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Research Questions

  1. How can researchers experiment with concrete and meaningful representations of AI/ML in tabletop tactical wargames?
  2. What insights into the potential value and limitations of AI/ML capabilities could be explored in subsequent games, analyses, and testing?
  3. How do game players interact with AI/ML systems?

RAND researchers explored the capabilities and limitations of future weapon systems incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) through two wargame experiments. The researchers modified and augmented the rules and engagement statistics used in a commercial tabletop wargame to enable (1) remotely operated and fully autonomous combat vehicles and (2) vehicles with AI/ML–enabled situational awareness to show how the two types of vehicles would perform in company-level engagements between Blue (U.S.) and Red (Russian) forces. Those rules sought to realistically capture the capabilities and limitations of those systems, including their vulnerability to selected enemy countermeasures, such as jamming. Future work could improve the realism of both the gameplay and representation of AI/ML–enabled systems.

In this experiment, participants played two games: a baseline game and an AI/ML game. Throughout play in the two game scenarios, players on both sides discussed the capabilities and limitations of the remotely operated and fully autonomous systems and their implications for engaging in combat using such systems. These discussions led to changes in how the systems were employed by the players and observations about which limitations should be mitigated before commanders were likely to accept a system and which capabilities needed to be fully understood by commanders so that systems could be employed appropriately.

This research demonstrated how such games, by bringing together operators and engineers, could be used by the requirements and acquisition communities to develop realizable requirements and engineering specifications for AI/ML systems.

Key Findings

  • Remotely operated robotic combat vehicles (RCVs) had distinct disadvantages that were easily exploitable relative to fully autonomous RCVs and manned vehicles.
  • RCVs were used as armed reconnaissance and often explicitly as bait.
  • Relatively limited intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities and indirect fires allowed Red to remain static.
  • Postulated AI/ML capabilities can be incorporated into tactical ground combat wargames.
  • Such games, by bringing together operators and engineers, could be used by the requirements and acquisition communities to develop realizable requirements and engineering specifications for AI/ML systems.

Funding for this research was made possible by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers. The research was conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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