Thursday, August 30, 2007
After two weeks of ever increasing despair and frustration, the ordeal of Ultimate FutiLity has come to an end. God willing, I won’t be doing another one. I may be back in the states, living off unemployment and food stamps, but I have no desire to do one of these again. (Headhunters in Hong Kong are you listening?)
Once again the forces of truth and light have defeated the evil hordes of the North Korean Peoples Army. Kim Jong Il has been found on a highway, lying dead with a bottle of Chivas Regal in his hand. (simulated).
40,000 South Koreans are dead. (Simulated).
Seoul is digging out from artillery attacks, missile attacks and attacks by wild eyed Koreans. (Simulated).
It’s quite an industry this business of simulated war. And since it provides the funds to finance my “rage around Asia” program, I assume I should not complain. However With each passing one of these I am involved in the more I am bothered that lessons that are being taught in these exercises are never learned-or worse leading the decision makers who have to make critical decisions about matters of life or death, war or peace, make recommendations to men or women of political power.
There are scores of companies involved. People develop software to simulate armies going at each other, airplanes flying over land and dropping bombs, ships moving. Well paid retired general officers who serve as “mentors” teaching the former Col’s and Captains who made were their staff officers (since preferred customers breed men like them). The school houses who teach systems and procedures send observers. The various support entities (one of whom pays my bills) sending guys like me to make sure the right kinds of products are available to support the decision makers. And literally 1000’s of reservists come from the United States to serve for their XXth exercise.
Make no mistake, there is big money involved.
Now mind you, I know that exercises are necessary. Being an old school kind of guy having an exercise to me, always used to mean bringing in lots of airplanes, flying them a lot, and burning lots of dead dinosaurs. And then going to the O’club each evening to roll the dice and kill brain cells. They still do that, its called a field training exercise, only now the US military does them less and less.
Instead the US military has increased the number of what they call Command Post Exercises (CPX’s) where the staffs work like dogs and the burning of dinosaurs and the death and destruction associated therein happens on a computer.
Kind of like that episode of Star Trek some 30+ years back.
Are they necessary? Yes. However not in the numbers we do them, particularly in a time when REAL Soldiers are spending 1 year plus in a hell hole named Iraq.
Furthermore, I can’t escape the feeling that despite all of the benefit they bring in identifying things that key decision makers need to think about, they also teach some really bad habits. Habits that are so bad, that IMHO they may have led a certain person to assume that Iraq would be a cake walk.
For one thing, they tend to “fairy dust” logistics and the real issues involved in bringing forces from where they live to where they need to fight. The reality, as I saw in the build up to OIF, when the Air Force let itself be boxed into a huge cargo backlog is very different. Secondly depending on the type of exercise, they really underestimate the level of difficulty that certain types of situations require. Particularly with respect to the Navy. The more I have watched these things the more I am convinced that they lead decision makers to conclude that we can do with less anti-submarine or mine warfare capability. After all, people are expensive, and the Navy needs to buy LCS and JSF………………
Remember that statement when an LCS takes two torpedo hits amidships by a third rate diesel submarine. Or when the Vice President goes on TV and says we will be greeted as liberators. Now you know where he learned it.
Plus, it leads the really senior decision makers to believe that they can manage all things all the time through technology that keeps flag officers in front of TV cameras 17 hours a day. Which of course has their staffs jumping back and forth to produce “product” (PPT slides) instead of providing real advice to their bosses. As a commenter wrote here a while back, the VTC is probably the greatest underminer of good staff work there is.
This when normally, they have like they did here, 7 Generals in the command center. However the 3 star was on the go 20+hours a day. Does that make sense? Not to me it does not. I cannot go into the particulars here, but done right a lot could be delegated. Senior officers need to be thinkers. Not VTC stars.
Makes you wonder how we won World War II with simple one liners like, “Find the enemy. When you do-you will know what to do.”