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October 11, 2022

Contribution (The trend of Wargaming):
New Development in Wargaming as Seen in the U.S. Pacific Deterrence Initiative
―A Decision-Making Tool Japan Should Actively Employ―

Hiroyasu Akutsu
(Research Fellow, Sasakawa Peace Foundation/Professor, Faculty of Law, Heisei International University)

Foreword: New Development in Wargaming as a Decision-Making Tool

Wargaming is an important decision-making tool in many countries of the world. While this has often been rendered as “war gaming” or “war-gaming,” it is becoming increasingly common to use “wargaming” as one word in recent years[1]. Wargaming came into the limelight once again as a useful decision-making tool in NATO and the Five Eyes nations after the “Third Offset” strategy started under the Obama administration in 2014. It is now developing at a level and speed unthinkable in Japan by incorporating research findings so far and technological innovations exemplified by the advancement in AI[2]. Wargaming is also being performed frequently by private British and American think tanks. At present, particularly in light of drastic changes in the international situation, such as China’s aggressive military pressure on Taiwan since last year (2021) and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that started in February (2022), there has been no lack of opportunities or scenarios for wargaming.

For sure, there have been several ebbs and flows in the popularity of wargaming during and after the Cold War. However, its popularity in recent years is a bit different. This is because there is now clear evidence that the “Cycle of Research[3]” that U.S. wargaming experts have strongly advocated is beginning to function in the U.S. military’s decision-making process. This can also be gleaned in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy[4] and Pacific Deterrence Initiative[5], which are beginning to have a major impact on the security policy of Japan as an U.S. ally. This article is a brief discussion of this development.

“Wargaming Analysis” as Seen in the Pacific Deterrence Initiative

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy includes an Indo-Pacific Action Plan for implementing this strategy in the next one or two years. The third item in this plan is “reinforce deterrence.” The Pacific Deterrence Initiative comes under this heading along with the Maritime Security Initiative and AUKUS[6]. The Fiscal Year 2022 Initiative was announced in May 2021 and is currently in progress. The FY 2023 version has also been announced in April (2022)[7].

This article would like to call the readers’ attention to the presence of the term “wargaming analysis” in the FY 2022 Pacific Deterrence Initiative. This Initiative is a document that itemizes budget allocations for the various programs planned by the Department of Defense and U.S. armed forces to implement the deterrence strategy against China. Wargaming analysis is one of the seven items cited under the $40 million allocated to the Department of the Navy for “exercises, experimentation, and innovation” (totaling $150 million) along with large scale experimentation insertion into the joint exercise program; joint simulation and training capabilities; improvements to the Pacific Warfighting Center; integration of Service training and exercise networks; and so forth[8]. However, it is unclear how much funds has actually been given to “wargaming analysis.”

What really is wargaming analysis? After “what we could do” has been identified by executing a specific wargame, analysis is performed to find out the answer to “What is the best way to do it?[9]” Field exercises that actually mobilize the armed forces are conducted to verify the proposed best option resulting from this process, and training is undertaken to study and master the best option. Therefore, the process from implementation and analysis of wargames to exercises to training represents the “Cycle of Research.” Diagram 1 is a typical example of the “Cycle of Research” frequently cited in wargaming-related literature.

Diagram 1: Example of Cycle of Research

Diagram 1: Example of Cycle of Research

(Source:Peter Perla, The Art of Wargaming, 1990, p. 288)

Furthermore, if the main theme and scenario of wargaming under the Pacific Deterrence Initiative is premised on responding to multi-domain threats from China, which is the purpose of the Initiative, this will be about a “war” between the U.S., Japan, and other U.S. allies and partners (including Taiwan) and China’s red team. For sure, if this involves multi-domain threats, “war” will not be purely military, but will involve nonmilitary factors as well.

Also, wargaming analysis is no longer included in the FY 2023 version of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative released last April. Since the section on “Exercises, Training, Experimentation, and Innovation” talks about “training in potential scenarios for both near term contingencies and a future war fight,” various types of training will probably be conducted in 2023 based on an analysis of the results of the wargames conducted up to the end of the current fiscal year. In other words, the U.S. is already conducting multiple wargames to deter China in the Indo-Pacific and is currently engaged in analysis for next year’s training.

Hints for Japan: Toward Establishing a “Cycle of Research”

Japan and other U.S. allies will certainly be participating in these wargames, so they will be learning a great deal from the wargames designed and led by the U.S. This will enhance interoperability in the Japan-U.S. alliance and with other U.S. allies and will certainly be of great significance. However, the question is whether Japan is able or will be able to initiate its own wargaming and build a logically consistent “Cycle of Research” consisting of design and implementation of specific wargames, analysis, exercises, and training.

