Training, Officers, Acronyms & Wargames: TOAW

The Operational Art of War.


There is nothing more competitive than warfare. Some train hard day and night to one day win a gold medal. What then is the limit of training when lives and the destinies of nations are on the line? Just as a goalie trains differently than a halfback or forward, so also do senior officers train differently than junior officers, NCO’s and privates. Here, we will look at training tools for officers – computer wargame software and the value it can bring for Ukraine’s military, not to exclude others.

The history of wargaming is well-established. Today, First Person Shooters (FPS) are arguably the most advanced for having a clear economy of scale element making it easy for developers to monetize them. They are suitable for entertainment and military training for individuals and squad-level teams – communication, navigation, cover and concealment, line of sight, hand-eye coordination, threat evaluation, situational awareness, and becoming more comfortable with heightened stress levels. Every soldier is, after all, a basic infantryman, first.

The higher up the chain of command you go, the less “eye candy” you get. In part, this owes to the world’s militaries not being in the business of mass-producing generals or captains – thus harder for developers to monetize. That is an article unto itself. Nevertheless, games like The Operational Art of War (TOAW) and others are a few orders of magnitude more sophisticated than Chess or Kriegspiel which have been used by generals to help win wars.  They need not be entirely restricted to training functions, suffice they can help:

  1. Increase Competency
  2. Save Lives
  3. Test Hypotheticals
  4. Evaluations
  5. Active Planning
  6. Multimedia

Increase competency through increased frequency, variety and complexity of command decisions.  Certainly, most countries do engage in military exercises to provide lifelike, real-time training. These exercises tend to be infrequent, expensive and not always representative of what the next fight will be like. Computer wargame software offers the potential for very frequent, very inexpensive testing easily able to model the vast majority of military engagements.

Command decisions can save or ruin lives. An officer must be able to assimilate a situation taking into consideration a vast range of constantly changing details, known knowns and unknowns. This argues for clear-headedness, comprehensiveness, some measure of expediency, articulate commands and confidence.

Save Lives – civilian and military, friendly and enemy.  You don’t necessarily have to kill the enemy to defeat him and it is usually a good idea to prevent him from doing the same to you. From deploying units without rations, Ukrainian units getting separated and isolated, to fighting for the Donetsk Airport long after it ceased being useful to the fighting around Debaltseve before the “cease-fire” went into effect, Ukraine’s made its fair share of mistakes. Some of these could have been avoided entirely – to the point where a wargame should not be needed to point them out. Yet more reason to begin with some of the basics.

Test Hypothetical Situations and Strategies. When you have the map, know the enemy’s  approximate order of battle, their organization, and approximate locations – anything and everything can be tested. The tests can be adjusted on a daily basis to reflect troop movements and other relevant developments.

Evaluate weapon systems and prioritize procurement. Everyone’s on a budget –when it comes to defense spending you literally do want maximum bang for your buck. Having a broad range of hypothetical situations and strategies to test, it becomes easy to substitute different weapon systems in the TO&E of your entire OOB – and quantify and qualify their approximate value.

Does one M1A2 Abrams provide the same bang as 400 MBT LAWS? Any comparison is theoretically possible. Alongside it, one can test adjustments in unit TO&E configurations – at the brigade, battalion, company or platoon level.

Active contingency planning – While it is impossible to know exactly what the enemy will do – we know roughly what the enemy has available and his likely objectives. With this, plans can be devised and tested for almost every approach the enemy would use to achieve those objectives. The Operational Art of War has the further advantage of being able to test for very complex actions and reactions.

If we do this, there is x chance that y or z could happen. If y does happen Options A, B and/or C might also happen – each with its own follow-on causes and effects – almost without limitation to include a range of social, political and economic consequences - if in an abstract fashion.

Multimedia SitReps – This component can be applied on several different levels and degrees of detail – in almost any desirable graphical or video + text format. Graphics is not my forte, but I will do my best to provide an example of what is possible in my next article. It is one thing to read a sitrep report, it is another thing to see it in the broader context – laid out so each item can be visually inspected.

Math and Models

Many things go into the conduct of war.  It is important to not confuse the map for the terrain, nor the model for the real thing.  Computer games tend to boil things down to equations.

To be fair about it, a large portion of warfare is concerned with two things primarily:  Decisions (Strategies and Tactics) and Numbers (Men and Equipment, Volume of Fire, Frontage, Density, etc.).

TOAW for example factors in (with varying degrees of detail) - unit proficiency, readiness, supply, terrain, defensive disposition, weather, communications levels, cooperation between units of different nationalities, active defense and passive equipment, temporary vs permanent losses, and a few other odds and ends.

It might be said that how you use “your numbers” is more important than the numbers - which is in no way to be construed that the numbers and what they represent are not important.

Costs and Requirements

This is the funny part.  The cost of a program like this is US $29.99.  The Operational Art of War comes with a few hundred historical “scenarios” - from the likes of small operations like Grenada 84 to massive theaters like Fire in the East representing the entirety of the European Eastern Front at regimental - division level scale.  I have two scenarios pending publishing - The Falklands 82 and the Third Reich 1942 - 1945, with a third “much larger” (division/15 km scale) scenario pending for a future version.

It comes with an editor to where you can design your own scenarios - as simple or as complex as you like.   There is also an equipment editor to fine tune or add more equipment.  It can and does do a good job of modeling any conflict from the era of Alexander the Great to Present - but is better for battalion and higher level engagements and not well-suited to squad to company level battles.

Several of the features represented in this article would require a designer for optimal effectiveness.   It is fairly labor intensive.  Over 6,000 hours of research and design went into my World War II projects - monstrous in both size and detail; but setting up the Falklands War from scratch along with testing involved less than 100 hours.  A large portion of that was defining the map itself.

2,000 Battles

In part for fun and as a personal test, I jumped into World of Tanks as a brand new player with nominal FPS experience, committing to 2,000 battles. By World of Tank standards, that is not a lot.

At first, I sucked so bad that I was embarrassed to play. I do know a fair bit about cover and concealment, getting into hulldown positions, armor angling and stuff like that and still sucked terribly. Miserably.

After 2,000 battles, I was approaching a “respectable trend” – winning more than losing, killing more than being killed, consistently surviving longer, contributing more to the team effort.

A large part of that involved knowing the map (terrain), being able to anticipate what others on my “random” team were going to do, what the enemy would likely do, how fast I could get to a position, knowing my vehicle’s capabilities as well as every other tank out there, knowing what I could engage, when to use HE vs AP or even APCR, what to avoid, where to aim if only to break the enemy’s track or simply finding positions where I could spot the enemy so that someone else could close in for the kill.

That much is relevant to the individual soldier.   If soldiers need training, officers need it, too.  Leastwise, in the fighting in Ukraine thus far - it’s hard to take the individual Ukrainian soldier to task for anything.

The failures reside with Ukraine’s officers.