Squad Rushes and War Gaming

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 2 months ago

It has been said that armies train to fight the last war (or sometimes, two or three wars ago).  There is a pressing need to keep the training, equipment and tactics up-to-date.  On the other hand, as I pointed out in my post “Patriotism, Big Flags and Military Regression,” the military-industrial complex can become self-serving to the point of the regression of the military, this regression nurturing careerism, expensive military toys, and retirement opportunities for officers leaving the military if cooperation with weapons manufacturers has opened the right doors.  And I pointed out that because this sort of thing deprives the right programs of the dollars necessary for force protection and training, it is evil.  So care must be taken as to how monies are spent in matters military.  Lives are literally on the line.

I am certain that tactical maneuvers must be practiced until they are second nature.  Squad rushes should be performed and practiced, but when the most likely application of firepower will be in an urban setting, to focus too heavily on these tactics is to remember the lessons of World War II and the Korean War, and to forget the lessons of Fallujah and Ramadi.  In fact, the training for tactics to properly effect MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) is not only necessary and desired by Marines and Soldiers (because this is what they will most likely be doing in Iraq), but it is also slow in coming, and is not nearly frequent enough.  Marine Corps training at Twentynine Palms and the Mohave desert facilities is state of the art, appropriate, and the right thing at the right time.  At SOI (School of Infantry), Marines war against each other with chalk bullets, and getting hit by these bullets is painful, leading to incentive not to get hit.  This is outstanding and praiseworthy training.  But more is needed.  Marines need to engage in Arabic language classes, IED technology classes, more urban warfare simulations, and war gaming.  In summary, training needs to relevant to the threats sustained by the troops; therefore, the highest risks should receive the greatest attention.

The calculus is simple.  While Marines should be well-rounded, the training on weapons and tactics should be a mathematical function of the probability of usage, need and application.  This approach helps to set the boundary conditions for smart expenditures of money.  So let’s rehearse something that is probably a smart expenditure of money.  Later we’ll visit something that probably isn’t.  First, the smart money.

The U.S. Joint Forces Command is engaged in something called Urban Resolve.  To explain the reason for the program’s existence, USJFC informs us that:

In military operations since World War II, United States forces have preferred to bypass major urban areas to avoid the costly combat expected inside cities.

The urban environment contains extremely complex terrain, with urban canyons, complicated infrastructures, and subsurface maneuver space.

The explosive growth of the world’s major urban centers, changes in enemy strategies, and the global war on terrorism have made the urban battlespace potentially decisive and virtually unavoidable.

Some of our most advanced military systems do not work as well in urban areas as they do in open terrain. Therefore, joint and coalition forces should expect that future opponents will choose to operate in urban environments to try to level the huge disparity between our military and technological capabilities and theirs. 

The plan to address the needs in urban warfare — as proposed by the USJFC — is rather complex, relying on things that do not directly involve the Marine or Soldier in the field, at least not yet.  The initial stages involves a lot of war-gaming, tabletop reviews, and battlefield modeling and simulations.  I don’t know exactly how this might work, but I have an idea that might approximate what will happen.

Any gaming, modeling or training that is done should be probabilistic.  Probabilistic Risk Assessments (PRA) are commonly used in industries in which failure is not an option, e.g., the airline industry, and the commercial nuclear power industry.  Probabilistic analysis requires Monte Carlo simulation techniques.  These probabilistic techniques are applied to data that has been mined and cataloged concerning the nature of reality, that is, how and why things happen the way that they do given certain initial conditions.

Using probabilistic techniques, the analyst may then, based on certain assumptions and initial conditions, “play roulette” with the next event.  Monte Carlo simulation will account for the fact that one event is more probable than the alternate event, and each individual path of events, or “history,” will use these techniques throughout the chain of events at each new event to evaluate the likelihood of various consequences and make choices based on mathematical probabilities.  The virtue of the method is that with enough histories simulated, given that no history, or chain of events, is exactly like the previous or subsequent chain of events, the analyst gets a comprehensive picture of the kinds of things that can happen and how to plan for them.

This picture can be used to evaluate relative risk.  Risk is the product of probability and consequences, which means that the analyst may focus his energies on those things that pose the highest risk.  Something may have a low probability, but very high consequences (e.g., high casualty rate).  This kind of thing, while not as important as those things that are high probability and high consequences, still may require some attention.

Finally, this method relies on correct data, so the analyst is required to interview, use expert witness and testimony, record history, watch video of actual war footage using cameras carried into battle, use audio recordings, catalog experiences of the infantry, interrogate the enemy, mine statistics, etc.

Questions like these will be important in tabletop reviews and computer simulations:

  1. What is the probability that the enemy has a particular weapon or weapons system?
  2. What is the probability that they know how to use it correctly?
  3. What is the enemy’s motivation?
  4. Where is the enemy initially located?
  5. What is likely to be his tactics upon being engaged?
  6. Has the enemy pre-staged the area?
  7. What is likely to be our response given our training?
  8. Is this the correct response?
  9. Is there a better response?
  10. Are we under time constraints?
  11. Will collateral damage ensue from the altercation?
  12. If so, is this collateral damage acceptable?
  13. What is the command and control of our troops, and how much latitude have they been given?
  14. How much latitude do our troops need?
  15. How much latitude does the enemy have?
  16. Can the combatant be ascertained and discerned from the non-combatant?
  17. Are changes in our weapons systems needed in order to effect a successful altercation?
  18. Do our troops have the right weapons sytems for the ensuing altercation, and if not, can they be aquired within the necessary time frame?

The USJFC summarizes the advantages of this virtual battlefield thusly:

The DCEE uses its analytic, faster-than-real-time simulations nearly continuously. It uses simulations to support wargames and human-in-the-loop events simultaneously. As the DCEE continues to mature, the total number of modeled battlespace elements possible will soon be more than one million individual entities. This expanding capability, combined with the high definition and clarity of modeled global population areas, will provide a virtual capability second to none. The ability to replicate multiple iterations of an issue quickly is an important additional capability that permits rapid examination of issues.

Ultimately, a distributed environment that incorporates virtual simulation, concept development, real-world situations, and optional live field training in a seamless environment is a significant transformational capability.

Good, because unless this is tested in the field, the alleged advantages are unproven and perhaps even dangerous.  And the Marines (that is, the grunts doing the heavy lifting) will need and benefit from this virtual battle space.

As a final note, if you think that this is perhaps beyond the comprehension of the typical Marine, think again.  Take a wild guess as to how many Marines already play commercially-available, complex war games on their free time with the aid of a computer, head-sets and the internet, while online with several hundred other people in their “guild?”

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You are currently reading "Squad Rushes and War Gaming", entry #272 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) War & Warfare,Weapons and Tactics and was published September 12th, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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