#ThreatTuesday – @RANDCorporation “Command and Control in US Naval Competition with China”

RAND Corporation analysts Kimberly Jackson, Andrew Scobell, Stephen Webber, and Logan Ma looks at issues of Command and Control (C2) and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) in their research report Command and Control in U.S. Naval Competition with China which is available as a free download. This report is not only a good backgrounder on the C2 differences between the PLA Navy and the US Navy, it also has poses some questions that could make for a good “serious” wargame topic albeit a difficult one to design because C2 and wargames don’t necessarily go well together.

Research Questions

  • How is C2 exercised in the U.S. Navy and the PLA Navy?
  • How are these C2 concepts reflective of service culture?
  • How do these C2 structures support or challenge each nation’s shift to new maritime missions?

Key Findings

The U.S. Navy and the PLA Navy will likely be challenged to fully shift to new strategic postures if they do not adapt their existing concepts of C2

  • The U.S. Navy’s model of mission command appears conducive to counter-power projection missions in theory, but success will likely require increased investments in education and professionalism across the force.
  • The PLA Navy’s rigid control and command structure is likely to come under increasing strain given the relative independence and greater operations tempo required by power projection operations.
  • Currently, many unknowns exist, particularly in understanding how PLA Navy culture is evolving and how the Chinese Communist Party might weigh its preferred method of tight control throughout the PLA against more-effective power projection efforts.

Future Study = Wargame?

The part that interested me as a wargamer was actually the four topics the authors propose for future study:

  • What is more valuable to China: the ability to project power globally or retaining its rigid control and command system?
  • Will the PLA Navy’s increased experience and professional development affect the trust placed in PLA Navy personnel by senior PLA commanders? And how will increased PLA Navy professionalism affect control and command?
  • Would the Chinese Communist Party tolerate a PLA Navy that is more empowered to make independent decisions?
  • Would the PLA Navy taking a mission command approach to C2 be a threat to the United States?

Each of those study topics, in a way, make for a good jumping off point in a more serious wargame. My problem is finding a commercial wargame that gives one a good taste of C2 challenges out-of-the-box. In order to make it more realistic, one often needs to resort to some sort of pre-plotting or double-blind systems with a referee. Let’s be honest, the real questions about C2 are more than just an initiative roll to see who goes first;. A part of me feels like we need an OODA Loop game like Less Than 60 Miles (Thin Red Line Games, 2019) does for the Air Land Battle of the 1980’s in Europe. Amongst my commercial wargame titles some insight may be gained but it will require lots of tinkering:

  • Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Games, 2020): This wargame that verges into simulation is very good at depicting tactical situations but I am not sure the design can really be stretched to show the more operational-level elements of C2 outside of starting scenario conditions.
  • Indian Ocean Region – South China Sea: Volume II (Compass Games, 2021): This forthcoming second volume of John Gorkowski’s South China Sea-series of games is in many ways the 21st Century successor to the 1980’s Victory Games Fleet-series; however, there are no real C2 rules in the game.

Feature image courtesy cimsec.org

Full Citation:

Jackson, Kimberly, Andrew Scobell, Stephen Webber, and Logan Ma, Command and Control in U.S. Naval Competition with China. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2020. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA127-1.html. Also available in print form.

Threat Tuesday – Projecting a future US Navy for #wargames

BATTLE FORCE 2045. It sounds like a new science-fiction wargame but it’s actually the name of the the latest future force plan for the US Navy. Secretary of Defense Esper unveiled the plan in early October.

Esper’s Battle Force 2045, which he rolled out during an online event today at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, lays out plans for achieving a fleet of 500 manned and unmanned ships by 2045, and a fleet of 355 traditional battle force ships by 2035 – all in a resource-constrained budget environment.

Throughout the rest of October the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) ran a series of articles assembled under the Fleet Force Structure Series. This series of nine article looked at the future force structure in depth.

In particular, I call your attention to “A Decisive Flotilla: Assessing the Hudson Fleet Design” by Robert C. Rubel which in turn links to the Hudson Institute analysis “American Sea Power at a Crossroads: A Plan to Restore the US Navy’s Maritime Advantage.” This analysis includes several nice tables for a future order of battle that can form the basis of wargame studies.

It would be interesting to see Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Group) data annexes or counters in South China Sea (Compass Games, 2017) for Battle Force 2045.

