Wargaming Hybrid Warfare Part II: Modeling Time Action
by Roger Mason PhD
Author’s Note; This article is part two in my examination of wargaming hybrid warfare.
The New OODA Loop
I recently spoke at a webinar. Afterward, I was asked if hybrid warfare was the new OODA Loop? Col. John Boyd developed the OODA Loop (Observe, Orientate, Decide, Act) as a decision/action process for fighter pilots. I explained the differences between hybrid warfare and OODA loops.
Later I was reflecting on the differences and similarities between these two approaches. The OODA Loop was designed to improve reaction time, while hybrid warfare employs time to disrupt enemy actions. The important thing is both rely on the manipulation of time to gain the advantage at the level of contact. In both cases, time is the context where action is framed.
The battle of the Valley of Aijalon in 1207 BCE and Waterloo in 1815 were critical engagements. In 1207 BCE, the Amorite Kings had besieged Gibeon. The Amorite strategy was to capture the fortified city before Joshua and his army of Israelites could arrive to raise the siege. In 1815 Napoleon was marching toward Brussels. Hostile armies from Britain, Russia and Prussia were converging on his location. His immediate objective was destroying the British/Allied army outside Brussels before the Prussian army could arrive to reinforce them.
Both generals had a problem. Joshua recognized the Amorites had to be defeated by the end of the day to ensure victory. Napoleon realized that the British/Allied position must be broken before the Prussians arrived. Both generals faced the same problem, managing time to influence action. In both battles the enabling factor for action was time.
Common analysis points in military situations include your adversary’s proximity and how long it will take to reach his position or for him to reach you. A third point is the available interval to maneuver your resources to a position of advantage. All three involve time.
Time and Action in Hybrid Operations
Manipulating real-time and the perception of time are at the heart of hybrid warfare. Time can serve as a framework that either permits or blocks actions. For this article we will concentrate on offensive hybrid operations depicted in a tactical or operational level wargame.
Offensive hybrid operations offer an aggressor the ability to determine the progression of action in real-time and the perception of the availability of time. Hybrid warfare employs methods that synchronize aggressive actions that can overwhelm an opponent.
These operations can also establish the perception that events are overwhelming the time needed to develop operational solutions and exceed the resources to employ them. The perception of time becomes just as important as reality by impacting decision making. Hybrid warfare employs two method sets to achieve these effects: disrupting problem space and employing acceleration to freeze time and space.
Disrupting Problem Space and Time
An objective of hybrid warfare is disrupting an enemy’s problem space. Influencing the perception of time can result in disruption of action. Herbert Simon defined problem space as the region where processes are organized to control and optimize problem-solving. Typical problem space processes include resource management, influencing your opponent’s actions, and dominating enemy solution sets. Disruption occurs by inhibiting resource management, inducing or deferring action, or invalidating solution sets.
Inhibit resource management
Hybrid warfare operations can prevent the effective management of resources. Hybrid attacks can slow the effective organization and deployment of ground forces. Defenders begin rushing decisions as they sense a compression of available time.
Induce your enemy to take or defer action
An important process within problem space is the intention to take or defer actions. The selection of action choices is related to the time required for optimization. Hybrid operations can obscure the true operational situation. The victim of hybrid warfare may quickly discover they are out of sync with operational realities. These types of operations introduce uncertainty encouraging an adversary to act when they are at a disadvantage. Hybrid operations can incite delay when prompt action is necessary. Instead of focusing on the circumstances the target feels increasingly caught between what actions they feel forced to take or defer.
Invalidate existing solution sets
The heart of military readiness is the development of contingency plans. Planning Is the foundation of pre-established solution sets that can be introduced during operations. The value of these sets is the rapid response they can facilitate. Hybrid operations can invalidate these solution sets by changing the conditions they were based on.
Hybrid operations can freeze time and space into new realities by the acceleration of operations. The sudden acceleration of activity captures the attention of the victim. As they begin to reacclimate to the new tempo, the progression of events suddenly stops, presenting the appearance of a new reality frozen in place.
