WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – When Matthew B. Caffrey Jr. began writing about the history of wargaming in 1988, his goal was to turn his master’s thesis into a journal article and perhaps write a textbook. Some 31 years later, the Naval War College Press has published his book “On Wargaming: How Wargames Have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future.”
Caffrey is a plans and programs engineer for the Air Force Research Laboratory and an instructor for Air Force Materiel Command. His newly published book reflects the knowledge he gained during three decades of teaching and researching this field. During this time, Caffrey worked as a senior analyst, a civilian engineer and a professor. He also served as a colonel in the Air Force Reserve, from which he retired in 2005.
He spent more than a decade teaching at the Air Command and Staff College, the School for Advanced Airpower Studies and the Air Force Wargaming Institute at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. In 2005, Caffrey came to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and developed a course that prepares AFRL scientists and engineers for the Air Force Title 10 wargames. These annual events serve as key elements in the defense planning and research prioritization process.
According to the U.S. Naval War College, wargames simulate aspects of warfare to analyze situations and assess how various decisions can influence the outcome.
Today, Caffrey continues to teach this introductory course at the AFMC level. He has also designed an advanced course that focuses on the definition, design, development, execution, analysis and reporting of wargames.
Caffrey explains that these courses prepare mid-level professionals for leadership roles with lessons devoted to critical thinking, effective planning and thoughtful execution in highly dynamic environments.
Throughout his teaching career, Caffrey continued to research the history of wargaming and expanded upon his initial idea for the book. Over the years, he incorporated various lessons, which he intertwined with interesting anecdotes from students and other wargaming practitioners he encountered.
While other wargaming books focus on a single military service or country, Caffrey explains that he devoted equal coverage to the Air Force, Navy, Army and Marine Corps.
“One of the things that I really tried to do is make sure is that this book was as comprehensive as possible,” he added. Caffrey asserts that, “This book is about all of wargaming.”
To create a comprehensive resource, he incorporated material from the armed forces, the Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
“If I could find it, and it was not classified, it went into the book,” he explains.
Caffrey also studied wargaming efforts outside of the U.S. military. He covers more than 20 nations in the book. Since he lacked firsthand knowledge of most of these wargame organizations, Caffrey reached out to subject matter experts in those areas for insight and guidance. He explains that the acknowledgement section is lengthy since more than 80 people contributed material.
This wide-ranging collaborative effort was instrumental, he says.
In 400-plus pages, Caffrey examines the history of wargaming and analyzes how individuals can leverage these types of exercises effectively. This book will be required for the advanced AFMC course that Caffrey teaches. Other schools including the National Defense University (Washington) and the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, have also requested copies for their curriculum.
Divided into two parts, the first section of the book delves the history of wargaming and provides context. The second part presents an analysis of past initiatives. Caffrey brings history alive as he introduces military heroes and uncovers the inside story on key events.
He recommends the topic of wargaming to a broad audience, and says the material is not simply for students and military personnel. Caffrey even discusses how parents and business professionals can benefit from wargaming.
Anyone who wants to “think strategically and compete effectively” will find this book useful and entertaining, Caffrey asserts.
Assessing risk, analyzing potential consequences and making informed decisions are key life skills, he says.
Caffrey explains that the “dynamic nature of the field” means that the book will be updated as current events unfold.
“This book is going to need to be a living document,” he asserts. “There’s too much going on to have a book that would stand forever.”
He explains that, “Wargames have been saving lives, time and treasure since about 2000 B.C.” But he cautions that this fact holds true only if time-honored principles are leveraged and plans are made accordingly.
“It helps if you use [wargaming] more effectively than your adversary,” he says.
To download a PDF copy of the textbook, visit: https://usnwc.edu/nwcpress.