Feature image courtesy moto1.com

#Wargame Wednesday – Go Ohio Blue! (?) -or- It ain’t your daddy’s Harpoon (admiraltytrilogy.com) navy anymore

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

Slicing up the Mahanian Orange #Wargame – Mark Herman’s Plan Orange: Pacific War, 1932-1935 (@RBMStudio1 Nr. 29, 2016)

MARK HERMAN’S PLAN ORANGE: PACIFIC WAR, 1932-1935 (C3i Magazine Nr. 29, 2016) is a challenging game. The challenge is not in the game design; mechanically the game is not that complex as it is another implementation of Mr. Herman’s (@markherman54) wonderful Card Driven Game (CDG) series. Nor is the challenge that it is a monster game; though derived from Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005, 2015) it covers nearly the same area of conflict but in a much narrower focus. It’s that narrower focus that is the challenge, because if one goes into Plan Orange expecting to play Empire of the Sun you will get a rude awakening. This is because Mr. Herman has focused the game design of Plan Orange around Alfred Thayer Mahan.

Mr. Herman tells us what he is doing in the Player’s Notes to Plan Orange:

This is still the era of the battleship. Jutland was the battle of record and deeply studied in this period. So, while planes had firmly gained a role as long range reconnaissance and raiding elements in naval warfare, the arbiter of decision was still large caliber rifled guns carried by the battleships. What you will notice is the smaller zones of influence (ZOI) and combat power of the land based air reduces them to a supporting role in the war. This one factor makes Plan Orange a very different experience than Empire of the Sun.

9781591140375.jpgDoubling down on this difference, the victory conditions in Plan Orange emphasize the vision of the times that a naval conflict between the United States and Japan would be decided by a giant clash at sea. This really was the thinking of the day, especially for the Japanese as Sadao Asada explains in his book From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States (Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, 2006). When talking about the course of study at the Japanese Naval Staff College in the 1930’s, Mr. Asada points out:

Student officers were schooled in the tradition of Mahan. Taking a leaf from Mahan’s Influence, their manual, the Kaisen yomurei, (Naval Battle Instructions) held that “war once declared  must be waged offensively, aggressively.” Day in and day out they conducted war games against the American fleet that culminated in a decisive Mahanian engagement in the manner of Tsushima. In commencement exercises officers conducted war games in front of the emperor, simulating a magnificent main-fleet battle based on the principle of “big battleships and big guns.” Mesmerized by Mahan’s strategic doctrines, officers developed an obsession with the decisive fleet battle that would annihilate the enemy armada at one stroke. Their bible was the aforementioned Naval Battle Instructions, initially developed by Lieutenant Commander Akiyama Saneyuki at the Naval Staff College and sanctioned in 1910. Reflecting Mahan’s doctrine, it stated, “The battleship squadron is the main fleet, whose aim is to attack the enemy’s main fleet.” “The key to successful naval operations is initiative and concentration.” This manual, though revised five times, essentially remained intact until the mid-1930s. (Asado, p. 163)

In Plan Orange there are five ways to win, two of which are directly influenced by Mahan (but don’t be fooled, the others are too):

  1. Capital Ship Ratio: If at the end of Turn 4 (Jan-Apr 1933) or later, the US has 2 times or more battleship steps on the map than the Japanese have on the map, the US wins an Automatic Victory.
  2. Capital Ship Ratio: If at the end of Turn 4 or later, the Japanese have 1.5 times or more battleship steps on the map than the US, the Japanese win an Automatic Victory.
  3. Surrender: If Japan surrenders due to conquest of Honshu or blockade of the Home Islands the US player wins.
  4. Control the Philippines: If at the end of Turn 6 if either side controls all three Philippine surrender hexes, that player wins.
  5. Outlast the Americans: If at the end of Turn 6 no player has met any of the above conditions, the Japanese player wins.

I played Plan Orange twice this weekend. As I’m playing solo (and CDGs are not the best for solo play) I generally chose a ‘strategy’ for each side at the beginning and try to stick to it. For the Japanese I tried to follow Mr. Herman’s ‘Fabian strategy’ he mentions in the Player’s Notes where the Japanese conquers the Philippines, close out the US western bases, and set up defenses to delay the US advance. The Japanese need to hold onto the Philippines and take any opportunity they can to knock out the US Fleet Train when possible.

