A U.S. Marine with the 3rd Marine Division moves game pieces during a game of Memoir 44’ on Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan, Dec. 10, 2019

commentary

(War Room)

What Strategic Decisions on the Horizon for the Department of Defense Can Best Be Shaped Through Wargaming?

A U.S. Marine with the 3rd Marine Division moves game pieces during a game of Memoir 44’ on Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan, Dec. 10, 2019

Photo by Cpl. Timothy Hernandez/U.S. Marine Corps

by Sebastian Joon Bae

August 3, 2020

Two strategic decisions hang heavy over the Department of Defense (DoD): 1) How does the DoD redesign the Joint Force to meet the challenges of future contingencies and wars? 2) How will the department pay for it? These questions are not new, but their importance cannot be understated. For years, all the services have been diligently pursuing potential answers, spurring a litany of emerging warfighting concepts and organizational restructuring. Examples abound from the Army's Multi-Domain Operations (PDF) and the Marine Corps' Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations to the establishment of Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability and Army's Future Command.

So, how could wargaming shape these decisions? The answer is simple: wargaming is already an integral part and should continue to be. As an incredibly adaptable analytical tool, wargaming can examine competing courses of action, explore the effects of emerging technologies, and assess operational concepts. This is reflected in the plethora of wargames examining the future force, both within the military and its federally funded research and development centers.

The role of wargaming in the ongoing transformation of the Marine Corps serves as a poignant example. In his 2019 Commandant's Planning Guidance, General David H. Berger, 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC), repeatedly emphasized the pivotal role of wargaming in force design, education, and training. The CMC argues that wargaming will not only inform future force design but could help educate and train future commanders. In the subsequent Force Design 2030 (PDF), the CMC again reinforced the utility of wargaming—ranging from concept refinement to the programming process. Moreover, Expeditionary Warrior, the Marine Corps' Title 10 wargame series, continues to support future concept development, including Future Maritime Operations and the Joint Operational Access Concept. The forthcoming state of the art wargaming center at Marine Corps Base Quantico reflects the service's embrace of wargaming, both as an educational and analytical tool.

The Marine Corps is not alone in its avid use of wargaming to shape its decisions of the future. The other services are conducting similar efforts with equal rigor and zeal. And as the national deficit grows and budgetary constraints mount, the DoD will most likely increasingly leverage all its analytical tools, including wargaming.


Sebastian J. Bae is a defense analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

This commentary originally appeared on War Room on July 31, 2020. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.