A good example is the Chinese Doklam Plateau operation in 2017. Chinese forces suddenly crossed the border and seized territory two miles inside India. Chinese construction personnel and equipment were in place to support the attack. In just over 24 hours, they had uprooted the existing border crossing, moved, and reassemble it a mile inside Indian territory. Simultaneously road crews constructed roads and a new fence along the realigned border. After 48 hours, the operation stopped, effectively freezing a new reality.
An important part of successful hybrid warfare is carefully modulating time. The successful modulation of time impacts the enemy and helps you to optimize your actions. This approach is much more subtle instead of rapid accelerations or abrupt halts. You can modulate time to ensure control of your operations. In your game, you can simulate this by establishing conditions that can temporarily alter movement, combat, and enable additional actions
Time and Games
In any book, work of art, or game, there must be a frame that provides limits to the content. These limits help to focus the reader or viewer so they can interact with the subject matter. While providing external boundaries, a framework can offer limitless avenues for interaction. The game of chess is a good example. The board is only 64 squares, but there are millions of possible moves.
Game time provides a space for action in the narrative of the game. Dr. Peter Perla says, “Time management in a game very often determines the extent of activity the game can explore.” Time in a game is a factor limiting the breadth of the game but not the depth.
From Heraclitus to Newton, people have interpreted time as a constant stream containing events. This is based on a natural perception of existence and events in the past, present, and future. Most games, and especially wargames employ a chronological approach to time. In wargames the passage of time is typically subdivided into even units representing an abstraction of real event time. A linear approach works well with a system of alternating game turns.
Peter Perla suggests three approaches to time management in wargames: continuous time, incremental time, and variable time. Many defense industry wargames employ continuous time. Commanders give orders that are translated into game actions in a continuous stream. This system provides a realistic simulation of military operations. One of the biggest challenges is tracking continuous actions and determining the results of progressive movement and combat.
Incremental time is common in commercial wargames is where time is divided into increments representing equal periods of time (Ex: ten turns, each representing 12-hour periods.) It is popular because it does not require a facilitator to determine each player’s alternating moves and actions. Variable time allows the game to accelerate periods of minimal activity. An example is games where players alternatively expend action points and can “pass” allowing the game to move forward into the next turn.
The Connection of Time and Action
In military operations, time serves as a necessary enabler to action. Modern military operations still take time. In Star Trek an absolute such as the speed of light can be overcome. This is not the case in the real-world where every action or movement has a related cost in time. In wargames, this can be simulated by movement cost (the time it takes to move a unit) or limiting action (the number of game activities that can be accomplished in a single turn.) Both are abstractions of real-time and action.
Time and Actions in Hybrid Wargames
The validity of your hybrid wargame begins by evaluating time and objectives in your scenario. A successful game will combine this data with some alternate methods for time, movement, and action.
The first step in modeling time in your game is evaluating time in the real world. If your game scenario is a ground operation you should start by evaluating the time involved in a similar real-world operation. The first consideration are the limits of operational time. During the major ground offensives of World War Two things took time because of the size of forces and expanse of operations
In the 21st century these types of open-ended campaigns are less likely. Recent hybrid ground operations have involved limited forces operating over short periods. Your first step is determining an operational period for the aggressor forces. Several factors should be considered during the design process. What types of forces, their susceptibility to environmental conditions, mobility and range of movement, logistics, and potential opposition?
Is this a mechanized force that can operate at night? Are they capable of cross-country mobility? How far can they travel based on average operational speeds? Can they provide sufficient logistics to maintain this level of activity through the period of real time you are evaluating? This is not an exact science, but it is possible to determine what time periods will best model reality in your scenario. (Ex: 12 hour turns alternating between day and night.)
Methods for Hybrid Modeling
How can we simulate conditions controlled by strategies designed to manipulate events and encourage the disruption of normal operations? The objective of your game design is to provide the players a synthetic experience with composite operations. Several methods can abstract the impact of time, movement, and space in hybrid combat
Use of Initiative
In military operations initiative is the power to commence decisive action before your opponent can act. The value of initiative is it forces a defender to focus on countering their opponent rather than launching their own operations. Operational initiative results in selecting where operations will occur, defining how they will occur, and taking action to insure they occur.
