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January 13, 2007

War games are useful, if you actually pay attention

(Posted by John.)

With all the talk of escalating against Iran lately, it might be worth remembering that the last major war game the Pentagon conducted with Iran as the enemy was Millenium Challenge, where the "Red" [mock-Iranian] forces were commanded by Lt. Gen. Paul van Riper.  How did that go for the "Blue" [mock-US] forces?

From Wikipedia:

In the early days of the exercise, Red, commanded by retired Marine Corps general Paul K. Van Riper, launched a massive salvo of cruise missiles, overwhelming the Blue forces electronic sensors, destroying thirteen warships. Soon after that offensive, another significant portion of Blue's navy was "sunk" by an armada of small Red boats carrying out both conventional and suicide attacks, able to engage Blue forces due to Blue's inability to detect them as well as expected.

For those who don't recall, the Pentagon responded to this direct challenge to their preconceived notions by essentially calling a do-over.  Now, I don't think the US Navy is going to be sunk.  But that's not the real lesson of Millenium Challenge.  What's the real lesson?  Let me turn that over to the Lt. Gen. himself:

What I saw in this particular exercise and the results from it were very similar to what I saw as a young second lieutenant back in the 1960s, when we were taught the systems engineering techniques that Mr. [Robert] McNamara [Secretary of Defense under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson] had implemented in the American military. We took those systems, which had good if not great utility in the acquisition of weapon systems, to the battlefield, where they were totally inappropriate. The computers in Saigon said we were winning the war, while out there in the rice paddies we knew damn well we weren't winning the war. That's where we went astray, and I see these new concepts potentially being equally as ill-informed and equally dangerous.

The "concepts" that Van Riper is talking about are the broad concepts of "transformation" and how information technologies were, according to the geniuses at OSD, changing the fundamental nature of warfare.  Van Riper is a very vocal critic of those ideas, the kind of solider who quotes Clausewitz and other military theorists and believes that the fundamental nature of war never changes.  (No surprise: in this debate, I'm far closer to Van Riper than, say, Rumsfeld.)  If the worst fears about recent personnel changes in the military are correct -- that it's a prelude for an air war against Iran -- than I fear the ideas of "transformation" are going to be tested again against Iran.

In which case, the McNamara comparison is going to be more apt than Van Riper knew when he made it:  McNamara's (and more importantly) Walt Rostow's ideas were also tested in war games prior to the escalation of the Vietnam War.  A pair of war games in 1964 (SIGMA I and SIGMA II) tested the ideas that North Vietnam could be deterred by aerial bombing or by American land forces.  How did that go?  From H.R. McMaster's Dereliction of Duty (p. 156):

The game's results raised troubling questions about the viability of the Rostow thesis.  After initiating a bombing campaign, the United States confronted "the question of what to do since escalation of the war into NVN [North Vietnam] had failed to achieve desired results in SVN [South Vietnam], and the enemy appeared to be raising the ante toward major ground warfare."  The American "team", however, remained "anxious to continue trying to force the DRV out of the war through air attack."  Lincoln noted that once open hostilities began, consideration of "possible alternative strategies such as to negotiate" was minimal and the United States "followed through with escalation of pressures against North Vietnam to include wiping out all all DRV industrial targets" and the mining of North Vietnamese ports.  The bombing, however, had minimal effect and actually stiffened North Vietnamese determination, as the Viet Cong used existing stockpiles and civilian support to sustain the insurgency in the South.  General Wheeler seemed particularly impressed by the game's findings that the Viet Cong's low demand for supplies, coupled with the agrarian nature of North Vietnam's society, made the enemy resistant to the use of air power.

Or, from those hippies at the CIA:

Like the SIGMA I war game played earlier in 1964, however, SIGMA II and its depressing outcome had no apparent dampening effect on senior decisionmakers' certainty that the way to save South Vietnam was to bomb the North and employ US combat forces in the South. Strategists continued their contingency planning toward those ends as if the outcome of SIGMA II (plus SIGMA I and Robert Johnson's earlier NSC working group study) had not occurred. The realism of SIGMA II would, however, get an early confirmation: the officer playing the role of the President committed a US Marine expeditionary force to South Vietnam's defense on 26 February l965 of the game's calendar. President Johnson did send just such a Marine force on the actual date of 8 March 1965, only 10 days later than in the war game.  According to Walt Elder, McCone's former Special Assistant, the DCI participated in only one session of Sigma II because he "hated all war games"; on this one occasion he went out of "innate snobbery, when he learned that the other seniors would be there."

Ah, the best and the brightest.

