Simulating War: Decision-Making in a Safe-to-Fail Adversarial Environment

‘The use of wargaming in military training and education is not new. Over the course of the last 200 years, wargaming has enhanced the cognitive capacity of soldiers and officers throughout the world. Since the Prussians adopted Kriegsspiel, in the 1800s, through to the current strategic environment, wargaming has supported capability development, planning and military training. Into the future, as it has in the past, wargaming will enhance our ability to think and act independently by providing opportunities to experience decision-making in safe-to-fail adversarial environments’.1

Above and main picture : Army’s Protected Mobility Tactical Trainer

Wargaming is a powerful tool with the potential to develop Army’s personnel and prepare them for the complex operating environments envisioned within Accelerated Warfare. The utility of wargaming is not new, since the early 1800’s wargaming, whether analogue or digital, has supported the cognitive development of personnel and enabled military forces to adapt in periods of rapid technological change. Through the release of the Commander Forces Command’s Army Wargaming Plan in 2022, Army sought to reinvigorate wargaming recognising its potential to enable Army to be Future Ready. As part of this initiative, the Army Wargaming Plan directed the establishment of a Brigade Tactics Competition; the first iteration of this competition was conducted in 2022 and delivered through the use of digital simulation.

This article will briefly introduce simulation, describe Army’s current capabilities and how they enabled the conduct of the Brigade Tactics Competition. The final section will reflect on the observations of the participants, their commanders and the umpires. In addition to promoting the use of simulation within Army, this article aims to promote interest in the 2023 Brigade Tactics Competition.

Wargaming and Simulation

‘Adversarial by nature, wargaming is a decision-making technique that provides structured but intellectually liberating safe-to-fail environments allowing a representation of military activities involving multiple actors governed by rules, data and procedures, which shapes and is shaped by the participants. While the scenarios are repeatable, the outcomes are nuanced by decisions made by participants.’ 2

Simulation, whether analogue or digital, has supported the conduct of wargaming over the last 200 years. Defined as the ‘implementation of a model over time’3 simulation provides the rules, data and procedures to allow wargame participants to experience the consequences of their decisions and actions. To reinvigorate wargaming Army must address the associated cultural challenge; wargaming is considered a fringe activity with only loose mainstream links to foundation warfighting. This stems in part from the fact that the models that support the conduct of wargaming, as defined in the ADF glossary, are a representation of the real world. As a result, many participants ask how can rolling a dice reflect the complexities and pressures of the battlefield.

George E. P. Box noted:
All models are wrong, but some are useful; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.4

This quote acknowledges that all models are wrong, largely because they are a simplification of reality, after all, it is impossible to accurately replicate every aspect of the real world. However, rather than just dismissing their utility, with an understanding of their limitations, models can still be employed to generate training benefits. This is not arguing that simulation should replace field training exercises but it highlights that live, virtual and constructive simulations5, or any combination of these three, are an essential training tool for Army.

United States Naval War College using simulation in the inter-war years

Understanding the benefits and limitations of simulation enables Army to generate an effective training continuum.

Simulation provides:

  • flexibility in terms of the scenarios conducted, equipment employed and available terrain to inform force development and innovation
  • repeatability, enabling commanders to rapidly reset and repeat activities to confirm learning objectives
  • low cost training opportunities compared to field training
  • the ability to training on dangerous tasks in a low risk environment.

Simulation limitations include:

  • the lack of ‘fear factor’, the absence of environmental factors such as heat or physical exertion can lead to negative training
  • currently unable to integrate with the Battle Management System
    digital simulation activities require detailed planning and testing; the staff effort is comparable with planning field activities
  • late notice changes to design and objectives potentially introduce errors that may affect the training activity.
A platoon Commander learns a valuable lesson from reviewing the AAR footage from the Brigade Tactics Competition

Army’s Simulation Capability

Land Simulation and Wargaming (LS&W) within the Army Knowledge Centre is responsible for the provision of simulation support to Army; it manages the Land Simulation Network (LSN) that provides a persistent connection between the seven Battle Simulation Sites (BSS)6.

Virtual simulation. Virtual Battle Space – 3 (VBS-3) provides individuals and teams the ability to conduct rehearsals, develop and refine tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP), and exercise decision-making up to troop/platoon level in a combined arms setting. The software allows training audiences to operate in a role, ranging from dismounted infantry through to the vehicle crews. Additionally, the software can be used to support education through battlefield recreations.

