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August 3, 2010

Interactive Game Captures the Complexity of Modern Conflict

Military leaders have historically interpreted the ancient strategic warning to “know your enemy” to mean that they should have good intelligence about enemy forces in order to kill or capture their way to victory. There is a growing recognition, however, that mission success requires really knowing the enemy: understanding a potential adversary’s interests, habits, intentions, beliefs, social organizations, and political symbols.

A team of analysts and computer modeling experts in APL’s National Security Analysis Department (NSAD) is helping the Department of Defense better understand how to use data on political, military, economic, social, infrastructure, and information systems to strategically influence behaviors and ensure comprehensive victory.

“During World War II, we fought a wholly military campaign, and we were victorious,” notes S. Simpkins, the architect of NSAD’s Collaborative Analysis and Gaming Environment (CAGE). “But we spent the next two or three decades investing economically and diplomatically to put the place back together again. What the military has discovered in recent years—particularly with Iraq and Afghanistan—is the degree to which a better understanding of the human dynamics on the ground enables a much higher level of operational success,” Simpkins says.

This summer, NSAD hosted the Tri-Border Region (TBR) Transnational Terror Competitive Influence Game in the department’s Warfare Analysis Laboratory. The geographic center of the game was Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, but the operational environment also included nearby districts, including Alto Parana, Paraguay; Parana, Brazil; and Misiones, Argentina.

Subject-matter experts from the military, academia, and corporations were divided into four teams: blue (U.S. interests), red (Hezbollah opposition to the United States), gray (the nation states of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina), and brown (global interests in line with the red team). Each team applied the elements of power—diplomacy, intelligence and information operations, military and law enforcement, and economic development—to achieve their goals.

“We looked closely at how terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah, would operate in the region, and then using a ‘whole of government’ approach, identified friendly actions characteristic of the United States’ limited ability to conduct operations in this defined environment,” Simpkins says.

He and his team are analyzing the lessons learned from the game and will incorporate them into a workbook that military planners at the brigade combat team level can use to identify, understand, and mitigate threats to U.S. and coalition interests operating in the region.

The building blocks of the game were laid during the course of a 2008 Independent Research and Development (IRAD) project. (IRAD is an APL program that funds experimental work.) N. Bos of the Milton Eisenhower Research Center had developed a social networking game—the Social Identity Look-Ahead Simulation (SILAS)—that attempted to model social identity conflicts and provide a mechanism to make predictions about hypothetical conflicts that had not yet taken place.

“I wanted to test this model on a game, but such a game did not exist,” Bos says. In came Simpkins and colleague A. Ihde. Together, the trio—with IRAD support—developed the Green Country Model, a game using data from SILAS. They held a gaming exercise in July 2009 and very quickly parlayed that into sponsored work for the Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, the Office of Naval Research, and the Air Force Research Laboratory.

“The interest in our gaming and modeling capabilities is because our sponsors recognize that understanding human dynamics is critically important for future military missions and engagements and should be treated as such,” says Simpkins. “Moreover, they are often most valuable in shaping events before hostilities are underway—or perhaps even preventing them.”

NSAD team
An interdisciplinary team of NSAD computer programmers, gamers, and analysts created and ran a game for the military to fine-tune its approach to dealing with terrorist organizations in South America.