Don't let the name fool you. UK Fight Club is not some sad spectacle allowing bored middle-aged men the excuse to knock each other's teeth out; it's a uniquely serious "wargaming experimentation group" that aims to dispel the notion of simulation being secondary to "real world" training.
Started by a group of soldiers and officers from across the UK military, UK Fight Club is a project that aims to make simulation training more accessible to all sectors of the armed forces. There is no ranking system. It doesn't matter whether you're Navy, Army, RAF, a UK civil servant or even a politician, everyone is equal and there's no obvious agenda.
The genesis for the idea came to US army strategist Arnel David when he realised a lot of the higher-ups in the military were unaware of what was possible in the modern gaming and simulation space. So, he put together a small team and set about creating a platform that would reveal just how disruptive simulation tech could and should be when it comes to military training.
The Fight Club story
Arnel decided to switch careers after 12 years in special operations to become an army strategist. His first job in his new role was to act as an advisor to the Chief of General Staff of the British Army - General Sir Mark Carlton Smith.
He explains: "We were working on an Army Operating Concept to change the way the British Army organises and fights. That meant theorising about all the new technologies, potential enemies, and all the other wide range of things the British Army has to do."
The concept team assembled to start a wargame, but it didn't quite develop in the way they had hoped. Arnel, who was involved in this game as a participant, noticed their ideas were insufficiently tested. He explains: "There was a genuine lack of technology to help. It wasn't real wargaming, It was a bunch of opinions being thrown around from a bunch of people who all had their preconceived agendas about what war should look like."
The solution was to double down on the technologies Arnel had been exposed to as part of the US Army and bring the concept of high-quality wargaming and simulations into the spotlight. Hence, UK Fight Club was born.
Facilitating organisational cultural change
As there is no definitive hierarchy at UK Fight Club and no agenda, everyone involved can focus solely on delivering meaningful output, games and technologies without the fear of overstepping boundaries.
Indeed, Arnel was quite confident there should be no boundaries. The idea was not only to modify existing games to suit simulation needs, but also to develop new prototypes with an ever-growing network of military personnel. That they could do this in a pressure-free environment was key.
It started small, with an idea that a team of "maybe 10 to 12 people would gather in the officer's mess," according to Arnel. "We bought some war games and started messing around with them until we got them to a point we were happy with." They were frustrated with the lack of innovation coming out of government labs and Fight Club was arguably born out of that frustration. It was also born around the time the COVID-19 pandemic first hit.
He explains: "When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we were just starting to set up but we were unable to physically assemble. So we had to do it online. It was a grassroots thing really. I put a couple of posters and flyers in the mess hall and 60 people right away said they wanted to get involved and that gave me the confidence to go to the generals and ask for more funding. Back then we didn't even have a website. It was just word of mouth."
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