The Strategy of World War Bee – Part 1 – PreparationsMelos Exelion
For some time I have wanted to explore the grand strategy of World War Bee. Due to the size and scope of the subject, it was quickly clear a single piece would never be enough, so I broke my ongoing work into several pieces: “Preparations,” “Proving Grounds,” “Guerilla War,” “Invasion!” and “Conquest.” Each piece covers what I identify as a distinct phase of World War Bee.
“Preparations” is an attempt to describe the general strategic situation as it existed when the foundations for the coming conflict were laid. The first section “Background – November 2015,” is intended to establish a baseline of the historical events. If you’re well read on all the previous material about the War you will find this an abbreviated retelling. Starting from “Initial Planning and the Fog of War,” I look at these events more analytically, considering what strategic hands the various participants had and how they played them. This article draws on numerous others, posts, and podcasts on various EVE media sites and discussion forums, as well as personal interviews with Lenny Kravitz2, Sabre A, and Lemba.
Background – November 2015
In November of 2015, in the middle of the floundering Fountain War novel Kickstarter, Pandemic Horde (PH) CEO Gobbins leaked information that he was forming a coalition in Cloud Ring to attack the Imperium. On 19 November this drew a massive response from the Imperium who deployed their forces to Cloud Ring only to find the region abandoned, with Horde having already fled and no grand “Clever Girls” coalition to be found. In his public statements The Mittani still maintains that Gobbins was building an anti-Goon coalition in Cloud Ring and the deployment of the Imperium’s fleets pre-empted it, but I Want ISK (IWI) banker Lenny Kravitz2 saw the deployment as a clear sign of the Imperium’s weakness.
Specifically, Lenny determined that if The Mittani could be so easily deceived by an obvious ruse, then the Imperium’s leader might be losing the situational awareness that had made him so difficult to challenge in the past. He could now be tricked. This might create a window for action that the Imperium’s enemies could exploit. Lenny contacted Mercenary Coalition (MC) leader Sabre A and asked how much it would cost to bring down the Imperium. Sabre estimated that such a war might take as much as two years, and would cost at least 7 trillion ISK to pay for the necessary number of mercenaries. He was stunned when Lenny blithely stated that he could provide that level of funding.
forces willing to take Lenny’s ISK to fight the Imperium
Funding or no, the plotters would need actual forces willing to take Lenny’s ISK to fight the Imperium, which was by far the single most powerful entity in EVE. Mercenary Coalition was a single, mid-sized alliance of around 700 members. Compared to this, the Imperium boasted some 40,000 characters in ten alliances. Its sub-capital, capital and supercap fleets were all the largest in New Eden. It had controlled some of the richest space in the game for six years, and its logistics, economy and industry were thought to be without peer. In fact, it had once owned nearly half of New Eden, before contracting its empire in mid 2015 due to changes in the game mechanics, but it was still the largest sovereignty holding coalition in nullsec. It had been a coalition for many years which had created strong ties between most of its members. It had influenced the very culture of EVE, and enjoyed monumental reputation based on its past history of victory in several massive wars. It had not won all its wars, but it followed a fighting style based on “denying fun” to its enemies by avoiding fair fights and only engaging when its numerical advantage guaranteed a crushing victory. This strategy was often called “Helldunk or Blueballs.” All of this left its enemies reluctant to attack it.
Lenny and Sabre began sounding out the various allies they would need to bring on board to have a chance of success. Shutupandshave (or Suas) of the Omega Security Syndicate (OSS) was an early joiner. Suas had been a key leader within Goonswarm before his corporation was evicted from the alliance in June 2015, and provided the other leaders with valuable insights into the Imperium’s internal dynamics. Events would also bring Psychotic Tendencies (TISHU) into the conspiracy, and that alliance would play a vital role in the coming months. Lenny also approached Vince Draken and Elise Randolph of Northern Coalition. (NC.) and Pandemic Legion (PL). These were the “heavyweight” alliances with the only supercap fleets capable of matching the Imperium, and without whose support the war could never be won. They offered conditional support, but they had fought against the Cluster Fuck Coalition (the Imperium’s old name, before it rebranded itself in April of 2015) before and lost, and Lenny’s yet unnamed conspiracy (which for convenience I have chosen to call the “preMBC”) would have to show that it had a chance of delivering before they would fully commit.
