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Journal of Electronic Defense

This Means War: Computer Wargames Help Form New Strategy, Tactics

By Ted McKenna

December 1, 2003
Copyright ©2003 Horizon House Publications, Inc. Dec 2003. All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Journal of Electronic Defense
Volume 26; Issue 12; ISSN: 0192429

Like most any other human endeavor, war can be practiced in a controlled environment with some degree of accuracy. The widespread use of field exercises throughout the world bears this out. But using real troops, vehicles, and other tools of war - even when not in anger - is costly as well as problematic in other respects. For many countries, the solution is modeling and simulation of warfare, in which computers construct an artificial warfighting environment in which commanders and their staff can test strategy and tactics, and soldiers and specialists can practice their missions, without stepping outdoors.

When conducting live-fire military training exercises, or even just live exercises that use laser systems or human adjudicators instead of real ammunition, armed forces today often risk protests and lawsuits. For instance, the British Army was sued a couple of years ago by tribal groups in Kenya who claimed injuries by ammunition allegedly left behind by soldiers conducting exercising on the savannah north of Nairobi. Protests in Puerto Rico over the US Navy's bombing on the island of Vieques forced the US to find alternatives to live-fire exercises there that, to a large degree, involve computer modeling and simulation.

Discussing the merits of simulation over field exercises, Comdt. Michael Meehan of the Irish Army's Military College Command and Staff School (Curragh, County Kildare, Ireland), said that field exercises simply damage the environment. Plus, limited space for them is available, especially in European countries. On top of that, and perhaps most important, they are expensive. "Training areas are getting smaller, and it costs a lot to get troops to the area, to get the logistics in place to set up the exercise in the first place," Comdt. Meehan said. "While you might have a large initial outlay for a simulation, it pays back over a number of years because you can repeat the exercises, you can do different scenarios, you have complete control of the logistics, you can introduce things that you wouldn't be able to introduce in a live exercise or at least we wouldn't - like closeair support."

In practice, though, individual wargames may be both live and simulated. Three types of wargames exist: live simulation, with soldiers, vehicles, helicopters, and more actually out in the field, going through maneuvers; constructive simulation, in which wargame commanders use computer programs to model and keep track of fictional troops, vehicles, and so on; and virtual simulation, in which operators of embedded trainers constitute part of the forces deployed in the wargame, possibly in a location faraway from the center of the wargame. If a real battle group is deployed as part of a live exercise, it can be combined with, say, two simulated battlegroups to give the command staff the feel of a larger force that it must maneuver, noted Maj. Bruce Chapman, deputy director of training for the Canadian Army Simulation Centre at the Land Force Doctrine and Training System Headquarters in Kingston, Ontario. By recording all of the actions of the wargames, the data can reviewed any time, and users can study what when wrong and what went right. Or the wargame can be stopped for the day, with the users starting up again the next day wherever they left off. While the Canadian Army usually uses only constructive simulation to run commandpost exercises (CPXs), it lately has been incorporating virtual simulation into its exercises as well. "Command posts have feeds |to intelligence sources], to allow commanders to make decisions, so you have to replicate that using a virtual simulator, which is real people operating simulated equipment," MaJ. Chapman said. "Like a man in a F-18 simulator. Or a person operating a surrogate for an unmanned aerial vehicle, which is flying in simulation." Navies and other armed services can easily use data from their command-and-control, weapons, and other systems to run modeling and simulations, and few military operations these days take place without commanders first running wargames to determine strategy and tactics. Here, a researcher from the Naval Surface Warfare Center controls a virtual-reality-based bombing range onboard the USS O'Bannon.

Besides tying into larger exercises, networked virtual simulators permit users to practice working with one another to fly in formation, for instance, or be part of a tank column. Thaïes Training & Simulation (TT&S) (Osny, France) recently provided the French Army Combat Training Center at Mailly Le Camp with the Centaure G2 system, which integrates the firing simulation of weapon systems and communications data to allow armored corps and mechanized infantry units to train together within a synthetic environment. Other companies providing militaries with technology for setting up similar kinds of combat training centers include Saab Training Systems (Huskvarna, Sweden), which provided a system for the Norwegian Army.

