Military Experimentation Part II: Continuous War-Gaming

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Ex Neptune Squadron 2018, photo by CFN Priyantha Malavi Arachchi

This article is the second in a two part series that seeks to generate discussion and debate on military experimentation. Part 2, this article, provides a series of ideas for continuous war-gaming to support concept and future force development for consideration.

The Future Operating Environment (FOE) is opaque, dynamic and chaotic. Nevertheless, militaries must build a future forces to operate, fight and win within it, based on an analysis of the FOE, and strategic and operational imperatives to operate in it. As outlined in Part 1 of this series militaries must develop operational concepts to provide a foundation for future force development and capability investment decisions, and conduct experimentation which supports contestability of those decisions.

To be useful these future oriented operational concepts must include sufficient tangible information to include the specification of an event horizon; the identification of specific threats and their most likely, most unlikely, and most dangerous courses of action; they must address specific strategic and operational objectives; they must also be clear, concise and unambiguous; they must communicate a central idea for operations that includes envisioned tasks and capability requirements in order to provide a contestable foundation for future force development decisions.

Experimentation to stress, test, assess and develop operational concepts and associated capability requirements is critical to their validity. This implies a requirement for experimentation to be informed, timely, adaptive, and iterative. It also implies an essential requirement for experimentation to include a well-developed pacing threat future force capability employed by an unconstrained, thinking, adaptive red team. It is proposed that continuous war gaming offers an approach for consideration that robustly informs concept development and the future force development process.

Required Characteristics of Continuous War Gaming

  • Focus is on limited learning outcomes per event, though associated broader discovery learning will occur.
  • A one to three day event, that employs an iterative approach, one feeds the next.
  • Adaptable seminar, table-top, execution methodology with potential for limited modelling and simulation in support.
  • Off the shelf scenarios, adapted from current defence planning scenarios.
  • Based on future operational concepts and capabilities, concepts of operation and schemes of maneuver are developed before event by stakeholders.
  • Conducted at the secret level or higher – likely FVEY and NOFORN caveats.
  • Encourages innovative solutions and risk taking, but must be within the art of the possible, and moral and legal limits.
  • Involves a thinking, adaptive red team (adversary SME) which is allowed to “win”.
  • One focused output report within two weeks of each event.

Options for a Continuous War Gaming Capability (Australian Army Context):

1. Establishment of the Monash Group.[1] This group is proposed to comprise of a cross-functional concept team that conducts a monthly dynamic wargame series. These wargames would be primarily conducted by the concept developers with limited SME augmentation. They should be strictly focused on informing future concept development and identifying the associated capability requirements, and developing implementation plans. The minimum, permanent core staff requirement to run these wargames is two blue planners/admin/ex prep, two analysts, and two red planners. Game execution would require meaningful augmentation and SME personnel as required by each game. The Monash Group could also be used for quick turn future oriented research or problem framing as may be required by the leadership.

2. Australian Command and Staff College (ACSC). In addition to potential opportunities to work with ACSC during the conduct of the Joint Operational Planning (JOP) modules to inject limited learning requirements, an elective module that brings ACSC students to participate in the “Monash Group” wargames could be established. With the additional capacity ACSC students afford to one or two of the “Monash Group” wargames, a full JMAP, OPORD, and simulation supported CPX process could be conducted. Each ACSC student participant would subsequently be required to submit a paper focused on analysis of, and recommendations for the concept and capabilities experimented through the lens of the ACSC course themes.[2]

3. Leveraging of Current Operational Planning Events. An augmentation experimentation option would leverage Joint OPLAN planning events. This option would seek to take advantage of OPLAN events to leverage a select group of planners for one additional day that would review the scenario and JMAP and re-wargame it based upon subtle changes informed by future operating concepts, future technology and force structure. Changes that are possible in the next five to ten years. This activity should inform OPLANs and quick turn minor projects. Awareness and opportunity to integrate to these events should be the responsibility of the concept developers, and experimentation within these events should be conducted by SME on an as required basis.

4. Blue Sky. This option would see the implementation of an unconstrained wargame within the “Monash Group” series at the strategic level. In this wargame the blue force has no constraining benchmark – they are purely driven by a future red threat MLCOA and MDCOA, in the context of the FOE. The intent would be to build a force from scratch, with no pre-determined structure or method of fighting. This would look at the 30+ year timeframe and inform total-force design, national and military capability, national and military strategic culture, and regional strategy. The outcomes of this event should inform national military strategy, force design, capability, etc

5. Gamer. An out of the box option to leverage the talent resident in our diverse society. This option is completely non-cooperative, and would see core planners inform the development of Australian-made online computer games. The concept developers would subsequently leverage the ideas of the online gaming community as they conduct their own force design, application of technologies, and AARs. Subtly, the products generated by gamers could be converted into useable tactical products. If done right, this would be a goldmine of ideas for Future Land Warfare (FLW).

6. Leverage Army Professional Education and Training Institutions. Within this option each of the school houses are given baseline classified scenarios to shape their planning exercises. Post event the instructors would be required to conduct AARs based on a series of FLW prepared questions regarding the application of future forces and capabilities. In addition, selected unclassified scenarios and discussion topics could be sent to Brigades and a limited number of units for inclusion in PME, and informal feedback to FLW.

7. Fellows Program. Subject matter expertise, and innovative ideas do not wear rank. There is a wealth of talent resident in formations, which concept developers must leverage to better develop operational concepts and future capability requirements. In this option concept developers would establish a “Fellows Program” to identify high performing, motivated, subject matter experts of any rank to attend and contribute to the “Monash Group” wargames on as required basis. Identification of potential Fellows should be through both formal and informal means, but must be formalized through a Fellow’s chain of command. Concept developers should be responsible for resources required, and should also look to provide Fellows with unique professional development opportunities that broaden the Fellows experience and translate back to their unit.

Robust experimentation, as a part of a campaign of learning, is critical to the development and evolution of Army’s future operational concepts and the identification of capability requirements. Experimentation must be designed to stress, test and assess our operational concepts and capability requirements to ensure their relevance, and support contestability of future force design decisions. Experimentation must include an unconstrained, realistic opposing force to ensure honest results are generated. The failure of a concept or capability in experimentation is a valuable and valid result that informs and reduces risk in future force design. Militaries must be willing to “fail”, and faster than today, if Army is serious about honest institutional learning to inform future force development. The seven options presented in this paper offer some ideas for consideration to do just that.

About the author

Mark Tutton is an Australian Army Officer.


[1] General Sir John Monash, GCMG, KCB, VD is arguably the greatest general in Australian history. His leadership in the Australian development and mastery of combined arms tactics in the First World War led to the allied decisive victory at the Battle of Amiens, which expedited the end of the war. As the Army of today grapples with how to incorporate disruptive informational, intelligent and autonomous technologies to develop a new way of war, a situation that echoes that faced by General Monash, who better to look to for inspiration for how we should approach this opportunity. If the Monash name is unacceptable, the group should be named after a historical Australian Army leader with a similar legacy of military transformation.

[2] ACSC Course themes are: Nature and Character of War; The Political Objective; Unity of Effort; Strategic and Military Culture; Resourcing and Sustaining War; Learning and Adaptation; Geography and Operational Environment; Leadership and Command; and, Joint Operational Planning.