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Effective Time Jump Planning and Execution

In a training wargame post-Time Jump (TJ) situations must: enable the associated Training Objectives, maintain scenario coherence; and present a picture the players recognise as related to their plans. In a research wargame the post TJ situation must: enable the relevant data to be derived to answer the Research Question (or the anticipated aspects of it); and ensure consistency of relevant variables and analysis.

All too often planning a TJ consists of an unstructured discussion based on a loose understanding of what has to be considered, the necessary process and the outcomes and products required. The start point is not ‘where shall we jump to?’ with a subsequent argument of the implications; that is the wrong way around – although often what actually happens. In training wargames TJ consideration is usually reliant on information or plans from the Training Audience (TA); these are frequently incomplete or contradictory due to the inherent pressures of the training environment.

Hence a robust and logical process is essential to draw together all required information, resolve discrepancies and enable the production of a coherent post-TJ situation. Such a process is shown below. The personnel required will vary, depending on each exercise and wargame construct, but the steps below indicate who needs to attend.

Time Jump Process

  1. Review the event aim and objectives. Apparently obvious, it is amazing how quickly people forget why they are supporting an event. It is always worth confirming understanding of the aim and objectives, even if this is no more than a re-statement of them. Experience shows that time spent reaffirming objectives is time well spent, certainly with respect to ensuring that the post-TJ situation will enable the achievement of those it is designed to address.
  2. Confirm the player HQ’s plan. The plan should be briefed to ensure that all elements of Excon – including AAR and analysis personnel – understand it.
  3. Confirm any subordinate player HQs’ understanding of their role in the higher commander’s plan. Subordinate HQs could be players or part of Excon.
  4. Confirm any critical timelines. One common example of a key timeline is the arrival into theatre of forces; in this instance both the forces available, their desired order of arrival and planned ‘laydown’ must be known. Another example could be developing trends on any of the Comprehensive Approach lines of activity, many of which trends will take weeks or months to deliver results. All such time lines need to be confirmed before the decision is taken where to time jump to.
  5. Confirm the plans of other actors in the scenario. Most simply this is the adversary, or situational forces, but it will likely include many other actors such as neutrals, IOs and NGOs, nations’ political reactions etc – the list is long. Controlled by Excon, these actors provide the key variables available to shape the post-TJ situation.
  6. Determine the situation required to achieve the reaffirmed objectives. The variables controlled by Excon are compared to the players’ plans. This is to set the conditions for the players to have to make the required decisions, address dilemmas or take whatever actions the event objectives call for.
  7. Determine the TJ date. This should fall naturally out of the preceding process. It is that point at which the managed projection of the existing situation into the future is intersected by the players’ plans and the actions of other actors to deliver the situation required to support the objectives. Selecting the TJ point is the penultimate step of the process, not an initial guesstimate to be used as the start point for general discussion.
  8. Determine TJ products required by the players, and how and when they will be delivered. These can range from a simple brief to a full set of documents encompassing complete operations orders, annexes etc. The workload must not be underestimated; it has to be assessed in advance and time and people allocated to the task.
  9. Brief the new TJ situation. If a brief is to be given it should be rehearsed if possible. As a primary means of conveying the new situation to the players, the TJ brief is a critical activity. If it is not clear in every respect it will, at best, slow down player assimilation of the new situation and, at worst, risk achieving the event objectives.

Once the process has delivered the new TJ situation this must be adhered to unless a major flaw is identified – in which case the process has not been followed rigorously enough. Subsequent changes risk individuals supporting the exercise not being aware of them, which leads to inconsistency when the new situation is briefed or developed.

There are additional considerations from the players’ perspective, which apply whether the wargame is in the training or analytical domain. These are:

  • Sufficient time must be allocated to allow players to assimilate the new situation before expecting them to make decisions or continue planning. The length of time needed must not be underestimated.
  • The new situation must be recognisable to the players. If the proposed post-TJ situation cannot be related to the pre-TJ position then players can react adversely and disengage from the exercise. This is not to say that reverses and set-backs should not be introduced, but these need to be clearly explained and credible.
  • The situation must be credible. The conditions must have been set to introduce any major themes or events so they do not come as a surprise to the players.
  • Major decisions that the players could have made during the TJ period should be avoided if possible. The risk is that players react to the new situation by saying ‘but we would have done x, y or z to prevent that happening.’ As soon as this happens the players will disengage.

