Wargaming 101 – Summary

Chip Sayers has posted a number of articles to this blog under the title of “Wargaming 101.” He had lots of hands-on experience in the bowels of the Pentagon, so I found this to be a particularly interesting series of posts. He will be making a presentation at the second Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC) on 18 October 2023. The presentation is called Wargaming 101. See: Schedule for the Second Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC), 17 – 19 October 2023 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org).

Anyhow, as a read ahead, all of his Wargaming 101 blog posts are listed below:

Wargaming 101: The Use of Wargames in Training | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Wargaming 101 – Sayers vs. The U.S. Navy | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Wargaming 101 – The 40-60-80 Games | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Wargaming 101 – The 40-60-80 Games | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Wargaming 101: The Bad Use of a Good Tool | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Wargaming 101: A Tale of Two Forces | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)


A couple supporting posts:

“The Games the Marine Corps Plays” | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

A story about planning for Desert Storm (1991) | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)


Also, we are still looking for presentations for the 2nd HAAC: Call for Presentations for the Second Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC), 17-19 October 2023 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org).

Weaponising Historical Analysis – Dr. James Storr

The sixth briefing of the day was Weaponing Historical Analysis by Dr. James Storr. He is the author of three well received books.

Concerning my book War by Numbers, one Amazon.com reviewer stated that:

A great deal of the value of the book to the reader will depend upon how much that reader needs to see the data to believe. If one is prepared to accept the word of an expert, then Jim Storr’s The Human Face of War is the better book and the better read and presents much the same conclusions in briefer form – it would definitely be more suited to the average reader. On the other hand, for the reader that needs to see the numbers, this (along with Rowland and Biddle) is the must read. And for those most interested in the subject, both are very rewarding in different ways.

Anyhow, we only have less than 17 minutes of his presentation. Then the Zoom video recording stopped because it does not record for more than six hours, unbeknownst to us. So we missed the rest of his presentation. What we have is here: (9) Weaponising Historical Analysis: Storr – YouTube

His slides are here: Presentations from HAAC – Weaponizing Historical Analysis: A Case Study of the Introduction of HA Into Doctrine | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

The recording ends of the slide titled “Factors,” which is slide 18 out of 32.  You will have to go here to catch the rest of the slides: HA-Conference-DC-Sep-22-V1.2.ppt (live.com). Sorry, nature of self-funded conferences, we don’t employ professional audio-visual people. 

Killing Captain Hindsight – Dr. Niall MacKay

Our fifth presentation of the day was Killing Captain Hindsight: Quantifying Chance in Military History by Dr. Niall MacKay of the University of York.

It is posted to our YouTube Channel here: (9) Killing Captain Hindsight: MacKay – YouTube

The briefing ends at 57:40 and then there is five minutes of discussion afterwards.

The slides for the briefing are here: Presentations from HAAC – Killing Captain Hindsight: Quantifying Chance in Military History | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Fitting Lanchester Equations – Video

Fitting Lanchester Equations by Dr. Thomas Lucas (NPS) has now been posted to our YouTube channel. It was his presentation given at the 21st HAAC in September 2022. The briefing runs 54:20 with a few minutes of questions and discussion afterwards: (5) Fitting Lanchester Equations: Lucas – YouTube

We have also done a few blog posts on Lanchester equations: 

Lanchester equations have been weighed…. | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

TDI Friday Read: The Lanchester Equations | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

The Lanchester Equations and Historical Warfare | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Beyond Lanchester | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)


The viewgraphs for these briefings were previous posted here: Presentations from HAAC – Fitting Lanchester Equations | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

The schedule for our next conference is here: Schedule for the Second Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC), 17 – 19 October 2023 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Third video posted to our YouTube site

We have now published the third video from the first Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC) to our YouTube site. It is here: (1) Data for Wargames: Lawrence – YouTube

The briefing in this third video goes for most of the video, as discussion and comments were made mostly during the briefing. The briefing ends at 55:30 the video ends at 59:27.

A few discussions of note:

At 10:10 – A discussion of what TDI does

At 18:52 – A discussion of Breakpoints

At 32:54 – A discussion of Suppression

At 37:18 – A discussion of what we don’t know

There were some issues with sound from virtual attendees, but one of these was Robert Helmbold, so, please bear with us.

The viewgraphs for these briefings were previous posted here: Presentations from HAAC – Data for Wargames | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

The schedule for our next conference is here: Schedule for the Second Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC), 17 – 19 October 2023 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

The 3:1 Ratio

Was searching around on YouTube yesterday on “Dupuy Institute” and ran across this video: People Always Get This Wrong – YouTube. This was posted three weeks ago. Preston Stewart is not known to me.

