Category Archives: Staff Training

The Battle of J115405

Fort Knocks Keepstar

The genesis of this is a comment by the British Army’s Assistant Head of Media and Communications, Colonel Chris MacGregor. In a thread talking about the newly released British Army recruitment campaign, Colonel MacGregor said the following:

This reminded me of another recent online episode, but on a much grander scale.

EVE Online is a space-based, persistent world Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) with hundreds of thousands of active subscriptions and often tens of thousands playing online simultaneously. This thing is HUGE, and over a week in December 2018 a battle took place that should make us all think, the battle of wormhole system J115405, better known as ‘Rage’.

In the EVE universe wormhole systems are the most inhospitable space that there is, creating immense logistical and communications difficulties. The destruction of a Keepstar deep in a wormhole was regarded as impossible – until it happened. Over the course of a year a team on EVE prepared and executed just such an operation, the details of which can be found at Kotaku.com. In doing so this team achieved the following:

  • Executed an effective mission planning cycle that correctly identified how to conduct offensive operations in an environment previously thought to overwhelmingly favour the defender.
  • Set the Theatre
    • Over contested LOCs
    • Allowing for combat attrition and the requirement to offset culmination.
  • Maintained realtime OPSEC over a period of months
  • Exercised Mission Command
  • Practiced PSYOPS
  • Conducted both preliminary operations to isolate the Theatre of operations and subsequent operations to consolidate gains.

Let’s think about this for a little bit. I have been involved in more than a dozen Combined Arms Staff Trainer (CAST) at Battalion and Brigade level, and close to half a dozen divisional Command Post Exercises and the same number of US ‘Warfighter’ exercises. In none of these did we have to set the theatre, conduct preliminary moves over contested LOCs and move from Phase III Dominate (Major Combat Operations) to the subsequent detailed exploitation and consolidation. There are a number of reasons why we don’t achieve all this in training which verge from ‘G3 snobbery’ (combat is sexy and logistics isn’t) to the prosaic: to practice logistics realistically takes time. Team ‘The Initiative’ achieved all this in a dynamic and highly competitive environment and using a distributed command and control network. The Initiative demonstrated professionalism, commitment and operational competence.

There are two key takeaways I want to draw from this.

  • Is there scope to use a MMORPG construct for our operational level staff training? Would staff benefit from participating in such an environment?
  • In recruiting how effective are we at talent spotting those with a proven track record of operational and strategic level planning? Perhaps more so than we realise, we need to move away from a focus on Physical Realm competences, to look closer at those with a Virtual Realm pedigree.

The following are recommended readings to dispel some preconceptions about MMORPG gamers, and highlight some of the benefits (and no, I am not yet a gamer!):

Gamers by Age: Strategy as Motivation (blog)

Making Science Fiction Real (academic paper)

Positive Traits of Hardcore MMORPGs Gamer Identity (academic paper)