Opportunities for Including the Information Environment in U.S. Marine Corps Wargames

by Christopher Paul, Yuna Huh Wong, Elizabeth M. Bartels

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Research Questions

  1. To what extent are the information environment, operations in the information environment, and information-related capabilities considered as part of wargame planning and execution?
  2. What types of information are relevant to military operations and thus should be represented in wargames?
  3. What are the requirements for incorporating these elements into wargame designs? How can military theory, current doctrine, and input from stakeholders guide these changes?
  4. What are some solutions that wargame sponsors, designers, and those responsible for procuring wargaming capabilities can implement, and how can they be adjusted to accommodate a range of game types, operational objectives, and available resources?

The U.S. Marine Corps and joint concepts and thinking increasingly emphasize the role of information in military operations—from maintaining situational awareness to influencing adversary decisionmaking and understanding the behaviors of noncombatant populations. At the same time, wargaming is enjoying renewed prominence in the defense community as a tool to explore potential future conflicts and shape strategy. Yet, the information environment (IE) remains underdeveloped and underrepresented in wargames, both in the Marine Corps and across the U.S. Department of Defense.

An examination of requirements, principles from military theory, current doctrine, and commercial gaming practices points to solutions and changes to game mechanics to better incorporate information considerations into wargame planning, development, and play in ways that can be customized according to available resources, capabilities, and goals. Recommendations target wargame sponsors, wargame designers, and those who are responsible for procuring new tools and recruiting personnel to support wargaming.

Operations in the IE play a role across the spectrum of conflict, and their effects and consequences extend beyond the IE. As the nature of conflict changes, it is critical that wargames reflect realities on the ground, supporting forces in using and defending against increasingly important information-based tools of warfare.

Key Findings

The IE is receiving greater attention than ever from operational planners, but it has not universally found its way into wargaming

  • Information is playing an increasingly important role in military planning in the U.S. Marine Corps, across the U.S. Department of Defense, and among potential near-peer adversaries. These operational considerations include how certain types of information, misinformation, or sources of influence affect the decisions, beliefs, and behaviors of forces, military leaders, and noncombatants during a conflict or military campaign.
  • Concurrently, wargaming has seen an increase in popularity as a method to explore future conflicts in a low-risk environment. However, these games have mostly retained traditional attrition-based models or focus on a small subset of information-related challenges, such as situational awareness or the fog of war.

Current approaches to wargaming may fail to prepare military planners and forces for the full set of operational realities

  • The information requirements for a particular game may vary, depending on its objectives and focus. However, Marine Corps stakeholders agreed that there was a need for greater depth in IE scenarios, a need for more feedback from and about the IE, and a need to include the cognitive aspects of the IE in wargames.
  • A design framework that weighs the relevance of the three spheres of conflict (physical, morale, and mental) and six categories of information alongside a game's objectives offers a starting point to better incorporating the IE and operations in the IE into game structure and play.

Recommendations

  • Everyone involved in wargaming should acknowledge the role of information in operations and seek to better represent the relevant aspects of the IE in games.
  • Wargame sponsors should ensure that games serve a broader purpose of preparing forces for realistic operational scenarios, which will inevitably be influenced by the IE. This means emphasizing the role of the IE and its relevance to the game's purpose at each stage of a game's design and execution.
  • Wargame designers should work with sponsors to identify options for incorporating the IE into games from the earliest stages of planning.
  • Those who procure wargame capabilities, including game materials and technologies, should select tools that are able to represent all three spheres of conflict (morale, mental, and physical), a range of conditions that could affect a game's outcome, and robust models of human dynamics, psychological factors, and information flows.
  • Those responsible for recruiting personnel to support wargame design, testing, and execution or identifying subject-matter experts to assist with specific aspects of these tasks should ensure that these contributors have the requisite knowledge of the concepts and practices related to operations in the IE and that they stay current on changes in operational realities.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Operations in the Information Environment and Wargaming

  • Chapter Three

    Requirements for Wargaming Operations in the Information Environment

  • Chapter Four

    Assumptions About the Nature of Conflict

  • Chapter Five

    Defeat Mechanisms

  • Chapter Six

    Breakpoint and Surprise

  • Chapter Seven

    Additional Solutions to Address Gaps in Wargaming Operations in the Information Environment

  • Chapter Eight

    Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    Wargaming Glossary

  • Appendix B

    Defense Terminology Related to Information

  • Appendix C

    Changes in the Marine Corps Related to Operations in the Information Environment

  • Appendix D

    Wargaming Tools Reviewed

This research was sponsored by the Marine Corps Information Operations Center and conducted within the Navy and Marine Forces Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute.

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