Back in Quantico: The 9th Command-PE User Conference & Training event

October 11, 2022 · Posted in Command PE · Comment 

It was great to be back!

Matrix Games, LLC hosted the 9th Annual Command: Professional Edition User Conference & Training event at X-Corp facility next to Marine Corps Base Quantico, from 19-23 September 2022. The event was organized with the full support of Luis E. Velazquez, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at United States Marine Corps, and in close coordination with the USMC, and run throughout the week, focused on helping the defense community get the most out of the increasingly powerful and diverse Command-PE software suite.

As with previous events, this too boasted a diverse array of participants with more than 30 agencies & organizations from the US DoD and NATO allies as well as the defence and related private sector. It included presentations and training sessions by Matrix Games in additions to guest presentations by numerous users highlighting their use cases of employing CPE for their specific needs. Participants had front-row seats to the comprehensive analytical, wargaming & training capabilities of Command-PE, interacted directly with core members of the development team and exchanged experience and tips with other operators of the software.

For a change of scenery, the next CPE event will be held in 2023 in Italy. See you all there!

Nerf Wars: On downgrading Russian systems & units in Command

October 3, 2022 · Posted in Command, Command PE · Comment 

So, ever since it became clear that Russian combat performance in Ukraine has been “less than stellar”, there has been a persistent request in many corners of the web towards the Command dev team. The request can be summed up as:

“So, when are you guys going to nerf Russian equipment in Command’s database, to match what we are seeing in Ukraine? It seems it is performing well below official specs.”

(Oxford Dictionary: “to nerf”: (of a video game developer) reduce the power of (a character, weapon, etc.) in a new instalment or update of a video game.)

A naval-oriented variant of this comment is: “I tried simulating the attack on the cruiser Moskva, and I just couldn’t sink it as happened it real life. So CMO is probably talking up Russian hardware.”

Now, there is a short and direct answer to both these claims, but we have been advised not to print it here. So let’s go into the more elaborate and slightly more polite version instead.

Command, by default (ie. stock DB values) represents Russian systems (and all other nation’s systems) as they are meant to be used, by trained crews employing them according to their design doctrine. Shortly after the Ukraine conflict got going for real, a US general remarked that “Russian hardware works pretty well… when used by Ukrainians”.

(As a quick example of this, Carlo Kopp had written an unusually insightful analysis on what happens when Russian SAMs get used correctly, and also what happens when they are not. Favorite quote: “The Syrians used mobile missiles in a fixed configuration; they put the radars in the valley instead of the hills because they didn’t want to dig latrines — seriously.”)

At the same time, Command also recognizes that combat is not a sterile hardware contest, and provides a lot of “soft factor” options (crew proficiency settings, reaction times, doctrine settings, EMCON, ROE etc.) to offer the ability to represent sub-optimal usage of said hardware. You can have two different units use exactly the same hardware with vastly different effectiveness and survivability (our favorite reference example is Iraqi 1991 SA-6 battery vs. Serbian 1999 SA-6 battery).

An example list of the factors you can edit:

  • Proficiency levels, both side-wide and per-unit
  • Reaction times (OODA loop values)
  • Doctrine settings
  • Rules of Engagement
  • EMCON settings
  • WRA settings (ie. firing doctrine)
  • Per-component equipment failure

That very last aspect is particularly important in light of what has been recently learned WRT the system readiness on the Moskva. According to the leaked readiness report (standard caveat for CYA-shaped leaks), both the central SA-N-6 fire control radar and the short-range SA-N-4 systems were effectively disabled due to equipment malfunction and were waiting for replacements. In addition both the main guns as well as the main air-search radar were also inoperative. In other words, the Moskva was sent to an active warzone almost naked against air/missile attack.

Can this be faithfully reproduced in Command? Absolutely.

Can other factors, such as apparently poor crew proficiency which led to both poor reaction times and also abysmal damage control, also be modelled? Also yes, very easily so.