knocking out the strongest non-Goon ally early would be a good way to shorten the conflict
While this was going on, MC moved to identify the strongest of the Imperium’s allies, and determine how to defeat them. Sabre was always concerned about the potential length of the war, and knocking out the strongest non-Goon ally early would be a good way to shorten the conflict. It was first assumed that The Initiative (INIT) was the strongest alliance in the Imperium after Goonswarm Federation (GSF), but INIT’s response to MC attacks on its money moons in Curse, while active, was not as impressive as expected.
Sabre was now convinced that Circle of Two (CO2) had to be the strongest of GSF’s allies. MC moved to Hakonen, just two jumps from CO2’s staging system of M-OEE8, and poked them. The aggressive CO2 response quickly confirmed Sabre’s suspicions. The preMBC leadership, including members of MC, PL, NC., TISHU and OSS, conducted an extensive review of the best options available to defeat CO2 and determined that the optimal way to do it would be to “flip” them, convincing them to leave the Imperium. This had the potential to defeat CO2 with far less time and effort than grinding them down fleet by fleet, system by system, in a bloody and time-consuming slog across Tribute.
At this point the overall objectives for the war were set. The preMBC would build its strength by attacking the Imperium where it was weak, demonstrating success and drawing more alliances to its cause. Once its forces were strong enough it would attack from multiple directions to mask its intent, but the main focus would be on putting increasing pressure on CO2 until they could be convinced to leave the Imperium. With the Imperium thus weakened, the allies would then be in position to grind it down with an extended campaign, with the intent to break the Imperium as a functioning coalition and remove some or all of its sovereignty. More specific plans would be developed later to better realize these general goals.
Initial Planning and the Fog of War
The key strategic factor of this first phase of what would eventually become WWB was intelligence gathering: the preMBC’s seeking it, and the Imperium’s lack of it. In the case of the preMBC, the initial assumption of the planners was that The Initiative was the strongest entity in the Imperium, after GSF. PreMBC planners postulated this as a hypothesis, and then took action to confirm or deny it with measurable and verifiable results. When results failed to meet their expectations they discarded their initial hypothesis and created a new one, which they then also tested and verified. This is sound pre-conflict intelligence gathering policy.
growing history of friction between the Coalition and CO2
Then, once the proper target had been identified, the preMBC sought creative solutions for dealing with it. Rather than just resorting to pure military force, the preMBC thoroughly considered their options, and settled on subversion. After CO2 left the Imperium following the Battle of M-OEE8, GSF diplomatic corps released excerpts from their internal logs, detailing a growing history of friction between the Coalition and CO2. Who said or did what to whom is not important for this analysis. The important factor is that the logs show that the preMBC planners were on point with their assessment of CO2’s vulnerability to subversion. They had a clear awareness of at least some of the internal weaknesses of their enemy, and moved effectively to exploit them.
So sound initial intelligence work set the preMBC up for future success, but what of the Imperium? Assessing the effect of the Imperium’s intelligence efforts is hard because there is little publicly available information on their activities. Their effectiveness can only be measured indirectly by looking at what the Imperium knew as the war progressed.
Firstly, it is important to make a distinction between strategic intelligence on the high level plans of the preMBC’s senior leadership and tactical intelligence on the lower level movements of individual member alliances. The Imperium’s tactical intelligence on individual alliances and fleets appears to have been generally good, although Sabre states they were susceptible to overly fixating on one front and failing to pay proper attention to the others.
Giving up tactical intelligence to the Imperium was not a critical problem for the preMBC, but if the Imperium were to get a clear picture of the preMBC’s strategic leadership that was another matter entirely. The preMBC’s plan relied on the Imperium believing the coming attacks were nothing more serious than routine harassment by random opportunists. Certainly, the Imperium’s leadership were confident they could handle anything that a gaggle of uncoordinated attackers could throw at them. According to Lemba, a former director within the Imperium, “Every year this type of thing happened and every time the CFC had prevailed.”
