US Naval War College Logo
Contact Us
Site Map
NWC on Facebook NWC on Twitter NWC on Flickr NWC on Blackboard

I have been reading some old articles and came across several interesting points that reinforce many of the principles that we discuss about the use and misuse of war gaming. Andrew Wilson in his 1968 book, The Bomb and the Computer, stated that “No amount of gaming, however well conducted, can uncover the future.” In the War Gaming Department, we have always stated that gaming is better used for uncovering trends, finding advantages or disadvantages of a plan, identifying potential risk, and even raising issues that had been previously unseen. We know that war gaming also allows the user to focus on issues rather than on outcomes, and the games stimulate thought through the competitive use of different player cells or by forcing the players to work through difficult scenarios by making decisions that they have to live with throughout the rest of the game. But there is still the underlying question of why is it that war gaming cannot be predictive?

We all know that by its very nature war is extremely complex. Thus, war gaming has to be complex as well. So in designing a war game, we have to realize that we are dealing with human nature on both the friendly side and the adversary side. Certainly, we won’t ever know what the enemy’s objectives are, and we can never really tell how a human will react to any given event. That is what makes the outcomes so difficult to predict. Also, no one can tell how people will respond to a given attack. Will they fight back, will they capitulate, or will they turn to an unconventional response? These are just a few of the options that an opponent has to react to a singular situation. Added to these human decisions are the almost innumerable factors that influence and impact the context of the situation in which the conflict exists. These include political, economic, intelligence, domestic, and international issues to name only a few.

The argument remains that a single war game cannot be predictive but the use of continuous war games can. To do so, would require the war gamer to control a magnitude of variables in the war game in order to produce the results with any precision. A single control would be to use the same players over and over. Yet, this is problematic in itself. In his 1988 article, “Unlocking the Potential of War Games: A Look Beyond the Black Box,” Arthur Mobley stated that the human factor in war games makes it difficult for them to be predictive. Mobley concurs with our beliefs above when he states, “it is virtually impossible to fully control variables and reproduce results with precision. If continuous gaming were to be predictive one of the things that would be necessary to control is the use of the same players.” However, Mobley believes that players repeating the game will have their judgment and experience influenced by previous game play. So, will their decisions be the result of familiarity with the game rules or how they would have reacted to the situation in a normal scenario? Mobley attests to the further difficulty of controlling the variables as I have alluded to previously when he states it is impossible to control “every determinant of pol-mil affairs.”

Games are very good at educating players and decision makers. Yet, we all have to be careful not to take the wrong lessons away from war gaming. Many times game inputs can lead the results down a certain path or take it away from other paths. Since games deal with humans and the decisions they make, it is difficult to use the results as predictive, since there are so many subjective inputs placed into the game. Again, I defer to Mobley, “Excess belief in game results is a recipe for self-deception.” This is why we focus on themes, insights, and further areas for exploration rather than on pure game results. In closing, let me return to Peter Perla who states, games are important tools to study that most interesting system – the human. Due to the human being the central character in all aspects of the war game, it is nearly impossible for them to be predictive. That is why we must always be faithful to the true art and value of war gaming and not try to oversell it.    

Posted: 5/5/2014 12:02:13 PM by Professor Dave DellaVolpe | with 0 comments

Perhaps one of the most important steps in the planning and designing of a war game is to conduct a literature review. That is the step in which the war gamer learns as much as possible about the issues surrounding the war game that will be conducted. Peter Perla confirms this when he discusses the three steps of learning from a war game. Besides the players learning during the game and the analysts and sponsors learning from the post-game analysis, the war gamer learns a significant amount while researching during the design phase.

Certainly, a risk of conducting any war game is to not know all the facts surrounding the game. While one can never know everything, it is imperative for the war gamer to know as much as possible about the game topic. As gamers, we know that entering into any new project can be fraught with danger. Why? As professional gamers, we are process oriented people and not subject matter experts. In fact, we cannot be subject matter experts because we conduct so many games on such a wide variety of topics. However, this means we must be as thorough as possible in conducting the literature review to ensure that we have a solid understanding of the issues. Yet, what we do as professional gamers should be described as applied research and not limited to just the realm of academic research.

