One of the US military’s less endearing characteristics is that it classifies its failures, which effectively puts anyone who discusses them at risk for prison time.
I know I’ve mentioned Millennium 2002 Challenge before [wik] – the US military wargame in which the “red team” handed the “blue team” (the US) a horrific ass-paddling by using some simple techniques of misdirection. The reaction to the results was nearly as embarrassing as the results themselves: the game was reset and new restrictions added to the rules so that the US could win. Wargaming as a training method goes back to the German high command pre-WWI, and has been a mainstay of strategic education since then; the Millennium Challenge 2002 approach, however, is the opposite of what the gaming is for: it teaches your commanders that if they don’t like reality, they can beg for changes to it.
The military has been roundly panned for what happened during Millennium Challenge 2002, and rightly so. I guess they learned their lesson, because this time, they classified the results. We now have to read between the lines, to try to infer from clues what happened. No doubt, eventually, it will all come out, but for now we can only imagine. [defenseone] I am, also, deeply concerned at the apparent cluelessness of high command: when your exercise fails that doesn’t mean you need to reinvent everything about how you do things it means you need to first off, ask whether you were in a strategic situation that makes any sense at all. Your first question shouldn’t be “what do we need to do differently?” it’s “why are we here, at all?” This demonstrates a tremendous flaw in typical military thinking, best voiced by Colin Powell, “you go to war with what you have, not what you want.” That’s true, for what it is, but it kind of presupposes that you have a chance of winning. Maybe, you don’t.
We don’t know what happened exactly but it appears that the scenario is a war with China over Taiwan. As usual, that allows the US to cast itself as engaging in a defensive war, because we’re the good guys and never mind that most of our wars have had the US on the offense. In fact, what the US is currently doing down in the South China Sea amounts to offensive action: sailing the navy around in China’s back yard, hauling nuclear weapons and basically acting like a dagger aimed at the heart of the dragon. It’s the usual routine: you point a gun at someone and when they say, “hey!” you shoot them, because apparently they were a threat when they said “hey!” Besides, a couple of points: 1) US government security is so poor that, while the press hasn’t got the results of the wargames, the Chinese certainly do and 2) “Hey we are planning a war against you in 2030!” is bad messaging. There is a word for that, and the word is “militarism.”
Apparently the Air Force also had its own games, similarly, and – similarly – failed. [defensenews] Add “never fight an air war in Asia” to the list of military aphorisms, perhaps? Or maybe: “Never fight an air war in Asia with aircraft as short-legged as the F-35.” You can bet a dollar to a donut that the Air Force’s only response to the strategic scenario was “(whine) why can’t we use nuclear weapons?”
But the service’s success was ultimately pyrrhic. After much loss of life and equipment, the U.S. military was able to prevent a total takeover of Taiwan by confining Chinese forces to a single area.
Furthermore, the air force that fought in the simulated conflict isn’t one that exists today, nor is it one the service is seemingly on a path to realize. While legacy planes like the B-52 bomber and newer ones like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter played a role, many key technologies featured during the exercise are not in production or even planned for development by the service.
Still, the outcome was a marked improvement to similar war games held over the last two years, which ended in catastrophic losses. The Air Force’s performance this fall offers a clearer vision of what mix of aircraft, drones, networks and other weapons systems it will need in the next decade if it hopes to beat China in a potential war. Some of those items could influence fiscal 2023 budget deliberations.
Give me a fucking break, Air Force: “many key technologies featured during the exercise are not in production or even planned for development by the service” – they assumed that they’d have sharks with frikken lasers on their heads, (currently not under development) and they still lost. With sharks with frikken lasers on their heads you can’t lose! Seriously, though – the problem is that the Air Force keeps running these scenarios and keeps losing:
In similar war games held in 2018 and 2019, the Air Force failed disastrously.
Of course they did. The scenario is interposing a force between China and Taiwan, in China’s back yard. Presumably, the Chinese are given the tactical advantage of moving first, which means that the attack starts out with a dramatic advantage for the Chinese – an advantage that, realistically, probably can’t be overcome. The scenario itself isn’t realistic, though. If China wants Taiwan they’re not stupid: they’ll wait until a president is in power – i.e.: they’ll pull a Putin and put in another Donald Trump – and they’ll make sure that president does a Joe Manchin-esque “bipartisanship” dance until it’s a fait accompli and then says “well it’s too dangerous to interfere now.” You know, just like Crimea. All of this, no doubt, leads to bafflement in Beijing and Moscow, “are they really that stupid, or are they just pretending?” China controls enough of the US economy and US debt that it could present a dire political and economic threat, or disruption, that would thoroughly distract and US office-holder.