Constructive simulation. Army currently uses the Steel Beasts Professional (SB PRO) (troop/platoon to Battle Group level combined arms training) and the Joint Conflict and Tactical Simulation (JCATS) (Battle Group Headquarters and above). These systems provide Army’s constructive simulation capability. While virtual simulation focuses on individual and low-level collective training activities constructive simulation is focused on collective training. The simulations enable individuals to control platoons and companies through to battalions and brigades. These programs are more complex with operator training ranging from several hours (SB PRO) to four days (JCATS). The time taken to develop the scenario within the simulation increases with the scale of the activity.

Creating a Safe-to-Fail Adversarial Environment for Decision-Making

The 2022 Brigade Tactics Competition sought to provide participants with the opportunity to explore the cognitive stress associated with peer-on-peer engagements against freethinking and adaptive opponents. Conducted in two phases, the first phase was designed to familiarise participants with the simulation program through a force-on-Artificial Intelligence scenario before the force-on-force scenarios in phase two.
On arrival at the BSS, each team received the scenario and had an hour to conduct their appreciation, develop a plan and deliver orders. The teams then engaged in real-time, force-on-force engagements in either a cavalry or mechanised infantry scenario over the LSN from their home station location. Executed in a safe-to-fail environment, it enhanced the tactical acumen of participants through mentor-led reflection and individual learning.

Six units participated in the 2022 Brigade Tactics Competition with some of the participants offering the following observations:

‘The force-on-force nature of the activity tested the patrol commander’s skills in rapid enemy and terrain analysis, forcing them to consider how the enemy would manoeuvre to undermine the BLUFOR’s ability to achieve its mission. This provided an excellent opportunity for them to practice and refine their quick planning cycle, as well as demonstrate collaborative planning amongst the crew commanders. The value of testing their plans against a determined, intelligent and cunning enemy was immense.

‘Accepting the risk of trading security for speed in order to win the initiative and dominate key and decisive terrain. If we did not take the risk and advance at a rapid pace to our second report line (amber bounding), we would have had to contest the objective, and the scenario would have played out differently’.

‘I was flanked from a high-speed advance via a road that I considered ambush prone. I identified that avenue of approach but did not think the enemy would even consider using it as it was high risk and I was wrong.’

The winners of the 2022 competitions were:
Mechanised Infantry competition: 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR); the unit was unbeaten over the four rounds.

Cavalry competition:
1st Armoured Regiment.
As the competition progressed, the umpires noted improvement in the participant’s tactical acumen; the lessons learned from previous iterations were applied to subsequent scenarios. In addition to the individual learning by the participants, this activity provides an opportunity for organisational learning; LS&W has retained all of the AAR files generated throughout the competition. Training Establishments can access these files to identify trends and training gaps; furthermore, units can use the AAR as part of unit PME activities. Finally, individuals and units are able to access the 2022 Brigade Tactics Competition scenarios to support professional development or unit training activities; contact your local BSS for more details.

The investment and continued use of simulation provides Army with a readily accessible, low-cost training tool capable of preparing our people to operate in complex environments. Exploiting innovative approaches to simulation-based training, such as the conduct of a Brigade Tactics Competition, will contribute to the ability of our people to tackle a broader range of problems; it enables our Army to be Future Ready.

Lieutenant Colonel David (Dave) Hill was recently posted as the SO1 Land Simulation and Wargaming, Army Knowledge Centre, where he was responsible for the delivery of constructive and virtual simulation support to training and education. In 2020, he attended several wargaming and simulation courses in the United States including the Army Simulation Operations Course, the Introduction to Wargaming course and a Command and General Staff College elective subject, History in Action. Lieutenant Colonel Hill is also the Chairman of the Australian Defence Force Wargaming Association.

1 Australian Army, Army Wargaming Handbook, Department of Defence, 2022, Foreword.
2 Ibid., p. 16.
3 Australian Defence Force, Glossary, Department of Defence, 2023.
4 Box, G. E. P. (1976), “Science and statistics” (PDF), Journal of the American Statistical Association, 71 (356)
5 Live Simulation: A simulation involving real people operating real systems. Virtual Simulation: A simulation which involves humans-in-the-loop in order to exercise motor control, decision-making, or communication skills. Constructive Simulation: A simulation involving simulated control entities (including agents) operating simulated battlespace systems.6 The BSS are located in Adelaide, Canungra, Darwin, Enoggera, Puckapunyal, Singleton and Townsville.
7 Steel Beasts Professional Personal Edition is available to all Defence employees (with a email account); individuals seeking a copy of this software should contact their local BSS.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button