So, how do we or why should we go beyond the lit review? The insights gained from studying the literature sets the foundation and lays the groundwork for coding for the war game. As any researcher knows this should open even more doors on what is important about the game topic. It is at this point that the war gamer needs to make a determination based on time and capacity. Does he have enough material to properly design the game or should the research go further? A way to take the research to the next level is to engage with subject matter experts face to face, by telecom, or over a VTC. These interviews can give the war gamer additional insights that doctrine, regulations, books, and articles may not be able to provide. This is very important especially since we deal in real world problems of operational commanders. The information that we might need may not be in the literature but inside the mind of the people actually working the issue. 

For example, I have studied command and control extensively over the past 25 years. I have read books, articles, and doctrine. I have taught the subject on many levels. I feel I know the area as well as anyone. Yet, in my research of our current project on C2 of IAMD at the Theater JFMCC level, I was only able to gain an understanding of the structure and systems available to the commander when I spoke at length with the Pacific Fleet Headquarters Joint Interface Control Officer (JICO). He was able to explain how he has established to data links from the sensors to the Maritime Operations Center at PACFLT. He explained in depth how they have developed an architecture that is resilient and responsive to the needs of the commander. In the 90 minutes I spent with him I was able to ascertain the details and the status of what they could display on the COP, where the feeds came from, and how they were used. I would not have been able to understand any of this if I had not done a significant amount of research ahead of time, but on the other hand, all of my research did not address the reality of the C2 systems that are being used. That only came from my face to face discussions.

There is nothing worse than finding out part way into a war game that our assumptions are wrong about a system, a process, or a capability. This risk can be lessened or mitigated by an enhanced “lit review” which goes into interviewing the SMEs that actually work with the information that we are researching. Of course, this has to be tempered by available time and resources. However, when possible, it can greatly enrich the war gamer’s understanding which could lead to a better game design. In closing, one final piece needs to be addressed as to why I think it is so important to go beyond just a review of the literature. War gaming is about human decision making. So, when possible, it is valuable to speak with the right humans to find out how they interpret and use the literature.  

Posted: 4/29/2014 8:35:35 AM by Professor Dave DellaVolpe | with 0 comments

In December we conducted a work shop on the warfighting options for the Littoral Combat Ship. I would like to take a few moments to write about the process that was used, why it was used, and how it fit into our war gaming project management process. Once again, I was impressed with our faculty and how they think problems out to help our sponsors achieve their objectives.
This work shop was the brain child of the Game Director Professor Leif Bergey and the Game Designer Mr. Larry Johnson, with a significant amount of assistance from the entire LCS Warfighting War Game team. Their vision was that before we could have a game, we needed actual employment options, since none or very few existed. To prepare for the work shop, the team spent a substantial amount of research time during the literature review. This identified the need for the work shop, and it also focused in on San Diego where the majority of the LCS expertise resided. But one of the interesting ideas that the team had was for the work shop participants to visit both types of LCS ships to see up close what the operating platforms looked like and what the differences were between these same “class” of ships. The work shop also included a series of briefs from the sponsors, the commanding officers of the two ships, and the program managers for the mission packages of surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and mine warfare. While many of the work shop participants were experts in their individual areas, the work shop highlighted that very few people had a working knowledge of the entire LCS mission package. Thus, the ship tours and the briefings served to give everyone a common understanding. This had a very positive effect of opening the aperture on everyone’s appreciation for the entire LCS program and enabled a richer discussion once the actual work shop process was engaged.
The main body of the work shop focused on developing warfighting options that the LCS could employ to support a JFMCC’s overall mission. The participants were then led through the different phases of an operation to determine what options the various mission packages could provide. Added to this was a determination of risk in employing the LCS to achieve certain tasks in certain locations throughout the scenario. I must say that this was hard work at best. Yet, due to the fact that the team had a well thought out plan to address the employment options in the different phases of an operation, this ensured that the work shop participants stayed on track the entire time.   
So, where does this work shop fit in with our project management process? At the time of the work shop, the team was working in both the design and development phases. The work shop was necessary to provide the data required for execution of player activities during the war game. The work shop also used the phases of the proposed scenario, so it gave the team the opportunity to have the scenario reviewed by outside personnel. Thus the work shop was essential to the design phase. As we say, development is about playability. So as the team examined the requirements for the player list for the war game, they found that many were in attendance at the work shop. This certainly assisted the team in the development of the players, as many of these potential game players now have a better understanding of what would be expected of them during game execution. 

