Category Archives: Wargames

Revamping Wargaming Education for the U.S. Department of Defense

By Jeff Appleget, Jeff Kline, and Rob Burks


The U.S. Department of Defense has failed to educate generations of military officers on the skills of wargaming. Wargaming creates the environment in which uniformed leaders practice decision-making against an active, thinking adversary. Wargaming is also required by the Department of Defense’s planning process to create sound and executable plans, is inherent to designing new doctrine and operational concepts, and is a vital element in the cycle of research.1

For these reasons, military leaders must have the ability to create and conduct wargames. However, the current military education process does not impart this critical knowledge.


Ed McGrady, distinguished Center for Naval Analyses wargamer, opened a recent commentary on wargaming by saying, “There is a widespread misunderstanding of what wargaming is…” and we agree wholeheartedly. Too many in the Department of Defense believe wargames are computer-based combat simulations used to produce quantitative analyses, but they are not. Wargaming is about human decision-making. Joint Publication 5-0 Joint Operation Planning’s wargaming definition makes this clear: “Wargames are representations of conflict or competition in a synthetic environment, in which people make decisions and respond to the consequences of those decisions” (emphasis added).

Most defense wargaming practitioners recognize three purposes for wargames: educational, experiential, and analytic. Educational and experiential wargames are focused on the player. The primary output of these types of wargames is a better educated or experienced player. For example, success might lead to an officer who now knows how a new weapon system is employed or has experienced fighting against a threat in a different region of the world. There are usually no other ‘results’ to demonstrate the wargame’s value.

On the other hand, analytic wargames focus on producing findings and recommendations in response to a sponsor’s tasking. Therefore the product of these wargames is not player-focused but sponsor-focused. Planning wargames, as outlined in Joint Publication 5-0 (Step 4: Course of Action analysis and wargaming), are specific analytic wargames with the task of analyzing courses of action, which then inform the development of a plan. Other analytic wargaming activities include developing new concepts of operations, doctrine, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP) for emerging and future technologies, and front-end wargaming for experimentation and exercises to ensure that these expensive endeavors are properly focused and can achieve a high return on investment. We can learn much about new technologies and concepts through wargaming without burning a penny’s worth of fuel.

Current Status

Department of Defense wargaming is at a crossroads. It seems self-evident that the Department of Defense should own the responsibility to improve its wargaming. While Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs), educational institutions, and defense contractors may have roles to play in wargame improvement, only the Department of Defense can choose to lead and embrace a comprehensive end-to-end cycle of research construct. This construct includes wargaming, computer-based combat simulations, and other quantitative and qualitative analytic techniques that, when properly leveraged, provide quality decision support to the department’s leadership. It must begin by addressing the shortcomings in wargaming education.

The 2015 call to reinvigorate wargaming has inspired the reintroduction of wargaming into some service school classrooms. Hence, a portion of uniformed field grade officers have an appreciation for, and may have actually played, wargames. However, the inability of the Department of Defense’s uniformed members to design and conduct their own wargames still has not been addressed in professional military education. Today, the Department of Defense relies on FFRDCs, educational institutions, and defense contractors to design and conduct wargames on their behalf. While these organizations produce useful wargames, the sheer number of wargames that should be executed across the department cannot all be performed by these organizations—they simply do not have the capacity, nor does the department have the budget.

However, there is a far more fundamental problem on the department’s reliance on these organizations. This reliance is, in effect, outsourcing the intellectual underpinnings of the nation’s defense strategy, officer professional development, and the department’s acquisition process.

Wargaming should become an integral part of the military officer corps’ professional education. The skills required to design and conduct wargames go hand-in-hand with the skills required to plan and execute military operations. 

The lack of wargaming skills and experience in our field grade and senior officers should be a warning to the department’s leadership. Wargaming was once the primary venue for the exchange of ideas, debates on tactics and doctrine, the sharing of lessons learned from previous operations and experiences, and the operational and doctrinal education of junior officers.2 Now it has largely disappeared from officers’ professional development. The 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Commandant’s Planning Guidance states this concern very succinctly:

“In the context of training, wargaming needs to be used more broadly to fill what is arguably our greatest deficiency in the training and education of leaders: practice in decision-making against a thinking enemy. Again, this requirement is inherent in the nature of war. In modern military organizations, it is, along with the fear of violent death, precisely the element of real war that is hardest to replicate under peacetime conditions. Wargaming historically was invented to fill this gap, and we need to make far more aggressive use of it at all levels of training and education to give leaders the necessary ‘reps and sets’ in realistic combat decision-making.”

Phil Pournelle, Senior Operations Analyst and Game Designer at Group W, points out a 2018 National Defense Strategy Commission finding that the military struggles to “link objectives to operational concepts to capabilities to programs.” Linking of objectives to operational concepts to capabilities is basic military planning. Yet our combatant commands and joint task forces struggle to conduct the planning wargames that Joint Publication 5-0 requires.

According to Joint Publication 5-0, each course of action should be wargamed against the enemy’s most likely and most dangerous course of action for a given plan. Assuming a modest number of three friendly courses of action to analyze, that is a requirement for six wargames per plan. And every plan that has sat on a digital shelf for more than a year needs to be dusted off and wargamed again, as the facts and assumptions that underpinned the plan’s development 12-plus months ago have undoubtedly changed, often significantly.

Unfortunately, due to time, staff capability, and capacity constraints, at best there may be one wargame conducted per combatant commander’s plan: the commander’s favorite Course of Action against the enemy’s most likely Course of Action. Insufficient time is allotted to conduct the wargame, resulting in poor design, less thorough execution, and results that fail to illuminate the plan’s operational risks or propose contingencies. This lack of time inspires the quick application of seminar games that devolve into BOGGSATS – a Bunch of Guys and Gals Sitting Around a Table.

As recent commentary from Peter Perla, author of the seminal book The Art of Wargaming, and Phil Pournelle3 have pointed out, wargaming should also be an integral part of analysis, experimentation, exercises, and the broader cycle of research. Far too often this is not the case. Instead, the department relies on analysis methods such as cost-benefit analysis, capabilities-based assessments, and analysis of alternatives that provide technical rationales for procurement decisions. However, in the Department of Defense, these analyses must be tempered with a thinking adversary in mind. Our potential adversaries in the future are concurrently developing new doctrine and concepts, fielding new technologies and force structures, and procuring new systems that increase our risk or limit our military options. Wargaming is necessary to gain an appreciation for our competitors’ capabilities, options, and objectives.

