- The Strategist - https://www.aspistrategist.org.au -

Wargaming will be a key to strengthening deterrence in the Indo-Pacific

Posted By on March 7, 2023 @ 15:00

China’s evolving anti-access/area-denial network and Russia’s hybrid warfare approach to conflict present US and allied forces with major new military problems in the 21st century.

Potential remedies to these developments were canvassed in the US National Defense Strategy Commission’s 2018 report on the issues diminishing American military advantages. The commission recommended that the US develop new operational concepts to expand its relative advantages in key warfighting areas such as power projection, air and missile defence, cyber and space operations, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare, long-range land-based fires and electronic warfare.

Congress has since endeavoured to provide the US military with what it needs to win a war against China. In 2020, the Pacific Deterrence Initiative was established to target new spending on high-priority needs such as linking up a network of training ranges across the Western Pacific. Budget allocations under the initiative are itemised for various exercises, training, experimentation and innovation programs planned by the Department of Defense and US armed forces. Despite this, the initiatives budget was cut by US$1 billion in 2021 and is expected to be reduced by a further 25% (to US$4.4 billion) by 2027.

A lack of funding for training would hamper the US military’s ability to compete in the Indo-Pacific and undermine efforts to reinforce deterrence. This is compounded by the fact that the tyranny of distance reduces opportunities for large multinational exercises to deliver the kind of wargaming experimentation that is urgently needed. Radically different and innovative wargaming exercises are now necessary to support and test joint warfighting concepts in anticipation of a crisis.

Wargames are analytical experiments that simulate aspects of warfare at the strategic, operational or tactical level. They are used to examine warfighting concepts, explore scenarios and assess how force planning and posture choices affect campaign outcomes. Wargames are designed to foster critical thinking and innovation and help prepare commanders and analysts for future challenges.

The US Army’s ‘project convergence’ is described as a campaign of learning designed to evaluate dozens of new and improved weapon systems and other technologies, including autonomous systems and network-focused technologies. Supporting five core elements—soldiers, weapons systems, command and control, information and terrain—the inaugural exercise concentrated on what the army calls the ‘close fight’ by integrating new enabling technologies at the lowest operational level so that tactical networks could facilitate faster decision-making. The second iteration focused on live-fire events and ways to incorporate artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomy, robotics and common data standards into decision-making processes across multiple domains of operations.

While most associate wargaming with tabletop exercises simulating future conflict, the project convergence exercises incorporate comprehensive boots-on-the-ground activities to test the practical elements of joint operations with the other US services and allied militaries.

In 2022, the US Army hosted what it called ‘all-service events’ to test merging its own capabilities with those of Australia and the UK in a realistic operational context. About 110 Australian Defence Force personnel and 450 British soldiers deployed alongside their US counterparts. Simulating a littoral contest in the Pacific, the trinational collaboration facilitated information-sharing to provide a common operating picture and sensor-to-shooter connectivity. In all, around 300 technologies and new operational concepts were tested during the weeks-long experiment, allowing the US, the UK and Australia to demonstrate how the different services and militaries might fight as a combined force against a technologically competent opponent.

The next iteration of project convergence, in 2024, will look beyond the tactical level to focus on experimentation at the theatre level. According to Lieutenant General Scott McKean, director of the US Army’s Futures and Concepts Center, part of the upcoming evaluation will examine if the joint force is getting closer to achieving what it calls a ‘kill web’. The ideal is a transformative process in which sensor-to shooter ‘kill chains’ are expanded into a comprehensive network of sensors providing options to take out battlefield targets within seconds rather than minutes or hours.

The importance of project convergence cannot be understated. By integrating current US Army mission command capabilities with emerging technologies under development, the exercise builds on the Pentagon’s broader ‘joint all-domain command and control’ (JADC2) effort to connect sensors from all of the services into a single network. The project provides the perfect platform for Australian military modernisation and the ADF to move beyond interoperability to interchangeability with the US.