I am called out by name on 5:14 in the video. It is clear he pulled up one of our old reports, the charts at 6:00 and 6:14 are ours. The chart at 6:36 is ours and was later republished in War by Numbers. It appears to be abbreviated. The complete chart is on page 10 of War by Numbers. The chart at 6:44 has also been republished in War by Numbers. The chart at 7:30 is from our reports. The one high odds attack that failed on that chart was an Iraqi attack against the coalition. See: TDI – The Dupuy Institute Publications.

Anyhow, would recommend that Mr. Stewart look at Trevor Dupuy’s Understanding War, Chapter 4: The Three-to-One Theory of Combat, and at my book War by Numbers, Chapter 2: Force Ratios.

Also, he might might the following blog posts are useful:

Summation of Human Factors and Force Ratio posts | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Force Ratios at Kharkov and Kursk, 1943 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Force Ratios in the Arab-Israeli Wars (1956-1973) | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Summation of Human Factors and Force Ratio posts | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Force Ratios and CRTs | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Talking Force Ratios Once Again | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)


Anyhow, thank you Preston Stewart for the call out.


I will be doing a presentation on Force Ratios at the second HAAC on 17 October and will be doing a similar presentation in Norway in early November. See: Schedule for the Second Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC), 17 – 19 October 2023 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org).

We do have a YouTube site: The Dupuy Institute – YouTube. So far the only video posted is a test video. The husky is named Max. We may be posting some more videos there in the next couple of months. There are three subscribers to our site. I gather we can get some funding if we get a 100,000 or more subscribers. So only 99,997 to go. Please subscribe.

Wargaming 101: The Use of Wargames in Training

Another posting from William “Chip” Sayers. Part of his “Wargaming 101” series:

Wargaming 101: The Use of Wargames in Training

When I arrived at Defense Intelligence Agency in the summer of 1986, my assigned cubicle was just down the row from the guy who was on a one-year temporary duty assignment to run our new analyst training program. The Introduction to Defense Intelligence Research and Analysis (IDIRA) course was seven weeks packed with modules on various subjects, such as effective writing and briefing techniques, US Intelligence Community structure, organization of the Department of Defense, etc. The core of IDIRA was about a week’s study of each of the US military services and their warfare areas, including trips to several bases along the eastern seaboard. As a capstone exercise, the students did a couple of days of reading message traffic (it was all hardcopy, back then!) and building an understanding of an obscure, historical conflict, and then doing a, “now what happens?” briefing to the instructors and high-level DIA administrators. When the briefing was over, the instructors would brief-back the class on what really happened next and then critique the students’ performances.

The IDIRA program manager, was a good guy and we became friends before I ever took the class. One of my first questions was to ask if IDIRA made use of wargames as teaching tools. With the exception of a half-day logistics exercise in the ground warfare block, the answer was no. I immediately went to work on adapting a commercial board wargame for the air block. The base game was about the air war over North Vietnam and my playtest group included an analyst who had flown USAF F-4s during the conflict. Despite my best efforts, the game remained unduly cumbersome and the scale, as tested, was inappropriate for what I was trying to accomplish. Scratch attempt number one.

I took IDIRA myself in the Fall and as it happened, two of my classmates were avid commercial wargamers. Mark, an Army officer, Shane, an Air Force officer, and I had many discussions on how we might devise a wargame to replace my first effort. A couple of months after we graduated from IDIRA, Mark presented Shane and I with a game of his own devising which, if a little clunky, was of the scale we needed and was quite workable for student use. Over the next couple of years, I codified the rules and came up with lookup tables that allowed us to adjudicate combat in a realistic way without resorting to the use of a random number generator (dice). The students were always suspicious of dice, believing that the element of randomness made the exercise less realistic. In point of fact, it made combat more realistic by taking out a measure of easy predictability, but if it helped them to buy-in, so be it.

Over time, our game successfully got across to the students the lessons we wanted to impart and proved quite popular, always scoring as one of the best IDIRA blocks in the students’ critiques. I still have a stack of critiques in which every student in the class gave us a perfect score.

Meanwhile, the Navy team was not far behind us in developing their own game.  Chris, a Navy officer and another friend of mine, taught the students to play an off-the-shelf naval wargame that he had codesigned. Again, the students absorbed what they were intended to learn and had fun doing it. And while we’re on the subject, I think fun is highly underrated. Over the years of my experience in using instructional wargames, the more “fun” the students had, the better they learned the lessons we were trying to get across. The students, with few exceptions, were usually highly competitive and could be counted on to delve into the games, enhancing the learning experience.

