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Wake-up call (Millenium Challenge War Game)
The Guardian ^ | September 6, 2002

Posted on 09/06/2002 1:58:43 AM PDT by Movemout

If the US and Iraq do go to war, there can only be one winner, can't there? Maybe not. This summer, in a huge rehearsal of just such a conflict - and with retired Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper playing Saddam - the US lost. Julian Borger asks the former marine how he did it

Friday September 6, 2002
The Guardian

At the height of the summer, as talk of invading Iraq built in Washington like a dark, billowing storm, the US armed forces staged a rehearsal using over 13,000 troops, countless computers and $250m. Officially, America won and a rogue state was liberated from an evil dictator.

What really happened is quite another story, one that has set alarm bells ringing throughout America's defence establishment and raised questions over the US military's readiness for an Iraqi invasion. In fact, this war game was won by Saddam Hussein, or at least by the retired marine playing the Iraqi dictator's part, Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper.

In the first few days of the exercise, using surprise and unorthodox tactics, the wily 64-year-old Vietnam veteran sank most of the US expeditionary fleet in the Persian Gulf, bringing the US assault to a halt.

What happened next will be familiar to anyone who ever played soldiers in the playground. Faced with an abrupt and embarrassing end to the most expensive and sophisticated military exercise in US history, the Pentagon top brass simply pretended the whole thing had not happened. They ordered their dead troops back to life and "refloated" the sunken fleet. Then they instructed the enemy forces to look the other way as their marines performed amphibious landings. Eventually, Van Riper got so fed up with all this cheating that he refused to play any more. Instead, he sat on the sidelines making abrasive remarks until the three-week war game - grandiosely entitled Millennium Challenge - staggered to a star-spangled conclusion on August 15, with a US "victory".

If the Pentagon thought it could keep its mishap quiet, it underestimated Van Riper. A classic marine - straight-talking and fearless, with a purple heart from Vietnam to prove it - his retirement means he no longer has to put up with the bureaucratic niceties of the defence department. So he blew the whistle.

His driving concern, he tells the Guardian, is that when the real fighting starts, American troops will be sent into battle with a set of half-baked tactics that have not been put to the test.

"Nothing was learned from this," he says. "A culture not willing to think hard and test itself does not augur well for the future." The exercise, he says, was rigged almost from the outset.

Millennium Challenge was the biggest war game of all time. It had been planned for two years and involved integrated operations by the army, navy, air force and marines. The exercises were part real, with 13,000 troops spread across the United States, supported by actual planes and warships; and part virtual, generated by sophisticated computer models. It was the same technique used in Hollywood blockbusters such as Gladiator. The soldiers in the foreground were real, the legions behind entirely digital.

The game was theoretically set in 2007 and pitted Blue forces (the US) against a country called Red. Red was a militarily powerful Middle Eastern nation on the Persian Gulf that was home to a crazed but cunning megalomaniac (Van Riper). Arguably, when the exercises were first planned back in 2000, Red could have been Iran. But by July this year, when the game kicked off, it is unlikely that anyone involved had any doubts as to which country beginning with "I" Blue was up against.

"The game was described as free play. In other words, there were two sides trying to win," Van Riper says.

Even when playing an evil dictator, the marine veteran clearly takes winning very seriously. He reckoned Blue would try to launch a surprise strike, in line with the administration's new pre-emptive doctrine, "so I decided I would attack first."

Van Riper had at his disposal a computer-generated flotilla of small boats and planes, many of them civilian, which he kept buzzing around the virtual Persian Gulf in circles as the game was about to get under way. As the US fleet entered the Gulf, Van Riper gave a signal - not in a radio transmission that might have been intercepted, but in a coded message broadcast from the minarets of mosques at the call to prayer. The seemingly harmless pleasure craft and propeller planes suddenly turned deadly, ramming into Blue boats and airfields along the Gulf in scores of al-Qaida-style suicide attacks. Meanwhile, Chinese Silkworm-type cruise missiles fired from some of the small boats sank the US fleet's only aircraft carrier and two marine helicopter carriers. The tactics were reminiscent of the al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole in Yemen two years ago, but the Blue fleet did not seem prepared. Sixteen ships were sunk altogether, along with thousands of marines. If it had really happened, it would have been the worst naval disaster since Pearl Harbor.