Playing Together

For the most part, wargames today are limited to a particular service. In the US, for example, the annual Title X wargames conducted by the individual services - Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines - have traditionally had little connection to other services, not to mention the services of other countries. The US Joint Forces Command (USJCOM) is working to foster more joint-service simulation by participating more closely with the services' games. In a wargame called Unified Quest 03, for example, USJCOM partnered with the US Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) to study how various services can more closely and effectively conduct joint operations. The wargame, held at Carlisle Barracks, PA, this summer, involved about 600 people from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, as well as government and non-government agencies. Wargames like this and Millennium Challenge 02, among others, look at both particular tactical situations, such as conducting offensives within urban areas, and broader strategic issues, such as the deployment of forces within a large geographic area, like the Middle East. For the specific tactical scenarios, US]COM uses the Joint Conflict and Tactical Simulation (JCATS) system, developed by Lawrence Livermore Laboratories. Constructive simulations let military commanders study logistical, tactical, and other issues using virtual troops, vehicles, aircraft, and so on - a cheaper alternative to live exercises. But military exercises can employ both live and constructive simulations simultaneously. Shown here is the annual Exercise Foal Eagle at Osan Air Base, Korea.

Through USJCOM's Joint Theater Level Simulation (JTLS), the tactical maneuvers performed by the various services, using JCATS or any other simulation program, can be woven together using a high-level-architecture (HLA) programming language, said Brian Gregg of USJCOM's JCATS program management office. One simulation application being developed right now by USJCOM using )TLS is a model of the 1991 Gulf War, or Operation Desert Storm. "All the forces that were represented are there: army, special operations, and of course a fairly large Iraqi army, and even other sides such as Syrians, Egyptians, Kurds, and other people in the campaign," Gregg said. "Say we decide we want to look on a tactical level at what occurred with one unit, the 2nd Armored Calvary Regiment. We hand the unit from JTLS to !CATS; then JCATS operators can actually fight the battle, down to the individual vehicle, and get more detailed results. We have the capability in the joint view of the simulation to play an entire air campaign and weave in an air-tasking order that's executing all the sorties happening in theater. Then we can play a special-operationscommand team using a laser designator to identify a target, then pass the aircraft over to JCATS to bomb that specific target."

As for networking that allows participants in wargames and other users of computer modeling and simulation to train for coalition fighting, that capability is more something in development as opposed to available. Among the joint simulation projects in development, TT&S is currently leading a three-year, $17.7-million study, funded by industry members and the governments of 13 European countries, to set standards for connecting virtual simulators throughout Europe. Rob Bakker, marketing and business manager for CAE's GESI Command and Staff Training System, used by the Irish Army and a number of other countries, said his company's system currently is not used by multiple countries to train joint operations, but that that is a capability customers have requested and the company has demonstrated using the standard Internet. Some international mingling of constructive, live, and virtual wargaming already goes on, though. For example, the US did joint training with Polish armed forces last year, mixing both constructive and live simulation, said US Army LTC Kenneth Bartlett, US]COM1S executive program manager for JTLS and JCATS.

Exactly how the various wargames look depends, of course, on the purpose of the exercise, noted Maj. Chapman. Each CPX is not necessarily the same as the last one. The purpose might be to train on general warfighting skills, for instance, in which case the wargame would provide a scenario that is realistic enough for the command staff to practice its operational and tactical procedures, but not a recreation of any particular location. "You might want to focus on the intelligence-gathering aspect of a CPX, or you might want to focus on the synchronization of plans. So you build the CPX to meet those objectives," Maj. Chapman said. Or the purpose of the CPX may actually be to train for a specific theatre, such as Afghanistan, where Canadian troops have been deployed. Then the Army Simulation Centre can take one of the wargame systems Canada uses, such as !CATS, and incorporate terrain databases and 3-D modeling tools it has developed itself to create a model of the theater soldiers and their commanders will encounter.

