PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE: WARGAMING IN THE BRITISH MILITARY

“A scenario-based warfare model in which the outcome and sequence of events affect, and are affected by, the decisions made by the players”.

Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC), Red Teaming Guide, 2nd Edition,
2013, Lexicon.

References:

A. Forces TV – Tri Service Tournament, YouTube, 2020.

B. The Wargaming Handbook, British Ministry of Defence Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, 2017.

C. Table Top Gaming – UK Armed Forces Wargamers Facebook Group.

D. US Army Staff College Wargaming, RAND, 2020.

I’ve decided to write this article as it’s a labour of love. I love being in the British Military, I also love Wargaming. I’ve tried not to rant, spending time to rewrite this over several hours. I’ve also chosen to red pen this document to ensure that no Three Letter Abbreviations are present or that ambiguity through short hand is avoided. If I’ve failed – I’m sorry!

Current Climate. Wargaming in the British Military is a two-fold term. Professionally, it’s something that occurs during the planning cycle to determine if a plan is fit for purpose and to bring out factors that may not have been considered. Personally, it’s met with disheartening comments or outright abuse in the most part. Recently, we saw the featuring of the Inter-Service Wargaming Tournament featured on Forces TV (Ref A) via YouTube and Facebook.

This was a great opportunity for the British Military wargaming community. Unfortunately, it was also a platform for the trolls to voice their opinion, all in the public eye. We saw lots of comments of “Sad” or “Virgins” and my all time favourite comment “So we lose the manpower just so people can move little toy figures around a table instead of doing their jobs” – paraphrasing. Yes, just like we lose manpower just so people can move a leather ball around a football pitch.

Now, some might read this and immediately be thinking; “the author of this must be some overweight, body odour smelling, non-sporting virgin”. Others might think; “well, yeah, they’re right – what relevance does wargaming have?”. Well, quite a lot actually.

Mental Resilience. The British Military is shrinking. This is partly down to Capita and their questionable recruitment drives, partly down to the lack of attractiveness of jobs in the military during peacetime and partly due to lack of retention in the British Military.

Finally, you have the incessant drive of the Government to direct tasks as if the Military is a bottomless pit of free labour. There are other factors – sure, but this article isn’t about complaining why the Military is overstressed.

All of the factors that are involved in modern Military life means that the job is far more kinetic and stressful than it has been before. Now factor in personal life and the inevitable threats to mental health that occur from finances, relationships and social pressures and it’s no wonder we have a significant percentage of service personnel suffering from stress and depression.

Now imagine a hobby, something that after working a long day trying to resolve the hundreds of issues thrown at you via the Chain of Command, allows you to sit inside and create something special. Something that can de-stress you and provide a feeling of accomplishment during what at times, feels like a washing machine at full spin with no hope of achieving what you need to, alongside a genuine, ever present fear of failure.

Currently, the Military is pushing mental resilience in its service personnel. We are seeing all sorts of initiatives (other than trying to reduce workload on service personnel) taking place throughout the Tri-service environment, all with varying degrees of success.

For me, an aspect of my mental resilience is catered for by painting. After an exceptionally long and difficult day at work, picking up a miniature, an airbrush and crafting something that i’m genuinely content with provides me with a solid hit of positivity. It’s something that has seen my stress and depression levels (and i don’t mean feeling sad – i mean depression) drop significantly since i started Warhammer two years ago. I prefer to do this when i get in from work and before i call my girlfriend so that my work and the emotional drain from the day is significantly reduced and doesn’t carry over into my personal life.

Some of the readers of this will think; “Yeah, but painting miniatures is stressful as people always expect a high quality paint job”. I have this to say to you. Just because you see a model painted to a higher standard than you can paint doesn’t make your efforts null and void. You should be proud of your creation – no matter what it looks like in comparison to someone who might paint professionally or have numerous years experience more than you do.

Constructive criticism is something that, in my experience, is anathema to Soldiers. We’ve come up with different methods to make telling someone that they could do something better easier – the bath tub method is the perfect example of this.

Constructive criticism is something that occurs constantly when it comes to painting or wargaming. As a result, those who experience it, often through the medium of C&C of painted miniatures or after-game reviews, tend to accept criticism better – even when it isn’t constructive (as sometimes occurs in work).

In short, using painting as a coping strategy for stress and as a manner of training your stress responses can work well to build better mental resilience. Furthermore, the environment that individuals find themselves exposed to by painting and showing their miniatures or playing the game tends to improve response to criticism – again harbouring positive mental health.

Wargaming – A Strategy for Success. In The Wargaming Handbook (Ref B), we see how Wargaming is a critical function of planning. Some argue that modern warfare and the warfare that occurs in Warhammer 40,000 or Horus Heresy is very far removed from each other. Well, yes and no. Firstly, lets address the elephant in the room – Warhammer is futuristic. Warlord Titans don’t exist in real life (shame) and neither do Legiones Astartes. However, that’s not the point.

Warhammer 40,000 and Horus Heresy has a simple underlying function. Destroy the enemy or achieve objectives with as little losses as possible and protect your Characters. So, we can draw direct correlation to the real world where Commanders have objectives dictated to them that they have to achieve. They must be cognisant of the risk to life and equipment in pursuit of the objectives and have several barriers (the enemy presence being one of them) to success laid out. Some of these are financial (Military budget vs points), some are doctrinal (force organisation fits neatly with both), some are logistical (manpower and equipment availability vs limitations in fielding).