To be more precise, it would appear that even in the U.S., taking concrete steps to utilize the Cycle has begun only relatively recently. On the other hand, in the case of Japan, which has not really accrued research and organizational efforts on wargaming over the years after the Pacific War, it will be facing much more diverse and numerous issues before it can build and activate a “Cycle of Research” similar to that in the U.S. Programs for earning doctoral degrees and certification in wargaming are now being offered in Western universities and academic societies. Retired military officials with expertise in wargaming are given opportunities to make use of their expertise at universities and other educational institutions, in the defense industries, consultancies, and think tanks. Yet the very groundwork for creating such an environment is absent in Japan.

Today, when the possibility of nuclear weapons being used in the Indo-Pacific, including Japan’s vicinity, cannot be ruled out, Japan needs to strengthen its cooperation with the U.S. and other U.S. allies and security partners. As part of this process, it is necessary for Japan to catch up with the wargaming level in these countries as soon as possible. This is probably an issue that precedes building a “Cycle of Research[10].”

Conclusion: Time to Make Earnest Efforts at Wargaming

This article has aimed to show the changing situation surrounding wargaming, mainly in the U.S. defense circles. But if there were another purpose in this article, it would be to endorse wargaming more emphatically in the Japanese defense community. To begin with, Japan should recognize the need to use “wargaming” more publicly and frequently in order to keep up with global standards in wargaming, as this article suggested above. For example. Japan participates in the “Schriever Wargame” led by the U.S. Air Force which is referred to as “Schriever enshu” in Japan (enshu means exercise)[11]. It doesn’t make sense to translate “wargame” into a term that means “exercise.” Traditionally, Japan uses the terms kijoenshu or zujoenshu, which is the Japanese translation of table top exercise (TTX). Seisaku simulation (meaning “policy simulation”), is another term frequently used in Japan, but does not exactly mean “wargame.” Today, the term hybrid war or hybrid warfare is beginning to be used widely. At a time when the meaning of “war,” like the old term “total war,” is reverting to denote not only purely military elements, but also nonmilitary factors, it would seem that the posture of avoiding the expressions “wargaming” and “wargame” is deviating more and more from global standards. For sure, in light of the current changes in the international situation, there are now reports that “policy simulation” is taking place at private think tanks in Japan, which is a truly gratifying development. From my personal experience, a young American friend who is not familiar with the ideological and opinion trends on Japan’s postwar security once asked me: “Are the Japanese thinking only about rescuing Japanese nationals and fleeing?” This brought to mind the agonizing years of stagnation over the issue of exercising the right of collective self-defense. It makes me painfully aware that under the present global standards, it is no longer possible to expect sympathy for or a favorable understanding of Japan’s position.

Times have changed. Wargaming is now treated in the Western countries not as a one-off or annual event; earnest efforts are being made to utilize this in a logically consistent “Cycle of Research.” This is because very real threats are becoming increasingly palpable. The situation has changed, so it is time for Japan to work earnestly on wargaming.

1 As seen in the titles of the following specialist works: UK Ministry of Defence, Wargaming Handbook (Swindon, Wiltshire: The Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, 2017); Graham Longley Brown, Successful Professional Wargames: A Practitioner’s Handbook (The History of Wargaming Project, 2019); Jeff Appleget, Robert Burks, Fred Cameron, The Craft of Wargaming: A Detailed Planning Guide for Defense Planners and Analysts (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2020); Matthew B. Caffrey Jr., On Wargaming: How Wargames Have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future (Newport, Rhode Island: Naval War College Press, 2019)

2 On trends in wargaming in the Western countries, see for example: Hiroyasu Akutsu, “Wargaming no epistemic community no genkyo [Present State of the Wargaming Epistemic Community]” (in Japanese), NIDS Commentary, No. 110, Jan. 23, 2020.

3 See Peter Perla, The Art of Wargaming (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1990), p. 288.

4 The White House, Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States, February 2022.

5 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), Department of Defense Budget Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, Pacific Deterrence Initiative, May 2021.

6 Indo-Pacific Strategy, 2022, p. 15.

7 Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), Department of Defense Budget Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, Pacific Deterrence Initiative, April 2022.

8 Pacific Deterrence Initiative, 2021, p. 3.

9 Phillip Pournelle, Improving Wargaming in DoD, Connections US 2016 (August).

10 Actually, a thinking similar to the Cycle, consisting of kriegspiel, table top exercise, and naval exercise in preparation for the Russo-Japanese War, was once adopted by the Japanese Imperial Navy. See for example: Hiroyasu Akutsu, “Fred Jane no kaigun wargame to nippon teikoku kaigun shoshi tachi [Fred T. Jane and the Officers of the Japanese Imperial Navy],” (in Japanese) NIDS Commentary, No. 139, Oct. 13, 2020.

11 Ministry of Defense, “Takokukan kijoenshu nado heno sanka nitsuite [On Participation in Multinational Table Top Exercises],” (in Japanese) Oct. 16, 2017.