Wargames Are for Players
By Adam Frost
The Department of Defense is breathing new life into wargaming.
Since Deputy Secretary of Defense (DepSecDef) Bob Work signed his February 2016 memo challenging the department torejuvenate a venerable tool of military professionals, there have been more general officers and assistant secretaries discussing wargaming than at any other time in recent memory. Legions of staff members are following suit.
For those of us in the gaming community, there is a sense of vindication. For entire careers, wargamers have tinkered away in relative anonymity, tolerated as harmless but generally dismissed by “real” DOD analysts. Now we have a champion and have been called upon by the DepSecDef himself to help dispel the darkness of a reduced topline.
Or so we tell ourselves.
Since February, all manner of experts have found receptive audiences eager to discuss the power and limitations of wargames. But as the initial wave of enthusiasm ebbs, it reveals the true quandary.
Wargamers will not be the heroes of this story. They are not the innovators who will develop the Third Offset Strategy, avoid operational or technical surprise, and help make the best of the department’s shrinking resources. Actionable insights—the ideas that spur innovation, address emerging challenges, exploit new technologies, and shape the security environment—are the purview of the sponsors of and participants in wargames, not of the game staffs. Certainly, gamers distill the question into a “gameable” model, craft an environment that prompts insight, and are invaluable in interpreting findings. But wargames will only meet the DepSecDef’s intent if someone does something with those findings. The arbiters of that decision—those who do—are the ones who will change the future. Not us.
Why? Wargames exist to provide insights into questions. Wargamers, however, generally do not own those questions. Within the broader DOD, the majority of offices, contractors, universities, and research labs that actually wargame are service providers that design, execute, and report on wargames on behalf of someone else. In my office, we call them sponsors.
In our excitement to discuss how to game, gamers have allowed a chasm to open between how we game and why we game—and we game for the benefit of our sponsors and our players.
Beginning to fill that chasm are words like “standards” and “validation”—the seeds of our demise—and gamers seeking to preserve this moment are taking the bait. First codify what makes a “good game,” they say, and with standards in hand we can resist critique.
That is a losing proposition focused on the wrong audience.
All wargames are wrong to some degree; some are useful. Wargamers certainly have a professional responsibility to improve the craft. But all wargames require a simplification of reality just to play, and each simplification is tailored to the question at hand. So if all wargames are “wrong” to some extent, there is an insidious danger in the notion that if we just make games “more right,” we can assuage the critics and produce innovation. Yet the chasm will remain: What is the question? How does the game explore it? Who is playing?
Proscribing any methodology absent the context of the research question is a cardinal error in study development. Deciding how we game before discovering why we game presumes that the game staffs know the problem better than the sponsor asking the question. Moreover, method-before-question perversely excludes from study any question outside the scope of the method—akin to wargamers polishing the old Harpoon rules while looking askance at a question about deterrence. Such cart-before-horse judgments only tempt gamers into self-absorbed arguments over who is the “real wargamer”—a debate of little use to those who will grade our value.
While the DepSecDef is right that games can help build a culture that embraces experimentation and tolerates dissent, gamers must remember that the experimenters and the dissenters are not the game staffs; they are the students, planners, policy directors, and program managers who provide for our defense. They are the generals and assistant secretaries responsible for making decisions in the face of uncertainty and risk. They will determine whether the findings were useful and whether the reinvigoration of wargaming helped the department in these troubled times.
We must redirect the focus from whether a game is “right” to whether a game use “useful” to our sponsors and players. Because as to the question of whether we are reinvigorating wargaming itself, it is our players and sponsors who are ultimately judging us.
Marines Have a Ground-Based Crisis-Response Force for Our Time
By Colonel Thomas Savage, Colonel Scott Benedict, Colonel R. C. (Rob) Fulford, U.S. Marine Corps
In a 2013 Marine Corps Gazette article, retired Marine Corps General James F. Amos wrote, “The requirement for a ready Navy-Marine Corps Team, forward deployed and possessing the ability to respond to crises on a moment’s notice, will not change for the foreseeable future, regardless of economic conditions or budget pressures such as we see today.”1 For the Marine Corps, forward deployed and being able to respond to crises at a moment’s notice traditionally meant have Marines on board amphibious shipping positioned near likely crisis locations. This preferably would be a Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) operating from an amphibious ready group (ARG). Currently, however, the demand signal from geographic combatant commanders (GCCs) for ARG/MEUs is greater than can be generated by the amphibious Navy. There simply are not enough available amphibs because of an aging fleet and corresponding increased maintenance requirements. In our current fiscal reality, it is unlikely supply will reach demand. Still, the requirement for forward-deployed, ready, and responsive forces remains, creating a demand signal for a ground-based crisis-response force.