It was at this point that the generals and admirals monitoring the war game called time out.

"A phrase I heard over and over was: 'That would never have happened,'" Van Riper recalls. "And I said: nobody would have thought that anyone would fly an airliner into the World Trade Centre... but nobody seemed interested."

In the end, it was ruled that the Blue forces had had the $250m equivalent of their fingers crossed and were not really dead, while the ships were similarly raised from watery graves.

Van Riper was pretty fed up by this point, but things were about to get worse. The "control group", the officers refereeing the exercise, informed him that US electronic warfare planes had zapped his expensive microwave communications systems.

"You're going to have to use cellphones and satellite phones now, they told me. I said no, no, no - we're going to use motorcycle messengers and make announcements from the mosques," he says. "But they refused to accept that we'd do anything they wouldn't do in the west."

Then Van Riper was told to turn his air defences off at certain times and places where Blue forces were about to stage an attack, and to move his forces away from beaches where the marines were scheduled to land. "The whole thing was being scripted," he says.

Within his ever narrowing constraints, Van Riper continued to make a nuisance of himself, harrying Blue forces with an arsenal of unorthodox tactics, until one day, on July 29, he thinks, he found his orders to his subordinate officers were not being listened to any more. They were being countermanded by the control group. So Van Riper quit. "I stayed on to give advice, but I stopped giving orders. There was no real point any more," he says.

Van Riper's account of Millennium Challenge is not disputed by the Pentagon. It does not deny "refloating" the Blue navy, for example. But that, it argues, is the whole point of a war game.

Vice-Admiral Cutler Dawson, the commander of the ill-fated fleet, and commander, in real life, of the US 2nd Fleet, says: "When you push the envelope, some things work, some things don't. That's how you learn from the experiment."

The whole issue rapidly became a cause celebre at the Pentagon press briefing, where the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, got the vice-chairman of the joint chiefs-of-staff, General Peter Pace, to explain why the mighty US forces had needed two lives in order to win.

"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?" General Pace asked.

Van Riper agrees with Pace in principle, but says the argument is beside the point.

"Scripting is not a problem because you're trying to learn something," he says. "The difference with this one was that it was advertised up front as free play in order to validate the concepts they were trying to test, to see if they were robust enough to put into doctrine."

It is these "concepts" that are at the core of a serious debate that underlies what would otherwise be a silly row about who was playing fair and who wasn't. The US armed forces are in the throes of what used to be called a "Revolution in Military Affairs", and is now usually referred to simply as "transformation". The general idea is to make the US military more flexible, more mobile and more imaginative. It was this transformation that Rumsfeld was obsessed with during his first nine months in office, until September 11 created other priorities.

The advocates of transformation argue that it requires a whole new mindset, from the generals down to the ordinary infantryman. So military planners, instead of drawing up new tactics, formulate more amorphous "concepts" intended to change fundamentally the American soldier's view of the battlefield.

The principal concept on trial in Millennium Challenge was called "rapid, decisive operation" (RDO), and as far as Van Riper and many veteran officers are concerned, it is gobbledegook. "As if anyone would want slow, indecisive operations! These are just slogans," he snorts.

The question of transformation and the usefulness of concepts such as RDO are the subject of an intense battle within the Pentagon, in which the uniformed old guard are frequently at odds with radical civilian strategists of the kind Rumsfeld brought into the Pentagon.

John Pike, the head of, a military thinktank in Washington, believes the splits over transformation and the whole Van Riper affair reflect fundamental differences of opinion on how to pursue the war on Iraq.

"One way is to march straight to Baghdad, blowing up everything in your way and then by shock and awe you cause the regime to collapse," Pike says. "That is what Rumsfeld is complaining about when he talks about unimaginative plodding. The alternative is to bypass the Iraqi forces and deliver a decisive blow."

Van Riper denies being opposed to new military thinking. He just thinks it should be written in plain English and put to the test. "My main concern was that we'd see future forces trying to use these things when they've never been properly grounded in an experiment," he says.

The name Van Riper draws either scowls or rolling eyes at the Pentagon these days, but there are anecdotal signs that he has the quiet support of the uniformed military, who, after all, will be the first to discover whether the Iraq invasion plans work in real life.

