Peter Perla on Prediction

Col. Trevor Nevitt Dupuy Arlington, Virginia, 2 June 1995 Photograph by Gary S. Schofield

Peter Perla has been around the industry a while, although I have never intersected with him. He was the keynote speaker at the Connections Wargaming Conference in 2017. His presentation was “Peter Perla on Prediction,” which has great alliteration. It is here:

Early in his presentation he quotes Trevor Dupuy (on page 5 of his presentation). He states that he said to Trevor Dupuy “Good grief, Trevor, we can’t even predict the outcome of a Super Bowl game much less that of a battle!” Trevor Dupuy responded “Well, if that is true, what are we doing? What’s the point?”

He then quotes Jim Dunnigan as saying (on page 7): “If you want your wargame to predict the future, you better make sure it can predict the past.”

Of course, this last point is why The Dupuy Institute has developed databases on the Battle of the Bulge, Kursk, Battle of Britain, some 1200 battles since 1600, and over 100 post-WWII insurgencies.

Now, I do happen to agree with those two gentlemen. Dr. Perla presentation then goes on for a while (and I have gotten into the shameful habit of speed reading most things now) and finally concludes (on page 43) in response to the question “Why do we wargame?” with  “We do it to help us all make more accurate predictions by leveraging all our combined knowledge, experience and creativity, so that we can make more effective decisions in complex and uncertain situations.”

Let quote his entire paragraph, so I don’t look like I am just cherry-picking the phrases I want (as opposed to how some people our using our report The Historical Combat Effectiveness of Lighter-Weight Armored Forces):

We do it to help us all make more accurate predictions by leveraging all our combined knowledge, experience and creativity, so that we can make more effective decisions in complex and uncertain situations. We do it to question, to learn and to understand. We do it because Wargames entertain; they stir the imagination. Wargame engage; they stimulate the intellect. And Wargames enlighten; the create synthetic experience. And it is experience, both real and synthetic, that makes abstract risks tangible and effective planning possible.

And as Matt Caffrey has said on so many occasions, we do it because wargames save money, and most importantly, wargames saves lives. That’s why I have been doing this for forty years. I hope you all will continue to do it for forty more.

I gather this is different than what he used to state.

Anyhow, the next Connections Wargaming Conference is up in Carlisle, PA on 13-16 August, 2019. See: I probably will not be attending. Still, this is a worthwhile effort that has been run for decades by Matt Caffrey, now of the Air Force Research Laboratory, along many others.


P.S. In Peter Perla’s presentation he uses this picture of Trevor Dupuy. The photograph was taken by Gary. S. Schofield on 2 June 1995.

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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