from Dunnigans Wargames Handbook:

Wargames and the 1991 Iraq War

Wargaming featured prominently in US efforts during the 1990-91 war in the Persian Gulf. On the morning of August 2nd, with Iraq's conquest of Kuwait still not complete, the Pentagon looked around for some quick wargaming on what was going on and what it all meant. The only kind of wargame that could get results quickly was a manual game, a commercial manual game that could be bought in a game store. The game used was Gulf Strike. Mark Herman had designed this game on potential wars in the Persian Gulf during the mid 1980s. The game had already been updated once a few years later and was still in print. Mark had, for several years, been working for one defense consulting firm or another, so the Pentagon knew who he was and what he could do. The Pentagon approached Mark at 10 AM on August 2nd, he was under contract at 2 PM and the game began at 3 PM (using various Pentagon Middle East experts as players). Before the day, Iraq had conquered Kuwait, but the wargamers in Washington knew Iraq was doomed. The results of this manual game were the basis of most of the decision making during August.

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Actually GS was my first 'real' wargame !

Quite much solo play, esp. of that cheesy little Horn of Africa scenario. Learned a lot about combined arms among tactical domains (subs, surface, AA, bombardment, fighters) and long range bombers in Yemen(?). Here I formed a 'theory' of 'accurate fear' (fear what should rightly be feared, don't what is minor risk for the reward).

Tried once a 2-player of the Iran/Iraq stalemate scenario, only that we added 20 or so to the supply of both sides, and... still stalemate.

Could not reproduce anything like the 1991 history with it. No reason for 4 months of buildup, 38 days of bombardment only and 4 days of super-fast assault.
The problem with the Gulf War (ed 1991) is coming up very often when discussing "Gulf Strike".
Without having any scientific answers to why it seems impossible to reproduce the historical outcome of that war with the GS system I have the following points I'd like to highlight.

The war in 1990/91 was a classical war of attrition following the lessons learned since the beginning of the 20th Century executed with all means available.

Classical war of attriction because the enemy was starved and cut from his supplies long enough to diminish his fighting force and will to a strict minimum.
Lessons learned were that any modern armed forces are useless without C3i and as Napoleon already put it: "soldiers with a full belly fight better!".
By all means: military, political and psychological. The theory of Douhet on strategic bombing was proved to be right, in principle. A masterminded war-plan who was in fact a gigantic ambush. The grip of a dictatorship is only a grip as long as the people living in it feel the grip. Frontline troops didn't feel the fist of Saddam for a very long period but were awed by the almighty coalition troops.

All of these and many more components who made up (IMHO) the rather unforeseeable "sequence of play" of the Gulf War were not covered by the GS rules. Mass-Surrender was simply not a thing that was thought possible. The torching of the oil-wells and the effect it had were a surprise. The Iraqi air-force choosing to be exiled in Iran rather than to fight.. the list is long.

I think that it showed to us that war-games can be good simulations of past conflicts where we have a thorough knowledge of what actually happened but they are not so good at predicting the future. That's why I like historical war-games best and hypothetical conflicst come second. War-games covering future wars are not (except for Fleets 2025) in my collection.
I touch on this in my article on The Next War, in the current Line of Departure. One of the biggest problems with Gulf Strike, and for that matter with most if not all modern-hypothetical games, is the order of battle. The designer has to take a snapshot of what he thinks the forces look like at the time, or will look like when the game gets played by the public. Unfortunately, Gulf Strike could have done a better job of anticipating the force structures of a conflict in the Persian Gulf. Most strikingly to me, the US Air Force order of battle relied entirely on the F-15 as an air superiority fighter, when the F-16 was clearly turning into the multi-mission mainstay. From the day that I opened the box, I wondered where the Falcons were, and why they weren't deployed to the Gulf in the game.

News and events that would become history mandated upgrades to the orders of battle through add-on modules, and I got them all. But there were still no F-16's, not until the introduction of the Desert Storm module in 1990. By that time it was no longer a matter of anticipating F-16's over the Gulf, but of observing them go there in real life.

Gulf Strike has one of the best, most incisive systems when it comes to simulating modern operational/strategic conflict, and is marvelous at putting operations into the context of theater-wide strategic considerations. It might not even be one of the best, but the best.

Orders of battle too have to be among the more difficult tasks for a game designer. If a designer tries to put it into the time frame of when he actually starts designing, it's extremely likely, indeed certain, that something vital is going to change before publication, and the game is going to be dated instead of current. If he reaches too far, it can skirt the edge of science fiction. Witness the death ray that was anticipated as a defensive system on the B-1 in Air War.

Or he can try to split the difference and include both current systems and units, and those that could be deployed imminently. That can be interesting, and analytically valid, and yet can lead to some strange anachronisms too. For example, in GMT's Korea 1995, the US Air Force has the first F-22 Raptors in its arsenal, and the navy retains the last of its Iowa-class battleships. It is a little like seeing cavemen in the same context as dinosaurs. I admit that it's definitely fun, and Raptors and Iowas could have coexisted had the first been rushed a little and the second retained on active status longer, but the reality expected when the order of battle was formulated just did not happen.

Gulf Strike certainly reflects the problems of putting together a valid order of battle, and then maintaining it through supplements. Designers who specialize only in the past and not the future have it a lot easier.
My view on hypotheticals is not that they predict the future, and frankly I don't think that they can or are supposed to, but rather allow you to gain some insight into the issues involved in a particular (potential) conflict and possibly allow for the formation of alternative approaches. That, IMO, is the value of hypothetical games.