Wargaming has always been an integral part of the Army’s analysis to support their department’s acquisition of new technology and weapons systems. Army analytic organizations, such as the Center for Army Analysis and the Training and Doctrine Command’s Analysis Center, integrated wargaming with their computer-based combat simulations to provide comprehensive qualitative and quantitative analysis to support key acquisition programs several decades ago. Both tools are still used together, productively, today.

This approach’s benefit is two-fold. First, the warfighters brought into the wargame’s concepts of operations (CONOPS) that employs units equipped with new technologies provide input into the analysis process and gain a better appreciation for the quantitative analysis products that the combat simulations could provide. Second, the analysts gain a better understanding of how a new force would fight differently and use that knowledge to inform the instantiation of the schemes of maneuver required by their combat simulations, which in turn improves their quantitative analysis products. To do this properly, operations research analysts must create the wargaming environment, conduct the wargames, and determine how to best integrate the wargame’s qualitative output into the computer-based combat simulations so that the study produces both qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Unfortunately, some of the department’s more senior analysts that cut their analytical teeth using computer-based combat simulations believe that wargames provide little or no analytic value. This view completely misses the fact that counterinsurgency, hybrid warfare, the gray zone of conflict, and competition short of war are not well addressed by the millions of dollars the department invests in the maintenance, staffing, and running of kinetic-focused combat simulations and the organizations that support them.

In a recent Naval War College Review article, Capt. Robert Rubel (ret.), professor emeritus of the U.S. Naval War College and former chair of its Wargaming Department, stated, “Two-sided gaming should be a widespread and essential part of the professional education process from pre-commissioning through senior service colleges and even flag level courses.” He went on to describe several virtues of wargaming:

  • “A routine diet of two-sided gaming can generate and hone the ability to reason competitively.”
  • “Making two-sided gaming the default PME vehicle will help to re-create a sandbox in which innovative reflexes can be developed.”
  • “Repeated struggling in competitive situations is more likely to produce new ideas and insights, especially if such experience is widespread in the officer corps.”

Rubel also goes on to caution: “Two-sided gaming is not easy. The design of such games must take care to channel competitive instincts properly.”

In summary, the Department of Defense’s need for increased capacity to conduct quality wargaming starts by educating its officer corps on how to design, conduct, and assess analytical, educational, and experiential wargames.

The Way Ahead

We propose jumpstarting wargaming education in the Department of Defense with a two-pronged approach. First, the Department of Defense needs wargame designers at an apprentice level. Any officer who is a candidate to serve on a general or flag staff (most field grade line officers) should complete a basic analytic wargaming course to enable them to bring value to a wargaming design team. We do not advocate for a specialty track for wargamers. Instead, all military leaders should be wargamers (such as the Navy’s flag ranks at the onset of WWII). The Army and Marine Corps do a decent job of introducing their young officers to some of the building blocks of wargaming. While sand table discussions, table-top exercises, and rehearsal of concept drills incorporate several of the elements of wargaming, they are typically missing the conflict or competition that a thinking adversary produces. These events provide a wargaming-like basis from which to build. A logical place for such a course is in the command and general staff college level of Joint Professional Military Education. 

Second, there needs to be an executive-level wargaming course for senior leaders. Senior officers who supervise and consume the results of wargaming today, such as primary staff officers on Combatant Command or other flag officer commanded staffs, need to understand what wargames are, how they are different from computer-based combat simulations, what to expect from well-designed wargames, and the level of resource investment required from them and their staff to obtain quality wargaming results. They also need to realize that their younger charges must couple their wargaming education with playing and designing wargames to become proficient wargamers. They must give their subordinates enough time to game. Moreover, senior leaders should lead by example, participating in and encouraging wargaming activities in their commands.

Over time, the wargaming apprentices, through playing, designing, and conducting wargames, will mature in their wargaming skills and take on wargaming leadership roles. Note that the goal is not to identify a pipeline to create wargaming masters. Such masters are rare individuals, and some may emerge from the ranks of military wargamers produced. But, just as most officers will never achieve flag rank, most uniformed wargamers will never become wargaming masters. The FFRDCs, educational institutions, and Department of Defense contractors have wargaming masters, and their expertise will still be needed to support the department. However, many good wargames can be designed without requiring the supervision of a wargaming master.

Since 2009, the Naval Postgraduate School’s Operations Research Department has offered an 11-week Wargaming Applications course to its resident students that focuses on the design, conduct, and analysis of wargames for Department of Defense, allied, and partner sponsors.4 The faculty designed the course recognizing that the Naval Postgraduate School’s Operations Research graduates – our military’s newest Operations Research analysts–needed to be able to design, conduct, and analyze a wargame. Acquiring these skills enables them to participate in, lead, and eventually supervise the end-to-end campaign analysis that incorporates wargaming, computer simulations, and other qualitative and quantitative analytic tools as future analytic assignments will require. The course organizers did not fully recognize the added benefit of this education until some of the Operations Research graduates started serving at Combatant Commands. These graduates, now staff officers, reached back to the Naval Postgraduate School to report how useful their wargaming design skills were in helping the Combatant Command staffs design and conduct useful planning wargames. They asked if the Wargaming Applications instructors could come to their location and teach a cadre of the Combatant Command personnel the same basic wargaming design skills they had internalized at the Naval Postgraduate School.

In response, NPS developed the week-long Mobile Education Team Basic Analytic Wargaming Course around the same philosophy as our resident wargaming course: learn by doing. The objectives for this course were two-fold.

First, it builds a cadre of personnel who can initiate, design, develop, conduct, and analyze a wargame. Unified Combatant Commands have leveraged this opportunity by having personnel from their operational planning teams and staff sections attend the course and work in teams to learn how to design, develop, and execute a wargame.

Second, since the sponsoring organization chooses the wargaming topic used in the course’s practical exercises, the organization can have the core foundation of a wargame created and demonstrated that can then be further built out and used by the organization to meet other organizational wargaming requirements. NPS has conducted over 20 week-long Mobile Education Team Basic Analytic Wargaming Courses around the world, including five at Combatant Commands. Today, NPS conducts 6-8 Mobile Education Team events annually, and demand remains high.

