Members of the 183d Air Operations Group conduct simulated battle operations during exercise Virtual Flag, December 2015

commentary

(War on the Rocks)

January 26, 2016

Getting the Most Out of Your Wargame: Practical Advice for Decisionmakers

Members of the 183d Air Operations Group conduct simulated battle operations during exercise Virtual Flag, December 2015

Photo by MSgt. Shaun Kerr/U.S. Air National Guard

by Elizabeth M. Bartels

Wargaming is enjoying a renaissance within the Department of Defense, thanks to high-level interest in wargaming as a way to foster innovation. However, for this surge of wargaming to have a positive impact, these wargames must be designed well and used appropriately. For decisionmakers with limited wargaming experience, this can be a daunting challenge. Wargames can be deceptively simple — many do not even use complicated computer models — so it is all too easy to assume that no specialized skills are needed for success. At the same time, wargames are hugely diverse: interagency decisionmaking seminars that involve conflict without fighting, crisis simulations adjudicated by subject matter experts, and operational warfare in which outcomes are determined by complex computer models. For sponsors who may have only seen one or two games, it can be hard to understand the full range of wargaming possibilities and the common approaches that underpin them all. How can a sponsor discern whether wargames and the resulting recommendations are actually worthwhile?

Writing aimed at the sponsors of wargames and the consumers of their results has been slow to appear and overly focused on specific historical wargames. For example, Micah Zenko, Gary Anderson, and Dave Dilegge wrote about the weaknesses of Millennium Challenge and offered some lessons to be learned from this famously failed wargame. In contrast, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Paul Selva illustrated the potential of wargames by highlighting the famous Naval War College wargames played in the interwar years....

The remainder of this commentary is available warontherocks.com.


Elizabeth “Ellie” Bartels is a doctoral candidate at the Pardee RAND Graduate School and an assistant policy analyst at nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

This commentary originally appeared on War on the Rocks on January 26, 2016.