Tag Archives: Wargaming

The Navy’s New Fleet Problem Experiments and Stunning Revelations of Military Failure

By Dmitry Filipoff

Losing the Warrior Ethos

“…despite the best efforts of our training teams, our deploying forces were not preparing for the high-end maritime fight and, ultimately, the U.S. Navy’s core mission of sea control.” –Admiral Scott Swift 1

Today, virtually every captain in the U.S. Navy has spent most of his or her career in the post-Cold War era where high-end warfighting skills were de-emphasized. After the Soviet Union fell, there was no navy that could plausibly contest control of the open ocean against the U.S. In taking stock of this new strategic environment, the Navy announced in the major strategy concept document …From the Sea (1992) achange in focus and, therefore, in priorities for the Naval Service away from operations on the sea toward power projection.”2 This change in focus was toward missions that made the Navy more relevant in campaigns against lower-end threats such as insurgent groups and rogue nations (Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya) that were the new focus of national security imperatives. None of these competitors fielded modern navies.

The relatively simplistic missions the U.S. Navy conducted in this power projection era included striking inland targets with missile strikes and airpower, presence through patrolling in forward areas, and security cooperation through partner development engagements. The focus on this skillset has led to an era of complacence where the high-end warfighting skills that were de-emphasized actually atrophied to a significant degree. This possibility was forewarned in another Navy strategy document that sharpened thinking on adapting for a power projection era, Forward…from the Sea (1994): “As we continue to improve our readiness to project power in the littorals, we need to proceed cautiously so as not to jeopardize our readiness for the full spectrum of missions and functions for which we are responsible.”3

Now the strategic environment has changed decisively. Most notably, China is aggressively rising, challenging international norms, and rapidly building a large, modern navy. Because of the predominantly maritime nature of the Pacific theater, the U.S. Navy may prove the most important military service for deterring and winning a major war against this ascendant and destabilizing superpower. If things get to the point where offensive sea control operations are needed and the fleet is gambled in high-end combat, then it is very likely that the associated geopolitical stakes of victory or defeat will be historic. The sudden rise of a powerful maritime rival is coinciding with the atrophy of high-end warfighting skills and the introduction of exceedingly complex technologies, making the recent stunning revelations about how the U.S. Navy has failed to prepare for great power war especially chilling.

Admiral Scott Swift, who leads U.S. Pacific Fleet (the U.S. Navy’s largest and most prioritized operational command), candidly revealed that the Navy was not realistically practicing high-end warfighting skills and operations, including sinking modern enemy fleets, until only two years ago. Ships were not practicing against other ships in the realistic, free-play environments necessary to train and refine tactics and doctrine to win in great power war.

In a recent U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article, Admiral Swift detailed training and experimentation events occurring in a series of “Fleet Problems.” These events take their name and inspiration from a years-long series of interwar-period fleet experiments and exercises that profoundly influenced how the Navy transformed itself in the run-up to World War Two. While ships practiced against ships in the inter-war period Fleet Problems, the modern version began with the creation of a specialized “Red” team well-versed in wargaming concepts and competitor thinking born from intelligence insights. This Red team is pitched against the Navy’s frontline commanders in Fleet Problem scenarios that simulate high-end warfare through the command of actual warships. What makes their creation an admission of grave institutional failure is that this Red team is leading the first series of realistic high-threat training events at sea in recent memory.

The Navy’s units should be able to practice high-end warfighting skills against one another without the required participation of a highly-specialized Red team adversary to present a meaningful challenge. But Adm. Swift strikingly admits that the Navy’s current system of certifying warfighting skills is not representative of real high-end capability because the Navy “never practiced them together, in combination with multiple tasks, against a free-playing, informed, and representative Red.” Furthermore, “individual commanders rarely if ever [emphasis added] had the opportunity to exercise all these complex operations against a dynamic and thoughtful adversary.”

Core understanding on what makes training realistic and meaningful was absent. Warfighting truths were not being discovered and necessary skills were not being practiced because ships were not facing off against other ships in high-end threat scenarios to test their abilities under realistic conditions. If the nation sent the Navy to fight great power war tomorrow, it would amount to a coach sending a team that “rarely if ever” did practice games to a championship match.

These exercises are not just experiments that push the limits of what is known about modern war at sea. They are also experimental in that they are now figuring out if the U.S. Navy can even do what it has said it could do, including the ability to sink enemy fleets and establish sea control. According to Adm. Swift, the Navy had “never performed” a “critical operational tactic that is used routinely in exercises and assumed to be executable by the fleet [emphasis added]” until it was recently tested in a Fleet Problem. The unsurprising insight: “having never performed the task together at sea, the disconnect” between what the Navy thought it could perform and what it could actually do “never was identified clearly.” Adm. Swift concludes “It was not until we tried to execute under realistic, true free-play conditions that we discovered the problem’s causal factors…” In the Fleet Problems training and experimentation have become one and the same.

Why did the Navy assume it could confidently execute critical operational tactics it had never actually tried in the first place? And if the Navy assumed it could do it, then maybe the rest of the defense establishment and other nations thought so, too. Does this profound disconnect also hold true for foreign and allied navies? Is the unique tactical and doctrinal knowledge being represented by the specialized Red team an admission that competitors are training their units and validating their warfighting concepts through more realistic practice? Even though it is impossible to truly simulate all the chaos of real combat, only now are important ground truths of high-end naval warfare just being discovered which could prompt major reassessments of what the Navy can really contribute in great power war.

The entirety of the train, man, and equip enterprise that produces ready military forces for deployment must be built upon a coherent vision of how real war works. The advent of the Fleet Problems suggests that if one were to ask the Navy’s unit leaders what their real-world vision is of how to fight modern enemy warships as part of a distributed and networked force their responses would have little in common. If great power war breaks out tomorrow, the Navy’s frontline commanders could be forced to improvise warfighting fundamentals from the very beginning. Simple lessons would be learned at great cost in blood and treasure.

Many of the major revelations coming from the Fleet Problems are not unique innovations, but rather symptoms of deep neglect for a core element of preparing for war – pitting real-life units against one another to test people, ideas, and technology under realistic conditions. Adm. Swift surprisingly describes using a Red team to  connect intelligence insights, wargaming concepts, training, and real-life experimentation as “new ground.” Swift also noted that as the Navy attempted its purported concepts of operations in the Fleet Problems “it became apparent there were warfighting tasks that were critical to success that we could not execute with confidence.” In a normal context, it would not always be noteworthy for a military to invalidate concepts or realize it can’t do something well. What makes these statements revelations is that the process of testing concepts and people in realistic conditions simulating great power war has only just begun. 

This is a failure with profound implications. The insight that comes from training and experimenting against realistic threats forms a critical foundation for the rest of the military enterprise. Realistic experimentation and training is indispensable for developing meaningful doctrine, tactics, and operational art. Much of the advanced concept development on great power war by the Navy hasn’t been validated by real-world testing. The creation of the new Fleet Problems is fundamentally an admission that not only is the Navy unsure of its ability to execute core missions, but that major decisions about its future development were built on flaws. While the Fleet Problems are finally injecting much needed realism into the Navy’s thinking, their creation reveals that the entire defense establishment has suffered a major disconnect from the real character of modern naval warfare. The Fleet Problems have likely invalidated years of planning and numerous basic assumptions.

The Navy must now account for how many years it did not practice its forces in meaningful, high-end threat training in order to understand just how widespread this lack of realistic experience has penetrated its ranks. There should be no doubt that this has skewed decision-making at senior levels of leadership. How many leaders making important decisions about capability development, training, and requirements have zero firsthand experience commanding forces in high-end threat training? Could the fleet commanders operate networked and distributed formations if war breaks out? Has best military advice on the value of naval power for the nation’s national security interests been predicated on untested warfighting assumptions?

To Train the Fleet for What?

“The department directs that a board of officers, qualified by experience, be ordered to prepare a manual of torpedo tactics which will be submitted by the department to the War College, and after such discussion and revision as may be necessary, will be printed and issued to the torpedo officers of the service for trial. This order has not been complied with. If it had been, it would doubtless have resulted in a sort of tentative doctrine which, though it might well have been better than the flotilla’s first attempt, could not have been as complete or as reliable as one developed through progressive trials at sea; and it might well have contained very dangerous mistakes.”William S. Sims 4

Adm. Swift reveals that it was even debated whether free-play elements should play a role at all in certifying units to be combat ready: “there was concern in some circles that adding free-play elements to the limited time in the training schedule would come at the cost of unit certification. Others contended it was unrealistic and unfair to ask units that were not yet certified to perform our most difficult warfighting tasks.” The degree of certification is moot. Sailors are failing anyway because the shift in warfighting focus toward great power competition has not been matched by new training standards and therefore not penetrated down to the unit level.

Adm. Swift notes startling lessons: “In some scenarios, we learned that the ‘by the book’ procedure can place a strike group at risk simply because our standard operating procedures were written without considering a high-end wartime environment.” This is a direct result of the change in focus toward power projection missions against threats without modern navies. According to Adm. Swift the regular exercise schedule consisted of missions including “maritime interdiction operations, strait transits, and air wings focused on power projection from sanctuary” which meant that forces were “not preparing for the high-end maritime fight and, ultimately, the U.S. Navy’s core mission of sea control.” In this new context of a high-end fight in a Fleet Problem, according to Adm. Swift, “If we presented an accurate—which is to say hard—problem, there was a high probability the forces involved were going to fail. In our regular training events, that simply does not happen at the rate we assess will occur in war.” The Fleet Problems are revealing that Navy units are not able to confidently execute high-end warfighting operations regardless of the state of their training certifications. 

These revelations demonstrate that the way the Navy certifies its units as ready for war is broken. A profound disconnect exists between the Navy’s certification and training processes for various warfighting skills and what is actually required in war. Entire sets of training certifications and standard operating procedures born of the post-Cold War era are inadequate for gauging the Navy’s ability to fight great power conflict.

