Is this a sign that a new phase of the war is being prepared? According to several English-language media outlets, the US Army, at its base in Wiesbaden, Germany, last week, organized “tabletop” simulations to prepare the Kyiv forces’ new offensives. Several dozen members of the Ukrainian general staff took part in the war planning exercises, called wargames in military jargon, intended to help them decide on their next maneuvers, with the conflict stalling in recent months.
“What we’re doing is providing them an opportunity and the mechanisms to conduct a decision-making exercise,” said General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a March 2 visit to the base, where US Army Europe and Africa (USAREUR-AF) is headquartered. “The Ukrainians are moving things around on these maps to determine what is their best course of action, and they determine the advantages and disadvantages of the risks associated. It’s a common thing that all militaries do.”
It must be said that wargames are nothing new. Popularized by the Prussians in the 19th century, who called it Kriegsspiel, this situation-setting in the form of a game allows armies to simulate operations against an adversary who is able to react. “When done well, a wargame can determine the best distribution of forces and anticipate what might go wrong. It’s a genuine planning tool,” said Thibaut Fouillet, a researcher at the French Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS) and author of the 2022 book Wargaming: A Strategic Research Tool (“Wargaming: A Tool for Strategic Research”).
Since the Second World War, the United States has made extensive use of wargames, whether to train its officers or to prepare for real military operations. One of these simulations, organized in October 2020, was highly publicized after General John Hyten, then second-in-command at the Pentagon, admitted that the American armies had “failed miserably.” According to media on the other side of the Atlantic, the scenario, which is still classified, simulated a confrontation with China over Taiwan. Following the exercise, the US Army modified several of its doctrines, proof of the importance it gives to wargames.
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The French Army is trying to catch up
France has less recourse to war games, long considered by its military to be a gimmick. “Compared to our main partners and allies, the French organization still appears underoptimized and unstructured,” acknowledged Colonel Yann Malard (one of the few French fighter pilots to have trained for several years with an American squadron) in a text on wargames published in September 2022 by the journal National Defense. But the French Army is trying to catch up. Notably, the creation of a referral center dedicated to such simulations is being planned at the joint level. NATO opened one in Norway in January 2022, while the United Kingdom has had its own since 2020.
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