The philosophy in teaching wargaming is that it requires a hands-on, learn-by-doing approach. Both the resident and Mobile Education Team courses are over 70 percent practical exercises, where the students are applying the techniques that we illustrate in the lectures. In both courses, a Department of Defense, ally, or partner sponsor provides the wargaming topic that serves as the impetus behind the practical exercises. Student groups design, conduct, and then analyze wargames for their sponsors as the course’s graduation exercise. Since 2009, the Naval Postgraduate School resident student wargaming teams have conducted over 70 wargames for 35 Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Joint, International, and Industry sponsors. NPS views the wargaming course graduates as wargaming apprentices. They have enough knowledge and experience to make useful, often significant, contributions to any wargaming effort required in the department. Several recent graduates have actually led wargaming design initiatives at their respective organizations soon after graduation.


If the Department of Defense is serious about improving its wargaming capability, it needs to invest in its people through wargaming education. That education needs to be practical and applied at the company and field grade level, preferably as part of their Joint Professional Military Education or graduate school opportunities. If it is a priority to emphasize wargaming’s role in Department of Defense decision-making, simply “doing more wargames” is insufficient. Preparing warfighters to employ wargaming to the full extent of their purposes must be a necessary element.

Colonel (Retired) Jeff Appleget, Ph.D., spent 20 of his 30 years in the U.S. Army as an Operations Research/Systems analyst where he participated in and supervised acquisition and analysis studies using wargaming and computer-based combat simulations. Since 2009, Jeff has been a Senior Lecturer in the Operations Research Department at the Naval Postgraduate School where he teaches wargaming and combat modeling courses. Jeff has mentored over 70 wargames that have been created, conducted, and analyzed by NPS resident Operations Research and Defense Analysis student teams for DoD, Defense partner and allied nation sponsors, and the defense industry. He has led 20 NPS Mobile Education Teams to teach his week-long Basic Analytic Wargaming course in DoD and around the world, to include STRATCOM, CENTCOM, AFRICOM, MARFORPAC, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (two courses), NATO Special Operations Forces, the Australian Defence Force (four courses), the Canadian Air Force, the Indonesian Navy, the Taiwan Armed Forces, and a Tri-lateral course for the Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish Defence Research Agencies. He holds a Ph.D. in Operations Research from the Naval Postgraduate School, an M.S. in Operations Research and Statistics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a B.S. from the United States Military Academy. His major awards include the 2016 Richard W. Hamming Faculty Award for Interdisciplinary Achievement, the 2011 Army Modeling and Simulation Team Award (Analysis), 2003 Dr. Wilbur B. Payne Memorial Award for Excellence in Analysis, 2003 Simulation and Modeling for Acquisition, Requirements, and Training (SMART) Award, 2001 SMART Award, 1993 Instructor of the Year (At Large), Department of Mathematical Sciences,  U.S. Air Force Academy, 1991 Dr. Wilbur B. Payne Memorial Award for Excellence in Analysis, and 1990 Concepts Analysis Agency Director’s Award for Excellence. Along with Dr. Rob Burks, Jeff directs the activities of the NPS Naval Warfare Studies Institute Wargaming Center.

Colonel (Retired) Robert E. Burks, Jr., Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Defense Analysis of the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and with Jeff Appleget, directs the activities of the NPS Naval Warfare Studies Institute Wargaming Center. He holds a Ph.D. in Operations Research from the Air Force Institute of Technology, an M.S. in Operations Research from the Florida Institute of Technology. Rob is a retired Army Colonel with more than thirty years of military experience in leadership, advanced analytics, decision modeling, and logistics operations. He spent 17 years in the U.S. Army as an Operations Research/Systems analyst and has led multiple analytical study teams responsible for Army Transformation and organizational restructuring and design efforts using wargaming and computer-based combat simulations. Since 2015, Rob has taught multiple educational, historical, and analytical wargaming courses at NPS. He has taught the NPS week-long Basic Analytic Wargaming Course 14 times to the Department of Defense and other organizations around the world, to include CENTCOM, AFRICOM, MARFORPAC, Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (two courses), NATO Special Operations Forces, the Australian Defence Force (four courses), and the Taiwan Armed Forces.

Captain Jeffrey E. Kline (ret.) served 26 years as a naval officer, including two sea commands. Jeff is currently a Professor of Practice in the Naval Postgraduate School Operations Research department. He directs the NPS Naval Warfare Studies Institute. He teaches campaign analysis, systems analysis, and executive programs in strategic planning and risk assessment. Jeff supports applied analytical research in maritime operations and security, tactical analysis, and future force composition studies. He has served on the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations’ Fleet Design Advisory Board and several Naval Study Board Committees of the National Academies. His faculty awards include the Superior Civilian Service Medal, 2019 J. Steinhardt Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Operations Research, 2011 Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS) Award for Teaching of OR Practice, 2009 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Homeland Security Award, 2007 Hamming Award for interdisciplinary research, 2007 Wayne E. Meyers Award for Excellence in Systems Engineering Research, and the 2005 Northrop Grumman Award for Excellence in Systems Engineering. He is a member of the Military Operations Research Society and the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Missouri, a Master of Science in Operations Research from the Naval Postgraduate School, and a Master of Science in National Security Studies from the National Defense University’s National War College.


1. Peter Perla et. al, “Rolling the Iron Dice: From Analytical Wargaming to the Cycle of Research” October 21, 2019;

2. Matthew B. Caffrey, Jr., “On Wargaming” (2019). The Newport Papers. 43.

3. Phil Pournelle, “Can the Cycle of Research Save American Military Strategy?” October 18, 2019, WOTR,

4. Jeffrey Appleget, Robert Burks and Frederick Cameron, “The Craft of Wargaming: A Detailed Planning Guide for Defense Planners and Analysts,” Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 2020.

Featured Image: EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (Oct. 22, 2020) – A U.S. Army M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) launches ordnance during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-1 at Fort Greely, Alaska, Oct. 22, 2020 (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)

Being “Red”: The Challenge of Taking the Soviet Side in War Games at the Naval War College, Pt. 2

The following article originally appeared in The Naval War College Review and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here. It is republished in two parts. Read Part One here.

