Wargaming is an essential component of professional military education, but is it obsolete for the irregular challenges of competition today? Revelations of the “miserable failure” of the emerging Joint Warfighting Concept in a wargame revolving around a battle for Taiwan, as well as Russia’s recent massing of 100,000 troops outside Ukraine, seem to justify a focus on traditional military capabilities. But can wargaming also address the indirect aspects of adversary approaches — like social media influence campaigns and dual-use infrastructure acquisition, that incrementally advance their positions of strategic advantage? The time and resources available for military education are relatively fixed, driving an evolution of classic teaching methods to produce leaders who can achieve intellectual overmatch against the nation’s adversaries.
Despite progress in using games to explore emerging concepts and capabilities, wargames still overwhelmingly focus on the traditional fight. However, tailoring wargaming specifically to hone irregular warfare competencies may mitigate the unintended consequences. One approach with great promise is updating wargaming in a way that drives classroom dialogue and learning to develop the student’s ability to recognize and avoid blinders connected to the application of strictly traditional military power.
This article discusses irregular warfare-specific gaming injects to deter gray zone coercion and facilitate multi-domain operations in armed conflict — such as psychologically hardening populations against subversion, denying the financial access that provides leverage over partner nations, and supporting resistance partners against occupation. The intent is not to create masters of irregular warfare, but to increase students’ familiarity with its utility and limitations in expanding options for decision-makers.