Tag Archives: Wargaming

Sea Control 103 – CRIC Fleet Battle School on Midrats

seacontrol2This week, we jumped on the Midrats podcast with Chris Kona and Paul Vebber to discuss the CNO Rapid Innovation Cell Fleet Battle School project  – which is now available for those interested in the beta test. With CDR Salamander at the helm, we discuss the history, purpose, and mechanics of the project and the drive to make a mobile game that is fun, educational, and embodies/tests core naval warfighting concepts and capabilities.

Beta Test Forum Link

Installation Instructions (with download links)
Gameplay 1
Gameplay 2
Theater ASW Scenario

DOWNLOAD: Fleet Battle School on Midrats

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Learning Curve: Iranian Asymmetrical Warfare and Millennium Challenge 2002

By Brett Davis

Tension between U.S. and Iranian military assets in the Arabian Gulf are nothing new. Confrontations between Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) and U.S. Navy vessels in the Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Gulf of Oman are a regular occurrence for forward-deployed ships. Iran knows it cannot match the U.S. in a conventional confrontation, and focuses on an asymmetrical style of warfare to increase damage and costs of confrontation to the U.S.

In 2002, a joint war game exercise, known as Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC02), took place to gauge readiness in the event of a conflict with a hostile Middle Eastern nation. The results were disastrous for the U.S., with over a dozen ships destroyed and thousands killed or wounded as a result of asymmetric and unconventional naval warfare. 14 years later, Iranian asymmetrical warfare can still have a devastating effect on U.S. and allied forces in the Middle East. Unconventional warfare has been the Achilles Heel of the U.S. military for decades, and more gaming and training are needed to enhance U.S. capabilities in an asymmetric environment.

Just a relaxing day sailing the Persian Gulf.
Just a relaxing day sailing the Persian Gulf.

A Combination of Threats

Following their lackluster performance during Operation Praying Mantis, in which the U.S. Navy laid waste to several conventional naval vessels, Iran began to focus on asymmetrical warfare. Tactics include Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC), covert civilian craft, naval mines, and submarines.

The IRGCN utilizes swarming tactics as its method of choice. IRGCN bases are situated in various locations along Iran’s Gulf coast, from the Strait of Hormuz to the Northern Arabian Gulf. This is a key tenet in swarming attacks: packs of small attack craft covertly leave their bases at various times, all heading for the same target, i.e. a Carrier strike group operating in the Gulf. While this dispersed tactic may result in a weaker attack that is easier to repel, it is also much more difficult to detect, as the swarms don’t operate in a large formation. Also, craft equipped with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles can fire their payloads at a greater distance, ensuring survivability and destruction of their target.

Iran currently has the fourth-largest inventory of naval mines, as well as various platforms for deployment. Mines are a successful tool in the Gulf: USS Tripoli and USS Princeton struck Iraqi mines in the Northern Gulf during the Gulf War, and USS Samuel B. Roberts struck an Iranian-laid mine during the Tanker Wars of the 1980s. Iranian mines also dispatched large numbers of civilian merchant vessels in the same time period.

Iranian mines are largely cheap and unsophisticated. However, some Chinese and Russian variants, including the EM-52 multiple influence mine, are much more sophisticated and can be used in waters up to 600 feet – plenty deep to make the Central Gulf a dangerous place.

A majority of bottom-dwelling mines are designed for shallower waters. In some places, depths in the Strait of Hormuz are between 150-300 feet and are prime locations for these types of mines.

While the mines may not be sophisticated, deployment tactics are much harder to detect. IRGCN small craft are capable of laying mines, as are dhows, fishing boats and submarines. These platforms can carry up to 6 mines each and can be resupplied at sea. Mine laying platforms disguised as civilian craft would not raise suspicion on the part of Coalition forces while submarines can be quite difficult to detect by surface or air assets.

Iran operates several different types of submarines, all of the diesel variety. The Kilo-class are Soviet surplus that are nearing the end of their service life, but still require respect, especially in an asymmetrical warfare environment. Kilos can carry several dozen mines, laying them covertly beneath the waves and avoiding the overt detection by surface assets that endanger the mission of mine laying dhows and small boats. Kilos would also require an increase in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) platforms in theater for sub identification and prosecution, such as submarines and air and surface assets. They would also increase the standoff distance of high-value assets such as carriers and troop landing ships. These platforms would most likely not venture too close to a known hostile submarine operating area with few defensive weapons.

Iran’s mini-subs are another part of the undersea warfare threat worth considering. There are at least three separate classes of mini-sub in the Iranian inventory, all diesel operated. Their small size makes them difficult to detect, and their ability to operate in shallow waters makes them a perfect tool to target vessels in the littorals, such as amphibious assault ships and patrol craft, and any convoy of warships or shipping making its way through the Strait of Hormuz. They can also participate in mine laying operations  in shallower seas as a support asset.

