War games create a training environment in which we can test ourselves against the frictions and frustrations of combat. It allows us to model the impact of chance and improve both our planning and execution of military operations. This article highlights the key themes from the HQ 20 Armoured Infantry Brigade (20 Brigade) experience of war gaming. It aims to encourage others to take up war gaming as a serious professional development tool. 20 Brigade has used war gaming, specifically the Army designed Camberley Kreigsspiel, successfully to test plans and enable the execute. War gaming is also fun; it is a conversational team activity that players enjoy. The key lesson for the Brigade is that it must be taken seriously and engaged with as we would any other battle.
What is it? The Camberley Kreigsspiel is a turn-based, dice-led, war game that uses standard mapping and NATO symbols. The game is adversarial with teams competing in the fog of war against each other to achieve separate missions. It is based on current methods of military analysis and gives in-game advantages for accurate planning. It is flexible, allowing any scenario or task organisation to be simulated, and therefore has utility across the spectrum of Army organisations.
Theme 1: Must be Command Led. As military professionals, we must guard against our instinct to only value field training. This is particularly true in the current economic climate. Commanders in games must lead their teams and ensure that military analysis, planning, and the execution is taken seriously. There is a general tendency for seniors to observe war games and to not be actively engaged. Seniors must resist their urges to ‘develop’ their subordinates and instead lead in role through the game as they would when deployed. In 20 Brigade, war gaming was led by the Chief of Staff which ensured that gamers were protected from other activity and able to concentrate fully on the game. Secondly, the game forces players to plan two down. Command engagement is key in ensuring that players follow the military planning process and the latest doctrinal trends. The most important aspect of any training is command engagement and the same is true for war gaming. Kreigsspiel should be conducted with a professional mind-set and treated as a real battle.
Theme 2: Generating Friction. In-game friction is generated by a combination of adversarial action and the result of chance through rolling the dice. The 20 Brigade experience highlighted various aspects which deepened our understanding of the combat estimate and wider execution constraints that were overlooked during planning. For example, finding the enemy. There was a default planning assumption that electronic warfare assets would be 100% successful and small recce forces could resource large named areas of interest. Teams suffered because of a bias towards technology that can be denied or destroyed and inadequate appreciation of how long it takes to achieve a detailed find and understand of an opponent. In another example, a reliance on Joint Fires was undermined when friction prevented guns from having an impact at the critical time and the dice role led to a much-reduced effect on the target. These points were highlighted during the after-action reviews.
Theme 3: Develop a Credible Narrative. Many military professionals don’t view dice as a realistic method of generating friction or refuse to believe the result. As the rules cannot cover every incident military judgement is required. The idea that games can reflect modern technology is seen as a false premise. It is true that dice are random and we may not agree with individual roles. War is also random and we cannot undo or control its impact. The game designer quotes Winston Churchill; “countless and inestimable are the chances of war. The influence of fortune is powerfully and continually exerted”. The resistance to dice can be mitigated by the controlling station generating a credible narrative. Effects don’t have to be enemy focussed but can represent the thousands of other scenarios that may occur in reality – weather, a puncture, enemy deception, a badly led soldier etc. A credible narrative allows the game to be seen as a battle and not a role of the dice.
Theme 4: Truly Adversarial. As professionals, we often use the phrase ‘the enemy has a vote’ but we rarely allow ourselves to be tested outside the comforts of a scenario we have designed to win. In war gaming, as in war, routine limitations are removed allowing greater freedom of action. Teams can have different objectives, boundaries, resources, and unpredictable task organisations testing across the board. Competitive advantages, such as night sights, can be undone by an opponent dispersing and not following the pattern we expect. In the 20 Brigade experience this led to significant professional discussions and a deepening of knowledge. The common thread of war gaming is that the environment is unpredictable and teams routinely acted on limited information; it provided a confused operating environment. The intelligence community were particularly challenged by enemy commanders who would not stick to doctrine, or fixed thinking loops, and opponents who conducted deception plans. The competitive nature of war gaming and the environment it created was truly adversarial, testing the staff across the functions of combat.
We need war gaming to develop our understanding of war, its frictions, frustrations, and the impact of chance. War gaming allows us to train both the planning and execution of military operations. It allows us to gain a greater understanding of how our subordinates will act and develop the trust vital to mission command. Whilst not a substitute for field exercises, war gaming allows us to train at zero cost in the task organisation we will have when we deploy.
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Steve has 8 years leadership experience with an infantry unit; he has also served on the staff of an Armoured Infantry Brigade