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Now Hear This - Improving Wargaming Is Worthwhile—and Smart

By Peter P. Perla

Real wargaming is not about the unverifiable quantification of computer models, nor the insubstantial pontification of subject-matter experts, prognosticating about an unpredictable future. Real wargaming is about the conflict of human wills confronting each other in a dynamic decision-making and story-living environment. There is a place for technology in supporting that clash of wills, but electrons are not always the most useful technology to apply. We wargamers have understood this from the earliest days of chess and Go, from the von Reiswitz kriegsspiel , and the Naval War College’s interwar gaming program.

The instrumentality is not the game.

The game takes place in the minds of the players—human players intensely seeking ways to beat the brains out of their opponents across the table or in the other room. It is that human dynamic—and the competition, conversation, and contemplation it creates—that is our most powerful and promising source of inspiration and innovation.

So, how can the DOD leverage real wargaming to increase innovation in national and theater strategy; in operational concepts; and in tactics, techniques, and procedures to exploit new tools and ideas?

First, the leadership must recognize that wargaming as a tool is distinct from “analysis,” and as such the ORSA community is not the locus of wargaming expertise; indeed, that it is sometimes the main impediment to wargaming’s best use.

Second, as a discipline in itself on par with ORSA, wargaming needs well-placed and carefully selected experts with direct access to and trust from leadership to advise the latter on technical issues. A small office similar to—or even incorporated within—the DOD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office is worth considering.

Third, the DOD should staff such an office with wargaming professionals who intimately understand its strengths and weaknesses. Such experts are scattered across the department and among all the services, as well as in the community of federally funded research-and-development centers and contractors.

Fourth, the DOD needs to understand better what its leadership means by “innovation” and how wargaming can help engender it. Innovation comes from inspiring and empowering game players to use creativity to find innovative ways to overcome opponents striving to do the same. This process of competitive challenge and creativity can produce new insights, identify new problems, and discover innovative solutions.

Finally, the DOD wargaming community must advocate more forcefully for insights and issues we believe our games have identified. Even more, we must be willing to stand up and point out the emperor’s lack of clothes when we come across bad wargames, and non-wargames trying to advance old ideas and advocate tired agendas.

Ultimately, we must remember, and truly believe, that wargaming matters. Wargaming entertains—it stirs imaginations. Wargaming challenges—it sharpens intellects. Wargaming creates synthetic experience—it enlightens leaders. And most important, used correctly, wargaming saves money—and lives.

Dr. Perla is a principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses. He is the author of The Art of Wargaming: A Guide for Professionals and Hobbyists (Naval Institute Press, 1990).




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