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Game On! NPS’ Wargaming Week Ties Tactics, Strategy to Improve Defense Planning

NPS Students enrolled in the Wargaming Applications course.

NPS Students enrolled in the Wargaming Applications course execute strategies designed and developed in their 11-week class, presenting their capstone designs to wargaming sponsors who also participated in the games held across campus, June 2-9, 2021.

The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) just took on some of the nation’s most critical national security issues … through analytic wargaming.

NPS’ program has evolved into a national leader in the field of analytic wargaming, where the goal is to design a wargame that facilitates the collection and analysis of information provided by players immersed in a carefully, deliberately-crafted scenario. Results are either fed directly into a practitioner’s decision-making process or are used to develop further analytic products as deliverables to sponsors from the DOD and the nation’s allies and partners.

In rigorous detail, and on behalf of sponsors from around the Fleet and Force, NPS students rolled up their sleeves, designed and worked through a range of complex simulations of real-world challenges for the university’s biannual Wargaming Week, hosted by the Naval Warfare Studies Institute (NWSI) Wargaming Center, June 2-9.

Wargaming Week is the culmination of an 11-week, hands-on course in wargaming applications held twice a year in June and December. Drawing on extensive research, sponsor interaction, and their own considerable military experience, the students developed and executed a range of different wargames to dive deep into technical and conceptual issues ranging from expeditionary operations, contested logistics, combating weapons of mass destruction and more.

“NPS is one of the very few institutions that has a robust wargaming education program to bring wargaming to the forefront and produce experienced wargaming practitioners that senior leadership can leverage,” said Dr. Jeff Appleget, Director of NPS’ Wargaming Activity Hub. “The great benefit of the wargaming course is it matches student teams with DOD or defense partner sponsors who have real-world problems. Their problems aren’t articulated in terms of ‘use this tool to solve this problem,’ but rather, ‘I have a difficult problem and help me understand how to solve it.’”

This quarter’s sponsors included representatives from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), Australian Defense Force (ADF), Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR), Fleet Readiness and Logistics (OPNAV N4), Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL), and U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC). 

Some of the representatives actively participated in the role-playing as red or blue team members or provided subject matter expertise which further challenged students on how their gaming strategies addressed scenarios based on the sponsor’s requirements.

Throughout the course, student teams are formed and matched with the sponsors who pose a question or issue they need answered. The students then get hands-on experience designing the foundations of their sponsor’s wargame where they test and refine the wargame to ensure it addresses the sponsor’s problem. This emphasizes the NWSI’s applied “learn by doing” approach that best leverages NPS students’ unique skills and attributes.

NPS students developed nine separate games and played them over the course of Wargaming Week, seven of which were conducted in-person on campus.

The games were a resounding success, Appleget noted, with sponsors able to see immediate impact and value in the results of the challenges they postulated to NPS students. 

NPS Computer Science student Marine Corps Capt. Max Schlessel commented on the benefits of wargaming contested environments.

“It was a great opportunity to sharpen operational planning skills, and I was honored to take part in strategizing how to enable future [Amphibious Ready Group – Marine Expeditionary Unit] operations,” he said. “The wargame opened opportunities for the sponsors to better understand capabilities, and I was surprised to see how impactful a day of gameplay was to crafting future mission requirements.”

In another wargame, DTRA representatives provided subject matter expertise (SME) in combating weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and improvised threats. Early on in the design process, five panelists fielded questions by a team of NPS wargaming students on how escalation affects chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high explosives threat response and how decision-making is calculated.

Operations Research student Marine Corps Capt. Nikolas Anthony said talking with DTRA’s SMEs provided the foundation for developing a realistic and relevant wargame.

“With DTRA guidance, our team created a realistic scenario and a detailed data collection plan and we’re lucky enough to have experienced players to support our wargame,” he said. “There is a need to reenergize the integration of WMD threats within wargaming and operational planning.”

“Understanding the effects of current WMDs is the first step in increasing the lethality and survivability of a unit. DTRA can provide eye-opening awareness, wargaming support, and modeling and simulation for academic and operational forces.”

The wargaming process was win-win, Appleget said. Sponsors received critical input which now informs key decision-making; the students gained invaluable experience melding their military backgrounds with skill sets obtained at NPS before returning to the operational world, where they will apply this knowledge into future operations, said Appleget.

The Fall quarter’s wargaming topics are already being finalized, and include exploring the employment of manned-unmanned systems, and Distributed Maritime Operations/Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations in contested logistics command and control. Contact for more information.


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