By David Alan Rosenberg

In 1981, the creation of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies further encouraged the shift from using war gaming primarily as a training tool toward using it for the analysis and development of strategy. The new center incorporated the old war gaming center, along with the Center for Advanced Research, the Naval War College Press, and the new Strategic Studies Group, made up of front-running Navy and Marine officers who were chosen by and reported directly to the Chief of Naval Operations. The center was to serve as a vehicle for the development and dissemination of naval strategy or, more accurately, to define the Navy’s place in national strategy.

The establishment of the new center meant greater responsibilities for the NFOIO detachment. To meet the challenge, the size of the detachment was increased. As of 1984, it was composed of seven naval officers, two civilian analysts, and two enlisted personnel for office and library support. Reflecting its increased capability, the detachment was assigned the additional task of providing the director of the new Center for Naval Warfare Studies and the Strategic Studies Group with intelligence support and background information “‘on matters pertaining to Soviet strategy and doctrine.’’ An eighth officer was added to the now redesignated Navy Operational Intelligence Center (NAVOPINCEN) detachment in 1986.

Presenting the Soviet side in war gaming and analysis, whether for the purpose of training officers or with the intention of shaping naval and national strategy, is a large, intricate, and time-consuming task. The 1986-1987 war gaming schedule listed more than 50 separate games or exercises. In addition, gaming personnel and NAVOPINCEN detachment members participated in training sessions and seminars related to war gaming. Since completion of the new enhanced naval war gaming computer system in early 1987, it has become possible for more and more games to be played at remote sites, including fleet headquarters in Norfolk, Pearl Harbor, and even London. This will decrease the amount of travel required of fleet personnel to Newport, allowing state of- the-art Navy war gaming to reach more commands. However, War Gaming Department and NAVOPINCEN detachment members have found that such remote gaming increases rather than decreases their workload because pregame preparations usually require as much, if not more, travel and advance planning as games played solely in Sims Hall.

Fewer than 40 percent of the games played at Newport are sponsored by the Naval War College, and an even smaller percentage are used purely for the instruction of War College students. The game sponsors today are active operational commanders and strategic planners in Washington. Among the game sponsors for 1986-1987 were the Commanders of the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets and U.S. Naval Forces Europe; the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic; the NATO Strike Fleet Atlantic; the Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic; the U.S. Seventh Fleet; Submarine Group Two in New London; and the Strategic Concepts Branch and the Director of Naval Warfare in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. The game sponsor sets the parameters of the simulation to be played, including the general questions that need to be explored and the range of specific tactical and strategic issues that should be included during game play. Each one of these games has a War Gaming Department staff mentor assigned to it as a scenario design representative, and a NAVOPINCEN detachment member assigned as a representative to develop ways for the opposition to be played.10

The NAVOPINCEN detachment’s approach to playing the opposition in war games is more of an art than a science. The detachment draws heavily on data from the Washington intelligence community, including the Navy Operational Intelligence Center in Suitland, Maryland, the rest of the Naval Intelligence Community, plus the National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, and Defense Intelligence Agency. The Operational Intelligence Center provides data on current Soviet operations and exercise activity, while National Intelligence Estimates and Soviet open-source literature provide reference points for building scenarios and conducting the games. In games involving joint action, the detachment can call upon the services of two Army Fellows assigned to Newport for two year tours to assist the War Gaming Department in getting ground operations correct. One of the Army Fellows is a military intelligence officer; the other is a combat arms professional. In addition, the NAVOPINCEN detachment regularly calls upon the U.S. Air Force “Checkmate” office and other Air Force commands for answers to questions regarding the simulation of Soviet air operations.

Before a game begins, NAVOPINCEN detachment members engage in extensive preparations. They work with the game sponsor and the War Gaming Department design representative in setting up scenarios that are realistic and yet tailored to facilitate analysis of the issues and courses of action the sponsor is concerned about testing. Opposing simulation forces are built up, computer databases prepared, and scenarios worked and reworked to fit the requirements of the game. By the time the players arrive and the game begins, much of the work of playing or being “Red” has been completed.

It is never possible to achieve complete accuracy and fidelity in playing the opposition. War games are by their nature only approximations of combat situations. Furthermore, intelligence is never perfect, and questions inevitably arise for which there are no answers. The problem of incomplete intelligence is compounded by the pressures of game play. When the NAVOPINCEN detachment is presented with an unexpected choice, it may be possible to come up with relevant data by doing a quick search of the literature or querying intelligence community sources. Sometimes, to expedite the game, the detachment is forced to fall back on the cumulative experience of its members in making a “best military judgment” regarding likely courses of Soviet action. In such instances detachment members are nagged by the thought that the answer might have been found if only there had been time to look for it, and the choice that was made may not have been consistent with the best possible information. The professional ‘Red’ team players find it sobering to consider that “rightly or wrongly, we are leaving high-ranking military officers with a certain perception of how Red is going to fight,” although every decision is not backed by hard data.11

This problem is further compounded when intelligence is available but cannot be used without violating security. The NAVOPINCEN team makes use of even the most sensitive information in preparing its scenarios, but once play begins, caution is in order since only a few of the games are classified above the “Secret” level. Detachment members will utilize their knowledge of highly classified information during gameplay only if this can be done without revealing the source. It may be necessary on occasion to play the Soviet side with less than total fidelity and precision in order to avoid Compromising critical intelligence sources.

The NAVOPINCEN detachment also faces another more mundane, but not insignificant, constraint on how realistically it can portray Soviet forces. The U.S. side in any given game will always have the use of far more computer terminals than the Soviet side. This is a logical arrangement since U.S. choices, not Soviet ones, are the focus of the game. Nevertheless, it does mean that the detachment is not able to present the actions of Soviet forces in full detail. For example, it is particularly difficult to present Soviet air operations on a full scale basis with this constraint. The shortage of control terminals has occasionally turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The fewer terminals “Red” has available, the fewer dedicated “Red” personnel are needed to man them. In a sense, the NAVOPINCEN detachment gamers face fewer command, control, and communication problems this way. Still, the lack of a fully staffed “Red” side means that those on the U.S. side may not have as complete a simulated picture as possible of the array of threats they would be facing in a real war.

