Concept Development as Game Design

One of the things our NUWC game group is hoped to grow into is a different kind of concept generation, development and experimentation group. Wargames are often important venues in the CGD&E process, but we have a void right now that I hope to eventually fill. One of the difficulties with this terminology. I like to think of concepts in terms of ends, ways and means -but imagine my surprise when after readingthrough the Joint Concepts, a variety of service concepts and doctrine, I find ends confused with ways, ways concfused with means and ending up with no friggen clue what a “capability” is.

So, having concept development in my job description, and a new submarine force initiative to take a fresh look at Undersea Warfare, I put some grey matter to trying to straighten this situation out. It just so happens that getting this stuff straight on the concept generation end, helps on the experimentation end when employing wargaming. This also will be an entre’ into posting more definitions on the definitions page, of which Matt Caffrey sent me a bunch longer ago than I care to admit.

So where do you go to get info about concept development? There is surprisingly little out there with the “bible” still being the Defense ADaptive Red Team (DART) working paper A Practiccal Guide for Developing and Writing Military Concepts. Even this work gets wrapped up around ‘capability’ and ‘operational concept’ vs ‘concept of operations’ at various levels of war.

It defines a military concept as:

Military Concept – The description of a method or scheme for employing specified military capabilities in the achievement of a stated objective or aim.

How does one create a miitary concept? The DART guide recommends thinking in terms of ends, ways and means:

Military concepts can be viewed in terms of ends, ways and means, of which the concept corresponds generally to the ways. The means are the military capabilities to be employed in the given situation. They may range from the full arsenal of military forces available at the operational or strategic levels to a particular capability such as a weapon system, vehicle, training system or specific unit at a lower level. The end is the stated objective, ranging from a broad strategic aim to the accomplishment of a particular task. The ways are the method or scheme (that is, the “concept”) by which the means are applied to accomplish the ends. The essence of a concept is this description of method. A description of a capability by itself does not constitute a concept; capabilities can be created but not used as envisioned, while identical capabilities employed differently would constitute different concepts. Likewise, the description of a desired objective does not constitute a concept; any number of different approaches or methods, employing various capabilities, could conceivably accomplish that objective. The end is necessary to provide context, and the means are needed to describe what resources will be applied, but the essence of the concept is the way in which those capabilities are to be employed. In this sense, military concepts are primarily descriptions of how things are done.

So means are things – nouns – while ways are methods, or actions – verbs. This would seem prettty straightforward, except for the fact that nothing less than the Capstone Concept fof Joint Operations defines four activities from which all military operations can be constructed – combat, security, engagement and relief and reconstruction – all actions – verbs – which are then called the concepts means! “Ways” are defined as the arrangement of those activities in the planning of a campaign. There is a planning related pathology here that leads to calling a verb a “means” but I will not fisk it out here…

So I will offer the following definitions:

Ends: the objectives a concept is intended to achieve.

Ways: the activities that are performed to achieve the ends. Simply put, Ways are verbs. The Naval Operating Concept for example describes the Ways to achieve the Ends described in the Maritime Strategy (SC21) as, operating forward, responding to disasters and assisting in humanitarian crises, controlling the seas, projecting power and deterring adversaries. Deterrence is also one of the ends in the maritime strategy so its somewhat inconsistent for deterrence to be both and end and a way, but again – grist for a later mill. ‘Operating’, ‘Responding’, ‘Assisting’, ‘Controlling’, ‘Projecting’, ‘Detering’ – all verbs are properly considered “ways”.

Means: are the things that perform the activities. Different concepts interpret this differently making this seemingly simply term, confusing. Several concepts describe verbs as “means”. Others say that means are capabilities. This causes all sorts of confusion when one starts to talk seriously about capabilities.

Characteristics (aka “attributes”): are measurable performance traits of a “means” – an aircraft’s payload capacity, range and maximum speed are characteristics. Characteristics relate to measures of performance – the facility with which a “means” can perform a task. These are often called “capabilities” – while correct in the dictionary sense, this imprecise usage causes considerable confusion when formulating concepts.