In common with all suggestions on this site, this sounds straight forward. While logical and simple, do not think it is easy; considerable consideration must be given to TJ planning.

Course Of Action Wargaming in complex non-kinetic operations

COA Wargames are just as vital in non-kinetic operations as they are in hi-intensity warfighting.

While the action-reaction-counteraction process and general mechanics remain the same, conducting a COA Wargame in a complex environment requires greater preparation than for a conventional kinetic operation. There are more factors to consider and actors will have widely differing agendas and motivations. Sadly, the preparation required often reinforces the usual objection to holding a COA Wargaming; that there is not enough time available in the planning process. Such objections are groundless. COA Wargaming is one of the most critical parts of the planning process and, when properly done, will not only save time but also operational effort and resources – including lives. The ‘lack of time’ objection is usually raised by staff officers who either have never seen a COA Wargame done well, or are lazy.

The COA Wargame must be thoroughly prepared well in advance of the event. In a complex environment preparation will include nominating individuals or teams to represent the actors and factions identified as key to operational success. Actors represented should include relevant IOs, NGOs and political bodies, international or local.

These representatives should be Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in their faction’s area. They must be given enough time and understanding of the situation to prepare their inputs to the COA Wargame. These inputs could be presented by the SME conventionally or by role-playing their factions’ agenda.

The SMEs must have thought through their faction’s plans to the same degree as the ‘blue’ force planners, including Centre of Gravity (COG) analysis, End-States and so forth. Decisive Conditions and Supporting Effects should have been determined. All of this is obviously done from that actor’s or faction’s perspective. Actions taken by the factions involved could be reactive to ‘blue’ or ‘white’ events or proactive.

As with all doctrinal COA Wargames, both the worst case and most likely case should be wargamed. The aspects of the operation to be wargamed should have been identified by the commander. These become the ‘turns’ of the Wargame and might be phases of the operation, such as the entry, or selected Decisive Conditions. Wargame play should include potential branches (for example the resumption of terrorist attacks following a cease fire) and sequels, and will probably lead to the identification of various contingency plans that will need to be developed.

The aspects of the operation to be wargamed must include the tactical aspects of the plan – see General Hansen’s comment, below. The operational or strategic level commanders have a coordinating role, and will liaise with national politicians and bodies. But the Component Commanders will have a key role to play in the COA Wargame and are the main ‘blue’ participants. Actions at the tactical level must be analysed during the COA Wargame, as General Hansen describes below.

Understanding the context of staff college wargames

Having been involved for 20 years designing, delivering and participating in wargames at various staff colleges around the world it is apparent that key aspects of the context of such establishments should be better understood.

First, and of critical importance, the educational nature of staff courses must be uppermost in everyone’s mind. Irrespective of the level (junior, intermediate, advanced or higher) and whether they are single-service, joint or multinational, the nature of most staff college courses is educational. This as opposed to training. While education and training are but different points on the same spectrum, the distinction is crucial. The Commandant of the UK Joint Services Command and Staff Courses explained it as follows: ‘Your 14 year old daughter comes home from school and tells you that she was being taught about sex in class. Your question to her: was that sex education or sex training?’ It is a critical difference.

Stemming from this education/training distinction the following points have to be understood and then hammered home time and again to directing staff responsible for wargames at staff colleges:

Keep it simple, stupid! Just coming to terms with whatever military decision making process is being taught is usually enough to stretch the capacity of most students. If the decision making process is then applied within a simulated HQ then the complexities of the HQ battle rhythm, with its various boards, processes and information flows, is enough to test even the best student. If the educational objective is to familiarise the student with an operational planning process and/or the workings of a HQ then the complexity of the setting, scenario and any events and injects must be carefully pre-considered to control the required level of pressure on the participants. Too much pressure and they will not understand the basics, let alone cope with any additional educational objectives. There is a tendency for staff college tutors and augmenting SMEs to insist that students are taught their particular specialism ‘because they must know it when they go on real operations.’ This incremental knowledge will be of no use if the student has already been lost in the basics of learning the decision making process because they will assimilate little else.

