This week, Sea Control Asia Pacific looks at ‘gamechangers’ in Asia. Natalie Sambhi, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, interviews her colleagues Dr Rod Lyon and Daniel Grant about the ways in which Asia Pacific states are engaged in strategic competition. We also offer an Australian perspective on domestic political changes and military modernization in Southeast Asia, China’s nine-dash line claims, Indonesia and non-alignment, and the US rebalanced.
Eugen Systems released an heir to World In Conflict with their Real Time Strategy “Wargame” series. Their most recent edition, Red Dragon, occurs in Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, and coastal Russian Far East. The reason we were intruiged is that this new version included naval battles. Now, turns out the naval battles are by no means anything you’d expect for 80’s warships… think more WWII with helicopters, F-18’s, and CIWS… but some of your dear CIMSEC editors and members played and had a pretty good time. It’s hard to argue naval realism when in ground combat you get to pick from several hundred units from 17 countries. Hell, one of the single player campaigns is you defending Hong Kong when Thatcher decides to push continued British presence. Capital!
As the last part of CIMSEC’s Wargames week, we decided that amongst our discussion of exercises and gaming that hone nations for war and war-fighters for survival, we would ask some question to the folks who build games and exercises for fun. The Eugen System team was kind enough to have a chat with us:
Q: What games inspired your team?
A: Our main inspiration for the Wargame series are old strategy games many of us at the studio used to play while younger: the Close Combat & Steel Panther series. One is real-time, the other turn-based, and our goal was to do as good a simulation and “easy to handle, hard to master” as the former, with the latter’s technical database, wide array of nations, huge number of scenarios, …
Q: Unlike many RTS games, Wargame has hundreds of different units–all asymmetric and unique. Through modeling and developing these, has your team come to any conclusions?
A: Well, by modeling so many units, we are highlighting the trend and doctrine of every nation: France’s “speed over armor” attitude, resulting from its tradition of military interventions in Africa ; Britain’s emphasis on armor and range, due to its Cold War allocated battlefield, the North German Plains …
Some of those are well-known to us from the start, but for some less known armies, such doctrine are only revealed after some time, while they are starting to build in our armory.
Q: What did you learn from your last game, Air Land Battle (ALB), that you applied to Red Dragon?
A: ALB’s main influence on RD can be found in map design. There had been some criticisms in the previous installment about maps that were considered too small or too “bottlenecked”. In RD, we have made sure to address this by making bigger and more open maps. Added to that the fact that river or sea and mountain are no longer impassable terrain, and you will see that RD’s maps are much more maneuver-friendly.
We have also taken into consideration many of the UI request to make the armory easier to use, and help new players and non-military buffs more at ease browsing among 1400+ units.
Artillery and air-defense balance were also deeply reworked using ALB’s lessons.
Q: Outside of Naval Warfare, what is the greatest difference between ALB and Red Dragon?
A: Maps. As said above, the new amphibious ability for many vehicles and the fact that mountain are no longer purely impassable gives the game a new feeling. You can maneuver on large scale, always try to outflank your opponent. No bottleneck will make a part of the battlefield secure because you’ve left a defensive force there. RD’s battlefields are much more open that ALB’s were.
Q: After Red Dragon, does the team have the desire to develop an expansion that really fleshes out more urban warfare?
A: We’re not there yet …
Q: What other conflicts have your team considered?
A: Wold War 2 of course …
But WW2 was already covered by many other games, including our own RUSE when we started thinking about Wargame, so we decided to go for something more original, less exploited. Hence why we chose “Cold War gone hot”, which offered the opportunity for many plausible scenarios and provided us with tons of combat vehicles to model and use in-game.
As for other possible Cold War conflicts, after European Escalation, we had considered several battlefields for the next installment: the two most logical were the Northern Front (Scandinavia, which we ended up covering in ALB) and the Southern Front (Mediterranean). We chose the former because Sweden offered a unique roaster of indigenous vehicles, bringing alone more new vehicles than the whole Mediterranean countries together would.
Q: What is your biggest regret with the games?
A: To have left some nations aside, although they could have been included in our previous installment. To make a nation viable, we have to model some 60-80 units, so we can’t add that many nations at a time.
In EE, Dutch and Belgian units had to be left aside, and Finland in ALB. That is not without regret that we have left those nations aside …
Q: What’s your biggest pride with the games?
