed, the process usually overcame the search for a solution, often leading to a lost, and failed, project.

Commercial manual wargames can generally achieve a "five percent solution." Put a wargame on a PC and you get a nearly one percent solution. But it took the military a while to catch on to this cheaper solution sitting on the shelves of a local game store.

Wargames versus Models and Simulations

One problem that has caused some confusion within the military wargaming community is the use of the terms "wargame, "model" and "simulation." It causes even more problems among civilians, who also hear the term "conflict simulation" tossed about. Wargames are, like most games, also models and simulations of real life events. The three terms are commonly (and incorrectly) used interchangeably, but each term means quite something different to the military wargamer. Wargames are usually simpler than models and simulations because, as the names imply, a wargame is something of a competitive game that is played while a model is a more detailed representation of a specific military event. A model duplicates a function in great detail and exactitude. A simulation is a model, or collection of models, that can be more easily manipulated to test "what if" questions. A simulation is a model that can move in many different directions. A wargame is a playable simulation. A conflict simulation is another name for wargame, one that leaves out the two unsavory terms, "war" and "game."

  Chapter 8 - Who Plays the Games

  Wargames, Models, and Simulations

  Table of Contents