So why then do some CMO users out there find it so hard to reproduce results like the Moskva sinking? (Or the Saki airbase strike, or S-300/400 batteries not being omnipotent, or UAVs apparently roaming at will, or…)

TOUGH LOVE WARNING: Because some people’s idea of “testing something in the scenario editor” is to quickly plop down a few units here and there, in their stock-DB setups, give them free fire reign against each other, and call it a day. No customization for soft factors, component status or any of the other real-world aspects that directly impact the end result.

Thankfully, some players are disciplined enough to do it right. Here is an example, soon after the actual sinking itself when info was still scarce. (This of course is far from “the last word” on the subject. SMEs are still debating e.g. how the Sheffield went down after a single Exocet hit while the Stark survived two of them. Hell, even WW2 events are still up for analysis. It’s a safe bet that the Moskva sinking will be endlessly discussed by our grandchildren.)

It is tempting indeed, to embed the soft-factor issues directly into the DB entries themselves, so that when you spawn a Russian unit on the virtual battlefield, it’s in a sorry condition out-of-the-box, ready to be clobbered. The price you pay for this expedient approach becomes obvious only later, when you realize that not only you lost the ability to clearly separate man (and context/circumstances) from machine, but you also railroaded yourself intellectually into believing that this Russian unit will always behave like this.

Does this matter? Let us consider, for instance, an Israeli staff sergeant nerfing Egyptian tanks in a wargame just prior to Yom Kippur in 1973 “because they were such pushovers just a few years back”. Did this specific example happen? Maybe, maybe not; but we know for a fact that the Israeli military establishment grossly underestimated Egyptian & Syrian forces because of their lightning successes in 1967 (they essentially nerfed them in their mental “databases”), and that plenty of Israeli soldiers paid for that intellectual myopia with their lives. Is this a mistake we want (or can afford) to repeat?

Such a radical shift in combat effectiveness with identical/similar hardware does not happen just between conflicts, but also within the span of a conflict itself. Returning to Ukraine for an example, in the early days of the “rush for Kiev” we observed a lot of Russian SHORADS batteries getting bombed by aircraft while completely inoperative. As it turns out, apparently the rapid speed at which these elements were forced to move (to screen the assault forces) prevented them from properly screening/leap-frogging each other and thus actually operating as they are designed and supposed to do. When later these very same systems were properly echeloned with the forces they covered during the Russian withdrawal to Donbass (and also undeniably as the hard lessons of the first weeks were distilled to the surviving operators), their effectiveness and survivability were restored to expected levels. (And then the Ukrainians introduced HARMs in the theater… but that’s another story)

How can you represent such drastic differences in effectiveness in the very same unit, if the soft-factors are embedded in the database entry? Short answer: You can’t.
(Longer answer: You can cheat/hack your way into it by having multiple entries in the DB, each representing different competence levels and equipment maintenance. It’s a very hacky solution, a maintenance nightmare, and again you are mixing up man, machine and context. We sometimes were forced to do something like this back in the computer-Harpoon days, simply because Harpoon had absolutely no soft factors. Nowadays we can and must do better.)

So, to recap: We would be doing a grave disservice to both our commercial players and especially pro customers by directly embedding soft factors into the DB just so that Joe Player can get a realistically-degraded Moskva out of the box. Platforms and systems in the DB are spawned in pristine condition and (by default) are assumed to be crewed competently: This is not a design oversight, but a conscious and carefully-considered decision. Players can then modify the platforms themselves, turning them into anything from decrepit spank-targets all the way to invincible fortresses, and shape the context of the virtual environment in their favor or against them, in order to either recreate historical situations or explore hypotheticals of past, present or future. But in every case, it’s something that they will have to roll up their sleeves and do themselves. To quote Norm Koger from two decades ago: “Word processors ask a lot of those who would use them to create stories”.

Thanks, and carry on.

Command PE 2.1 has been released

March 10, 2022 · Posted in Command PE · Comment 

It’s finally here! Ever since the original release of v2.0, we have been putting together the next major update for Command PE, and the day has come: Command PE v2.1 is now available for download.

Phil Gatcomb has made a new series of tutorial videos detailing the most important new features, watch them HERE.