But the US is traumatized by Pearl Harbor and 9/11 surprise attack scenarios and is probably expecting that China would begin the affair with a fleet heading toward Taiwan, rather than a phone call. Brief examination of history shows that massive surprise attacks mostly only happen when you back someone into a corner – the phone call comes first. It is instructive to understand the later-to-be-allies’ reaction to Hitler’s partition of Poland, absorbtion of Austria, etc. – it was phone calls, not tanks. All of this presupposes China is willing to risk WWIII over Taiwan which, hint, it’s not. Chinese political strategists are thoughtful people who would not miss the message embedded in Brexit and Donald Trump: getting a country to politically face-punch itself is easier, cheaper, and above all faster than a war. The US can’t seem to let go of its expectation of getting hurt, then lashing out with fire and fury at the wrong target.
The 2018 exercise involved an easier scenario in the South China Sea where the service fielded a force similar to the one it operates today; but it lost the game in record time. The following year, during a Taiwan invasion scenario, the Air Force experimented with two different teams of aircraft that either operated inside of a contested zone or stayed at standoff distances to attack a target. The service lost, but officials believed they were closer to finding an optimal mix of capabilities.
I know, I know! Let’s add some magic! Would we win if we had the Hand of Vecna and a +20 sword? Maybe unlimited fuel?
So, what it sounds like they tried was a scenario in which the F-35 stealthed its way in to achieve air dominance over anti-aircraft and air defenses. Then, they discovered that an aircraft with a 750-mile range (350 in, 350 out) can only dominate the coasts of a country that is 2,000+ miles across. I’ve discussed some of these issues in my posting on range-based strategy: [stderr] The point is that anyone who understands military strategy would have said, “it’s a no-go” and I don’t even know what “standoff distances” means when you’re talking about a country the size of China. It’s all standoff, dumbkopf.
Meanwhile, the grown-ups were on the red team:
One breakthrough moment, recounted Hinote, occurred at the start of the game. When the officer in charge of commanding the “red team,” which simulated China, looked out at the playing field, he initially declined to move forward with an invasion of Taiwan. China considers the self-governing province of Taiwan as its sovereign territory, and has vowed to unite it with the mainland.
“The red commander looked at the playing board and said: ‘This is not rational for China to initiate an invasion, given this posture that I’m facing,’” Hinote said.
Right. Set Taiwan up with its own Boris Johnson and screw the place up thoroughly, then when the economy is in rags and everyone is miserable, start a nationalist campaign to re-join the mainland. How long do you think that would take? A decade? A year? Strategists don’t think in terms of next week.
For example, in the service’s version of the future, the U.S. military had implemented its Joint All-Domain Command and Control concept, which would allow the armed services to send data among their previously unconnected sensors and shooters. This meant the Air Force had fielded its Advanced Battle Management System, which could work with networks and communications technologies procured as part of the Navy’s Project Overmatch and the Army’s Project Convergence efforts.
[Hey did you notice that the army and the navy each have their own convergeance efforts? The jokes write themselves! Does “convergeance” mean what you think it does?]
In addition, Taiwan had successfully increased defense spending as outlined by President Tsai Ing-wen, who has called for buying drones and electronic warfare equipment along with M1A2 Abrams tanks and F-16V fighter jets, as well as upgrading to its Patriot missile defense system, according to Reuters.
The U.S. Air Force also fought with a notional force that allowed it to operate different technologies that are not currently in its budget plans.
If that sounds like French for “it’s a budget-justifying exercise” you may be a cynic. It sounds like that, to me. Basically, “we can’t do it, unless we have the entire US budget and some credit card debt, besides.”
In addition, before the conflict started, the Air Force took steps to disaggregate both its operational footprint and its command-and-control structure. It made investments to remote airfields across the Pacific region — fortifying and lengthening runways as well as pre-positioning repair equipment and fuel — so that forces could deploy to those locations during a war instead of main operational bases. This approach is something the service calls “agile combat employment.”
“Uh, hello Joe, this is Xi. Our people are very concerned that the US appears to be putting in place the logistical train necessary to support a sneak attack against us. And… no, wait, Joe, please don’t yell, I’m not done yet.. We’ve also got two of your senators on our payroll, who’ve confirmed that something is up. This isn’t funny, Joe. We’re going to have to put a stop to it, which means we’re going to be doing a very public press on the issue, and will be calling in all of our treaty obligations; if you recall that means Russia. You don’t want this. Why don’t you just run out the rest of your presidency and back away from this very dangerous situation? (pause, listening) Oh, we can believe that. Your military is out of control and are trying to ‘slip the leash’ as you Americans would say? How about our intelligence people work with you and a few of your people on your ‘National Security Council’ to identify where this dangerous push is coming from, then we’ll help you bury them. We have a lot of experience with this sort of thing.”