Millennium Challenge 2002

MC02 was framed as a Red vs. Blue game depicting the invasion of a smaller Middle Eastern nation by a much larger and more capable adversary. It was the largest war game ever devised; 13,000 troops, aircraft and warships spread throughout the world, at a cost of $250 million. While it looked much like the upcoming invasion of Iraq, the tactics employed by Red closely resembled the nonlinear and asymmetric tactics of the IRGCN.

The Red forces, led by Marine Lieutenant General Paul van Riper, utilized several unorthodox measures and tactics to exploit the weaknesses of the Blue forces. When electronic warfare aircraft fried Red team communications sensors, van Riper used coded messages voiced from the minarets of Mosques at prayer times. This signaled the armada of civilian boats and light aircraft underway in the Persian Gulf to take action, conducting swarm and suicide attacks on U.S. warships and firing Silkworm missiles at high-value assets, claiming two amphibious assault ships and an aircraft carrier. At the conclusion of the attacks, 16 ships were sunk and thousands of servicemen were dead or wounded. Instead of digesting the results and using them to refine tactics and strategies in the face of a nonlinear threat, MC02’s controllers simply reset the problem – ensuring a Blue victory and “gaming” the most expensive and important war game in modern history.

Was anything learned from the surprise ending of MC02? It appears not. Iran’s tactics are nothing new; they have been using asymmetric warfare since the Iran-Iraq war. Iran’s weak Navy isn’t a new development either; most ships are decades old with few modern capabilities. What Iran does have, however, is a military strategy with a basis in unconventional warfare. Asymmetric tactics, like those described above, coupled with a decentralized command and control structure and semi-autonomous unit commanders make Iran survivable in the event of a first strike.

Unfortunately, the U.S. thinks of nations with weak conventional militaries as no match for the technological and modern behemoth that is the U.S. military. This was evident in Iraq and Afghanistan, where insurgents with little resources utilized out-of-the box thinking and nonlinear tactics to inflict heavy damage on U.S. forces, culminating in eventual retreats. U.S. strategy rests on technological and conventional dominance as well as engaging in non-traditional conflicts using traditional strategy and doctrine.

While Iran’s bluster regarding its eventual destruction of the U.S. fleet shouldn’t be entertained, the threat posed by Iran should be. Nonlinear and suicide attacks from the sea, increasingly capable long-range anti-ship missiles able to reach any vessel in the Gulf, and unconventional communications and command tactics are nothing to brush off. More exercises like MC02 are needed to adequately gauge the readiness of the U.S.’s land, sea and air forces to any asymmetric conflict with Iran. Where there are tactical and strategic gaps, a shift in training is required to prepare our forces for this type of conflict. A Blue defeat in a war game isn’t an embarrassment; it’s a chance to lean forward and become a well-rounded fighting force able to meet any challenge.

The chances of a major conventional conflict with another nation are extremely rare. Unconventional land and sea combat has been the norm for decades, and the U.S. needs more gaming and training in order to cope with the nonlinear threat.

Brett Davis is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer. He also runs the blog ClearedHot and occasionally navigates Twitter. His opinions are his own and do not represent the views of the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense.

Wargame, Red Dragon: Developer Interview

Eugen Systems released an heir to World In Conflict with their Real Time Strategy “Wargame” series. Their most recent edition, Red Dragon, occurs in Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, and coastal Russian Far East. The reason we were intruiged is that this new version included naval battles.  Now, turns out the naval battles are by no means anything you’d expect for 80’s warships… think more WWII with helicopters, F-18’s, and CIWS… but some of your dear CIMSEC editors and members played and had a pretty good time. It’s hard to argue naval realism when in ground combat you get to pick from several hundred units from 17 countries. Hell, one of the single player campaigns is you defending Hong Kong when Thatcher decides to push continued British presence. Capital!

As the last part of CIMSEC’s Wargames week, we decided that amongst our discussion of exercises and gaming that hone nations for war and war-fighters for survival, we would ask some question to the folks who build games and exercises for fun. The Eugen System team was kind enough to have a chat with us:

Q: What games inspired your team?

A: Our main inspiration for the Wargame series are old strategy games many of us at the studio used to play while younger: the Close Combat & Steel Panther series. One is real-time, the other turn-based, and our goal was to do as good a simulation and “easy to handle, hard to master” as the former, with the latter’s technical database, wide array of nations, huge number of scenarios, …

Q: Unlike many RTS games, Wargame has hundreds of different units–all asymmetric and unique. Through modeling and developing these, has your team come to any conclusions?

