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Dstl’s Brightest Minds Glimpse the Future of Warfare

Wargaming looks at specialist technology and how Dstl can prepare for the future.

While soldiers took to the streets in Canada for a unique exercise last month, top analysts worked in the background to model how wars might be fought – and won – decades from now.

The Contested Urban Environment (CUE) exercise in Montreal involved scientists and technical experts, soldiers and industry teams. As well as looking at current ‘bleeding-edge’ technology, there was another group working behind the scenes to take a glimpse into the future of warfare.

Wargaming has been in constant use since World War Two, and is – as it sounds – a game in which doctrine and technology experts play to see how future conflicts might play out. It’s a recognised technique and in this context aims to ‘future-proof’ the technology – looking at how a piece of kit might be used before it’s even real.

Some of the brightest minds of the five-eyes nations (UK, USA, NZ, Australia and Canada) gathered round to look at scenarios of the future; what technologies might be available to us or to an enemy, how the enemy might use them and how we might respond.

The British team participated in wargaming activity, modelling the wider concepts of operating in an urban environment and working on ‘missions’ – looking into the future as far as 2035.

The team explored the possible outcomes of using future technologies like through-wall RADAR or co-ordinated swarms of UAVs using ‘technology cards’ – a look into a future reality of things which are coming but are not yet available.

David Kilcullen, the table-top exercise lead for CUE and one of the world’s leading experts on wargaming, recently said:

We’ve been really fortunate to have a true expert in wargaming technique from Dstl, who is an expert in this kind of technology wargaming.

Teams represent the enemy, friendly forces, and city itself (the people that live in it). Like a board game, people have time to plan their action, and then we have a resolution discussion to think through the implications. Who wins and loses is not actually that important. CUE had 41 different technologies, and we wanted to add each of those in gradually to see what difference it makes with multiple runs of the same battle scenario.

The Dstl team that’s here has a lot of technology that is really relevant to the scenario that we’re gaming. Literally everything that happens in a war game, you’re recording it, so you not only know what you think you’ve found out, but you can go back and maybe there’s a different way to interpret that.

Andrew Elliott Dstl’s technical war gaming expert recently said:

Wargaming looks at plausible answers to questions about warfare. It’s an analytical tool, a decision-making technique – the importance is placed on the decisions of the players.

The wargaming team test the scenarios until they’ve reached the edge of what’s possible. This identifies the gaps which need to be addressed when considering new capabilities, making it a cost-effective tool for exploring future investment options in defence science and technology.

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