Background and Context
The 11 September 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi sent a wake-up call to the United States. This brazen act of violence, resulting in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, and injuring ten, caused our national leadership to reevaluate our global security posture. Responding to this “new normal,” in May 2013 the Marine Corps created a relatively small crisis response force, known at the time as Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response (SPMAGTF-CR), based in Morón, Spain, to be allocated to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). It was originally built around a MEU command element, two KC-130Js, six MV-22 tilt rotor Ospreys as the aviation combat element (ACE), a single reconnaissance company as the ground combat element (GCE), and associated enablers. Its principal task was the “protection of U.S. personnel and facilities,” in support of the U.S. Department of State high-risk, high-threat posts.
Between February 2013 and May 2014, the SPMAGTF ACE doubled in size to a full 12-plane VMM squadron and 4 KC-130Js. The GCE also expanded, with a full infantry battalion assuming the duties as the GCE for the MAGTF. In August 2014, first combat logistics battalion (CLB) was introduced. In October, to mitigate confusion throughout the Marine Corps and the Joint Force, SPMAGTF-CR was redesignated SPMAGTF-CR-Africa (SPMAGTF-CR-AF).
Since its inception, SPMAGTF-CR-AF repeatedly has demonstrated its operational relevance. To date it has supported three named operations (Operation Oaken Sonnet in Juba, South Sudan; Operation Oaken Lotus, the military-assisted departure from U.S. Embassy Tripoli; and Operation United Assistance, responding to the West African Ebola crisis). In September 2014, SPMAGTF-CR-AF provided a security force (SECFOR) to support resumption of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Bangui, Central African Republic, and in October 2014 formally assumed primary tactical recovery of aircraft and and/or personnel (TRAP) responsibilities for North and West Africa. The scope of these missions cannot be overstated. During Operation Oaken Sonnet, the SPMAGTF was directed to reposition approximately 3,400 nm (the distance from Anchorage, Alaska, to Miami, Florida) to Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, to support the U.S. Embassy in Juba, South Sudan. And viewing the TRAP responsibilities, it is important to note the size of the African continent, which can fit 3.7 times the landmass of the continental United States within its shores.
SPMAGTF-CR-AF’s Distinctive Skills
SPMAGTF-CR-AF is a self command and controlled, rapidly self-deploying, flexible, and scalable crisis-response force capable of responding in permissive and uncertain environments.2 Unlike an MEU, the SPMAGTF lacks the organic fires, robust ground tactical lift, or long-term self-sustainment capability from the sea-base resident in an MEU. It cannot operate across the full range of military operations, notably in a hostile threat environment.
The SPMAGTF is, however, very capable for the missions for which it was originally designed. The strength of SPMAGTF-AF is its operational mobility. Its 12 MV-22Bs and 4 KC-130Js give it the ability to rapidly deploy over great distances, as the self-deployments to South Sudan for Operation Oaken Sonnet and to Liberia in support of Operation United Assistance demonstrated. It also has the command-and-control capability and ground forces to conduct multiple, simultaneous missions throughout the area of responsibility (AOR). By leveraging theater assets, complemented by local contracting, it also can sustain itself for long periods of time.
Challenges and Opportunities
With ARG/MEU presence in support of EUCOM and AFRICOM currently limited to inbound and outbound transits for East Coast MEUs, SPMAGTF-CR-AF has been employed extensively. For example, during the 15.1 rotation, SPMAGTF-CR-AF conducted 28 bilateral training exercises throughout the EUCOM and AFRICOM AORs and 22 military-to-military engagements spanning 10 African nations. It also forward postured multiple times to support quick-reaction force (QRF) and TRAP for GCC operational requirements. It forward deployed a significant portion of the force for approximately 30 days at a time to conduct validation exercises of two cooperative security locations (CSLs) in Ghana and Gabon and conducted site surveys of seven U.S. embassies and consulates in Africa to validate contingency planning. This was done while maintaining at least one notification plus six-hour (N+6) Alert Force to respond to ongoing crises in North and West Africa.
Also, unlike the MEU, SPMAGTF-CR-AF’s permanent presence in theater facilitates relationships with partners, embassies, and countries that the MEU cannot maintain. These relationships, although intangible, can significantly accelerate collaboration among key stakeholders during a crisis. This permanent presence, however, comes at a price, and with inherent challenges that an MEU does not have.
