STAVANGER, Norway – Senior lecturers from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) were in NATO Joint Warfare Centre (JWC) to deliver two wargaming courses in support of the Centre’s wargaming capability development team.

During the two-week training event, participants set out to examine analytic wargaming techniques through presentations, group discussions, and practical exercises, culminating in a matrix-style wargame design, which the JWC will play out in February 2021, along with the Civil-Military Cooperation Centre of Excellence (CIMIC COE).

“We are working to make wargame opportunities available as short tabletop exercises for senior commanders and senior mentors to explore areas of scenarios that we cannot go into during our Programme of Work exercises due to classification, time, or practicalities,” said U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Madsen, JWC’s Officer of Primary Responsibility (OPR) for wargaming capability development.

Madsen added: “These future JWC-facilitated wargames could be closed door sessions to allow senior commanders and advisors to discuss issues away from the scrutiny that our larger exercises attract.”

Societal resilience will be the theme of JWC’s wargame with the CIMIC COE next year.

Resilience is currently one of the key security focus areas in NATO. During his speech at the yearly Global Security Bratislava Forum on October 7, 2020, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talked about the importance of resilience.

“Having a strong military is fundamental to our security, but our military cannot be strong if our societies are weak; so our first line of defence must be strong societies able to prevent, endure, adapt, and bounce back from whatever happens,” the Secretary General said.


JWC wargame opportunities as short table-top exercises for senior commanders and senior mentors

Wargaming is a simulation of military activity using specific rules, data, methods, and procedures.

An organic wargaming capability will provide the JWC with an innovative way to support NATO Command and Force Structure Headquarters, as well as NATO Member and Partner Nations, allowing them to study, reflect on, and train for multi-faceted ambiguous issues within complex operating environments.

Throughout the two courses in October, JWC’s wargaming capability development team focused on problem structuring techniques, breakpoint analysis, and wargame management.

“Wargaming is a tool our Training Audiences can use standalone or during the Exercise Planning Process,” said British Royal Navy Lieutenant Commander Sarah Davies, JWC’s Deputy Officer of Primary Responsibility (D-OPR) for wargaming capability development.

Davies added: “It is a golden opportunity for the JWC to work with highly respected partner organizations, including the NPS, CIMIC COE, and the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment to help the JWC team develop new and innovative ways of delivering our core missions."


“Tabletop exercises get participants ready to walk; wargames take them to the running level”

Based in Monterey, California, the NPS is one of the world’s leading institutions, which has a robust wargaming education programme.

The NPS courses at the JWC were delivered by retired U.S. Army Colonels, Senior Lecturer Dr Jeffrey Appleget, and Associate Professor Dr Robert Burks.

“One good description would be to call wargaming a decision-making laboratory,” said Dr Jeffrey Appleget, adding: “We are creating a competitive conflict environment in which we can examine and explore the decisions of our players operating under a stimulus.”

20201022wargame-03.jpgDr Jeffrey Appleget

When asked the difference between tabletop exercises and wargames, Appleget explained: “Most exercises, tabletop or other, tend to script adversary actions. That typically trains participants how to react to standard or expected actions that an adversary would take in a given situation. That is a great first step for preparing for stressful situations. In a wargame, we want a thinking peer adversary that is going to throw surprises at the participants so there are no ‘standard’ answers. So, in some sense, tabletop exercises get participants ready to walk; wargames take them to the running level.”

Appleget stressed: “War is too serious NOT to practice it in the most competitive environment possible, before the decision makers have to make decisions that actually put our sons and daughters in harm’s way.”

“A professional development opportunity for senior leaders to mentor junior leaders”

Associate Professor Robert Burks explained that wargaming was beneficial in many ways for military establishments that are specifically focused on training and doctrine.

“First, wargaming provides a professional development opportunity for senior leaders to mentor junior leaders, as they practice and hone their decision-making skills in a competitive environment, such as during a training or experiential wargame. It may also provide an environment for military organizations to explore new concepts and new technologies that they will soon be employing, as in an educational wargame,” he said.


Associate Professor Robert Burks

Burks added: “Wargaming also provides an organization a mechanism to understand tough, complex problems, such as how to defend against an adversary who practices hybrid war during an analytical wargame.”

According to Burks, JWC could launch a campaign of wargaming in the future to educate and train NATO personnel, as well as conducting analytical wargames to understand how new technologies and concepts will affect the way NATO conducts warfare in the future.

“We strongly believe in using wargaming as part of a cycle of research where wargames can better inform the key areas that exercises should focus on, and conversely, the exercises can then point to critical areas that wargames should explore to further refine future exercises. We see wargames and exercises as complementary events whose synergy can bring NATO to the next level in preparing for the future,” Burks explained.

He concluded: “Continue to keep your wargaming knowledge current through participating in symposia and conferences, play wargames to learn new techniques and mechanics, and participate in wargaming design opportunities when they occur.”



The JWC’s inaugural wargaming event took place in June this year, involving a training event for Leader Professional Development, and a two-day matrix-style wargame.

Addressing the JWC’s core planners on June 2, Rear Admiral Jan C. Kaack, Commander JWC, said: “The idea for this wargame initiative is to optimize and expand the Joint Warfare Centre’s capabilities as they relate to planning and delivery of exercises.”

Rear Admiral Kaack added: “We play a central role in the operational level of warfare. Both our staff and training audiences can benefit from this innovative capability as we move forward. Well-structured, multi-faceted, and objective wargaming can also complement our future command post exercises, particularly with regards to the exploration of complex problems at the operational and strategic levels of warfare.”

The wargaming capability development initiative is directly linked to JWC Vision 2025 and was also presented to NATO’s top echelon during the NATO Military Committee visit to the JWC in early March this year.

Together with Standard Operating Instructions and Lessons Identified Action Plans, JWC’s February 2021 Initial Operational Capability (IOC) is the first step on the road to achieving a full wargaming capacity.

Further reading: JWC Kicks Off Wargame Initiative for Future Exercise Design Processes