Mentally Absent in the Midst of the Largest Technological Revolution

“The American navy in particular has been fascinated with hardware, esteems technical competence, and is prone to solve its tactical deficiencies with engineering improvements. Indeed, there are officers in peacetime who regard the official statement of a requirement for a new piece of hardware as the end of their responsibility in correcting a current operational deficiency. This is a trap.” Capt. Wayne P. Hughes, Jr. (Ret.) 5

Regardless of a major shift in national security priorities toward lower-end threats, the astonishing pace of technological change constitutes an extremely volatile factor in the strategic environment that needs to be constantly paced by realistic training and experimentation under free-play conditions. The modern technological foundation upon which to devise tactics and doctrine is built on sand.

The advent of the information age has unlocked an unprecedented degree of flexibility for the conduct of naval warfare as platforms and payloads can be connected in real-time in numerous ways across great distances. This has resulted in a military-technical revolution as marked as when iron and steam combined to overtake wooden ships of sail. A single modern destroyer fully loaded with network-enabled anti-ship missiles has enough firepower to singlehandedly sink the entirety of the U.S. Navy’s WWII battleship and fleet carrier force.6 On the flipside, another modern destroyer could field the defensive capability to stop that same missile salvo.

Warfighting fundamentals are being reappraised in an information-focused context. The process by which forces find, target, and engage their opponents, known as the kill chain, is enabled by information at each individual step of the sequence. A key obstacle is meeting that burden of information in order to advance to the next step. This challenge is exacerbated by the great distances of open-ocean warfare and the difficulty of getting timely information to where it needs to be while the adversary seeks to deceive and degrade the network. Technological advancement means the kill chain’s information burdens can be increasingly met and interfered with.

The threshold of information needed for the archer to shoot decreases the smarter the arrow gets. Information-age advancements have therefore wildly increased the power of the most destructive conventional weapon ever put to sea, the autonomous salvo of swarming anti-ship missiles.

The next iteration of these missiles will have a robust suite of onboard sensors, datalinks, jamming capability, and artificial intelligence. These capabilities will combine to build resilience into the kill chain by containing as much of that process as possible within the missile itself. More and more of the need for the most up-to-date information will be met by the missile swarm’s own sensors and decided upon by its artificial intelligence. Once fired, these missiles are on a one-way trip, allowing them to discard survivability for the sake of seizing more opportunities to collect and pass information. Unlike most other information-gaining assets, these missiles will be able to close with potential targets to resolve lingering concerns of deception and identification. The missile’s infrared and electro-optical capabilities in particular will provide undetectable, jam-resistant sensors for final identification that will prove challenging to deceive with countermeasures. On final approach, the missile will pick a precise point on the ship to guarantee a kill, such as where ammunition is stored. 

The most fierce enemy in naval warfare has taken the form of autonomous networked missile salvos where the Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act (OODA) decision cycle will be transpiring within the swarm at machine speeds. Is the Navy ready to use and defend against these decisive weapons?

The Navy may feel inclined to say yes to the latter question sooner because shooting things out of the sky has been a special focus of the Surface Navy and naval aviation since WWII. The latest technology that will take this capability into the 21st century, the Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter-Air (NIFC-CA) networking capability, will help unite the sensors and weapons of the Navy’s ships and aircraft. Aircraft will be able to use a warship’s missiles to shoot down threats the ship can’t see itself. This is decisive because anti-ship missiles will make their final approach at low altitudes below the horizon where they can’t be detected by a ship’s radar. Modern warships can be forced to wait until the final seconds to bring most of their defensive firepower to bear on a supersonic inbound missile salvo unless a networked aircraft can cue their fires with accurate sensor information from high above.

This makes mastering NIFC-CA perhaps the most important defensive capability the fleet needs to train for, but this will involve a steep learning curve. Speaking on the challenges of making this capability a reality, then-Captain Jim Kilby remarked that it involves “a level of coordination we’ve never had to execute before and a level of integration between aircrews and ship crews.”Is the Navy truly practicing and refining this capability in realistic environments? At least three years before the Fleet Problems started, the Chief of Naval Operations reported that concepts of operation were established for NIFC-CA.8

There should be little confidence that naval forces have a deep comprehension of how information has revolutionized naval warfare and how modern fleet combat will play out because there was a lapse in necessary realistic experimentation at sea. The way the Navy thought it would operate may not actually make sense in war, a key insight that experimentation will reveal as it did in the interwar period.

Training and Experimentation for Now and Tomorrow

If…the present system fails to anticipate and to adequately provide for the conditions to be expected during hostilities of such nature, it is obviously imperative that it be modified; wholly regardless of the effect of such change upon administration or upon the outcome of any peace activity whatsoever.” –Dudley W. Knox 9

The extent to which the Navy’s current capabilities have been tested by meaningful real-world training and experimentation is now in doubt. This doubt naturally extends to things that the Navy has just fielded or is about to introduce to the fleet. Yet Adm. Swift revealed a fatal flaw in the Fleet Problems that is not in keeping with a high-velocity learning or warfighting-first mindset: “We are not notionally employing systems and weapons that are not already deployed in the fleet. Each unit attacks the problem using what it has on hand (physically and intellectually) today.”

It is a mistake to not train forces to use future weapons. Units must absolutely attempt to experiment with capabilities not yet in the fleet to stay ahead of the ever-quickening pace of change. Realism should be occasionally sacrificed to anticipate the basic parameters of capabilities that are about to be fielded. Sailors should be thinking about how to employ advanced anti-ship missiles about to hit the fleet that feature hundreds of miles of range like the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), Standard Missile 6, and the Maritime Strike Tomahawk. These capabilities are far more versatile than the Navy’s only current ship-to-ship missile, the very short-range and antiquated Harpoon missile the Navy first fielded over 40 years ago and can’t even carry in its launch cells. Getting sailors to think about weapons before their introduction will mentally prepare them for new capabilities and warfighting realities.

Information-enabled capabilities have come to dominate every facet of offense, defense, and decision. Do naval aviators know how to retarget friendly salvos of networked missiles amidst a mass of deception and defensive counter-air capabilities while leveraging warship capabilities to target enemy missile salvos simultaneously? Do fleet commanders know how to maneuver numerous aerial network nodes to fuse sensors and establish flows of critical information that react to emerging threats and opportunities? Can commanders effectively manage and verify enormous amounts of information while the defense establishment and industrial base are being aggressively hacked by a great power? According to the Navy’s current service strategy document, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, warfare concept development should involve efforts to…re-align Navy training, tactics development, operational support, and assessments with our warfare mission areas to mirror how we currently organize to fight.” 10

Despite all the enormous effort and long wait times that accompany the introduction of a new system, the Fleet Problems remind the defense establishment that the Navy can’t be expected to know how to use it simply because it is fielded. New warfighting certifications are in order and must be rapidly redefined and benchmarked by the Fleet Problems in order to pace technology and make the Navy credible. This will require that a significant amount of time be dedicated to real-world experimentation.

So How the Does the Navy Spend its Time? 

“Our forward presence force is the finest such force in the world. But operational effectiveness in the wrong competitive space may not lead to mission success. More fundamentally, has the underlying rule set changed so that we are now in a different competitive space? How will we revalue the attributes in our organization?” –Vice Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski and John J. Garstka  11

These severe experimentation and training shortfalls are not at all due to lack of funding, but rather by faulty decisions on what is actually important for Sailors to focus their time on and what naval forces should be used for in the absence of great power war. Meanwhile, the power projection era featured extreme deployment rates that have run the Navy into the ground.

The Government Accountability Office states that 63 percent of the Navy’s destroyers, 83 percent of its submarines, and 86 percent of its aircraft carriers experienced maintenance overruns from FY 2011-2016 that resulted in almost 14,000 lost operational days – days where ships were not available for operations.12 How much of this monumental deployment effort went toward aggressively experimenting and training for great power conflict instead of performing lower-end missions? Hardly any if none at all because Adm. Swift termed the idea to use a unit’s deployment time for realistic experimentation an “epiphany.”

In order to more efficiently meet insatiable operational demand and slow the rate of material degradation the Navy implemented the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) that reforms the cycle by which the Navy generates ready forces through maintenance, training, and sustainment phases.13 But Adm. Swift alleges that this major reform has caused the Navy to improperly invest its time:

“Commanders were busy following the core elements in our Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) training model, going from event to event and working their way through the list of training objectives as efficiently as possible. Rarely did we create an environment that allowed them to move beyond the restraints of efficiency to the warfighting training mandate to ensure the effectiveness of tactics, techniques, and procedures. We were not creating an environment for them to develop their own warfighting creativity and initiative.”

A check-in-the-box culture has been instituted to cope with crushing deployments rates at the expense of fostering leaders that embody the true warfighter ethos of imaginative tacticians and operational commanders. The OFRP cycle is under so much tension from insatiable demand and run-down equipment that Adm. Swift described it as a “Swiss watch—touching any part tended to cause the interlocking elements to bind, to the detriment of the training audience.” But as Adm. Swift already noted, pre-deployment training wasn’t even focused on preparing for the high-end fight anyway.

Every single deployment is an opportunity to practice and experiment. Simply teaching unit leaders to make time for such events will be valuable training itself as they figure out how to delegate responsibilities in an environment that more closely approximates wartime conditions. After all, if units are currently straining on 30 hours of sleep a week performing low-end missions and administrative tasks, how can we be sure they know how to make time to fight a high-stakes war while also maintaining a ship that’s falling apart?

Being a deckplate leader of a warship has always been an enormously busy job and there is always something a warship can do to be relevant. But it is a core competence of leaders at all levels to know what to make time for and how to delegate accordingly. From the sailor checking maintenance tasks to the combatant commander tasking ships for partner development engagements, a top-to-bottom reappraisal of what the Navy needs to spend its time doing is in order. Are Sailors performing tasks really needed to win a war? Are the ships being deployed on missions that serve meaningful priorities?

Major reform will be necessary in order to reestablish priorities to make large amounts of time for realistic training and experimentation. In addition to making enough time, it is also a question of having enough forces on hand when the fleet is stretched thin. Adm. Swift described a carrier strike group (CSG) being used in a Fleet Problem where “the entire CSG was OpFor [Red team] – an enormous investment that yielded unique and valuable lessons.” Does this mean that aircraft carriers, the Navy’s largest and most expensive warships, are especially hard-pressed to secure time for realistic experimentation and training? Can the Navy assemble more than a strike group’s worth of ships to simulate a competitor’s naval forces?

