The ‘TACWAR’ Wargame

By Capt C.A. Leader

Since the introduction of Kriegsspiel into the German Army by Gen Mueffling, Chief of the German General Staff, in the early 1820s, wargaming has been an idea whose time has alternately come and gone in many nations. For the Marine Corps, however, it is an idea whose time has come with the recent development of the first of a series of wargames which eventually will provide training for Marines from squad leaders to MAF commander levels.

As presently envisioned, the family of games will include:

TACWAR: a company level wargame.

STEELTHRUST: for use by battalion and MAU staffs.

LANDING FORCE: to exercise regimental and MAB staffs.

WARFARE: a top level simulation for MAB and MAF staffs.

TACWAR, officially described as a company-level, wargame-based training system, will be the first of the wargames to be sent to the FMF. Present plans are for the initial group of 30 units to be delivered in April 1982 with a purchase of 254 more copies to be completed in 1983. Plans call for each rifle company in the FMF eventually to be issued its own copy of TACWAR.

Skeptics anticipating a simplistic or amateurish product should be pleasantly surprised with TACWAR. The Manual Wargames Project, under the cognizance of HQMC’s Director of Training but working at the Navy Training Equipment Command in Orlando, Fla., has produced an imaginative and extremely versatile training system. If properly understood and accepted by commanders, TACWAR can add a dimension largely lacking in the present training and development of subordinate leaders on the company level.

TACWAR is designed for use by the company commander in the training of his platoon and squad leaders. It is specifically intended to provide a means of demonstrating tactics and techniques rather than an analytical outcome of a battle. It does, however, depict a way that a battle might go. Perhaps most importantly, it provides an opportunity for small unit leaders to make decisions and mistakes and have the probable results of those actions graphically demonstrated. It helps the company commander reinforce the tactical lessons.

In this it is very successful, due in no small part to the professional experience of those developing TAGWAR. In addition to a Fleet Project Team of about a dozen Marines collected from throughout the Corps and representing a wide variety of MOSs and experience, the Manual Wargames Project has a team of professional civilian simulation specialists. Their experience in the development of commercial wargames as well as the experience attained in developing wargames for other Services is impressive and has paid handsome dividends by allowing TACWAR to address specific Marine Corps training requirements while avoiding limiting compromises and mistakes made in the development of wargames used currently by other Services.

Central to TACWAR is a 3-dimensional terrain board (a rectangle almost 7 × 9 feet in size) representing 20 grid squares on an accompanying 1:50,000 map sheet. Each board square represents a square kilometer at a scale of 1:2,000 and the terrain is geomorphic; that is, it can be rolled in a continuum north or south, east or west, to represent any desired four by five kilometer section of the accompanying map sheet. The current terrain is a hypothetical area in northern Europe although several add-on modules are under development. Specifically, envisioned are a beach section to provide amphibious play as well as desert and mountain modules.

One aspect of TACWAR unusual in wargame simulations are the provisions for concealed movement. In forested or village areas, the concept of “cells” with “cell caps” to allow concealment of movement and placement of units by opposing players adds a dimension lacking in most board simulations. Concealment combined with the line of sight restrictions of a three-dimensional board reinforce the potentials and limitations of direct and indirect fire weapons as they support maneuver and engagement.

Across the board, two teams face each other. The opposition force has the assets of a Soviet motorized rifle or tank regiment to include supporting arms. Marine Corps assets include a rifle company reinforced with a tank and amphibian assault vehicle platoon and supporting arms. Each scenario will set the exact composition of forces within the limits of the assets available as well as providing a general and special situation and operations orders. A rules referee, called a controller, supervises the play between the two teams. Each team consists of maneuver players responsible for the fire and movement as well as an air player and indirect fire player whose roles may be combined or assigned to separate individuals.

In addition to the traditional game “counters” representing units, leaders, FOs, vehicles and helicopters, the use of miniature models of vehicles, tanks and helicopters provides players the opportunity to become proficient in the recognition of Soviet model equipment. Playing the opposition force also provides familiarity with Soviet weapons and armor potential and limitations. The opposing forces player who initiates a Sagger ambush within 500 meters, for example, is not likely to forget again the arming limitations of that particular weapon.

TACWAR is played in “slow time.” That is, each minute of combat will take longer than 60 seconds to simulate. TACWAR game “minutes” are divided into three segments; an Indirect Fire Segment, a Fire and Movement Segment, and an Administrative Segment. An experienced group of players can complete a game minute in 4-5 actual minutes, although a game minute involving extensive fires and close combat may take much longer to resolve.

The Fire and Movement Segment is the heart of the game. All movement allowances and probabilities of effects of fires in this segment are adjusted to simulate what could be achieved in one minute. The segment is divided into pulses alternating between teams. During each pulse, each maneuver player of one team moves or fires one piece or unit. Pulses thus simulate simultaneous movement while still allowing fire at targets of opportunity as they are revealed. The conclusion of the segment involves the resolution of antitank guided missiles and simulates the opportunity to provide suppressive fires against the slow missiles.

