I want van Riper on our side

Okay, it is after 11 PM so I guess I am into political mode. In Desert Storm/Shield we had over 700,000 troops that participated, with 500,000 or so ready to engage the enemy. We may not send as many over this time but it will be a substantial effort. Now, it is pretty hard to send suicide bombers to the US, at least the sort that we see in Israel and Palestine. The 9/11 terrorists were a pretty well-educated lot, spending years planning (and keeping it secret), learning to fly planes, etc. It takes a special kind of fanatic to do all of this, to delay his terror for so long. In the Mid-East, there is little delay. The suicide bombers have generally come from poor, disaffected, relatively uneducated youth. The ones who feel they have nothing to live for. It does not take a lot of brains to strap on some explosives and walk into a shopping mall. Even then, they often blow themselves up without taking anyone with them. There are a LOT of them, though, more than enough to send plenty.

If we send troops over there, what are the security measures really going to be to protect them? We have already seen a soldier killed and others shot at. This will occur in supposedly ‘safe’ countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We will place a lot of our citizens in very dangerous territory, even before the fighting begins. In fact, Iraq might be a lot safer on the ground than being stationed in Saudi Arabia. For, while it might be very tough to get some of the elite terrorists into the US, they are all over the place in the Mid East. We are making it a lot easier for them to get to our citizens. What will be our response when the soldiers are killed over there while they are just waiting to attack Saddam? Is this what Osama really wanted? Did he think: ‘It is really difficult and costly to train terrorists for several years and to get them halfway across the world to America. What if I could get the Americans to come to us?’ One of the main tenets of Osama’s line of rhetoric is that the land of Mecca (Saudi Arabia) was desecrated by stationing foreign soldiers there during Desert Storm. How will this play with his fanatics if we do it again?

So, what to do? Hey, I’m just a middle-aged scientist. I would hope that the finest military minds in the world are trying to figure this out. But, as 9/11 showed, you can get hit really hard in your blind spots. I just hope that we have people who have really thought this out. Because it seems that at the moment some in the military has not really figured out just how they want to fight this thing. They have huge blind spots. Because in the real war, you can not cheat.

More on this topic from the Army Times article entitled War Games Rigged? Now, this was an experimental sort of war game trying to test new technologies. All well and good, but the Red team, representing the ‘Persian Power’, seemed to keep winning. This was supposed to be a free play exercise, where the Red team had a chance to win. And they did, using relatively low tech approaches to winning. They used motorcycle messengers to give orders, negating the Blue team’s high powered eavesdropping tech. Listen to this description of a Red victory

…when the Blue fleet sailed into the Persian Gulf early in the experiment, Van Riper’s forces surrounded the ships with small boats and planes sailing and flying in apparently innocuous circles. When the Blue commander issued an ultimatum to Red to surrender or face destruction, Van Riper took the initiative, issuing attack orders via the morning call to prayer broadcast from the minarets of his country’s mosques. His force‰s small boats and aircraft sped into action By that time there wasn’t enough time left to intercept them,’ Oakley said. As a result of Van Riper’s cunning, much of the Blue navy ended up at the bottom of the ocean. The Joint Forces Command officials had to stop the exercise and ‘refloat’ the fleet in order to continue, Oakley said.

I wish it was as easy to refloat ships in real life. Retired General Paul van Riper was the leader of the Red team. His creative thinking overmatched the superior technology of our side, the Blue team. He was not going to just sit down and roll over. The US Joint Operations Command describes the Millennium Challange by saying ‘The basic premise is that critical decisions on future military doctrine, organization or technology should be based on solid empirical results.’ How can the results be empirical when you skew the experiment? I believe a good ‘researcher’ would take the lesson of the sunken fleet that no matter how high tech your equipment is, you should watch out for the creative exploits of a low tech enemy. That high tech can create a blind spot, make you overconfidant. From the descriptions, it would appear the the ‘researchers’ instead learned than van Riper was a pain in the butt who ruined their carefully laid out scenarios.

This was described as an experiment. That would be true if they were learning lessons from this. But the article seems to indicate that the ‘researchers’ were kind of ticked that Red kept gumming up the works. A quote from van Riper describing the best way to do research:’You don’t come to a conclusion beforehand and then work your way to that conclusion. You see how the thing plays out.’ How can you test the new high-tech way of doing things is you prevent the enemy from doing things to get around it? If you pretend that your opponents are idiots, then you risk the lives of many soldiers in a real war. It must have really ticked the organizers off to spend TWO YEARS planning this exercise at a cost of $250 million and have most of the Navy sunk by low tech means before they even got close to the targets.

So, they then ran the experiment their way so that they could validate all their new concepts. It would have been devastating to have all their great new concepts invalidated. Man, as a scientist, I have seen this way too often. It is so easy to fool yourself into believing what you want. You ignore negative results and, at least those committing scientific fraud, arrange the experiments to give you the answer you desire, not the truth. Van Riper seems to be someone who would not stand for this. Here is one last quote from the Army Times:

…several days into the exercise, Van Riper realized his orders weren’t being followed.

‘I was giving him [Army Col. George Utter, the Red team’s Chief of Staff] directions on how I thought the OPFOR ought to perform, and those directions were being countermanded by the exercise director,’ Van Riper said. The exercise director was Air Force Brig. Gen. Jim Smith, Utter’s real-life boss at Joint Forces Command.

‘Matters came to a head July 29. That morning I’d given my guidance for what was to happen, and I found that [Utter] had assembled the staff and was giving them a different set [of instructions] based on the exercise director’s instructions to him.’

The exercise director was giving the orders for one of the teams! How empirical can your results be? This is why we have double-blind studies because the observer can too easily skew the results. So, to prevent Col. Utter from a moral dilemma by having to choose between obeying the orders of his ‘wargame’ commander or to obey the orders of his real-life direct superior, van Riper stepped aside as commander of the Red team. If Smith wanted to run things, he could.

I have to say, I wish van Riper would come out of retirement and run this war. I trust him to be creative with the troops at his disposal. It might not be a high tech sort of war, but I am not really worried about that. I am worried about protecting the troops that are over there. Because, I am afraid, they will be under attack from the get-go by low tech assailants who probably use motorcycles to exchange messages. Van Riper seems to be able to think more like them than the military minds who devised the Millennium Challenge 02.