"He can be a real pain in the ass, but that's good," a fellow retired officer told the Army Times. "He's a great guy, and he's a great patriot, and he's doing all those things for the right reasons."

TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; Government; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: miltech; semperfi; usmc

1 posted on 09/06/2002 1:58:43 AM PDT by Movemout
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To: Movemout
I guess I am a bit surprised that nobody has commented on this article. I read about this on athread started several weeks ago but there were no details. I have participated in similar war games before and they can be quite arbitrary but Piper threw them a curve and they swung and missed. He is correct in asserting that conventional wisdom is a pile of manure. BTW, John Pike, the career sniper from the sidelines, is full of it as usual.
2 posted on 09/06/2002 4:13:02 AM PDT by Movemout
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To: Movemout
People around here don't want to comment, because if they allowed themselves to believe it for even one instant, it would scare them sh*t-less.

$250 million, and the powers-that-be (those idiots in uniform still left from the Clinton era, who are more political knee-padders than soldiers) refuse to learn from it. Any outrage out there? Hello? Is this thing on?

Oh, yeah, I just can't wait to send my kid into the military.

3 posted on 09/06/2002 4:49:05 AM PDT by Le-Roy
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To: Le-Roy
That truly is the scary part. You invest resources in such gaming to gain insight into what might happen. Careers do not hang in the balance of the outcome but human lives do hang in the balance. Piper didn't do anything outrgeous from my point of view. There is a certain plausibility in his strategy.
4 posted on 09/06/2002 5:00:38 AM PDT by Movemout
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To: Movemout
The war games were run by perfumed princes.

In real life, the grunts would have blown the small craft out of the sky. Remember when grunts took down a civilian Iranian airliner by mistake?

One reason US troops are better in tactics than Arabs is that low rank individuals are allowed to think...Which is why, in every war since the revolution, the "generals" who are good on paper are quickly fired and replaced with officers good at war.

I've been on "war games". Our unit was wiped out an hour before the games started. The next year, one of my med techs (a 89 lb female) wiped out the enemy trying to infiltrate the medical unit. War games are to learn, and learn you do, despite this naive article.

The reason for no freeper comment is that we figure this is anti american propaganda.

Heck, if even a lowly ex national guard soldier like myself can figure that out, imagine freepers who actually are soldiers.

5 posted on 09/06/2002 5:07:45 AM PDT by LadyDoc
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To: LadyDoc
With all due respect, your comments are off the mark. Hack may have made the "perfumed princes" characterization popular but that doesn't mean he is correct. I retired from the Army 12 years ago and after a long hiatus of dealing with Fort Five Sides, I just recently finished a project for the DUSD, Advanced Concepts and Systems. I find that Pentagon politics are as usual with perhaps a little more fervor and a little less back stabbing than was the case a while back. There is a certain resoluteness and conviction that stands out more than what I remember.

There is nothing inherently anti-American about this article. Strategic and tactical gaming have existed for centuries. "Real life" is never exactly the same as the gaming but lessons learned from both can be valuable.

Garrison soldiers and combat soldiers are different breeds, as you correctly point out, but both serve a purpose, contrary to popular opinion. Your misplaced belief that you speak for all FReepers is only exceeded by your confident arrogance pertaining to your understanding of the nature of reality.

6 posted on 09/06/2002 5:24:12 AM PDT by Movemout
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Comment #7 Removed by Moderator

To: Movemout
I hardly consider this anti-American propaganda but there are several crucial facts here:

The overseers of the exercise presumed that Saddam is not creative. Saddam's cozy relationship with Russia and China may have earned some tactical advice for his defense. Further, the exposure of this exercise could be a ruse to make Saddam attempt to emulate Piper's strategies. Hopefully our tacticians a taking that into account AND the fact that Saddam might do something completely different per recommendations he may or may not have received.

Fortunately amphibious landings will be unlikely to take place. Most likely the soldiers will stage in Kuwait and Turkey and march or ride across the borders.

Additionally, Saddam runs a secular regime with unprofessional soldiers who are not driven by devout nationalism. I think it unlikely that his soldiers would kamikaze although it would be impossible to rule out him contracting with al Qaeda or other lunatics to handle his extraterritorial dirty work. The tenebility is dubious.