Each rotation of SPMAGTF-CR-AF, conducting numerous exercises and operations over a six-month period, encountered many obstacles associated with operating a ground-based MAGTF with an evolving mission set based on foreign soil. The more significant of these included being prevented from projecting fires and significant offensive combat forces forward, being unable to self-sustain, and having host-nation restrictions imposed on deploying and employing the force.
First, despite its similar size and organization, SPMAGTF-CR-AF is not as robust as an MEU and does not have the ability to project fires and significant offensive combat forces forward. It is built around an infantry battalion, not a battalion landing team. Its aviation squadron lacks fixed and rotary-wing fires and additional mobility and heavy lift integral to an MEU composite aviation squadron. Most important is the fact that because the unit is not based on board amphibious shipping, even if the SPMAGTF had similar ground and helicopter mobility and fires of the MEU, it could not rapidly deploy and employ them, because of the very long ranges from its land base to areas of crisis and the requirement to gain host nation permissions to launch. Only the MV-22, carrying a small ground force and coupled to a KC-130J, can traverse the distances from Europe to much of Africa. The SPMAGTF projects a light infantry force, because that is what the original mission called for—protection of U.S. personnel and facilities in the AFRICOM AOR.
When the SPMAGTF was conceived, this made sense. Responding to crises only in permissive to uncertain environments mitigates much of the risk involved in employing a light force. However, the mission of the SPMAGTF continues to evolve, and as it has, the risk has increased as well.
In practice, when an ambassador perceives a threat to security at one of his facilities that requires a Title 10 force, he ultimately coordinates with the AFRICOM commander to rapidly deploy an alert force to provide additional security to his facility. The ambassador may ask for help at any time—before, during, or after a crisis. If the alert force is called, the SPMAGTF commander faces a dilemma. MV-22Bs have no offensive-fires capability, and without amphibious shipping to close aviation fires to the point of crisis, the force can either risk inserting into a contested landing zone (LZ) or offset the landing outside the contested area and then conduct a ground movement into the contested area (i.e., a U.S. embassy). If the commander decides to insert in an offset LZ, the force must conduct a foot movement to the objective, because he also does not have the ground mobility associated with an MEU. Either choice is risky.
There are joint fires solutions to mitigate some of these concerns, and during planned operations they have been made available to the SPMAGTF, though not always. These solutions are not optimal to mitigate risk, and frequently involve aircraft that do not specialize in close-air support.
The second challenge the ground-based MAGTF commander faces is the inability to sustain the MAGTF, unlike an MEU, which deploys with 15 days’ sustainment. The latter can commence operations while further sustainment is then pushed by sea to the ARG. As long as it stays tied to the ARG, the MEU theoretically could be sustained indefinitely. Not so for a ground-based MAGTF. During the SPMAGTF-CR-AF 15.1 rotation, a significant portion of the force deployed to cooperative security locations (CSLs) in Ghana and Gabon to provide a forward-staging position for crisis response. The package consisted of four MV-22Bs, two KC-130Js, and approximately 200 Marines and sailors. The force remained in place for up to 30 days. However, given the distances involved (between 4,500 and 5,200 miles from our base in Spain), we were forced to rely on theater air assets and local contractors. This is both expensive and inefficient, but without access to the ARG, it is the only solution for a ground-based MAGTF.
The third and most daunting problem involves host-nation restrictions. The crisis-response element of the SPMAGTF is based at Morón Air Base in southern Spain. Depending on the scene of the crisis, the force can forward posture to Naval Amphibious Base (NAB) Sigonella, Italy, NAB Souda Bay, Greece, or one of established CSLs in Ghana, Gabon, and Senegal. Each country has its own priorities and is not necessarily inclined to be used as staging point for missions that primarily serve U. S. interests. Much diplomacy was involved to arrange for the SPMAGTF to be based in Spain and Italy, and standing agreements exist as to what the force is permitted to do. All of this requires working through multiple agencies in a variety of countries, each with intricate bureaucracies and differing political sensitivities and raises questions about our ability to rapidly respond to crises outside the interests of our basing hosts.
Marines understand that ground-based MAGTFs are not preferable to having an MEU on board ARG shipping. This is not the world we live in. However, Expeditionary Force 21 (EF 21) outlines the problem: “Historically, meeting each GCC demand for amphibious forces would require an inventory greater than 40 amphibious ships. Our naval requirement of 38 amphibious ships was developed on a capacity for forward presence, crisis response, and forcible entry operations. The naval forces have accepted risk with an inventory of 33 amphibious warships with 30 operationally available.”3
This being true, ground-based SPMAGTFs are the right option to keep the Marine Corps ready and relevant and to mitigate risk.