A: Well, by modeling so many units, we are highlighting the trend and doctrine of every nation: France’s “speed over armor” attitude, resulting from its tradition of military interventions in Africa ; Britain’s emphasis on armor and range, due to its Cold War allocated battlefield, the North German Plains …

Some of those are well-known to us from the start, but for some less known armies, such doctrine are only revealed after some time, while they are starting to build in our armory.

Q: What did you learn from your last game, Air Land Battle (ALB), that you applied to Red Dragon?

A: ALB’s main influence on RD can be found in map design. There had been some criticisms in the previous installment about maps that were considered too small or too “bottlenecked”. In RD, we have made sure to address this by making bigger and more open maps. Added to that the fact that river or sea and mountain are no longer impassable terrain, and you will see that RD’s maps are much more maneuver-friendly.

We have also taken into consideration many of the UI request to make the armory easier to use, and help new players and non-military buffs more at ease browsing among 1400+ units.
Artillery and air-defense balance were also deeply reworked using ALB’s lessons.

Q: Outside of Naval Warfare, what is the greatest difference between ALB and Red Dragon?

A: Maps. As said above, the new amphibious ability for many vehicles and the fact that mountain are no longer purely impassable gives the game a new feeling. You can maneuver on large scale, always try to outflank your opponent. No bottleneck will make a part of the battlefield secure because you’ve left a defensive force there. RD’s battlefields are much more open that ALB’s were.

Q: After Red Dragon, does the team have the desire to develop an expansion that really fleshes out more urban warfare?

A: We’re not there yet …

Q: What other conflicts have your team considered?

A: Wold War 2 of course …

But WW2 was already covered by many other games, including our own RUSE when we started thinking about Wargame, so we decided to go for something more original, less exploited. Hence why we chose “Cold War gone hot”, which offered the opportunity for many plausible scenarios and provided us with tons of combat vehicles to model and use in-game.

As for other possible Cold War conflicts, after European Escalation, we had considered several battlefields for the next installment: the two most logical were the Northern Front (Scandinavia, which we ended up covering in ALB) and the Southern Front (Mediterranean). We chose the former because Sweden offered a unique roaster of indigenous vehicles, bringing alone more new vehicles than the whole Mediterranean countries together would.

Q: What is your biggest regret with the games?

A: To have left some nations aside, although they could have been included in our previous installment. To make a nation viable, we have to model some 60-80 units, so we can’t add that many nations at a time.

In EE, Dutch and Belgian units had to be left aside, and Finland in ALB. That is not without regret that we have left those nations aside …

Q: What’s your biggest pride with the games?

A: Our biggest pride is when former (or even active!) military servicemen, especially those whom had served during the Cold War, are telling us they are playing our games and are enjoying the realistic feel of it. Then, we allow ourselves to think Wargame lives to what we wanted it to be when we stated the series.

Q: What’s your favorite unit?

A: Personally speaking, I’m fond of wheeled vehicles. I favor speed over armor. Call it national bias, but I think my very favorite one has to be found among the light wheeled tanks/tank destroyers, like the AMX-10 RC, the BTR-70 Z halo or the ERC-90 Sagaie. Had I to choose one, the latter one might be my favorite, for it emphasizes everything I like: speed, stealth, decent firepower, … and looks cool!

Q: What is the most interesting thing you learned from studying the historical background to the game?

A: ABLE ARCHER exercises, in November 1983.

Cold War is often taught or learned at school through different crisis (Cuban Missile Crisis, European Missile Crisis …) and “proxy wars” (Vietnam, Afghanistan, …) but never had we ever heard of how close the year 1983, and especially ABLE ARCHER, had brought us on the verge of WW3. This was completely new to us, and became the nucleus of Wargame: European Escalation’s “alternative scenarios” concept.

Technology, Simulations, and Wargames: What Lies Ahead

Computer wargames cannot be fully analyzed without scrutinizing the video game systems that power them. The technology that drives these video game systems has transformed dramatically over the past 10-15 years. Initially, leaps in computational power allowed players to control and manipulate hundreds of units and perform an array of functions, as demonstrated in the earliest versions of the Harpoon computer simulation. Subsequently, the graphics behind these games experienced multiple breakthroughs that range from three dimensional features to advanced motion capture systems capable of detecting even the slightest facial animations. Eventually, game consoles and PCs reached the point where they could combine this computational complexity with stunning visuals into a single, effective simulation. Simply, these systems have evolved at a rapid rate.

Yet, as we near the midpoint of the second decade of the 21st century, it is important to ask “What’s next?” What future technologies will impact the design of military simulations? After reaching out to a variety of gamers, there are two technologies that CIMSEC readers should look forward to: 1) virtual reality (VR) headsets, and 2) comprehensive scenario design tools with better artificial intelligence (AI).

