Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics

RAND Wargame

Source: David A. Shlapak and Michael Johnson. Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016.

RAND has published a new report by analysts David A. Shlapak and Michael Johnson detailing their assessment of the threat to the Baltic republics of conventional invasion by Russian military forces. The conclusions of the study are sobering — that NATO could do little to prevent Russian military forces from effectively overrunning Latvia and Estonia in as few as 60 hours. Their analysis should provide plenty of food for thought.

Just as interesting, however, is that Shlapak and Johnson used old-style paper wargaming techniques to facilitate their analysis. The image above of their home-designed wargame above should warm the cockles of any Avalon Hill or SPI board wargame enthusiast of a certain age. As to why they chose this approach, they stated:

RAND developed this map-based tabletop exercise because existing models were ill-suited to represent the many unknowns and uncertainties surrounding a conventional military campaign in the Baltics, where low force-to-space ratios and relatively open terrain meant that maneuver between dispersed forces—rather than pushing and shoving between opposing units arrayed along a linear front—would likely be the dominant mode of combat.

While they did state that they used rules and tables governing movement and combat based on “offline modeling,” it is very curious that they did not find any of the many sophisticated Defense Department computer models and simulations available to be suitable for their task. They outline their methodology in an appendix, but promise to provide a fuller report at a later date.

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About Shawn Woodford

Shawn Robert Woodford, Ph.D., is a military historian with nearly two decades of research, writing, and analytical experience on operations, strategy, and national security policy. His work has focused on special operations, unconventional and paramilitary warfare, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, naval history, quantitative historical analysis, nineteenth and twentieth century military history, and the history of nuclear weapon development. He has a strong research interest in the relationship between politics and strategy in warfare and the epistemology of wargaming and combat modeling. All views expressed here are his and do not reflect those of any other private or public organization or entity.

2 thoughts on “Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics

  1. Warming the cockles indeed! I’ll have to study what they did in detail, but I wonder how it compares to the opinion of General Scales, as published in the WSJ (link below)? Basically the conclusion was to use pre-positioned heavy equipment and rapid deployment of troops if a conflict erupts. How might this Cold War strategy (perhaps more operational than strategic?) be challenged by Russian hybrid warfare, designed to sow confusion? Also, how did they model the air campaign, which would undoubtedly see some fiercely fought battles for air superiority.

    Thanks Dr. Woodford for this great find!


  2. My cockles were indeed warmed by that photo. All the drawbacks of the table-top gaming format aside, just working out the movement rates and combat strengths of the units involved, based on the scale of the hexes on the overlay and using some system like the QJM, would be a complete blast. Just like the old days!

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