There are also some larger questions about the design and use of the war games which are of concern to those who have served with or played against the NAVOPINCEN detachment. These are not specific constraints on how accurately the Soviets can be portrayed, but more general problems that are particularly apparent to those charged with being “Red.”

First, it should be noted that not all war games are alike. Some have a comparatively narrow tactical focus, i.e., examining military issues and possible options for the use of set numbers and types of forces to resolve certain specific regional problems. Others are strategic in orientation, looking at a large number of issues over a variety of regions and with a great array of military forces. These are more scenario and personality dependent; the designers and players have greater latitude in making decisions because of the complexity inherent in large numbers of variables. Both tactical and strategic games have their uses. Tactical games are most useful in assessing, through computer modeling, the technical boundaries and general parameters of military options. Strategic games are best characterized as politico military simulations whereby the military interaction is dependent on game-oriented political decisions rather than on more narrow technical and military considerations. They stimulate creative strategic thinking and are most useful in giving the players an opportunity to role-play decision making in wartime and crisis situations.12

Both strategic and tactical games often begin with a scenario that is strategically realistic but politically improbable at best. This inconsistency arises because, in order to mount a game, it is necessary to posit an outbreak of hostilities between the Soviet Union and the United States, something both nations are, in fact, anxious to avoid. Since the United States never acts as the aggressor in war games, it is often necessary to “force” the Soviet Union to engage in open hostilities without adequately explaining its reasons for doing so.

A related problem revolves around the question of the “first salvo.” While the large, strategic global war games begin in peacetime or a crisis, many smaller games (particularly tactical exercises) open after war has actually started. To focus on naval engagements that permit room for American commanders to take the initiative, it is often necessary to skip over the Soviet attack that signaled the outbreak of the war and zero in on the U.S. response. The impact of the initial attack is merely written into the background scenario. It is never described as so devastating as to preclude response, since that would abort the game before it had begun. The Soviet Union, however, attaches great strategic importance to the first salvo and is likely to make it as devastating as possible. Skipping over this phase of the conflict could easily leave the wrong impression with those playing the game.

Navy and NAVOPINCEN detachment concerns about the battle of the first salvo have not been ignored at Newport. A number of specific games have been designed to focus on this phase of the conflict, and the experience gained from them has made the U.S. Navy much smarter about the first salvo challenge and, theoretically at least, more capable of dealing with it, both in simulation and real life. Real war is always uncertain, however, and students and officers who begin play in war games without experiencing and countering the first salvo need to be constantly aware that there is another dimension to the problem that they have missed, and about which they cannot become complacent.

War games are, of course, only best approximations of operational reality. Even discounting the problem of a summary initial scenario, the time frame in which war games are played does not permit a natural unfolding of events. Most war games last only a matter of hours, days, or, at the very most, weeks. Although it is possible to telescope time to simulate a somewhat longer period, it is impossible to game a prolonged conflict realistically under these conditions. The pressure of artificial time constraints distorts the interaction between the opposing sides and may result in unrealistic decision making.

Despite the best efforts of the War Gaming Department and the NAVOPINCEN detachment to make the scenarios, simulations, and interactions realistic, war games are competitive exercises in which the will to win is often stronger than the desire to learn. This is particularly true when those playing are knowledgeable operators who have come to Newport to test tactical concepts. They often have both a good grasp of the “Blue” side and a sophisticated understanding of the Soviet side; further, they have experience in playing war games against the NAVOPINCEN opposition teams at the war gaming center. Reality can be sacrificed when players become too familiar with the game. Those who have had experience with how the NAVOPINCEN detachment plays the opposition can often begin to take that experience into account in making subsequent war game decisions. They will become increasingly proficient at playing the gamers, rather than the game.

This is not necessarily a negative aspect. The war gaming program at Newport is intended to give players experience in thinking about how the Soviet Union does things so that they will not be surprised in real life. To the extent that “Blue” understands what ‘‘Red” is likely to do (even if only as a result of playing the gamers, not the opposition they represent), the purpose of the gaming experience will be served. It is imperative, however, that the “Blue”’ gamers be aware that tactics and techniques confirmed through this sort of game play may not be so validated in a real engagement.

One important way to avoid such misplaced lessons is for “Red” to avoid playing his side of the games so consistently as to become predictable. It may be difficult to introduce inconsistency deliberately, while still being faithful to the intelligence that has been gathered and analyzed so painstakingly over time. But the realities of naval (or any other kind of) warfare make it necessary, however, to think through to the unexpected on the game floor rather than at sea. With the best recent intelligence providing a solid base on which to build, the challenge for the “Red” war gamers is to find ways of simulating not just what we think “Red” would do in the event of war, but also what “Red” could do. This requires additional attention to nuance and detail, as well as increased dedication to the already difficult job of thinking “Red.”

Finally, it must always be remembered that war games are not surrogate history. The conflict they simulate did not actually happen. The lessons they teach are not lessons of history. Outcomes will vary even if the same game with the same scenario and the same players is repeated. Neither the scenario nor the outcome of any particular game is likely to be replicated in the real world. War gaming can be used legitimately to raise questions and identify potential problems, but beyond this it must be treated with caution. Those who cite the outcomes of war games as evidence in support of a particular theory or strategy may well be building a house on sand.

This is especially true when the conclusions (war gamers prefer the terms “insight” and ‘”issues”) being drawn from the games focus on the actions taken by the opposition. The members of the NAVOPINCEN detachment do their job well and faithfully, but they can only make educated guesses as to what the Soviet Union might or might not choose to do in combat. To conclude that the Soviet Union is likely to respond to a particular situation in a certain way because of what happened in a war game is to distort and misuse the war gaming concept.

During the past century, war gaming has proved itself a valuable tool in preparing officers for combat and strategic decision making. Although students at the Naval War College have less exposure to war gaming today than they did in the interwar period, it is likely to remain an important element in the curriculum.

The need for accurate intelligence about probable opponents has been recognized as a critical element of war gaming since the interwar period. The naval intelligence community currently plays a crucial role in war gaming at the Naval War College, providing systematic, detailed information about Soviet forces and doctrine during both the design and the implementation of the games, and seeking to “think Red” in order to give players a consistent, credible opponent.

