One event that shocked Van Riper occurred in 2002 when he was asked, as he had been before, to play the commander of an enemy Red Force in a huge $250 million three-week war game titled Millennium Challenge 2002. It was widely advertised as the best kind of such exercises -- a free-play unscripted test of some of the Pentagon's and Rumsfeld's fondest ideas and theories.
Though fictional names were applied, it involved a crisis moving toward war in the Persian Gulf and in actuality was a barely veiled test of an invasion of Iran.
In the computer-controlled game, a flotilla of Navy warships and Marine amphibious warfare ships steamed into the Persian Gulf for what Van Riper assumed would be a pre-emptive strike against the country he was defending.
Van Riper resolved to strike first and unconventionally using fast patrol boats and converted pleasure boats fitted with ship-to-ship missiles as well as first generation shore-launched anti-ship cruise missiles. He packed small boats and small propeller aircraft with explosives for one mass wave of suicide attacks against the Blue fleet. Last, the general shut down all radio traffic and sent commands by motorcycle messengers, beyond the reach of the code-breakers.
At the appointed hour he sent hundreds of missiles screaming into the fleet, and dozens of kamikaze boats and planes plunging into the Navy ships in a simultaneous sneak attack that overwhelmed the Navy's much-vaunted defenses based on its Aegis cruisers and their radar controlled Gatling guns.
When the figurative smoke cleared it was found that the Red Forces had sunk 16 Navy ships, including an aircraft carrier. Thousands of Marines and sailors were dead.
The referees stopped the game, which is normal when a victory is won so early. Van Riper assumed that the Blue Force would draw new, better plans and the free play war games would resume.
Instead he learned that the war game was now following a script drafted to ensure a Blue Force victory: He was ordered to turn on all his anti-aircraft radar so it could be destroyed and he was told his forces would not be allowed to shoot down any of the aircraft bringing Blue Force troops ashore.
Heck, we probably did the Iranians a favor when we isolated them from the biggest international arms markets. It used to be that they bought almost all their hardware from the United States. Even after the revolution, they still bought most of what they needed from the United States via Israeli middlemen and Reagan's lunatics like Ollie North. When we started getting tough, we forced Iran to self-sufficiency.
Now Iran is almost entirely self-sufficient for its frigates, submarines, tanks, jet fighters, ballistic missiles, small arms, artillery and armour. Iran now claims to be among the top six countries in the world in missile production, able to produce missiles to defeat any attack platform likely to be used against it.
And it seems that self-sufficiency is a lot cheaper than buying from the US or other merchants of death, so I guess they'll be sticking with that strategy.
I know those ayatollahs are pure evil, and that Iranians wish they were suffering the brutal repression they enjoyed under the Shah instead, but it's not all bad. Who would have guessed that those woman-hating ayatollahs would have promoted universal female education to the extent that enrollment rates for girls are almost equal to boys at 97 percent, and post-revolutionary women are marrying later, having fewer children and getting better educational and professional opportunities. Public health statistics have improved to the point where 93 percent have safe drinking water and 98 percent have safe sewerage.
No doubt Iranians would be happy to trade all that civil infrastructure, education, healthcare and opportunity for the joys of democracy as they see it exercised in neighbouring Iraq. Heck, they'll probably just throw down all those missiles, air defenses, gun boats and RPGs as soon as our boys and girls start bombing and invading, welcoming them with sweets and flowers.
I just hope that if we do go to war with Iran we capture some of their military planners. If we followed their strategies for procurement and defense rationalisation and got our budget down to $91 per person, we might actually be able to improve civil infrastructure, education and healthcare for Americans over the next 20 years as much as the ayatollahs have done for Iranians.
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