“US ‘Gets Its Ass Handed To It’ in wargames”

That’s the headline in Breaking Defence, an online newsletter that describes itself as “the idea hub of the defense world, where the crucial defense ideas are debated.” The story, under the headline quotes both David Ochmanek, who is a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation and was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Development from 2009-2014, and Robert O. Work, the Distinguished Senior Fellow for Defense and National Security at the Center for a New defense-largeAmerican Security and who previously served as the Deputy Secretary of Defense. They are commenting a a series of RAND Corporation wargames which are highly accurate (in terms of weapons, effects and tactics) computer aided simulations of various possible scenarios. Wargames have been used for many, many years generations, amongst the most famous being the US Naval War College‘s series of more than 125 wargames that were “played” between 1911 and 1941 with Japan being the simulated enemy. Canada’s defence research agency also conducts wargames, at least they did, when I served, and, according to the linked article, still do, to support strategic decision making.

The article says that the problems identified by Messers Ochmanek and Work do not indicate “Red Dawn nightmare scenario where the Commies conquer Colorado. But,” the author says, “losing the Baltics or Taiwan would shatter American alliances, shock the global economy, and topple the world order the US has led since World War II.

The big problems that are identified relate to the notion that “US superweapons have a little too much Achilles in their heels.” David Ochmanek and Robert Work suggest that, “Even the hottest jet has to land somewhere. But big airbases on land and big jswataircraft carriers on the water turn out to be big targets for long-range precision-guided missiles. Once an American monopoly, such smart weapons are now a rapidly growing part of Russian and Chinese arsenals — as are the long-range sensors, communications networks, and command systems required to aim them … [and, therefore] … as potential adversaries improve their technology, “things that rely on sophisticated base infrastructure like runways and fuel tanks are going to have a hard time,” Ochmanek said. “Things that sail on the surface of the sea are going to have a hard time.”

They have a suite of solutions which include:

  • To start with, missiles. Lots and lots of missiles. The US and its allies notoriously keep underestimating how many smart weapons they’ll need for a shooting war, then start to run out against enemies as weak as the Serbs or Libyans. Against a Russia or China, which can match not only our technology but our mass, you run out of munitions fast; and
    • Specifically, you want lots of long-range offensive missiles. Ochmanek mentioned Army artillery brigades, which use MLRS missile launchers, and the Air Force’s JAGM-ER smart bomb, while Work touted the Navy’s p1710054_mainLRASM ship-killer. You also want lots of defensive missiles to shoot down the enemy‘s offensive missiles, aircraft, and drones. One short-term fix there is the Army’s new Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (MSHORAD) batteries, Stinger missiles mounted on 8×8 Stryker armored vehicles. In the longer term, lasers, railguns, and high-powered microwaves could shoot down incoming missiles much less expensively;
  • The other big fix: toughening up our command, control, and communications networks. That includes everything from jam-proof datalinks to electronic warfare gear on combat aircraft and warships. The services are fond of cutting corners on electronics to get as many planes in the air and hulls in the water as possible, Ochmanek said, but a multi-billion dollar ship that dies for lack of a million-dollar decoy is a lousy return on investment;
  • In the longer run, Work added, you want to invest heavily in artificial intelligence: not killer robots, he said, but “loyal wingmen” drones to support manned aircraft and big-data crunchers to help humans analyze intelligence and plan.

There are some clues for Canada’s defence planners in all that:

  • Canada, too, needs more smart weapons. They’re expensive but they work and we need to have them on hand when needed …. when, not if a crisis occurs. That’s a lesson we should have, but didn’t learn in 1939;
  • 25013587_344584142680523_5884972160438501376_n (3)Canada, too, needs to defend its forces in being … what’s wrong with adding a few batteries of LAV-6 mounted short range air defence systems?
  • Canada, too, needs robust (operational and tactical) command and control systems that can cope with intensive enemy electronic warfare; and
  • Canada, too, needs to study and exploit the capabilities of AI in military operations.

The outcomes of the RAND Corporation‘s wargames should not come as a surprise … the main purpose of most wargames is to identify vulnerabilities and provoke defence planners into considering solutions, some technical, related to equipment and system, and some tactical, related to doctrine, methods and procedures. Some of the lessons ~ including our excessive reliance on electromagnetic (radio based and computer assisted) command, control and communications (C³) systems ~ are 50 and more years old. Others, like the value added by precision guided “smart” munitions and the concomitant need to stockpile more and more of them, are fairly new. Sometimes old lessons need to be dusted off and applied, in slightly different ways, in the 21st century.

Canada needs to step up and play a bigger, smarter part in an allied effort which will help to ensure that the American led West does not get it’s ass handed to it in East Asia or Central Europe.


3 thoughts on ““US ‘Gets Its Ass Handed To It’ in wargames”

  1. This is why the Gripen with it’s ability to use road segments and it’s ease of rearming and refuelling makes more sense than having A/C that need large and complicated base requirements. With the ability to disperse the Gripen all across the country including the North that would make it a lot harder for a potential foe to knock down our airforce and with the ground crews only needing a master technician supervising 8 – 10 untrained personnel they could be flown out of almost any where. So a simple and inexpensive solution to part of the problem.

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