Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC02) was a major war game exercise ...and cost $250 million, involved both live exercises and computer simulations. MC02 was meant to be a test of future military “transformation”a transition toward new technologies that enable network-centric warfare and provide more powerful weaponry and tactics. The simulated combatants were the United States, referred to as “Blue”, and an unknown adversary in the Middle East, “Red”.
Red, commanded by retired Marine Corps Lt. General Paul K. Van Riper, used old methods to evade Blue’s sophisticated electronic surveillance network. Van Riper used motorcycle messengers to transmit orders to front-line troops and World War II light signals to launch airplanes without radio communications.
Red used a fleet of small boats to determine the position of Blue’s fleet by the second day of the exercise. In a preemptive strike, Red launched a massive salvo of cruise missiles that overwhelmed the Blue forces’ electronic sensors and destroyed sixteen warships. This included one aircraft carrier, ten cruisers and five of six amphibious ships.
An equivalent success in a real conflict would have resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 service personnel.
Soon after the cruise missile offensive, another significant portion of Blue’s navy was “sunk” by an armada of small Red boats, which carried out both conventional and suicide attacks that capitalized on Blue’s inability to detect them as well as expected.
At this point, the exercise was suspended, Blue’s ships were “re-floated”, and the rules of engagement were changed; this was later justified by General Peter Pace as follows: “You kill me in the first day and I sit there for the next 13 days doing nothing, or you put me back to life and you get 13 more days’ worth of experiment out of me. Which is a better way to do it?”
After the reset, both sides were ordered to follow predetermined plans of action, leading to allegations that the exercise was scripted and “$250 million was wasted”. Due to his concerns about the scripted nature of the new exercise, Van Riper resigned his position in the midst of the war game.
He was quoted in the BBCDiscovery Channel documentary The Perfect War as saying that what he saw in MC02 echoed the same view promoted by the Department of Defense under Robert McNamara.
That worked so well in “the run up to the war on Saddam”, but in the event, the Iraqis were no threat to the U.S. and allied Naval and Air Forces. In other words, they were invincible on paper and worthless in combat.
The Iranians, with three times the population and ecomomy, struggled for ten years to fight Iraq to a standstill. How long would they survive against the U.S.?
The lesson of the Iraq war is that we don’t do nation building, we do military conquest.
That was 2002. Since then they’ve wargamed that scenario TO DEATH. A tweak here, a tweak there, a Phalanx, helicopters, and UAVs everywhere... it’ll be like swattin’ mosquitoes. It was never going to be much of a problem anyway once the brains in the Pentagon turned their attention to it.
1. Van Riper “gamed the game” in his approach to initiating hostilities. The game “fighting” was scheduled to start as a phase in the experiment. His aggressive actions during last two days before hostilities were “scheduled” to start initiated navy responses in the simulations. His boats were sunk and aircraft shot down and then re-set so the experiments objectives were achievable.
2. Commander, 2nd Fleet, JFMCC, had protested the MC2002 scheme for employing naval forces indicating that he would never put his forces into the positions they were required to be in for the scenario. Specifically, he said that he would not put his battle group or amphib group into the Persian Gulf with the threat unless there were “smoking holes” up and down the Straits of Hormuz.
3. The self-defense features of the naval simulations used in MC2002 were pretty much turned off when Van Ripper began his attack (which was actually coordinated with face-to-face collaboration between his force commanders in the wargame spaces and not by using hand written notes carried by motorcycle... i.e. no friction). Any ship/boat that runs anti-ship missiles out on the rails and turns on its targeting radar in range of a CVBG will get an immediate response from a SURCAP or Aegis Cruiser in overwatch. That did not happen when the attack sequence began because the simulations were not adjusted back (so as not to alert Blue that the attack was forth coming).
4. All this was explained to Van Riper before during, and after the After Action Review (which he attended). The actual causalities assessed were realistic given the deployment of forces at the time of the Red attack. After the fact there was “grand-standing” and a public “I told you so display” that distorted everything that was learned during MC2002.
5. Tremendous lessons in Joint command and control and information sharing were demonstrated and learned in MC 2002 and have been successfully employed in actual operations since. Many are still classified because they did reveal weaknesses that were not identified or understood before the experiment.
6. MC 2002 was an EXPERIMENT. The intent was to “test it till it breaks” to learn where we were vulnerable. That mission was accomplished. Van Riper’s little public sideshow was an after the fact distraction that only exposed his ego and distracted from the important lessons that were learned.
That’s scary stuff if true. I hope we have enough unconventional thinkers in our military who will challenge “the way it’s always been done”; so we don’t get get caught with our pants around our ankles like we did at Pearl Harbor.
I don’t have a military background; but fear there may be a lack of “what if” thinking such as Lt General Van Riper threw at them. That’s the kind of stuff that is needed.