The recent deployment of three strike groups to the Pacific means it is possible. Basic considerations include asking whether the Navy has enough ships on hand to simulate a distributed fleet and enough units to simulate great power adversaries that have the advantages of time, space, and numbers. But with where the deployment priorities currently stand, the Navy may not have enough time or ships on hand to regularly simulate accurate scenarios. 

A Credibility Crisis in the Making

“…there are many, many examples of where our ships their commanding officers, their crews are doing very well, but if it’s not monitored on a continuous basis these skills can atrophy very quickly.”  Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson 14

When great power conflict last broke out in WWII the war at sea was won by admirals like Ernest King, Chester Nimitz, and Raymond Spruance whose formative career experiences were greatly influenced by the interwar-period Fleet Problems. This tradition of excellence based on realism is in doubt today.

What is clear is that business as usual cannot go on. The fundamental necessity of free-play elements for ensuring warfighting realism is beyond reproach. The reemergence of competition between the world’s greatest powers in a maritime theater is making many of the Navy’s power projection skillsets less and less relevant to geopolitical reality. New deployment priorities must preference realistic training and experimentation to make up for lost ground in concept development, accurately inform planning, understand the true limits and potential of technology, and test the mettle of frontline units. 

The recent pair of collisions challenged numerous assumptions about how the Navy operates and how it maintains its competencies. Tragic as those events were, they thankfully stimulated an energetic atmosphere of reflection and reform. But the competencies that such reforms are targeting include things like navigation, seamanship, and ship-handling. These basic maritime skills have existed for thousands of years. What is far newer, endlessly more complex, and absolutely vital to deter and win wars is the ability to employ networked and distributed naval forces in great power conflict. Compared to the fatal collisions, countless more sailors are dying virtual deaths in the Fleet Problems that are revealing shocking deficiencies in how the Navy prepares for war. Short of horrifying losses in real combat, there is no greater wake-up call.

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org.

References

[1] Admiral Scott H. Swift, “Fleet Problems Offer Opportunities” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, March 2018.  https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2018-03/fleet-problems-offer-opportunities

[2] Forward…From the Sea, U.S. Department of the Navy, 1994. https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/navy/forward-from-the-sea.pdf 

[3] Ibid., 8. 

[4] William S. Sims, “Naval War College Principles and Methods Applied Afloat” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, March-April 1915. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/1915-03/naval-war-college-principles-and-methods-applied-afloat

[5] Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., Fleet Tactics: Theory and Practice, Second Edition, pg. 33, Naval Institute Press, 1999.

[6] Can be inferred from official U.S. Navy ship counts on battleships and aircraft carriers and near-term capabilities of anti-ship capabilities.

[7] Sam LaGrone, “The Next Act for Aegis”, U.S. Naval Institute News, May 7, 2014. https://news.usni.org/2014/05/07/next-act-aegis

[8] CNO’s Position Report 2013, U.S. Department of the Navy. http://www.navy.mil/cno/131121_PositionReport.pdf

[9] Dudley W. Knox, “The Role of Doctrine in Naval Warfare.” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, March-April 1915. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/1915-03/role-doctrine-naval-warfare

[10] A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. http://www.navy.mil/local/maritime/150227-CS21R-Final.pdf

[11] Vice Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski and John J. Garstka, “Network Centric Warfare: It’s Origin, It’s Future.” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, January 1998. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/1998-01/network-centric-warfare-its-origin-and-future

[12] John H Pendleton, “Testimony Before the Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Senate Navy Readiness: Actions Needed to Address Persistent Maintenance, Training, and Other Challenges Affecting the Fleet. Government Accountability Office, September 19, 2017. https://www.gao.gov/assets/690/687224.pdf

[13] “What is the Optimized Fleet Response Plan and What Will It Accomplish?” U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Navy Live, January 15, 2014. http://navylive.dodlive.mil/2014/01/15/what-is-the-optimized-fleet-response-plan-and-what-will-it-accomplish/

[14] Department of Defense Press Briefing by Adm. Richardson on results of the Fleet Comprehensive Review and investigations into the collisions involving USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain, November 2, 2017. https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1361655/department-of-defense-press-briefing-by-adm-richardson-on-results-of-the-fleet/ 

Featured Image: SASEBO, Japan (Feb. 28, 2018) Operations Specialist 2nd Class Megann Helton practices course plotting during a fast cruise onboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Levingston Lewis/Released)

Interwar-Period Gaming Today for Conflicts Tomorrow: Press ‘Start’ to Play, Pt. 3

By Major Jeff Wong, USMC

Interwar-Period Gaming  Insights and Recommendations for the Future

The militaries of Germany, Japan, and the United States utilized gaming between the First and Second World Wars to help them overcome challenges relating to doctrine, organization, training and education, and capabilities development. The Versailles Treaty prohibitions prompted Germany to use means other than live-force exercises to study and mature its combined arms concept, test naval and air doctrine, and drive planning for the invasions of Poland, France, and the Low Countries in the European theater. Japan effectively used wargames to inform doctrine and war planning, but biases affected game outcomes and subsequent planning of future campaigns, particularly the Battle of Midway. Japan gamed both strategic and tactical elements of its ambitious Pacific campaign, studying in detail essential tasks as part of its Pearl Harbor and Midway operations plans. Game insights prompted planners to change parts of its Pearl Harbor attack, but failed to sway leaders to examine more closely a critical element of the Midway campaign. The United States, particularly the Navy, combined wargaming with analyses and live-force exercises to study upcoming likely threats and advance naval concepts and capabilities such as carrier aviation. In the United States, Naval War College games of different variations of Plan Orange exposed officers to the theater, operational, and tactical challenges of a conflict against Japan. Many games played over the years between the world wars created a baseline of understanding about how naval officers would fight when war broke out. Now, nearly a century later, today’s U.S. military should apply best practices from those interwar years to spur innovation and overcome the kinds of strategic, operational, and institutional challenges that plagued these adversaries before the Second World War.

This is the final part of a three-part series examining interwar-period gaming. The first part defined wargaming, discussed its potential utility and pitfalls, and differentiated it from other military analytic tools. Part two discussed how the militaries of Germany, Japan, and the United States employed wargames to train and educate their officers, plan and execute major campaigns, and inform the development of new concepts and capabilities for the Second World War. This final part offers recommendations, taken from effective practices of this period, to leverage wargames as a tool today to provide a strategic edge for the U.S. joint force tomorrow.

Wargaming for Today

First, the U.S. military must expand and deepen the use of wargaming at PME institutions as a training and educational tool. Similar to the interwar period, wargames should be used to train officers to make decisions from a commander’s perspective, gain insights into likely adversaries, and learn about the war plans to counter or defeat them. Wargaming design should be part of the regular curriculum to reinvigorate this technique within the uniformed military, since PME institutions are intended to broaden officers’ professional horizons and allow them to explore new ideas. 

At the interwar-period Kriegsakademie, some students had never experienced the brutal combat of World War I and never faced decision-making under fire. Wargaming woven throughout the curriculum gave these future leaders an opportunity to practice “commandership” from the commander’s perspective. Thus, students playing in wargames estimated situations based on given scenarios, outlined courses of action after assessing situations, executed plans, and then absorbed honest critiques of their decisions. In the 1920s and 1930s at the Naval War College, students also received a primer in commandership against the backdrop of a Pacific naval campaign. The students who played the games, as well as the faculty members who designed and umpired these events, shaped and fed a shared mental model about the strategic, operational, and tactical challenges of fighting the Japanese in the coming war. Officers returning to Newport as faculty members brought with them recent operational experiences, including fleet experiments that shaped carrier aviation and informed the requirements of new capabilities.  

Beyond the Naval War College and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, current U.S. PME students are not taught how to plan and develop wargames as part of their regular course work. At U.S. Marine Corps University, for instance, wargaming is taught during a six-week elective at Command and Staff College (if enough students express interest in the elective), but the course fails to relate how games are relevant to real-world war planning and critical U.S. defense processes such as capabilities development.

At the next-level PME institution, students of the Marine Corps War College (lieutenant colonels and commanders) participate in a wargame as part of the curriculum’s Joint Professional Military Education II (JPME II) requirement, but they are never taught how to plan, execute, and analyze a game themselves. Within the Air Force, the Air Force Materiel Command offers three-day introductory courses with curricula tailored to the needs of a client command or organization, but these courses fall short of the integral nature that wargaming fulfilled for the German Army, Japanese Navy, and U.S. Navy during the interwar years.

The Board of Strategy plots moves during a Naval War College wargaming session in the cabin of the USS Wyoming (BB-32). Such rigorous preparatory training during the interwar years. (U.S. Naval Institute Archive photo)

To yield substantive benefits, wargaming must be integrated into service PME starting with captain-level career courses. The first exposure should be at the rank of captain in order to give young leaders intensive, virtual decision-making experience before they assume company command. Company command is the appropriate time to introduce gaming to an officer’s development because his unit gets four times larger (a Marine rifle company has 182 personnel by table of organization, compared to 43 personnel in a Marine rifle platoon) and he must have the mental acuity and confidence to operate without constant supervision from superiors. Gaming gives leaders this experience.  

As an officer’s career progresses, the wargaming curriculum should teach students how to develop, plan, and execute wargames on a larger scale. At top-level schools, an officer should be expert at applying game insights into the vast U.S. military bureaucracy, feeding future-leaning commands and organizations within the supporting establishment that play a key role in developing future strategies, concepts, capabilities, and resource allocations. With its emphasis on decision-making and reflection on the implications of those decisions, wargaming provides a tool to foster imagination and intellectual growth inside and outside a formal schoolhouse setting. Teaching wargaming design to uniformed military members empowers them to create the intellectual venues themselves when they return to the fleet, flight line, or field – much like the officers of the German Army, Japanese Navy, and American Navy did during the interwar period.

