During Millenium Challenge 2002

Fabius Maximus asked: In an ideal world, what should have happened during MC 2002 after General Paul van Riper took the exercise “out of the box”, outside its designed conceptual frame?

[Original post on Fabius Maximus’s blog is here.]

Comments by Ed Beakley, who runs the Project White Horse blog:

This is a really good question with implication for any aspect of decision making and preparation for conflict in this century, and I suggest one worth more in-depth thought.

My answer in three pieces:

1) If indeed MC02 was a free play exercise in which “the bad guys can win,” then a bad- guy-victory should have been accepted as a valid data collection point for further analysis and indeed, should have been welcomed as essentially validating the overall process. Analysis would need to determine if the defeat was the result of U.S. Navy operations failure in doctrine, TTP, or technology, or combination. It would also need to address whether the “game” process “created” or influenced unduly the outcome. Given the previous comments by deichmans and myself on creating the exercise tools to evaluate Rapid Decisive Operations, Net Assessment and Assured Access concepts, this is as important a point for learning as the actual tactical issues.

Answer #1: Pat the general on the back for a job very well done, get an in-depth post event report, fuse the data, begin analysis and begin to restructure appropriate hypotheses. (Remember J9 in JJCOM is the warfare experiment arm. Scientific method drives process.)

2) If it was discernable real time that an aspect of the game created a tactically inappropriate opportunity for OPFOR exploitation, given that Access Assurance/Denial was a critical Navy objective area, AND accepting that an experienced commander, thinking out of the box, had apparently found a significant tactical weakness, the simulation should have been reset, variables and constants scrutinized, and Navy experiment hypothesis re examined. It is an accepted aspect of experimentation that not all variables may have been recognized in the experiment’s design, and results sometimes lead into unplanned-for and unexpected areas. In free-play events, it is to be expected that scenario boundaries may be approached. Planning must include contingency aspects.

Answer #2: Given the implications and importance, key event senior controllers, the OPFOR commander, General Van Riper, and senior Navy POC should have examined the possibility of resetting and continuing to look for data/answers on a priority Navy objective, Access Assurance. If the time line would not support such an examination, then the players should ensure that the specifics of “out of conceptual frame” were well documented. In any event it was a “capturable moment” for future reference.

3) In severely stochastic situations or completely indeterminate situations — Fourth Generation Warfare — it can be argued that the best that can be done is to manipulate the initial state to achieve the highest possibility for favorable outcomes or the lowest probability for unfavorable ones, or alternatively, to proceed intuitively, protecting as well as possible against disaster at each point while attempting actions more designed to learn about the situation than control it. The access denial aspects of the MC02 scenario are arguably 4GW representative, very uncertain in nature, as are the recent events in the Straits of Hormuz. MC02, the recent DHS TOPOFF exercises, and most large scale supposedly free play exercises are in reality mostly pre-scripted to eliminate complexity and facilitate event timeline, and insure “X” successfully in the box. This process fails to address crisis development, eliminates the Observation and Orientation stages of the OODA Loop by pre-determining their characteristics, thus eliminating uncertainty, and therefore, bypassing the essential element of critical command thinking.

Answer #3: “In an ideal learning world” of recognition and search for answers in world that includes 4GW, General Van Riper and other like him would be fully employed exploring and teaching adaptability. Higher end exercises would actively engage in learning focus (failure allowed, expected, pushing beyond the envelop edge encouraged), not checks in the box and prevention of leader embarrassment.


The push to make exercises match the promises of the systems-of-systems stuff was a major piece of my life for a while. In fact the drive to test highly coupled systems in highly coupled scenarios eventually led a Navy bomb dropper working smart weapons to ask, “but what happens, if the other guy doesn’t play fair?”

I went from:

1) an exercise in July 2000 with the Third Fleet focused on what happens to a Navy Battle Group in the Mid East faced with a non-state threat, possibly WMD threat, examining whether the C3F staff (as the test group) playing the BG staff, could take on some unique Intel and break out of the current templates of operation to “see” what was really happening. Interestingly enough, the staff was recommending a major retaliatory strike, and VADM Denny McGinn, C3F, playing the “CINC” on the last day, stepped in to cool the heads. His comment to us on FINEX was, he knew we all had day jobs, but what we had just been involved in was more important. Unfortunately he was on target.


2) The Navy didn’t do much with the Cole, but as the result of the above, I was involved with developing “asymmetric” aspects to inject in the JTFEX process. We were to have our first go in Nov of 2001. As it turned out we actually executed part of the effort for the first CV BG to go to Afghanistan.


3) Attempt to put a robust live and simulated coupled access denial scenario in MC02 stemming from the above. Using multiple ports, fast boats, and experience since ’98 on a west coast “evil empire.”


4) A very complex multi agency response to an act of terrorism in a port with live, very active OPFOR, and Unified Command, Navy, Coast Guard, FBI, local fire, LE, SWAT.

Project White Horse stemmed from looking at the decision-making needs indicated by actions in these events. I guess you could say that while the big “O” is certainly orientation, looking at “the loop” from the “D” reveals some interesting aspects. I am most interested in learning how factors at various levels affect the decision making process.

The recent post on the Gulf of Tonkin interestingly enough comes just as I have found a 2006 thesis at Ft. Leavenworth looking at how strategic decisions (President and Senior military) might have played a part in losses as a function of impact on air wing leadership during Rolling Thunder for CVW-16 on USS Oriskany. They lost 1/3 of pilots and 1/2 a/c from 65-68, highest of any air wing in the war.

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