Putting the Human Adversary into Professional Military EducationBy Mark Mankowski May 16, 2019
In 2015, I wrote about the need in the Australian Army to enhance tactical decision-making through practice and experience. This was because experienced and intuitive commanders can recognise the type of problem they are facing and quickly match it to a solution that will produce a satisfactory outcome. Only through training against a demanding adversary will we build intuitive commanders who are able to judge what information they require and achieve decision superiority over potential adversaries.
The article went on to highlight that it is difficult during collective training to develop a feel for the progress of the battle. We do not often fight against a demanding human adversary and on the limited opportunities that are provided by Army there is rarely the opportunity to repeat the exercise. What is required instead is a method of professional military education that develops battlefield intuition. I suggested that the use of a commercial computer simulation could fill the gap and allow our junior commanders to complete battle runs repeatedly against a human or a computer. The complex problems of coordinating combined arms forces would develop the feeling for the progress of battle. This intuitive feeling comes from years of practice at ever-increasing levels of complexity.
I received some positive feedback from friends and colleagues from within the Army, but there was also no encouragement to take the idea forward. I did not connect with anyone new; either junior leaders had not read the article (likely) or they did not want to use computer simulation to develop battlefield intuition (surprising).
With the groundswell of ideas and interest in Professional Military Education, Commander Forces Command’s priority to harness simulation and the launch of the Cove, it is time to re-visit this idea.
Developing a Wargaming Insurgency
This time I want to use insurgency tactics – start small and choose the right people. The trial of the concept will use the platform ‘Wargame Red Dragon’ and the audience is the tight-knit team I work with on a daily basis. Wargame is a battlegroup to battlegroup encounter battle over the territory that World War III could have been fought over. The game also provides the following considerations that make it relevant to the development of battlefield intuition:
- The ability to compete against a human or an artificial intelligence adversary (5 v 5)
- The need for aggressive reconnaissance
- Time pressure
- Modern weapon systems that encourage combined arms
- Terrain considerations
- Morale considerations - shock and rout
- The need for logistic planning
- The ability to debrief the execution in slower time.
Within our team, I have played against an experienced and an ab initio player to gauge feedback on the platform and its usefulness as a means to develop battlefield intuition. Results so far are positive. If war is a contest of wills Wargame allows you to feel like you are winning or losing. After all, an adversary is defeated when he or she feels that they are defeated. I will let them describe the experience:
Experience 1 - CAPT Jerry Emerald
Playing wargames as a member of the military is a uniquely rewarding experience. As someone with a rich history of enjoying videogame entertainment, I am used to my knowledge of military tactics being of absolutely no use when playing military themed videogames. This is not the case with Wargame. Thanks to a commitment to realism and impressive attention to detail, real world military tactics are entirely relevant. When you combine this with the ability to play against an intelligent adversary with the same military training as you, the potential benefits for the purpose of professional military education are self-evident.
The cost of all this comes in the form of a steep learning curve that can feel overwhelming as a new player. After watching a few tutorial videos on YouTube and discussing tactics with other players, however, this feeling can be conquered easily. The game’s focus on realism assists here too, as military officers will intuitively begin to develop ideas on how to manoeuvre units on the battlefield. The challenge comes in learning how to use the game’s controls to achieve your intent. This does take time, but most will begin to feel comfortable after a few games.
Throughout the All Corps Officer Training Continuum, my friends and I have often remarked on what professional development of the future would look like, and how beneficial it would be to watch a TEWT unfold in real time. While Wargame isn’t perfect, I doubt we will get closer in the foreseeable future. It is complex enough to exercise what we have been taught and develop battlefield intuition, yet retains approachability. Wargame is also gaining senior leadership attention as a viable method for a new and truly engaging form of professional military education.
It is one thing to understand the importance of identifying high ground on a map and designating it as key terrain with a massive “K”. It is another to watch several of your armoured vehicles dominate the surrounding terrain for kilometres from high ground while your opponent’s will to fight disintegrates along with their advanced guard.
Experience 2 - CAPT Trollslayer
I was introduced to Wargame by a fellow infantry officer. We were both struck by how challenging it is to out-think an opponent, and how victory is dependant on overwhelming the enemy’s decision making cycle rather than using any particular unit. The game forces you to learn about and employ military assets that junior officers would rarely, if ever, encounter.
When training against live enemy as a Platoon Commander, I was always most successful when I was able to deny the enemy the ability to make good decisions. My crowning tactical achievement was an urban platoon attack by night against a strong peer enemy played by coalition troops. It was highly successful because of a focus on sowing confusion and coming within metres of the enemy before allowing them to know we were there. This mindset of breaking the enemy’s ability to make decisions, and forcing a sense of defeat in the enemy commander, is required in Wargame.
The game allows you to test your ability against a live opponent not once or twice a year, but time and time again. It punishes you for poor tactics and failure to use combined arms, providing feedback on your plan in a way the All Corps Officer Training Continuum does not. Importantly, when you apply the ground appreciation and good tactics that you learn in your job, they work. The learning you gain for the time you invest is excellent value.
I recommend any junior officer looking to better understand tactics have a look at the game.
Wargaming - Where to now and how to get Involved?
If you are interested, have a look at the game and download it. There are two courses of action (COAs) to improve:
- COA 1 - the hard way – through experience. This is not the method for contemporary leaders.
- COA 2 - the easier way – through professional military education. In support of this COA there are some excellent books on manoeuvre theory:
- Robert Leonard, The Art of Maneuver: Maneuver Warfare Theory and Airland Battle
- Jim Storr, Human Face of War
- Stephen Biddle, Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle
Or there is the 21st century way – search the internet. Some of the best descriptions of how to win a combined arms battle in Red Dragon are by Stealth17 on YouTube, or read one of the guides by a seasoned civilian player on the forum page. Here is an extract on the basics of combined arms:
Wargame does not have ~1470 units so that you can use three of them. If you spam only a couple types of units, your opponent is going to bring in their counters, and your units are going to die like a ?????. Wargame absolutely requires the effective use of combined arms. I cannot stress enough that combined arms operations are not optional.
Once you have mastered the mechanics of the game playing against the system you then need to find a human adversary. There are three that I know of that can help you build battlefield intuition. In order of experience:
- Uncle Bill
- Jerry Emerald
The next step in our trial is for our team to build a network of friends and adversaries either through our personal network or by advertising for those who have followed the process above and are ready/keen to ‘have a crack’ against other humans.
Once we get to 10 commanders who are keen to have their skills pitted against each other, we will organise a contest at Headquarters Forces Command. Five players will plan, execute and debrief against a similar team of five players. In the course of 1 hour 30 minutes we will get through two iterations of a combined arms encounter battle at Battle Group level.
We will conduct it in the Officers’ Mess to use the institution to develop capability, use the wireless network to enable the multiplayer platform and to take advantage of the Hamilton Funds disbursement for refreshments during planning and debriefs.
I will update you through the Cove on the results of the trial including new adversaries and allies to connect with and techniques to develop effective battlefield intuition.
Let us put the human adversary into professional military education.