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Saturday, 17 May 2014

The British Army Rediscovers Wargaming May 2014

At professional wargaming conference Connections in September 2013 at Kings College London, it was a little embarrassing to have the four British Army representatives heavily outnumbered by those from foreign armies. The visitors were perplexed where the centres of excellence were in using wargaming for training. People asked about who ran the games at Sandhurst and they were perplexed with the answer of no-one. All the other major military academies, including China, are using wargames.

So the great and the good, largely from the Army, were gathered at one of the homes of innovation in British Armed forces at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham. It was a day in the history of wargaming.

The problem with wargames is they have an image problem for officers involving in gaming, wargaming will never be cool, but will be necessary. Wargaming is technical and requires understanding of the art of war. During the Cold War, there were many innovations from games. Some of these large games, like 1940 Sea Lion by Dr Paddy Griffith [see Sprawling Wargames published by this project] were major events and had many beneficial spin offs.

Wargaming helps develop agile leaders. The games are competitive and they help develop the competitive instinct; war is all about winning. There is time pressure, there always is, but as part of the review of the commissioning course at Sandhurst, they are going to include a pilot study using wargaming for the young officers. The officers will enthuse about such games, but the problem is likely to be some of the permanent staff who will not engage.

Graham Longley Brown then talked about what wargaming is and why the armed forces should do it. In summary, effective training saves lives, it saves money but currently not enough wargaming is being done, it is not being done well enough.

Although a game, it is valuable. Peter Perla, the pre-eminent wargamer of our time, was quoted as saying ‘a wargame is a warfare model…’ Those who dismiss wargames are demonstrating their ignorance of military history and current practice in armed forces around the world.

Although many are obsessed with computer simulations, manual wargames are complimentary to the PC based software. Manual wargames are cheap, flexible, transparent in their assumptions and easy to modify. They can also game effects based operations that are only poorly simulated using computers.

If you trying to predict the future, there are many methods such as experts, unaided judgment, committees… and games. Research has shown games are not that good at prediction, but a game involving role playing the enemy gives double the predictive accuracy of other methods of prediction. Wargames are twice as accurate.

My own view is that a problem with the British Army is that has become very effective fighting a war in a mountainous country in some ways that the British Army of the late 19th century would recognize. Now the commitment to Afghanistan is winding down the Army needs to relearn some of the skills that would be needed to fight a modern armed forces. One of those tools to help develop the craft of the warrior is going to be wargaming.

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