Wargames are not only for war. They are a way for groups of people to think about a wide range of situations and how they might respond. Wargames are being adopted to explore challenges and devise strategies in many areas: military campaigns; disaster response; business operations; and environmental sustainability. Wargaming is becoming so popular in the military, that a recent article in a defense industry publication suggested the DoD needs a Joint Wargaming Center to better coordinate activity in this area.
Most of these newly popular wargames do not give adequate consideration to logistics. This is because logistics are often seen as complicated, boring, and something that can be left to a small group of experts to figure out later (i.e. logistics is taken for granted instead of taken seriously). But the experience of the Russian Army in Ukraine demonstrates once again how severe the consequences can be when a strategy is employed that does not take logistics into account in a rigorous manner.
(photo courtesy of U.S. Army War College, War Room, 2020, “Getting War (Gaming) Back into the War College“)
Adding an Accurate Logistics Dimension to Wargames
Wargames need a way to accurately integrate logistics without requiring players to go through complicated, time-consuming calculations before they can make a move. Because many wargames are map-based, and because SCM Globe simulations are also map-based, an accurate logistics dimension can be added to these wargames, without adding complexity or slowing down the pace of game play.
In map-based wargames players move game pieces on a game board which is a map. Those moves reflect the strategy they use to play the game. This is illustrated below with a wargame titled “Panzergruppe Guderian” about the battle of Smolensk fought between the German and Russian armies in 1941. The game board is a map of Russia and Belarus in the region around the city of Smolensk.
The SCM Globe user interface is a digital map. So, in the same manner as placing game pieces on a game board, players drag and drop icons for logistics facilities and vehicles on a digital map. The map shows the same geographical area as the game board for the wargame. By placing icons on this corresponding digital map, wargame players define the supply chains that support the moves of their combat units.
[ Screenshots are from SCM Globe case study “Battle of Smolensk – 1941” which models and simulates supply chains that supported the German Army in the Battle of Smolensk. ]
When the icons for facilities, vehicles, and routes are placed on a digital map, it creates an accurate mathematical model of the supply chain network, and the operating capacity of that network (but people don’t have to deal with the math because the computer handles that). They just drag and drop icons to define new supply chains supporting various battle strategies, and run simulations to see how well those supply chains work. Based on what they see in simulation results, people change and improve supply chain designs to get the performance needed to support a given strategy.
Unified Digital Game Board
When combat units and logistics units are combined on a single digital map display, it shows that every combat unit has a “logistics tail.” The dark blue lines on the map show the logistics tails. They are the delivery routes and vehicles that connect each unit with the supply depot supporting it. When a combat unit is moved on the game board, its logistics tail must also move to keep it connected with its source of supply.
Players move logistics units as needed to support moves made by different combat units. These new supply chain models are run in simulations to see if available transportation assets (trucks, trains, planes, ships) traveling on available routes (roads, railways, air corridors, waterways) can deliver the supplies needed to support each combat unit. If its supply chain cannot keep a unit adequately supplied, then that unit becomes inactive, or is able to function only at a reduced level in the wargame.
If simulations show that combat units cannot be supported logistically, then the battle strategy directing their movements is flawed. The strategy needs to be redesigned because it will not deliver success. The opening strategy used by the Russians in their invasion of Ukraine is a clear example of a flawed strategy that did not give proper consideration to logistics.
Strategy and Logistics are Two Sides of the Same Coin
Russian senior officers must have used wargames to create their initial strategy for invading Ukraine. But those wargames didn’t explore the logistics required to sustain their “special military operation” if it took longer than a week or two, as was expected. Wargames can reveal interesting strategies and tactics for different situations. But if the logistics required to make them possible is not explored or tested in a rigorous manner, that omission may invalidate a wargame’s other findings. Military history is filled with campaigns that took logistics for granted and suffered catastrophic failures as a consequence.
The digital map below shows defined combat units and supply depots of the Russian Army involved in the opening phase of the invasion of Ukraine. The Russian combat units and supply depots are located on the map. Blue lines on the map show routes used to deliver supplies from the depots to the combat units they support (the logistics tail). Locations of Ukrainian units are also shown.
[ NOTE: these supply chain models and simulations are from a project with instructors and students at the Air Force Institute of Technology to analyze Russian logistics for invasion of Ukraine. ]
The map-based display enables quick visualization and understanding of supply chain models without people having to interact with abstract network flow diagrams, columns of numbers, or complicated mathematics. This makes logistics and supply chains understandable to a wide audience of officers and enlisted people in the field as well as at headquarters. People can understand and act on what the simulations show them. They do not need to ask expert logistics analysts to interpret the data for them.
People can zoom in on the map and have the option of switching to satellite view to examine the terrain and place existing facilities, vehicles and routes where they really are located. People can also place new facilities, vehicles and routes where they want them to be in order to expand and improve existing supply chains or create new supply chains to support new offensives. They can quickly create new supply chain designs and see how well they work.
When accurate logistics are added to wargame exercises the opposing sides each have an Operations Team (or G3), and a Logistics Team (or G4). As the Operations Team explores different strategies, the Logistics Team figures out how to support those strategies. And if proposed strategies cannot be supported, then the Logistics Team alerts the Operations Team to make changes. Better to find what works and what doesn’t work in wargames and simulations before finding out the hard way in the real world.
In these combined strategy and logistics exercises people learn to see strategy and logistics as two sides of the same coin. They learn to think about strategy and logistics simultaneously.
They learn, as Carl von Clausewitz put it, “There is nothing more common than to find considerations of supply affecting the strategic lines of a campaign and a war.”