Modeling Uncertainties

Games reflect the nature of current military operations. USJCOM1 for example, takes lessons learned from conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan and tries to incorporate them into the wargames, said Vince Nunez of USICOM's joint experimentation office. For one thing, simulations must present users with all the dangers and issues that may pop up during operations other than war (OOTW). just as the current conflict in Iraq began as a relatively straightforward type of war between two clearly demarcated sides, then devolved into urban fighting among multiple parties with civilian parties mixed throughout, military operations - many of them peacekeeping missions around the world, from Sierra Leone to the Solomon Islands and elsewhere - require the average soldier to cope with a variety of developments. Mass demonstrations, riots, looting, civil war - all these things must be built into many simulations. "We're moving away from the open, German plain, Cold War-type scenarios, which is what computer simulation was really good at: who saw who first, who shot who first, doing the probability kill, then determining, OK, his tank was killed," Maj. Chapman said. "Now the trend is trying to make the capability better within complex terrain, which is more than likely urban terrain, because the algorithms and the technology that go into determining stuff in open terrain is different than in closed terrain."

Along with the wide variety of environments with which military operations must cope, the enemy it faces may not be entirely predictable, and wargames must reflect that. "Based on our experiences in Lebanon, where we were deployed for a good number of years, we would find parties who were with you today that were against you tomorrow," Comdt. Meehan said. "So it's not simply black and white, red against blue. We have a number of different parties, and you can change the matrix, from friend or foe, as the exercise progresses." CAE's Bakker said that the GESI system used to be designed for two parties - red versus blue but today permits up to eight different parties within a simulation.

In addition, wargaming at a higher, more strategic level, may not require computer modeling or simulation at all. As opposed to operational, or tactical, as in the case of CPXs - sending these forces here, using surveillance assets there, practicing how to secure an airfield or other facility perhaps - these games are more strategic in nature.

At the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, DC, for instance, where students in the 18th to 22nd year of US federal service study the use of diplomatic, military, economic, and other instruments of power in support of national objectives, wargames are basically educational and seminar based, with participating students sitting around a table rather than in front of computer screens. One example of a NDU wargame, according to L. Erik Kjonnerod, the supervisory division chief of the security strategy and policy division of the NDU's Strategic Gaming Center, might revolve around an island country in the Caribbean with which the US has serious disagreements. "How do you get them to change their behavior? Well, you can use a cultural approach: bombard them with our music and art and literature," Kjonnerod said. "You can use a military approach bomb them, invade them, or whatever. You can use an economic approach, say, by putting an economic quarantine on them. How do you combine all of those things and, oh, by the way, how do you know that what you have decided is, in fact, working?"

In this type of wargame, Kjonnarod said, experts like retired US Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni or retired Ambassador Robert Oakley adjudicate - that is, make the decision about what courses of action work or don't work within the wargame. When the wargame is intended merely to spark debate about merits of broader strategic policy and military actions, debate about the outcome is welcome. But with operational or tactical level wargames, the ability of computers to calculate the outcome of events - the probability of a missile hitting its target, or whether a column of infantry or certain supplies can reach an area in time to assist the battleforce - helps the wargame move more efficiently. Comdt. Meehan said that, prior to the use of computer modeling and simulation, wargames involving human adjudicators could get bogged down as a result of debate over the outcome. "You'd find - not all the time - but sometimes, you'd get into arguments. Men would say, 'Based on my experience, that is not what would happen,'" Comdt. Meehan said. "But we have run a number of exercises with the system, and the acceptance level among the students has been very high. They don't tend to argue with the system as they would with, say, a member of staff." Military operations around the world, often in urban areas, may have to cope with multiple enemies, mass demonstrations, riots, and other incidents for which forces can prepare through wargaming. Shown here is a virtual depiction of a downtown street in Sydney, Australia, but using available geographic information, developers of wargames could create a virtual picture of wherever forces may have to deploy, from Kinshasa to Kabul to Baghdad.