In the first game, for the US I tried to implement a quick ‘drive for home’ strategy focusing on hanging onto Midway and Wake, then trying to “strike for Japan’ via Marcus Island and Iwo Jima in order to impose a blockade. This didn’t work from the beginning in great part because I concentrated on bringing the US carriers in first. As a result, I had fewer battleships available and the Japanese hand was full of Zengen Sakusen (Attrition Strategy) cards which ended up taking away precious steps of battleships. This forced the US into a catch-up game and some degree of hesitancy as they were unwilling to risk the decisive battle without a clear battleship advantage. Although the US avoided a Japanese Automatic Victory they also failed to threaten the Philippines and never blockaded Japan. Clear Japanese victory.


I reset the game for another go. Keeping the same general Japanese strategy, this time I dedicated the Americans to a true central thrust through the Marianas to get to the Philippines. Battleships and troops were given priority. This strategy almost worked, and probably would have if not for a heroic stand by the Japanese Army at Manila/Corregidor. As luck would have it, the Japanese hand for Turn 6 included Samurai Spirit which is the only card that gives the Japanese any sort of real bonus in ground combat. It was enough to disrupt the final push on Manila. The Japanese won, but just barely.

I absolutely love the strategic tension the victory conditions create in Plan Orange. The American player must attack and try to retake the Philippines. If they don’t the Japanese win by default. The Japanese in turn will have to defend, but usually have to decide where and when is the right place to make a stand because in a war of attrition they cannot afford to lose too much. By the same token the Americans must attack but cannot be reckless lest they hand the victory to the Japanese. Although both sides want to preserve their fleet, they must risk their fleet for a win. All this in a relatively short two years, or six game turns.

Awesome game.

Feature image courtesy C3i Ops Magazine


#ThreatTuesday – War in the South China Sea?

Amongst the many issues facing the new US administration is the contentious issue of the South China Sea. Not only is this battle being fought on the high seas, but also on the gaming table.

Courtesy BGG

John Gorkowski previously designed Breaking the Chains: War in the South China Sea. BTC is a very near-future, operational-level simulation of conflict in the South China Sea. In late 2016, John announced:

One of the War Colleges asked me for a streamlined version of the game for classroom use. They may or may not actually use it, but I plan to make such a “lite” version and share it with the community. ConSimWorld Forum, Aug 26, 2016

The work-in-progress is called South China Sea (SCS). John explained the changes between BtC and SCS:

The South China Sea (SCS) system is BtC pruned for play-ability. How did we do that? We took the scale down from 70 nautical miles per hex to 45. We standardized unit sizes at two-steps each with exceptions for aircraft carriers and certain large cruisers. That meant going with land battalions rather than regiments. And, we created a rule that allows naval units to move more than one hex in a single “go”, but included a mechanism, based on stealth, that enables the other side to “check” that move to create a more variable and volatile environment.

This last adjustment is most important and was most difficult. Because modern anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) have such long reach, 290 nmi in some cases, you can’t just let phasing ships “jump” more than one hex at a time without giving the non-phasing player a chance to react. Otherwise, the phasing player could move through his enemy’s field of fire, or beaten zone if you prefer, without drawing fire. So the new “intervention” mechanism allows the non-phasing player to “react” by stopping a multi-hex move by the phasing player, but not with certainty. So stealthy ships can dart two or three hexes at a time while larger less stealthy ships will not progress that far before the enemy can react.

What did not change? The core strike mechanism that applies across all forms of combat and the air naval movement/combat sequence all remain the same. ConSimWorld Forum, Nov 9, 2016

Sample South China Sea Playtest Counters (courtesy ConSimWorld)

I have been participating in the playtest of SCS. My early verdict is I like the revised combat system, but question the political system. In an email exchange, John shared the following comment:

I know what you mean about political turns….The good news is that in several scenarios players can chose to just skip POL [Political] turns and go right to the action.  Email from John Gorkowski, Jan 14, 2017

John is caught between two customers here – the immediate paying customer (important for income NOW) and the future gaming consumer (potential future income). I think SCS will be a useful addition to the library of modern naval combat. I sincerely hope SCS makes it to the public so we too can explore potential South China Sea conflicts.