War game's outcome stuns decisionmakers

16 May 2003

Defense News

Frank Tiboni reports in DefenseNews (subscription required) this weekthat a wargame conducted at the Army War College last month has caused consternation a number of key military and civilian leaders in Washington. Specifically, the exercise showed that America's strategy of pre-emptive defense might lead to pre-emptive strikes by terrorists and rogue nations around the world, possibly with weapons of mass destruction. Asymmetric warfare -- striking at U.S. weakpoints with unconventional tactics -- will also become the norm by which our enemies fight us.

Conventional U.S military forces are so vastly superior to those of any potential adversaries that future foes will likely attack with conventional arms or weapons of mass destruction — either aimed at American troops in theater or citizens at home — at the outset of a conflict to blunt a U.S. assault, said military officials.

That was the stunning conclusion of Unified Quest 2003, the first major war game conducted by senior U.S. defense officials since the end of the Iraq war. Held April 27-May 1 at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., it was sponsored by Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), Norfolk, Va., and the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Monroe, Va.

Set in 2015, the computer-assisted exercise pitted U.S. commanders against two adversaries: a nuclear-armed Middle Eastern country surrounded by deserts, mountains and narrow waterways, and a well-armed, well-funded insurgent group threatening an allied Southeast Asian government.

The game’s developers assumed that the U.S. military had retained its overwhelming superiority, and that Washington still pursued the George W. Bush Administration’s policy of preemptively attacking regimes seen as threats to U.S. security.

In each scenario, enemy forces, dubbed Red and played by other Americans, were quick to use conventional weapons to keep Blue, or coalition and U.S. troops, from using seaports and airfields. They also employed weapons of mass destruction early in the battle against Blue units and civilian populations.

"Preemption is essential to Red for limiting and denying access," as is "early expansion of attack outside region and into U.S. homeland," according a briefing book on the war game distributed at a May 2 briefing at the National Defense University in Washington. At the briefing, war game supervisors discussed the game’s conclusions with Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defense secretary; Joint Forces Command chief Adm. Ed Giambastiani; Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff; Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations; and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee.

Central to the game, which involved about 700 U.S. military and government personnel and a few reporters, was the concept of asymmetric warfare, in which a weaker adversary aims to counter overwhelming military superiority through unconventional means. The concept began to appear in U.S. doctrine in the mid-1990s, and Pentagon officials have become increasingly convinced no future enemy will pit its conventional forces against U.S. troops.
Analysis: The military conducts such exercises all the time. Exercise results provide the basis for budget requests, troop-stationing decisions, procurement orders, and many other things. Exercises are also used to wargame the secondary and tertiary effects of decisions at the tactical, operational and strategic level. This exercise was designed for that last reason -- to explore the repercussions of American strategy today, by looking to strategic outcomes 10 years in the future.

The results of this war game should not necessarily deter America from its current strategic path. But it should give us pause. Our overwhelming conventional superiority is bound to trigger a massive unconventional, asymmetric, possibly terroristic response. Faced with the type of firepower exhibited in Iraq, our enemies know they cannot challenge us on the open plains of battle. Instead, they will attempt to find the chinks in our armor -- the places they can hit us where we're not well protected. One set of these vulnerabilities is military -- the springboards like ports and railroads we use to project our military muscle overseas. The other set is civilian. In the future, I think we can expect to see attacks on both military and civilian soft targets by our enemies. Indeed, the lines between civilian, military, political and economic targets will increasingly blur for our enemies, who will target American power writ large in any manner they can.
posted by Phillip at 2:59 PM