Operations Oaken Sonnet, Oaken Lotus, and United Assistance prove that SPMAGTF-CR-AF is the most responsive and capable tool in the AFRICOM commander’s “kit bag.”
2. Joint Publication 3-0—Joint Operations, August 2011: “Operations, definitions of the threat environment: Permissive: Operational environment in which host country military and law enforcement agencies have control as well as the intent and capability to assist operations that a unit intends to conduct. Uncertain: Operational environment in which host government forces, whether opposed to or receptive to operations that a unit intends to conduct, do not have totally effective control of the territory and population in the intended operational area. Hostile: Operational environment in which host government forces oppose operations that a unit intends to conduct in the intended operational area.”
3. Expeditionary Force 21, Washington, DC: Department of the Navy, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, March 2014, 18.
Colonel Benedict is the Military Secretary for the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. He previously commanded the first full rotation of SPMAGTF-CR-AF and simultaneously the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Colonel Fulford is the Commanding Officer, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He commanded SPMAGTF-CR-AF from August 2014 through January 2015.
Open Architecture Makes the Difference
By Rear Admiral Jim Shannon, U.S. Navy
While some critics argue that naval surface forces have “been generally neglected in conversations about the future of American sea power,” our surface fleet has been central to realizing our Navy’s future capabilities.1 Although many people are aware of the highly publicized failure of the Army Future Combat Systems (FCS), most remain unaware of the Navy’s effort since 2002 to create its own “Future Combat Systems.” In 2009, the Army’s FCS program was canceled, while the Navy’s program successfully forged the foundation for what we call “distributed lethality” today.2
In the wake of the Army’s FCS’s program cancellation, a Rand Corporation study found that the program was overly ambitious in its expectations of technology development. Yet the same can be said the Navy’s integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) projects in 2002.3 What was the distinction between these two efforts?
Each service approached the problem differently. The Army tried to create a “top-down” requirement-driven method led by Pentagon programmers and planners for an integrated capability to support the offensive and defensive maneuvers of a brigade-sized force. The Navy, on the other hand, effectively created a bottom-up “systems engineering” approach led by system command program managers and engineers who linked existing programs in a novel way to give a carrier battle group what it needed to succeed in an IAMD scenario. In doing so, the Navy embraced the concept of open architecture (OA) in a way that the Army did not.
Toward Open Architecture
The seeds of OA were sown with the submarine program called A-RCI (acoustic-rapid COTS [commercial off-the-shelf] insertion). In the 1990s this program recognized that an affordable path in submarine combat systems depended on the new commercial computing strategy of the day. Surface Navy engineers evolved this concept at the turn of the century and took the initiative to integrate four separate stand-alone programs in a most affordable manner: Aegis Combat System, Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) Communication System, the E-2D airborne early warning aircraft, and the SM-6 missile.
It made sense to bring the power of these programs together and create a synchronized naval capability never before attempted. The starting point for that idea is what Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEASYSCOM), Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIRSYSCOM), Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS), and PEO Tactical Aircraft (PEO T) brought forward in 2003. The problem was determining how to link these programs that had separate contracts, schedules, testing, and funding streams. The answer was using OA.
At that time, the definition of OA with respect to combat systems development was the subject of heated debate. The Honorable Delores M. Etter, the Navy Assistant Secretary for Research, Development, and Acquisition (ASN RDA) was uniquely postured to clarify the issue.4 In a 2006 speech, she described OA as “an architecture with well-designed system and component interfaces” that:
• Uses commercial standards as much as possible
• Decouples and reuses components
• Allows third parties to design replacement components
• Adds new capabilities with minimal dependency on integrators.
Employing open-systems architectures (OSA is the term used today) to rapidly field affordable, interoperable systems was first mandated by ASN RDA in the naval open architecture policy statement of 5 August 2004. That policy allowed the minimally funded Integrated Fire Control Project Office in PEO IWS to create a systems engineering contract among the three original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of the Aegis Combat System, CEC, E-2D, and the SM-6. “Pillar Program” OEMs were required to share interface control specifications rather than create a military specification for that standard. Project offices then moved out to create a government-owned integrated model in support of these programs.5 The stated goal was to field a “netted Integrated Air and Missile Defense” capability by 2014.