IDIRA never had a wargame for the ground forces block, other than the rather good logistics exercise, and Chris and I began to conspire to put together a wargame that would teach combined-arms warfare at the operational level. We would include air, naval and ground forces elements in the game and illustrate for the students how these warfare disciplines worked together to prosecute a campaign. There was only one choice for a historical campaign that I believed was small and sufficiently self-contained to be appropriate for our purposes: the 1982 Falklands War between Argentina and the UK.

A map from Larry Bond’s Resolution 502, an early scenario book for his Harpoon naval wargame.

To handle the air and naval aspects of the exercise, we used another off-the-shelf commercial game that Chris had coauthored, Harpoon. For the ground portion, we used the technique I outlined in a previous post, Wargaming 101: A Tale of Two Forces. We ran things a little differently for this exercise — the students were all playing the roles of various UK commanders, while the instructors provided a Red Cell directing the Argentine forces. Instructors not involved in the Red Cell advised the students such that they only had to make general decisions without having to have a deep understanding of the rules of the game. The students had to establish air and naval superiority sufficient to allow a landing, then march from the beaches to their objectives, eliminating resistance along the way. We allowed the students to choose their landing beaches pretty much as they wanted, and then critiqued their choice according to the practicality, defendability and potential to support offensive moves. When ground forces actually came into contact, I simply drew a ratio and gave the students the results: at ≤1:1, the students were rebuked for making a bad attack and were told to bring up reinforcements or abandon the effort. At less than 3:1, the students were merely advised to bring up reinforcements and try again, and at 3:1 or greater, the battle was a clear-cut victory and the British ground forces commander won appropriate kudos.

The students enjoyed the exercise because it wasn’t abstracted, it used real-world physics units (nautical miles, nautical miles per hour, etc.) that were comprehensible, the results of their decisions were immediately recognized and understandable. And there were genuinely tense and fun moments, particularly when the Argentine Air Force attacked the fleet. That was where our training wargames stood until a couple of years later when, as the program manager for IDIRA, I folded down the program — DIA wasn’t hiring new analysts in the mid-1990s, so they had no need for a new analyst training program. 

Ironically, I had just won an interagency cooperation award from CIA for training our first Agency analyst when IDIRA was rather short-sightedly shut down. A couple of years later, the CIA believed that a replacement course was needed and stood up the Interagency Military Analysis Course (IMAC) within the Sherman Kent School. If DIA had been a bit faster on the draw, they could have been in the driver’s seat, but now they would be beholden to the CIA for training its analysts. Shrewd move. Soon after IMAC stood up, I was invited to become an instructor in their military aviation operations block. 

When I joined the IMAC instructor staff, they already had a pretty good little Practical Exercise (PE) very similar to the one we used in IDIRA. However, IMAC’s PE had a nifty little twist. While the IDIRA PE used a generic order of battle, IMAC’s was based on a hypothetical confrontation between India and Pakistan. The scenario began with a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, which Indian intelligence believed came from Pakistan. The students on the Indian side were told that their Prime Minister had ordered a retaliation, but it was up to the students to decide what to hit, and with how much force. In every running of the exercise, without exception, the Indian side was restrained, limiting their response. While the students playing the Indian Air Force inevitably feared starting a wide conflict, their opponents playing the Pakistani Air Force were under no such compunctions. Just as inevitably, they felt their underdog status (with a considerably smaller and older force) drove them to an, “In for a penny, in for a pound” strategy. They assumed that the Indian Air Force would come crush them in any event, so they might as well go out in a blaze of glory. It was fascinating to watch the dynamic between the two teams play out this way every single time.

I helped make some refinements to this PE including “target folders” for the students to use in planning their attacks and codified rules, charts and tables for game play. The information was “real-world” from unclassified sources (such as Jane’s), but again, I leaned heavily on published commercial wargames, particularly Harpoon.

A simple lookup table for Within Visual Range combat (dogfighting).  A lightly loaded Mirage III in a fight with a lightly loaded Su-30 would have a 10% chance of shooting down the Sukhoi, while the Su-30 would have a 62% chance of winning the fight.

Charts such as these were essential tools in running the exercise, but were simple to use, while imparting fundamental knowledge to the students during play.

Eventually, however, we decided to move on to another shot at the Falklands War with a completely new approach.

