A wargame carried out by the US military was rigged
August 21, 2002 5:52 AM   Subscribe

A wargame carried out by the US military was rigged to ensure the success of the American side against unspecified Middle East opponents, according to the retired General commanding the Middle East forces. Most amusingly, he managed to sink most of the American navy, and the game had to be stopped so the ships could be "refloated". I have to wonder, does this wargame indicate that America could be biting off more than it can chew, if it decides to invade Iraq by itself, or was this $200million down the drain?
posted by salmacis (45 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This has that unnerving Potemkin village flavor.
posted by Songdog at 6:07 AM on August 21, 2002

Obviously, it was just a dress rehearsal for the upcoming entertainment event of the century.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 6:16 AM on August 21, 2002

I don't believe anything the military says concerning the preparations for war with Iraq. The president may be brain dead, but there are very smart, though misguided, people running the show. Misinformation is a key weapon in their strategy. The story might be true. Or…on the other hand, it might be information leaked with a specific audience in mind. Who knows what these people are up to?
posted by ALvard at 6:17 AM on August 21, 2002

but there are very smart, though misguided, people running the show.

"misguided"? How?

"If you think you can or you think you can't, you are probably right," - Henry Ford
posted by hama7 at 6:26 AM on August 21, 2002

The neatest part was when General Van Riper used motorcycle couriers to foil the Blue Forces' advanced signal interception/jamming equipment.
posted by insomnyuk at 6:51 AM on August 21, 2002

In terms of long term effects, (innocents aside) the war itself is never the problem. The resultant monsters we end up creating in order to "build nations" are always the problem.
posted by machaus at 6:52 AM on August 21, 2002

All of this could have been avoided if Matthew Broderick would stop all that damn "hacking."
posted by ColdChef at 6:53 AM on August 21, 2002

You'd be suprised how often this happens in the large scale wargames. But in the main I don't worry, because there's far more small-scale games every year that aren't rigged.
posted by Cerebus at 7:00 AM on August 21, 2002

Well heck, if it cost me $200million to play the game, I'd want to make pretty sure I won it, too... However, I love the idea of 'refloating'.

"So how's the battle going, General?"

"It's proceeding very well Mr President. We're just refloating some of our boats since they became de-buoyed."

posted by humuhumu at 7:02 AM on August 21, 2002

humuhumu: they're using new state-of-the-art hydrogen hydroxide containment systems, too!

Ever since I saw the mobile dry-dock lift an entire ship out of the water and take it home, I just gave up understanding some of the military mind. Flunking my ROTC physical is looking like a better and better life event.
posted by dwivian at 7:11 AM on August 21, 2002

"misguided"? How?

Many of the president advisors are corporate war mongers. They either choose to ignore the likely geo-political consequences of taking Iraq or are so vainglorious that they think they can strong arm the world into submission after the fact.

The precedent is also a bad one. What country would next be swallowed by American empire building? Invading other countries and taking them over is what the bad guys do…
posted by ALvard at 7:11 AM on August 21, 2002

It's reassuring to know that brains still beat hi-tech. (The motorcycle messenger trick was not only cool, but also a very realistic option for a poor country's army). Now, if could put the intelligent people in charge of the hi-tech and get rid of the politicians who want to invent a war that does not send them to political limbo one way or another, I'd feel even more reassured.
posted by magullo at 7:13 AM on August 21, 2002

posted by gravelshoes at 7:14 AM on August 21, 2002

oops - that was amen to ALvard, not magullo
posted by gravelshoes at 7:16 AM on August 21, 2002

He sent orders with motorcycle couriers to evade sophisticated electronic eavesdropping equipment. When the US fleet sailed into the Gulf, he instructed his small boats and planes to move around in apparently aimless circles before launching a surprise attack which sank a substantial part of the US navy.
Heh. Bring that man out of retirement!
posted by ColdChef at 7:20 AM on August 21, 2002

I think General Van Riper is just pouting that he didn't win. The exercise had no actual consequences- it was, after all, just a game. Its goal was to provide information, specific information about specific battle tactics. The chaps with the offices near the center of the pentagon (or at least I assume that's where the good offices are) still know exactly what happened and will learn from it, they aren't pretending that they actually succeeded the whole time, they just needed to keep enough forces around to keep testing out some preplanned strategies.
posted by gsteff at 7:27 AM on August 21, 2002

Sheesh. Exactly the same sort of stories could be found about "disastrous" wargames being conducted before Desert Storm. Remember how that one played out in reality?