Functions: are the categories of tasks that a Means execute that enable Ways to be performed. Traditionally these are organized by the “Napoleonic N-codes” – Adminstration, Intelligence, Operations, Logisitics, Planning, and Training. The legacy “Joint Functional Concepts” addressed these, but it appears that they are now “Joint Capability Areas”. It appears that each of the high level JCAs will have a “Joint Concept” written for it, with “Joint integrating concepts” being written for major secnd tier JCAs. Currently the first example of this is the new “Joint Logisitics Concept” and its initial JIC “Supply”. This situation implies that a “capability” is “the ability to perform a function” making functions and capabilities near synonymous – at least two sides of the same coin. This may be OK for a “Joint Capability” – but as capabilities get parsed into “operational”, “tactical” and “enabling” types, equating a means and capability doesn’t work so well, since it can lead to “ways = means” contradictions.

Capability: Next to ‘concept’, ‘capability is probably the next most ambiguously used term in the military lexicon. There are 136 entries in the DoD dictionary that include capability as either part of the term, or its definition. The word itself is defined as “the ability to execute a specific course of action.” In SC21 the “core capabilities” are the Ways, while in the CCJO, capabilities are synonymous with Means, and the Joint Capability Areas are arranged by Functions. Not a situation that is going to be resolved any time soon. I contend that to be useful at the operational and tactical level a capability is a synthesis of ways and means to perform a function, given a context and set of criteria. This is more in tune with the “old” definition of “capability”:

The ability to achieve a desired effect under specified standards and conditions through combinations of means and ways to perform a set of tasks. CJCSI 3170.01E

For the purposes of concept generation and development, a useful application of the term capability is through the use of “statements of capability”. These take the formal form ‘noun – verb – object – context – criteria’, where the noun is the Means, the verb is the Way, the object is the thing to be affected by the Means employing the Way, and the criteria establishes the benchmark for success in a particualr conctext. The noun can be left off in a ‘generic’ capability statement that is intended to be independent of the means.

Statements of capability (or capability statements) of this form can be combined to form conceptual frameworks that establish hierarchies of capability statements of increasing detail. An example might be “The Strike Force (noun , means) generates F-18 sorties providing (verb, way) four 4-ship CAP stations (object) at a range of 600nm, 24/7 for 30 days (criteria)”. This statement implies a hierarchy of enabling capability statements regarding the ships and aircraft composing the strike force, the logistics that must be delivered to the strike force, maintaining aircraft, manning deck and hanger crews, managing pilot optempo etc. The criteria and context drives much of these enabling capability requirements as the capability statement: “The Strike Force (noun , means) generates F-18 sorties providing (verb, way) four 4-ship CAP stations (object) at 200nm, during daylight hours, for 5 days (criteria)” implies a vastly different set of enabling capability statements than the former statement with far more demanding criteria.

Context in this construct combines aspects of the joint term “conditions” (“Those variables of the operational environment that may affect task performance. Without establishing the conditions under which a task is to be performed, it is impossible to establish appropriate criteria for its minimum acceptable performance.”) with a “line of operations” in a campaign design.

Crtieria deal with characteristics and measures of performance.

The end result of this construct is the ability to define the elements of a concept in specific terms that one can relate to game design elements. When done correctly, the concept development process also develops “proto-game elements” that can lead to a game design that can test the concept. Capability statements infer “unit values” and “combat system” elements that require rules for interaction. I’m experimenting with a sort of ‘matrix-game’ design process to produce a set of such rules. The problem is that this process is one that produces one “game” out of the very large nuber of possible “games” that could be constructed depending on how one decides how effective something should be.

I’m working on an example of the process to bring to Connections and demonstrate, but will report periodically on my progress.


About Paul Vebber

"If you read about something, you have learned about it. If you can teach something, you have mastered it. Designing a useful game about something however, requires developing a deep understanding of how it relates to other things."
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