Editor’s Introductory Note: This article was written by an active-duty Special Operations Forces officer. I’ve confirmed his bona fides. You may recall reading his article on SOP writing, which we posted in April of 2020.
I’ve been thinking about writing on the topic of Wargaming for quite some time but recent events really pushed me to get it done and hopefully pass on some sage advice. We are currently in some tumultuous times and it pays to be as prepared as possible.
Now that you’ve got your perfect homestead all set up ready for the Schumer to hit the fan, what’s next? Your answer should be wargaming. If you are being honest with yourself, you should have started wargaming far before this but now is better than later. What is wargaming? Wargaming (sometimes called Red Teaming) is a simulation of an armed conflict between multiple parties. It helps stimulate ideas, highlight critical tasks, and provides insight that might not otherwise be discovered. (For some details on wargaming from the U.S. Army SF perspective, see the Special Forces Detachment Mission Planning Guide, GTA 31-01-003) It is a process used to visualize how an event may or likely will unfold and can be used to our advantage in order to improve our position. You should always be improving your foxhole.
Why you should wargame
The key benefit of wargaming is that it allows you to shoot holes in a plan in order to better it and increase the likelihood of success. You should do this before any risk may come to you. It creates a deliberate process to help discover useful insight that may otherwise have been missed. This can also be a good way to work on and verify SOPs. (I’ve previously discussed SOPs in SurvivalBlog.)
Another benefit of wargaming is that it helps you find out where your decision points will be. A decision point is where a key decision must be made in order to follow a certain course of action. These decision points can be time-based or event-based. By already having some of these assessed, you can anticipate them, and in turn make a quicker, more informed choice. It is preferable to make a decision that you can foresee rather than blindly choosing. A very simple analogy to illustrate this point would be knowing your spouse is going to ask what you want to eat the moment you come home. Is it easier to answer when you’ve been busy all day and haven’t thought about it at all, or, if you thought on the way home and know what food is at the house or where you like to eat? If you know it is going to happen, and a decision must be made, then why not be prepared?
Prior to wargaming the plan, you must decide what is the desired goal or best achievable outcome. Now you must define your acceptable outcome. (How much stuff are you willing to lose? How many people are you willing to lose? Et cetera.) This can be harsh and scary but you must be realistic when defining your acceptable outcome. If you aren’t realistic, then you will not gain the necessary insight needed for a successful plan.
I’ll use the example of a home security plan. This is a good time to try implementing some of those SOPs. You first have to define what it is you’re preparing for. I suggest starting by looking at your most likely assessed risk, which is probably going to be robbery. What steps have you done to keep someone from robbing your home? From there you can branch off into further scenarios. Such as, looking at it from a Schumer hitting the fan perspective. A well-equipped group of 15-20 marauders shows up and wants to take what is yours. Realistically, what will make them leave and what will ensure they leave?
How to conduct a wargame exercise
First you must choose your director or judge, a recorder, a Blue Team (friendly) and a Red Team (enemy). If you are the director, you need to remain objective and impartial. Do not get too invested in the plan as to skew the results. Additionally, no one should be overly invested in a plan so much that they cannot or will not make changes. (Just like in Special Forces, it is usually best to remain adaptable and flexible, thus ready for unknowns and changes.) It is usually best if the director is one of the leadership of the group.
The recorder should be able to take quick, in-depth notes and be able to expand upon them in later discussions. Your Blue Team should be led by someone who created the plan and is going to be the decision-maker in this type of situation. This means that they have the most intimate knowledge of why certain decisions were made while constructing the plan and also gives them insight how they might make decisions when the time comes to do it for real. However, more important is choosing your Red Team.
There are some things you should consider when choosing your Red Team. In this instance, you may want to ask the following questions: Do you have an intelligence team? Who has the most knowledge of your perceived adversary? Who has the most tactical knowledge? Who is most knowledgeable of the area? You will preferably choose a team that can think and act like your potential threat. If you do not have group and are trying to do this alone, you must remember to be as objective as possible during the entire process.
Once teams are set, it is time to establish the rules of conduct. What is your timeline? Obviously, we can’t always take the true time we may be under siege. Just like in a chess tournament, a pre-agreed upon time for each teams’ moves should be established. This keeps the exercise from getting bogged down. (However, remember to keep note of these sticking points.) And lastly, what are the rules, or lack thereof, to be adhered to by each side? You may have certain morals that the enemy does not subscribe to. It is up to the director to keep the wargame moving and be the deciding vote in any split decisions.
Now that your teams are set and you have a realistic outcome defined, it is time to get out there and wargame the plan. Start from the very beginning. Wherever you are most likely to realize someone may be coming for you or your stuff is a good start. Do you have an early warning network? What is your realistic timeframe from warning to needing action? This is similar to in Patriots where the LP/OP would give a warning on the field phone and everyone at the retreat knew how long they had to be in their hidey-holes. If there is no early warning, what are some triggers that you may see/notice that will cause you to initiate your plan? We’ve only just begun and may already be identifying ways to better our defense through different warning systems.
Get out there and walk the ground from the enemy’s perspective. Consider what the enemy would do. Remember that in desperate times, humans are capable and willing to do things that they would never dream of during times of fruition. Depending on where you live, you should also do this in each season due to the variances in foliage or other environmental factors. A row of trees full of leaves and underbrush is vastly different than a row of leafless trees and snow on the ground. The Red Team should look at this as not only testing their security but also as a training exercise to increase their team’s capabilities.
If you are the Blue Team, you are able to observe someone else walking as the enemy. What can you see/counter them with? When can you see them? Do you need to be able to see them or just know where they are? Can they see you? What can affect your position? (ie: weapons, obscuration devices, location of sun, day versus night, etc.) Answering these questions can draw out what you need to do in order to improve your posture.
As you are conducting the wargame, make sure the recorder is noting all of the sticking/friction points and all of the decision points as well. Have an in-order list of them prepared to discuss after for improving the plan. The recorder is crucial in keeping track if you want to go back after a decision to test other possible options. Think of the Choose Your Adventure books that so many of us have read. You didn’t always like your outcome so you went back and tried a different route.
Like anything, there are limitations of wargaming. Unless you have lived it, it can be impossible to understand what humans are capable of at their worst. The enemy always has a vote. You can make all the right decisions, do everything perfectly and still get shot. In the words of the fictional Captain Jean Luc Picard, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.” Even though anything is possible, I will tell you that you greatly increase your chance of winning by wargaming. It doesn’t cost you anything besides time and is a great way to test multiple facets of your group or plan at the same time.
I briefly mentioned wargaming during different seasons earlier, but how often should you wargame your plan? What causes a need to wargame/change the plan? The primary reason to conduct another wargame is that you’ve had to change your plan for whatever reason. This could be due to anything from new buildings/structures, new equipment, or new personnel. It does not always have to be a full-blown wargame. For example, say you changed security systems and can respond differently than before; you can now start from this point and continue from there. You can also conduct a tabletop wargame and discuss it over a map or imagery.
No plan will ever be perfect for absolutely every scenario, so it is best to work from most likely to least likely to happen.
What’s next now that you’ve shot a bunch of holes in your plan? It’s time to implement the lessons learned and make the plan better. Take your list that you created of points of concern and order them from your greatest risk to least. After doing this, figure out what you can change. This needs to be your starting point. I recommend making the changes for greatest risk first but you can also start at what is the easiest to change. There is no right or wrong answer as long as you take the lessons learned and make changes for the better.
Take this information and implement it in any scenario you can. It can help you look at things from a different perspective. Go be the best you can be.