War: easy when you always win

From Inside the Army (subscription required):

The top civilian and uniformed leaders of the Army told a House committee last week that recent war games have proved the effectiveness of the Future Combat System as a counterinsurgency tool, and pushed for the continued development of the multibillion dollar program.

The committee was told the service is running modeling simulation exercises involving pre-insurgent and insurgent operations that compare actual events in battle to the likely outcome if the service had tapped a future force harnessing the latest technologies such as FCS.

The Army¹s recent exercise looked at an event called Black Sunday in which a platoon providing convoy security in Sadr City, Iraq in April 2004, was attacked by insurgents. Two soldiers were killed. Several humvees were destroyed. A battalion then embarked on a rescue mission.

“It took [the battalion] three hours and three attempts because they couldn¹t find them,” [Army Secretary] Harvey explained. “They didn¹t know where they were. They didn¹t know what streets were blocked. Six more soldiers were killed and 50 more were wounded.”

The modeling simulation involving an FCS-capable unit, however, resulted in “zero soldiers killed, zero wounded. It took one hour, not three hours.”

Wow, we ought to be increasing and not cutting the budget of a program like that, eh?

Not so fast . . .

First of all exercises &  simulations are cr@p. The math/logic behind them is fine, I’m not deriding game theory and related fields, but as they are practiced such events are worth less than nothing because the good guys never lose. The “blue” side always ends up saying that the tactics of the “red”
side are just not realistic; tactics like going insurgent or acting like a terrorist network. You don’t have to take my word for it, ask Lt. General Van Riper, USMC (Ret.)

Playing the bad guy in an exercise called Millennium Challenge Van Riper showed what Saddam a simulated Mid-East military power could do if they had had their act together. Unwilling to accept real defeat in a fake setting, the game was rebooted; the US won and everyone lived happily ever after. Van Riper blew the whistle.

The Army touting FCS – or any technology-heavy solution – as some kind of miracle system that will send US casualties to the basement and make every mission a flawless display of military prowess is something akin to irresponsible. Even if the Black Sunday simulation was an accurate reflection of how FCS might perform, it would not have stopped the ambush from occurring in the first place. Even without FCS we are the most technically advanced fighting force in the world, yet our soldiers are still being killed by weapons bought in a dime store and cooked up in a kitchen.

It is not that advanced technologies are bad, but look at what sort of technology works on the battlefield: UAVs and night vision devices. These are advancements of basic concepts that were put into use during Napoleon’s day (balloons) and Viet Nam (NVGs). The other great technology that works is GPS, which is a space-based way to do what people used to do with a compass and range finder. The defense against all this technology? “Moving through the people like fish through water.”

Enhancing our ability to fight and win against terrorists and insurgents – the more common battles of the future –  should be focused less on ridiculously expensive technological programs (which inevitably fall short of expectations and exceed cost and time estimates) and more on a well-executed communications strategy, multi-disciplined programs aimed and eroding popular support for subversive movements, and the tactile tools that smart men on the ground can use to kill.

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