Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group

Strategic Nuclear Planning Game [From the Archives]

Strategic Nuclear Planning by Rob Cooper is one of CLWG’s legendary games. Run shortly after the end of the Cold War, here is Jim Wallman’s offside report of playing in Strategic Nuclear Planning. This was originally published in milmud sometime in the early 1990s, the exact date lost to time.

Strategic Nuclear Planning – offside report by Jim Wallman

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Strategic Nuclear Planning shouldn’t lead to this…

A Committee Game by Rob Cooper
Offside Report by Jim Wallman

For my entire life, until 1989, the nuclear stalemate of the Cold War has been a constant background to the world, and my view of it. As a teenager and budding wargamer I initially found the vastly complicated nuclear arsenal fascinating, and then with growing knowledge, increasingly horrifying.

As a wargamer and (in my working life) as part of the military-industrial complex I maintained a passing interest in the whole issue. In the 1970s I regularly bought the IISS Military Balance (which I cannot do today because you need an income the size of the Defence Budget to be able to afford it!), and kept track of what was being developed. I read Herman Khan (not really to be recommended except as bedtime reading for insomniacs) and others on the various theories and general thinking about nuclear war.

For a long time I considered wargaming nuclear war, but by stages decided that it was either too boring, too frightening, or too difficult to do.

Rob Cooper’s Strategic Nuclear Planning Game revived a whole area of interest that had been forgotten since the Cold War ended. The game is straightforward, and herein lies its strength. Mechanisms are minimal, and the players have to wrestle with the long term policy decisions of Ruritania in its undeclared conflict with its arms race rival Freedonia. Starting with basic IRBMs and simple ABM systems (ie. around 1965), we, the Soviet Uni … er, sorry I mean …Ruritanian strategic planners had to decide of the main areas of R&D and procurement for a series of 5-Year Plans. Each game turn was one of these five year periods.

On each turn we had to decide on our key strategic nuclear planning posture, what our targeting policy was etc – and then allocate our budget of 50 billion Ruribles to a variety of new items. In the course of the game we developed MIRV, SSBN, ANTISAT, DEWS, SATCOMS, SAC and a whole collection of other letters of the alphabet, in a wide variety of configurations.

The Strategic Nuclear Planning game was further spiced up by a certain amount of rivalry between the three main strategic arms; Missile Forces, Air Forces and the Navy.
Each player had a brief specific to their arm, plus one player for the General Staff. The aim was to advise the President on our posture, and to ensure the defence of Ruritania.

It quickly became clear that defence was not going to be easy, and felt we had to push for a policy of threatening Freedonian cities in the even of any attack on Ruritania. This was because we could not expect to get many missiles or bombers launched in the event of a Freedonian first strike, and so had to inflict the most damaging political consequences for the Freedonian regime, with the little we had. Massive civilian casualties, we felt, was more of a problem for the Freedonians than it would have been for us.

This posture had to change as the game developed because new technologies and actions by the Freedonians made alternatives such as targeting delivery means an issue worth considering.

The general feel of the Strategic Nuclear Planning¬†game seemed just right to me. The mechanisms were abstract – but probably no more abstract than the bizarre notions dreamt up by the planners of the time (I mean, really, atomic air to air missiles!). The decision making was tense, because we were in an arms race – we felt we had to press for more resources (we didn’t get any) and any edge we could over the Freedonians, who obviously had more money and better technology than us. Well, actually they didn’t have either as we discovered later – but paranoia does that to you, I guess.

The Strategic Nuclear Planning game ended with a real atomic war. All our assumptions, assessments and claims (including the outrageous ones from the Air Force) were put to the test. The evil Freedonians launched a surprise first strike against our command and control and communications systems. In ten minutes I was dead, as were the commanders of the Navy and Strategic Bombers and the President. The Chief of Staff followed soon after, I think. Due to poorly developed communications, our nuclear forces got permission to fire only at the last second. The Air Force’s communications system failed completely, and not one bomber took off. I managed to get the signal through to the silos just before the Big White Light got me, and the Navy similarly managed to get the message through to their SSBNs just in time.

They trashed us, but we wiped out every single Freedonian city! What a Great Victory. If we had any (which of course we won’t)our descendents would remember how we defended Ruritanian soil. Admittedly, the soil doesn’t have anything growing on it any more – but you can’t have everything. The Freedonians were also taught a lesson – they won’t be waging war on us any more! Mainly because neither state exists any more.

The Participants

Chief of the General Staff : Colin Walsh
Commander of Strategic Bombers : Richard Williams
Commander of Naval Missile Forces : Dave Nilsson
Commander of Missile Forces : Jim Wallman

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