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.
“The sheer numbers involved overloaded their ability, both mentally and electronically, to handle the attack,” said Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper, a retired Marine Corps officer who served in the war game as commander of a Red Team force representing an unnamed Persian Gulf military. “The whole thing was over in 5, maybe 10 minutes.”
If the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, proved to the public how terrorists could transform hijacked airliners into hostage-filled cruise missiles, then the “Millennium Challenge 2002” war game with General Van Riper was a warning to the armed services as to how an adversary could apply similar, asymmetrical thinking to conflict at sea.
General Van Riper said he complained at the time that important lessons of his simulated victory were not adequately acknowledged across the military. But other senior officers say the war game and subsequent analysis and exercises helped to focus attention on the threat posed by Iran’s small, fast boats, and helped to prepare commanders for last weekend’s encounter.
“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.”
-Iran Encounter Grimly Echoes ’02 War Game