APL's National Security Analysis Department is
developing a video-gaming technology that allows
it to create simulations and rehearse complex missions for
sponsors on desktop computers. The
software — known as MOSBE for "modeling and
simulation builder for everyone" — is the centerpiece
of NSAD's efforts to strengthen its war-gaming analysis
The MOSBE software provides an environment that helps
military leaders rapidly create and
test concepts, and quickly and easily modify and refine
them before deploying them to trainees or
developing requirements for a traditional simulation
"Traditionally, a sponsor will ask us to conduct a
study of capabilities and scenarios. We'll
produce a report, and they get one answer. They may like
the conclusion, or tell us to go back for
further analysis," explains NSAD's Steve Phillips, the
department's MOSBE expert. "But with a
'serious game' modeling and simulation environment like
MOSBE, we can create hypothetical situations
based on environments that they've defined, using actual
military capabilities — sensors behave the way
they do in real life, for example. Then, we can bring in
players in the morning, and by day's end we will
have tried out a variety of scenarios and solutions to
figure out how best to solve the problem."
So, what used to take several weeks can be knocked out
in one workday.
War game exercises train commanders and their staff in
critical battle-related decision making.
War games have traversed a path from pencil-and-paper, to
board games to high-end computer
simulations. NSAD got into the game in 2004.
"We were working with the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency on a technology utility
assessment, and as part of that went down to participate in
a Marine Corps exercise," recalls NSAD's
Scott Simpkins. "We sat in this auditorium and there was a
guy standing up front with a bunch of
slides. And they called that a war game. I remember
thinking, 'We can do better than that.'"
And they did. With the help of the Technical Services
Department, NSAD built a board game.
"We had game pieces that moved and explored specific
technologies," Simpkins says. "Our sponsors
thought it was neat, so we did more. We were writing rules
and rolling dice. But it had its limitations.
The 'gamers' made so many moves it was difficult to
recapture where people moved to create a certain
But Simpkins says he knew that computer gaming
companies could tackle this challenge. He
researched makers of popular strategy games and found one
in the Lab's backyard: BreakAway Ltd., a
developer of military simulations and creator of MOSBE,
based in Baltimore.
"They had a product that could incorporate military
environments, the actual capabilities of
equipment and sensors and manpower," Simpkins says. "This
was no silly video game."
NSAD was then working on a project for the Defense
Threat Reduction Agency, employing the
board game approach, and Simpkins suggested that Phillips,
who was building intelligence information
for that project, give MOSBE a try.
"If you had told me four or five years ago that I
could model irregular warfare with a video
game or merge the capabilities of a video game — even
a 'serious' one — with modeling and simulation
capabilities, I would have been a bit skeptical," Phillips
says. "But my eyes have been opened. This is a
powerful tool for analysis."
MOSBE allows users the freedom to build worlds, create
scenarios and assess new capabilities
in a fully interactive two- or four-dimensional
environment, Phillips says. "And it also allows the same
scenario to be used repeatedly to glean lessons and to
teach commanders how to use their available
resources effectively over time and space."
This article appeared previously in the summer issue
of APL News.