I don't know what the future holds for America in the Gulf.  I really, really hope that Bush isn't about to launch an air war against Iran -- the potential for disaster is simply too high.  If I were a religious person, I'd be about ready to pray right now.  But we won't be able to say we -- or they -- weren't warned.  But, we aren't able to say that about Iraq, either.

January 13, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Iraq is, however, a very vivid object lesson for the Administration right now. And where are the resources to fight Iran? We don't even have enough to fight in Iraq. No signs on the ground of any plans against Iran.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 13, 2007 3:01:54 PM

Well, the signs wouldn't be "on the ground" for the plans that are most likely -- cruise missile strikes and a bombing campaign, which just so happens to fit with the second carrier group Bush prominently placed in the Gulf.

Posted by: John | Jan 13, 2007 3:22:34 PM

You think Coalition forces and support personnel would just be left in the vulnerable position they're in? I suppose it's possible, but it doesn't sound like something any general short of Curtis Lemay would pass on.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 13, 2007 3:27:58 PM

That's the point -- Bush (and if Van Riper is to be believed, much of the military) don't believe they ARE vulnerable. They aren't considering the amount of harm that can come from this, or if they are (based on what we saw in 2002) they're being pushed aside.

(This is my worry, I'm not saying it is happening.)

You seem to assume that Bush's behaviour has changed, and I've got to wonder why. Is there any reason to believe he's learned anything? I don't see it.

Posted by: John | Jan 13, 2007 3:34:01 PM

I don't assume much about Bush, but I do see at least some reason to think he has learned something, because his mouth has been forming the words. The guy isn't a total looney or he would have bombed Iran the day he took office. In any case, Bush isn't the only one involved. He has to confer with folks like Gates and use the chain of command. No noise of such things for now, and they do make noise, and it's unlikely any of his advisors on the military side will go along with something certain to cause the deaths of many vulnerable soldiers. The folks most likely to support such stuff are mostly gone to other jobs now, or just gone.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 13, 2007 3:48:02 PM

it's unlikely any of his advisors on the military side will go along with something certain to cause the deaths of many vulnerable soldiers


"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Sanpete, I don't think soldiers have changed all that much in 150 years.

Posted by: Emma Zahn | Jan 13, 2007 6:08:00 PM

Well, I think they have changed quite a bit in that regard in this country. Most military historians seem to think so. But we'll see.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 13, 2007 6:13:37 PM

"We don't need no stinkin history, or war games either"

The Persian Gulf is just a big lake, with barely room for a Carrier Task Force to stretch its legs (and worse with two CTFs). That lake has a might small outlet, with Iran on one side, holding a large number of small boats and crates-ful of supersonic missiles.

If anyone thinks a cruise missile/air bombardment attack on Iran would be met with silence in the Persian Gulf, they are aren't conscious. Saudi Arabia's oil fields and shipping terminals are in the west side of the Gulf (along with the oil emirates, and Kuwait), and ripe for attack over no-so-long distances. Patriot missiles have never been tested against supersonic missiles and were barely effective against ancient low speed Scuds in '91

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jan 13, 2007 6:30:12 PM

(hit the post button by mistake: premature ejaculation.)

What I'm saying is, either Bush is bluffing about an Iran attack (and will be found out), or he and DoD are ignoring the dangers of a carrier being sunk in the Gulf and a good part of the Gulf oil being interrupted for a substantial period. A carrier task force usually consists of a carrier, one or two cruisers, a submarine or two, and a half-dozen destroyers, all coordinated by radar and central command.

We have never tested a CTF against supersonic missiles, small boat missiles and suicide boats, inside a closed body of water. We might prevail, but we might lose the whole CTF too. That later possibility would demolish our image against, for instance, the Chinese in the Straits of Taiwan or China Sea.

We would do well to recall that Iran send battalions of unarmed teens into mine fields to clear the mines (by having the teenagers being blown up) in their war with Iraq. Do you think they'd do less on board small boats loaded with munitions? Even a large bear can be driven from a bee hive when the bees are protecting their nest.

Even if Bush is bluffing, his words and actions might be misinterpreted by the Iranians, and who knows what they might do then. This is truly MAD doctrine being insane, since we don't understand their mind-set, have no recent record of doing diplomacy with them, and have Iran is more than twice the population of Iraq.

What insanity.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jan 13, 2007 6:42:23 PM

One other thing to keep in mind is that escalation isn't a one-way thing -- something both Vietnam and Millenium Challenge showed. We know that Bush today ordered the Army to crack down on Iranian targets in Iran. What happens if the Iranians decide to up the ante?

Bush seems to be proceeding on a variant of the "they wouldn't dare" assumption, but I'm not so sure.

