Rotor & Wing International

A Brief History of Wargaming

Much of the civilian world was introduced to strategic-level wargaming in 1983 when Joshua asked Matthew Broderick that fateful question, “Would you like to play a game?”

Much of the civilian world was introduced to strategic-level wargaming in 1983 when Joshua asked Matthew Broderick that fateful question, “Would you like to play a game?” In the course of history, games of war have gone from something played by noblemen and warriors to a multibillion-dollar international business.

The RAND (Research ANd Development) Corporation, a global policy think tank created by General ‘Hap’ Arnold, defines wargames as “analytic games that simulate aspects of warfare at the tactical, operational, or strategic level… used to examine warfighting concepts, train and educate commanders and analysts, explore scenarios, and assess how force planning and posture choices affect campaign outcomes.” While the term “wargame” has been ostracized for its flippant reference to “playing war,” there is significant historical proof that simulating the conditions and decisions of war has influenced the results of numerous battles and helped win wars. Ancient Greeks played petteia (pebbles), while Romans played ludus latrunculorum (game of little soldiers), and 7th century Indians created chaturanga (a precursor to chess). Yet, it was the 19th century Prussian game, Kreigsspiel, which first translated to “War Game” – and was influential in Prussia’s success during the Franco-Prussian War and the ultimate defeat of Napoleon III.

Wargames in the first half of the 20th century were credited with new tactics and strategies such as the Blitzkrieg and kamikaze, and those employed by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor and the Allies for the D-Day invasion. Strategic wargaming ebbed and flowed through the last half of the 20th century, but such wargaming has seen immense growth since the year 2000.

Modern combat simulations are built upon some of the most advanced technologies in history. Everything from the smell of a punctured bowel to rolling over in a tactical vehicle can be simulated, and millions of dollars are spent to dogfight a P-51 against an F-35 or land a helicopter on a single-spot ship steaming through a sea state of 9. Modern tactical simulators come in all sizes and mediums from board games to cellphone apps to massive “boxes on stilts,” and as the future becomes the present, some are becoming so realistic that reality itself can be suspended. Virtual Reality has already morphed into Augmented Reality and training for battle will soon become so prolific that few will escape its impressment. While there are honest concerns about societal impacts, there is also significant proof that the actual warriors will greatly benefit from this increased realism in training. The ability to “stress-inoculate” warriors and practice combat decision-making may create shorter and less bloody wars.

In the aviation community specifically, we are quickly realizing the benefits of repeatedly simulating emergency procedures, combat situations, and other difficult decision-making processes. The seemingly astronomic costs of accurate simulations has already been recouped in the savings of blade hours, equipment and lives. Indeed, the impact on the world of simulation writ-large should not be understated. From teaching a police officer when to draw their weapons to showing a pre-teen how to put a tourniquet over a ruptured artery, lives will be saved by simulating difficult situations.

Huge wheelbarrows of raw cash are currently being invested in the art of simulation, and I truly believe the future will see even larger truckloads dumped upon the creators of new ways to simulate the art and games of war. They are the ones who will better prepare our armies and save lives by turning what was once a sport reserved for nobility into something more integral in the daily lives of millions around the world.

Through thorough strategic-level wargaming and tactical-level training, military leaders will command more proficient warfighters and governmental leaders will be better able to work diplomatically to prevent the next war. This, in my humble opinion, is the most important advantage of “playing war” because, as Joshua stated, “[war is] a strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?”