The US military doesn't play these games to celebrate how great they are. They play wargames to find where the mistakes are and learn from them, and they learn the lessons pretty well.

So when they get to the point in the exercise when the entire US navy is sunk, they have a choice: they can either call off the rest of the game or they can reset things so they can continue the exercise and see if there are any more disasters waiting to happen. That's not cheating, it's a good faith attempt to learn.
posted by Zonker at 7:30 AM on August 21, 2002

General Ripper? Hmmm....
posted by The Michael The at 7:41 AM on August 21, 2002

This reminds me of wargaming done by the staff of the Imperial Japanese Navy prior to the Battle of Midway. The game anticipated that there would be a carrier battle near the Hawaiian Islands and the junior officers, who played the Americans, managed to ambush and sink the Japanese carriers time after time.

Eventually the senior officers grew tired of this and proclaimed their fleet 'unsinkable' so that they could finally get a clean victory in their game.
posted by pandaharma at 7:42 AM on August 21, 2002

coldchef. your jokes are very stale man. silly filter is now stale filter...lemme guess....War games right, RIGHT am i right.
posted by clavdivs at 8:01 AM on August 21, 2002

*sniff* I was just, you know...pokin' fun...
posted by ColdChef at 8:03 AM on August 21, 2002

war games...man, you are funnier then that son. huWAH? Something very Guardian about this story. like a blind date and the mention of braces as not an issue.
posted by clavdivs at 8:13 AM on August 21, 2002

Long John Clavdivs's got an ingrown hair from his Foxy Grandpa Ear Trumpet...RIGHT, am I right? On Topic:

Bang! Yer dead!

Game over.
posted by y2karl at 8:14 AM on August 21, 2002

Pearl Harbor Revisited: US Navy Cryptologic History

This book doesn't discuss it, but there were wargames done in the 30s which demonstrated that Pearl Harbor was a very vulnerable target militarily. In spite of objections by the military leaders, Roosevelt moved the Pacific fleet HQ to Pearl Harbor in order to project strength in the face of the Japanese.

When politicians ignore sound military wisdom (doing X will surely result in Y) and put politics ahead of it, they often put everyone at great risk. Of course, van Riper is going against the official DoD assessment of the war games, but the DoD has a huge incentive to put a positive spin on it as a 'success' (a criteria which DOES matter in these games), because they are the ones who have to justify the $250 million expenditure.
posted by insomnyuk at 8:23 AM on August 21, 2002

insomnyuk: Unfortunately, politicians quite often "ignore sound .... wisdom." For instance, why is arming pilots a political issue? Shouldn't it be tactical? Either we're safer with armed pilots, we're less safe, or we're equally safe. I don't know what the truth is, but I do know it should have nothing to do with politics.
posted by callmejay at 8:35 AM on August 21, 2002

callmejay: good point, unfortunately, rational debate is often sacrificed on the altar of politics.

Background on the war games I was referring too: Part V of the Ranger 1938 war games (page 4-5 of the PDF file) included the enemy forces (Black Forces) launching attacks on Pearl Harbor which were identical to the ones launched by the Japanese. In the aftermath, I believe the black forces commander involved in the attack on Peral Harbor was accused of cheating for leaving the accepted zone of engagement, nevermind that those rules aren't followed in a war. If van Riper is right, than an attack on Iraq could be quite costly militarily, although I doubt the Iraqi military command, which is probably composed of Saddam cronies and not necessarily pure military minds, is as innovative or skillful as van Riper.
posted by insomnyuk at 8:43 AM on August 21, 2002

clavdivs: did u get outta bed the wrong side this a.m.? lay off the chef, he's lightening up a repetitively doomy 'Filter ...
posted by dash_slot- at 8:53 AM on August 21, 2002

Invader Zim: (To the tune of the Imperial March)
"Doom Doom Doom Doom-duh-Doom Doom-Duh-Doom"
posted by SpecialK at 9:15 AM on August 21, 2002

Meet Country X was the WaPo's earlier story on the Millennium Challenge game -- although it's entirely too precious to call it, as this reporter does, a game plan for action against Iraq. I'm sure the brass got a kick out of the sunken ships, but given that this particular game was more about learning how to coordinate disparate elements of a post-transformation military, it wasn't in the cards for them to just replay it with better tactics. This was a quarter-billion-dollar one-shot deal. They were looking more at command-and-control strategies than war tactics. I don't believe the general's charge of "easier" profile is correct so much as one that generates the responses in the simulated US force that they were trying to test. There are plenty of other exercises where the OpFor commander can demonstrate his ingenuity.

