Thursday, January 24, 2013

War Games

As regular readers know, ComNavOps loves history and the lessons that history offers to those who will take the time to heed them.  Along that line, the current issue of Proceedings (1) has an article advocating increased academic study of war by the Navy, as an institution.  There’s nothing surprising or controversial about that.  I’ve dealt with the Navy’s lack of warfighting focus in numerous posts.  There was, however, an interesting passage about the use and value of war gaming.  As the author points out,

“War gaming is another important way to educated and train, yet very few U.S. naval officers take part in such games.”
Here we see yet another example of the Navy’s current focus on peacetime activities at the expense of its core mission which is warfighting. 

Now here’s the historical fact and lesson.  The article offers a quote from Admiral Nimitz about the value of pre-WWII war games.

“War with Japan had been re-enacted in the game rooms at the Naval War College by so many people and in so many different ways, that nothing that happened during the war was a surprise … absolutely nothing except that kamikaze tactics toward the end of the war;  we had not visualized these.”
Adm. Nimitz - The Value of War Games

Think about that statement.  It’s an absolutely amazing statement that I had never heard before.  I had viewed many of the developments of the war in the Pacific as having come as a surprise (night naval battles, the devastating use of torpedos by Japanese ships, island defense tactics, occupation of so many islands, and so on) to our military leaders and yet it seems that was not the case.  I assume that Adm. Nimitz was speaking on a higher level regarding broader strategy because, clearly, there were surprises at a tactical and technological level.  Still, to make the statement that nothing surprised him is an incredible testament to the value of the pre-war war games.

We should heed the lesson.  Now, during peace, is the time for today’s Navy to prepare for war.  We should be running war games non-stop, examining every possible variation and scenario and then using the results and lessons to drive our acquisition and training programs.  Sadly, there is little evidence of this happening.  As we’ve repeatedly discussed, Navy training is sporadic and ineffective.  The acquisition process is completely broken and is driven not by any overarching strategy but by whatever the Navy thinks it can get past Congress.  As I said, we’ve covered much of this in previous posts so I won’t belabor it further.  The Navy must regain its warfighting focus.

(1) United States Naval Institute, Proceedings, “Study War Much More”, Milan Vego, Jan 2013, p. 58

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