Second, the U.S. military should more closely bind service-level wargaming, analysis, and live-force exercises to provide the intellectual and practical test beds to explore and develop new concepts, capabilities, and technologies to overcome unforeseen warfighting challenges. The games and exercises should be conducted as distinct events that are separated by weeks or months, unlike the infamous Millennium Challenge 2002 event, which attempted to synchronize a wargame, experiments, and exercises involving live forces around the world. 

Wargames, analysis, and exercises are complementary elements of a cycle of research that offered fresh approaches and shaped new capabilities during the interwar period. Wargaming provides an environment for players to make decisions and understand their implications without expending blood or treasure. Insights derived from games are generally qualitative in nature. Analysis uses mathematical tools – primarily computer-generated models in today’s military – in an attempt to duplicate the physical processes of combat. Insights derived from analysis are usually quantitative in Both wargames and analysis, however, are only abstractions of reality. Together, they can inform exercises that give real forces the opportunity to implement in the physical domain the new approaches and ideas suggested by wargames and analysis. (See Table 1, Comparison of Campaign Analyses and Wargames.)

Table 1. Attributes of campaign analyses and wargames.

U.S. Navy Commander Phillip Pournelle writes that each of the tools “suffer from their own biases, simplifications, and cognitive and epistemological shortcomings. When integrated judiciously, however, the cycle of research gives leaders at all levels critical facts, synthetic experiences, and opportunities to rehearse a range of events in their minds and in the Fleet or the field.” (See Table 2, Comparison of Exercises and Wargames.)

Table 2. Attributes of exercises and wargames.

The cycle of research has increased momentum at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory’s (MCWL) Ellis Group, which hosts weekly wargames to examine emergent Marine warfighting challenges. The games serve as an incubator for concepts and capabilities under development. During a game in 2015, dozens of uniformed officers and civilian experts gathered around a large sandtable separated by a barrier. A young Marine infantry captain explained how he planned to land his company.  On the other side of the barrier, red cell members – retired field-grade officers and staff noncommissioned officers – determined how they would oppose the landing. On the group’s periphery, analysts recorded observations made by the participants. Scribes filled whiteboards with insights from the game, which they matched against the command’s prioritized list of warfighting challenges. U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General Dale Alford, MCWL’s commanding general, adopted the weekly games after observing the Naval War College’s Halsey Groups use operations analysis and wargaming to examine naval warfighting challenges. “It was mostly about getting the right people involved and in the same room,” he said.

Third, wargaming leaders must ensure an accurate and intellectually honest representation of the enemy. Most games played by the Germans, Japanese, and Americans during the interwar period featured two sides: friendlies and adversaries playing against one another. Some of today’s large service-level games are one-sided, with friendly “blue” actions being played against pre-scripted enemy reactions or a control group attention divided between representing “red” and running the overall event. However, if war is “an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will,” as Carl von Clausewitz suggested in On War, these games must adequately portray the adversary’s will.  One-sided wargames lose the essence of the opposing will when the enemy’s actions are not represented by another human being seeking to win. Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, who previously served as director of Command and Staff College, required all Command and Staff College games to be two-sided affairs. “You need two free-thinking wills … within the bounds of the problem,” said Van Riper, who has consulted on many joint and service games since his retirement from active duty in 1997 and served as the red cell commander during the Millennium Challenge event.

This honest portrayal goes beyond using an expert versed on enemy (e.g., “red cell”) capabilities, limitations, and doctrine. During the Wehrmacht wargames before the invasion of France and the Low Countries, the red cell correctly suggested that French-led Allied Forces would be slow to respond to a German main effort thrust through the Ardennes – prompting planners to shift resources to the army group approaching from the forest. The red cell did not portray an idealized version of the French doctrinal response, which would likely have prompted German planners to shift resources to a different army group and resulted in a different course of action. From the Japanese wargames before the Battle of Midway, historians and professional gamers often cite the sinking – and revival – of two Japanese carriers as an admonition against biases, poor assumptions, and predetermined outcomes.

Fourth, future wargaming efforts should use different types of games for different purposes and desired outcomes. A greater variety of games can attack a problem from different perspectives. A larger number of games provides more opportunities to create fresh solutions. For a new, evolving subject, a wargame with more seminar discussion, less action-counteraction play, and fewer rules might be more appropriate in order to generate player insights and spur creativity. On a topic for which much is already known, a wargame with less seminar discussion, more action-counteraction play, and more rules based on hard data might be more suitable to refine players’ understanding of capabilities.

Back to the Future

The German Army, Japanese Navy, and U.S. Navy used wargaming to shed light on strategic, operational, and tactical uncertainty during the interwar period. In the German Army, wargaming formed the bedrock for the education of officers and provided opportunities for commanders and staffs to rehearse complicated operations such as the offensive against France and the Low Countries in 1940. For the Japanese Navy, planners utilized wargames to examine different ways to employ the Combined Fleet in the opening salvo of the Pacific campaign. The Germans successfully used red cells during their wargames to accurately and honestly portray French forces’ actions during the 1940 campaign, while the Japanese demonstrated the dangers of predetermined notions during wargames before the Battle of Midway. The U.S. Navy found wargaming to be an effective tool for educating officers as well, inculcating the practice among generations of officers who attended the Naval War College and fostering a shared mental model through hundreds of wargames that focused on a potential future war with Japan. Likewise, American naval officers also wargamed carrier aviation, discovering optimal ways to employ forces that massed firepower and extended the reach of the Pacific Fleet. These insights fed the cycle of research that allowed American naval officers to study, experiment, and develop new concepts and capabilities leading up to the Second World War.  

Interwar-period wargaming provided users with a chance to shed light on an opaque future. Although the threats are different, senior U.S. defense leaders face similar ambiguity now. The reassertion of Russia in world affairs, a militarily stronger China, and a multitude of powerful non-state actors have dramatically changed the strategic landscape. Fast-developing capabilities, nascent technologies, unmanned weapons platforms, 3D printing, and human-machine interfacing are among the potential factors of the next great conflict. With no cost in blood and minimal in treasure, wargames can empower U.S. military leaders to exert intellectual leadership and innovate to be better prepared for the future.

Major Jeff Wong, USMCR, is a Plans Officer at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Plans, Policies and Operations Department.  This series is adapted from his USMC Command and Staff College thesis, which finished second place in the 2016 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategic Research Paper Competition.  The views expressed in this series are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.  

1.  Commander Phillip Pournelle, USN (analyst at the Office of Net Assessment, Office of the Secretary of Defense), interview by Jeff Wong, September 24, 2015.

2.  As discussed previously, wargaming is different from COA Wargaming, which is a phase of the joint and services’ planning processes, e.g., the Military Decision-Making Process and Marine Corps Planning Process.

3. Colonel Matthew Caffrey, USAF (Retired) (wargame instructor at the Air Force Materiel Command), interview by Jeff Wong, October 15, 2015.

4. Gary Anderson and Dave Dilegge, “Six Rules for Wargaming: The Lessons of Millennium Challenge ’02,” War on the Rocks, November 11, 2015 (accessed April 1, 2016): http://warontherocks.com/2015/11/six-rules-for-wargaming-the-lessons-of-millennium-challenge-02/.

5. Philip Pournelle, “Preparing for War, Keeping the Peace,” Proceedings 140, no. 9 (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval Institute, September 2014), accessed October 15, 2015: http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2014-09/preparing-war-keeping-peace.

6. Peter Perla, The Art of Wargaming, 287.

7. Brigadier General Dale Alford, USMC (commanding general of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory), interview by Jeff Wong, November 23, 2015.

8. Carl von Clausewitz, On War ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 75.

9. Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, USMC (Retired) (faculty member at Marine Corps University), interview by Jeff Wong, February 2, 2016.

10. Pournelle, interview by Jeff Wong, September 24, 2015.

Featured Image: NEWPORT, R.I. (May 5, 2017) U.S. Naval War College (NWC) Naval Staff College students participate in a capstone wargame. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jess Lewis/released)

Sea Control 135 – Rear Admiral Jeff Harley, President of the U.S. Naval War College

By Ashley O’Keefe

Join the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Rear Admiral Jeff Harley, president of the U.S. Naval War College (USNWC), to talk about the ways in which the College is adapting to a rapidly changing strategic environment. We’ll learn about the USNWC’s updated mission set, their outreach to the international community, and their part in the new renaissance in wargaming, among other topics.

Download Sea Control 135 – Rear Admiral Jeff Harley, President of the U.S. Naval War College 

The transcript of the conversation between Admiral Harley and Ashley O’Keefe begins below. Special thanks to Associate Producers Roman Madaus and Ryan Uljua for helping produce this episode.

Ashley: Good afternoon, and welcome to this week’s Sea Control podcast. I’m Ashley O’Keefe, and I’m here today with Rear Admiral Jeff Harley, the president of the United States Naval War College. He’s a career surface warfare officer, and a foreign policy expert. He has a masters from Tufts – the Fletcher School – and the Naval War College, and he’s been the president here at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) for almost a year. We’re really looking forward to this discussion. Thank you again for being here, Admiral.

Many of our listeners have heard of the U.S. Naval War College, and most know about your core mission of educating and developing future naval leaders. There have been some big developments here in the last year, with an expanding mission set and several new initiatives launched here in Newport. Can you describe some of the impetus for those changes?

RADM Harley: The big change that we have is a function of our strategic plan – meaning that we have a plan on how we’re going to keep the College relevant. When you look at the strategic environment around us, you’ll recognize the exponential change everywhere, whether it’s in leadership or in technology. The demands placed on the educational system as a result of that exponential change require that we do things to ensure our relevance. So, some of the initiatives that we have are a function of that change – of trying to keep up with that change and maintaining our relevance.

We have a number of missions here at the college, but I’d like to start out by saying that when people say we’re the U.S. Naval War College, we’re really none of those things. We’re not U.S. – we’re an international school. Of our student body, one-sixth of them, some 110 students, are international students. We are not a naval college, we’re a joint college. We have students from all over the interagency, civilian agencies, all of the different services – we are a joint college and not merely naval. We are a war college in the sense that we study war, but we truly study the constructs of peace, the understanding of policy and strategy and the interrelationships between the two, all with a goal of preventing war. And then, probably trivial, but we’re not really a college, we’re a university, because we have four or five different colleges within our system, as well as a very large research arm that includes wargaming capacity. So, we’re really none of those things –U.S. Naval War or College. If we changed our name it would be something like the ‘International Joint Peace University,’ so it would be fairly complex.

