Small Wars Journal

DoD Models Insufficient for Unrestricted Warfare

On 22 March 2007, Inside the Pentagon published an article by Rati Bishnoi entitled "Army Officials Call DoD Models Insufficient for Modeling Unrestricted Warfare." The tone of the piece laments the lack of M&S tools to reflect what the Chinese have long called "unrestricted warfare," a meaning quite different than what many others might think it is--particularly if you are thinking of the Clausewitzian "absolute war" construct. No, here it means "anything can be made into a weapon" and is an approach favored by those who must rely on strategic (as well as tactical and operational) asymmetrical means to win over a militarily superior adversary. Of course, many have seen "unrestricted warfare" in this sense to be a key method in "small wars" and/or so-called "asymmetrical warfare."

There are a number of things that are quite striking in her article. For one, the problem is seen purely in terms of building a better mousetrap--er--database and processing capability. Army officials are quoted as saying the Pentagon needs an "unprecedented data enterprise" that would be accessed to "test hypotheses" so that commanders could make better decisions. The article ends with a warning that analysts need to "enlighten" decisionmakers on the need to gather such data and create such a capability before our adversaries do.

Even if we were to invest in such databases and capabilities, I doubt whether this could keep up with adversarial adaptability if the idea is to pre-empt their "unrestricted warfare" tactics. Our bureaucratic OODA loop will not keep up with those of nonstate "unrestricted warfare" adversaries. So it's hard to see how such an investment would pay off in this regard. It's also difficult to see which adversaries would want to make a similar investment and why. Applying "unrestricted warfare" techniques in the real world is so much cheaper.

Note that I'm not even addressing whether or not M&S can be used in a predictive sense. One must tread carefully here, for while there are success stories of tools being used in this way in other venues to solve other problems, for every one of those there are scores--if not hundreds--of failures. Godel's number theory has something to say about the ability of M&S to predictably model "unrestricted warfare" as practiced in the real world....

That said, there is still room for modeling "unrestricted warfare" at the operational and tactical level in such a way that will help educate minds to think more flexibly and rapidly. Seminar wargames work best to help create the environments where this can take place, but these are difficult to set up and run without devolving into a BOGSATT (Bunch Of Guys Sitting Around the Table Talking).

There have been some efforts in applying M&S to unrestricted warfare, but these are just initial, tentative efforts from what I can see. Interestingly enough, the commercial wargaming world hasn't done a whole lot on this front, either. Not a lot of excitement for the teen-aged males who like to blow things up on their PLAYSTATION 3 or X-BOX 360. Most attempts in the commercial world have been in simulating non-lethal means of coercion at the strategic level (e.g., diplomatic carrots and sticks, economic levers, etc.). But nothing really stands out in simulating the operational and tactical level problems "unrestricted warfare" poses for a state military force.



Steve (not verified)

Thu, 05/17/2007 - 3:08pm

Unfortunately the seminar wargame, or something run by a control cell with multiple free-play teams, might be the only way you can simulate anything close to the reality of unrestricted warfare. Using the control cell model and time limits helps avoid the BOGSATT syndrome, though some of the activities would run closer to role-playing games than standard tactical or operational simulation methods. This is an area that's of great interest to me.


Nice job in addressing one of my pet peeves. I've really grown tired of the multitude of defense contractors and government organizations selling wolf-cookie programs that advertise the capability to model or simulate human behavior in a 'three block war' scenario. I sincerely believe that an intelligent agent that can do that is completely out of reach. Thanks for starting this dialogue.

Dave D.

ericmwalters (not verified)

Fri, 04/27/2007 - 2:06pm

Real world scenarios with an extended OPFOR would work for small unit tactical engagements, but once larger tactical units/organizations come into play--to say nothing of operational-level headquarters--it gets too hard/expensive. Here is where modeling and simulation supporting education can work if well developed in conjunction with a well-designed scenario. The military types tend to want Command Post Exercises (CPXs) to see how their processes/procedures work. But that's not what is truly needed in these kinds of situations. Adaptive thinking, rapid/risky innovation, and cooperation/coordination among organizations that normally don't work together is what is key in these kinds of situations. Hopefully this clarifies my views on how M&S could conceivably support efforts to improve in an "unrestricted warfare" environment.

Maybe I am just missing the whole point, but isn't this like cutting down a redwood and then whittling it down to a single toothpick using a 2billion dollar laser?

Wouldn't it be easier to create a real world scenario with an extended OPFOR that acted in the manner we desired and put more of our forces through a ground exercise where they were put in the field with limited weapons and support, forcing them to "improvise, adapt and overcome"?