Understanding the Limits of Artificial Intelligence for Warfighters

Research Questions

  1. For which types of wargames would the application of AI technologies be most beneficial?
  2. In what ways are current AI technologies limited in their application to wargames?
  3. What are the potential steps organizations could take to productively employ AI technologies in wargames?

In the 2010s, rapid progress in artificial intelligence (AI) for game-playing inspired intense interest in the possible benefits of the technology for playing wargames. Advocates suggested that AI might make wargames more effective or make it possible to apply wargames to novel problems. This report presents an assessment of the limits to applying AI technologies to wargaming and opportunities for future investments to productively employ AI in wargames.

To do this, a taxonomy of wargames by type or purpose (systems exploration, innovation, alternative conditions, and evaluation) and by time-phased task (preparing, playing, adjudicating, and interpreting) was specified. These frameworks are used to assess the technical feasibility and cost-effectiveness of applying AI to various aspects of a given type of wargame under particular conditions.

This report is the fourth in a five-volume series addressing how AI could be employed to assist warfighters in four distinct areas: cybersecurity, predictive maintenance, wargames, and mission planning. It is aimed at those with an interest in wargaming, the history of AI use in wargames, and the application of AI more generally.

Key Findings

  • AI is likely to be more useful in alternative conditions or evaluation games than for systems exploration or innovation games.
  • AI could prove particularly useful in games that already give a significant role to computational models during the adjudication process or that generate large volumes of digital information that must be adjudicated.
  • AI appears to be less promising for games that are played with limited digital infrastructure or do not interact with computational models.
  • AI could prove beneficial for unclassified training seminars, in which advanced human-computer interaction (HCI) can identify patterns of discourse and decisionmaking.
  • The exploitation of AI is unlikely to be feasible for classified games that require advanced HCI technologies for data capture and model and asset interaction.
  • AI is much more attractive for the repeated modeling of zero-sum, force-on-force conflicts than for games that are played as one-offs or for a very limited number of times for specific purposes.


  • Organizations should concentrate resources on the most-promising areas for developing AI applications for wargames. This includes areas to investigate alternative conditions or that are used for evaluation, with well-defined problems and criteria; areas that already incorporate digital infrastructure, including HCI technologies; and areas that are regularly repeated, such as force-on-force conflicts.
  • Organizations should increase the use of digital gaming infrastructure and HCI technologies, especially in games designed for systems exploration and innovation. The digitization of wargaming tasks must precede the application of AI. HCI technologies can and should be employed to gather data on discourse and decisionmaking to support AI development.
  • Organizations should employ AI capabilities in strategic studies to support future wargaming efforts more generally and to shift items from the possible to the feasible. These studies include scenario generation and case identification to find challenging conditions that merit the attention of games, as well as sentiment or stance analysis in support of qualitative research on wargames.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Definitions, Taxonomy, and Game Theory

  • Chapter Three

    The Mechanics of Wargames

  • Chapter Four

    Cost-Benefit Analysis of Artificial Intelligence Wargaming Applications

Research conducted by

This research was prepared for the Department of the Air Force and conducted within the Force Modernization and Employment Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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