But the impetus is really the change that’s going on around us, and so we’ve expanded our missions to reflect that change and that requirement for us to maintain that relevancy. And so we also look of course for how we can make a great institution even greater.

As you said, our principal mission, the core mission upon which everything else builds, is the education and development of future leaders. That’s our student body throughput. It’s also a reflection of our distance education capability. We have hundreds of thousands of people enrolled in our distance education programs through the College of Distance Education.

In the past, we had principally four missions, and the second one would be helping to define the future Navy. Whether that’s through fleet architecture studies, or helping to red-team those studies or helping to provide the home of thought – the strategic underpinnings of those kind of dialogues.

Our third mission was to support combat readiness, and we do that through our College of Operational and Strategic Leadership. And what they do is they have a number of advise-and-assist teams that work closely with the fleets. They participate in conferences, events, and wargaming all over the world to do that.

Our fourth mission always was to strengthen global maritime partnerships, which we do on a number of levels, including the International Seapower Symposium which happens every other year, a number of regional alumni symposia, as well as the international student throughput that goes with that.

The additional missions that we’ve added in some ways reflect things that we already do, but they also reflect expansion in these areas as well. We’ve added three relatively new missions.

The first is promoting ethics and leadership. Of course, when we talk about educating and developing future leaders, we’ve always had a leadership component, but we folded in a great deal of additional study in the curriculum and are working with the Navy Leadership and Ethics Center (NLEC) to expand the impact of our education and training provided through the education system at the various touch points. That continues to expand.

The second of those three new missions is contributing historical knowledge to shape decisions. We’ve always had a strong history here reflected in world-class archives and our History Center, and we’re expanding our Maritime History Center to be a Maritime History and Research Center. We’re trying to build this into a hive of activity. Understanding history is critical. History may not repeat itself, but it certainly does rhyme, as they say. So, having a world-class history research center here is critical to our future development within the College. Of course, in the 1970s, Admiral Stansfield Turner had the Turner revolution, in which he imbued history throughout the entire curriculum, and it remains to this day part of the national treasure of being able to attend this College, the historical underpinnings that you get in terms of understanding strategy and policy.

The last mission is providing input to the international legal community. We do that through our Stockton Center. That center contributes to the international dialogue on everything from the law of the sea, to law of war, to conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance, and simply so much more. The impetus was indeed the change that’s going on around us – the need to maintain our relevance here at this extraordinary institution and these new missions are simply a reflection of that need.

Ashley: Thank you, Admiral. It must be a really exciting time to be here at the War College. When you talk about these new missions –  or at least, writing down the things that were already happening to some extent – what is some of the work that you see coming out of places like the Maritime History Center, the Stockton Center, that’s exciting to you? What do you think are some of the impacts that you see coming from those places inside of the War College?

RADM Harley: Well, I would think that we’re at the forefront of so much of the thinking in so many different areas. So, illuminating history is the contribution of the History Center, again soon-to-be renamed History and Research Center. History has that critical role in so many things we do, and again, there’s so much history embedded in the institution. But also within our curriculum, providing that historical foundation, which, often for many of the students with very technical backgrounds, is the first time that they get this extent of the historical underpinning. And then the Stockton Center contributes an enormous amount at the maritime level, the national level, and the international level. On the issues of the day – key, critical issues that you see every day, such as the law of the sea issues in the South China Sea, vis-a-vis China, or the law of war, or conflict prevention, or the interfaces with the United Nations… it’s pretty extraordinary, the things that we’re doing.

I’ll just torture you with this idea of using those kind of examples of history and of the international law center as simply being a reflection of the contributions that the College makes at the national level. We’re continuing to expand how we ensure that relevancy of those seven missions. We’re doing that through what I call the “izes.”

The first of those is that we’re going to continue to operationalize the Naval War College. We’re doing that by enhancing the operations analysis that we do in concert with the Naval Warfare Development Command as well as the modeling and simulation that takes place within the Pentagon and other places. We’re operationalizing in terms of the way that we’re adding additional warfighting education to our curriculum. We’re adding particularly in terms of sea control and all-domain access. We’ve reflected the strategic environment in which we live through the stand-up of the Russia Maritime Studies Institute here last fall so now we have world-class experts in a critical area of geopolitical interest for our nation.

We also are navalizing our curriculum. We’ve always been a joint college, at least for the past several decades, but I think that we’ve become reliant on this idea that sea control is something that you already have, and in today’s world of anti-access capabilities, it’s really important that we teach sea control and maritime capabilities, all in accordance with the Chief of Naval Operations’ Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority.

We’re also futurizing the College. We’ve got our expanded and much more robust cyber curriculum, we’re teaching unmanned systems, we’re teaching space, we’re teaching the new and emerging technologies that influence the strategic environment. Within that futurization initiative is the creation of an Institute for Future Warfare Studies, which is going to allow us to look 30 or more years out into the future, instead of the tendency to look a very short period of time out, because of exponential change. But you can study future probabilities, and you can look that far out, and you can look at force architectures that would be required to work in that environment thirty years from now.

And then the last thing that we’re doing in terms of those “izes” is that we’re internationalizing our College. And by that I mean that we’re expanding the international interfaces that we have and we’re increasing the number of regional alumni symposia that we execute with our international  graduates in between our International Seapower Symposia that we conduct every two years. We’ve increased the number of Chief of Naval Operations International Fellows that we have onboard as part of our faculty. In fact, just a month ago, we brought on the former head of navy from Japan, Admiral Takei, so now Professor Takei is part of our faculty and staff. He brings a great deal of warfighting and educational experience to help shape the contours of the education that we provide both to our student body throughput, but also to our wargaming, and to our advise and assist teams that are really all over the world. This fall, we hope to bring on board the former head of navy from Norway. In doing so, we’ll have the Atlantic experience, the Arctic exposure, and obviously some NATO experience. So that will increase our CNO international fellows to four, and we’ll look to continue to expand that program because of the great skill sets that they can bring to the College and to the education for our individual students.

So those four “izes” really put into context the means and the lines of effort by which we aim to increase the relevance of this great institution.

Ashley: It’s exciting that as the College expands and creates value on so many different levels that it’s not insular, it’s really very global in perspective. And many of our listeners are in fact not in the U.S. – they’re foreign naval officers, they’re otherwise interested maritime security people. So when we think about how the College does interact, I understand that you take in foreign naval officers for education, but what are some other places where the College is collaborating internationally, maybe you could talk about the regional alumni symposia and what those bring to the table.

RADM Harley: The big effort that we make is the International Seapower Symposium here in Newport. The next one will be in the fall of 2018. That will be a largely attended event; it’ll have something on the order of 85 heads of navy here. To keep the momentum going between the International Seapower Symposia, we do hold these regional alumni symposia. About a month ago, we held one in Lima, Peru. It was focused on the Americas – all the way from Canada to South America. Simply extraordinary – we talk regional and local issues, we bring world-class experts in from the respective nations as well as from the U.S. Naval War College.

It helps us maintain the alumni relations and develop a deeper understanding of the issues that affect the regions. And we rotate, throughout the cycle, to get to all the different areas of the world. Our next one is scheduled for this fall. It will be in the Middle East, and then we’ll be in Asia in the spring, then we’ll do the International Seapower Symposium next fall, then keep the rotation going between Africa and Europe. So it’s a pretty exciting opportunity to maintain those alumni relations, and their connections to the College that many of our international student graduates have come to know and love and respect for the contributions that we make in this international dialogue.

Ashley: One more last hot topic before I let you go, sir. Everybody loves to talk about wargaming. It’s been hot since, I suppose, Sims and Luce, but today we’re talking about it as well. So what are some of the new developments? I see it pop up a couple of times in some of those new mission areas that you talked about – could you maybe just explain a little bit more what you’re doing here?

RADM Harley: I think you’re right, there’s certainly been a renaissance in wargaming, led by Deputy Secretary Work in the Pentagon, and we’ve revitalized our wargaming program in a number of different ways. We’re really focusing hard on integrating the wargaming through the ops analysis community. By that I mean with the folks who do modeling and simulation and those who do experimentation. So, there is a greater effort to have that level of integration, so that your wargaming is informed by the experimentation that’s taking place. The experimentation that you’re doing is informed by the wargaming that you’re doing – and apply that same argument to the interfaces with modeling and simulation.

We’re also slowly expanding the amount of wargaming that we do with the student body. We of course have groups that are student-led. That’s essentially their elective while they’re here at the College. But we’re trying to get wargaming exposure to every student who comes through this great college, so everybody will have an opportunity to participate in wargaming.

We’re expanding the analysis that we’re doing in the wargaming, putting the appropriate focus on the quality of the analysis to make the quality of the wargames even better through the strategic enterprise of our Navy. The scheduling of the gaming has been refined to the point to offer the optimal output for the capacity that we have, and integration with all of the other entities that do wargaming as well. So you’re absolutely right, there’s so much going on with our wargaming, with our research, all integrated into the broader Navy analytic agenda. We’re excited about the ability to imbue each and every student with a fundamental understanding of  the contributions that wargaming can make.

Ashley: Well, sir, I think that you’re going to get a spike in applicants here as our CIMSEC listeners all get excited about the things that the College is doing, and just how vibrant this community is here. Is there anything else that you wanted to cover or leave our listeners with anything to close?

RADM Harley: Well, I’m humbled and honored to serve here at your USNWC. We do look forward to being able to maintain the dialogue with the international community, providing appropriate strategic thinking to our national leadership, particularly on maritime issues. We do so much to contribute to that dialogue and we’re just honored and humbled to be a part of that dialogue that takes place in this most demanding and complex of times.

Ashley: Thank you again for your time this afternoon, Admiral!

Rear Admiral Jeff Harley is the President of the U.S. Naval War College.

Ashley O’Keefe is the CIMSEC Secretary for 2016-2017. She is a U.S. Navy surface warfare officer. 