My initial attempt at making counters for the Falklands Air PE were both aesthetically pleasing and informative.  Each card represents a single No 800 Squadron Sea Harrier.  XZ450 was shot down (red aircraft number) and its pilot was killed in action (red cross), while XZ457 was the highest scoring aircraft of the conflict with four victories (this is an aggregate score of the multiple pilots who flew the aircraft).

Eventually, we settled on a more practical, if less aesthetically pleasing, solution.  The circles represent a practical limit on the distance a pilot can spot an enemy fighter-sized aircraft (about five miles) and were scaled to the aeronautical chart we used as a mapboard. The number represented the number of aircraft in the flight and would be marked off as aircraft were lost in combat. The counters were printed on clear plastic so one could easily see if the enemy aircraft’s location cross (centered on the aircraft illustration, in red) was inside the “dogfight circle” of an enemy aircraft. If so, it was, “Fight’s on!” An elegant solution, if I do say so.

Additionally, the students had information on their own aircraft, which allowed them to plan their missions. At the top was a chart of possible loadouts with performance data below that. The Mission Profile was predicated on the real geography of the conflict between mainland bases and targets in the Falkland Islands. The black boxes on the fuel check-off chart represent fuel expended off-map on the way out to the target. The grayed-out boxes represent the same, only on the trip home. The students could expend fuel according to their judgment while using the white boxes, but had to fly off the edge of the map by the time the first gray box was checked off. The instructions were generic: the A-4 did not have an afterburner, as indicated in the performance section.

I am a firm believer that this kind of wargaming imparts more knowledge than all the lectures and books one could possibly assign. Having to assimilate information and use it to make decisions — particularly in a competitive environment — drives lessons home like nothing else. Our student critiques after our first (and only) running of this version proved this to be the case. 

Immediately afterwards, the Kent School management decided to reorganize IMAC and use professional staff to teach the course, as opposed to analyst volunteers, so my association with teaching new analysts ended. I don’t know if they continued the use of our practical exercises, but I got the impression that this was one of their bones of contention — they simply didn’t see the relevance of wargaming.

Fortunately, the manager of the Counterinsurgency course did. In fact, before he contacted our cadre of wargame instructors, Charles was already working on a practical exercise of his own. He had run across the commercial wargame Algeria, and went so far as to contact the designer and seek his help in adapting the system for our use. We worked for quite a while to trim down the game to something that could be taught and played in a single afternoon, while still teaching the lessons we wanted the students to learn.

The original map for Algeria.

We did quite a few runnings of the Counterinsurgency PE, and it usually came down to a three (and rarely, four) turn game. With one instructor at each table of four students — two to a side — the first turn usually involved some fumbling around, but the second ran more smoothly, and the third was usually very productive. Student critiques were almost always positive and in the “hot-wash” sessions after the exercise was over, the students were usually very positive about the PE driving home the principles that they had learned in class. Many had “ah, ha!” moments.

Over a 28-year career in the Intel Community at two different agencies, there is no question in my mind that the use of wargames in training is a true force multiplier. Not only did the students put theory into practical application and witness the outcomes of their actions, they had to think about how to use their assets in particular situations as opposed to dealing with hypotheticals and generalities. We opened the eyes of an entire generation of analysts who are now running the IC. Hopefully, they appreciate the education we gave them and are perpetuating the lessons they’ve learned.


An Examination of Force Ratios

A friend just pointed me to a recent 2019 paper done out at C&GSC at Leavenworth. It is called “An Examination of Force Ratios” and is by Major Joshua T. Christian. It is 37 pages. It is here: AD1083211.pdf (dtic.mil)

A few notes

  1. “The nature of the inputs required for models such as the QJM or COFM mean that they are backwards looking, require numerous inputs, effort, and time to develop which limited their effectiveness to operational planners.”

Now, don’t know what he really means by the perjorative phrase ‘backwards looking,” but I will point out the TNDM (the upgraded version of the QJM) was used to predict the Gulf War, and these predictions were presented in testimony to the U.S. Congress and published in the book If War Comes, How to Defeat Saddam Hussien.” See: Assessing the TNDA 1990-91 Gulf War Forecast | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org) and Forecasting the 1990-1991 Gulf War | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org).

2. The second section of the paper, “Origins of Force Ratios,” focuses on Lanchester equations. We have discussed this before: Lanchester equations have been weighed…. | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org) and TDI Friday Read: The Lanchester Equations | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org) and The Lanchester Equations and Historical Warfare | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org) and Presentations from HAAC – Fitting Lanchester Equations | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org).