It may be the prevailing assumption that getting into Iraq will be easy and driving the enemy out of the fortified positions in the cities will be the hard part. Piper exploited the assumption to the fullest (making the assumption a very bad one). Hopefully we won't be making any more bad assumptions when the real thing comes along.
8 posted on 09/06/2002 7:27:26 AM PDT by Jake0001
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To: American in Israel; Movemout; Le-Roy; seamole; Jake0001; Prodigal Daughter; Thinkin' Gal; ...
American in Israel:  Because you are on the scene, may we have your comments, please?

In the past I have posted Prophet Henry Gruver's '95 comments about what would happen the next time U.S. troops go en mass to the Middle East, and have been either ignored or rended.  Because the message is hated, so is the messenger.  There are other dreams, visions and prophecies, including one of a big dead eagle lying in the desert with Muslims jumping around cheering, or an even more current prophecy by someone I never heard of which arrived in my Inbox this week which is really, really bleak.

This post should not be perceived as anti-American, but anti-DECEPTION.   The globalists government agenda is satanic, masonic, illuminist and worse, and some part of that worships Allah and thinks he is god (and he isn't).  The globalists religious beast appears to be Islamic.  The Bible says one beast will set up the other in power.

9 posted on 09/06/2002 2:34:15 PM PDT by 2sheep
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To: Movemout

For later reading.

10 posted on 09/06/2002 2:41:30 PM PDT by DreamWeaver
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To: heidizeta
11 posted on 09/06/2002 2:42:07 PM PDT by 2sheep
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To: 2sheep
Well ANYTHING is possible. No matter how unlikely or near impossible.

I could stumble on a winning lotto ticket and become a millionaire too but I won't hold my breath in anticipation.

If both should happen I guess I'll go for the lump sum pay off and convert it to foreign currency. What would Gruver recommend: Pesos, Euros, Pounds, Rubles, Yaun (sp), Yen or Lira?
12 posted on 09/06/2002 3:20:18 PM PDT by Jake0001
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To: Jake0001
He said just Repent and ask the Lord.
13 posted on 09/06/2002 3:23:20 PM PDT by 2sheep
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To: Movemout
I like Van Ripper and haven't even met him. He certainly gave them some new things to consider, and that was his job.
14 posted on 09/06/2002 4:19:42 PM PDT by MissAmericanPie
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To: Jake0001; 2sheep
If you should win, gold knows no country. A bit heavy but good all around, perhaps a large calf would be a nice addition to your lovely garden.

2Sheep, excellent for Jake! An obvious opportunity for him.
15 posted on 09/06/2002 8:39:46 PM PDT by CJ Wolf
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To: 2sheep
Thanks for the ping, but the current world situation would be almost idyllic were it not for misguided religious fundamentalist fervor...and your frame of reference is just the obverse of that same coin.
16 posted on 09/07/2002 11:01:24 PM PDT by Le-Roy
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To: LadyDoc
The war games were run by perfumed princes...One reason US troops are better in tactics than Arabs is that low rank individuals are allowed to think.

I think the operative is "were" allowed to think. Since Vietnam the perfumed princes like to run the war from Washington. We had Osama in our sights but the OHV operator could only watch him drive away as permission to shoot was being decided on the other side of the planet. The "Princes will all line up to be the boss for the day, and one by one they get get their chance. The only problem is that war has changed. It took years to take out Europe in World War II. But this is not 1945 anymore, it is 2005 and wars are won in days or even hours.

Last time we played D-Day with Sadam. Our Patriot batteries hit the incoming missiles, which still followed their terminal balistic or non fueled trajectory and still exploded on impact. The missiles were intercepted, the war heads still hit their targets. We called it victory! Tell that to Tel Aviv who had to rebuild blocks and blocks of blown up apartment buildings.

Now that Sadam has nukes, if we play D-Day again it will be death day. We must fight an unconventional war differently. For one, why are we going to wait till he nukes us before we nuke him? That not only is stupid, but it will kill a whole lot more people on both sides. As 2sheep later in this post pointed out Henery Gruver prophcied this very battle we are going into well over 5 years ago, while we were glorying in our victory over ole Insane. At the time we never thought we were going back, Gruver said we were and that Sadam would draw us in intentionaly. At the time everybody laughed at Gruver because why would Sadam want more of the same?