True to the spirit of every Command release, v2.1 is jam-packed with new features and enhancements straight from user feedback and requests. The full release notes are available HERE.

Some of the hottest new features include:

  • New feature: Lua Event-hooks. It is now possible to extend and even override built-in simulation events by using Lua scripts and hooking them up to these events. This brand-new feature was showcased at our most recent user conference and easily turned heads, with good reason: It makes implementing mechanics overrides easier than ever, and with absolutely no involvement needed by the CPE development team (particularly useful for sensitive or proprietary models/data).
  • New “Interactive Analysis Settings” window. Interactive analysis settings can now be configured on-the-fly, without having to restart the application for the changes to take effect. Big boon for analysts!
  • New simulation feature: Radar resolution cell. (See this page for background). If multiple units are located within the resolution cell, the radar will detect only one of them. This feature confers an extra advantage to higher-frequency radar systems, as they are better able to distinguish between closely-clustered targets.
  • New simulation feature: Radar vertical scan angle limits. Radars can only look up/down to a maximum of 30 degrees. This restriction severely curtails their ability to search for targets high above or well under them, and has indeed been used and exploited historically (example). There is an exception, however: Phased-array radars can scan upwards close to the vertical limit.
  • New simulation feature: Phased array off-boresight gain reduction. Phased-array radars (PESA/AESA) suffer from gain degradation (hence effective range reduction) when attempting to detect targets far off the antenna boresight, both on the horizontal and vertical plane. This schematic shows the coverage difference between a mechanical-scan set (APG-68(V)9) and two AESA radar options for the F-16:

    Note the severe drop on high off-boresight detection range on the two AESAs because of the gain reduction.This severe reduction in effective detection range can cause problems when cranking during BVR engagements, as the target is placed at the problematic “edge of scan envelope” area. To compensate for this, phased array-fitted aircraft now crank much more conservatively (less divergent from true bearing to target), in order to keep tracking the target.
  • New simulation feature: Daisy-chain weapon datalinks. Weapons can now directly connect to each other instead of always connecting to a firing/guiding platform. This behavior can be used by weapons to model comms extension, contact sharing etc.
  • New simulation feature: Loitering weapons. Two types of loitering weapons are modelled; aerodynamic and parachute. Loitering weapons can be fired either directly against a target (as standard non-loitering weapons) or BOL-fired (Ctrl+F1) into a set of coordinates and then hunt for a target either autonomously or under direct control, depending on their communication status.
  • Significant changes to sonar model. We have previously described these changes as part of the CMO v1.03 update, and they have now been absorbed into CPE as well.
  • Wholly-reworked ballistic missile trajectory model. The BM model now uses true Keplerian equations resulting in highly-accurate trajectory profiles for each range segment (minimum-energy trajectory is assumed). This is particularly visible in intermediate- and long-range ballistic shots.
  • New facility type: Surface (flat) & underground. This type represents facilities that reside primarily underground while still being partially surface-accessible (and thus attackable). Such facilities include ballistic missile silos (and old Nike-Hercules!), command / LCC bunkers and retractable forts & coastal defences (e.g. ERSTA). This type of facility can be damaged/destroyed in two ways: Direct hit on above-ground surface, or transmitted shock from underground detonation (e.g. MOP, B61-11, BLU-109/113 near-miss) or a VERY powerful surface burst (e.g. B53 laydown).
  • Ground units now have fuel records and can refuel & replenish. If they run out of fuel, they are immobilized until they can refuel. They can also request replenishment, for both fuel and ammo/stores from suitable providers (e.g. fuel-bowser trucks or ammo carriers). If they can move to the UNREP vehicles on their own they will do so; otherwise the UNREP vehicles will rendezvous with them.
  • Revised Mission Editor layout. The Mission Editor window layout has been revised, with the unassigned and per-mission assigned units windows now stacked vertically (on top of each other) instead of horizontally side-by-side. This makes it easier to read the full unit names (which may differ only towards their ends) as well as supplementary per-unit information (loadout, status etc.). In addition, the panels now include per-category filter buttons that allow displaying only the selected types of platforms:
  • Redesigned Message Log window. The Message Log window has been redesigned to be easier to interpret. Instead of grouping the displayed messages by type, messages to be displayed can now be filtered in/out by individual type, by toggling the buttons labelled with their respective type. In the example below, all message-type buttons are green, which means that all types are enabled for display:


  • New UI feature: Quick manual weapon allocation. While having an own-unit selected, shift + right-click on contact, and select “Engage with:”. This will present a submenu with all suitable weapons to engage with:

    The right-click menu has also been enriched with additional options, such as:

    • Drop Target
    • Investigate (ie. manouver to intercept & identify but do not engage)
    • Refuel To Tanker
    • Join Group As Escort (for aircraft only)
    • RTB
    • Assign New Home Base
  • In WEGO-MP mode, clients are automatically able to use custom databases regardless of their license tier. Furthermore, if the server uses a custom database, this is automatically distributed to new MP clients as they connect to the running session. This greatly simplifies the setup for starting up new MP sessions.
  • Load/save Doctrine & ROE templates. You can now load/save doctrine/ROE templates in XML format through the GUI (“Doctrine/ROE” window, “General” tab):
  • You can now change the side of any existing unit. This is supported both by the GUI and also through scripting.
  • Updated database releases (v492), with hundreds of additions and changes.
  • Dozens of other tweaks & additions big and small, based on the feedback that the development team receives from the professional user community on a daily basis.

With v2.1 out in the wild, the dev team is now free to merge several currently-in-development major new features into the main development branch, so you can update even more on the next update release. Stay tuned!


No sleep till Athens: The 8th Command-PE User Conference

September 28, 2021 · Posted in Command PE · Comment 

Crossposted from:

8th Command: Professional Edition User Conference – Stafford, VA

Matrix Games, LLC hosted the 8th Annual Command: Professional Edition User Conference outside the gates of Marine Corps Base Quantico from 13-17 September 2021. The five days event included a host of in person and virtual users of the Command software, in a week focused on helping the defense community get the most from this incredibly powerful software. Event host Iain McNeil, Director of Development for Matrix Games said “this event gets bigger and better each year, and one of the most important aspects of the event is the ideas shared between our community, not just the information we share with them.”

Participants in this year’s event represented over 35 different defense organizations, and in a first for the event, members of Matrix’s Command development team led parallel sessions for beginner and advanced users. This year’s topics included creating scenarios, editing the database, Lua scripting, Monte Carlo mode, mechanics overrides, running via the Command Line Interface and more.

Dimitris Dranidis, lead developer and “father” of Command, led several discussions, including an overview of Matrix’s plans for future development of the Command Platform. These improvements include enhancements to Command’s land warfare capability (a.k.a. Project Hannibal), the amphibious operations planner, manned-unmanned teaming, improvements to communications networks, as well as backend developments that will bring a 64-bit version of Command and all the possibilities that come with it.

Rory Anderson, technical lead, previewed the new real-time multiplayer mode for Command, which allows real-time vectoring of Command entities to support your team and defeat your opponent with up to 16 players simultaneously. While there’s still significant work to be done before this is complete, Rory and the team connected three systems to the server, an umpire and a red and blue side, and started the game. While the two sides fought for supremacy in the skies, the umpire was tracking not only the battle, but could also see exactly where red and blue’s attention was by showing both where their focus and their mouse were on the map in real-time.

In addition to presentations from Matrix, attendees both formally and informally shared how they are using Command to meet their objectives across a wide range of areas, including: concept development, wargaming, education, and logistics analysis.