Posted by: John | Jan 13, 2007 8:16:58 PM

Back in 2004, James Fallows ran some war games for the Atlantic Monthly, with participants from several institutions (including Michael Mazarr of the National War College, Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, Reuel Marc Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute, David Kay, and retired Air Force colonel Sam Gardiner). After the war game was complete, Gardiner concluded:

"After all this effort, I am left with two simple sentences for policymakers," Sam Gardiner said of his exercise. "You have no military solution for the issues of Iran. And you have to make diplomacy work."

Full article here.

Posted by: meander | Jan 13, 2007 8:22:07 PM

We know that Bush today ordered the Army to crack down on Iranian targets in Iran.

In Iraq, you mean. It is risky, but it's also risky to let the Iranians continue to cause trouble with a free hand.

It is unforunate that this is accompanied by positive efforts to talk with Iran. Sometimes I think Bush sees the world as though he's the father and nations like Iran are bad teens in need of some discipline.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 13, 2007 9:41:58 PM

"is" => "isn't"

Bad proofing lately.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 13, 2007 9:48:03 PM

How long ago was Iran ( and Syria ) asked to help settle things in Iraq ? The Iranians in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government were captured without al Maliki's prior knowlege or consent. The second location was in the process of being made a diplomatic enclave.
This undercuts Iraqi independence at the same time as it does something that in most circumstances would be considered an act of war and dishonorable both.
Whatever Bush thinks, his actions are not those of a person recognizing restraint or censure. I expect things to liven up in short order.

Posted by: opit | Jan 14, 2007 3:00:05 AM

Sanpete, we can't of course look at their actual plans. But we can look at the budget requests and see that they're way far from serious about just about every item we can identify. We have no units at combat readiness in South Korea, to grab an item at random. They're still not asking for the funds for suitable vehicles, nor pressing manufacturers to make 'em a deal, as was done in WW2 and again with korea and Vietnam. The Arabic translators still aren't there. They're cutting funds for trauma treatment. It goes on and on.

Now it is possible that behind all these manifestations of simple unreality, there actually is a moderately competent plan for attacking Iran and dealing with Iranian response. But it seems awfully unlikely, without other evidence of a change, and I'm not aware of one. (This is, mind you, an invitation to point me at documentable good news. It makes me happy to say 'Hey, that doesn't suck nearly as much as I thought. Sometimes it's really good to be wrong, and this would be such an occasion.)

Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Jan 14, 2007 3:00:14 AM

I'm not going to waste much energy arguing that this administration has been competent. They aren't complete idiots, though. They occupy the grey area between that and the obvious geniuses we ourselves are. Why haven't they bombed Iran, or North Korea, or Buenos Aires already, if they're really that looney? Invading Iraq was of course a fairly crazy thing, even if it did attract fairly wide support at the time. But attacking Iran, especially now, would be a couple orders of magnitude more looney than that was. Almost all the stuff that went on before the Iraq invasion is lacking here. Who in the Administration has called for such a thing? How likely is it that Gates and the generals would go along with it, knowing the consequences for US soldiers? There's just not much reason to leap from news of arrests of a few Iranians in Iraq to the view that we're warming up for an attack on Iran proper. I understand that we're edgy, but there are better things to grab the Prozac for.

Hope tha helps at least a tiny bit, Bruce.

Posted by: Sanpete | Jan 14, 2007 4:13:49 AM

I would like to believe you're right, Sanpete. I doubt it, but it's a good thought, and sometimes I am very wrong. :)

Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Jan 14, 2007 6:01:11 AM

I've not been participating here as much as I used to and have really put my $.02 worth in on this. I suggest anyone interested in assessments of military deployment check out Global research.ca
I do a lot of back-and-forth with http://bluegalinaredstate.blogspot.com/
If you want the opinion of an involved person with military history all through the family, you could do a lot worse than spend some time on her posts.
She's a veteran of the Washington Monthly flamewars where she posts as Global Citizen - and has started a group blog Whom We Chose to Watch at http://proctoringcongress.blogspot.com/

Posted by: opit | Jan 14, 2007 11:10:29 AM

Thanks for the tip, Opit! I think highly of Global Citizen.

Posted by: Bruce Baugh | Jan 14, 2007 12:34:55 PM

In Iraq, you mean. It is risky, but it's also risky to let the Iranians continue to cause trouble with a free hand.

And the proof of this is the say-so of the same people who bought us Iraq's WMDs?

I don't see Colin Powell getting up in front of the UN this time. Iran might, but not the US.

Posted by: Phoenician in a time of Romans | Jan 14, 2007 4:26:01 PM

I should have checked him earlier. Digby's Hullballoo has some really thought-provoking long posts on the Iran situation, provoked to some extent by Washington Note. http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/

Posted by: opit | Jan 15, 2007 12:05:18 AM

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Posted by: judy | Sep 26, 2007 5:12:28 AM

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