Strategy Development: DoD Counterinsurgency Simulations

  • Losing the War by Winning the BattlesRevolving Door ParadigmArming the EnemyForeign Recruiting Archetype

    Losing the War by Winning the Battle Systems Paradigm

    This paradigm includes 3 archetypes: Fixes that Fail, Success to the Successful, & Drifting Goals. The paradigm demonstrates how military victory against the insurgents can still result in a failed state.

    Revolving Doors Paradigm

    The revolving door paradigm incorporates incorporates fixes that fail and success to the successful archetypes. It illustrates how insurgents can gain support from imprisoned populations.

    Arming the Enemy

    The Arming the Enemy archetype is a variant of fixes that fail and demonstrates how arming local partners can result in arming insurgent opponents.

    Foreign Recruiting

    The foreign recruiting archetype is a variant on limits to growth and demonstrates both risks and limits of foreign fighters coming to join a local insurgency.

    Strategy Development: DoD Counterinsurgency Simulations

    Project Overview

    The rise of ISIS in 2013-2014 challenged the Department of Defense (DoD) with applying counterinsurgency lessons learned in previous conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, it is difficult and dangerous to test policies for efficacy in a combat environment. The DoD needed a simulation environment, calibrated to ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and realistic of the challenges faced by regional commanders. This test environment could then be used to test policy options in isolation, combination, and at different timing windows and relative strength.

    We had already begun developing just a simulation in late 2014 as part of our ongoing research efforts into violence and instability. We partnered with the Department of Defense beginning in 2017 to demonstrate the potential capabilities of such a simulation environment for operational planning, policy testing, and learning.  One of the key findings was that ISIS operated as an emerging-state actor; which was fundamentally different than an insurgent force. This insight informed policy development for intervention options. We developed both a simulation capable of testing these policies as well as a small library of system archetypes and paradigms.  The archetypes and paradigms distilled key findings from the simulation results for use by military planners, analysts, and commanders to better understand a fluid and dynamically changing environment.


    • Development of Emerging-State Actor Model (E-SAM) Simulation

    • Developed system paradigm of all actors by linking archetypes together

    • Calibration of E-SAM to Iraq & Syria and the rise of ISIS 2010-2020

    • Translation of US doctrinal options into policy test environment

    • Distill key feedback structure of simulation into system archetype and paradigms


    • Simulation passed all relevant confidence-building tests

    • Distinguished policy options for emerging-state actors vs. insurgencies

    • Helped eliminate some policy options that could never work – or work only in limited timing windows

    • E-SAM reusable for other conflict environments or scenario forecasting

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