3. Page 13: Hate to nit pick, but peak strength in Vietnam was higher and earlier than what he states. There are a number of other such statements in this paper I could argue with, but will avoid doing that. See Vietnam War chart drawn from page 274 of America’s Modern Wars: Insurgency & Counterinsurgency | Mystics & Statistics | Page 4 (dupuyinstitute.org). 

4. Page 13: I also note the discussion on the 10-to-1 counterinsurgent versus insurgent ratio. Also see: Presentations from HAAC – Iraq, Data, Hypotheses and Afghanistan | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org) and Force Ratios and Counterinsurgency II | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org) and A Force Ratio Model Applied to Afghanistan | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org). Also, I do have a chapter on Vietnam in my book Modern American Wars.

5. Page 14: “This section highlights the work of operations research analysts, particularly those produced by the Historical Evaluation and Research Program (HERO), ad how it contributed to the Army’s transformation of the 1960s and 1970s.”

This is an odd statement. HERO was mostly historians. There were no OR people on staff, although people like Dr. Janice Fain, Robert McQuie and Dr. James Taylor were friends of Trevor Dupuy and provided independent inputs as friends and consultants. I was the first employee with some background in quantitative analysis of historical data (primarily from econometrics). It is part of the reason I was hired in 1987.

The idea that HERO “contributed to the Army’s transformation of the 1960s and 1970s” is jolting to me. All my experience is that in general, we tended to be ignored, downplayed or just dismissed. The Army’s support for what we do is clearly demonstrated by the low levels of funding that have been provided over the decades.

6. Page 15: “…establishing Dupuy as a prominent figure in the operational research field by the 1970s.”

There is little chance that MORS (Military Operations Research Society) will give him an award. See: Vance R. Wanner Memorial Award (mors.org)

7. Page 26: Now he gets to discussing me. I will try to withhold commenting too much.

8. Page 27: “Lawrence utilized the Tactical Numerical Deterministic Model (TNDM), which succeeded the QJM, to conduct his analysis, and more specifically to determine the winner and loser of an engagement, assess personnel and equipment losses, and determine the rate of advance.

No, I did not.  I did not use the TNDM or any combat model for any of my analysis in the book. I did due a few simple statistical comparisons but did no combat modeling. He is not the first person to have made such mistake, which can only have come about by skimming my book (vice reading the whole thing) and then making false assumptions. I do have a chapter towards the end of the book that discuss some of the validation tests we ran using the TNDM, which is what seems to confuse people, but the TNDM was not used for any of the analysis in the book. He does correctly describe the validation tests of the model.

9. “As a result, the TNDM is more frequently used by companies to develop requirements that drive the development of hypothetical weapons more so than operation planners.”

Uh, no. We have done one report for Boeing on FCS that could be considered as such, but that is all, ever. See: Insurgency & Counterinsurgency | Mystics & Statistics | Page 4 (dupuyinstitute.org).

10. Pages 31-32: In his discussion of insurgencies, it is clear has not seen my book America’s Modern Wars, or Dr. Andrew Hossack’s work or the work done by CAA on this using our databases (see pages 70-77 in America’s Modern Wars). He probably needs to. 

11. Page 33: I will not comment on his conclusions. A few relevant blog posts: Summation of Force Ratio Posts | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)


There are 34 references to Dupuy in the paper, 11 references to The Dupuy Institute, 8 references to me (I know, very vain of me), 8 references to Dr. Janice Fain, 15 references to HERO, 17 references to the QJM and 15 references to the TNDM.

“The Games the Marine Corps Plays”

An associate strongly recommended I look at this article. I would recommend the same to our readership: The Games the Marine Corps Plays | Military.com

It is written by Gary Anderson of GWU, who I do not know. But, to quote a few lines from the article:

  1. “You do not want prying eyes on your work that might question its rigor or validity.”
  2. “Since the Marines would be hundreds of miles away and irrelevant, they could be safely ignored.”
  3. “First, the Corps hired the most incompetent red team in the history of war-gaming, or their analysts cooked the books” (this sounds like a familiar problem, see:  Wargaming 101 – Sayers vs. The U.S. Navy | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)).

Anyhow, it is not a long article. Recommend reading it.

Wargaming 101 – Sayers vs. The U.S. Navy

The third and last of three recent articles from William (Chip) Sayers. The conclusions are his:


Wargaming 101 – Sayers vs. The US Navy

Early in the Reagan Administration, his Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, adopted “The Maritime Strategy,” a doctrine that would send the US Navy aggressively into the face of the Soviet Union in the case of general war. Since the late 1930s, navies had been circumspect in sending their capital ships into the range of land-based airpower.  The wisdom of this reticence was most spectacularly demonstrated two days after Pearl Harbor when the Royal Navy’s battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse were sunk while underway on the open ocean by Japanese bombers based outside of Saigon. 

