Predicting the Outcome of War: Can Science Help?
By Sandra I. Erwin
Digital simulations are staples of military war games. They can be used to recreate just about every aspect of combat. But simulating the complex scenarios of “irregular” warfare is one of the toughest challenges that Defense Department engineers now face, said Army Col. Michael Sanders, deputy director of the Pentagon’s modeling and simulation coordination office.
The Defense Department for decades has perfected the science of modeling intricate aspects of traditional warfare. Now the Pentagon needs accurate models and simulations of so-called “non kinetic” conflict such as counterinsurgency and information warfare.
“Anybody who's been in the business knows that we're very good at modeling and using simulation to look at the kinetic effects of conventional warfare,” Sanders said in an interview last month with “Armed With Science,” a Defense Department’s webcast. Pentagon modeling experts, for example, can relatively easily predict the ballistic trajectory of a rocket-propelled grenade and its effects when it hits a tank. Forecasting the behavior of foreign cultures as they interact with U.S. military forces is an entirely new modeling puzzle that scientists have yet to solve, Sanders said. “We're looking at what are those technologies that we need to represent the non-kinetic aspects to the same level of fidelity that we can on the kinetic aspects,” he said.
As they prepare for an extended counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, U.S. military planners would like to be able to model the activities that occur in a tribal society where there may not be traditional hierarchical authorities. “I think we're just getting our arms around that,” said Sanders. “I don't know if we'd necessarily have all the answers at this point in time.”
The Defense Department will be spending $2 billion during the next five years on new models and simulations. Sanders’ office is working with the Pentagon’s directorate of research and engineering on techniques to model human social and cultural behavior, he said.
Alan Shaffer, principal deputy director of defense research and engineer said that counterinsurgency warfare will requires the Defense Department to expand its capabilities in areas such as cultural and social modeling. At a hearing of the terrorism, unconventional threats and capability subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, Shaffer said his office has reallocated more than 10 percent of the Pentagon’s science and technology investments to address irregular warfare needs.
Another thorny challenge for Pentagon simulation experts is how to model cyberspace and create realistic scenarios for the Pentagon to figure out how to counter cyberattacks, said Sanders. “How do we use modeling and simulation tools, data and services across the cyberspace domain and protect ourselves while we're doing it?”