The Buzz

World War III in Europe: Imagine if the Soviet Union Invaded NATO? This Simulator Does.

But the real secret to how Flashpoint Campaigns simulates quantity versus quality is through command, control and communications, or C3. The game’s C3 mechanism is simple, smart and frustrating. Once a unit has been given an order, a certain amount of game time must elapse before it is given a new order. That interval is shorter for NATO than for the Soviets. For example: a U.S. Abrams tank platoon is ordered to advance down a road. That platoon will continue down the road for four minutes of game time, before the American player can order it to halt or redirect it to a new objective. For a Soviet tank company, a full 24 minutes of game time must elapse before new orders can be given. This means that even if the Soviets have achieved a breakthrough on one sector of the battlefield, nearly a half hour will elapse before additional units can be ordered to exploit it. In contrast, despite NATO being outnumbered, each unit can react more quickly, and thus accomplish more in a given period of time, than its Soviet counterpart.

In other words, Flashpoint Campaigns is Colonel John Boyd's famous OODA loop in game form, in which the side that has the quicker decision cycle will achieve victory. This is how Napoleon defeated his enemies. This is why the German army so often defeated the Red Army on the tactical level in World War II. And if hostilities erupt today between the United States and either China or Russia (both of whom seem to moving toward a Western-style command system), then the Pentagon certainly hopes that C3 will give American forces a battlefield multiplier.

However, Flashpoint Campaigns also demonstrates that while superior command and control is an asset, it is not a license to be stupid. A U.S. infantry battalion sent down the wrong road will need time for redirection down the right route. Less time will be needed than for a Soviet formation, but that’s cold comfort when you need that battalion immediately to stem a Soviet breakthrough.

More importantly, Flashpoint Campaigns demonstrates that command and control is a perishable commodity. For example, the game tracks “radio traffic.” The more orders that a player issues —and NATO will probably be more issuing more orders than the Soviets—the greater the chance that his headquarters units will be spotted, which may trigger an automatic artillery barrage on their location. Damaged headquarters, plus the effects of jamming, makes C3 a valuable but fragile asset.

Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm is a hypothetical history of a war that never happened. But it is also a forecast of what could happen. Armies around the world now spend vast sums on C3, from satellite communications networks to battlefield Internet. But however sophisticated the communications system, things will go wrong. As Clausewitz said, “Everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult.”

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

This first appeared in 2016. 

Image: Reuters.