Restoking the Pentagon’s wargaming engine will multiply ways to explore defense and national security futures, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work has said multiple times this year.
Work and Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both have written about wargaming and how the Defense Department could revitalize the valuable practice, which would generate ideas and integrate new technologies into doctrine, operations and force structure.
In a May 8 memorandum to military department leaders and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Work laid out three initiatives that together, he said, would help align department decision-making and the wargaming enterprise.
“We are entering a critical period for the United States,” Work wrote in the memo, referring to resetting the joint force after 13 years of war, “[and] we must turn our attention to numerous emerging challenges to U.S. global leadership.”
In such a dynamic environment, he added, department leaders are making programmatic decisions to meet the challenges, and wargaming is an important way to inform those decisions and spur innovation.
More recently, Work and Selva wrote a Dec. 8 commentary on wargaming and the new initiatives -- titled "Revitalizing Wargaming is Necessary to be Prepared for Future Wars" -- for warontherocks.com.
The web-based publication on national security and foreign policy has contributors who are defense officials, former diplomats, military officers, noncommissioned officers, intelligence professionals and war scholars.
Work and Selva began the commentary with a historical look at the topic -- in this case the inter-war years of the 1920s and 1930s, when militaries around the world were adapting to new inventions like radar and sonar and rapid improvements in other militarily relevant technologies.
“To help navigate through this period of disruptive change, the United States military made extensive use of analytical wargaming,” Work and Selva wrote. “Wargames were an inexpensive tool during a period of suppressed defense spending to help planners cope with the high degree of contemporary technological and operational uncertainty."
With the initiatives he introduced in May, Work said he intends to revitalize wargaming, embed wargaming more firmly in DoD’s suite of analytical approaches, and do a better job of sharing wargame insights with senior leadership.
“This effort is part of our broader commitment to foster greater innovation within the department, make the most of increasingly constrained resources, and avoid operational or technological surprise in tomorrow’s dynamic security environment,” Work and Selva said in the commentary.
The first step, now underway, is for all services, combatant commands and wargaming centers to contribute to a wargaming repository that will help everyone better understand and guide current wargaming efforts and share insights across the defense enterprise.
The repository, which so far contains the results of more than 250 wargames, the defense officials said, offers a single place to access wargame results and insights and to learn about upcoming wargames and tabletop exercises.
The second step is to form a Defense Wargaming Alignment Group, or DWAG, to share senior-leader priorities with the wargaming enterprise and to help ensure that feedback and insights from wargames that align with department priorities are communicated to department leaders, Work and Selva said.
Including Partners, Allies
The DWAG will inventory wargaming capacity and capability department-wide, particularly among the services and combatant commands, and institute a regular series of senior-leader wargaming events, they added.
The third step, because the department relies heavily on allies and partners in almost everything it does, is for the department to examine better ways to include them in its wargaming efforts and how best to share results, they said.
Wargames are useful for exploring the integration of allied capabilities and helping develop cooperative concepts of operation, the defense leaders said, adding that wargames play an increasingly critical role in informing interagency partners about complexities and challenges the department would face in a high-end conflict against a great power.
“For example,” Work and Selva wrote, “we recently held a specific wargame on space that illuminated some of the challenges and opportunities we could face if a conflict extended into that domain.”
Going to School on Wargames
The department also will consider the value of using wargames that explore joint multidimensional combat operations in pursuit of joint professional military education goals, they said.
Today, wargaming courses are generally electives, Work and Selva explained, adding that building school curricula around wargaming might help spark innovation and give the joint force a better understanding of transregional, cross-domain, multidimensional combat.
Entering the force is a new generation of young men and women whose exposure to commercial multiplayer gaming is greater than that of any previous generation, they said.