Interwar-Period Gaming Today for Conflicts Tomorrow: Press ‘Start’ to Play, Pt. 2

By Major Jeff Wong, USMCR

Interwar-Period Case Studies – Germany, Japan, and the United States

By the beginning of the interwar years, wargaming had gained acceptance among military leaders in Germany, Japan, and the United States. For the German military, Helmuth von Moltke used wargames to train and educate officers at the Kriegsakademie during his tenure as chief of the Prussian and German General Staff from 1857-88. Generations of German Army officers accepted gaming as an essential part of training, educating, and developing leaders, and they continued the practice through the early years of the Second World War. In the late 19th century, German officers passed wargaming to their Japanese counterparts, who expanded the use of gaming for campaign planning and decision-making processes. Wargaming eventually became part of the regular curriculum at the Japanese Naval Staff College, and Japanese naval leaders attributed their success during the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War to insights generated by these games. Students and faculty used wargames to test new ideas about tactical maneuvers, night attacks, fleet formations, principles of engagement, and supporting forces. Unlike the Germans, Japanese interwar-period games gained a deterministic quality, with officers using game insights as evidence to support courses of action that leaders had already favored. In the United States, a Navy lieutenant named William McCarty Little introduced gaming to the Naval War College in Newport during a series of lectures in 1887. The faculty experimented with the new technique in the ensuing years and incorporated it as a regular educational tool in 1893.  During his interwar-period tenure as the president of the Naval War College, Admiral William Sims emphasized the need to test students’ decision-making abilities through the use of wargames: officers with otherwise strong reputations exposed their “lack of knowledge…of the proper tactics and strategy” in the war college game rooms in Newport.

This is the second of a three-part series examining interwar-period gaming. The first part defined wargaming, discussed its potential utility and pitfalls, and differentiated it from other military analytic tools.

Lessons from Germany: Kriegsakademie, Von Seeckt, and the Shared Mental Model

Wargaming realized its potential as a tool for learning in interwar Germany for several reasons. The PME system embraced gaming as a training and educational tool that encouraged introspection about decision-making and fostered subordinate initiative and adaptability. Senior benefactors valued wargames and the insights they generated. Wargames also contributed to a shared mental model about the strategic and operational dilemmas that the country faced upon the outbreak of war. The cultural indoctrination of wargaming expanded in German PME institutions, where officers played games to reinforce learning from lectures and seminars. Senior officers led students on staff rides that integrated elements of wargaming, forcing students to confront operational problems and formulate solutions. They conducted these staff rides and wargames in the regions of Central Europe that would become battlefields by 1939-40, including the areas adjacent to France and the Low Countries in the Second World War’s western theater and regions facing Poland and Czechoslovakia in the east. In order to graduate, every officer who attended the Kriegsakademie learned how to plan a wargame, execute the event, and apply insights toward future planning. After graduating and arriving at their parent units, officers found wargames to be an integral part of their continued maturation as military professionals. Every Wehrmacht unit from battalion or squadron upward conducted games as an intellectual substitute for live-force exercises, which had diminished in frequency due to funding shortages and troop-number restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the First World War.

Senior benefactors in the German Army reinforced the importance of gaming. The post-war restrictions forced the newly appointed chief of the Reichswehr, Hans von Seeckt, to find different ways of ensuring the army adapted after The Great War so hard-won lessons could help inform how they would fight the next great conflict – an inevitability in the eyes of many German officers. In addition to ordering a sweeping review of the German military’s performance during the First World War, the German military chief turned to wargaming to prepare the next generation of officers.

Von Seeckt, an adherent of maneuver warfare, believed that German officers needed to understand the theoretical aspects of warfare to be prepared for a dynamic future battlefield. Wargaming became an essential element of that understanding. He expanded the term “wargame” to include other activities that resemble the modern-day TEWT and TTX, planning exercises (akin to the theater campaign planning central to the capstone “Nine Innings” exercise at the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College), command-post exercises, and terrain discussions. By the end of von Seeckt’s tenure as chief of the general staff in 1926, Reichswehr officers examined Germany’s perpetual strategic dilemma – ensconced in Central Europe surrounded by potential adversaries – through wargames, with leaders at all levels immersing themselves in the details of existing plans, likely enemy reactions to German offensives, and the challenges of the physical terrain across Europe.

Other senior leaders who played wargames in this officer development system eventually used games to plan the opening stages of the Second World War. General Franz Halder, chief of the Army General Staff, commissioned dozens of wargames to examine different options for invading France and the Low Countries in 1940. General Ludwig Beck, chief of the German General Staff from 1935 through 1938, also employed games in his 1936 effort to prepare a new manual of modern operations for the entire army. After he and his advisers had decided on the principles they deemed most important in the new conditions of warfare of their time, they called on “seasoned officers” to test those principles using wargames. In the air, military aviation pioneer Helmuth Wilberg shaped future Luftwaffe operational employment through wargames during his rigorous critique of German air doctrine following the First World War. On the sea, German submarine force chief Karl Doenitz, a future grand admiral, utilized games to explore the employment of U-boats. Doenitz’s games generated new ideas such as wolfpack tactics and suggested that a three-hundred submarine fleet would be necessary to neutralize Allied merchant shipping in the Atlantic.

These wargames exposed strategic and operational dilemmas that fed a shared mental model for Wehrmacht leaders and their subordinate commanders. In this context, mental models comprise the collective tools, products, processes, and experiences that players use to make sense of the world. Games conducted prior to the invasion of France examined various iterations of Plan Yellow, the campaign to invade France and the Low Countries, and contributed to the German military’s shared mental model for how they would fight the next war. Among the numerous versions of Plan Yellow, the German Army General Staff settled on a daring version (some called it “reckless”) that feigned an attack on Belgium and the Netherlands. The feint would distract Allied Forces from the campaign’s main effort – an offensive through the Ardennes Forest that pushed German tank divisions across the Meuse River toward the English Channel, cutting off Allied lines of communication back to France. The wargames featured the services of Lieutenant Colonel Ulrich Liss, an expert on Western military doctrine who role-played as the commander of Allied Forces, French General Maurice Gamelin. Liss’ red cell accurately portrayed the likely Allied reaction – a slow response to a German main effort thrust through the Ardennes. “Liss had come to a view similar to that articulated by Hitler, namely that ‘to operate and to act quickly … does not come easily either to the systematic French or to the ponderous English,’” wrote Ernest May. Liss’ assessment during the games prompted Halder to eventually assign Schwerpunkt, or focus of effort, to Army Group A, which would push through the Ardennes. Colonel-General Gerd Von Rundstedt, commander of Group A, lamented that “the campaign could never be won.” However, the Germans did win, thanks partly to an insight generated by an accurate representation of the enemy as part of wargaming for the campaign. The Allied Forces failed to act quickly enough on the German deception until Group A’s divisions had crossed the Meuse on their way toward the English Channel.

Evolution of Plan Yellow. (Wikimedia Commons)

In the spirit of Auftragstaktik, gaming helped establish the environment that fostered initiative among Wehrmacht subordinate commanders. Officers constantly examined and questioned the assumptions behind their own decisions in wargames, which fostered an environment that encouraged initiative and field innovation. Some subordinate leaders became less afraid to deviate from their original tasks and adjust to evolving situations during combat in order to meet their commander’s intent. During the offensive against France and the Low Countries in May 1940, after General Heinz Guderian’s Panzer Corps crossed the Meuse River at Sedan, he chose to press the attack west with all available forces and drive toward the English Channel, rather than make the doctrinally sound decision of slowing down and strengthening his corps’ bridgehead to the south. In another instance during the campaign, General Erwin Rommel’s Seventh Panzer Division neared the far end of the “extended Maginot Line” at the French-Belgian border – far ahead of his adjacent units – and lost radio communications with his corps headquarters. Rommel’s superiors never issued guidance for this stage of the operation because they did not predict their advance would proceed as quickly and successfully as it did. Like Guderian, Rommel pressed ahead with the assault and pushed his panzers west until he ran short of ammunition and fuel at Le Cateau. “German generals, even German colonels and majors, certainly felt freer to try new approaches and tactics than did their counterparts in the French army or (British forces),” wrote May.

In the Wehrmacht, commanders used wargames to assess their subordinates’ strengths and weaknesses under stress. They also used games to foster trust and understanding between senior and junior officers through teaching moments in the context of the game scenario. These games became “the best way for commanders to make known to subordinates their views on various aspects of warfare,” writes Dr. Milan Vego, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College. “Wargames were an important means for the ‘spiritual’ preparation for war and for shaping unified tactical and strategic views.” Through gaming, leaders established a climate that allowed for mistakes to be studied and encouraged subordinate commanders to adapt their plans to changing realities in battle. The Germans also utilized wargaming to examine evolving principles within the institution about combined arms, armor and maneuver, and air doctrine in order to inform capabilities development and national resourcing decisions that influenced, for example, the manufacture of close-air support platforms over long-range strategic bombers. By the mid- to late 1930s, Germany diverted limited resources to interdiction and tactical support aircraft because of the risk to ground assault upon the outbreak of war in Europe.

In the years after the First World War, wargaming remained a valuable training tool. During games, commanders stressed the importance of a proper commander’s estimate of the situation using imperfect information, logical decision-making, orders writing, and coherent communication of those orders. A game director would conduct a thorough after-action review with participants to discuss what drove commanders’ decisions during the game and offer alternate solutions. After the group adjourned, the game director worked with senior wargame participants to draft reports that identified issues for subsequent exploration in follow-on experiments, live-force exercises, and other wargames.

To complement insights gained from gaming, senior officers also used “operational mission” (Operativ Aufgaben) games to examine future hypothetical war scenarios. Led by senior officers within the Troop Office (or Truppenamtreise, the Reichswehr-era “general staff” entity), up to 300 officers from group commands, divisions, and the schoolhouses collaborated on a potential solution that was written as a study and submitted to the Truppenamtreise for review. In 1931, one such exercise examined a war with France and Czechoslovakia. Two others in 1932 outlined a campaign against Poland.  

