#Wargame SITREP 230105 N5 Plans – Burnt Out on Wargaming in South Africa

In the United States, wargaming is finding more and more uses in the U.S. government. The Department of Defense, in particular, has always been a major user of wargames (though we can argue how serious they are about them). One would think that overseas other defense components of government would be doing the same.

In early November 2022, an article from the Johannesburg defenseWeb discussed a fire that burnt down the South African Army’s Centre for Conflict Simulation. The building was old, first constructed after the Anglo-Boer War, but in 1997 had been converted into a wargaming center. Although a relatively recent adapter of wargaming (at least relative to the Untied States), the South Africa Army was proud of what they possessed:

The facility provided a wargaming capability that is not available in the majority fighting forces around the world. The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) can be called an early adopter, maybe even a pioneer in this field. The air, land and sea arms of service each have simulation capabilities that ensure the most is gotten out of real world equipment. Simulation also provides a benefit in a budget constrained environment in that the operators can still train, and in some cases keep current, on main equipment.

“Burning Down the House,” Nov 4, 2022
The Centre for Conflict Simulation building on fire (courtesy Johannesburg defenseWeb)

The article laments the loss of the wargame center, though it notes that the center actually had no capability to simulate anything for the past two years since it lacked funding. As the author of the article states:

The problem is that with the SANDF [South African National Defense Force] budget crunch it seems as though entities like the Centre for Conflict Simulation have not been funded. Over the last two years, the simulation centre had no wargaming tool availability to simulate any conflict situation. This is due to a lack of a support contract. This seems not to be a new state of affairs for this key capability. In the early years there were several support contracts that enabled the SA defence industry to provide an operational level wargame called Hawk, as well as a movement and detection capability called Arend. Unfortunately, both the systems that were owned by the SANDF were decommissioned as the funding to maintain the capability was stopped.

“Burning Down the House,” Nov 4, 2022

Why is this loss important? Again, I’ll let the article inform us:

What is the impact of not having this capability? The simulation capabilities and services of the Centre for Conflict Simulation could be used to test and sharpen all SANDF elements leaving for deployment in Mozambique. Then there is the capability to provide after action reviews and lessons learned from those coming back. This could be compared with the Burundi experience. The SANDF could also include the SA Army force-on-force live simulation system (world-class) that is not in use due to the lack of a support contract.

The problem is that a capability like that found in the Centre for Conflict Simulation was allowed to become dysfunctional. The capability is now most likely lost and would have to be established from scratch. This is at a time when this capability should have been used to model the Modern Brigade operational scenarios and keep the officer contingent trained for various warfare scenarios.

“Burning Down the House,” Nov 4, 2022

Ultimately, wargaming is about saving money. Save money on training. Save money on force development. Save money against future expenditures of valuable national treasure. For wargame practitioners this a real “burning issue.” But to execute a wargame you need a place to wargame. It looks like the SANDF is learning this lesson in a very expensive way…

Feature image courtesy Johannesburg defenseWeb

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2 thoughts on “#Wargame SITREP 230105 N5 Plans – Burnt Out on Wargaming in South Africa

  1. South Africa faces challenges and has competing economic and social priorities, as do many nations. If the budget was cut, that would suggest that reasonable savings were envisaged. Can effective wargaming be run inexpensively? Desktop exercise surely don’t cost that much, or is the larger support, data collection and analysis to make it work the expensive part? Does this mean that only wealthy countries can maintain effective wargaming or does anyone know if middle and low income countries run effective wargaming units?

    1. I think part of the problem is a mixing of “modeling & simulation” and “wargaming.” Most definitions of wargame have it as a form of simulation, but many folks see M&S as requiring computers and the like. Many M&S folks cannot fathom an analog “simulation” having any value. Even fewer understand what an analytic wargame is, or could be.

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