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The War Nerd December 11, 2002
 
U Sank My Carrier!
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
 
 

When kids play war, they end up spending less time shooting than arguing: "You're dead!" "Am not! You missed!" It just gets worse the bigger the kids. I remember a D & D'er crying when his character got killed -- wouldn't talk to the rest of us for years, still grieving for his dead elf.

The US military has been having exactly this kind of argument, played out in the world press, since last August. They're even whinier and more of a pain about it than D&Ders, if you can believe that, with leaks and counter-leaks, planted stories, and plenty of good ol' character assassination.

It all comes out of the "Millenium Challenge '02" war games we staged in the Persian Gulf this summer. The big scandal was that the Opposing Force Commander, Gen. Paul van Ripen, quit mid-game because the games were rigged for the US forces to win. The scenario was a US invasion of an unnamed Persian Gulf country (either Iraq or Iran). The US was testing a new hi-tech joint force doctrine, so naturally van Riper used every lo-tech trick he could think of to mess things up. When the Americans jammed his CCC network , he sent messages by motorbike.

But that was just playing around. They wouldn't have minded that. Might've even congratulated van Ripen, bought him a drink for his smarts, at the post-games party.

The truth is that van Ripen did something so important that I still can't believe the mainstream press hasn't made anything of it. With nothing more than a few "small boats and aircraft," van Ripen managed to sink most of the US fleet in the Persian Gulf.

What this means is as simple and plain as a skull: every US Navy battle group, every one of those big fancy aircraft carriers we love, won't last one single day in combat against a serious enemy.

The Navy brass tried to bluff it out, but they were pretty lame about it. They just declared the sunken ships "refloated" so the game could go on as planned. This is the kind of word-game that makes the military look so damn dumb. Too bad Bonaparte never thought of that after Trafalgar: "My vleete, she is now reflotte!" Too bad Phillip didn't demand a refloat after the Armada went down: "Oye, vatos, dees English sink todos mi ships, chinga sus madres, so escuche: el fleet es ahora refloated, OK?"

Everybody in this story has an agenda-starting with the retired USMC General named Paul van Riper, the hero of the story for most readers. Even the Army Times, when it broke the story, admitted that van Riper has a reputation as an "asshole" who has a grudge against hi-tech scenarios like the one the military was testing. He also has a reputation as a guy who lives for the chance to make the brass look bad in war games.

But that's what a good opposing commander is supposed to do. This van Riper may be an asshole, but then most good generals are. Patton wasn't somebody you'd want to be stuck in an elevator with. Rommel was worse; there's a story about how one morning in the desert Rommel announced to his staff officers, "Today is Christmas. We will now celebrate. Hans, how is your wife? Hermann, how is your wife?" and without waiting for his officers, to answer, Rommel said, "That was Christmas. Now-get out the maps."

And whatever agenda van Ripen had, do you really think the brass who "refloated" the ships he sunk are any more objective? Their careers are all riding on the success of this operation and they've got just as much reason to lie or fudge the results.

The story just got dirtier as it bounced around the web. The gullible types who believe everything the Pentagon tells them, decided to trust the brass -- van Riper was just a troublemaker. The paranoid types, the ones who think the CIA controls the weather, took it for granted that the whole war games were fixed from the start.

A lot of the arguments came down to the question of what war games like Millennium Challenge are about. Trusting war-nerds were saying on the web, "Well, the whole POINT of war games is to show up weaknesses! So naturally when van Ripen sank the ships, they made a note and restarted the games!"


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Gary Brecher
Browse author
Email Gary at war_nerd@exile.ru, but, more importantly, buy his book.
 
 
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