Think about it: when the US forces marshaled to fight Gulf War II it took them something like 8 months to get their logistics in place, and that was Rumsfeld’s lightweight military. A practicable attack against China would take at least a year and a half to set up, and the whole time the Chinese would be on the phone asking, “What the fuck are you thinking, Joe?” Since the war would be in their backyard, they’d have tons of time to start mining places and positioning and readying defenses. The Navy seems to think they’d just sail a carrier task force right into China’s back pocket, but really they’d be walking into a fire-sack from hell. This all comes at a time when a recent set of maneuver/wargames with EU elements where a Swedish Gotland-class attack submarine [wik] “sank” a US Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan. It’s a pretty cool sub – a hybrid electric/stirling motor that runs on liquified oxygen and is extremely quiet. Quiet enough that it ran right up on the US carrier while its escorts didn’t notice a thing.
The Pentagon would not provide the name of the wargame, which was classified, but a defense official said one of the scenarios revolved around a battle for Taiwan. One key lesson: gathering ships, aircraft, and other forces to concentrate and reinforce each other’s combat power also made them sitting ducks.
“We always aggregate to fight, and aggregate to survive. But in today’s world, with hypersonic missiles, with significant long-range fires coming at us from all domains, if you’re aggregated and everybody knows where you are, you’re vulnerable,” Hyten said.
Even more critically, the blue team lost access to its networks almost immediately.
“We aggregate to fight” – what that means is “we mass our forces.” That’s the great big dead giveaway and it’s why the US model is always to play to victim of surprise attack. Except then you can’t aggregate. So it has to be a semi-predicted surprise attack. But the problem with all of that is you have a great big wad of Americans and they’re all in one spot. You call it a “strike force” I call it “a big target.” So, the pentagon’s new “strategy” is to depend on science fiction – everything will be scattered about, then come together at the last minute in the right place with perfect timing and force. The problem with that is that it invites defeat in detail: if your opponent can disrupt the aggregation, then you have pieces of forces all over the place, none of which are individually strong enough to win a victory, and the enemy can pick them off one at a time. Imagine if a wing of F-35s flew in to somewhere, expecting to be able to do some air domination, but the refueling wing, which was coming from somewhere else, got blown away with a spread of missiles? You have two maneuver elements that are out of the fight, one dead, the other ineffective and waiting to be scooped up during the clean-up stage. Or, imagine if you’re aggragating a carrier task force group and the carrier doesn’t make it because it was hit with a couple of torpedoes and is currently serving as a nuclear-heated barrier reef. What I’m getting at is that the military’s answer to an impossible mission appears to be an impossible maneuver.
Meanwhile, China is a landmass and cannot be sunk. The Chinese have been developing very nice long-range cruise missiles and a landmass the size of China can hold a lot of them before it needs a reload. Meanwhile, the carrier task force group has a lot of antimissile stuff that it’d need to head back to Guam to reload – and once the antimissile defenses are saturated, then it’s all over. I imagine that if I were playing ‘red’ in the wargame I’d take my team aside and tell them, “OK, our objective is to win, sure, but I want to do it by forcing a US carrier task force group to surrender. Your challenge is to figure out how to mouse-trap a carrier group into a fire-sack it cannot escape, and that they know it.” Well, there is a fire-sack already and it’s called “the China Sea.”
Here’s a bit of clever that, if I were in the Pentagon’s employment, would be giving me the squirting pee: [sofrep] container-launchable long-range cruise missiles. For one thing, there are tons of container-compatible moving systems already in existence, and the whole global commerce system falls apart if you’re suddenly worrying that a transport container could contain a quick-launch missile system with a 2,000 mile range.
“It fits with China’s penchant for seeking asymmetric advantages against its enemies,” said Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center that specializes in studying the Chinese military. He went on to explain these platforms are also in keeping with China’s penchant for deniable weapons systems that are difficult to identify or track.
“Containerized missiles give China, Russia, and its rogue state partners new options for directly or indirectly attacking the United States and its allies,” Fisher said. “Shipping container missile launchers can be smuggled through ports or via highway ports of entry and stored for years in a climate-controlled building within range of U.S. military bases, and taken out when needed for military operations.”
Don’t you love how they casually label Chine and Russia as “rogue states”? And China’s not particularly fond of ‘deniable’ weapons systems, nobody is. It’s pretty easy to tell where a missile came from; that’s scaremongering. Of course the whole thing is an exercise in scaremongering. [As an aside: I am not a big believer in deniable weapons but a lot of American fascists love the threat because it justifies an infinite defensive spend. As you can see, post 9/11, the US has no problem deciding who was behind an attack and just fucking them all kinds of up, no evidence needed. But if you want to imagine weapons in containers, large amounts of explosives would probably be bad enough and the US imports a lot of stuff from China. Basically, it would the biggest letter-bomb, ever. Except the Chinese aren’t that reckless or stupid.]