If we assume for a moment that folks involved in planning GW91 played Gulf Strike, why isn't it fair to assume that they did not like the outcomes the game presented, and therefor changed something in doctrine/technology/tactics to alter the potential outcomes that was different from the founding assumptions and constraints of the game? In that sense, Gulf Strike, rather than predict the future, helped shape it. Which do you think has more value? (The preceding is obviously hypothetical, as I have no idea if anything like that happened)

OBs and so forth are really secondary considerations in that respect, as they can be updated by either the publisher or the player at any time. What's more, I don't think that any particular piece of hardware or formation that's missing is as important as the hypothetical game telling you what particular piece of hardware or formation may be needed.

I find hypotheticals to be the primary bulk of my collection. I think if you're expecting them to predict the future, you're expecting something from them that they cannot deliver, and are not intended to provide.
I actually think that where OB quality becomes central is when the new weapon, system or unit represents a revolutionary change in warfighting rather than an incremental one. For example, a future operational game that ignores stealth and next-generation information systems just bought itself a one-way ticket to irrelevance.

With Gulf Strike, and again this is one of the games that I respect the most, the F-16 problem is that the Falcons represent a multi-mission capability that affects both the air and ground games. Not including at least some aircraft of that type, the one on which the USAF had the greatest reliance too, unnecessarily diminishes its accuracy and hence predictive capability.

With ground unit OB's in an operational or strategic game, the problem is far less critical. Do the tank units have M60's or Abrams? Or T-72's or T-80's? As long as the general era is correct and the relative strengths are in the same ballpack, the game probably won't suffer too much. The issue here is numbers, then how they match up; the CRT is going to be the most critical issue. That too holds not just with hypothetical situations, but with all operational and strategic wargames. If the designer gets those mathematical relationships right, the chances are excellent that the ground game is going to reflect it, and work.

With aircraft, ships and missiles though, generational differences in performance, survivability, lethality and accuracy are going to be much more obvious.
I think, of course, that you are correct, but I also think that those weapons are few and far between. Frequently, the inclusion of such weapons, however, is so revolutionary that it alters doctrine to such an extend that the design itself is no longer relevant, so a new design is in order. Hypothetical designs clearly do become obsolete. That's just the process and I don't think is that big a problem. Updates, modifications, revisions, and new editions can go a long way toward addressing that shortcoming. But the real design challenge is to create a system that is flexible enough that is doesn't break when these revolutions come along.
I agree Jon, if the command and control systems are realistic and flexible, they can accommodate a massive amount of hardware changes. The idea system would be good enough that when weapons evolve, all one has to do is plug in new units, and new numbers, and the game would update without many additional changes. I think it's the real beauty of The Operational Art of War on the computer side of wargaming.

In that system though, there's a reverse of the expected problem of updating for new weapons and systems. It works very well in the World War II and post-war eras, right up to the present and beyond, but I've long thought that it backdating it leads to a much lesser game. There are now scenarios for World War I, the Civil War, and even the Napoleonic Wars, and they don't work nearly as well.
I guess I'm going to have to get a copy of that. I've heard the same thing a few other places.
I don't expect a wargame to predict the future and the fact that GS didn't predict the future is absolutely ok for me.
I was referring to other forum-posts on the web where people talk negatively about GS because it wasn't a crystal ball ;-) and YES I would appreciate if Stormin Norman played GS and made all the right decisions. Maybe he did and that's why Mark Herman now has a job in the Pentagon? (just a joke, I have no clue where he works!)
Your approach to hypothetical games is without doubt right. It's the what-if situations I like most in wargames. The what-ifs are somehow validated if the game is following historical outcomes (when played historically). I seem to look for some reassuring validation while you have a different view, which is of course totally ok.
There is one area in which I've been extremely lucky: My one hypothetical design, Britain Stands Alone, is a past hypothetical game. I benefited from a fairly well-documented order of battle on both sides, and lots of history of how combat in World War II was fought on the ground, sea and air. In integrating them, Gulf Strike was actually a pretty important indirect influence, and at the very least a great example that it could be done.

With all those advantages, I found that hypothetical game design is damned challenging. Even reaching into the past, where there are certain benchmarks, it's still predictive, and prediction is much tougher than replication.

I'm not about to condemn Gulf Strike or its designer for lacking a crystal ball, for the simple reason that I know from experience that it doesn't exist.
By "you" I was referring to people in general, not you personally.

Herman actually works at Booze Allen Hamilton, which is fairly close. And I've heard second hand stories that the game was in fact used in the prewar planning.

I also agree that the game is an excellent example, and one of the best done to date on hypothetical conflict.
You are absolutely right. Gulf Strike and its sister game Aegean Strike are the best. If you are looking for an interactive (no IGOUGO) game system simulating the operational part of a war in the 80s.
With games designed on past wars there is of course the danger that the designer is putting too much effort into the rules so as to replicate the real past. Those games are loaded with special rules (first turn this, that unit restrictions etc.) and I frankly don't like it too much. The game Twilight in the East 1914 for example is a fantastic game and a great simulation but there are a number of design decisions that went into it to make it flow historically. Fine for me and I appreciate the effort because it's much easier to ignore those rules (in case I want to) than to design them on my own afterwards.


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