Wednesday 28 December 2022

Wargames are better predictive tools


On Dec 27th 2022, the BBC published an article Ukraine war: Five ways conflict could go in 2023 ( Five experts give completely different predictions.

1.       Michael Clarke, associate director of the Strategic Studies Institute, Exeter, UK says the war depends on the outcome of Russia’s spring offensive with its 250,000 mobilised troops.

2.       Andrei Piontkovsky, scientist and analyst based in Washington DC says Ukraine will win back its land due to “motivation, determination and courage of the Ukrainian military and Ukrainian nation as a whole, which is unprecedented in modern war history.”

3.       Barbara Zanchetta, Department of War Studies, King's College London says the war will grind on for years.

4.       Ben Hodges, former commanding general, United States Army Europe says Ukraine will win.

5.       David Gendelman, military expert based in Israel avoids saying how the war is going to end.

Five experts and five contrasting interpretations.

I have been wargaming the Ukraine War at an operational and sometimes tactical level since the war began. This was to develop my professional understanding. In November I published on my blog ( my conclusion that the Russian army would rout by the end of the winter. I outlined my reasoning and said, of course, I could be wrong as leaders make decisions that influence future outcomes.

Models must be continually re-evaluated in the face of actual real-world data. My crude model is only a model and is not reality. I assumed Russia would keep 33% of their PGM as a strategic reserve v NATO or Chinese aggression. I was wrong, Russia has used almost everything they have (leaving them very vulnerable, especially to China if the latter decides to realign the international border in the Far East)

In the real world, leaders make decisions that may be different from those used in a wargame (even if those decisions are not rationale from our perspective). The Ukraine power system has been hit badly, but it is not to the extent that the country is moved back to the 19th century.

This is because:

  •  Ukraine has a large repair capacity that is expanding (they have taken on 1000 more staff recently)
  •  Europe is feeding in power directly to the Ukrainian grid (10% of what Ukraine needs)
  • Power lines are hard to knock out
  • Europe is sending staggering numbers of generators to the Ukraine. Ukr has spare truck capacity to move anything it needs, including fuel for generators.
  • Spares for their grid are coming in from around Eastern Europe. They can use second hand and repair the broken.
  • The Ukraine power grid was designed to stand up to NATO attack during the Cold War

The majority of Ukraine has had no interruption to its power supplies. This should not be seen as in any way mitigating the misery of those in the east facing regular power cuts every day.

The military and the state war machine are largely inoculated from civilian power shortages, as the former tends to have generators and fuel. Hitting the Ukraine power system may cause misery for some, but it does not impact Ukraine national combat power. So, in summary, Russia has used far more PGMs than I expected (I was wrong), but it would need many times more PGMs fired within a short period of time to create a lasting impact on the power grid of the Ukraine. To me Russia seems to be repeating Hitler’s terror bombing directive from World War II; historical hindsight shows Germany should have focussed on military targets with its limited airpower. Similarly Russia should use its dwindling stockpile to attempt to have a military impact.

There are big questions about what will happen next:

  • Will Ukraine decide to advance during the winter? Ukr combat power is increasing in terms of troop numbers, armour and IDF. Russia is still waiting for the next batch of troops (though it did put perhaps 50,000 mercenaries, foreign troops, penal battalions and newly mobilised troops into the front line to replace the 100,000 casualties)
  • Will Russia fall below the critical level of resupply (67% according to QJM) and have to fall back?
  • Will the Russian army rout?

I think the answer is probably yes to all three questions, but probably is not 100% certainty. Of course, senior leaders may also make decisions that change future outcomes.

No wargame will tell us if Belarus will launch an invasion of the Ukraine (or whether Poland will then invade Belarus without NATO agreement). However, a wargame allows us to explore these possibilities.

As wargamers, we tend to overlook the value of the integration in our wargames of the inter-related factors of geography, time, space, ORBATs, logistics, etc. Personally, I have little interest in trying to determine the outcome of future wars just by talking about it.  I say let us get out a map, get some counters to show the military forces involves, label the military geography, talk through our underpinning assumptions, then discuss the future course of the conflict. If you want to understand something you have to do some analysis, game it, and then do more analysis

In the world of computing, we design IT systems, networks and software applications using a whole variety of models such as network diagrams, decision trees, data dictionaries, UML etc. If someone wanted to design a multimillion-pound system by just talking about it they would be seen as slightly detached from reality. So why do people think they can discuss one of the most complex intractable problems of all, war, without the mental tools imbedded in wargaming to analyse the situation?


If you want to know why the Ukrainian power system is still up see the Reuters article