But 40 years later, SECNAV Lehman was seemingly throwing the hard-learned lessons of history to the wind. His plan was to send US Navy carrier battlegroups (CVBGs) into waters menaced by Soviet land-based airpower in order to threaten enemy base areas with nuclear-capable bombers. Secretary Lehman believed by bringing the CVBGs in close, it would unnerve Moscow and throw them off their game, possibly forcing mistakes that would ease the pressure on the central front. Writing years after he left Government, Lehman went so far as to say that the Maritime Strategy was instrumental in bringing down the Soviet Union.[1]

My math saw it a bit differently. The average carrier air wing of the 1980s consisted of two fleet air defense squadrons with 12 F-14 Tomcats, each; two light attack squadrons with a total of 24 A-7 Corsair IIs (later replaced by F-18 Hornets), one attack squadron with 10 A-6 Intruders — the heavy punch of the fleet — a fixed-wing anti-submarine squadron with 10 S-3 Vikings, a rotary-wing anti-submarine squadron with 8 SH-3 Sea Kings and roughly 16-20 radar warning, electronic warfare, cargo, tanker and reconnaissance aircraft. The F-14 was specifically designed to protect the CVBG from Soviet Naval Aviation (AV-MF, or in English, SNA) bombers, though it was also the only aircraft capable of escorting for the carrier’s bombers until the F-18s gradually replaced the A-7s over the course of the 1980s. Depending on how one counts the F-14, about 45% of the air wing was dedicated to defense of the battle group. Put another way, disregarding operational readiness rates, a carrier could dispatch 34 bombers against enemy targets. Compare that to a USAF F-111 wing that could put up considerably more bombers with significantly greater range and load-carrying capacity. Secretary Lehman’s big stick didn’t look so big in that light.

The Soviet Union was a Continental power and has always looked at military force from that perspective. To the Soviet General Staff, the Soviet Navy was a supporting arm whose primary responsibility was to aid the Army in securing its flanks. As such, the Navy took a backseat to the Army and Strategic Rocket Forces when it came to resources and emphasis in planning. In reality, it wasn’t as simple as this: Khruschev’s emphasis of nuclear missile forces at the expense of conventional forces gave the Navy not only a strategic offensive mission with their Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), but also an important and frequently overlooked mission of securing the sub patrol areas near Soviet home waters when the range of their SLBMs made that possible in the mid-1970s.

To secure these “bastion” areas, the Soviet Navy devoted powerful combined-arms forces to keep the US Navy at bay. First, the Soviets deployed the world’s largest submarine fleet, comprised of a large number of modern, nuclear attack submarines along with a huge number of (albeit, mostly old) diesel-electric boats, and the only dedicated anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) submarines in any navy. The second leg of this triad was a fleet of “rocket” cruisers with large, long-range anti-ship cruise missiles capable of destroying any ship smaller than an aircraft carrier with a single hit, and a carrier with multiple hits. These missiles were very long-ranged (240-340nm) compared to Western counterparts and exploitation of that capability may have been problematic, but the Soviet fleet was betting that they could overcome the targeting difficulties inherent to over-the-horizon missile shots. These missiles were as large as small fighter aircraft and, in addition to carrying a very large armor-piercing warhead, would hit the target moving at several times the speed of sound. Given the basic physics formula of energy = mass x velocity2, they would not even require a warhead for most targets.

The big stick on this combined-arms team, however, was the bomber regiments of Soviet Naval Aviation. Each Soviet fleet had two or three medium bomber regiments of 24-30 aircraft, each. Tu-16/BADGERS could carry two anti-ship cruise missiles, while supersonic Tu-22M/BACKFIRES could carry one on long-range missions, or up to three closer to home. These Kh-22 (AS-4/KITCHEN) ASCMs were about 2/3rds the size of a MiG-21 fighter, but could fly at Mach 4.6 and 90,000 feet while carrying a 1,000kg warhead. The Backfire was the threat the F-14 was developed to counter and, as a single SNA regiment could launch as many as 90 KITCHENs at a CVBG, it is clear why the F-14 — capable of carrying up to six long-range AIM-54 Phoenix bomber killing missiles — and the later cruiser-based Aegis high-volume-of-firepower Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) system had to be developed.

