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NEWS | Jan. 26, 2024

Wargaming continues to evolve as a valuable resource for the U.S. Navy

By Taft Coghill Jr. NSWCDD Corporate Communications

Six members of the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) workforce were placed in a high-intensity environment in the 17th series of the Chief of Naval Operations’ Global War games Oct. 16-20 at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, Rhode Island.

U.S. Armed Forces representatives, including admirals and generals, were on hand and they wanted answers quickly from the NSWCDD contingent.

“It was very frantic, especially the first couple of days,” said Joshua Shiben, an analyst in the Force Analysis and Strategic Systems Branch within the Warfare Analysis and Digital Modeling Department at NSWCDD. “We evaluated 30 to 40 different scenarios with a small team and it was just ‘go, go, go, go.’ They had a certain window to adjudicate and they didn’t want our answers coming at the end. So it was really vigorous.”

Wargaming, which debuted at NWC in 1887, is an integral part of research and education at the college. It involves a game of strategy that realistically simulates warfare and gives warfighters an idea of what they may encounter in battle.

Shiben said wargaming is “imperfect, but realistic.” He believes the Modeling and Simulation Toolbox (MAST) developed at NSWCDD improves the effectiveness of wargaming and vice versa.

“Collaboration with NWC gives us both opportunities to improve our products,” Shiben said. “The addition of modeling and simulation adds fidelity, reliability and repeatability to wargaming, while insight into what warfighters are thinking and doing shows us where and how to improve our models to capture what really matters.”

The value wargaming adds to the nation’s defense is impossible to overstate, although the technology used in modeling and simulation is constantly evolving.

NWC conducts more than 50 wargaming events each year and they range from complex, multi-sided computer-assisted games to simple, single-sided seminar programs.

The simulations assist scientists and engineers in understanding the decisions military leaders make in maritime and joint warfare. Wargaming is also an avenue to foster discussions and debates on strategic and operational concepts.

Shiben said NSWCDD is showing increased interest in wargaming as a resource.

“Broadly, wargaming has been a thing since wars have been a thing,” Shiben said. “But now there is better computational capability and better modeling. At the Global War Games, Dahlgren brought out models and ran them in real-time and was able to get modeling and simulation results to help inform adjudications.”

Allan Cahill, a mission engineer in the Warfare Analysis and Digital Modeling Department at NSWCDD, said wargaming gives the military insight into the most difficult aspect of battle to predict – the human element.

“What makes wargaming so challenging, complex and interesting is that it adds a lot of contextual factors that you normally don’t think of,” Cahill said. “When you play wargaming board games, you’re not thinking about weather, technology or what year it is. But when you do it here, all of those factors are pulled in and you start to meet different levels of experts, which creates a very interesting community to talk, share and learn from one another.”

Philip Costello, chief mission engineer in the Warfare Analysis and Digital Modeling Department, noted that he and his colleagues met the objective established by NWC to apply modeling and simulation to the war game. They were invited back to participate in at least two more events in 2024. Costello said the evolution of wargaming leads to better results for those on the frontlines.

“It allows the warfighter to have higher fidelity and higher confidence in the results of an engagement versus a group of subject matter experts debating,” Costello said. “It gives you the hard data that tells you, ‘This is what most likely will happen.’ ”

The NSWCDD cadre was put to the test at the Global War Games.

Shiben recalled an instance when high-ranking officials urged the group to come up with a model immediately to test a potential solution. The adjudication center was abuzz as the NSWCDD contingent attempted to quickly build a model.

“It was a major event that factored into how that war game would play out,” Cahill. “You had VIPs looking at us because our whole crux was, ‘We can help you figure out answers.’ The players and subject matter experts were looking around the room like ‘What do they think happened?’ That was definitely high stress, high pressure.”

Cahill said military leaders look to wargaming to challenge their theories, confirm their beliefs or test new adaptations that the military may need to seek out.

Shiben said the passion that goes into wargaming makes a career at NSWCDD rewarding for the current workforce and attractive to young adults who may be seeking to enter the defense field.

“It’s high intensity. It’s high profile. It’s dynamic. It’s rigorous,” Shiben said. “If those are things you like in your day job, it is something we have here at NSWCDD.”