Despite the constraints they face, the officers and analysts of the NAVOPINCEN detachment have every reason to be proud of their record. By playing a credible Soviet opponent, they have injected a measure of realism into war games that otherwise might be exercises in mirror imaging or even wishful thinking. Their professionalism generates the kind of challenge against which those engaged in war gaming can truly test their skills and their strategies.

Nevertheless, the current popularity of war gaming raises questions that deserve careful consideration. If war games are not surrogate history, just what role can and should they play in the development of strategy? To a large extent it comes down to the experience of each individual in the game. Just as in strategic planning, where it is not the plan but the planner who is important for the future, so too in war gaming, it is the gamer not the game. To the extent that individuals expand and test their minds in playing against a credible opposition and use that experience to inform (but not dictate) their actions and plans, the investment made in manpower, hardware, and money at Sims Hall at the Naval War College will continue to be a sound one.

David Alan Rosenberg is a Naval Reserve officer assigned to the Chief of Naval Operations Intelligence Analysis 0166 Reserve unit based at Naval Air Facility, Washington, D.C. As a civilian, he is a professor in the Strategy Department at the Naval War College.


10. Naval War College War Gaming Department, Operations Division, War Gaming Schedule Update, 1986-1987, 15 August 1986.

11. Robert Marshall, “Thinking Red Wargaming: Naval Issues,” unclassified brief prepared for a 1985 National Defense University War Gaming Center Conference, copy courtesy Commander Marshall,

12. For a general discussion of contemporary war gaming, its varieties, and its usefulness to planners and policymakers, see the forum on “Political and Military Gaming” with articles by Lincoln Bloomfield, Paul Bracken, Garry D. Brewer, and Lloyd H. Hoffman, Jr., in ORBIS, Winter 1984, pp. 783-822. Hoffman’s article on “Defense War Gaming,” pp. 812-822, surveys the various U.S. Government gaming organizations and types of games played.

Featured Image: A U.S. Navy commander talks with a Soviet navy captain second rank as they walk along the pier past the Soviet guided missile destroyer Boyevay. Three ships of the Soviet Pacific Fleet are in San Diego for a five-day goodwill visit. (U.S. National Archives/Scene Camera Operator: PH2 Bill Gazza)

Being “Red”: The Challenge of Taking the Soviet Side in War Games at the Naval War College, Pt. 1

The following article originally appeared in The Naval War College Review and is republished with permission. It will be republished in two parts. Read it in its original form here.

By David Alan Rosenberg

Over four decades have passed since the U.S. Navy was last locked in combat at sea with a determined and capable oceangoing enemy. During those years, more than two generations of American naval technology have come and gone, as have the two generations of U.S. naval officers trained to operate and command that technology in combat. During those same four decades, the once minor Soviet Navy has emerged in both quality and quantity as a formidable seagoing force.

In the absence of actual hostilities between the United States and the U.S.S.R., an eventuality the United States has actively sought to deter, there has been no opportunity for the Navy to test its officers and its technology against the Soviet threat under wartime conditions. As the World War II reality of sustained combat at sea fades into distant memory, alternative means of measuring the U.S. Navy’s strategic and tactical readiness to fight a full-scale naval war have taken on increasing importance in the development of sound American maritime strategy.

Following the approaches established in the U.S. Navy of the 1920s and 1930s, two complementary techniques for measuring strategic readiness have emerged over these past 40 years. The first of these is a massive program of both regularly scheduled and special fleet exercises involving both U.S. and allied navies. Such exercises have their antecedents in the twenty-one fleet problems conducted on a more or less annual basis by the concentrated U.S. Fleet between 1922 and 1940. As mounted today, these exercises are designed to test interoperability, tactics, and operational capability in various regions, in all types of seasons and weather, against a wide range of possible combat scenarios. More than 100 major exercises involving actual forces afloat took place in 1985 and another 90 in 1986.1

The second approach is that of war gaming. The War Gaming Department of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island has emerged as the major institution where the U.S. Navy can test its strategic concepts and tactical and operational doctrine in a dynamic atmosphere of simulated battles and campaigns. Whereas during exercises commanders are restricted from firing a shot in anger against the U.S. and allied forces simulating the enemy, at Sims Hall in Newport, a full range of ordnance may be employed through the use of computer models of combat engagements and logistics generation. Experienced and prospective naval commanders are given the opportunity to make combat decisions and observe outcomes, and subsequently review their choices, explore alternatives, analyze the results, and draw lessons from the experience.

War gaming was introduced at the Naval War College a century ago. In the fall of 1886, two years after the War College opened, Lieutenant William McCarty Little, U.S. Navy (Retired) presented a lecture on “Colomb’s Naval Duel Game”—a simulation of two-ship combat. By 1894, gaming was a standard part of the course of instruction. It was conducted at three levels— single ship combat, tactical fleet formations and actions, and a strategic game simulating an entire war—as a means of teaching students to apply broad principles to specific situations. It was also useful in preparing plans and tactical formations for the fleet’s annual war problem.”2

Gaming became increasingly important in succeeding decades. In the interwar years, as the battles and campaigns of World War I were studied and the future shape of naval warfare examined, war gaming became a central element of the War College curriculum. An inexpensive (if imperfect) alternative to full-scale fleet exercises—an important consideration given the 1920s economy and 1930s austerity—the games were fought with increasing frequency in Luce Hall and, after 1934, on the checkerboard floor of Pringle Hall. In 1932, a standard game schedule was established which called for 304 of the 326 days in the academic year to be devoted to tactical and strategic exercises, tactical operations and quick decisions problems, critiques of gaming experiences, and a Battle of Jutland Board Maneuver.