Put it this way. If you're planning to fight the Soviets, you should have people who know how the Soviets fight. The Red Army had well-known doctrinal principles, and lots of training documents we'd obtained. It makes sense to have an OpFor play as we expect the Soviets to fight, rather than play to win with panache. Your average tank battallion commander needs to have the opportunity to fight the known enemy. There are other wargames where the OpFor commander gets to be creative, and the BluFor guy has to play standard US doctrine -- though I'm sure fewer than some planners would like. If the planners come up with a wargame where they want to practice (OK, it's a good example) a carrier assault on an island naval base, and they've spent millions of dollars to have real troops in place to simulate portions of the exercise, learning from that assault, it's not very helpful to have the carriers sunk before they get there. Sure, in real life, it's good to have the naval commanders on their toes -- but you have to ask what is the goal of this exercise?
posted by dhartung at 9:40 AM on August 21, 2002

Well, if Saddam wasn't going to employ some of General Van Riper's tactics before, now he knows that they'd be effective against an American invasion, so maybe he'll add them to his bag of tricks.

That is, if he or his people bother to read the Army Times.
posted by beth at 10:42 AM on August 21, 2002

A wargame is an exercise to find out what X will do if Y performs a certain action. Y is constrained because that particular exercise is designed to find answers to certain questions; other exercises will be conducted to find out what happens when Y has different constraints.

If a commander repeatedly acts outside his constraints in an exercise, then the wargame officials have no choice but to countermand/ignore his orders. Even if he acts within his constraints and somehow manages to cripple the opponent early in the exercise, the officials will often reset the exercise and continue (with many notes on how to counteract the crippling blow in the future).

The best commanders are those who treat wargames as a chance for educating themselves and their opponents. The purpose of the exercises are to teach the good guys how to win. It's good that Van Riper had some tricks up his sleeve; it's bad that he let his ego get in the way. What sort of commander quits when his orders are countermanded by a higher authority
posted by joaquim at 10:50 AM on August 21, 2002

Maybe I read too much into Cryptonomicon, but I have the vague feeling that the US knew Pearl Habor would get attacked, because they had broken Japanese codes before the attack. It seems entirely probable that they let the attack happen so Japan wouldn't know that we had broke their codes (and to give America an excuse to enter the war).
posted by drezdn at 11:12 AM on August 21, 2002

It's funny that I'm reading a book on this very subject. How not shocking to find out that such games are usually rigged to ensure a victory for the "good guys", whoever they happen to be. This kind of delusional nonsense has been going on for a long time.

The problem with these sham wargames is that they give policy wonks and moronic presidents (like Johnson and Bush) the wrong information to form policy. Another funny line from the book was some five star general who pointed out that you never want some dumbass two bit political appointee egghead or chickenhawks calling the shots because they are exactly the kind of people who trigger Armageddon in a nuclear war scenario time and again.
posted by mark13 at 11:16 AM on August 21, 2002

What sort of commander quits when his orders are countermanded by a higher authority

It looked like van Riper was asked to participate, because one of the articles states he retired in '97 or '98, four years early. The assumption I would make is that they desired his military expertise for these wargames.

The problem is if they tinker with the outcome of the games too much in order to justify pre-existing doctrine, which could be disastrous.

It seems entirely probable that they let the attack happen so Japan wouldn't know that we had broke their codes (and to give America an excuse to enter the war).

I wouldn't put it past them, and serious analysis of the situation might prove it. The Navy Cryptologic history site I linked to pretty much shows that we had a good idea of the Japanese threat, and the vulnerability of Pearl Harbor, and we knew their code. It's possible we even knew the time and the day.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:54 AM on August 21, 2002

Today the single biggest impediment to the proper functioning of the Pentagon is its sheer size. Our military, regardless what anyone will publicly admit, is too damned slow to undertake the massive overhaul that is necessary.

