I was looking through my old files the other day, when I came across
a yellowing folder that I had called 'Theoretical Papers'. Having no recollection
of what that might include, I spend some time reading through a collection
of random scrps gleaned from various sources. Little of it was of any
interest, except the following, which was a section of a RAND memorandum
(RM-3489-PR) called 'War Gaming' by E.W.Paxson, dated February 1963 -
which I found in the MoD Library some time in 1979 I think. I recall being
very influenced by it at the time.
As you probably know, the RAND corporation was (and probably still is)
an important think-tank for the US military-industrial complex.
I thought this extract is interesting, and I have re-typed it here because
I think you might take some amusement from it, and perhaps see that concerns
in 1963 are not too far from those of 2002. I have reproduced the extract
exactly as copied, and resisted the temptation to insert my own comments
and corrections in the text - though it was hard. In re-reading it a lot
of points occur, but I'd like to read member's thoughts in MilMud first.
So that the conventions may be observed, something must be said about
the strengths and weaknesses of war gaming. We are, of course, concerned
only with gaming as a research tool. Consider first the advantages.
Gaming gives full scope to the enemy's actions and reactions, to his capability
and his persistence. No staff planner writes a paper showing how his plan
will fail and no engineer points out how a weapon system he has designed
can be circumvented.(1) In these one-sides analyses, replete with detailed
calculations, assume a somewhat chuckleheaded and rather friendly enemy
whose course of action is transparently clear and rigid and who seems
quite vague about what he will do later on as the plan or weapon system
moves smoothly to success. Gaming, on the contrary, supplies the most
hostile of reviews.
Gaming provides a framework within which experts in the relevant field
can systematically apply and pool their ideas and techniques. This framework
requires all relevant fields to be represented so that the logistician
can tether the weapon designer, and the political scientist frustrate
the operational planner. Each expert is forced to see a context which
may modify his dogmatism and in fact stimulate his ingenuity.
By definition, a play of a war game is a sequence of moves each involving
a concrete situation. Generalities and pontifications must show their
applicability. Doctrine and belief are explicitly tested. The sequence
of events forces a "thinking through" of an operation or campaign
to the end.
Like Chinese medicine, the military profession is most successful if the
client does not become a patient. War gaming can assist in designing a
balanced deterrent posture, because we make our mistakes on paper and
we can check plans and force structures for feasibility and balance. Since
there is little secret about our military posture, one can hope that the
enemy will conduct his own war games based on the inherent capabilities
of that posture - not on its intentions - and detect no soft spots.(2)
But now it is the Criticics' turn. There are many of these people. Polemics,
as well as semantics, is a characteristic of operations research. A discussion
of their structures may bring out aspects of war gaming other than those
Criticic: Because of the enthusiasm and conviction war games
engender in the participants, they lose all sense of logic, they confuse
their model with reality.
Protagonist: Gaming is hard work. The gamers I know were either cynical
when they started or lost their glow in a few weeks and never found it
again.(3) They are well aware that the game is only a model; albeit sufficiently
close to operations in the real world so that some guidance and insight
are provided. If they are Players, they argue with Control about the validity
of the assumptions and the assessments. They continually find branches
that should be explored. If they are Controllers, they may beg the players
to put on their old uniforms in order to reproduce lags arising from interservice
Critic: Your players are completely persuaded by the elaborate detail and
work put into play.
Protagonist: You are repeating yourself. Some of the players are not persuaded
after ten plays. War gaming is not an exercise in self-hypnosis. But the
Players do become convinced that a war game is an experiment, undoubtedly
imperfect. They know that intuition and judgement intervene. This is equally
true in any scientific endeavour. Any conclusions from the game or games
must be subject to Critical review, independent of the details of the
game. The important point is that the game produces new ideas or phrases
alternative concepts sharply and sketches explicitly possible consequences.
Critic: Even so, your people are assuming roles they never approximated
in the real world. Hence they will "learn" in unpredictable
ways during the game sequence.
Protagonist: What kind of people do you hire to do responsible gaming? As for
"learning", this is precisely the feature desired in gaming,
although it should be called generating new research ideas and finding
out what mistakes could be made. Out-and-out strategic or tactical errors
must of course be located and the game re-assessed. Although a game may
be finished, the gamers are not finished with the game.
Critic: You simply cannot produce a set of realistic rules. Your people
will exploit them, they will "play the game" against itself.
Protagonist: Negative. You are dealing with a group which is no only research
minded but which has (or should have) an appreciable continuity. When
one side does not point our flagrant unrealities, the other certainly
will. In the course of time, refinement of rules and procedures is inevitable.
Critic: Your games are larded with deceptive detail. Each detail is a parameter
and each must have a value. You don't know these values and even worse,
in the ensemble, you have a hopelessly uncontrolled situation in the statistical
sense, because you can't possibly have enough plays. You should stick
to analytic methods. Or if you insist on games, strip away all your ornaments
and find a simpler formulation which will give you a precise statement
of problems and results, and which will let you understand what is going
Protagonist: You are talking as emotionally as a war gamer. But your points are
all worth attention. In fact, you have arrived at the right conclusion
by the wrong course or argument.
First, there is a lot of detail in war games. The reason is that the designer
does not know in advance what factors may prove Critical. He strives instead
to cover what must be a range of contextual factors more or less clearly
relevant to the game's objective. Reasoning by imperfect analogy is one
of the thirty-four dishonest ways to win an argument, but here, comparing
this phase of war gaming with dimensional analysis fail utterly if one
essential physical quality is omitted. Systems analysis may produce a
completely worked-out and "optimum" system which may also be
completely wide of the mark because of operational factors not considered.
Second, each parameter must be assigned a value, or even better, a range
of values. Choosing this value is a matter of workmanship, and exactly
the same problem arises in the study of any problem in military operations
research by any method whatsoever.
Third, the conscientious war gamer must always be conscious of his tolerances.
He must calculate or assess, if only by seminaring, the sensitivity of
his over-all conclusions to variation in parameter values. Of course,
he is never satisfied that he has completed this job.
Fourth, the number of plays of any one game that should be made is usually
grossly overexaggerated by appeal to superficial combinatorial arguments.
Once the main assumption for a given branch of the game are set out, the
flexibility in strategy and tactics is not nearly so rich as is presupposed,
if only the main lines of the over-all course of events are to be made
out. Perturbations of the main line can usually be assessed satisfactorily
by those experienced in the game. A war game is no more chess than chess
is a war game - in regard to the Criticicality of the fine structure.
Fifth, you are completely correct in saying that the real problem is to
understand what is going on. Analysis of a sequence of war games is performed
to deduce those few dominant key factors, assumptions, and general results
whose relative weights and interactions are actually pertinent to the
conclusions drawn. Most of the detail of the game now seems irrelevant.
Finally, war gaming is only one tool of military operations research.
But there are many problems which must be tackled for which no other tool
is yet available. Above all, gaming is a preresearch technique, generating
ideas and sketching their outlines. Military operations research of necessity
must be conducted with suspense dates in view. Gaming can make major contributions
to pressing questions which cannot await refinements in methodology.
(1) In all fairness, in preparing his Estimate of the Situation the wise
Commander may foster interaction between his intelligence and operations
sections to beget opposing points of view.
(2) Unlike Admiral Yamamoto's war gaming of Pearl Harbour
(3) (sotto voce) Some are hard losers.