A full US Carrier Battle Group (CBG) steams into the Persian Gulf, with the full support of US naval, air and amphibious power. The target is a Middle Eastern country, whose leader the US wants to submit to surrendering, failing which it would invade, destroy its military and occupy the nation. But it doesn’t go as planned.
The adversary, a third world country with an even inferior, often irregular force, swarms the entire US armada – speed boats; missiles from the speed boats; ground-based launchers; missiles from commercial ships; low flying planes with no radio communication to avoid detection; low tech measures such as lights and motorcycle messengers to escape American Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and; other smaller kamikaze speed boats packed with explosives.
The pride and joy of American radar and early warning technology, the Aegis system, is overwhelmed. It couldn’t save the 19 ships, including the carrier, several cruisers, five amphibious ships from sinking, and the nearly 13,000 military personnel on board from going down with it – in a matter of 10 minutes.
But when the utter silence in the ‘command center’ is broken when the commander of the US force calls to say, “Sir Van Riper just slimed all of my ships,” it is revealed that it was just a war game simulation.
The person helplessly calling to inform his overwhelming force being reduced to dust by a poorly armed third world enemy, was US Army Lt Gen BB Bell, leading the ‘Blue Team’ of 350 personnel in a war simulation room.
Was Saddam Hussein The Target?
And it was the person receiving the call, General Buck Kernan of the now-defunct Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), who had praised and personally appointed the Opposing Forces (OPFOR) Red Team commander, US Marine Corps Lt Gen Paul Van Riper as a “devious sort of guy.”
The “no-nonsense solid warfighter” Van Riper later went public after the exercise, when he was asked to give concessions to the Blue Team and his deployments being controlled by the neutral ‘White Cell’, led by retired US Army General Gary Luck.
Held a year before the devastating Iraq intervention in 2003, meant the objective was either Saddam Hussein or the even more defiant and bigger US nemesis, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
During the 23-day exercise, the Blue Team achieved most of its objectives of controlling the Red Country’s Sea Lines of Communications (SLOC), neutralizing its WMD assets, while leaving the regime itself significantly weakened, in the scenario that was projected to happen in 2007. But this was after the number of constraints that were placed on Van Riper.
For instance, his plan to exploit the huge radar image painted by the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey’s massive 38-foot to track and shoot them was thwarted by the White Cell, which asked him to not shoot at them and C-130 troop transports.
Van Riper knew the planes these medium lift planes would carry the first wave of paratroopers and tactical Brigade-sized weapons.
Riper Quits In Anger
Then he was asked to place his offensive weapons out in the open and not hidden to allow the Blue Team to be able to successfully destroy them.
The Blue Team in comparison was allowed access to technology, weapons systems, command and control concepts, and communications technology that it planned to induct well beyond 2007.
For instance, they had a high-powered airborne laser then, that the US successfully tested only recently!
Van Riper had by then angrily stepped down as OPFOR commander after six days of what he described as violating the integrity of the Red Team’s freedom and served as an advisor for the remaining 23.
The live fire and forced entry component of the exercise that involved the 82nd Airborne Division and 1st Marine Regiment continued.
Naturally, after the exercise, Riper shot angry emails to several colleagues, that were later picked up by the press. But what is pertinent is the political push behind holding and then trying to bury the exercise’s results, which was led by none other than then-Secretary of Defence, the late Donald Rumsfeld, the architect credited with the illegal and devastating invasion of Iraq.
Many, including Bell himself, saw Van Riper as being faithful to his role of an adversary, challenging the untested concepts that eventually were put to use in Iraq. The war killed 100,000 persons in the first few months alone, on a scale nearly apocalyptic, with the long-running crises arising out of the conflict still plaguing West Asia, North Africa and Central Asia.
He and his team allegedly refused to hear the real result of their costliest ($250 million) and largest US military exercise to test a new Concept of Operation (CONOPS) amidst a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) that they expected to be prevalent by 2007.
The final 752-page long JFCOM After Action Report released 10 years later in 2010, acknowledged that the end was scripted. “As the exercise progressed, the OPFOR free-play was eventually constrained to the point where the end state was scripted.
This scripting ensured a blue team operational victory and established conditions in the exercise for transition operations,” the report said.