  • German Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Silier showed how the Luftwaffe uses Command to augment the Air Force Academy’s Air Power lessons for new officers. Their methodology has won awards in Germany and has inspired many of the Academy’s students to fight their own battles using Command in the school’s wargaming club.
  • Ryan Reeder from the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab showed how they use Command as part of its concept development efforts. The Lab has been driving some key new features that have been developed for command including the Amphibious Landing Planner and Passive Coherent Location Systems.
  • Ryan McKendrick from Northrup Grumman shared how Command has served as the training environment for it’s Artificial Intelligence in DARPA’s Gamebreaker Challenge. He talked about the innovative techniques being used and the impressive results after looking at 200 quadrillion variants (that’s a 2 with 15 zeros after it).
  • LtCol Doug Downey shared how Marine Corps University’s Command and Staff College uses Command to support the school’s education of majors and lieutenant colonels in learning the Marine Corps Decision Making Process. Under the supervision of military faculty and retired senior USMC leaders, students prepare plans and orders for simulation and adjudication in Command by expert operators. In coordination with MCU staff, the expert operators execute these orders and provide outcomes and situation updates to the students the next day so they can plan for the next wargame turn.

In addition to Command users, the event’s location near Marine Corps Base Quantico and in the Washington, D.C. area provided an opportunity for several distinguished visitors to attend. MajGen Julian D. Alford, Commanding General for USMC Training Command was given a demonstration of Command and provided the attendees with some remarks on the value of the right tool for training. Also visiting the event was Colonel Scott Gilman, Deputy Director of the U.S. Army Modeling and Simulation Office. His team attended to learn more about Command and to discuss setting up a US franchise of the wargaming-for-education focused “Fight Club” in the United Kingdom. Fight Club is a bottom-up initiative that uses commercial off the shelf wargames, including two of Matrix Games’ products, Combat Mission and Flashpoint Campaigns, to improve military thinking.

“The combination of topics and contributions from our attendees made this our best event yet,” said an exhausted JD McNeil, Business Director for Matrix Games, “and we are already looking forward to our next one.”



The Second Coming: Command Pro Edition v2.0 now available

May 26, 2021 · Posted in Command PE · Comment 

“How do you improve on perfection? You can’t. You just offer more of it.”– From a Newsweek retrospective on The Godfather Part II

This has been a long time coming, and the wait is now finally over. Previously announced at Slitherine’s massive HOW Live+ event earlier this month, Command Professional Edition (CPE) v2 is now available for new and existing customers alike.

Easily our biggest pro-oriented release since the early days of Command pro, CPE v2 includes the additions of the latest v1.15.5 update while introducing a whole host of major new features:

All of the benefits of CMO: CPE v2 is built on the battle-hardened foundations of Command: Modern Operations, the successor to CMANO and winner of the Charles S. Roberts 2019 award for best modern-era wargame. CMO introduced a large number of groundbreaking features both on user interface and simulation mechanics, and CPEv2 inherits them, together with 18 months of refinements & improvements since its original release. Descriptions of the new features are available in these articles:

Run as non-admin: CPE v2 offers a revised filesystem layout for its writable data, which enables the application to run in a restricted (ie. non-administrator) mode. This makes it possible to install and run CPE in high-security environments, where admin powers for an application are a non-starter.

High-resolution terrain: While it can still use CMANO/CPE v1’s DTED-0 level terrain elevation set, CPE v2 now also offers the option to use a global-scale SRTM3-format terrain dataset with 90m/cell resolution (DTED-1 level). When activated, the higher resolution automatically applies to calculations dealing with the terrain elevation, such as terrain slope for ground units navigation, line of sight, surface/bottom clutter for look-down sensors, etc.

Offline map layers: All map layers (apart from those provided externally by Stamen Design) are now bundled in their entirety as part of the installation (including, optionally, the massive “Sentinel-2 Cloudless” layer) and can thus be used in offline machines. This greatly enhances map quality and performance in systems that are isolated from the Internet (incl. highly-secure networks).

(NOTE: The files for the high-resolution terrain and the offline S2C layer are huge, increasing the full installer size to over 160GB, which can be impractical to distribute for some customers. For this reason, they are offered as a separate optional “HD data pack” rather than as a mandatory part of the installation. The “core” installer package is a mere 18.6GB in size.)

