Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Spot Report From The Future: War Between Pakistan And India Has 70% Chance Of Going Nuclear

Each year, in my strategic intelligence class, I use an old-school war game as the capstone of the game-based learning portion of the course.  Last year, we looked at a potential conflict on the Korean Peninsula but this year we were able to examine a hypothetical, near future, force-on-force conflict between India and Pakistan using Decision Games' Showdown.

The premise of the game is that "something" happens such that India feels compelled to invade Pakistan.  To win, the Indians have to take four of the five major Pakistani cities while not allowing the Pakistanis to take even one Indian town.  The Pakistanis win by preventing an Indian victory or by taking two Indian towns.  A draw is possible if the Indian player takes four cities but the Pakistani player has one Indian town.  Showdown is a 2 person game so we actually had 28 games being played more or less simultaneously.

The results?  In the 28 games, Pakistan won outright in 11 of them (39%) and India won outright in 7 (25%).  In addition, there were 3 draws (11%) with the remaining seven still too close to call when we ran out of time (4 hours).  It was a pretty even battle for the most part (You can see the number of cities taken plotted against the number of games in the chart below).

X axis = No. of Cities taken; Y axis = No. of games

Oh...yeah.  And in 70% of the games, the conflict went nuclear before it was over.

It is not preordained that this conflict will go nuclear when the game begins.  The Pakistani player must use nukes first and must be losing before the nukes are released (this is simulated by a rule that increases the odds that nukes are released with each Pakistani city taken). 

Showdown only simulates tactical nukes but it does so in a fairly sophisticated way.  Each side gets a fixed number of nukes to begin the game with a random plus-up to simulate the unknowns inherent in the size of the two nuclear arsenals.  Likewise, nukes can be duds (fail to explode upon contact) or get shot down by either sides' air defense systems.  Neither dud nor shootdown is highly likely but it helps create a sense of the fog of war. 

The photostream above is of the final dispositions of forces for both sides at the end of 15 of the games.  The darker pieces are the Pakistani units and the lighter pieces are the Indian units.   The cell phones used to take most of these pictures don't give much detail, so I have provided a clearer image of some the counters below.

This year, I asked students to make estimates about their opponent's strategy, devise their own strategy  and then execute that strategy.  In the after-action review, we went back and tried to determine why someone won or lost.  In many cases, students were able to determine that it was a poor or good estimate, strategy or execution that led to their defeat or victory.  In some cases, however, luck played a major role and occasionally (particularly in the games that were still up in the air when time ran out) it was impossible to say.

While I am a fan of games in the classroom in general, I particularly like using these old school war games with intel students.  It forces them to not only make estimates but to come to grips with the consequences of those estimates while simultaneously giving students a sense of the complexities inherent in modern warfare.