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Army Crowdsources Stability-Ops Sim

Jul. 13, 2012 - 04:58PM   |  
By MICHAEL PECK   |   Comments
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Attention, game designers and stability operations experts: the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College wants to hear from you.

CGSC has taken the unusual step of publicly requesting ideas for a stability operation simulation. The college wants input before it submits the proposal to the Army’s National Simulations Center for the formal process of drawing up requirements and then acquisition in September.

“We want to get more eyeballs on this,” said James Sterrett, deputy simulations chief at CGSC’s Digital Leader Development Center at Fort Leavenworth.

CSGS is crowdsourcing their proposal via PAXsims, a blog dedicated to “simulation-based learning concerning issues of conflict, peacebuilding, and development in fragile and conflict-affected states.”

CGSC is the latest military institution to turn to crowdsourcing, the increasingly fashionable technique of putting questions out to the general public in the hopes that the masses will offer outside-the-box suggestions. DARPA has used it, for example, to solicit fresh thoughts on anti-piracy strategy through MMOWGLI, the Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet.

CGSC’s draft proposal calls for a simple, low-overhead computer simulation to support the college’s Intermediate Level Education O499 stability ops exercise, a week-long staff exercise set in the GAAT (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey) region. The sim will help train staff in the military decision-making and synchronization processes, as well as targeting and mission command.

The CGSC instructors want software to do the scut work of adjudicating the decisions made by students, and then present the resulting data.

The draft proposal makes clear that it will not be a complex, expensive simulation that requires ultra-realistic combat models, or federating with the Army’s menagerie of simulations. It needs to be simple, run off a laptop, be just realistic enough to suspend disbelief and present students with the data they need to properly conduct the staff process. Thus it won’t have detailed weapons effects or elaborate depictions of the local electrical grid, but it will show students that pulverizing the electrical grid will affect the water supply system, which in turn will not win hearts and minds.

“There is no need for this to be a predictive simulation,” said Sterrett. “It doesn’t have to model everything in the real world well. Absolute realism isn’t the point. Plausibility is needed.”

One question regarding CGSC’s stability ops sim is whether it will overlap other Army simulations, notably Urbansim, a counterinsurgency game that’s part of the Army Low-Overhead Training Toolkit, a suite of low-cost simulations. However, Urbansim doesn’t meet the specific requirements of CGSC’s stability ops course, said Lt. Col. Chuck Allen, chief of the college’s simulations and exercises division. Urbansim is leader-centric, meaning that it puts players in a leadership role where they are presented with data that the software — acting as a staff — considers vital information.

“What we need is staff-centric, where there is raw data and the staff has to determine what’s important and what’s not,” Allen said.

The stability ops simulation is likely to be simpler to use than many entertainment strategy games. Units move from area to area rather than precise locations, which is simpler from a game design standpoint. CGSC has opted for the simple-game solution before, notably with a series of simulations by game designer Jim Lunsford, a former CGSC instructor and now owner of Decisive-Point. Games such as Future Force (defense budgeting) and Forward into Battle (an honest-to-goodness game of delivering supplies) are designed as teaching aides. While some Pentagon simulations are elaborate, such as the $300 million Warsim, there are some in the military simulations community who argue that cheap, easily learned games are best, because what counts isn’t the software but the instructor who uses it.

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