You might of heard the story about a young LTJG Larry Bond in 1976 who wanted to make a different training aid for his wardroom. Fast forward 40 years and we have Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Group) in commercial release. One would think that, given it’s provenance, Harpoon would be in widespread use in the US Navy. Alas, no. However, the US Navy does use wargames, and I don’t mean the video kind.
In the July 2020 issue of Naval History magazine, CDR Thomas Dixon who recently completed a tour as Executive Officer (Blue Crew) aboard USS Ohio (SSGN-726) relates a wargame played in the wardroom “designed to stress the critical thinking and innovation among the officers.” He describes the game as this:
First, the executive officer develops a scenario appropriate to the submarine’s upcoming operations, including the nations involved, the geographic location of the game, orders-of-battle, and victory criteria. The two senior department heads are assigned as leaders of the Blue (United States and allies) and Red (opposition) forces….The executive officer then informs the Blue and Red leaders of the game’s specific geographic location, assigns the Blue and Red teams their orders-of-battle, and explains the campaign objectives and victory criteria.Dixon, T. T. (2020). Introduce Wargaming to Wardrooms. Naval History, 82–83.
Dixon goes on to explain why a wargame is needed in the wardroom:
First, it focuses wardroom training on the capabilities of U.S. and regional partner orders-of-battle against those of the rival nations. Second, it focuses study on U.S. and rival national objectives and doctrine. Finally, the wardroom learns what defines victory for each side and contemplates how their specific platform fits into achieving victory in a major campaign.Dixon, T. T. (2020). Introduce Wargaming to Wardrooms. Naval History, 82–83.
Actual game execution is simple. To be honest, this sounds more like a structured tabletop exercise (TTX) than a wargame. Materials used appears quite minimal.
The required materials…consist of an appropriate chart of the region, several game pieces, and notepads with pens. The game is conducted in approximately eight hours (one training day) and consists of several turns. At the start, all Blue and Red land-based, surface, and aviation assets are placed on the chart in the locations chosen by each team. This assumes that both forces had time to position units in strategically appropriate locations, realizing hostilities were about to commence. The locations of undersea assets are known only to friendly team members, and notes with those locations are shown to the commanding officer and executive officer.Dixon, T. T. (2020). Introduce Wargaming to Wardrooms. Naval History, 82–83.
The Commanding and Executive Officer are the judges. I wonder what sort of adjudication aids are available or if this is just a “that’s about right” sort of resolution system.
The first turn commences hostilities. Both teams confer among themselves and determine their movements and actions for the turn, and this consists of everything each team desires to accomplish for that turn….These moves are written down by each team and when they are concluded are shown to the commanding officer and executive officer. Using this method, both teams execute maneuvers simultaneously. The commanding officer and executive officer then adjudicate any action that would take place-for example, the success of an air raid, undersea combat if two submarines cross paths, or the extent of damage from a missile attack. Once adjudication is complete, the second turn commences and is adjudicated.
The game concludes when victory objectives are reached by one of the sides….The commanding officer and executive officer decide which team is closer to the preestablished victory criteria.Dixon, T. T. (2020). Introduce Wargaming to Wardrooms. Naval History, 82–83.
This sounds like a very free-form type of game that focuses more on the decisions that must be made vice operating gadgets like wargames Harpoon or Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations bring to the table (or video screen). I hope that organizations like the Center for Naval Analysis in Arlington, VA are assisting in this effort by providing basic materials (especially guides to adjudication) and scenario development. I also hope this effort is not just done at the initiative of the CO and XO; it needs to be part of a broader initiative like the UK Fight Club (@UKFightClub1 on Twitter) that has the great motto “Think-Fight-Learn-Repeat.”
Feature image: PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (Oct. 22, 2007) – USS Ohio (SSGN 726) arrives at Naval Station Pearl Harbor to take on supplies before continuing on their maiden deployment to the Western Pacific following their recent guided-missile overhaul. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Luciano Marano