To illustrate the utility of wargames in analyzing how the enemy views his Courses of Action (COAs), I would cite an unusual example. During the research phase for his novel Red Storm Rising, Tom Clancy asked a couple of mutual friends to help him wargame a troop convoy crossing of the Atlantic, intended to be the centerpiece of the story. Larry Bond and Chris Carlson (now hugely successful novelists in their own right) used Larry’s naval miniatures wargame Harpoon to facilitate the study. They quickly found that the SNA bombers in repeated trials were running to a brick wall formed by a USAF squadron of F-15 Eagles based at Keflavik, Iceland. The SNA never got close to the convoy. It was shaping up to be a boring novel, when one of the team members (I’ve heard it was Chris, though he denies it) thought of mounting a Spetsnaz commando raid prior to H-Hour to take out the pesky Eagles. This story was so compelling, it ended up as a major plotline in the novel. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The idea that the Soviet Navy was planning to shoot through the Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap and sweep the North Atlantic of NATO seapower was never a part of Soviet doctrine and Tom Clancy’s wargame experience shows why it was unrealistic. If a small number of USAF fighters could unhinge the entire operation, what would happen with many times that number of F-14s and Aegis cruisers? What of the powerful and practiced US and UK submarine force? Harpoon ASCM-firing B-52s? The enemy gets a vote when considering COAs, and NATO had a mind-boggling array of options to foil such a move by the Soviet Northern Fleet at the bleeding edge of its capabilities. This view was completely at odds with Soviet doctrine, which had the Soviet Navy playing — as it had in WWII — a primarily defensive role in support of the Army and the SLBM force.[2]

Far from counter-punching the Soviet Navy, the Maritime Strategy proposed walking face-first into a well-prepared, multi-faceted defense. However, Secretary Lehman was himself a naval aviator and he wasn’t suicidal. He did have ideas on how to mitigate the SNA threat. One was the use of Norway’s Vestfjord to provide his CVBGs with cover.[3]

USS America in Vestfjord clearly showing how the mountains would block the line of sight of missile-carrying bombers until they were very close to the target. (USNI Proceedings)

Vestfjord is created by the Lofoten Archipelago that forms the northern side of Ofotfjord at Narvik and extends about 100nm into the North Sea. The dramatic vertical relief provides an excellent radar shadow protecting ships operating in the deep waters close inshore from airborne radars searching from the north. If that were the only trick up the Soviet sleeve, hiding in Vestfjord’s radar shadow would provide extra time for the CVBG’s F-14s to whittle down the attacking bombers before they could achieve line of sight and launch their missiles. That wasn’t, however, the end of the story. In fact, it was just the beginning for me.

Over a period of about three years in the late 1980s, I participated in a number of wargames where this issue came up. As a Soviet Air Forces analyst, I brought a different perspective to the problem. Secretary Lehman was well aware of the threat SNA posed to his CVBGs, but he was undoubtedly unversed on Soviet Air Force (VVS) capabilities and formations, since it would not have been a factor for him until he sent the Navy into Vestfjord

While duking it out with the Navy, I ran into a phenomenon well-known within the wargaming community where the Navy under no circumstances would allow one of their aircraft carriers to be portrayed as being sunk or even seriously damaged. In one exercise, I was told that an attack by 90 bombers had managed to slightly damage one catapult. In another, my pilots had mysteriously mistaken a Royal Navy jump-jet carrier for a US CVN four times its size. After taking major losses on that raid, I nonchalantly told the Blue Navy player that I would whistle up another bomber division (like we “had plenty more where that came from”) and go at it again, tomorrow. He winced and admitted to me that there wasn’t any point because they would never allow me to sink a carrier. I replied that I just wanted him to admit that out loud before I let it go.

Yellow:  SNA ASCM-carrying bombers fly from bases on and near the Kola, around the North Cape and down the coast of Norway. Large purple circle: Kh-22 300nm launch line. Small purple circle: Kh-22 67nm launch line (reduced by the radar shadow in Vestfjord). Blue: USN F-14 fleet defense fighters push north to intercept the SNA before they can get radar line-of-sight to the CVBG. Red: VVS Bomber Aviation Division uses the mountains to screen its attack on the CVBG.

The final showdown came when I was called to the Pentagon and asked to give all the details of my tactics in a mano a mano combat with a Navy officer and a rather large crowd of onlookers. My final plan went like this: I sent a major SNA raid from the north to threaten the two-carrier CVBG hugging the southern slope of the mountains in Vestfjord. My opponent, knowing the broad strokes of my strategy, tried to hold back F-14s in reserve. However, he was quickly cut off by another Navy officer who said that the F-14s would have to “honor the threat” by committing the interceptors against the SNA bombers. 