A: Our biggest pride is when former (or even active!) military servicemen, especially those whom had served during the Cold War, are telling us they are playing our games and are enjoying the realistic feel of it. Then, we allow ourselves to think Wargame lives to what we wanted it to be when we stated the series.
Q: What’s your favorite unit?
A: Personally speaking, I’m fond of wheeled vehicles. I favor speed over armor. Call it national bias, but I think my very favorite one has to be found among the light wheeled tanks/tank destroyers, like the AMX-10 RC, the BTR-70 Z halo or the ERC-90 Sagaie. Had I to choose one, the latter one might be my favorite, for it emphasizes everything I like: speed, stealth, decent firepower, … and looks cool!
Q: What is the most interesting thing you learned from studying the historical background to the game?
A: ABLE ARCHER exercises, in November 1983.
Cold War is often taught or learned at school through different crisis (Cuban Missile Crisis, European Missile Crisis …) and “proxy wars” (Vietnam, Afghanistan, …) but never had we ever heard of how close the year 1983, and especially ABLE ARCHER, had brought us on the verge of WW3. This was completely new to us, and became the nucleus of Wargame: European Escalation’s “alternative scenarios” concept.
Computer wargames cannot be fully analyzed without scrutinizing the video game systems that power them. The technology that drives these video game systems has transformed dramatically over the past 10-15 years. Initially, leaps in computational power allowed players to control and manipulate hundreds of units and perform an array of functions, as demonstrated in the earliest versions of the Harpoon computer simulation. Subsequently, the graphics behind these games experienced multiple breakthroughs that range from three dimensional features to advanced motion capture systems capable of detecting even the slightest facial animations. Eventually, game consoles and PCs reached the point where they could combine this computational complexity with stunning visuals into a single, effective simulation. Simply, these systems have evolved at a rapid rate.
Yet, as we near the midpoint of the second decade of the 21st century, it is important to ask “What’s next?” What future technologies will impact the design of military simulations? After reaching out to a variety of gamers, there are two technologies that CIMSEC readers should look forward to: 1) virtual reality (VR) headsets, and 2) comprehensive scenario design tools with better artificial intelligence (AI).
Virtual Reality Headsets—A Gamer’s Toy or Useful Tool?
VR headsets are by far one of the most anticipated innovations of the next few years. Gamers are not the only individuals excited for this development; Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of VR developer of Oculus VR and Sony’s Project Morpheus demonstrate how VR is a potential revolution. For those unfamiliar with a VR headset, it is a device mounted on the head that features a high definition display and positional tracking (if you turn your head right, your in-game character will turn his head right simultaneously). When worn with headphones, users claim that these headsets give them an immersive, virtual reality experience. One user describes the integration of a space dogfighting game with a Oculus Rift VR headset below:
The imagery is photorealistic to a point that is difficult to describe in text, as VR is a sensory experience beyond just the visual. Being able to lean forward and look up and under your cockpit dashboard due to the new DK2 technology tracking your head movements adds yet another layer of immersion…I often found myself wheeling right while scanning up and down with my head to search for targets like a World War II pilot scanning the sky…The level of detail in the cockpit, the weave of the insulation on the pipes, the frost on the cockpit windows, the gut-punch sound of the autocannons firing, every aspect has been developed with an attention to detail and an intentionality which is often missing in other titles.
Even though VR headsets strictly provide a first-person experience, they can still play a serious role in military simulations and wargames. At the tactical level, VR headsets can supplement training by simulating different environments custom built from the ground up. For example, imagine a team Visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) team training for a situation on an oil rig. Developers can create and render a digital model of an oil rig that members of the VBSS team could explore with the assistance of VR headsets in order to better understand the environment. In addition to supplementing training, VR headset technology could potentially be manipulated to enhance battlefield helmets. Although this concept is many years away (at least 15), readers should think of the F-35’s Distributed Aperture System for pilot helmets; even though this helmet currently faces development challenges, it demonstrates how a VR system can track and synthesize information for the operator. Essentially, the first-person nature of VR headsets restricts their application to the technical and tactical levels.
Better Tools: Enabling the Construction of Realistic Simulations
Although not as visually impressive as VR headsets, the ability to design complex military scenarios that will run on even the simplest laptops is an exciting feature that many spectators disregard. Many wargames are often judged by their complexity. When crafting scenarios, designers ask “Does the simulation take account for _______, what would ________ action trigger,” and other similar questions that try to factor in as many variables as possible. Their answers to these questions are programmed into the simulation with the assistance of a variety of development tools. Within the next decade, the capabilities of these tools will increase significantly and ultimately provide developers the ability to craft more comprehensive military simulations.
