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Games that try military minds

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The principles of the art of war are in themselves extremely simple and quite within the reach of sound common sense. -Carl Von Clausewitz

A FEW months before the USS Vincennes mistakenly shot down an Iranian commercial airliner, a boatload of civilians ferrying across the Gulf was blown out of the water.

Only it didn't happen in the Gulf. It didn't even happen in the water. It happened on a computer screen at the United States Naval War College in Newport, R.I., during a war game, a mock exercise that had as its focus the ethics of terrorism.

Such ``gaming'' occurs here where the Navy designs, constructs, plays, and analyzes possible conflicts in scenarios that range from a minor terrorist incident up to all-out global war.

A room the size of a football field is the nerve center for this war gaming. Raised tile floors cover miles of wires connecting dozens of computers and modems linked to phones or satellites. Off to the side are small, soundproof rooms with terminals that replicate the combat information centers on board naval ships.

Yet despite all the high-tech gadgetry, ``We are not looking at how weapons systems perform, but how people perform,'' says Capt. Sergy A. Yonov, operations officer in the War Gaming Department.

``We try to get the variables down, think through the surprises, and come up with logical ways and patterns of engaging a potential enemy,'' he says. ``The computer affords us a bigger set of dice to create scenarios. It is still the thought processes of men that count,'' Captain Yonov says.

``Do we predict the future? No. We try to create it so that we can recognize it when it happens and can make rational decisions,'' says Robert S. Wood, dean of Naval Warfare Studies at the college.

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