While the F-14s were tied up 100-200nm north of Vestfjord, I sent in a bomber aviation division with about 90 Su-24/FENCER light bombers armed with a pair of 1,500kg Laser-guided bombs apiece. This force went into Vestfjord in a long trail formation covered by Su-27/FLANKERS. My opponent raised the difficulties of finding the target ships, but I countered that in a trail formation, all the later aircraft need do would be to follow the smoke columns from the fires of shot down aircraft and damaged ships. 

The FENCERS hugged the mountains so that their radars were looking out to sea for the CVBG, while the US radars were trying to pick out FENCERS from the radar clutter of the mountains behind them. What had been sauce for the goose had suddenly become sauce for the gander. The Navy knew from experience that picking out fighter aircraft from the mountains was a nasty challenge. This gave the VVS bombers a real chance to make it through to the target.

While nearly all modern warships lack any kind of significant armor, US Navy aircraft carriers are the exception. The Navy keeps the details close to their chest, but even if they don’t have conventional armor plate like a battleship, the use of fuel and water tankage can create a reasonable facsimile, while the sheer size of a carrier and the compartmentation available ensure that any damage is isolated and kept away from the vital areas of the ship. To do real harm takes a large bomb with real penetrative capability. Both of these are embodied in the 1,500kg bomb. Further, while dropping from low altitude — deck height or lower — the bomb would impact almost perpendicular to the side of the ship, ensuring maximum penetration. Laser guidance wouldn’t add too much to the equation, but it did give me an extra argument to deflect disputes about accuracy. With the bombs detonating inside the ship, there would be no danger from fragging one’s own aircraft and little danger to following planes, as well. A further advantage to dropping from such low altitude would be that it would be nearly impossible to mistake the target carrier with anything else — no other ship would tower over the bombers so they need only steer for the biggest object ahead of them.

Squirm as he might, my opponent was frustrated at every turn. Each idea he came up with was shot down by the onlookers. The Navy observers looked at our little desk-side exercise and could find no way out. They were finally forced to concede that their carriers were not invincible, after all. From that day to this, I haven’t heard the Navy talk about Vestfjord or taking on land-based air. My campaign may not have been what caused the Navy to rethink The Maritime Strategy, but it assuredly provided at least one nail in the coffin.

Naval wargaming is simple and straightforward when compared to wargaming ground combat. Naval warfare lends itself to mathematical fights between weapons systems.  There are little, if any, terrain considerations and all the combatants can be discretely modeled. Further, there is little of the human element to be considered as most of the interactions are, in reality, controlled by computer. In contrast, a land battle has a nearly infinite number of interactions and the human factor is the most important single determinate of defeat — you defeat the enemy by breaking his will to stand his ground — while weapons are merely tools to get inside his head. Elsewhere in this blog, I have stated that I had $40 commercial wargames in my closet that could do a more realistic job than the Pentagon’s million-dollar computer models. The cost factor only grows larger with naval wargames.

Perhaps this is why the US Navy has traditionally invested in wargames: the inherent simplicity, clarity and believable results of naval wargames make them accessible and instructive. After WWII, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz was asked if anything surprised him during the battles of the Pacific war. His answer, that only the Japanese use of Kamikaze tactics had not been foreseen and wargamed before the war ever began, is informative on the utility of naval wargaming. The US Naval War College continues to this day to run annual wargames with its students working on fleet problems with real-world relevance. The War College’s own website declared that, “Simulating complex war situations—from sea to space to cyber—builds analytical, strategic, and decision-making skills. Wargaming programming not only enriches our curriculum, but it also helps shape defense plans and policies for various commands and agencies.” Thus saith the Navy. The Air Force would agree. If we can get the Army in on it, we might have something of use to the nation.

[1] Zakheim, Dov S. and Lehman, John (2018) “Lehman’s Maritime Triumph,” Naval War College Review: Vol. 71 : No. 4 , Article 11. Available at: https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/nwc-review/vol71/iss4/11.

[2] Watkins, James D. Admiral USN, The Maritime Strategy, US Naval Institute Proceedings, January 1986, https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/1986/january-supplement/maritime-strategy-0.

[3] Ibid.


His other recent and related articles are:

The Easy Button | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Wargaming 101 – The 40-60-80 Games | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Wargaming 101 – In the Bowels of the Pentagon with J-8 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Wargaming 101: The Bad Use of a Good Tool | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

Wargaming 101: A Tale of Two Forces | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)

He is doing a presentation at HAAC on Day 2 (Wednesday, Oct. 18) on Wargaming 101: Schedule for the Second Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC), 17-19 October 2023 | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org)