Virtual Reality Headsets—A Gamer’s Toy or Useful Tool?

VR headsets are by far one of the most anticipated innovations of the next few years. Gamers are not the only individuals excited for this development; Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of VR developer of Oculus VR and Sony’s Project Morpheus demonstrate how VR is a potential revolution. For those unfamiliar with a VR headset, it is a device mounted on the head that features a high definition display and positional tracking (if you turn your head right, your in-game character will turn his head right simultaneously). When worn with headphones, users claim that these headsets give them an immersive, virtual reality experience. One user describes the integration of a space dogfighting game with a Oculus Rift VR headset below:

The imagery is photorealistic to a point that is difficult to describe in text, as VR is a sensory experience beyond just the visual. Being able to lean forward and look up and under your cockpit dashboard due to the new DK2 technology tracking your head movements adds yet another layer of immersion…I often found myself wheeling right while scanning up and down with my head to search for targets like a World War II pilot scanning the sky…The level of detail in the cockpit, the weave of the insulation on the pipes, the frost on the cockpit windows, the gut-punch sound of the autocannons firing, every aspect has been developed with an attention to detail and an intentionality which is often missing in other titles.

An Oculus Rift headset
An Oculus Rift headset

Even though VR headsets strictly provide a first-person experience, they can still play a serious role in military simulations and wargames. At the tactical level, VR headsets can supplement training by simulating different environments custom built from the ground up. For example, imagine a team Visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) team training for a situation on an oil rig. Developers can create and render a digital model of an oil rig that members of the VBSS team could explore with the assistance of VR headsets in order to better understand the environment. In addition to supplementing training, VR headset technology could potentially be manipulated to enhance battlefield helmets. Although this concept is many years away (at least 15), readers should think of the F-35’s Distributed Aperture System for pilot helmets; even though this helmet currently faces development challenges, it demonstrates how a VR system can track and synthesize information for the operator. Essentially, the first-person nature of VR headsets restricts their application to the technical and tactical levels.

Better Tools: Enabling the Construction of Realistic Simulations

Although not as visually impressive as VR headsets, the ability to design complex military scenarios that will run on even the simplest laptops is an exciting feature that many spectators disregard. Many wargames are often judged by their complexity. When crafting scenarios, designers ask “Does the simulation take account for _______, what would ________ action trigger,” and other similar questions that try to factor in as many variables as possible. Their answers to these questions are programmed into the simulation with the assistance of a variety of development tools. Within the next decade, the capabilities of these tools will increase significantly and ultimately provide developers the ability to craft more comprehensive military simulations.

Since these technical tools can be confusing, I am going to use a personal example to demonstrate their abilities. In a game called Arma 2, a retail version built off the Virtual Battlespace 2 engine, I designed a scenario inspired by Frederick Forseyth’s famous novel, Dogs of War. Human players would assault an African dictator’s palace defended by units commanded by AI. Using the game’s mission editor, I inserted multiple layers of defense each programmed to respond differently. The AI had multiple contingency plans for different scenarios. If the force was observed in the open, aircraft would be mobilized. If certain defending units did not report in every 15 minutes, then the AI would dispatch a quick reaction force (QRF) to investigate. If the dictator’s palace was assaulted, his nearby loyal armor company would immediately mobilize to rescue him. These are just a few examples but illustrate how I was able to detail multiple different scenarios for the AI. Yet, the mission was not completely scripted. When the AI came into contact, it would respond differently based on the attacking force’s actions; during testing, I witnessed the dictator’s armor company conduct a variety of actions ranging from simply surrounding the city to conducting a full assault on the palace using multiple avenues of approach.

The Arma 2 Mission Editor
The Arma 2 Mission Editor

When considering the complexity of the above scenario, it may appear that extensive programming knowledge and experience were required. The astounding fact is that this is not the case because of the system’s mission editor (I do not know how to program). Yet, after spending one weekend building this scenario with the system’s editor, I was able to craft this comprehensive scenario. In the future, we will witness the development of tools and AI systems that allow for the construction of more detailed military simulations.


We have identified two technologies—VR headsets and more comprehensive simulation design tools—that will rapidly evolve throughout the next several years. Yet, the challenge is not the development of these technologies, but determining how to effectively harness their power and integrate them into meaningful, military simulations that go beyond ‘pilot programs.’ Even as these two technologies improve, they will not substitute for real-world experience; for instance, VR headset users cannot feel the sweat after a long hike and scenarios cannot to be customized to fully depict the active populations in counterinsurgency simulations. Nevertheless, as technology improves and is better leveraged, the utility of military simulations will only increase.

Bret Perry is a student at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. The views expressed are solely those of the author.