Dry Run-Through

The ability of wargaming, including the use of modeling and simulation, to give users an idea of what the future may hold, makes the technology more than just a key part of command-post and other types of exercises. Few military actions by the US or other military powers are likely to occur today without some wargaming preceding them, said Dr. Dennis McBride, president of the Potomac institute, a non-profit research group. Modeling is the whole ballgame when it comes to developing strategy and tactics within the military today and can largely replace live field exercises, according to McBride, a former US Navy officer, who said there is virtually no aspect of modern warfare that cannot be realistically replicated now, especially given that so much of it uses computer systems, from command-andcontrol (C2) to weapons systems. "By the time the military goes into battle, they've modeled the whole scenario and may not believe they know exactly what will happen, but at least they understand the possible outcomes," McBride said. "There are still the crusty old salts out there who will argue that unless you are actually able to be out on the water, smell the cordite, and so on, you won't learn. But I don't believe that anymore."

Among other things, the ICATS system was used to prepare US soldiers for fighting within the city of Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom earlier this year. MA) lohn T. Janiszewski, operations officer for the Forward US Army Europe's directorate of simulations, said in a report that tactical procedures developed through simulation may have been a prime reason why coalition forces were able to occupy Baghdad relatively easily, without the prolonged, urban fighting that had been expected. Along with ICATS, the 7th Army Training Command's directorate of simulations used Virtual Reality Scene Generator (VRSG)1 a 3-D virtual visualization system, to model individual soldiers and pieces of equipment, as well model floors and rooms within buildings. Collection of information to build the realistic simulation began in the spring of 2002, according to MAJ Janiszewski, with mapping, vegetation, hydrographie, elevation, and other data from the National Imagery and Mapping Agency and other sources used to create the common operating picture of the battlefield. During the training, an opposing force (OPFOR), playing the role of the Iraqi military, demonstrated tactics that the 1st Armored Division (IAD) would likely face. Thus, the IAD had an opportunity to refine its own tactical procedures. "IAD executed three simulation runs of a brigade-level vignette with a cooperating OPFOR, but with free-play engagements," MAJ Janiszewski wrote.

Also, because the command, command, computer, communication, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) Systems of ships, at ground forces' tactical-operations centers, or within air-force operations centers are easily hooked into simulations, the command staff doing training can use the same C2 systems to train as they do for actual operations. A modified version of the Lockheed Martin Mission Systems (Gaithersburg, MD) Theater Battle Management Core System C2, for instance, was used last year in joint expedition warfare experiment by the US Air Force, and other C4ISR systems are similarly employed for simulations. "The trend is to use real C4ISR systems as the conduit and organic partner for the modeling and simulation," McBride said. "One of the first places we saw this was onboard ships, so if you've got a navy ship in port and it's fully staffed, you can do a simulation. As far as the sailor is concerned, they don't look out the window anyway, so, hell, they're at war." With virtual depictions of military targets, such as an airfield or other facility, soldiers can practice a mission repeatedly, studying the best approaches and possible trouble spots. all the actions of the exercise are recorded, so users can review the data at any time and determine what went wrong and what went right.

Wargames are not used just while on duty. Many members of the military, both officers and enlisted men, are avid gamers. McBride noted the popularity of commercial wargames with rank-and-file troops, who willingly pay for the games out of their own pockets. The most downloaded game in the world, "Go Army," began as a promotion for the US Army - a recruiting tool, essentially - but, because of its realism, is tacitly considered something of a training tool or, at least, a "tactics refresher" for soldiers, McBride said. Jim Dunning, a longtime developer of wargames for both commercial and professional users and consultant to the US military on wargames, said a lot of wargames begin as commercial products that are then adapted for professional use. Turning a game from unclassified, in which the details come from open sources, into classified is often just a matter of adding information like the range of weapons systems, probability statistics, and the like. Whatever the origin of the games, though, many military users, no matter where in the chain of command they may be, are playing. Dunning said, "I spoke with a company commander right after the battles in the Karbala Gap, who mentioned wargames and said, 'Boy, am I glad to get out of there.' I asked why, and he said, 'Well, I've wargamed that particular scenario seven times and got killed every time."

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