Meet the man behind the wargame

06/05/2021

When’s the last time you sat down for a tabletop wargaming exercise or used a simulator? If it was at the Defence Academy, chances are you have come across Major Tom Mouat MBE. As part of the Simulating and Modelling team at the Defence Academy, Major Mouat’s long career in the military instilled a unique skillset that makes him a leading expert in his field.

Meet the man behind the wargame

“I have the best job in the world… I teach people using simulation systems with computer technology and manual wargaming with table-top exercises,” said Major Mouat (pictured right). He advises clients in defence and other UK government agencies, as well as foreign organisations in locations including Japan, Hawaii, Chile, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands and Jordan.

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth, as Mike Tyson said. If you have a plan in isolation without taking into account a thinking enemy, it’s useless,” he explained.

“It is now realised that you can destabilise a western democracy with social media advertising. So how do you understand how people are feeling and reacting? The fact is you need to have methods to examine this and social science has provided tools that we can adapt to run manual wargames.”

He is now working on a game based upon Ukraine, to get insights and to understand what is happening there.

Experience has shown Major Mouat that diversity is the key to achieving the best solutions. In his experience, gaming groups lacking in diversity come up with the wrong answer more than half of the time.

“You don’t get the best results if all the members are the same type of people and they think and act in the same way. We are there to encourage critical thinking and provide a mechanism in which they can explore a problem.

“All I do is show them the tools and they get on with it. If someone says ‘that was a great game’ then I have failed as an educator, because they don’t think they could do it on their own. But if they say ‘that was a great game, but I would like to see X’ then that is a success because they are thinking of the needs of their own organisation. It means education is taking place. Nothing beats the rush, energising the room, when teams come to enlightened decisions.”

The social science methods involved in wargaming include the wisdom of crowds, or how likely something is to happen based on what the majority thinks and argues. There is also the need for participants to think like potential adversaries. For example, ‘what would I do if I were Putin’; rather than ‘I think Putin would do this.’

Wisdom of crowds pushes the narrative forward so the team can then roll dice to determine the outcome of a situation and move on. “Chance has a big role to play,” said Major Mouat. “Commanders must be able to understand risk. There is a big difference between gambling and understanding risk. Good commanders won’t execute a plan unless they think they could win with, say, a 70 per cent chance, but they are absolutely aware of the risks. A commander might say ‘I don’t like those odds and risks… give me another plan’.”

This approach, known as Matrix gaming, allows participants to understand the problem and to gain insights from the people around the table. “It is the best way in the world to show the Emperor has no clothes,” said Major Mouat.

As an example, he ran a game at MOD Main Building to select competing designs for a submarine drone project. One design was the pet project of the senior scientist on the project. The group decided that this design was too complex and expensive; it was the least popular in the room. The game continued but the project was quietly cancelled two weeks later “and I thought amazing, we’ve just saved £200m,” said Major Mouat.

For Major Mouat, the Defence Academy is the perfect location for the Defence Simulation Centre (DSC) and for wargaming exercises. “It is a unique organisation with an educational ethos and is seen by defence as neutral territory for the services. It offers a safe space to gain insights and to be educated. “People at the Defence Academy look at the bigger picture – it’s their job – plus we have the incredibly talented people of the Cranfield [University] staff.”

Major Mouat’s varied career started when he joined the former Royal Army Ordnance Corps, later part of the Royal Logistics Corps, in 1979. He took the Ammunition Technical Officer (ATO) course and attended Staff College at Camberley, where he was identified as being particularly good at teaching. A posting to the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (HQ ARRC), in Germany, followed, with a year in Bosnia and an MBE. Then came a spell in Defence Procurement, and a Commendation from Chief of Defence Materiel, after which he volunteered for an operational tour in Iraq.