Gaming played an important role in shaping the Navy’s strategic thinking and planning during the interwar period. While the Battle of Jutland exercise was used primarily as a training tool for gaining familiarity with gaming procedures and infusing the gamers with enthusiasm by offering the opportunity to refight the famous but inconclusive 1916 battle, the war games that pitted the U.S. Navy against the Japanese Navy, code-named “‘Orange,” served a more specific purpose. They cast doubt on the assumption that the U.S. Navy could easily defeat the Japanese in the Pacific by virtue of numerical superiority. By the early 1930s, as intelligence improved, awareness of logistical problems increased, and as the games grew more sophisticated, it became apparent that the U.S. Navy might well lose. During the rest of the decade, war gaming helped shape U.S. naval strategy, particularly by preparing those who would become the high command, to meet the challenges that lay ahead.3

One important element of gaming, even during the interwar years, was intelligence. Beginning in 1929, the War College maintained an intelligence department as an integral part of its institutional structure. The actual work of the department remains something of a mystery. An examination of the college staff rosters from 1929 through Pearl Harbor reveals that at least one captain and two to five commanders or lieutenant commanders, and even an occasional Army and Marine lieutenant colonel were assigned to the department along with the college’s professor of international law, G.G. Wilson, who was also on the faculty of Harvard University. Unlike the Department(s) of Operations, Strategy, and Tactics (actual departmental organization varied from year to year), which prepared the college curriculum and set the standards for gaming, the Intelligence Department appears to have been the research arm of the college, providing information on U.S. and foreign navies to support the curriculum, including gaming.

The kind and amount of information the Intelligence Department provided to students and faculty is not clear from War College archives. Three things are known, however. First, modern intelligence gathering was a factor in establishing the tactical situation for the game: mock radio intelligence intercepts were provided to ‘“Blue” and “Orange” teams as they prepared for combat. Second, there was no dedicated “Orange” team: students played both sides of the conflict. Finally, the absence of a dedicated ‘‘Orange”’ team, with its own unique approach to warfighting, reflected an assumption that the opposing navies were not only similar in force structure and weapons systems, but would rely on similar tactics. The theory of naval warfare at the time centered on the decisive fleet action, primarily involving battleships in a battleline engagement. Within this context, there appeared to be only a finite number of possible permutations in tactics or variations in military philosophy.

The U.S. Navy was in fact “reading the Japanese mail” during the 1920s and 1930s through radio intelligence code breaking, and used information gleaned from broken naval codes to ascertain the size and readiness of the Japanese Fleet. The full story of that intelligence effort has yet to be declassified, much less written, but based on information that is currently available, intelligence on the Japanese tactical and operational approach to war does not appear to have been a major concern of those in the Navy’s leadership who directed the collection and use of the “secrets from the ether” as such intercepts were called. It is possible that such information was collected and analyzed but was considered too sensitive for dissemination, In any event, it was not made available to either the fleet or to the War College.4

During the interwar years, the Naval War College was the pinnacle of the Navy’s professional education. As of 7 December 1941, every active duty flag officer qualified to command at sea, save one, was a War College graduate. That leadership, shaped by a curriculum centered on war gaming, had already anticipated, through gaming experience, most of the strategic challenges that World War II in the Pacific would present. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’ comment that the courses and war games at Newport in the 1920s were so thorough that “nothing that happened in the Pacific [during World War II] was strange or unexpected’’ has been widely quoted. But Nimitz was referring to overall strategy and the “fantastic logistic efforts required to support the operations of the war.’’5 The inattention to enemy tactics and operational practices in the interwar war games contributed to the startling and devastating tactical surprises the Japanese were able to inflict on the U.S. Navy in a series of battles from Pearl Harbor through the Guadalcanal Campaign in 1941-1943. The lesson of this experience—not to assume that an enemy’s tactics and strategy will mirror one’s own—was paid for dearly.

War gaming suffered something of a decline at the Naval War College after World War II. The Navy perceived its mission in the 1950s in terms of readiness to conduct forward defense, power projection ashore, and sea control—concepts that did not lend themselves readily to then existing techniques of manual war gaming. The most likely enemy of the United States—the U.S.S.R.—was not nearly so formidable a seagoing power as the Japanese had been in the interwar period. In the absence of a real naval opponent who could be cast in the “Orange” role, it was difficult to generate scenarios that were as credible or compelling as those of the 1930s. In 1958, the old game board in Pringle Hall, where warship models had been maneuvered by hand, was replaced by the Navy’s first war gaming computer, the Navy Electronic Warfare Simulator (NEWS), which had been under development since 1945. The following year a separate war gaming department was established in Sims Hall. In contrast to the interwar period, however, the NEWS was used for only 63 days of war gaming in 1965, including War College games, and Atlantic Fleet and Destroyer School training exercises.6

In the late 1960s, plans were laid for replacing the NEWS with a new and updated computerized war gaming center. In 1972, War College President Vice Admiral Stansfield Turner introduced a variety of reforms in the college curriculum. Among his many ideas, Turner disapproved of the way in which naval war games had been played at the college up to that time. He felt that in the past they had overemphasized the writing of complex operation orders and should be used more effectively as a teaching tool in educating students in the decision making process. Turner ordered extensive modifications in the new computer equipment for this purpose. He wanted every student, not just the select few, to have the opportunity to play an admiral’s role in a war game. While modifying the computer equipment for this purpose, Turner also encouraged the development of tabletop games created by Professor Jacques Naar, the first occupant of the McCarty Little Chair of Gaming and Research Technique.

It was the emergence of the Soviet Navy as a serious oceangoing challenge, however, which was primarily responsible for a resurgence of war gaming at the Naval War College. By the mid-1970s it had become apparent that the Soviet Navy would be a formidable opponent. War gaming would be a valuable tool for testing U.S. strategy, tactics, and capabilities against this potential threat, but only if the opposition were portrayed in the games as realistically as possible. Just as detailed intelligence about Japanese capabilities had been a critical component of the interwar games, so detailed intelligence about the Soviet Union had become a critical element in the 1970s. This time, however, it was apparent that knowledge of capabilities was not enough. The Soviet approach to naval warfare was known to be fundamentally different from that of the United States. To achieve a degree of realism, it was necessary to use the best possible information on Soviet strategy, decision making, and tactical doctrine in designing and implementing the games.

To meet this need, the Naval War College called on the Navy Field Operational Intelligence Office (NFOIO). In April 1976 the NFOIO (which became the Navy Operational Intelligence Center in 1984) sent a detachment to Newport to provide a “more comprehensive and informed intelligence input, particularly in the area of Soviet naval tactics, force structure, and capabilities.” A ‘‘dedicated intelligence team,’’ composed initially of one captain with an intelligence specialty, one commander or lieutenant commander line officer with a warfare specialty and intelligence subspecialty, one civilian intelligence analyst, and a civilian secretary, was attached to the Center for War Gaming.

