Updated: Jan 27
By Jesse Kemp, CANA Principal Program Manager
Across all the military services, wargaming has become an increasingly popular tool to test new warfighting concepts, examine the use of new technologies, and exercise various scenarios against near-peer and peer adversaries. As an example, the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory executes 10-12 wargames per year, with multiple overlapping game lines of effort running simultaneously. Yet despite its broad adaptation, wargaming has some acknowledged limitations. Those limitations, and the risks they pose, were the subject of a recent War On The Rocks article by Dr. Jon Compton, where he argued that the DoD’s over-reliance on wargaming for investment planning could have significant negative impacts.
Wargames as event planning are fun to attend, and most who attend them come away convinced they learned a great deal. Yet, these event-style wargames produce little in terms of ways forward, innovation, or usable answers. Further, they frequently create negative learning and reinforce existing biases due to the lack of any foundational research or ancillary support studies. Regardless, wargame providers continue to conduct them to the exclusion of more analytically robust designs of research that incorporate smaller, more focused games into broader discovery efforts, and resistance to change appears to be high.
For logisticians participating in wargaming events, the frustrations articulated in Dr. Compton’s article are often felt even more acutely. Despite acknowledgments from very senior leaders across the DoD that logistics challenges must be analyzed and addressed, it is rare to find a wargame’s objectives bounded or informed by the limitations of logistics capabilities.
Others in the wargaming community argue that trying to bring quantitative analytics, such as logistics feasibility, into wargaming events risks detracting from their primary focus–exploring the human dimension of complex problems. In a September 2022 article titled, “Wargaming and the Cycle of Research and Learning” Dr. Peter Perla emphasized the distinction between a wargame and operations research: “A true wargame is best used to investigate the decision processes of its players, what they believe that leads to those decisions, and how those processes interact; it is not well suited to the calculation of outcomes of physical events–such calculations, when they occur, are inputs to the game, not outputs.”
The Cycle of Research
In their articles, Dr. Compton and Dr. Perla make a similar case for an integrated “cycle of research” where wargaming, modeling and simulation, and analysis outcomes are combined towards focused learning objectives. While theoretically sound, this approach can have challenges in execution. First, how accurate can a cycle of research be if its wargaming inputs reinforce existing biases or ignore hard problems like logistics? And what if other inputs to a cycle of research are also flawed? Like wargaming, operations research – the process of reducing highly complex problems into component parts and seeking quantitative and repeatable outcomes – has its own set of limitations. Where wargaming events frequently leverage the collective experience of multiple senior leaders and subject matter experts, operations research projects tend to encounter the opposite: very little senior leader involvement, especially in their early stages. This can lead to flawed models, inaccurate assumptions, or results that lack operational context. Thus, independently, both wargaming and operations research have the potential to come up short.
Ultimately, the cycle of research could be enhanced by more closely linking the key leader engagement opportunities wargaming events afford with the precision and rigor of operations research techniques. What if, as an example, analytic techniques could be brought to bear fast and in unobtrusive ways during a wargame, effectively quantifying the impacts of participants’ decisions without impeding the pace of the game or altering its primary objective? Imagine if after wargame participants set operational objectives and developed their plans to achieve those ends, weapon-to-target pairings could be quickly assessed to measure a plan’s efficacy. Imagine also if logisticians could quickly and visually “map” the supply chain required to support an operation, overlay distribution resources necessary to maneuver and sustain the force, and rapidly simulate the movement of forces, supplies, and follow-on sustainment resources. These tools could provide valuable in-game feedback on the logistics feasibility of proposed plans.
The good news is that the technology required to deliver these types of analytic enhancements to wargaming already exists. Working in partnership with Headquarters Marine Corps over the past four years, CANA developed and applied a unique set of analytic techniques to support the planning for prepositioning and war reserve programs and their material investments. More recently, the Office of Naval Research began working with CANA to incorporate similar analytic methods into a science and technology project designed to aid operations and logistics planning for fleet-level and maritime operations center battle staffs. Tailoring these analysis methods to support wargaming applications is a logical next step and a mission we are excited to embark upon.
CANA at MORS: Examining Logistics and Supply Chain Resilience Through Wargaming
For this reason, we’re excited to announce our participation in the upcoming MORS Wargaming with Pacific Partners special event in February of 2023. This event will provide an ideal forum for CANA to highlight how currently-available analytic techniques can be adapted and applied to wargaming for enhanced outcomes. And because it is such an underserved element in almost every wargame, our primary focus will be highlighting its use in logistics and supply chain resiliency, demonstrating ways to rapidly quantify the implications of operational plans and provide objective assessments of feasibility.
But the most powerful use of these innovative analytic methods could be to enable the design of wargames with logistics as the main objective. By examining key variables such as supply routes, supply locations, amounts of prepositioned stocks, transportation fleet design and positioning, and how/where operational energy is produced and transported, planners can determine what logistics investments are most influential in determining mission success.
Supply Chain Analysis as a Service at CANA
Logistics wargaming is, in fact, part of a broader line of effort underway at CANA called Supply Chain Analysis as a Service. Our team of subject matter experts and operations research professionals are designing ways to examine the key components of a supply chain and dynamically test its resilience under stress. Customizing these analytic techniques for use in both wargaming and more long-term planning and design applications is a key part of this line of effort. Moreover, this methodology has the potential for value in non-military applications such as food security, disaster preparedness, or other related scenarios.
This exciting new frontier, at the nexus of wargaming, logistics, and supply chain analysis, offers many opportunities to enhance support for stakeholders in the DoD, Federal agencies, state governments and beyond. With both analytics and logistics in our company DNA, CANA is well-positioned and prepared to be an influencer in this important area.
CANA Principal Program Manager