German interwar-years gaming enjoyed high-level support, cultural acceptance, and a shared mental model about the next Great War. Training and education that used wargames at the Kriegsakademie laid the foundation for officers to continue the practice at their units later in their careers. Believers such as Von Seeckt, Halder, and Beck integrated wargaming into strategic decision-making for the institution. In the supporting establishment, senior officers continued to wargame institutional issues such as doctrine, resourcing, and manufacturing of capabilities to fulfill projected future Wehrmacht requirements for the next war. German officers utilized wargames to first explore hypothetical strategic and operational dilemmas, then used lessons-learned to better understand campaign plans that served as the opening salvo of Germany’s Blitzkrieg in the European theater. Gaming fostered an environment that encouraged subordinate leaders to adapt, innovate, and develop creative solutions.

Lessons from Japan: Ugaki, Midway, and the Carriers That Wouldn’t Sink

The German example demonstrates wargaming’s promise as a learning and rehearsal tool, but lessons from the Japanese experience highlight potential pitfalls when the tool is misapplied, misinterpreted, or abused to support a predetermined outcome. The Japanese example highlights the benefits of integrating wargaming into the professional development of officers in the schoolhouse, but it also illustrates the potential dangers of unrealistic play and obfuscation of game outcomes.

Japanese planners examining the Pacific theater determined that a bold campaign that relied upon speed, surprise, and near-perfect synchronization would be necessary against American, British, and Dutch forces in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific to establish strategic conditions favorable to the Japanese at the onset of hostilities. Games played a crucial role in supporting Japanese assumptions about the Pacific campaign. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet, directed wargames to support planning for the pivotal campaigns at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and Midway Island in 1942. By the beginning of the interwar period, officers learned gaming at the Japanese War College and Naval War College, just as German military officers did at the Kriegsakademie. Japanese naval officers first wargamed an attack on Pearl Harbor in 1927, when carriers and carrier-aviation capabilities were in their infancy. During these games, two Japanese aircraft carriers (the only ones available in the fleet at the time) supported by an advance guard of submarines, destroyers, and cruisers inflicted only minimal damage on the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Observers criticized the Japanese naval force commander’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor for being rash. Japanese officers continued to wargame to support planning as the army expanded operations into Manchuria and China, and planners intensified the practice starting in 1937 when they started shaping a campaign to defeat British forces in the South China Sea.

Wargames played an integral part of Japanese war planning, with the Navy hosting a series of games prior to the opening campaigns in the Pacific theater. These games included a theater-level wargame that examined the Army and Navy’s opening campaigns in the Aleutian Islands, Pearl Harbor, and the Southwest Pacific, as well as operational- and tactical-level wargames that focused on specific parts of the operations. Fleet commanders and selected staffers participated in several secret games held in fall 1941 in preparation for the Pearl Harbor attack, as well as a series of games played in early 1942 before Japanese attacks across the Philippines, the Aleutian Islands, Guam, the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, and Hong Kong that ultimately stymied U.S. and other allied forces across the region.

Planners used wargames conducted in the fall of 1941 at the Japanese War College to analyze the effectiveness of a surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, as well as allow commanders and planners to rehearse the operation. For the Pearl Harbor wargames, Yamamoto handpicked his participants, which included fleet commanders and their staff. Yamamoto wanted the wargames to generate insights about three critical decisions as part of the attack. First, he wanted to determine the feasibility of the operation. Second, Yamamoto wanted to figure out if the fleet could achieve surprise in the attack. Third, he wanted to examine an optimal route for the approach of the carrier strike group toward Hawaii. Commander Minoru Genda, a trusted confidant of Yamamoto who served as an air officer of the carrier task force that would attack Pearl Harbor, said that the Pearl Harbor wargames “clarified our problem and gave us a new sense of direction and purpose. After they were over, all elements of the Japanese Navy went to work as never before, because time was running out.”

This picture released by the US Navy shows a Japanese mock-up used to plan the attack on Pearl Harbor. Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, Japanese naval attache in Washington, conceived the plan for the attack on Pearl Harbor in January 1941. The Japanese War College worked out the attack from this model, and in September 1941, Japanese carriers and their planes practiced bombing on an obscure island of Japan. Yamamoto had special fins placed on torpedos for the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor. (Official US Navy Photo)

Japanese wargames also had vocal critics. Genda’s direct superior and the commander of the Pearl Harbor strike force, Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, expressed skepticism about the games’ insights about likely Japanese success against the American Fleet. Yamamoto favored a bold attack against the U.S. Pacific Fleet and overruled Nagumo’s chief concern – that massing six aircraft carriers for the Pearl Harbor task force put a significant amount of overall Japanese naval combat power at risk. Vice Admiral Hansaku Yoshioka, among the participants of the Pearl Harbor games, decried the inflation of Japanese capabilities, underestimation of American forces, and umpire decisions that were slanted in favor of the Japanese. The games “epitomized the Japanese penchant for short-sighted, self-indulgent thinking,” Yoshioka told American interrogators following the war. World War II scholars believe this “self-indulgence” came back to haunt the Japanese during wargames before the Battle of Midway, when the Midway game series director, Admiral Matome Ugaki, overturned umpires’ rulings about the sinking of two Japanese carriers by American land-based bombers. Ugaki reduced the number of sinkings to one carrier and allowed the other to participate in the next part of the game – invasions of New Caledonia and Fiji Island.  

Wargaming professionals often cite Ugaki’s umpiring during the Midway wargame as a prime example of a good wargame undermined by leaders with a deterministic bias, but the reality is that wargaming has limitations. A wargame is a good tool to examine decision-making, establish principles, develop insights, and recommend areas for further study. It is not a good tool for predicting the future or generating hard data. In The Art of Wargaming, Dr. Peter Perla reasons that while the Japanese Midway games were “almost certainly biased,” the point that is often overlooked is that the game “raised the crucial issue of the possibility of an ambush from the north; the operators ignored the warning, a warning reiterated by the oft-maligned Ugaki.” This fact suggests that changing the umpires’ ruling of the effectiveness of land-based bomber attack was not necessarily willful ignorance, since B-17s had attacked the Japanese carrier task force on several occasions and failed to score a single hit. Perla writes, “Ignoring or changing the results of a few die rolls did not constitute the failure of Japanese wargaming in the case of Midway; ignoring the questions and issues raised by the play did.” In this case, the wargame generated an insight that key leaders of the actual Midway campaign overlooked. Other Japanese planners believed the principal failure of the game was the “uncharacteristic” play of Captain Chiaki Matsuda, the Japanese officer who role-played as the American commander. In post-war interviews, Genda suggested that Matsuda mirror-imaged Japanese behavior onto the American fleet when it did not sortie for a decisive battle. “His (non-American) conduct of the wargames might have given us the wrong impression of American thinking,” Genda told interrogators.

Much like their German counterparts, Japanese planners during the interwar period integrated wargames into campaign planning. However, the primary difference appeared to be how the game’s sponsors and stakeholders interpreted the game outputs. In the Midway games, biases, poor assumptions, and preconceived notions caused analysts to overlook critical insights and misinterpret gameplay. Like the German wargame from the 1940 France campaign, which was notable for its honest portrayal of the Allied commander, Japanese wargames also show the importance of accurate, balanced “Red” play:  the game must provide a correct picture of an adversary’s capabilities and limitations, then honestly portray how the enemy would fight in a given situation and environment.

Lessons from America: Newport, Carrier Aviation, and the Pacific Campaign

Nimitz understood the challenges of a war in the Pacific thanks to his experiences as a student in the game rooms of the Naval War College. So had Ernest King, William Halsey, and Raymond Spruance – future admirals who commanded task forces, groups, and numbered fleets in the Pacific against Japan. In the two decades between the world wars, U.S. Navy officers cycling between the Naval War College, the operating forces, and influential supporting-establishment institutions generated a shared mental model that focused on the challenges of an impending Pacific campaign against Japan. With the specter of another global conflict on the horizon, they participated in wargames, studies, and exercises in the 1920s and 1930s to explore the wide array of conceptual, operational, and tactical challenges that the bloody stalemate of First World War exposed.  

The Naval War College is the most well-known illustration for American military gaming between the First and Second World Wars. Newport fully embraced wargaming by integrating it into officer PME curricula as the Germans did at the Kriegsakademie. The Newport wargames helped bolster student and instructor understanding about the challenges of operating in the Pacific against the Japanese, and informed studies and exercises for emerging capabilities such as naval aviation, which proved pivotal during the Second World War.  

The Naval War College worked with the Navy’s General Board on future planning scenarios based on various competitors and capabilities. Officials assigned each scenario a color, including Plan Orange for a war with Japan, which formed the basis of many of the games played by students in Newport. Like other Naval War College students, Nimitz wargamed and studied these operational dilemmas during the 1922-23 academic year. In his thesis, Nimitz described the need for seizing advanced bases or developing an at-sea refueling and replenishment capability “to maintain even a limited degree of mobility” against the Japanese. “To bring such a war to a successful conclusion BLUE must either destroy ORANGE military and naval forces or effect a complete isolation of ORANGE country by cutting all communication with the outside world,” wrote Nimitz, referring to the color code-names for the United States and Japan, respectively. “It is quite possible that ORANGE resistance will cease when isolation is complete and before steps to reduce military strength on ORANGE soil are necessary. In either case the operations will require a series of bases westward of Oahu, and will require BLUE Fleet to advance westward with an enormous train, in order to be prepared to seize and establish bases enroute.” Thus, original conceptions of the Pacific campaign featuring the Pacific Fleet’s advance along extended sea lines of communication gave way to an island-hopping approach that allowed American forces to establish advance bases from which to launch air attacks against the Japanese home islands.

At the Naval War College, wargaming enjoyed a powerful benefactor in Admiral William Sims, who commanded U.S. Naval Forces in Europe during the First World War and began a second stint as president of the Naval War College in 1919. He possessed recent combat experience, knowledge of wargaming from his first term as the college’s president, and a sense of urgency to provide future leaders with more opportunities to test their combat decision-making skills and inform future naval innovation. Sims regularly highlighted gaming’s role in a naval officer’s professional development:

“The principles of wargames constitute the backbone of our profession. … In no other way can this training be had except by assembling about a game board a large body of experienced officers divided into two groups and ‘fighting’ two great modern fleets against each other – not once, or a few times, but continually until the application of the correct principles becomes as rapid and as automatic as the plays of an expert football team.”

