Drone simulation

GameX takes strategic defense experiments to new worlds with e-sports tournament

By Bradley Hague

Can video games protect troops overseas? The new e-sports concept GameX combines experimental rigor with first-person combat games to help the U.S. Air Force protect assets and project power around the world.

MITRE is entering the wide world of e-sports with the new digital combat game “Drone Guardians.” But this game will do more than determine champions, it may help determine how we defend our servicemembers deployed abroad.

Eight teams gathered at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina and MITRE headquarters in McLean, Virginia, to participate in the first tournaments of a MITRE-designed, interactive, e-sports experiment platform known as GameX. The winners walked away with cash prizes, and MITRE with terabytes of new data.

It’s part of a series of tournaments to be held at MITRE locations across the country. The core concept: to answer questions of national importance through crowd-sourced experimentation and then develop novel ideas on adapting to pressing threats through public participation. Which means these digital victories could help shape the strategies and tactics of the U.S. Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center (IMSC).

New Approaches, New Ideas, New Tactics

Small drones can pose a major threat to Air Force operations, both through electronic surveillance and kinetic attacks, especially when combined with other types of threats and contested logistics. Understanding and identifying new ways to tackle the threat is an urgent priority.

“GameX could help address ground threats and elicit what level of protection we need on the ground,” says IMSC Deputy Branch Chief John Enyeart. “This needs to drive the operational test and evaluation work we’re all doing.”

MITRE jumped in and did the detailed work necessary to understand the challenge we face.

Sam Grable, executive director, IMSC

In Drone Guardians, teams of five fight to protect core facilities and forward operating bases from attack while launching fighter aircraft for mission operations. The game uses standard controllers and operates as a first-person shooter, similar to other military games like "Call of Duty."

The teams faced threats from incoming missiles, uncrewed aerial systems, cyberattacks, electronic warfare, and even ground force combat. To win, they had to juggle combat strategies, balance resource needs, and ensure operations ran smoothly. The more missions flown, the more secure the facility, the better the score, and the more likely a team was to walk away with cash and prizes.

“It was a great experience,” says Danquirius Poe, a student at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C. His team took second place. “It was interesting to play a game that could be helpful for the military.”

Serious Focus on Serious Games

The game might be played for fun, but the data it generates is very real. Its design allows researchers to test specific circumstances, scenarios, and threats. The results will be carefully analyzed to give sponsors a tactical edge against adversaries.

This type of experiment, known as “human-in-the-loop testing,” is a common technique for understanding, planning, and adapting to the quirks of human behavior in operations. MITRE has embraced this capability wholeheartedly with tabletop exercises, serious games, and large-scale simulation capabilities like the National Security Experimentation Laboratory and MITRE SIMEX™.

Sam Grable, the IMSC’s executive director, says, “We didn’t have the capacity to do this. MITRE jumped in and did the detailed work necessary to understand the challenge we face. GameX takes this concept in a new direction.”

By bringing in participants from the worlds of e-sports and competitive gaming, sponsors can tap into minds and strategies that exist outside standard military doctrine. Moreover, the GameX concept enables MITRE and sponsors to engage in dedicated research efforts and understand how different approaches might work in an operational environment.

For Poe and the winners of the tournament, the money won’t just help pay the bills but also get new first-person shooter games and systems.

After all, there’s always the next tournament.

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