I’m not arguing that this is a neat fit – or even a simple step to take. What i am arguing is that it creates a mindset that is able to subjectively assess a situation and come up with multiple courses of action, whilst being cognisant of key limitations.

The art of real world wargaming has taken a bit of a blow in recent years. We have Combined Arms Staff Training exercises that almost always see the British Military win convincingly. Some would argue, our command structure is complacent and too sure of itself. Others would say the Officer caste is too concerned to fail as it affects their reporting year. I would argue that every service person feels that pressure and acts in a similar way. The status quo has changed as a result.

Instead of losing or suffering at the hands of a red team or true adversarial mind, we see time and time again things just happen to go right. I’ve been exposed to multiple Divisional and Brigade HQs in my time and i’ve never seen one fail, despite how improbable or unrealistic the situations are. For instance, i’ve never seen an electronic warfare serial played out as it should be – because quite frankly, we can’t easily overcome the effects. What normally happens is we get a “Satcom denial” or a “Jamming occurrence” that is resolved because the effect is turned off rather than any proper processes. Similarly, when things do go wrong and a Battalion losing a significant amount of its strength in simulated combat (like when using Simunition or TES type systems) – all that tends to happen is harsh words are spoken and the god-gun is used to respawn everyone.

The single most outrageous example of this is when a Brigade Commander and his Tac Group were subjected to a talcum powder suicide bomber in Germany whilst on exercise. Upon gaining entry and detonating his vest, the bomber was simply told to get out and the exercise continued without a hitch.

If you want another example, my section and i proved so successful firing RPGs at CVR(T) during one exercise that we were god-gunned to death by directing staff so the exercise could continue unopposed.

Military wargaming, be it in tabletop exercise or rehearsal of concept form should encourage critical thinking and develop new concepts. Arguably, it currently doesn’t.

In hobby wargaming, Horus Heresy especially, this is the opposite. We don’t have OJARs or SJARs to be concerned about. We have our force organisation, we have our limitations and we have our scenario. There is no “turning off an effect” or “respawning with a god-gun”. If you lose your HQ element you suffer the consequences. If your troops die, you can’t seize objectives and find yourself being beaten. If you position your tanks in front of something that can punch holes in them, it does and you have nothing to combat the enemy tanks with.

In short, you arguably gain better strategic and tactical understanding of what your formation can actually do and become better at critical thinking in a 2-6 hour game than most command groups do on a 2-6 week exercise.

All Around The World. The British Military is the premier Military force in the World. That’s a well known rhetoric. Whether it’s accurate to you personally is your opinion. What I do know is that several of our peer services actively encourage hobby wargaming. The US Military for instance actively encourages hobby wargaming (Ref D), by using it as an instructional method, as they see correlation between the way hobby wargames play and real wargames and war plays out.

Whilst there is still an element of stigma to hobby wargamers in the US Military, it’s far less than what British Military hobby wargamers experience.

Unfortunately, British Military wargaming doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon, despite solid efforts being put in to try to change the acceptance of it.

Bonded by Blood (or spilt Nuln Oil). There’s nothing like a bit of friendly competition. Wargaming opens up your circle of friends and more often than not introduces natural competition. As a result, the adversarial role friends play is continually evolving. There is no stagnation, no same-same results. Friendships grown – and with the current environment being what it is, friends and family are absolute life savers.

Online groups operate as wide spanning support networks, helping those who are vulnerable and further building the sense of camaraderie or an esprit de corps within the hobby. Already, with the start of 2020 just two and half months behind us, Military wargaming groups on Facebook and WhatsApp are seeing increases in numbers.

Whilst some of these will enjoy their hobby in their unit with a degree of secrecy that puts the SF (Special Forces) community to shame, some are rather bold and weather the bad language and disheartening comments from the trolls, encouraging and developing others.

Summary. Some of the content I’ve covered in this will be hard to swallow – some people will disagree with it whilst others will agree wholeheartedly. That’s fine – opinion is personal. What you can’t argue is fact. I and several others I know are proof that wargaming improves mental resilience in a highly kinetic and chaotic environment.

Strategic and tactical arguments are more subjective and it’s difficult to measure. However it is true that wargaming does appeal to more stereotypically intellectual individuals.

Whether this post is met by a wall of silence or an apocalyptic barrage of questioning or abuse – it’s opinion. What you’ve got to remember is:

“Opinions are like arseholes, everyone has one by they think its just others that stink”.

Simon Elkeles

If other nations, who are referred to as peer nations by the British Military are showing interest and encourage hobby wargaming in an effort to improve the mental resilience and martial capability of its soldiers, why isn’t the British Military?

Mental health and fitness is just as important as Physical health and fitness, so why shouldn’t wargamers be allowed to compete against adversaries in work time at registered events? The argument that manpower is at a premium is a moot point when we allow service personnel to spend their entire careers playing football for Regiments or Corps – forcing others to take up that slack – arguably to no real benefit for the Military.

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