UK Hosts World's Wargaming Professionals

One of the largest gatherings of international wargaming professionals ever held in the UK took place at the Connections UK conference in London in September.

Now in its seventh year and organised by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the UK Defence Academy and King’s College London, Connections UK was attended by more than 250 people across 22 nations. The attendees hailed from the military, government, academic, humanitarian and commercial game design sectors.

"We wargame because we must. There are certain warfare problems that only gaming will illuminate."
Professor Robert Rubel, Chairman of the Wargaming Department, US Naval War College

The aim of Connections UK is 'To advance and preserve the art, science and application of wargaming'.

Wargames can be used to explore tactical, operational and strategic issues across the business, security, emergency services, humanitarian and military sectors. Wargames encourage players to: think innovatively and creatively in a safe to fail environment; identify emerging issues; test hypotheses; assess alternate options and highlight the potential consequences of choices.

Wargaming is experiential learning and as General (retired) Andrew Sharpe CBE said: Wargaming provides a ‘fitness programme for the brain’ which makes people better decision makers. It speaks to the Confucian concept of active learning:

‘I hear, and I forget;
I see, and I remember;
I do, and I understand.’

Wargaming table-top exercises can be undertaken without risking lives or disrupting business continuity at a fraction of the cost of exercises deploying physical troops and equipment.

The importance of Connections UK was underlined by a visit to this year’s event by Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace. The Defence Secretary was given a tour of the conference and a detailed practical presentation of the benefits of wargaming by Colin Marston, a Senior Principal Analyst in Dstl’s wargaming team, and Dstl Fellow Mike Larner.

"A good game is a unique way of structuring experience and provoking positive emotion. It is an extremely powerful tool for inspiring participation and motivating hard work… Games, in the twenty-first century, will be a primary platform for enabling the future."
Jane McGonigal, game designer and author

Throughout the three days there were talks; practical gaming sessions; a mega-game; a games fair; plenary sessions on “the Psychology of Wargaming” and “Wargaming Hybrid Operations”; and deep dives on topics such as “Technology to Support Wargaming”, “Space”, “Wargaming the Future” and “Data Capture and Analysis”.

Connections UK featured two keynote speeches, the first by Dr Lynette Nusbacher, former Head of the Strategic Horizons Unit in the Cabinet Office, who offered an assessment of how games can more effectively shape policy processes. The second from Maj Gen Mitch Mitchell from the MOD’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre, who spoke about the importance of “thinking differently”. He argued that wargaming needs to become both routine (something that’s regularly done) and experimental (in that it examines new threats and responses).

“Connections UK 2019 provided an opportunity to learn from other experts in the field, learn about and actually test drive wargame tools and connect with leaders in the field from 22 nations. This was easily the most valuable Connections UK to date.”
Matthew B. Caffrey Jr. Colonel USAF (ret.) Author, On Wargaming

Dstl Senior Principal Analyst and Connections UK organiser Colin Marston, added:

“The only certainty about the future is its inherent uncertainty, and the world is becoming ever more complex and volatile. Wargaming is increasingly relevant to today’s problems and can help us to prepare for the future. It can help us to get ahead of a competitor, save money and – most importantly – save lives. Wargaming is recognised by Dstl as an area of strategic importance for our Defence and Security customers and has had impact up to the level of the National Security Council. We are working closely with industry to grow the wargaming capability in our supplier base and have doubled the size of our wargaming team in order to meet the growing, and increasingly sophisticated, demand for wargaming. In the near future, I hope that there will also be wargaming teams embedded within each of the UK Services.”

For more information please see the Connections UK website.

On 7th November Dstl and its partners will be hosting a free “Show and Tell” event at The Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry for potential new suppliers to help influence future wargame development. To secure a place at the event register online.