The other piece that was so interesting during this work shop was the confirmation of how important it is to work with the sponsor of a game. Some feel that a flag officer as a sponsor may corrupt a game based on individual bias or a personal agenda. Others feel that a flag officer may not have the subject matter expertise to be value added to the gaming effort.  This work shop reinforced in my mind the absolute critical nature of having flag officer involvement in the game. The direct support of the sponsor in this case resulted in a heightened awareness of this work shop and superb participation by the right experts to meet the objectives. So in closing, I feel that this work shop was one more example of how the War Gaming team is continuing to think through issues that are ill defined and using the right tools to help the sponsor get his or her arms around these complex problems.        

Posted: 2/27/2014 8:34:56 AM by Professor Dave DellaVolpe | with 0 comments

Welcome to the web site of the War Gaming Department of the Naval War College.  I am honored to serve as the Chairman of the oldest and most prestigious war gaming organization in the military.  We take great pride in the heritage of this department and we are committed to maintaining the high quality of war gaming for which the Naval War College has always been known.  Over the past several years we have undertaken a concerted effort to ensure our war games provide the highest quality results to our sponsors and users.  In doing so, we have developed procedures for design, execution, adjudication, and analysis that are some of the most refined that I have seen in over 25 years, since I developed my first military war game.  The department is comprised of a mix of civilian and officer faculty, contract analysts and subject matter experts, enlisted support personnel, and contract technicians.  This dedicated team is committed to providing focused war games to help our senior decision makers with some of their most challenging and complex problems.  In doing so, our team brings creativity and intellectual honesty to every project. 

Now, we intend to use this web site to highlight these achievements and advancements that we have made in the field or war gaming.  It is always a challenge trying to “get the word out” about what war gaming is, what war gaming can provide to the Navy and other national security organizations, and how to best use it to achieve the most value.  This web site is now being updated with our current unclassified game reports to share the work that we have done.  The site will also contain writings about varied aspects of war gaming from our faculty.  They are sharing their ideas, insights, and experience on war gaming so that those who visit the site can understand the intricacies of what it takes to build a war game from scratch.  Another interesting feature that I am very pleased to have on the web site is our new War Gamer’s Handbook.  This gives an excellent overview of how we create war games at the Naval War College.  The process that we have developed to do this is discussed in detail in this handbook and is useful not only for someone internal to the department, but it also provides the framework for anyone who is interested in developing a professional war game. 

The War Gaming Department has been and is involved in some of the most current and relevant topics for our Navy and military.  This upcoming year will be no different, with numerous service, joint, and international events on the schedule.  Starting off 2014 will be the Naval Services Game which is an effort between the Navy and Marine Corps to examine different force constructs.  While most of our war games are held in McCarty Little Hall on the Naval War College campus, our other event in January will be a war game held at Seventh Fleet to examine internal issues for command and control of integrated air and missile defense.  This will be followed by the 25th annual North West Pacific War game which is conducted between the US Navy and the Japanese Self Defense Forces.  In March, we will conduct a large two-sided war game examining warfighting options of the Littoral Combat Ship.  April brings a Maritime Homeland Defense War Game sponsored by NORTHCOM and PACOM as well as the DEGRE War Game on nuclear deterrence sponsored by STRATCOM.  May is an exciting month as well with the return of the 20-nation Operational Experts Group (OEG) and the Proliferation Security Initiative Game.  OSD sponsors this game, which is being conducted with the entire OEG for the first time since 2007.  This leads us into the summer time where we conduct our annual Title 10 Global War Game, which will examine aspects of the evolving Air Sea Battle Concept; and the second in the bi-annual series of UK-US Combined Operational War Games that were commissioned by the Chief of Naval Operations and the First Sea Lord. 

Intermixed with these analytical war games are educational events conducted twice a year for the Joint Military Operations Department students of both the College of Naval Warfare and College of Naval Command and Staff; seven war games for the Senior Enlisted Academy students; case studies for the Combined Force Maritime Component Commanders Flag Officers Course scheduled for Pacific Fleet, Sixth Fleet, and Fifth Fleet; and practical exercises/ROC Drills for the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander's Flag Officers Course—a warfighting course held in McCarty Little Hall.  To top off the educational aspect of the department, we offer several workshops and courses for our emerging and enduring international partners on how to conduct war games throughout the year. 

The War Gaming Department is committed to the goals of the Naval War College and equally proud of its position in its long and distinguished history.  This upcoming year should prove to be another chapter in this tradition.   

Posted: 11/12/2013 8:07:15 AM by Professor Dave DellaVolpe | with 0 comments