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Connections UK 2014: Introduction and Conclusion points

Conference Introduction

The Connections ‘franchise’ goes from strength to strength. Connections (US) in July 2014 was noted as the best since it was initiated by Matt Caffrey in 1993. Connections UK 2014 attracted 111 people (the third largest Connections ever) and seemed to go very well indeed. Connections (Australia) holds its inaugural conference in December. An important spin-off event in the UK was the Army Wargaming Symposium held at Shrivenham on 9 May 2014, which attracted over 100 serving Army officers.

Connections is also connecting us on deeper, more personal, levels. At the Army Wargaming Symposium I heard like-minded people speaking of the uses they made of wargaming – and their constant struggle to have the benefits more widely recognised. I related completely to what they said and, indeed, had shared identical experiences, two of which stand out: I had, on arrival at Sandhurst, been told to delete wargaming from my list of hobbies; and, on putting my head above the parapet while DS at Staff College, I was told that openly advocating wargaming was likely to be ‘career limiting’. I realised – belatedly – at the Army Wargaming Symposium just how important it is that we stand together; I wish I had been stauncher in fighting the wargaming corner throughout the last thirty years.

That said, wargaming is undeniably gaining momentum within UK Defence. Wherever it is (well) used people, including serving personnel, are recognising that it delivers significant benefits. You can see more detail here, but they boil down to:

Wargaming saves lives
Wargaming saves money

There is currently something of an ‘alignment of stars’ that is exerting a positive force on UK wargaming, both in the training and analytical domains. However, the fundamental paradigm remains as per the picture below: we are making progress – but still pushing the wargaming ball uphill.

The risk is that the alignment of stars, if you now think of these as people, is very fragile. There are, at an informed guess, no more than a dozen or so ‘stars’ pushing the wargaming ball uphill within UK Defence. The loss of any of these – through posting, retirement or just giving up the good fight – could result in a significant diminution or even cessation of wargaming momentum. Peter Perla, the pre-eminent professional wargamer of our time, has likened interest in wargaming to a sine wave.

The opportunity (and the mitigation to the above risk) is to capitalise on the current momentum and institutionalise wargaming to ensure that its benefits are recognised by serving military personnel. That is the challenge facing us, and we need to ensure it is addressed while the stars remain aligned.

Summary point

But what I subsequently heard during Connections UK 2014 made me realise that there is, perhaps, an even higher goal. Both Dave Schroeder, our key note speaker, and Matt Caffrey spoke of instances where one’s ability to employ wargaming (not just participate successfully) was a factor in determining promotion. Their examples were drawn from recent US businesses and the inter-war German armed forces.

So, while institutionalising wargaming in UK Defence might be an immediate objective – challenging though it will be – the stretch target is to incorporate the ability to design and use wargames into career appraisals. Should we ever achieve that, wargaming will truly have been accepted!

To see a video summary of Connections UK 2014 click here. This is a compilation by Professor Phil Sabin covering Connections UK and leading in to his KCL Conflict Simulation (Consim) course.