April 30, 2013

QotD: Shades of Yamamoto

Filed under: Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

While the results of the wargames are all well and good, El Reg hopes this won’t induce a sense of complacency. Wargames are just that — games — and reality is going to be much more unpleasant. As the 19th century Prussian military strategist Helmuth von Moltke the Elder noted, “No human acumen is able to see beyond the first battle.”

Barely a decade ago we saw this demonstrated with the Millennial Challenge in 2002 — a simulated land, sea, air and electronic online wargame against a fictional Middle Eastern country (somewhat like Iraq). It was intended to be the first test of the switched-on, network-centric warfare beloved by former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and in practice it failed miserably.

The Red team, controlled by Marine Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper, refused to play ball — using motorcycle couriers and pre-arranged signals at evening prayers to trigger attacks on the Blue team forces rather than easily-tapped radio or wired signals. By the second day, Van Riper had sunk one aircraft carrier, ten cruisers, and five of six amphibious ships of the attacking force, and the $250m exercise was shut down and reset.

Iain Thomson, “NATO proclaimed winner of Locked Shield online wargame”, The Register, 2013-04-29


  1. What they didn’t mention is how Van Riper cheated. Shamelessly.

    For example, they “used motorcycle couriers,” but neglected to slow down their message traffic speed. No, a guy driving across a major city during a war is not going to be carrying messages as fast as radio.

    He also had his fleet of tiny surface boats launch a salvo of cruise missiles while on the open ocean. The problem? A lot of his “ships” were too small to make any speed at all on open seas – and they were launching, in many cases, missiles that outweighed the boats they were launching from. He similarly made the same sort of attempt with his “suicide boats” – small, slow boats, heavily loaded with explosives, which could somehow magically move as fast as a major surface combatant in heavy seas (a hint: they can’t).

    He also just flat made up much of his order of battle – units which were not owned by the supposed country (according to the preset rules of the wargame), and with capabilities that were never in evidence (like a single ship, hidden within a nonexistent “fishing fleet,” firing four Silkworm missiles from close range, that was never mentioned until he fired). The Silkworm, by the way, is a two ton missile. So he pretended that a typical small fishing boat could carry eight TONS of hardware, along with command and control electronics, and fire it successfully without someone noticing the four Cessna-sized missiles on deck. Or the radar signals when they tried to acquire the Navy ships in the first place.

    Basically, Van Riper was handed the assignment to handle things according to the normal plan, realized he was going to lose, and started making stuff up so his ego wouldn’t get dinged. An RPG gamer would call him a “munchkin.”

    Comment by cirby — April 30, 2013 @ 00:53

  2. Wow. Thanks for the additional information. That’s an epic level of munchkinization!

    Comment by Nicholas — April 30, 2013 @ 07:40

  3. Ah, Paul Van Frickin Riper. I never was -in- his command but I was in the II MEF G-6 office when he had 2nd Division. At the time we were all in the same building.

    Now, I was only an enlisted guy, but II MEF G6 and Division G6 talk, and enlisted guys gossip like women. And while he was a PITA in the field he was supposed to be keen on ‘IT’ and how it could make Marines better war fighters.

    I liked him, probably the way that 3rd Army grunts liked Patton.

    Cirby, do you have a cite for the munchkinization?

    [1] For example on a FEX insisting that division hq actually pick up and _move_ once in a while, just like in the real world. And living very minimally, just like in the real world. I think they were all living in shelter halves instead of squad tents. After dealing with the tented palace II MEF field hq was, and being a somewhat gungy marine, I was super jealous.

    A sea story I heard was that he, while leading a brigade, found a sergeant with a bottle of Tobasco in his ammunition pouch at a field mess. He made sure the junior enlisted guys had all eaten, then closed the mess down, with some cutting words to leadership.

    Comment by Brian Dunbar — April 30, 2013 @ 19:50

  4. The examples I used above are all from contemporary accounts – milblogs that talked about it at the time. You can still find many of them online. Even the pro-Van Riper stories mention most of them in passing (without critique, mostly).

    Van Riper even bragged about it – he basically threw everything he could into rules lawyering, and while they shut him down on most of his challenges, he still came out ahead. When he tried the “firing a bunch of totally invisible and secret black-market Silkworm missiles from boats too small to carry them, without radar support” bit, they should have relieved him of command.

    He had an order of battle – a whole list of hardware and manpower that was officially available for use in the exercise. He decided – unilaterally and without consulting with the exercise planners – to add a whole bunch of hardware and manpower to the list of things he used for attacks. That’s a no-no in gaming. His command and control was as efficient as a modern force – while using motorcycle couriers and coded messages shouted from minarets. Nope…

    Your story about the Tabasco bottle is pretty telling – a lot of field soldiers carry Tabasco with them at all times. The fact that Van Riper got huffy about it says a lot about him. At best, he should have made a note to someone on the order of “the guys like spicy foods, we need more hot sauce available,” instead of shutting down the mess and freaking out.

    Comment by cirby — May 1, 2013 @ 13:09

  5. The examples I used above are all from contemporary accounts –

    Thank you – I’ll dig around.

    a lot of field soldiers carry Tabasco with them at all times.

    Sure. But not in their ammo pouch, in place of a magazine. That’s worthy of comment to a lance corporal, a harsh rebuke to a sergeant who should know better.

    Comment by Brian Dunbar — May 1, 2013 @ 22:25

  6. Sure. But not in their ammo pouch, in place of a magazine. That’s worthy of comment to a lance corporal, a harsh rebuke to a sergeant who should know better.

    …but certainly not a reason to shut down a mess, surely?

    Comment by cirby — May 2, 2013 @ 07:44

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