Since these technical tools can be confusing, I am going to use a personal example to demonstrate their abilities. In a game called Arma 2, a retail version built off the Virtual Battlespace 2 engine, I designed a scenario inspired by Frederick Forseyth’s famous novel, Dogs of War. Human players would assault an African dictator’s palace defended by units commanded by AI. Using the game’s mission editor, I inserted multiple layers of defense each programmed to respond differently. The AI had multiple contingency plans for different scenarios. If the force was observed in the open, aircraft would be mobilized. If certain defending units did not report in every 15 minutes, then the AI would dispatch a quick reaction force (QRF) to investigate. If the dictator’s palace was assaulted, his nearby loyal armor company would immediately mobilize to rescue him. These are just a few examples but illustrate how I was able to detail multiple different scenarios for the AI. Yet, the mission was not completely scripted. When the AI came into contact, it would respond differently based on the attacking force’s actions; during testing, I witnessed the dictator’s armor company conduct a variety of actions ranging from simply surrounding the city to conducting a full assault on the palace using multiple avenues of approach.
When considering the complexity of the above scenario, it may appear that extensive programming knowledge and experience were required. The astounding fact is that this is not the case because of the system’s mission editor (I do not know how to program). Yet, after spending one weekend building this scenario with the system’s editor, I was able to craft this comprehensive scenario. In the future, we will witness the development of tools and AI systems that allow for the construction of more detailed military simulations.
We have identified two technologies—VR headsets and more comprehensive simulation design tools—that will rapidly evolve throughout the next several years. Yet, the challenge is not the development of these technologies, but determining how to effectively harness their power and integrate them into meaningful, military simulations that go beyond ‘pilot programs.’ Even as these two technologies improve, they will not substitute for real-world experience; for instance, VR headset users cannot feel the sweat after a long hike and scenarios cannot to be customized to fully depict the active populations in counterinsurgency simulations. Nevertheless, as technology improves and is better leveraged, the utility of military simulations will only increase.
Bret Perry is a student at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. The views expressed are solely those of the author.
Until recently, it was hard to imagine Sweden joining NATO. With long traditions of neutrality, Sweden and Finland had distanced themselves from the main military centers of Europe. The reason for neutrality is succinctly explained in the introduction to the book Navies in Northern Waters 1721-2000: “The present situation is a further illustration of the long-standing conflict between the legal and power-oriented approaches to disputes in the region,” with the Swedes and Finns aligned with the former. In 1994 Sweden joined Partnership for Peace (PfP) as a framework to cooperate with NATO. Still insisting on its place as a militarily non-aligned country, the Swedish Mission to NATO states that “by participating in PfP, Sweden wishes to contribute to the construction of a Euro-Atlantic structure for a safer and more secure Europe.”
Public Swedish support for joining NATO remained limited, with about 50% against as of mid-April, but supporters of this idea increased their share from 17% to 29% last year alone. In the same article we find important opinion of Finland’s Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen who said “that both Finland and Sweden should consider joining Nato when the time is right.” A small Finnish step in this direction is that this year the nation agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding with NATO, while Sweden and Finland are increasing military cooperation with each other under a landmark pact. So what caused both Nordic countries to begin reevaluate their positions? Prof. Mearsheimer in his book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics wrote:
When a state surveys its environment to determine which states pose a threat to its survival, it focuses mainly on the offensive capabilities of potential rival, not their intentions.
Living near mighty military power means that one lives in a state of permanent insecurity, so what one hopes for are benign intentions. The war in Georgia ignited doubt about one particular neighbor, but Ukraine has forced caution to give way to fear. If one can’t hide by flying “under the radar” of a big power, then what remains is to ally with another power. Appeasement doesn’t have a good track record during Europe’s last 100 years. But as Jan Joel Andersson explains in the Foreign Affairs article “Nordic NATO,” both countries need public buy-in for the solution before joining the Alliance. Although skeptical, Scandinavians seem to slowly appreciate this path and support for the idea is growing. The article lists good arguments, both political and military, for Sweden and Finland to join NATO from the Alliance’s perspective. In fact, this would be a geostrategic loss for Russia, greater probably than the gain of Crimea. From a purely military point of view, the following excerpt is critical for understanding the regional stability the additions would aid:
Even more important, Sweden and Finland’s formal inclusion in the alliance would finally allow NATO to treat the entire Arctic-Nordic-Baltic region as one integrated military-strategic area for defense planning and logistical purposes, which would make the alliance much more able to defend Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania against Russia.