I am a military game junkie, Avalon hill was my life growing up and this battle is going to be a very fun one. Just imagine the setup, a weak side with nuclear weapons fighting a strong conventional force without, due to PC Princes abhorance to a first strike. It is a no brainer that Sadam gets a free first strike, how would you play it?

Give me two nukes and the Promise that America attacks with 60 year old tatics and the American Army is toast. First I wait till you bring the carriers into the gulf and start your move. Then I pop one nuke on the sea floor next to the shore on the far side, far from your ships, and pop the other nuke, a very dirty one, (add cobolt, who cares if nobody can go there for 100,000 years, Qutar is a traitor), right over your rear base, the heck with your main fighting force. Once you have landed them, you are committed. The first nuke should make about a 500 foot tidal wave that will roll your small ships (no big deal) and your carrier (big deal, carriers are to large and will break up) You now have no close air support and your small ships are silkworm fodder. You have to pull back out of shore based anti-ship range or loose them, and you have nothing to take them out with as fighter bombers are short range planes.

Now your front line troops are trapped on the beach. Secondly you have no supply line as your rear is poisoned and rubber suits dont stop gamma rays. You cannot resupply a quarter of a million men with parachutes and you cannot support them by sea (come to my silk worms) or by land (due to radiation.) The front line will spend its last day with fuel driving closer to my army and then be stranded in the desert. Your troops, looking like walking supply depots will be easy to find, just follow the trail of abandoned junk into the desert. You, without water and fuel should last 5 days before you die. I think I will take a week to get there, first I will have a nap and then drink a tall glass of water for you...

This is where the Perfumed Princes throw a hissy and nuke My cities. So? I have won, you are dead and I have lost half of my useless eaters in my population. My armys are dug in, my cities no longer need feeding and my warriors are in a fine bloodlust. When they get done stripping the dead American army they will have fine weapons and they will all volunteer as suicide warriors to avenge thier useless familys. I will be the new Moslem Hero and all of Arabia will line up to kiss my rear-end. I will have a fine dedicated to the death military to enforce my rule and Russia will see you weakened and will gladly attack you on your home shore as you no longer have an army to denfend the home front. Who are you going to buy fuel from now? So I loose Iraq. Big deal, I gained Arabia!

This is in short what Gruver saw in a vision, and he is not a war gamer.

The very point of this exersise is that a conventional assualt will not work against a non defined target. We have never mounted an assualt before against a nuclear foe, we can wait to learn that it does not work and "fire the prince" or we can learn from this brilliant general now. The lives of a quarter million men and 75% of our forward force projection ability hangs in the balance. We do not have 20 armys to spend on Perfumed Princes, we have one.

..Which is why, in every war since the revolution, the "generals" who are good on paper are quickly fired and replaced with officers good at war.

You get one shot, we got one army. The process of elimination is a costly one.

17 posted on 09/08/2002 12:49:01 AM PDT by American in Israel
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To: Le-Roy
and your frame of reference is just the obverse of that same coin.

Well, it is a war between religions, so pick your side. Standing in the middle just makes you cannon fodder. The Christians and Jews did not declare war on Islam, Islam declared war on us. Ir takes two sides to end a war, but only one to start one. Just because your religion is agnostic, is no reason to decide that religion is bad. Religion just is. It is a description of world perception that includes spirit. Because some things you might drink are poison are you going to swear off water?

18 posted on 09/08/2002 12:54:57 AM PDT by American in Israel
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To: American in Israel; Prodigal Daughter; Thinkin' Gal; babylonian; Fred Mertz; Jeremiah Jr; ...
Bump to your 17 and 18 explaining how Gruver's vision comes to pass.  Polls and forums seems to be hyping people for war.  If poll numbers can be believed, the lemmings are making a mighty broad path to the cliff.
19 posted on 09/08/2002 3:36:58 AM PDT by 2sheep
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To: Quix; DreamWeaver; ex-Texan; It'salmosttolate
 US Invasion of Iraq Would be no 'Cakewalk'

 Ten Reasons Why Many Gulf War Veterans Oppose Re-Invading Iraq

20 posted on 09/14/2002 7:25:16 PM PDT by 2sheep
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