The War Plans Division of the U.S. War Department gamed elements of American mobilization plans prior to the start of the Second World War, but the national PME institutions embraced gaming as an analytical tool, and none more enthusiastically as the Naval War College. Of more than 300 wargames conducted in Newport during the interwar period, about half focused on campaigns and tactics while the other half gamed theater-wide strategy. Among approximately 150 strategy games, all but 9 explored a possible war with Japan.

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas (standing) confers with (from left to right) General Douglas MacArthur, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Admiral William D. Leahy concerning future moves in the war against Japan, during the President’s visit to Hawaii, 26 July-10 August 1944. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph) 

During games, students prepared plans based on a given scenario. Using their plans as a guide, players manipulated miniature ships on large maps depicting oceans of the world. Participants and umpires consulted charts and tables to determine game-move outcomes based on desired operational and tactical actions. During some games, students playing “Blue” – the United States – prepared and executed plans against classmates who attempted to mimic the doctrine and capabilities of the adversary – eventually Japan. In some cases, game directors ordered the players to switch sides and execute the plans prepared by their opponents. Tactical games proved useful in understanding and testing doctrines for ship movements, particularly the employment of carriers and their supporting vessels.  

The college worked closely with planners at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) to incorporate elements of Plan Orange into the wargames. College officials sent game insights to OPNAV, which integrated them into the design of the fleet problems. The fleet tested the ideas generated by the wargames during the exercises, the results of which planners sent back to Newport to inform subsequent wargames. “Thus, ideas developed or problems encountered on the game floor were often examined during the fleet problems and vice versa,” wrote Alfred Nofi. For example, during Fleet Problem VII in 1927, war college students played a scenario identical to one being used by naval, air, and ground forces exercising in Rhode Island Sound and adjacent coastal areas.

The relationship between Newport’s wargames and subsequent analyses and exercises proved particularly valuable for the maturation of carrier aviation. In the 1920s, carrier aviation concept development began at the war college, where students and faculty used games to study existing and possible doctrine for fleet employment. The fleet took inferences drawn from the games and operationalized them in maneuvers and mock battles during the fleet problems. Analysts provided an honest evaluation of the exercise results back to the technical bureaus (particularly the Bureau of Aeronautics) and the war college, and the college refined subsequent wargames to reflect insights generated by the exercises. This feedback loop contributed to the realism and creativity of game play at Newport and ultimately led to conclusions about the massing of aircraft for strikes and the need for a coherent air defense plan that integrated anti-air artillery and defensive interceptors during the Second World War.  

It is important to note that the wargames did not reveal the exact force structure, concepts, capabilities, tactics, techniques, and procedures that the U.S. Navy used to defeat Japan. Instead, the games gave American naval officers the analytic space to think and explore those issues. As the Pacific war proceeded, the U.S. Navy adjusted well to the changing realities of the conflict. John Kuehn wrote that the type of navy that America needed “had already been discussed and thought about extensively during the hearings of the General Board, in the classrooms at the Naval War College, at sea, and in the planning cells of OPNAV’s War Plans Division… Applying existing strategic, operational, and tactical solutions and then adjusting them to the realities of war came easier to Navy officers because of their focus over two decades on precisely the strategy and materiel requirements that a Pacific War without preexisting bases demanded.”

For the Americans, wargames allowed planners to explore evolving concepts and shape capabilities, as well as understand the operational challenges of the impending Pacific campaign. To develop new capabilities, wargames supported a cycle of research that informed analyses and live-force exercises in a continual feedback loop. This process reinforced realism in subsequent games and exercises, and a well-informed officer corps that tested and evaluated both types of evolutions. To develop a better understanding of Plan Orange, the Naval War College served as an incubator for creative ideas on how to overcome operational challenges in the Pacific. Through game play, officers learned how to fight against the Japanese, as well as how the Japanese fought. Students who cycled through the game floor at Newport developed a shared mental model that they carried with them to the fleet and eventually to war.

In part three, we will conclude this series by identifying best wargaming practices that can be applied to today’s U.S. defense establishment in order to prepare for future conflicts.

Major Jeff Wong, USMCR, is a Plans Officer at Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Plans, Policies and Operations Department.  This series is adapted from his USMC Command and Staff College thesis, which finished second place in the 2016 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategic Research Paper Competition.  The views expressed in this series are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Marine Corps, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.  

Endnotes

1. Milan Vego, “German War Gaming,” Naval War College Review 65 no. 4 (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, Autumn 2012), 110.

2. Francis J. McHugh, Fundamentals of War Gaming (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, 1961), 39.

3. David C. Evans and Mark R. Peattie, Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887-1941 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2012), 73.

4. McHugh, Fundamentals of War Gaming, 57.

5. Eric J. Madonia, “Preparing Navy Officers for Leadership at the Operational Level of War,” paper for the Naval War College (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, March 5, 2010), 8.

6. Vego, 110-111.

7. Rudolf Hofman, “German Army War Games,” Art of War Colloquium (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, 1983), 6.

8. Vego, 114.

9. Ibid.

10. U.S. Marine Corps University, “About Exercise Nine Innings,” (Quantico, VA: U.S. Marine Corps University), July 20, 2015 (accessed March 8, 2016): http://guides.grc.usmcu.edu/9innings2015.

11. Ernest R. May, Strange Victory: Hitler’s Conquest of France (New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 2000), 258.

12. Peter Perla, The Art of Wargaming (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990), 42.

13. Phillip S. Meilinger, The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: School of Advanced Airpower Studies, 1997), 171.

14. Vego, 130-131.

15. May, Strange Victory, 465

16. Ibid, 258.

17. Ibid, 465.

18. Ibid, 263.

19. Auftragstaktik is an approach to command in which a commander issues to a subordinate an intent for a given mission, and the subordinate is given the freedom to independently plan and execute the mission. This mindset gave subordinates flexibility in deciding how to accomplish an  assigned mission within the framework of the intent. Michael D. Krause, “Moltke and the Origins of the Operational Level of War,” Historical Perspectives of the Operational Art, Michael D. Krause and Cody R. Phillips, eds. (Washington, DC: Center for Military History, 2005), 141. 

20. Karl-Heinz Frieser, “Panzer Group Kleist and the Breakthrough in France,” Historical Perspectives of the Operational Art, Michael D. Krause and Cody R. Phillips, eds. (Washington, DC: Center for Military History, 2005), 173.

21. Ibid, 175-176.

22. Ibid, 176.

23. May, Strange Victory, 459.

24. Vego, 115.

25. Jonathan M. House, Toward Combined Arms Warfare: A Survey of 20th-Century Tactics, Doctrine, and Organization (Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1984), 52.

26. Meilinger, The Paths of Heaven, 173.

27. Vego, 115.

28. Ibid, 129.

29. Ibid, 117.

30. Evans and Peattie, Kaigun: Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1887-1941, 469-470.

31. Martin Van Creveld, Wargames: From Gladiators to Gigabytes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 168.

32. Ibid, 167.

33.  Ibid.

34. Gordon W. Prange, At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1991), 225.

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid, 234.

37. Thomas B. Allen, “The Evolution of Wargaming: From Chessboard to the Marine Doom,” in War and Games, ed. Timothy J. Cornell and Thomas B. Allen (San Francisco, San Marino: Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Social Stress, 2002), 234.

38. Prange, At Dawn We Slept, 234.

39. Ibid.

40. McHugh, Fundamentals of War Gaming, 40.

41. Ibid.

42. Perla, The Art of Wargaming, 47.

43. Ibid.

44. Ibid.

45.  Gordon W. Prange, Donald M. Goldstein, and Katherine V. Dillon, Miracle at Midway (New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 1982), 35-36.

46. Ibid.

47. Allen, “The Evolution of Wargaming,” 233-234.

48. Edward S. Miller, War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1991), 2.

49. Williamson Murray, “Red-Teaming: Its Contribution to Past Military Effectiveness,” DART Working Paper 02-2 (McLean, VA: Hicks and Associates, September 2002), 42.

50. Chester Nimitz, “Thesis on Tactics,” written for his master’s thesis at the Naval War College (Newport, RI: Naval War College, 1923), 35.

51. Admiral Sims is also the only active-duty U.S. naval officer to receive the Pulitzer Prize.  During his second tour as the Naval War College president, he wrote Victory at Sea and won for history writing.

52. McHugh, Fundamentals of War Gaming, 64.

53. Students at the Army War College, Army Command and General Staff College, and Marine Corps Command and Staff College also participated in wargames during the interwar period.  McHugh, Fundamentals of War Gaming, 53.

54. Van Creveld, Wargames, 166.

55. McHugh, Fundamentals of War Gaming, 53.

56. Van Creveld, 166.

57. John T. Kuehn, Agents of Innovation: The General Board and the Design of the Fleet That Defeated the Japanese Navy (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008), 12-13.

58. Alfred A. Nofi, To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940 (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College Press, 2010), 20.

59. Ibid.

60. Williamson Murray, “Innovation: Past and Future,” in Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, eds. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 316.

61. Kuehn, Agents of Innovation, 13.

62. Thomas C. Hone, Norman Friedman, and Mark D. Mandeles, “Innovation in Carrier Aviation,” Naval War College Newport Papers 37 (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College Press, August 2011), 157-158.

63. Murray, “Innovation: Past and Future,” 316-317.

64. Kuehn, Agents of Innovation, 178.

Featured Image:  NEWPORT, R.I. (May 10, 2016)
Peter Pellegrino, U.S. Naval War College’s (NWC) senior military analyst for wargaming, briefs participants of a wargame reenactment of the Battle of Jutland at NWC in Newport, Rhode Island. During the wargame reenactment, Rear Adm. P. Gardner Howe III, NWC president, commanded the German High Seas Fleet and retired Rear Adm. Samuel J. Cox, director, Naval History and Heritage Command, commanded the British Grand Fleet.
(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist James E. Foehl/Released)