It’s worthwhile to take a look at a map, especially to highlight the maritime and naval aspects of this story.
In the current situation, the Baltics represent a relatively narrow strip of land, lightly defended and not offering defense-in-depth. Any sustained reinforcements could come only from sea, which would require sea control. The main NATO naval forces would likely operate from bases in Germany and Swinoujscie in western Poland, as Gdynia and Klajpeda could be put at risk by ground operations. Although it would be possible to organize a successful blockade of any opposing naval forces using the Alliance advantage in submarines, light surface forces would have tough time overcoming land-based air forces and coastal batteries. Using Adm. J.C. Wylie’s terminology, the geography of the region strongly favors sequential warfare on land instead of cumulative naval warfare for which there would be no time assuming the desire to defend the Baltics.
Swedish access to NATO would alter these considerations significantly, bringing a few additional benefits to the more-realistic defense of the Baltics:
- Norway would no longer be an “isolated” NATO member, as its depth of defense increases.
- Baltic Sea control could be achieved and maintained by local navies with limited support from the United States.
There are two other aspects to consider, however. For Finland, Sweden’s joining NATO would only increase its isolation as the only neutral country in the region. The preference for a sequential land warfare strategy would expose Finland for greater risk. The situation would not be so different from that of the Black Sea. Therefore the best would be a common decision of both Sweden and Finland, even if it complicates matters.It is difficult to imagine synchronization of political willingness in such sensitive area, but growing cooperation between Nordic countries could be helpful. Nordic Defence Cooperation initiative, including Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, although mostly focused on military efficiency includes already mix of NATO and EU countries, and active participation of both Finland and Sweden with NATO lower technical barriers of access. The key point remains public support for such idea, but as it was mentioned already, such support and acceptance seems to slowly grow.
Another issue is the opportunity to evaluate/reevaluate the concept of the U.S. Navy’s littoral combat ship (LCS) and/or its successor in the Baltic Sea security environment. Two different scenarios including Nordic countries offer very different operational possibilities. In today’s state of things, the LCS lacks offensive power of anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM). Meanwhile, pondering anti-air defense leads to the dilemma the best defined by Swedish designers of the Visby corvette – “invincible or invisible”. However, in the case of the Nordic countries belonging to NATO, LCS’s anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and mine counter-measure (MCM) capabilities would be very much appreciated. In the May issue of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings, Adm. Walter E. Carter offers some remarks on future forces in his article “Sea Power in the Precision-Missile Age:”
Based on the preceding analysis, it appears that the most significant forces for future warfare at sea include:
- Platforms employing standoff ordinance that penetrate high-end defenses;
- Platforms with an emphasis on offensive firepower to prevail at sea;
- Mobile and low-observable platforms and logistics, readily dispersed, and heavily protected or hidden by decoys, obscurants, RF jammers, and signature control; and
- Forces minimally reliant on RF networks to be employed against high-end opponents using pre-planned responses and low-data-rate, secure, and sporadic communications.
Conversely, less relevant forces of the future will include:
Those dependent on fixed bases;
Platforms within enemy missile ranges that have large signatures and are thus readily targetable;
Systems dependent upon long-distance, high-data-rate RF networks;
Platforms that must penetrate high-end defenses to deliver ordnance; and
Platforms whose primary means of survival rests on active defense (i.e. shooting missiles with missiles).
While this analysis seems to be a perfect description of Pacific scenarios, a narrow sea like the Baltic invites further elaboration as this environment offers little room for stand-off or escape from inference from shore based-capabilities. Striking an enemy’s shore would incentivize small, stealthy, and unmanned platforms, but keeping sea lines of communications open in the same area would be difficult without classic surface forces. So the question remains open as to how survivable these light surface forces would be in restricted waters. And in the case of submarines the weak point in narrow waters is still the naval base from which they operate.
Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland. His area of interest is the context, purpose, and structure of navies – and promoting discussion on these subjects in his country.