Even so, The Mittani was not complacent. When declaring the war in Cloud Ring he stated, “We know from the formation of the HBC [Honey Badger Coalition] that when a whole bunch of people get together who are made up entirely up of our enemies… that it is only a matter of time before we end up with a Montolio style coalition that is ‘totally not trying to kill us guys, no, they just want content.’[sarcasm] That is bullshit.” If the Imperium realized early that it was facing a coordinated enemy then it could mobilize its considerable resources before the preMBC was ready.
Information compartmentalization guarded against spies
Because of this, the preMBC’s leaders took the threat of Imperium spies penetrating their strategic councils very seriously. At the upper levels they maintained strict compartmentalization of information, and operated on a need-to-know basis outside of the small circle of senior leaders. Individual MBC alliances – from line members to FCs and even to alliance leaders – were no more aware of the overall strategic plans than their opponents. Information compartmentalization guarded against spies in any one alliance or front from blowing the entire conspiracy.
These measures appear to have been effective. As late as 27 March 2016 in the Boson leaks, Elise Randolph commented; “I have been talking to Mittens… and he lives in a different reality. He has no grasp on the situation at hand.” Had the Imperium’s intelligence apparatus been providing The Mittani with useful strategic information on his enemies it is unlikely he would have appeared so out of touch to Elise.
Even with precautions it was almost inevitable that someone, somewhere, would eventually let something slip. This happened in early April 2016 when the Imperium gained a cache of logs from then-TISHU member, Boson Dubstep. These logs detailed the inner workings and some of the secret dealings of the preMBC’s leadership. What is particularly interesting is that the Lemba leaks include the moment when The Mittani revealed the Boson leaks to the rest of the GSF directorate (leaks within leaks! Leakception!). After reading the logs the Mittani told his directors on 8 April, “This began in Nov/Dec. The core group is Lenny, Suas, Boson and Sabre, before NCdot/PL came in and took over/took credit. All the money is Lenny, not IWI.”
While this was a generally correct assessment (the importance of Boson is disputed by some in the MBC), it is clear that The Mittani did not have this information previously and it was a revelation for the him and the directorate. This means that by the time the Imperium obtained enough information to create an accurate picture of the enemy’s strategic leadership, the military campaign was already well past the point of no return. Ultimately the information gained from the Boson leaks was only used for the Imperium’s defensive propaganda war.
Enemy Courses of Action
The question is, aside from relying on a timely spy coup, was there any way for the Imperium to realize the danger before it was too late? Lemba says that the Imperium was aware of the threat of a multi-front war, and believed that (along with the changes of Aegis sov) the possibility was considered when the decision was made to cut the CFC’s former space in half in the summer of 2015. It is unclear whether more detailed planning was conducted to determine exactly what a potential multi-front war might look like. If such planning was done, warning signs might have appeared showing the Imperium’s leaders that there might be very little daylight indeed between normal harassment, and the initial phases of a well-disguised invasion.
The preMBC intentionally set out to create an environment of strategic ambiguity that would have made it very difficult for anyone caught in the situation (on either side) to make a correct assessment on the fly. This is particularly the case because humans suffer from some serious cognitive flaws, one of which is that once we have accepted a belief (such as: “The enemy are a disunited band of opportunists with no grand plan,” or “The Mittani is a hated tyrant who rules through oppression.”), it is very difficult for new information to convince us otherwise (like: “The enemy has a plan, and a level of distributed co-ordination, and is guiding the disunited opportunists using very large amounts of ISK,” or “The Mittani plays a persona and is popular with his line members.”), no matter how logical. Incidentally, this is also the reason you never win arguments on the internet – or about politics, or religion.