Student friction. Never underestimate the ability of students in a new environment – such as a simulated HQ – to generate their own friction! There is often little requirement for exercise control staff to inject any events or incidents to stress the students; they will tie themselves in knots just getting to grips with aspects such as information management and the coordination of staff branch efforts. The efficiency of ‘player’ HQs must be monitored, and mentors constantly available to ensure that students are helped through the process of understanding HQ functions and how battle rhythm supports this. If left alone they will flounder.

‘A War’ rather than ‘The War’. There is an almost overwhelming desire to set the context of staff college exercises in ‘The War’; a setting and scenario that reflects the current Contemporary Operating Environment (COE) with all its complexities. Why? If the objective of a staff college exercise is to teach students the basics of military decision making, staff procedures and HQ functions then why does this need to be done in the context of a massively complicated COE? Assuredly, we should ‘Train as we fight’ as NATO demands – but staff college students are not being trained; they are being educated. All too often the demands of trying to consider all aspects of the COE stretch the student too far and he or she fails to grasps the basic educational objectives. The US School of Advanced Military studies used to teach decision making, various HQ staff processes and the basics of joint operations by using three commercial off the shelf wargames. These were Gettysburg (1863), Tannenburg (1914) and Midway (1942). These are good examples of using ‘A War’ (read ‘Any War’) where it suffices to meet the educational objectives. Another problem with setting staff college exercises in the context of the COE is that students, directing staff and SMEs bring their own, very personal, baggage with them to the wargame. These personal experiences and perceptions often serve to skew the wargame away from the desired educational objectives.

The second key characteristic of the staff college environment is pressure on the time of the directing staff. These competing pressures on directing staff must be alleviated for the same of the wargame. For whatever reason, directing staff supporting staff college wargames seldom devote themselves to the exercise. Writing reports, preparing course work or just taking it easy during someone else’s exercise too often lead to a dearth of staff, even when they have been assigned to exercise control positions. This apparently accepted ‘fact of life’ leads to an undermanned and overstretched exercise control that cannot provide the students the level of support required.

How COA Wargaming can assist Excon preparations for a CAX

The Netherlands Staff College Theatre Wargame is a three-week computer assisted wargame (CAX) with both a planning and execution phase. It attracts support from many elements of the Netherlands Armed Forces keen to train at the operational level. The Training Audience (TA) consists of approximately 45 students on the Advanced Command and Staff Course, with approximately 30 tutors, Subject Matter Experts and augmentees in the usual Excon and support roles. See the Case Studies page for more details of this well run CAX.

One technique used during the Theatre Wargame that delivers significant benefits is to conduct a COA Wargame in Excon to examine adversary options and major event injects.

The event is run as a conventional COA Wargame in all respects, with various members of the Excon ‘Rainbow’ Cell taking the roles of red, blue, white and neutral actors. Typical ‘turns’ in the COA Wargame are listed below. These assist general planning but also produce vignettes for detailed modeling, the results of which are fed back to inform Excon planning.

  • The road to crisis.
  • Key aspects of the adversary’s plans (the Decisive Conditions, for example).
  • Significant ‘friction’ factors that will impact TA plans (one example was Trades Union activity at SPODs that could reduce RSOI).
  • The effect of the Adversary Info Ops campaign on International Community perceptions.

The Netherlands Wargame has one or more Time Jumps. Conducted early in the exercise (usually during the first days of the TA planning phase), the COA Wargame serves several purposes:

  • The overall adversary plan, still forming and prospective, is tested to ensure that it is credible and will support the exercise in achieving the Training Objectives (TOs).
  • The resultant detailed understanding of the situation helps Excon personnel determine post-Time Jump situations. It is critical that these are reasonable (from the TA perspective) and deliver successive Time Jump positions that move the exercise towards achieving the TOs.
  • Excon personnel become intimately familiar with all aspects of the forming Red plan, all sides’ force elements, key MEL/MIL opportunities etc.
  • The vignettes that arise from the COA Wargame as aspects for subsequent investigation are then used by Locon operators (‘pucksters’ in US parlance) during their build up training on the simulation system. This further reinforces their understanding of the situation as well as refining the forming adversary plan and any friction factors that might be introduced.

This simple idea has proved to be most effective