Back to disaggregation:
Finally, instead of separate command organizations for the land, maritime and air domains, the Air Force created small command-and-control teams comprised of five to 30 individuals from all the services. The team members were able to oversee the battlespace and direct forces using portable technology, such as hand-held tablets.
“You would pass off the command of your forces, and in a way that meant that you were not ever knocked out of the fight,” Hinote said. “They could knock [Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii] out of the fight. In fact, they do almost every time we play this. But what they can’t do is they can’t knock out every command-and-control element that you have out there.”
In order to manage a disagreggated force, you need amazing command/control and a very reliable communications system. This, from the US military, which can’t keep common-or-garden spyware off of its predator drone control stations, and which regularly complains that its critical infrastructure lacks adequate security to keep semi-professional hackers out. Yeah. The challenge should be: “Imagine you have a disaggregated force and no communications capability. Then, your enemy starts snapping up your maneuver elements one after another and you don’t even know it. Go ahead: win the scenario.”
In the war game, four types of aircraft made up the Air Force’s future fighter inventory. Three of those are ongoing programs of record for the service:
The highly advanced Next Generation Air Dominance aircraft, or NGAD, and its associated systems, which were capable of penetrating highly contested airspace.
The Lockheed Martin-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which operated as a “workhorse” aircraft attacking targets at short ranges.
Boeing F-15EX aircraft, which mainly conducted defensive missions but were also loaded with long-range missiles and hypersonic weapons to strike targets farther downrange.
The hypersonic weapons don’t exist yet, nor do the NGAD. And the F-35 exists in a sort of limbo of hell. Did you notice how they framed that “The Lockheed Martin-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which operated as a “workhorse” aircraft attacking targets at short ranges.” They also should have said “flies a few sorties then heads to the hangar for 2 months awaiting engine replacement that we don’t have.” Again, go ahead: win that scenario. May as well imagine you’ve got a dozen teams of spartans from Halo that you can drop right in on enemy air bases to hold them (that would work, if someone had spartans in mjolnir armor). It’s a bunch of wishful thinking.
For years, Air Force officials have portrayed the F-35 as the aircraft that it would use to infiltrate into enemy airspace to knock out surface-to-air missiles and other threats without being seen. However, in the war game, that role was played by the more survivable NGAD, in part due to the F-35′s inability to traverse the long ranges of the Pacific without a tanker nearby, Hinote said.
Let me translate that for you: the F-35 doesn’t work, and we can’t even keep up the pretense. But it does mean big problems for our force structures.
“We wouldn’t even play the current version of the F-35,” Hinote said. “It wouldn’t be worth it. … Every fighter that rolls off the line today is a fighter that we wouldn’t even bother putting into these scenarios.”
Right: the version of the F-35 they’d put in the wargames is the version that doesn’t suck. It’s the +20 vorpal sword version. It’s the version that will never exist.
Once the war game started and the fight began, it became difficult for the Chinese and U.S. militaries to conduct airlift missions within range of each other’s missile threats. That made it critical for the U.S. Air Force to be able to pre-position food, water, medical supplies and the equipment needed run an airfield – including aircraft parts, fuel and weapons – at the locations from which it plans to operate, Hinote said.
Even though airlift assets like the C-17 and C-130 couldn’t transport cargo or people to the fight in the early days of the conflict, the aircraft still played an offensive role by launching palletized munitions that are bundled together with a guidance package and airdropped from a plane.
“You know, just like Goering’s luftwaffe did when they turned the tide at the battle of Stalingrad.”
I think that’s enough beating a dead horse. What’s going on here is clearly that the military has given up on trying to do wargaming as a training exercise, it’s doing it as a budget-pumping exercise: “look we can’t win with all the stuff we bought for $730 billion dollars, we need more.” A better answer would be, “if you can’t win with all that stuff, maybe we should cut your budget to ribbons and you can start figuring out how to beat China using rubber bands, duct tape, and scalpel blades.” The problem is that this crap has just enough credibility that people in Washington might take it seriously enough to think that a war with China is winnable and desirable. Because there’s a really, really, simple way to beat China: ally with them. Which, is basically what we’ve already done. The US and China depend on eachother so much that only dipshits like brexiteer Brits would think breaking up that relationship makes any sense at all.
Meanwhile, only fools fight in a burning building, which is what Earth is, right now. The US, China, and Russia ought to be thinking about re-tooling their economies for low CO2 emissions, and how they are going to survive a +5C temperature rise by 2100. +5C? Isn’t that the middle of the “worst case scenario” in IPCC projections? Yes, and it’s the projection for “if the big polluters do nothing” – which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is what they are doing. Nothing. Taiwan? How tall are the high points on Taiwan, because it may not be worth conquering soon. The US military’s response to the failed wargames is some restructuring that is due to be completed in 2030. Keep dragging those feet, soldier, until 2100 when the US isn’t a going concern, anymore.