The Mittani has spoken of human cognitive flaws on several occasions, and as a lawyer may have some experience in how to overcome them. Certainly the military spends a fair bit of training for some of its soldiers on this topic. The best solution is to apply structured analytical methodologies, such the as the Key Assumptions Check. The Key Assumptions Check involves laying out all the things you believe, and then actually attempting to match them to the known evidence, to see if your assumptions actually hold up.
Related to this is another methodology called the Analysis of Competing Hypothesis. Due to the brain’s tenacity in it holding to old beliefs, humans cannot rely on naturally changing their opinions to meet changing facts, and instead must actively work against what they believe to do so. To do this, ACH directs an analyst to construct a competing hypothesis with a different conclusion and then see if the verifiable facts (cut out all assumptions) could match that hypothesis as well. If they could, then that’s a warning to the analyst to consider whether their beliefs could be in error.
In the NATO militaries the execution of these methodologies can manifest in what is called Enemy Course of Action (ECOA) development. Before a fight, the military will attempt to create at least two ECOAs, traditionally describing the most likely enemy course of action and then the most dangerous. Rather than try to specifically predict the distant future (which usually relies on luck more than anything else), analysts instead looks to take the facts they know now, and the facts they believe they could reasonably confirm or deny in the future, to define what can be called an “arc of possibility.” Within this arc they then seek to determine what indicators would show that events are trending in one way or another.
To be a good indicator something should be observable, verifiable and exclusive. If an important indicator is not observable, this can be a sign to those running intelligence networks that they need to turn additional effort in that direction, but it can also be a warning that the indicator is functionally useless. If an indicator cannot be properly verified then it is vulnerable to enemy deception, and should be treated with caution. Also, when a large number of indicators for the most likely enemy course of action also could be indicators for the most dangerous, that is a huge warning sign. In such cases the analyst should make every effort to find alternate indicators that could confirm one course of action or the other, and if none can be found it is usually best to proceed as if the most dangerous were true.
I’ve created some very simple ECOA’s for the Imperium to show the potential challenges involved (useful ECOAs for a game as complex as EVE would have to be an order of magnitude more detailed than these slides). The “Most Likely” ECOA roughly matches what the Imperium came to believe, and the “Most Dangerous” lines up with what the preMBC was actually doing. What stands out is that there is very little to distinguish the two ECOAs, at least at the start.
One conclusion from this thought exercise is that the Imperium would have to treat any hostile acts against its borders very seriously, as there would be no guarantee it could distinguish normal harassment from the early stages of a serious invasion campaign. The most obvious solution would be to immediately muster a strong response to any multi-alliance-level threat. However, this method of defence could also be exploited by an enemy to burn out the Imperium’s members and cause it a succession of PR embarrassments, as happened in Cloud Ring. It is also possible that overreacting to Gobbin’s “ruse cruise” burned the Imperium’s leaders and made them hesitant to be caught “crying wolf” a second time.
The key takeaway here is that the intelligence problem facing the Imperium was complex and ambiguous, and without a lucky break they were highly unlikely to be able to solve it.
Summary of Preparations
a campaign of total war against the Imperium
By the end of November the strategic leadership of the preMBC had sounded out the alliances it would need to conduct a campaign of total war against the Imperium and gained tentative support, pending a demonstration that success was possible. It had also conducted initial intelligence gathering efforts and set the basic shape of a plan that would ultimately decide the course of the war.
On the other side, the Imperium remained focused on hunting down the chimerical Clever Girls Coalition. The difficulty of identifying the seriousness of threats on its borders suggests that, from a military perspective at least, a doctrine of overwhelming pre-emptive response was not unreasonable. Unfortunately, the purge of Cloud Ring revealed weaknesses to the Imperium’s enemies regarding The Mittani’s ability to correctly identify where the threat really was. The Imperium remained unaware of Lenny’s own newborn coalition, which made objective assessment of what would soon become an incredibly confusing picture nearly impossible. This was a weakness that the preMBC’s leadership was aware of and intended to exploit to the fullest.
In this, the preMBC would be aided immeasurably by their unwitting target’s next moves.
Continued in Part 2 – Proving Grounds