Once again: we are still armed to fight a "Cold War" instead of the current "4GW" battles that most likely lay ahead. (Meaning "4th Generation Warfare") Check out "Defense and the National Interest" for more of a good analysis of what is wrong with the current defense organization we're saddled with.
posted by tgrundke at 1:59 PM on August 21, 2002

Most amusingly, he managed to sink most of the American navy

Nooooooooo!! I can only hope they were just destroyers or cruisers. *sob* There goes me. . .

I dunno, I don't think this exercise was there to give anyone a good feely about any war; I believe it was more of an information gathering type thing, testing the ability to use combined forces effectivly. They had to stop and 'rig' the game to insure more information was gathered. Like me playing you at chess. Everytime I get checkmated, you rewind a turn so I don't. I get checkmated several times but by the end I know more about how the game is won.

'Course, those are only my thoughts.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:34 PM on August 21, 2002

So, if it's conceivable that 60 years ago the US Govt colluded (at a distance, admittedly) with the attack on Pearl Harbour....


omigod: 9/11 !!
posted by dash_slot- at 3:42 PM on August 21, 2002

How not shocking to find out that such games are usually rigged to ensure a victory for the "good guys"

In fact the wargames at Fort Irwin, which used to be against an OpFor steeped in Soviet doctrine and tactics, were regularly won by ... the "Russians". At the time, the objection of the peace camp was that this was done to hype up the Soviet threat.

Today, OpFor still wins regularly, mainly because OpFor is a group of folks assigned to be the training force for the rest of the military, which means that they're constantly in training -- and know both the local terrain and typical American weaknesses. Also, it's thought good, in general, to have a tough opponent in these wargames.
posted by dhartung at 4:45 PM on August 21, 2002

rename this site doomfilter..............
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:46 PM on August 21, 2002

Most amusingly, he managed to sink most of the American navy

Also, hasn't air power made big expensive battleships an anachronism? Maybe we just don't know it yet because the air forces of most other countries are practically 20 years behind.
posted by insomnyuk at 4:54 PM on August 21, 2002

Also, hasn't air power made big expensive battleships an anachronism? Maybe we just don't know it yet because the air forces of most other countries are practically 20 years behind.

Well, I wouldn't say so. First, the shift of the battleships typical weapon is. It used to be guns. And, admittedly, guns have gained large technical upgrades. But, there isn't as much threat for a sea-to-sea battle anymore. So what do we do? Load 'em with missiles. They work. Well.

Also, a battleship (now are we talking about cruisers or destroyers?) is more of an escort than anything. The main piece of sea power is the aircraft carrier. All other parts of the squadron ensure one thing: the carrier survives.

And, yes, men in charge think of these things.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 5:13 PM on August 21, 2002

How a few others would have played it, at Winds of Change (scroll down)
posted by sheauga at 7:04 PM on August 21, 2002

Well, if Saddam wasn't going to employ some of General Van Riper's tactics before, now he knows that they'd be effective against an American invasion, so maybe he'll add them to his bag of tricks.
I'm sure they'd love it if he did - the whole point of these exercises is to think about what could happen and how to stop it. Anyone trying that now would find some very unpleasant surprises.

I don't know why so many people still have this Vietnam-era belief that the U.S. military is stupid and change-averse - that's been obviously untrue for quite awhile now if you follow the news. Consider the war in Afghanistan couldn't have been fought that way by any other country now and even the U.S. couldn't have done it a decade ago.

Those of us in the armchair general crowd like to think we're more creative or faster-learning than the real commanders. It's very easy but it's wrong - the US military has a lot of very well equipped and trained professionals who study this sort of thing full-time.

A superpower's wars are only lost due to outside concerns: politics or public opinion. The invasion will depend on public opinion here and the usual political horsetrading internationally; if they decide to attack, the only thing Iraq's military will be able to do is slow things down a bit.

The question is whether things like civilian casualties will be enough to turn the public against a war and, based on Afghanistan, that's not going to happen. I doubt there's been a major war in history with collateral damage that low - even Herald's carefully inflated numbers are miniscule compared something like Vietnam or WWII.
posted by adamsc at 7:19 PM on August 21, 2002

I'm 35 Karl, hardly an old man...old man :)
posted by clavdivs at 8:15 AM on August 22, 2002

Millenium Challenge 2002 based on Iraq or Iran? - And other observations by Bill Arkin
Van Riper, the RMA, and Millenium Challenge 2002 - Lynxx Pherrett
Millenium Challenge 2002 - Army Times
posted by sheauga at 3:31 AM on September 6, 2002

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