Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC02) was a major war game exercise conducted by the United States armed forces in mid-2002, likely the largest such exercise in history. The exercise, which ran from July 24 to August 15 and cost $250 million, involved both live exercises and computer simulations. MC02 was meant to be a test of future military "transformation"—a transition toward new technologies that enable network-centric warfare and provide more powerful weaponry and tactics. The simulated combatants were the United States, referred to as "Blue", and an unknown adversary in the Middle East with many evidences pointing at Turkey being the "Red"-side.
Red, commanded by retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper, adopted an asymmetric strategy, in particular, using old methods to evade Blue's sophisticated electronic surveillance network. Van Riper used motorcycle messengers to transmit orders to front-line troops and World War II light signals to launch airplanes without radio communications.
Red received an ultimatum from Blue, essentially a surrender document, demanding a response within 24 hours. Thus warned of Blue's approach, Red used a fleet of small boats to determine the position of Blue's fleet by the second day of the exercise. In a preemptive strike, Red launched a massive salvo of cruise missiles that overwhelmed the Blue forces' electronic sensors and destroyed sixteen warships. This included one aircraft carrier, ten cruisers and five of six amphibious ships. An equivalent success in a real conflict would have resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 service personnel. Soon after the cruise missile offensive, another significant portion of Blue's navy was "sunk" by an armada of small Red boats, which carried out both conventional and suicide attacks that capitalized on Blue's inability to detect them as well as expected.
At this point, the exercise was suspended, Blue's ships were "re-floated", and the rules of engagement were changed; this was later justified by General Peter Pace as follows: "You kill me in the first day and I sit there for the next 13 days doing nothing, or you put me back to life and you get 13 more days' worth of experiment out of me. Which is a better way to do it?" After the reset, both sides were ordered to follow predetermined plans of action.
After the wargame was restarted, its participants were forced to follow a script drafted to ensure a Blue Force victory. Among other rules imposed by this script, Red Force was ordered to turn on their anti-aircraft radar in order for them to be destroyed, and was not allowed to shoot down any of the aircraft bringing Blue Force troops ashore. Van Riper also claimed that exercise officials denied him the opportunity to use his own tactics and ideas against Blue Force, and that they also ordered Red Force not to use certain weapons systems against Blue Force and even ordered that the location of Red Force units to be revealed.
This led to accusations that the war game had turned from an honest, open free play test of America's war-fighting capabilities into a rigidly controlled and scripted exercise intended to end in an overwhelming American victory, alleging that "$250 million was wasted".
Due to his criticism regarding the scripted nature of the new exercise, Van Riper resigned his position in the midst of the war game. Van Riper later expressed concern that the war game's purpose had shifted to reinforcing existing doctrine and notions of infallibility within the U.S. military rather than serving as a learning experience.
Van Riper also stated that the war game was rigged so that it appeared to validate the modern, joint-service war-fighting concepts it was supposed to be testing. He was quoted in the ZDF–New York Times documentary The Perfect War (2004) as saying that what he saw in MC02 echoed the same view promoted by the Department of Defense under Robert McNamara before and during the Vietnam War, namely that the U.S. military could not and would not be defeated.
Responding to Van Riper's criticism, Vice Admiral Marty Mayer, who ran the war game and who was charged with developing the military’s joint concepts and requirements, stated the following:
Gen. Van Riper apparently feels he was too constrained. I can only say there were certain parts where he was not constrained, and then there were parts where he was in order to facilitate the conduct of the experiment and certain exercise pieces that were being done.
—Vice Admiral Marty Mayer
Navy Captain John Carman, Joint Forces Command spokesman, said the war game had properly validated all the major concepts which were tested by Blue Force, ignoring the restrictions placed on Van Riper's Red Force that led them to succeed. Based on these findings, John Carman stated that recommendations based on the war game's result on areas such as doctrine, training and procurement would be forwarded to General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
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- TV documentary: The Perfect War
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