Whether the ADF should more tightly integrate its capabilities with those of the US in the context of integrated deterrence, however, remains an undeveloped aspect of the broader discussion on the JADC2 concept and military compatibility. As William Leben, a senior research officer at the National Security College, has noted, differing network speeds and bandwidths, excessive data-sharing restrictions and differences of scale and resourcing all militate against opportunities to leverage tactical applications made possible by new technologies. Given these caveats, it would be prudent for the Australian government, in its forthcoming response to the defence strategic review, to consider whether the ADF should plug and play with JADC2.

Either way, Australia’s involvement in project convergence will become more important as the ADF works to be better prepared to lead coalition operations if it is deemed to be in the interests of Australia and the region for it to do so. In the context of integrated deterrence, future iterations of project convergence could serve as a vital testbed for the advanced capabilities brought online under the second pillar of the AUKUS agreement.

The Indo-Pacific will undoubtedly continue to witness a broader array of large-scale multinational joint-action exercises that enhance interoperability, and even integration. The war in Ukraine provides powerful reminders that technology and tactics have changed the character and pace of conflict. It’s been suggested by US researchers that likely lessons from Ukraine for the Chinese military, should Beijing be considering a campaign to capture Taiwan, include a need to reassess the role of ground forces, to have a stronger focus on strategic deception early in the operation, and to prepare for a protracted struggle presupposing staunch resistance in Taiwan amid participation from a larger-than-anticipated set of US allies. How the ADF manages its own capacity to adapt when an Indo-Pacific contingency arises will be a determining factor in the opening stages.

A much more dangerous operating environment requires the US and its key Indo-Pacific allies to evolve their training practices and procedures. Failing to prioritise wargaming experimentation could result in mismatched capabilities and operational concepts with disastrous consequences if they are needed on the battlefield.

Article printed from The Strategist: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au

URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/wargaming-will-be-a-key-to-strengthening-deterrence-in-the-indo-pacific/

[1] anti-access/area-denial : https://www.defensenews.com/global/asia-pacific/2020/06/01/chinas-missile-and-space-tech-is-creating-a-defensive-bubble-difficult-to-penetrate/

[2] Russia’s hybrid warfare: https://www.understandingwar.org/report/russian-hybrid-warfare

[3] recommended: https://www.usip.org/publications/2018/11/providing-common-defense

[4] Pacific Deterrence Initiative: https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/commentary/2021/12/15/pacific-deterrence-initiative-a-look-at-funding-in-the-new-defense-bill-and-what-must-happen-now/

[5] exercises, training, experimentation and innovation: https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/FY2023/FY2023_Pacific_Deterrence_Initiative.pdf

[6] further 25%: https://warontherocks.com/2022/06/show-me-the-money-boost-the-pacific-deterrence-initiative/

[7] tyranny of distance: https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/commentary/2020/11/23/bring-us-operational-training-and-experimentation-into-the-21st-century/

[8] simulate aspects of warfare: https://www.rand.org/topics/wargaming.html

[9] campaign of learning: https://sgp.fas.org/crs/weapons/IF11654.pdf

[10] sensor-to-shooter connectivity: https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/australian-troops-join-aukus-wargames-in-face-of-china-and-russia-threats-20221114-p5by29.html

[11] 300 technologies: https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2022/11/15/army-ups-scale-complexity-for-third-annual-project-convergence

[12] kill web: https://www.defensenews.com/land/2023/02/07/army-sets-sights-on-2024-for-next-project-convergence/

[13] ‘joint all-domain command and control’ (JADC2): https://media.defense.gov/2022/Mar/17/2002958406/-1/-1/1/SUMMARY-OF-THE-JOINT-ALL-DOMAIN-COMMAND-AND-CONTROL-STRATEGY.PDF

[14] move beyond interoperability to interchangeability: https://www.minister.defence.gov.au/speeches/2022-07-12/address-center-strategic-and-international-studies-csis/

[15] has noted: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/defence-review-needs-to-consider-advanced-command-and-control-capabilities-for-the-adf/

[16] lead coalition operations: http://www.defence.gov.au/about/strategic-planning/2020-defence-strategic-update

[17] large-scale multinational joint-action exercises: https://eurasiantimes.com/us-needs-allies-counter-upcoming-super-power-china

[18] likely lessons: https://ndupress.ndu.edu/Portals/68/Documents/stratforum/SF-311.pdf