NATO's Strategic Warfare Development Command

CD&E conference

NATO’s Warfare Development Command, Allied Command Transformation, plays a vital role in keeping the Alliance viable in an age of great uncertainty and increasing complexity. To ensure the Alliance is ready, NATO strives to have the right people, processes and systems to continuously operate and adapt to meet current and emergent threats and challenges. Faced with increased responsibilities, there is no blue print for success and staff must be curious, willing to develop new ways of thinking, and seek to use the power of innovation to develop right military solutions at the right time. NATO’s Allied Command Transformation must set the conditions to adapt at the speed of relevance improving today, shaping tomorrow and bridging the two.

Wargaming is one such innovative approach wholly suited as an analytical method for creating, exploring and testing conceptual ideas, and is part of the Concept Development and Experimentation Toolkit. Wargaming is a simulation of military operations using specific rules, data, methods and procedures, and is focused on player decisions that affect the sequence of events. Often multiple roles are represented, including adversarial in order to create challenges, and non-military roles to represent the comprehensive approach and wider aspects of society. Wargaming also allow operators to practice decision-making to fully understand potential scenarios/situations and the array of options available to respond.

There has been resurgence in interest in wargaming amongst NATO organizations and NATO Nations. The practice of wargaming has been around for hundreds of years, so it is nothing new, but it fell out of favour to all but hard-core hobby-wargamers and now a new generation of staff are re-discovering the practice and its associated benefits, and building up their wargaming experience.

There are many different types of wargames, from the classic Kriegspiel to Seminar Games, Course of Action Wargames and Matrix Games to name a few. When executing a wargame as part of Concept Development and Experimentation, careful consideration must be given to the research objectives, design, and analysis of outcomes in order to fully contribute to further development of the concept. An experimental and analytical mindset is essential when employing wargames on concepts.

Recent examples of wargames that Allied Command Transformation staff designed include; a matrix game for Allied Command Operations to test NATO’s Military Deterrence Response Options and further the Deterrence Concept; a human-in-the-loop simulation wargame to test Anti-Access Area Denial strategies; and a game to validate NATO’s Urbanization concept. Upcoming games are planned to explore and test the NATO Mine Warfare concept and the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept.

At the 2019 Concept Development and Experimentation Conference in Madrid, Spain, there will be a workshop called “Wargaming the Future” where participants will be introduced to the practice and get the opportunity to play games including a dilemma game and matrix wargame. The games will focus on scenarios relevant to Allied Command Transformation’s Strategic Foresight Analysis exploring future trends such as the Arctic and High North, China and new technological advances. Participants will learn how wargaming can be applied to individual Nations’ Concept Development and Experimentation projects. The “Wargaming the Future” workshop is a joint venture between Allied Command Transformation and the Netherlands Defence Research Agency.

Beyond the workshop, NATO is continuing to advance the art and science of wargaming. NATO Nations host annual wargaming conferences, and the NATO Science and Technology organization are sponsoring research task groups to advance wargaming practices.

Sue Collins is an Operations Research Analyst at Allied Command Transformation. You can reach her through [email protected]. More information about NATO Allied Command Transformation and the 2019 International Concept Development and Experimentation Conference can be found online at https://www.act.nato.int/.


UK Ministry of Defence Wargaming Handbook, (2017)
Caffrey, Matthew B. Jr., “On Wargaming” (2019). The Newport Papers. 43.
http://www.professionalwargaming.co.uk/ and https://connections-wargaming.com/