NATO's Strategic Warfare Development Command


Allied Command Transformation is actively developing its Audacious Wargaming Capability, deepening the Alliance’s shared understanding of wargaming and leveraging wargames to ensure its Military Instrument of Power is fit for the future.

Allied Command Transformation is working to develop its Audacious Wargaming Capability as part of its effort to better understand the challenges facing the Alliance’s Military Instrument of Power. It also seeks to enhance engagement and cooperation with stakeholders to refine NATO’s understanding and use of wargaming to enable it to remain at the forefront of warfare development. In doing so, these efforts support NATO’s goal of becoming a Multi-Domain Operations-enabled Alliance by identifying opportunities and vulnerabilities that can then be leveraged and mitigated, respectively, in and across all domains.

As part of these efforts, the Experimentation and Wargaming Branch is undertaking a comprehensive program of work aimed at developing the capabilities and enablers required to deliver a cutting-edge wargaming experience. Within the NATO enterprise, this has resulted in a focus on the development of digital wargaming tools in partnership with the Modelling, Simulation, and Learning Technologies Branch, as well as virtual and in-person education programs. These wargaming education programs have led to the creation of a dedicated online wargaming training course, and the delivery of a wargaming practitioner’s course at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany.

Recent wargaming efforts have focused on the completion and publication of the NATO Wargaming Handbook as well as the development of a wargaming network with Nations and academia. The Handbook, scheduled to be completed in late 2023, is currently under development by the two NATO Strategic Commands to standardize game types and nomenclature. This effort aims to provide a common understanding of wargaming between Allies and inform partner nations by supporting multi-national wargaming through the Multinational Capability Development Campaign. Similarly, the development of a wargaming network seeks to deepen the Alliance’s shared knowledge through collaboration with leaders in the field. To this end, Allied Command Transformation will be collaborating with King’s College London to co-host NATO’s first practitioner-level wargaming conference in May. It is also co-leading the 2023 Wargaming Initiative for NATO with Italy, France, and Germany in June to expose senior NATO military and civilian officials to future wargaming practices and technologies.

The Audacious Wargaming Capability will become more comprehensive in the coming years, with the goal of developing a formalized program of work and fully exploiting the capabilities of its wargaming network. Early signs of progress in this area can be seen in the future-focused wargames currently under development. In cooperation with the Cyber Branch, the Experimentation and Wargaming Branch is working on a concept for a strategic-level Cyber wargame to be played by NATO Permanent Representatives in 2024 with the goal of identifying the opportunities and challenges facing NATO in this domain. The Branch is also working with the NATO Science and Technology Organization and academia to build on the 2023 Alliance Space Deterrence Framework Wargame through a series of wargames tentatively planned to take place over the next two years. These games seek to increase the ‘Space Intelligence Quotient’ of NATO Permanent Representatives by providing them an opportunity to explore space-related threats in a ‘safe-to-fail’ environment.

“The importance of Audacious Wargaming for NATO is really about developing a mindset. It is about putting ideas to the test; about critical thinking and reflection. This is really what differentiates a wargame from exercises or simulations. Wargames are about decision-making: a thinking blue (or friendly) force versus a thinking red (or adversary) force. With both sides trying to win in a wargame, the interaction between those sides is where the true value of wargaming lies. In a wargame, failure is viewed as an opportunity to learn. Through wargaming, you can stress test your ideas, plans, or technologies to failure, learn from it, and have learning data to inform refinement,” said Colonel Nicholas Waldron, Head of the Experimentation and Wargaming Branch. He also noted the imperative to develop this mindset, stating, “Global events over the last year have shown all of us that we need to think differently. We need to challenge paradigms, explore new ideas, and find opportunities. Experimentation and Wargaming are increasingly important tools in NATO’s toolbox that allow us to gain insights before making final decisions. While we certainly will not be able to predict the future, wargames can offer an awareness of possible futures and the implications of that awareness (or lack of). What Allied Command Transformation is doing is really the first step in addressing how the Alliance uses wargaming to shape that future.”

While Allied Command Transformation is working to deliver on a growing demand for wargaming within NATO, facilitating the development of wargaming experience and expertise through outreach remains critical. Speaking on this point, Colonel Waldron said that the incorporation of “Nations and sister NATO organizations will make the Alliance better as a whole. If we can collectively develop a mindset to examine complex problems with critical thought through Audacious Wargaming, we can fail fast, iterate quickly, and collectively sharpen the axe of a more effective Alliance.”

The Experimentation and Wargaming Branch is responsible for the planning, design, conduct, and analysis of experiments and wargames, and aims to leverage these activities to enable NATO’s competitive edge. In the case of experiments, these activities seek to gain evidence in support of developing new concepts and capabilities, as well as test and validate these concepts along the development cycle. This helps to reduce the uncertainty around new concepts and capabilities, identify solutions that may not be clear through study and analysis alone, and evaluate innovations objectively. As for wargaming, this includes the application of scenario-based models in which the outcome and sequence of events affect, and are affected by the decisions made by the players. Regardless of output type, the Experimentation and Wargaming Branch remains committed to developing partnerships of mutual benefit with the NATO Command and Force Structure, Nations, academia, and industry.