Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Friday, January 11, 2008

2002 wargame hits too close to home

Last weekend Iranian speedboats under the command of the Revolutionary Guard tested the US Navy in the Persian Gulf. Today's New York Times highlights a 2002 wargame scenario that cuts a tad too close to home with that encounter:

There is a reason American military officers express grim concern over the tactics used by Iranian sailors last weekend: a classified, $250 million war game in which small, agile speedboats swarmed a naval convoy to inflict devastating damage on more powerful warships.

In the days since the encounter with five Iranian patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz, American officers have acknowledged that they have been studying anew the lessons from a startling simulation conducted in August 2002. In that war game, the Blue Team navy, representing the United States, lost 16 major warships — an aircraft carrier, cruisers and amphibious vessels — when they were sunk to the bottom of the Persian Gulf in an attack that included swarming tactics by enemy speedboats. ...

“It’s clear, strategically, where the Iranian military has gone,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Friday. “For the years that this strategic shift toward their small, fast boats has taken place, we’ve been very focused on that.”

In the simulation, General Van Riper sent wave after wave of relatively inexpensive speedboats to charge at the costlier, more advanced fleet approaching the Persian Gulf. His force of small boats attacked with machine guns and rockets, reinforced with missiles launched from land and air. Some of the small boats were loaded with explosives to detonate alongside American warships in suicide attacks. That core tactic of swarming played out in real life last weekend, though on a much more limited scale and without any shots fired.

According to Pentagon and Navy officials, five small patrol boats belonging to Iran’s
Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps charged a three-ship Navy convoy, maneuvering around and between an American destroyer, cruiser and frigate during a tense half-hour encounter. The location was where the narrow Strait of Hormuz meets the open waters of the Persian Gulf — the same choke point chosen by General Van Riper for his attack.

In the encounter last Sunday, the commander of one American warship trained an M240 machine gun — which fires upward of 10 armor-piercing slugs per second — on an Iranian boat that pulled within 200 yards of the American vessel. But the Iranians turned away before the commander gave the order to fire.

That was not the case in the simulation, sponsored by the military’s Joint Forces Command. The victory of the force modeled after a Persian Gulf state — a composite of Iran and Iraq — astounded sponsors of what was then the largest joint war-fighting exercise ever held, involving 13,500 military members and civilians battling in nine live exercise ranges in the United States, and double that many computer simulations to replicate a number of different battles.

General Van Riper’s attack was much more complex and sophisticated than anything that could have involved the Iranian boats last weekend. The broad outline of the 2002 war game was reported at the time, but in interviews since last weekend’s episode, General Van Riper and other officers have provided new details about the simulation.

In the war game, scores of adversary speedboats and larger naval vessels had been shadowing and hectoring the Blue Team fleet for days. The Blue Team defenses also faced cruise missiles fired simultaneously from land and from warplanes, as well as the swarm of speedboats firing heavy machine guns and rockets — and pulling alongside to detonate explosives on board. ...

In a telephone interview, General Van Riper recalled that his idea of a swarming attack grew from Marine Corps studies of the natural world, where insects and animals — from tiny ant colonies to wolf packs — move in groups to overwhelm larger prey.

“It is not a matter of size or of individual capability, but whether you have the numbers and come from multiple directions in a short period of time,” he said.

The lessons from 2002, concerning the USS Cole, have not been forgotten. On the heels of the provocations committed by the IRGC (Revolutionary Guard) many a pundit immediately drew that conclusion. Like it or not, folks, we have been in a de facto state of war with Iran since 1979. They had, throughout the eighties, used unconventional means of warfare against not only us, but against the West in general. Hezbollah is an "unofficial" arm of their military, and while they may, from time to time, seemingly act independently of the Islamic Republic, they are intrinsically tied to the regime.

The wargame shows that we were considering the possibility of such attacks in 2002. But the incident from last weekend shows that we're not the only ones thinking about it. Our enemies are well aware of the possibility of such attacks to cripple or destroy our warships. The incident from this past weekend shows that a change in the rules of engagement may be needed to combat such a threat.

Publius II


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