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Unknown is the New Normal

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

A series of world events in the last few years is a pointer to the increasingly unpredictable nature of the future. Some of these events are enumerated:-

  • Unprecedented victory of the AAP in Delhi State Elections
  • Brexit
  • The US Presidential Elections
  • The dilution of $18 billion in market cap of SAMSUNG post the recall of the Galaxy Note 7 phone in October 2016
  • The action of Indian Armed Forces across the Line of Control
  • Demonetisation programme of the Government of India

To say that, these events or the final outcome thereof, came as a “surprise” for the citizens, observers and other affected parties will be an understatement. It was quite literally a “shocker” for the media, analysts and pollsters, notwithstanding whatever they might say in retrospect. Credibility of the experts, who delve into future events, is now at an all-time low. The moot question is whether such unpredictable events will be the rule rather than an exception in the future?

In his 2007 book “The Black Swan”, author and former derivatives trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb popularized the metaphor “Black Swan Event”. Earlier the author has discussed such events in the financial market in his 2001 book “Fooled by Randomness”. The earliest reference to the term can be found in the writings of poet Juvenal when it was used to describe an impossibility. Nassim Nicholas Taleb however describes such events as having the following characteristics:

  • They are random, unexpected, hard to predict and outside the realm of regular expectation.
  • They have an extreme impact leading at times to a major disruption.
  • After the event occurs, we force ourselves to justify the same as being rational and predictable.

Watching the unfolding of world events in the recent past, it may be argued that the future will see an increasing frequency of Black Swan Events. So why is the world turning increasingly unpredictable ?

  • Propensity towards experimentation.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places “Self Actualisation Needs” at the pinnacle. In his later years, Maslow also talked about “Self-transcendence” which can be defined as the quest to achieve some higher goal beyond oneself. Human society in general, especially in the developed nations, is now in a position to address their higher needs, since the lower orders needs are almost a given in a modern, technology enabled, welfare state. Hence there is a trend of the modern generation to be more experimental and anti-status quoist. Given a chance, the young world citizen will give the unknown a try, and await the implications rather than not try at all. Success and possible implications may not be the primary consideration while taking this decision. The Brexit result and the election of Donald Trump indicate that this latent quest to defeat the cycle of predictability is emerging out of closet in a big way.
  • Effect of Social Media.  Social Media content can cause an instantaneous effect on opinions and choices. Today it takes minutes to form an opinion and drastic shifts in opinions influenced by social media is also equally common. Social Media platforms are a playground of diverse views and opinions. Even content which may have a relatively insignificant effect in the long run, may influence a decision, as per the existing trending value. Hence timing of release of the content is important. Social Media can throw up numerous choices which make considered decision making difficult. Hence there is a tendency of being fickle and opinions are easily swayed. There is an inclination to experiment with ones decisions, at times completely under the influence of the popular drift(s) on social media.
  • Speed and Reach of Technology. The rapid and competitive pace of technological growth has also resulted in disruptions purely influenced by technology.Mobile phone manufacturing giant Samsung has been one of the biggest players functioning at the cutting edge of technology. The recent incident of the batteries in the Samsung Note 3 model ultimately led to the wiping off US $ 18 billion[i] from its market cap and US $ 5.3 billion[ii] in operating profit in less than a month. It is evident that such a development was neither expected nor was the conglomerate prepared for the consequences. Analysts have indicated that the company was initially quite nonchalant about it and felt that the issue could be handled by replacement shipments alone. Such unexpected disruptions caused due to technology and its negative implications may be the order of the day in future.
  • Role of Adversaries.    Adversaries in the political, business, military or even the sports arena are constantly endeavoring to steal a march over one another. Throwing up an unexpected challenge to the adversary can unbalance his cognitive framework, leading to unexpected dividends to the proponent. Plans are made and executed with the intent to throw the adversary off guard. The recently executed action by Indian Armed Forces across the L of C on terrorist camps was not anticipated by Pakistan. The immediate reaction of the Pakistani political class, military, academia and the media was unsure, at the best. During the Appreciation process in the Indian Army, a series of steps is adopted to determine “The Most Probable Enemy Course of Action” and own Options are based on this. However in future, it may be more prudent to determine the “Most Improbable Enemy Course of Action” as this is what may be thrown at us by our enemy. The worst case scenario(s) and other non-traditional methods of war fighting may be the order of the day.

The Challenge.         The increasingly nebulous and unpredictable future will result in far greater challenges to Decision Making. The challenges in the Military domain would be immense as the implications are on the nation, life and death of humans. Military decision making by the very nature, does not lend itself to external aids like computers or machines. This is more evident at the strategic plane. Strategic military decision making is largely intuitive in nature even today, notwithstanding the advancements made in the fields of artificial intelligence, raw computing power and data handling. Intuitive decisions are a function of the lifetime experiences of the decision maker, both actual and acquired. If seen in context of the uncertain future, strategic military decision makers of the future may not have the advantage of experience as events are likely to be completely unexpected and unrelated to each other. An aspect of decision making which cannot be refuted, however, is the role of filtered, analysed and timely information. Hesitant and incorrect decisions, more often than not, are a function of the lack of information in the correct form.

Wargaming as a Counter to Randomness.    By nature, all decisions made by individuals follow a sequence which resembles wargaming. Faced with a situation, the human mind is programmed to quickly analyse the visible options and arrive at a conclusion. However this unstructured methodology fails in case of strategic decisions which have major ramifications like security, finances and power of a nation. Structured wargaming techniques provide us the capability of putting a possible option through scrutiny, analysis and staff checks. Information/inputs from various stakeholders can be positioned against the possible option as also against one another. This enables us to reduce options by a method of discard. Overall the information available is handled more judiciously and the randomness in decisions can be reduced considerably.

Wargaming as a possible aid to Decision Making.     Wargaming tools and concepts are not new to the militaries of the world. Today wargames have a niche space in the curriculum of most modern militaries mainly in the training domain. In the Indian Armed Forces, wargames are used to practice mid and junior level leadership in planning, reacting to battle situations, and in generating results. Wargames also provide a major advantage which the current top level leadership in business and industry is exploiting in a big way. Wargame models which have an element of scenario building are being used to evolve reactions to black swan events in the financial and business world. One such product which has seen considerable success is the “New Generation Wargaming” developed by consulting services major Accenture in 2012. Wargame models can similarly be engineered for the military world to aid the strategic military leaders of the future. The use of wargaming beyond a mere training tool, to that of a decision making aid in the Armed Forces would necessitate the development of a new frameworks and models. The key to the framework would be its simplicity, flexibility to handle various situations and its scalability.

In CLAWS Web Articles to follow, the author will bring out the proposed model and methodology for using “The Art of Wargaming as a Strategic Military Decision Making Aid”


About the Author: The author is a Senior Research Fellow at CLAWS.

Email ID :[email protected]>






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Subhasis Das
Senior Fellow
Contact at: [email protected]
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