Game designers can establish initiative in several ways including recurring initiative and turn based initiative. Recurring initiative is where one player begins the game and retains the initiative throughout the game. This is common in games where one side has continual advantages in movement and combat strength.
A good example would be a game about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese, given their overwhelming concentration of forces during a surprise attack, retained the initiative throughout the battle. Seizing and maintaining the initiative is a hallmark of hybrid operations.
At the start of each turn game factors can determine who has the initiative. This might include the number of units in supply, the number of undisrupted units, or the number of combat actions by a player in the previous turn. Commercial wargame game designers like Joseph Miranda and Ty Bomba have developed techniques to combine movement with combat to represent initiative.
Miranda and Bomba suggest that by including rules for initiative a designer can introduce exploitation factors. A player with the initiative might be able to move after combat or take an additional action at the end of their turn.
Objective or Task Progression
One of the paradoxes of hybrid warfare is the aggressor encourages uncertainty to enable operational focus. While the defender is stalled in a fog of uncertainty the aggressors are concentrating their efforts on specific targets. Hybrid operations typically target objectives that serve as force multipliers to weaken the victim and strengthen the attacker simultaneously.
An example is the 2014 seizure of the Crimean parliament building by an unidentified military unit. This operation was critical in preventing regional decision making by the Ukrainian government. Seizure of the parliament also helped to legitimize pro-Russian militias who took over.
Objectives, and task progress can be used to reward or penalize players. Rewards, including temporary or permanent initiative, increased movement, or improved combat results can be based on tactical or operational goals. The game design should also provide penalties for failing to meet objectives. This includes both the aggressor and defender.
Variable Length Turns
During the past decade game designers recognized that simply alternating game moves is not a realistic simulation of military operations. There are several methods that provide a greater realism factor to the game experience. This includes the use of action points or drawing command and control chits. Action points allow you to exercise decision options (Ex: take reinforcements, resupply units, conduct air operations) and command and control chits randomly determine which player moves or what units can be employed.
Variable-length moves are a simple way to influence time, movement, and combat. Possible methods include allowing the player with initiative to decide if the turn continues or ends. An additional possibility is allowing a player to continue to take actions beyond the normal turn limits. These techniques can facilitate momentum swings or promote cascading effects.
Randomizing Command and Control
A simple way to insert uncertainty in game play is to alternate command and control. This can be realized with a chit allowing a player to activate certain units or receive reinforcements. The random nature of the results can serve as a measure of play balance. The chit pool can be unified or unique. In a unified pool both players draw from a common pool. A unique pool means each player has their own chits. The unified pool can also be done using cards.
One misconception of hybrid warfare is it always provides the advantage to the attacker. The challenges of managing hybrid ground operations often results in mixed outcomes. A chit draw means both players must deal with a measure of uncertainty where operations can surge or falter due to sporadic outcomes. This technique can also be used as a secondary source for random events.
The most effective technique is by compounding effects. Compound effects can appropriate options from the preceding methods. For new game designers, the temptation of including everything remains a constant a. It is impractical to include every effect in a wargame even if they may occur in a real operation. Selectively including individual effects serves to deepen your face validation while providing players a realistic game experience.
Understanding the uncertainty and operational paradoxes are an important prerequisite to designing wargames about hybrid operations. Game designers must understand the points of conflict and the conditions that tend to optimize one force’s operations. This includes how these operations are conducted and how they are perceived by victims.
A typical description of a hybrid operation might involve a multi-domain surprise attack by unidentified forces which paralyzes the defenders. The recent success of some of these operations has led to the incorrect presumption that hybrid operations are invincible. A wargame design offering any measure of content validity must include the advantages, obstacles, and peculiarities of this type of operation. This should begin by accurately modeling the aspects of movement and combat.
We began by comparing the OODA Loop to hybrid warfare. The OODA Loop was designed to optimize decision making in individual air combat. Hybrid warfare is also an optimization tool but designed for many types of warfare. It is applied at every level of warfare from tactical to strategic. Hybrid wargames provide an opportunity to study the problem. A well-designed wargame can help to train decision makers and warfighters to defeat these strategies.