Can Wargaming tools aid the Military Decision Maker in the uncertain future?

In the first two web articles published on 06 Dec 16 and 28 Mar 17 in the CLAWS website, the author has contended that uncertainty will emerge as the new normal in the future and decision making challenges will be immense, especially for strategic military leaders. In this context, wargaming tools have certain advantages in reducing the randomness and offer an alternate decision making aid. The structured wargaming model invariably give precedence to the alternate or “Red Team” view which may otherwise get relegated as insignificant. The proposed decision aid model is aimed to provide all possible inputs from multiple stakeholders; positive, negative and neutral in a structured and quick timeframe to the primary decision maker. The decision maker when confronted with several view points, accords a higher numerical value to the aspect which he/she feels is more relevant. The inputs are then collated and the analysis is offered to the primary decision maker.

1.         The proposed framework for the decision aid model is based on two significant factors in decision making process:-

  • The Concept of Red Teaming.
  • The Concept of Rational Choices.

2.        Red Teaming.  The relevance of red teaming is well known in the military. Red teams are integral to military wargames where plans are validated. Young military officers, while learning the skills of decision making have encountered the red input from their superiors, instructors or peers which added to the robustness of decisions. However as the level of leadership reaches the Apex level, there is a view that suitably analysed and structured red inputs gradually reduce in scale. Hence decisions tend to be guided purely by experience, intuition and logical reasoning. The moot question which arises is whether the red team input can be extended to strategic decision making as well?

3.          Rational Choices.   By nature, humans have been gifted with the skill of rationality. Once confronted with a number of competing choices, informed humans tend to select the choice which is most advantageous, while rejecting the others. The selection of choices could differ based on the level of knowledge, information and experience. Exposure and experience bring in a greater degree of rationality. Hence it can be reasonably deduced from the theory of rational choices, that as military leaders rise in level and experience, the ability to select the correct option enhances.

4.        The applicability of decision making models on combat decision making has been a subject of intense debate over the years. Inspite of advanced computational capability, software skills, artificial intelligence and machine learning, such models have not been adopted in big way in militaries of the world. Split second decisions, in response to live combat situations, are best left to intuition and experience. Hence the proposed model is not intended to cover live combat decisions in any level of combat.

5.         The proposed framework however intends to tackle the following categories of strategic military decisions:-

  • Functions in Support of Operations.  A significantly large percentage of decisions made by Apex level military leaders are in the realm of support decisions. A few random examples of such decisions are enumerated:-
  • Where should the reserve artillery ammunition of a certain formation be located?
  • Where should the permanent infrastructure of certain logistic echelons in support of a field formation come up?
  • What is the current utility of a large transport unit in support of a field formation in view of the availability of civil hired transport and development of road infrastructure? Is there a case for disbandment/relocation of the same?


  • Introduction of Weapon Systems.
  • Whether specific formation requirement of surveillance drones should be progressed using the COTS (Commercial Off the Shelf) route?
  • Should Light Tanks be procured for a certain formation of the Army as a onetime measure?
  • Should the Army acquire Cyber - EW capability?


  • Organisational Changes.
    • Where should we permanently locate a reserve formation which has a specific time critical role in winter which is distinct from the summer role?
    • What is the relevance of a certain communication zone unitin the present context?

6.         Similar decisions making situations are confronted by the organization on a regular basis. However it may be argued that on occasions, these decisions taken at the strategic level tend to be status quoist and at times operational necessity gets overwhelmed by administrative constrains. Decisions could also be pended in order to “avoid rocking the boat”.

7.         The armed forces are a tightly knit organization. In such organizations there is a tendency to fall prey to The Abilene Paradox[i]. The paradox has been defined as the inability to manage agreement. For instance, in case a superior in an organization throws up an idea, the group members involved in the decision readily agree, lest he/she is construed as anti organization. The superior on the other hand might be perfectly open to a fresh or contrary view point. Hence a situation emerges where different stakeholders who are individually competent and have diverse views on a subject may end up taking a completely incorrect decision under the false impression that the organization would tend to lose if a contrary viewpoint is articulated. Hence a viable contrary viewpoint never emerges since the group member is under the false impression that his/her viewpoint is faulty or anti organization.

