Everyone has probably heard of the Millennium Challenge 2002 wargame. Heck, it’s almost become a legend. The exercise offered some outstanding lessons all around though not necessarily those that are routinely claimed. Let’s take a closer look. For those who may not be familiar with it, here is a brief summary.
Among various other aspects, both physical and simulated, the
conducted a simulated
wargame involving the overthrow of a US Middle East dictator of a country
on the Persian Gulf. The
enemy, or Red force, was commanded by Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, USMC(Ret.). The exercise was two years in the making and
reportedly cost $250M.
The game was, apparently, intended as a free play exercise in which both sides would try their best to win and, at least in the beginning, was conducted as such. The short version is that Van Riper, leading the Red force, used a combination of civilian aircraft and small boats for surveillance to pinpoint the
forces and then
proceeded to launch swarm attacks, suicide attacks, and cruise missiles to
annihilate the US fleet in short order. US
Faced with an additional couple of weeks of scheduled exercise time, game officials opted to restore all the “killed” units and continue on. At this point, the game ran off the tracks with the imposition of highly scripted actions designed to validate US concepts and ensure a
“victory”. Van Riper eventually resigned from active
participation in disgust. US
The game concluded with pronouncements of a
ComNavOps has no problem with reconstituting the
forces in the context
of a wargame. After all, if you have the
personnel assembled for a couple week long game and it ends in the first day or
two, why not start over and gain some more benefit? The problem is that the subsequent restart
and scripted operations appear to have been a blatant attempt to force a
pre-determined outcome. US
If you want to ensure a desired outcome by using unrealistic scenarios and conditions, why go to the trouble of conducting a wargame, at all? It would be cheaper and easier to just skip the exercise, announce that your concepts are unbeatable, and save some money.
ComNavOps also has no problem with scripted exercises intended to test a narrow, specific capability. For example, suppose you want to look at the use of a particular decoy in the context of an aerial strike against a land target. You could play an open-ended, free form game but the opportunity to conduct the strike might never arise. If that were the case, you would have wasted your time. Better to initiate a specific scenario with scripted actions and conditions as long as the actions and conditions don’t predetermine the outcome of the decoy’s performance.
There are two types of wargames:
- Games in which the enemy is allowed freedom of action and concepts are put to a realistic (though simulated) test.
- Games in which pet weapons and concepts are exercised in scenarios with pre-determined outcomes in order to “validate” their procurement or adoption.
The Guardian offers a write up and comments from Gen. Van Riper (1).
|Gen. Van Riper|
Contrary to what many believe, the game did not demonstrate that swarms and suicides and whatnot are unstoppable and that ships stand no chance. Instead, it demonstrated that conventional Navy commanders are totally unprepared to deal with the unconventional and unexpected. It also demonstrated that unless the
is prepared to accept
significant collateral damage, we’ll be fighting with our hands tied (our ROEs
are ill-suited to major combat operations). US
I also note that such a free play wargame has not been conducted since, to the best of my knowledge. You can draw your own conclusion as to why not.
On an ominous and related note, Navy and DoD leadership is committing the
to an “offset strategy”
of networks and unmanned vehicles intended to ensure US military
supremacy. All well and good except that
ComNavOps has expressed severe doubts about the wisdom and effectiveness of
such an approach. Perhaps a free form
wargame is needed to validate the concept before we gut the military and wander
off in an unproven direction? US
(1)The Guardian, “Wake-up Call”, Julian Borger,
5 September 2002,