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Wargame students plan for a 'World on the Brink'

Using the theme, “World on the Brink,” students from five military Senior Level Colleges unite at Maxwell Air Force Base to train the way they fight.

The 26th annual Joint Land, Aerospace and Sea Simulation, or JLASS, wargame kicks off today (April 16, 2009) at the LeMay Center’s Air Force Doctrine Development and Education’s Air Force Wargaming Institute and runs through April 22.

Steve Crawford, Northrop Grumman contractor lead for JLASS, said JLASS was originated to promote joint professional military education. He said students from Air War College, the Army War College, Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Marine Corps War College and Naval War College will participate in the five-day engagement addressing key issues of strategic and operational levels of war.

Army Col. Dan Grey, this year’s JLASS wargame director, said the major objective for all the Senior Level Colleges is for students to address key issues at the strategic and operational levels of war and enhance awareness of the interagency process, combined/joint staff and unified command issues.

“The students will be using diplomacy and combined forces to execute national and theater-level strategies, which also helps each school meet their specific learning objectives,” he said.

Mr. Crawford, who is in his 16th JLASS game, said approximately 90 students, 25 faculty members from the SLCs and an additional 95 controllers, administrators and information technology staff members are teaming up to tackle the tough issues the students will face in the future. He said the exercise is a two-sided, computer-supported wargame that takes place 10 years in the future. This year, Homeland Security events and issues will be more emphasized, as well as mobility and reserve mobilization issues, with three additional lesser contingency scenarios.

Mr. Crawford said JLASS helps future senior leaders develop strategic and operational skills and also enhance student-to-student interaction, which is consistently listed as one of the high points during student and faculty feedback sessions.

“Players gain a significant amount of knowledge in deliberate planning and crisis-action planning,” he said. “They are getting a chance to meet face-to-face and may be working with each other down the road.”

Mr. Crawford noted that just as their war planning is instituted to be real-world, the students will also face real-world obstacles, such as media and public pressures. Controllers in the media cell produce two products that affect the students’ game play: the fictional Global News Network which airs daily news broadcasts and an “Early Worm” news brief. Both products provide news that affects the students’ reactions.

“The ‘World on the Brink’ is the theme of news covered by GNN,” said Lt. Col. Diane Ficke, the JLASS media control chief and deputy director of the U.S. Air Force Public Affairs Center of Excellence at the Spaatz Center for Officer Education. “The purpose of GNN is to expose the students to the media and help them develop the tools they need to be effective strategic communicators.”

She said approximately 20 Reservists and National Guard public affairs specialists and broadcasters from all over the United States travel to Maxwell each year to role-play the media and develop realistic news products.

Mr. Crawford said students began the academic phase of JLASS at their home station between October and January. During this phase, they exchanged planning data with students from other schools through Web contact, telephone conferences and face-to-face briefings.

Students then come to Maxwell-Gunter to put their planning to the test in a high-pressure global media environment similar to an actual world crisis. They execute the campaign plan developed during the academic phase. To help make scenarios more authentic, the JLASS Steering Group keeps in mind real-world situations.

“The steering group is instrumental in making the game come off without a hitch,” Mr. Crawford said. “A lot of prior planning and coordination goes into making JLASS successful. Each steering group member has a vested interest in making this a great educational experience.”

He said the JLASS Steering Group is the “braintrust” of the game, consisting of a board of senior faculty from each Senior Level College. They are responsible for planning and conducting the exercise and coordinating their school’s elective courses.

“The steering group holds quarterly meetings, beginning immediately after the previous wargame concludes,” Mr. Crawford said. “The steering group will look ahead at next year’s game and discuss ways they can improve. The game has gotten better every year, based on surveys. There’s always room for improvement, and we strive to make that happen.”

Article courtesy of the USAF Public Affairs Center of Excellence Spaatz Center for Officer Education