Forging Wargamers: A Framework for Professional Military Education

  • Published

Forging Wargamers: A Framework for Professional Military Education edited by Sebastian J. Bae. Marine Corps University Press, 2022, 266 pp.

Forging Wargamers: A Framework for Professional Military Education is a diverse collection of essays edited by research analyst Sebastian J. Bae with contributions from both practitioners and scholars in wargaming. As acknowledged by Bae in the preface, he “never envisioned [the volume] as a textbook or definitive manual for wargaming education” but rather as something “to help raise the next generation of wargamers—to provide the necessary tools and skills for the advancement of our field” (xiii). His goal, then, is to respond to an often-repeated question and more practical problem from wargamers, “How do we establish or improve wargaming education, including sponsors, participants, and future designers?” (xiii).

Bae, a research scientist and senior game designer at the Center for Naval Analyses, teaches wargaming courses at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University as well as at the US Marine Corps Command and Staff College and US Naval Academy. He is perhaps most famous for serving as faculty advisor to the Georgetown University Wargaming Society, which hosts a very popular wargaming YouTube channel.

In Forging Wargamers, Bae has edited a collection of nine chapters, plus an introduction and conclusion. The chapter authors are recognized experts from the uniformed military and DoD-affiliated education centers, and academics often with both education and practical wargaming experience in the national security field. The different perspectives provide value, and each chapter seeks to answer a foundational question on the future of wargaming.

In chapter 1, lecturer Natalia Wojtowicz of the Hague University of Applied Sciences explores the current perception of wargaming as often an ad hoc and informal pursuit rather than a recognized profession or academic discipline. She notes that today’s wargaming education pathways include professional military education, civilian universities, or think tanks. She provides ideal competencies for each wargaming role with the conclusion that more structure and standards will help lead to the legitimization of wargaming as a profession.

Chapter 2 by RAND Corporation’s Kyleanne Hunter, formerly with the US Air Force Academy at the time of book release, examines wargaming in pre-commissioning education. Hunter argues for integrating wargaming into military training earlier and more often, as this will lead to a more agile force. In chapter 3, Office of Naval Intelligence analyst Timothy J. Smith discusses its Simulation-Based Analysis and Training program. In essence the program combines computational modeling and simulation, tabletop wargames, historical scenarios, and the utilization of critical thinking and structured analytic techniques. Intelligence analysts, even those with no naval background, will be aware of the use of analytic tradecraft including standards from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. An addendum to chapter 3 provides an annotated guide, including a syllabus and forms from a SimBAT course on Global Strategy in World War II. Wargaming educators will find the information useful for incorporation in classes.

In chapter 4, Paul M. Kearney, an active-duty army strategist and wargamer, focuses on building wargame designers through the promotion of on-the-job training. Kearney outlines the initial problem that currently there is “no pipeline to train wargamers.” He argues, “Instead wargaming talent with the Department of Defense relies on self-motivated hobbyists who find their way into wargaming positions as civilians (general schedule or contracted wargamers) or by vagaries of the military human resources processes” (102). The chapter includes best practices and advocates for the use of commercial wargames and professional wargaming associations.

Chapter 5, written by Australian active-duty officers Scott Jenkinson and Jo Brick, explains Australia’s experience in implementing wargaming at the Australian Defence College. The focus of the chapter is the utilization of wargaming for the purpose of education and building upon Australia’s limited wargaming history and nascent ability. Chapter 6 provides an interesting overview from Ian T. Brown and Benjamin M. Herbold on how the US Marine Corps has begun to institutionalize educational wargaming across the College of Enlisted Military Education, Expeditionary Warfare School, Command and Staff College, and School of Advanced Warfighting. While the effort is still in process, they provide many lessons learned in the chapter.

In chapter 7, Jeff Appleget and Robert Burks, two well-regarded wargamers from the Naval Postgraduate School, shift the conversation away from operationalizing wargames into military forces to working with wargame sponsors. The chapter includes an overview of the school’s efforts to engage sponsors, interact with them, and scope the process. Interwoven within this chapter are efforts to minimize bias when working with sponsors. This chapter provides practical tips for current wargamers designing a policy or practice to engage with wargame sponsors.

Chapter 8 explores the inclusion of social science principles into analytic wargames. Benjamin Jensen and Brandon Valeriano note, “With a rising concern about the impact of emergent technologies (such as cyber, artificial intelligence, and unmanned vehicles) on the battlefield, there is a corresponding renaissance in the use of wargaming to evaluate interdependent decision making in a strategic setting” (198). The authors reference the University of California-Berkeley’s Project on Nuclear Gaming, which uses experiments on decision-making, and the increasing number of wargames that incorporate escalation in the use of cyber methods.

The most unique chapter in the volume is chapter 9, provided by Brooke Taylor, the creator and principal investigator for the Air Force Global Strike Command National Nuclear Strategy and Global Security Workshop for Practitioners. It pertains to expanding participation in wargames to policymakers. Specifically Taylor advocates “for the Department of Defense to provide Congress with a seat at the wargaming table [to] create a pathway that focuses not on what Congress should be thinking about national security, but instead hones into how Congress should be thinking about national security” (222–23). Taylor promotes the idea for an educational nuclear wargame for freshman congressional orientation. While the idea is novel, it presents potential problems in the areas of funding bias or impacts on jobs located in congressional districts.

Bae has edited a work that meets his stated original goal by providing multiple perspectives from chapter authors. Individuals looking for a one-size-fits-all approach to wargames to answer the volume’s initial prompt will find disappointment. Yet while the collection speaks to improving wargaming education from diverse viewpoints, the volume is not without fault.

Although it includes perspectives of active designers, instructors, and wargamers, Forging Wargames would benefit from direct testimonials. While there are issues with citing or building a case from one data point or source, the perspective of non-wargamers or officials who were originally hesitant to wargaming could be added to enhance its appeal and validity. Additionally, the inclusion of quantitative studies or class surveys showing individual quantification of improvement in knowledge, skills, and abilities related to critical thinking and wargaming would build a successful case based on evidence. Any future second edition of the text would benefit from additional interdisciplinary perspectives from experts from education, curriculum and instruction scholars, social scientists, or individuals from other federally funded research and development centers with wargaming knowledge. While the focus of the text is professional military education, the CIA, State Department, and other US government agencies within the interagency have histories of wargaming for planning, education, and experiential learning, and their perspectives would improve any second edition.

Bae makes a brave effort to provide a cogent and well-researched passionate appeal to wargamers in an easy-to-read volume of less than 300 pages. The work includes an excellent thorough bibliography of wargaming articles, books, monographs, and texts. Graduate students or those new to wargaming can utilize the bibliography as an entry-level starter list of wargaming resources. The volume concludes with a section that provides ample contributor bona fides. Hobby gamers and entry-level wargamers will find useful nuggets in the edited volume, and it will serve as a good desk reference. At the same time, the edited volume is an ideal centerpiece for analysts, intermediate wargamers, and defense officials who have a deep interest and passion in wargaming. Readers looking for a more introductory overview text on the history of wargaming should start with Matthew B. Caffrey Jr.’s On Wargaming: How Wargames Have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future from the US Naval War College Press.

While Bae argues Forging Wargamers is not intended to be a textbook or definitive manual, he is far too modest. The volume is a solid primer and contribution to wargaming scholarship as the concept and field of wargaming will continue to adapt and change.

Bradley Martin

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."