Their mission, as established by an agreement between the President of the Naval War College and the Director of Naval Intelligence, was to act as “‘a permanent, in-residence ‘Opposition Team’ in appropriate war games,” with responsibility for directing opposition play or supporting a designated opposition force commander. The unit would provide opposition force intelligence data for operational units played in the game; simulate play of appropriate opposition political echelons and military commands; and “provide intelligence support to the Center for War Gaming on all matters pertaining to Soviet naval operations and tactical doctrine,’’ including all source briefings on the “‘capabilities, limitations, historical trends, and current developments in the Soviet Navy.” In addition, the detachment would conduct independent research on the Soviet Navy, assist in the preparation of intelligence publications, and assist NFOIO in preparing tactical analyses.7

The establishment of the intelligence detachment at the Center for War Gaming reflected growing concern about the expansion of Soviet military power, the same concern that prompted other U.S. intelligence innovations such as the creation of a permanent Office of Net Assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense during James Schlesinger’s tour as Secretary of Defense from 1973 to 1975, and the 1976 Team B reassessment of National Intelligence Estimates. It was part of a broad national effort to become more vigorous and professional in assessing and confronting Soviet military capability. Not since the interwar period had the Navy treated war gaming and simulation so seriously.

The creation of a dedicated opposition team also marked an important change in the Navy’s philosophy of war gaming, For one thing, it was a giant swing of the pendulum away from a long-standing institutional bias toward “mirror imaging” the enemy during war games. Equally important, it was designed to counter the kind of personal competition fostered by older approaches to war gaming. Under the old system, the games often became merely tests of skill between Navy commanders assigned to the two opposing sides. It was a personal contest between real-life competitors in which the main objective was not to play the ‘‘Red” or “Blue” side realistically or even to explore tactical and strategic lessons, but simply to beat the opposition. The question of who won and who lost overshadowed everything else. By taking the “Red” side out of the hands of the students or visiting admirals who were utilizing the war-gaming facility, the emphasis was shifted to the learning experience offered by simulated strategic interaction and tactical exchange.

By the late 1970s, war gaming at Newport had become much more than a means of training students in decision making and tactics. The revised operations course created by retired Vice Admiral Thomas Weschler in 1977-1981 changed the focus of the games from the level of individual ships or small units to the fleet and task force level. The multi-week Global War Game was begun in the summer of 1979 to examine changing strategic, logistic, and tactical options for U.S. worldwide military operations. Originally intended primarily to occupy War College students who stayed in Newport over the summer break, this innovative, broad-ranging game soon took on a life of its own. In recent years, sizeable contingents of flag officers and civilian decision makers from Washington have come to Newport every summer to play in the most extensive simulation of general war staged in the United States.8

David Alan Rosenberg is a Naval Reserve officer assigned to the Chief of Naval Operations Intelligence Analysis 0166 Reserve unit based at Naval Air Facility, Washington, D.C. As a civilian, he is a professor in the Strategy Department at the Naval War College.


1. On current exercises, see Christopher C. Wright, “U.S. Naval Operations in 1985,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Naval Review, May 1986, pp. 34-40ff; and “U.S. Naval Operations in 1986,” U.S, Naval Institute Proceedings, Naval Review, May 1987, pp. 30-43ff. Interwar fleet problems are documented in the National Archives and Records Service microfilm publication M496, U.S. Fleet Problems, 1922-1941; their importance is discussed most recently in Thomas C, Hone and Mark David Mandeles, ‘Managerial Style of the Interwar Navy: A Reappraisal,” Naval War College Review, September-October 1980, pp. 88-101.

2. John B. Hattendorfet al., Sailors and Scholars: The Centennial History of the U.S, Naval War College (Newport, R.1: Naval War College Press, 1984), pp. 24-25, 40-41; see also Francis J. McHugh, Fundamentals of Naval War Gaming (Newport, R.L: Naval War College, 1966), chap. 2.

3. Hattendorfet al., pp. 137-161; Michael Vlahos, The Blue Sword: The Naval War College and the American Mission, 1919-1949 (Newport, R.L: Naval War College Press, 1980), pp. 131-156; see also Michael Vlahos, “Wargaming, an Enforcer of Strategic Realism, 1919-1942,” Naval War College Review, March-April 1986, pp. 7-22; and Edward Miller’s forthcoming study of War Plan Orange for the Naval Institute Press.

4. The evolution of organization and personnel of the intelligence department is documented in U.S. Naval War College, Register of Officers, 1884-1977, Naval War College Archives, Newport, R.I., pp. 37-62; on radio intelligence code breaking and the work of the Office of Naval Intelligence in the interwar period, see the declassified Top Secret Ultra history by Laurence Safford, “A Brief History of Communications Intelligence in the United States,” SRH 149, Record Group 457, Modern Military Headquarters Branch, National Archives, Washington, D.C. This 22-page paper contains more detail on what was being read, when, and how it was used before World War II than any published source. On using simulated radio intercept messages, see Vlahos, The Blue Sword, pp. 136-139. The failure to consider Japanese tactics and training in war games is discussed by T.J. McKearney, “The Solomons Naval Campaign: A Paradigm for Surface Warships in Maritime Strategy,” Unpublished Student Research Paper, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif.: September 1985, pp. 105-138.

5. E.B. Potter, Nimitz (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1976), p. 136, contains the quote from Nimitz” letter to Vice Admiral Charles Melson. The quote also hangs in the lobby of the Naval War College War Gaming Center at Sims Hall.

6. Hattendorfet al., pp. 237-238; on NEWS, see McHugh, chap. 5.

7. Memorandum of Understanding between Rear Admiral B.R. Inman, U.S. Navy, Director of Naval Intelligence, and Vice Admiral J.J. LeBourgeois, U.S. Navy, President, Naval War College, Subject: NAVINTCOM Element at War Gaming Center, April 1976, from the files of the NAVOPINCEN Detachment, Naval War College, Newport, R.I.; on the Turner reforms, see Hattendorf et al., chap. 11, especially pp. 286-287.

8. Hattendorf et al., pp. 312-315.

Featured Image: Sailors on an American warship observe a Soviet Tarantul III class missile corvette underway. (U.S. National Archives/Scene Camera Operator: PH1 Scott Allen, USN)

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.