A More Realistic Command Post Exercise

by Majs William W. Yates & James P. McDonough

Command post exercises (CPXs) for units at the battalion level and below frequently rely on a master scenario events list (MSEL) to drive the staff decisionmaking process. MSEL events are initiated or activated by the exercise control team as the staff undergoing training executes the operations order on which the exercise has been built. The result of activating an MSEL event may cause the commander to branch or sequel from the plan and, in the context of a CPX MSEL-driven exercise, provide a simple framework to stimulate action by the training audience. Though simple in design, the success and benefit of driven MSEL CPXs depend in large part on the experience of the exercise control team and the MSEL manager. Even experienced exercise controllers and meticulously developed MSELs cannot provide the level of realism necessary to support some training objectives for staff decisionmaking.

Combat Models

Almost 30 years ago the Marine Corps began using combat models executed in computer simulation to add realism and detail to CPXs for large units, primarily the Marine expeditionary force (MEF) staff. The first fielded simulation model for training was the tactical warfare simulation, evaluation, and analysis system or TWSEAS. TWSEAS provided a realistic simulation of friendly and enemy unit behaviors on the battlefield. TWSEAS concentrated primarily on accurately modeling movement rates, weapons effects, and sensor ranges for detection. Rather than relying on a human judgment or a dice roll to adjudicate the attrition from an engagement between two forces in a skirmish, TWSEAS could quickly and accurately assess the outcome of kinetic engagements using probabilistic algorithms.

TWSEAS was replaced by the Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF) tactical warfare simulation (MTWS) in the early 1990s. MTWS is a more powerful and flexible model that provides higher resolution for the factors influencing the outcome of simulated combat and information to the commander and staff. MTWS continues to be the Marine Corps’ primary aggregate combat model for training, and it is also used by the militaries of several allied countries. MTWS can simulate not only enemy and friendly forces but also up to a total of 10 different sides that may behave in a friendly, neutral, or hostile fashion to other factions. MTWS can model simple tactical engagements to train units down to the company level or can model very complex environments, including electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. MTWS also adds realism to training by its accurate modeling of the consumption of fuel, ammunition, water, and other supplies that would be very laborious to calculate manually. Recent updates to MTWS have added compliance with the Department of Defense high-level architecture protocol for exchanging data between disparate models that will eventually enable the Marine Corps to use MTWS for exercises in the joint training community. (see sidebar on CAS, p. 14.)

Despite the robust capabilities of combat simulations, MSEL events still play a valuable part in CP training because of the factors that aren’t simulated well by kinetic computer simulations. Most, if not all, of the data feeds to the CP regarding civil affairs are more practically introduced into the exercise via MSELs. Interactions with the civilian populace and many aspects of stability and support operations are exercised in a CPX through MSEL events because the appropriate response is often a combination of communications of intent and allocation of logistical assets. Although computer-driven combat simulations have become very capable, it is still essential that the outcomes assessed by the simulation are monitored and verified by real-world experience to ensure that they are realistic and support the training objectives of the commander.

Tactical Simulations

Since the late 1980s there have been many commercial computer games in the domain of tactical decisionmaking. Some of these games, such as TacOps (Tactical Operations), have been of sufficient quality to be of use as tools for tactical decision training in preference to other formats, such as sandtable exercises. As the power of desktop computers has grown, the fidelity of some tactical game software has approached the level of simulations like MTWS. Tactical simulations that began in the domain of gamers and hobbyists have migrated into the realm of training tools.

Training and Education Command (TECom) has sponsored the development of the MAGTF XXI tactical decision simulation to bridge the gap between a stand-alone desk-top training simulation and a multiple workstation simulation for driving CPXs, such as MTWS. The software is licensed for free use by Marines. The latest release of MAGTF XXI is capable of interfacing directly with command and control personal computers and providing simulation-driven feeds to the tactical interface. This capability will allow key staff members to use their actual tactical equipment and software during the exercise as opposed to looking at a simulation screen. While MAGTF XXI does not possess the level of detail and the functionality of MTWS, it does provide the capability to plan and execute a computer simulation-driven CPX without the necessity of conducting the exercise at a battle simulation center (BSC). The niche that MAGTF XXI intends to occupy is as a tool to drive a CPX for the key members of a staff before undertaking a more complex exercise at a BSC using MTWS. In addition, since MAGTF XXI can run on most laptops, it can be used in a deployed setting as well.

MAGTF XXI requires about 1 gigabyte of disk space, a 1-gigahertz processor, 512 megabytes of random access memory, and a DirectX 9.x video card to run optimally. The software has been designed such that it is tolerated by the software policies on Navy Marine Corps Intranet workstations with user-level privileges. TECom sponsors a web site for technical support and sharing of training scenarios for MAGTF XXI at <http://www.magtf-xxi-marines. com/MAGTF>. MAGTF XXI has recently been used as the simulation of choice for student tactical exercises at Expeditionary Warfare School. In addition, the School of Infantry-East, Advanced Infantry Training Company, has begun using MAGTF XXI during the unit operations chief course to train future battalion-level and above operations chiefs for CP operations.

Simulation-driven CPX is becoming more accessible to commanders and their staffs at levels below the major subordinate commands. The BSCs at most Operating Forces installations are available with advanced notice to support CPXs with simulation and new tools, such as MAGTF XXI, and offer the potential to use simulation for staff training within the unit headquarters. Using simulation for staff training is one of many tools available to the commander to qualitatively improve the staff’s decisionmaking ability.