While policy makers argued over naval open architecture policy and terms, PEO IWS and PEO-T quietly moved forward behind the walls of the Washington Navy Yard. At the same time, the Office of Naval Research program office, PMR-51, sponsored a Future Naval Capability (FNC) project that greatly reduced risk, improving the technology readiness levels of various concepts. Conducting this FNC in parallel with the PEO IWS system engineering project ultimately reduced risk to schedule. Coordination and collaboration between PMR-51 and PEO IWS 7.0 using open-architecture philosophy ensured the 2014 date could be met.
A Family of Systems
Allowing the pillar programs to work among one other independently but transparently created an informal team atmosphere focused on developing something referred to off the record by Navy system engineers as a “family of systems.” These system engineers made the distinction between a “family of systems” and a “system of systems.” They described a “system” as something like a radio or an engine that requires separate parts to complete a function. A “system of systems” could be a car or plane or any platform that performs a specific task by piecing together systems like radios and engines. A “family of systems,” then, refers to unrelated systems working together to achieve a specific goal (e.g., a plane working with a ship with a missile through a network).
By using the family-of-systems nomenclature, tense moments among program offices were defused when the IWS project team made it clear that no single program’s problems would slow the progress of a different program in the same IAMD system family. There was no threat from or envy among the offices. The independence among the pillar programs guaranteed they would not be adversely impacted by this IAMD project structure. Each program was responsible solely for reporting risks to their individual programs, while the IWS project team reported risks along the seams of the pillar programs (i.e., risks that pillar programs assumed another program would own). Such independence guaranteed alignment. Resource sponsors were kept informed of seams between the pillar programs, allowing them to make small changes to their program to keep this special IWS project on track. The result is that since 2015, the USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) has been forward deployed in the Western Pacific with an innovative Baseline 9 IAMD capability in her main battery, effectively providing a distributed and lethal capability at sea.
A New Business Strategy
Implementing OA principles involves more than solving technical challenges. OA changes how the Navy does business today and into the future and requires transforming our organizational culture and aligning our resources to adopt and institutionalize open architecture principles and processes throughout the naval community. The DOD OSA Contract Guidebook for Program Managers v1.1 (available on the Internet) contains the template on how to conduct this business.6
OSA is not just about the engineering of innovation; it is about the business of innovation. After all, it was not Steve Jobs’ engineering prowess that gave us Apple—it was his business savvy. The guidebook explains how “OSA enables acquisition and engineering communities to design for affordable change, employ evolutionary acquisition and spiral development, and develop an integrated roadmap for system design and development.”7 The Contract Guidebook for Program Managers evolved over nearly nine years. It is arguable that any legislation to mandate OA principles in defense programs will make a difference now. We just need to follow what defense leadership has declared a best practice.
Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden, Commander, Naval Surface Forces, has challenged us to “take what you have today and make it better.”8 That in a nutshell is what OSA is all about, and it is how our surface fleet’s IAMD and integrated fire control systems have evolved to strengthen U.S. sea power. The Navy’s approach to future combat systems (IAMD) succeeded because program managers learned to cooperate, share, and adapt their systems to an open business model. This approach has now been “prototyped.” Lessons have been and continue to be learned. Private industry fully cooperates.
Today, OSA is not just a philosophy; it is the Pentagon’s preferred business strategy. Sustaining our asymmetric advantage on the battlefront will require DOD executives and legislative staffs to challenge defense program managers to embrace open systems architecture.
2. Christopher G. Pernin, Elliot Axelband, Jeffrey A. Drezner, Brian B. Dille, John Gordon IV, Bruce J. Held, K. Scott McMahon, Walter L. Perry, Christopher Rizzi, Akhil R. Shah, Peter A. Wilson, Jerry M. Sollinger, Program Lessons from the Army’s Future Combat Systems. RAND Corporation, 2012.
3. Ibid., 241.
4. Bill Johnson, White Paper, 2006. Mr. Johnson was the Naval Open Architecture Project lead and served as the link between the submarine ARCI program and the surface Aegis Combat System program.
5. Pernin et al., Program Lessons from the Army’s Future Combat Systems, 246.
6. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense Systems Engineering, DOD OSA Contract Guidebook for Program Managers v1.1, www.acq.osd.mil/se/initiatives/init_osa.html. Originally developed by Navy PEO for Integrated Warfare System in 2005 and later adopted as a best practice by OSD.
7. Richard R. Burgess, “Distributed Lethality Requires a Culture Shift,” Seapower, 9 July 2015, http://www.seapowermagazine.org/stories/20160112-rowden.html.