Remember, Kill Chain
Onside Review by Nick Luft
My aim was to design a game about the command, control and communications aspect of modern warfare, integrating near-real-time surveillance and intelligence with a live boots-on-the-ground operation.
As I pondered my design I realised that this game would be well suited to being played using a computer to control the information inputs. I realised that I could create a PowerPoint presentation with each message on a slide and use a timer move the presentation on.
The game requires three to four players, with one or two controls. On the day we had four players, and myself as control and another 6 watching the game.
It took 10 minutes to brief the players and 15 minutes to play the game.
The players were split into two teams:
- Predator Crew
- A team controlling a Predator drone. Who would read and interpret the intelligence flowing into their control rooms.
- ODA Unit
- The Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) team controlling the boots on the ground unit who would receive phone messages from the Predator team giving their interpretation of the intelligence. The ODA Commander was in Command.
Game Briefing and Setup
I set up the game using my laptop connected to a large monitor, brought in by Antony for his earlier game.
I presented the game brief using a short PowerPoint presentation. I think this was very successful method of presenting the game brief. Players generally skim read paper briefs and at different rates. By presenting the brief via a PowerPoint presentation all players were concentrating on the same section, and all questions were relevant to the same section. I will be using this method again.
The scenario I used is known as the “Uruzgan helicopter attack”, 21 February 2010, which ended in the killing of 27 Afghan civilians, and wounding of 12 others, including women and children when US attack helicopters destroyed a civilian convoy, in the mistaken belief they were a Taliban convoy of reinforcements.
I chose this scenario because it was investigated and the transcript of the report was made available by a Freedom of Information request in the USA and is available from the ACLU website. It meant that my intelligence inputs for the game could be extracted from this report.
Below is my simplified diagram of the comms and unit setup based on the historical scenario. I used this in the player briefing.
The two teams were in separate rooms ensuring no voice contact. One member of each team was allowed to use a mobile phone. These two players were allowed to stay in voice contact via mobile phones. They could not let their other team member use their phone.
The Predator team was able to watch the PowerPoint presentation. This team could have been just a team of one, but I prefer to avoid this. Rob and Nick shared the role of the Mission Intelligence Coordinator (MIC). They quickly divided up their tasks, Nick reading the slides and interpreting them, Rob using a mobile phone to pass on Nick’s interpretation to Jim.
Outside sitting in the sunshine on the wall near to the Church Hall entrance was Mukul and Jim. Jim was playing the Joint Terminal Attack Controller, JTAC (Jaguar 25) a US Special Forces Sergeant, who was in constant mobile phone contact with Rob’s character in the Main Hall. Mukul was playing the ODA CDR, Fox 24, a US Special Forces Captain, and in overall command. Jim in turn told Mukul what Rob had told him.
The PowerPoint Presentations
Here you can download the Powerpoints used in the game, with all the faults (see my list of improvements to make). There are three PowerPoint presentations.
- Situation Update – running on a timed transition
- Briefing presentation
- Presentation containing a copy of the Map
Situation Update presentation
This uses the following format:
- the time the incident or message occured
- who sent the message
- the message or summary and sometimes a map showing the updated positions.
Initially I thought that my slide transition timings should be based on the the real timings between each incident. The problem with this was that some of the time gaps were an hour and others 2 minutes long. So even a scaled timing would have large pauses followed by short transitions.
Eventually I decided to run the PowerPoint presentation and record my slide transition times. My rule of thumb was that I would read each slide twice, and then add a few seconds and then move to next slide. This resulted in the 23 slide presentation running for 13:30 minutes.
The Game Play
I was impressed how quickly the players organised themselves. Nick reading and interpreting the slides, then talking to Rob who then relayed the information via a mobile phone to Jim, who then spoke to Mukul. I was impressed how calmly, speedily, and efficiently this was done.
I started watching the game with the Predator Team and Situation Update presentation. I did this mostly because I wanted to check the presentation was working and wasn’t too slow or too fast. When I confirmed this I went outside to see how Jim and Mukul were getting on. After a short time outside, and after confirming Mukul’s fears that he was the boss with the final say so on any decisions, I went back to the Hall and watched the situation develop there.
It was about then that I noticed that the other people not actually in the game – about six of them – were intently watching the presentation. They did not make any comments. One of them, Antony, went outside to watch Jim and Mukul. It was quite a spectator sport.
Eventually Mukul decided that the confirmed presence of three weapons, the military aged men and the convoys movement gave him good reason to order its destruction. And thus the binary decision – the only decision of the game – had been taken and it was literally game over.
Post Game Discussion
I knew that at one of the CLWG members had served in the Afghanistan Wars, but was surprised to find that Nick was also a veteran of the campaigns there. This meant these guys brought some accurate criticisms and suggestions on how to improve the game.
The major criticism was that the ground unit (ODA 4132) did not have a map with them – I had forgotten to bring that along. This, together with the lack of named points on the map, lead to them misunderstanding about the actual location of the convoy. Mukul thought the convoy was a lot closer to the ODA unit and thus more of a threat.
Bernie was fascinated by the legal implications of the game and would liked to have played the Judge Advocate’s role. This brought back memories of Neil’s game about the Vietnam War Crimes. This was an aspect of these real world incidents that I had not included in my game design. It would require a different game design.
At the start during the Briefing there had been a lively discussion about my Rules of Engagement. They were considered to be ambiguous and poorly written. I will need to tighten them for another version of this game.
To my amazement, Mukul, I think, recalled how I had run a game, probably over 25 years ago, at Chestnut Lodge, about the fight over the Aaland Islands in 1918 at the start of the Finnish Civil War. This game defined how players could communicate according to their resources or lack of them. I remember watching a discussion going on between a player in one toilet cubicle and one in an adjoining one! Perhaps I am more interested in communication in war than I realise.
The game needs to be improved.
- The Map caused some errors between the teams that should probably not have been caused if I had created a more accurate map.
- Use a map with a scaled grid so that distances can be quickly estimated.
- Use a map with the simplified names for roads, junctions and other features that were used at the time. Nick, who had served in the campaign, told me how this was done.
- The Rules of Engagement (ROE) were ambiguous. I had written them up too quickly without really checking the detail and there were some questions about them I could not answer. In the post game discussion it was mentioned how ROEs are a very important factor in determining how western militaries fight.
- I would like to create a mini-game for Mukul’s character (ODA CDR) giving him something to do to represent that he was busy with other issues and could only listen with half an ear to his JTAC. I worry that It might add a complexity too far. More pondering is required.
Cockburn, Andrews (2015) “Kill Chain” – This the book that I picked up in a library and read. It is a journalistic account of the use of drones, intelligence and targeted assassination by the USA Government.
USFOR (2010) “Report on AR 15-6 Investigation, February 21 2010 U.S. Air-to-Ground Engagement in the Vicinity of Shahidi Hassas, Uruzgan District, Afghanistan.” [Online: https://www.aclu.org/drone-foia-department-defense-uruzgan-investigation-documents]