Two levels of rules for TACWAR will be available: a basic and advanced set. The basic rules are simple but not simplistic and provide for such aspects as movement and vision affected by terrain, signatures for backblast weapons, laying smoke, antiaircraft fires, and realistic delays and mission restrictions on indirect fire requests. Further, the basic rules reinforce the requirement of line of sight and window for wire guided missiles and antiair weapons such as the ZSU 23-4. Advanced rules will cover such aspects as electronic warfare and communications, engineer functions, intelligence, and CBR effects.

TACWAR has been designed so that its component parts can be used to support other training. The miniature models can be used to teach and test identification of Threat equipment. The board, or parts of it, alone or in conjunction with the 1:50,000 map and miniatures, will support instruction in map reading, land navigation, terrain appreciation, tactical control measures, estimate of the situation (METT), as well as demonstrating movement and tactical formations.

The value of TACWAR as a training system to provide opportunities for innovative training should be quickly apparent. Those traditionally sedentary periods when deployed aboard ship are ideally suited for the honing of tactical thought processes with TACWAR.

STEELTHRUST and LANDING FORCE, for the MAU and MAB respectively, are also vehicles to provide dimension in training. Both of these battle simulations are planned for play in real time. As opposed to TACWAR, where the decisions and movement of the represented combat minute are allowed to consume as much time as is needed by the players, these real time games will hold the players to moving at the speed of the clock. This does not necessarily mean that 1 minute of play will represent 1 minute of combat; perhaps, 10 minutes of play would represent 10 minutes of combat. Only those decisions reached and orders transmitted during the allotted time would be allowed by the referee controlling play.

This real time simulation becomes very important when training for what is now called maneuver warfare. If a commander and staff are to tighten their observation-orientationdecision-action cycle, the Boyd Theory, so that they can turn within their opponents cycle to disjoint his control and defeat him, they must obviously practice making observations and decisions at the pace of real world time. These games will also be an ideal way for commanders and staffs to master the techniques of mission orders and expeditious communication.

The introducion of wargaming to the MAU/MAB staff level should be most beneficial in providing an element of human friction too often sacrificed in canned CPX scenarios that are orchestrated from start to finish. In wargaming, however restrictive the scenario, once contact is made between opposing forces, the personalities of the players and their ability to free play create that friction which can, even unintentionally, upset the best laid plans and test the flexibility and imagination of the Marines involved.

For those many Marines who have walked the ground through a canned “tactical” exercise wondering what their commanders were learning, wargaming may provide a respite. STEELTHRUST and LANDING FORCE may be best used in a closed mode to drive a CPX. The staffs exercised are separated from the game and communicate with the battle through the same nets and systems they would use in battle.

Used this way, a MAU staff would establish a CP in the field with subordinate maneuver and logistic CPs located in separate locations communicating with controllers manipulating the wargame at an independent site. Orders and reports would be passed by the same systems as battle would require. The “fog of war” would be reproduced by the isolation from the game board and the unknown intention of the opposing commander. The “fortunes of war” would be decided on the wargaming board and force response from the commanders. A computer could be integrated in results determination if necessary to maintain “real time” play.

The value of such training is obvions, particularly in tightening the decision-making cycle. Perhaps more important is the very real possibility of the Marine commander and staff being taught to recognize when an opponent is gaining the initiative and causing disruption in their command.

As with any system, there are limitations. TACWAR will not be all things to all Marines. Strict realists will complain, as with any simulation, that it cannot duplicate combat and has some gamesmanship factors. Experienced wargamers may argue for certain favorite gaming ideas used or excluded. In this regard, it is necessary to keep in mind two facts to place wargaming in perspective as it formally enters the Marine Corps. First, wargaming does not replace other, more traditional training, it expands and enhances it. Units must still go to the field and leaders must still practice moving and fighting their men on real terrain.

Secondly, wargaming is not a “game”; it is a simulation of an aspect of battle. The wargames designed for the Marine Corps do not have, as do their commercial counterparts, the primary purpose of entertainment. The games are designed to hone certain war-fighting decision processes and techniques. An aspect of a military wargame that appears initially more cumbersome than the commercial counterpart may well have been specifically designed in that manner to reinforce a tactical learning point that is unimportant in an entertainment game.

TACWAR and the family of Marine Corps wargames does not mark a revolutionary change in Marine Corps training, but rather is an exciting evolutionary step forward. To effective trainers it will be a welcome tool imaginatively used, for wargaming has tremendous potential to excite tactical thought and technique. But then, the German General Staff began to demonstrate that nearly 160 years ago.