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Reds and Blues in the Persian Gulf February 9, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

red and blue

Paul K. Van Riper was one of the most notable American warleaders of his generation. A marine commander who earned a reputation for fighting from the front in Vietnam, he finally retired as lieutenant general, 1 October 1997. Then, 24 July 2002, Rip (as he is know to his friends) went rogue and killed 20,000 America servicemen and women in the Persian Gulf.

Ok, back up. Those who have been watching the news for the last decade may be clammering that this never happened. But Rip did carry out the attack and went rogue in perhaps the most bizarre way imaginable. He was given a lead role in a 250 million dollar war simulation (Millennium Challenge 2002), a simulation that has gone down as one of the most controversial in history: not least because Rip resigned in the middle of it.

In 2002 the United States, recognizing that it might soon have to deal with hostile powers in the Middle East (ahem!), set up a war simulation between Blue (the US) and Red (a rogue Arab power, either Iran or Iraq). Rip was placed in charge of the Reds, a choice that many in the Pentagon would later regret. He was then given an ultimatum from US troops gathering off shore. The last of a long list told him to surrender.

Had Rip decided to roll over and die then the games would not have been much fun. The Blues clearly hoped that he would put up a spirited resistance and then roll over and die: Space Invaders is so much more fun when the alien ships get close to the digital huts at the bottom of the screen before being zapped. The problem is that PVR had decided to win.

First, he completely flattened the hierarchy of his armed forces: he understood that his opponents would be able to read every electronic message he burbled out. Initiative was handed over to regional commanders with just occasional messages sent by motorcycle messengers. Pilots ceased speaking – chatter could be picked up  – so a light system was used to bring them down onto airstrips. Blue was essentially blinded.

Second, rather than hang around to be attacked by an aggressive US, PVR decided to launch his own pre-emptive attack on the US navy in the Gulf. The sheer temerity of this leaves Beach trembling at the keyboard, but it worked… Small Red ships and planes had been sent in to keep an eye on US forces while the ultimatum was being waited out. Then simultaneously the small planes and boats and every cruise missile available were launched against the Blue fleet.

The Blue fleet may have expected a badly damaged cruiser from a suicide boat or two: that could have been dealt with. What no one had expected was the sheer volume of cruise missiles which overrode the navy’s defence mechanisms. The result was that an air-craft carrier, four out of five amphibious vessels, and a series of cruisers all went to the bottom. Sixteen of the most important US ships had been knocked out leaving nothing but diesel floating on the surface.

The Blue high-command, perhaps understandably, went into a shocked hibernation. Would they be able to come back from this kind of reverse? Would Red pay for their impudence? What would a digital Congress say? Well, Blue could have at least have had the decency to try. Instead, an executive decision was made, the clock was turned back, and the sixteen sunk ships were ‘refloated’ (what a verb!). Then Red was asked politely to move some land units so the marines could land successfully! It was sometimes after this that Rip resigned as head baddie.

There is a long history of war games played by armies and navies, back into the 1920s and 1930s: and there is almost as long a history of war gamers cheating. Memorably, the Japanese, the greatest war gamers of them own, ‘played’ Midway before it happened and refloated a  Japanese aircraft carrier because it was sunk after a freak series of dice throws. The Pentagon’s decision had antecedents then: just not very glorious ones.

There must be other good wargaming stories? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Beach could only remember how the Able Archer  games in 1983 almost set off World War III. Whoops!


LK writes: ‘I seem to remember, when I read about this on Strategy Page that the copout was that the whole exercise was supposed to be about the proper procedures for staffwork, and not about the situation itself. See this piece by James Dunningan. If you want some real good stuff about Wargames (political\military\recreational) just contact Jim, or read his books, several of whom are available on the net. LK also remembers two wargaming stories: The invasion of Russia (Barbarossa) was wargamed at the German Army HQ, under the command (or supervision) of General Paulus (he of Stalingrad fame). He concluded that the whole plan was not feasable, because after four weeks (or something) the army would outrun its supply tail, and the distances involved, as well as the different rail width used by the russians) would make resupply very difficult, if not impossible. Of course GROFAZ (GROsster Feldherr Aller Zeiten, greatest commander of all times i.e. Hitler) did not see it that way, and ordered the invasion to go ahead anyway. And the other one apparantly took place on the night of 5th to 6th of June 1944. The german army, or corps HQ in the Cotentin was conducting a command exercice and then the para’s dropped. The commander in charge made the decision on the spot that the exercise should continue (because all relevant sub-commanders were there anyway) and that the umpires would now use the “live” data as training enemy, which enabled the corps HQ to come up with at least a semi-coherent battleplan, which was then implemented in the following hours.’ AB has this one that deserves to be developed:  The only great war game story I was hitherto aware of was War Plan Red which was a plot by the US to invade the British Empire via incursions into Canada as late as the 1930s and which they basically used to shake down Britain for access to our commonwealth markets and resources at massive reductions somewhat along the lines of a Ron Villain saying “Aw this Canada’s a very nice looking piece of schmutter…kind o’ fragile an’ vulnerable looking too though…and then there’s that Rusky mob across the way and y’know they can’t be trusted…and well y’wouldn’t wan’o see such a nice piece of real estate like this gettin’ involved in any accidents like being invaded now would y’u?” Thanks AB and LK!!!