Warfighting looks different these days and one of the greatest challenges of modern warfare is changing its perception. The best way to do that is to put it into practice. The Wargame for Innovation and Frontline Improvisation pilot event, held July 27-29 at the College of Southern Maryland’s Velocity Center in Indian Head, Maryland, aimed to do just that. Hosted by Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Division (NSWC IHD), the event brought together U.S. military, technology developers, requirements/combat developers, and acquisition experts to craft scenario-inspired warfighting concepts.
The pilot event, funded by the Office of Naval Research and the Technology Transfer Office, was the first in a series meant to bring game-changing disruptive technologies in support of deterrence and assurance of allies to regain strategic initiative in the South China Sea. .
“The more we can have technology development, requirements/combat development, and acquisition come together, the better off we’ll be. It is out of balance right now,” said NSWC IHD Technical Director Ashley Johnson in his opening address. “Wargaming is a way to bring these communities together. It’s about the fundamentals of strategy.”
Three teams composed of naval scientists, engineers, and active duty Sailors and Marines engaged in the event with scenarios provided by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL), Navy Expeditionary Warfighting Development Center, the U.S. Coast Guard Research and Development Center and Science and Technology Innovation Center, and the NAVSEA Warfare Centers to ideate disruptive capabilities employable in expeditionary advanced base operations (EABO). The wargame’s goal was to address malign behavior and create dilemmas for adversaries within the gray zone: in this case, the Philippines in 2025.
The concept for this wargame was based on current and potential issues arising in the U.S. Navy’s geopolitical community. The scenario was developed not just to be solution-based, but to also raise awareness of the climate between U.S. allies and China in the South China Sea. The U.S. has a strategic relationship with the Philippines that is mutually beneficial to both parties while serving as a strategic deterrence to potential adversaries.
Teams sought to demonstrate that with presence and appropriate technology, allies can be assured of a prompt and effective response. Their goal was to convince adversary coast guard vessels to leave the Philippine exclusive economic zone without escalating to conflict. At the end of the event, each team presented a brief of tactical operation plans from each of their three specific locations: Subic Bay Naval Station on Luzon Island; Oyster Bay Naval Station on Palawan Island in the Philippines; and Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific Navy Base in Singapore.
The event was dedicated to the late Marine Col. Art Corbett, MCWL/Combat Development and Integration, who was instrumental in developing future naval operating methodologies, concepts and environments which made up the core of the event. Attendees were treated to an overview of his concept in the “EABO and Stand-In Forces: A Discussion on Innovation in Strategy and Concepts” video.
“Our current paradigm [in warfighting] is an evolutionary dead end,” said Corbett in the video. “Tactical action to strategic ends equals a good operational concept. The best capabilities are ones we can use to empower our allies. It’s a theory of success, not a philosophy of victory. We need to create an integrated maritime defense.”
“It’s a new way of thinking about fighting… with an emphasis on operational approach, vice systems approach,” continued Corbett. “What we’re doing here represents the innovation phase.”
Marine Col. Wendell Leimbach, Joint Intermediate Force Capabilities Office director, stressed innovation in his brief on intermediate force capabilities (IFC): strategic risk mitigation investments that provide warfighters tools to seize initiative while competing below the level of armed conflict. Examples of IFCs are dazzling lasers and acoustic hailing devices, active denial systems, and counter unmanned aerial systems. Airports already employ a minor version of IFC technology in airport terminal safety screenings. Teams were asked to incorporate IFCs into their final concepts.
“We have to think differently about war because the nature of war has moved on. Our traditional deterrent effect is no longer effective,” said Leimbach. “IFCs enable you to push back. It’s a minor investment that can enable our entire force. This technology is a safe, effective way to deter.”
“IFCs enable the warfighter to compete across the competition continuum without losing in the information space,” continued Leimbach. “The goal is to avoid unnecessary destruction that initiates or prolongs expensive hostilities.”