8.         It may hence be argued that there is a pertinent need to institutionalize and structure the Red Team input as a part of strategic military decision making. The proposed framework for the decision aid model works as per the following flow chart :


Identify the Problem Statement


Formulate the Primary Question


Identify the Stakeholders


Identify the Independent Experts


Feed the Primary Question to the Stakeholders & Experts


Seek arguments For & Against with numerical weights


Seek Risk Factor from Primary Decision Maker


Feed the Arguments from all Stakeholders to the Primary Decision Maker


Primary Decision Maker assigns weights to all arguments as per own judgement

  • Maker


Run the Risk/Decision Algorithm


Result/Analysis Sheet


9.            As a first step the commander or the primary decision maker assigns a control agency which can be a staff section not directly involved in the decision. Next, the problem identified is converted into a question form so that responses can be categorized as supporting the question or opposing the question. The multiple stakeholders to the decision are then identified exhaustively. Due care should be taken to identify stakeholders outside own organization who could be having opposing viewpoints. In addition certain neutral stakeholders are also identified who can furnish a non biased opinion. The question is then fed to all identified stakeholders, who examine the case in detail. They in turn (in individual capacity) give opinions supporting or opposing the question. Each opinion is given a grade as per relative importance assigned by the stakeholder. All such opinions are submitted without any exchange of notes or information to the control agency. The control agency collates all responses including the weightages and separates them into opinions in support and those in opposition. The same are fed to the primary decision maker without the weightages. The primary decision maker goes through the exhaustive list of opinions from all stakeholders and in turn assigns numerical weightages as per own judgement.

10.       Risk Factor Input.     Before the primary decision maker analyses the arguments from the stakeholder, he/she inputs the risk factor as a measure of the risk element he/she is willing to take.  Risk appetite of a military commander is an individual trait which is a function of the commander’s analysis of the external factors, likely gains and intended objective.  In case the commander who is also the primary decision maker wants to override the cumulative stakeholder view, the risk model will enable such a decision, provided the risk factor input is fed appropriately.

11.       The Background Algorithm.           The background algorithm borrows from the established operational research techniques and will emulate the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) which is a part of the curriculum of Indian Army training establishments including the Defence Services Staff College. The algorithm will mathematically calculate a cumulative stakeholder view based on the weightages assigned and match it against the view of the stakeholder. Arguments which are analysed similarly by the stakeholders and the primary decision maker will contribute more towards the final decision. However the arguments where the views are drastically different will be identified for further discussion and resolution. These differences could be between the primary decision maker and stakeholders or between different stakeholders.

12.       Result/Analysis Sheet.    The final output of the process would be the generation of a Result/Analysis Sheet which would consist of the following :-

  • Overall cumulative tally of arguments for and against the primary question.
  • Is the decision divergent or convergent? A decision is termed as divergent if there is drastic difference in opinion of the primary decision maker and the stakeholders. Similarly a decision is termed as convergent if the congruence is high.
  • Specific areas of congruence/divergence for further analysis.
  • Is the decision ambivalent/status quoist? This would be the result in case a high percentage of responses are grouped in the mid range of the weightage range.
  • The risk factor as fed by the decision maker will be taken into account and analysed whether it has resulted in overriding the stakeholder view.

13.       The decision making aid is expected to bring in a multistakeholder approach to certain kinds of strategic military decision making which do not have an immediate, time critical effect, yet have long term security and financial ramifications. The same could be used in Military Operations, Perspective Planning, Operational Logistics branches as well as in the Army Command level. There is however a requirement to institutionalize robust “red teams”, which constantly scrutinize the environment (including adversaries), and provides suitable inputs without the baggage of organizational affinity. A structured and adopted model would also give greater confidence to all stakeholders and to decision makers in the chain.





[i]The term was introduced by management expert Jerry B. Harvey in his 1974 article "The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement."


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Subhasis Das
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