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Planners Play Games, Improve Mission-Planning Skills
by U.S. Army Maj. Joseph Payton
February 14, 2019

When you see an image of a Soldier on a mission, that’s the result of hundreds of hours spent planning and rehearsing.

Few people can appreciate the magnitude of the efforts required before boots arrive on-ground better than military planners like those in the 1st Cavalry Division’s Plans section.

During November 2018, the First Team planners sought to improve their effectiveness by training on a new course of action analysis method, the Tactical Wargaming Analysis Model.

November 8, 2018 - Maj. Lazaro Oliva, Jr. shows the potential effects of a tactical decision to other 1st Cavalry Division planners while conducting the Tactical Wargaming Analysis Model. The Center for Army Analysis team conducted a two-day intensive seminar to train the First Team planners on the new wargaming model designed to improve the quality of the outcomes relating to wargaming. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Joseph Payton)

“I think this tool will be a vehicle that will help us become more efficient and produce results that are more reliable,” said Maj. Lazaro Oliva, Jr., a plans officer assigned to the First Team.

According to Oliva, several facts suggest the TacWAM is better than your typical wargaming tool.

“One of the benefits to this Tactical Wargaming Analysis Model is that it provides you with structure. It’s very rules-based. It’s very step oriented,” said Oliva.

“Every aspect of the joint fight is modeled in this thing. It saves an incredible amount of time. And it’s not resource intensive. Just a few computers, a map, and some cardboard icons and you can operate.”

According to the model’s developer, Daniel Mahoney, a campaign analyst with the U.S. Army Center for Army Analysis and former chief of plans for the 1st Cavalry Division, these attributes make TacWAM a great option, but they aren’t the primary selling point for a commander.

The main benefit is the system.

“Because the system is systematic and repeatable and it’s got a quantifiable rule-set, and it’s very good for course of action comparison,” said Mahoney.

For Oliva, this benefit alone is worth the efforts required to learn and field the new way of doing wargaming.

“Wargaming is always one of those things that’s very critical, but also very ambiguous,” said Oliva. “I always found myself asking the question: Is that really possible? Is that accurate? Would that really happened?”

The key components include two essential roles: the umpire and the battle adjudicator.

The umpire facilitates the events ensuring opposing forces are adhering to the established. He or she also manages the turn sequence, which is the heart of the TacWAM, said Mahoney.

“It starts with those elements that most broadly effect the [area of operations] and then it works through them until it gets to those things that most narrowly effect the AO,” said Mahoney.

November 8, 2018 - Daniel Mahoney, a Center for Army Analysis campaign planner and creator of the Tactical Wargaming Analysis Model, observes as Maj. George Gordon discusses aspects of the model with Marine Maj. Christopher Ross. A benefit of TacWAM is that it aggregates the joint capabilities into tactical wargaming, which is a factor lacking in other Army models. (U.S. Army photo by Maj. Joseph Payton)

The battle adjudicator is responsible for inputting decision variables into the system Excel spreadsheet.

“When I say excel spreadsheet that is putting it very lightly,” said Oliva. “The adjudicator is essentially a computer program built into Excel. It’s very impressive.”

The model’s creator suggests the system helps rectify those biting questions that plague most planners.

Planners can be very comfortable telling their commander that one course of action is better than another based specific reasons observed during the wargame, Mahoney said.

While there are several benefits, Mahoney cautions that the system isn’t perfect.

Foremost, it still hasn’t been run at full combat speed nor has it been used to drive analysis, said Mahoney.

TacWAM also hasn’t cracked the code on integrating information operation effects into wargaming due to the challenges of aggregating psychological aspects resulting from targeted messages and activities.

As a result of the two-day training from the CAA team, Oliva is optimistic about the new capability.
“I think if we had to lead a planning session—a COA analysis—we would be two or three times as effective as we have been in the past because of this tool.”

The First Team planners’ feedback didn’t surprise Mahoney and his team.

“There’s a reason why folks keep asking for us to come. We have a system—a good system—that works.”

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