Distinct mobile ground units (also in v1.15.5): In addition to modelling mobile forces as “aimpoint facilities”, it is now possible to explicitly model individual vehicles with their own customized properties such as armor, propulsion, mounts, sensors etc. These new units now have their separate data annex (“Ground Units”), and can be browsed on the DB viewer:

The introduction of distinct mobile vehicles has enabled the modelling of new unique features such as true amphibious vehicles and highly-dispersed artillery & SAM batteries.

Interactive-mode CLI (also in v1.15.5): You can now launch a CLI instance in interactive mode, using the Lua TCP-socket as the control interface. This ability combines the high-performance, low overhead and parallel execution benefits of CLI with the full-control interactivity of the full-GUI client.

Energy-based boost-coast missile model: Most rocket-boosted missile weapons now use a realistic energy-based flight model: After their initial boost, they coast and lose speed due to atmospheric drag (variable with speed and altitude), especially when they maneuver, and also gain & lose speed as they dive and climb respectively. Aircraft default evasion tactics have also been adjusted to this new reality, and aircraft will actively attempt to drag/outrun incoming missiles with beaming used only as a last resort. Detection ranges for incoming missiles have also been significantly reduced in most cases, which makes it harder to visually pick up missiles at long range and outrun them (this also reinforces the importance of automated missile-warning systems).

Improved ballistic missile & ABM modelling: Ballistic missiles now use true-to-life trajectories depending on their range profile (with accurate burnout elevation angle, velocity, altitude and apogee figures), and MIRVed missiles release their re-entry vehicles sequentially instead of all of them at the same.
ABM missiles also have improved kinematic & guidance profiles, and the interception altitude envelope limitation is taken into account during the pre-fire checklist (e.g. SM-3 will not fire against incoming BM/RV if the estimated intercept point is within the atmosphere).
Combined, these changes model much more faithfully the challenges of BMD siting, engagement windows and general operations.

New sensor type: Passive radar (PCLS) (also in v1.15.5): For a general background on PCLS, see here. PCLS systems can be very useful both as a covert means of airspace surveillance and as a potent counter-VLO asset to be combined with other, more traditional sensors. They do have several drawbacks and vulnerabilities (for example, they can be limited in altitude coverage because of their bistatic nature, and each receiver must have clear LOS to both the target and the transmitter in order to process the reflection), but as long as these can be accommodated, PCLS sensors can significantly enhance an IADS and complicate enemy efforts to disrupt it.

New bathymetry layer: The “Relief” map layer has been enhanced with its marine counterpart, a rich bathymetric map that illustrates the differences in bottom depth on different map locations. An example screenshot:

Sim-pulse control on MC & CLI: Users can now configure the simulation pulse time-slice (coarse or finegrained) while running a scenario in Monte-Carlo mode or while using the command-line edition. This allows better control between performance and fidelity in simulation execution.

Benchmark mode: This provides an objective way to measure & compare a system’s performance and suitability for CPE, by repeatedly running any selected scenario in headless mode (similar to Monte-Carlo execution, but without any analysis results). The execution is run using finegrained pulse mode (ie. 0.1-sec pulses) in order to stress-test the simulation engine and the hardware resources.

Database selection improvements: The “Database” section of the Editor menu has been significantly redesigned for ease of use. Instead of a long list of available registered & custom DBs to choose from, only the latest registered DB3000 & CWDB databases are displayed for quick selection, along with the option to manually select another database to load from the file system. It is also now possible to directly select a specific DB to migrate a scenario to:

New satellite-pass prediction UI: Apart from the classic tabular format for presenting forthcoming satellite passes and dwell times over a specified point, an additional graphical view has been added, which makes it easier to visualize the same information:

Area & reference-point manager: This offers a centralized interface for editing reference points on large-scale scenarios. Ref-points and zones can be organized by tagging and visually distinguished by different colors:

Command Pro v2.0 is available to new and existing customers on MatrixGames’ new pro-dedicated site. The development team is already busy absorbing the feedback from early adopters and preparing the first post-release updates, continuing the proud tradition of continuous support and development. Stay tuned for more!

« Previous PageNext Page »