The Air Force’s “kick down the door” concept–better known as the Global Strike Task Force–got a major test in the Pentagon’s Millennium Challenge 2002 combat experiment.
US officials pitted USAF’s notional task force of stealthy F/A-22 fighters and B-2 bombers against an enemy armed with advanced long-range surface-to-air missiles in an anti-access scenario set five years in the future. The task force enjoyed major success, reported Lt. Gen. William T. Hobbins, 12th Air Force commander and head of the air and space component for the experiment.
“The Global Strike Task Force, using the stealth of the [F/A-22] and the B-2, was able to get inside the threat area and kick down the door of the adversary’s integrated air defense system, which enabled follow-on forces to come in,” said Hobbins.
The event was part of the Air Force’s Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2002, which unfolded over the period July 24 through Aug. 10. The JEFX, in turn, was folded into the three-week, $250 million Millennium Challenge, which went on until Aug. 15.
US Joint Forces Command sponsored the overall wargame, which featured some 13,500 personnel. It was mandated by Congress as both a live and simulated experiment.
“This was the first major joint experiment ever conducted,” Army Gen. William F. Kernan, then JFCOM commander, told reporters Sept. 17.
The F/A-22 Edge
According to Hobbins, USAF’s Global Strike Task Force faced enemy Scud missiles and some vehicles simulating SAMs, both of which remained mobile during the experiment. The objective was for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance assets to find the targets as they were moving and transmit that data to the F-15s, acting as F/A-22s, and B-2s, which had to attack their targets in the order given by the joint task force commander.
“Not only did we find them moving, but we were also able to hit the priority targets,” said Hobbins. “We had a very determined live-flying adversary out there to try to take out our incoming aircraft, and they were removed from the fight by the surrogate [F/A-22s]. We then reset the scenario and did it again with the same result.”
The exact nature of the scenario used in Millennium Challenge remains classified. Officials, however, did confirm they acted out a small-scale contingency that the United States could realistically face in 2007. It involved nonstate actors and a foreign government whose willingness to aid the US military was limited. Much of the terrain in the “war zone” resembled the California and Nevada deserts in which the services conducted live portions of the experiment.
The result was a positive assessment of service wish lists for future equipment and an evolving debate on the direction and purpose of military experimentation.
Like the other services, the Air Force brought to the table a list of technologies and concepts it wanted to prove as valuable to the future warfighter. And like the other services, Air Force officials say they are pleased with the results. What didn’t pass with flying colors during the experiment will be refined and will likely resurface in future experiments.
Joint Forces Command, headquartered in Norfolk, Va., is already planning another major DOD-wide experiment in 2004. The Air Force will begin planning its piece this fall.
No concept tested during the experiment received a failing grade, a fact that prompted some to question whether Millennium Challenge went far enough. Many officials defend the event as one that helps the services determine how to apply new ideas already in the pipeline. They said Millennium Challenge offers the perfect venue to explore ways to apply service concepts to the puzzle of joint operations.
Validating a Concept
Military commanders said working alongside engineers and other technical experts familiar with the software of new technologies enabled them to ask whether specific capabilities can be achieved.
“We have to validate the concept” being tested, said Lt. Col. Daniel Bryan, now the director of the Air Force Experimentation Office. He served as deputy director during Millennium Challenge 2002. “We have to [figure out] what works and what doesn’t work,” he added. “And then if you’re going to use [the concept], … we’ve got to expose that to the joint community.”
The Air Force, which spent $42 million for its piece of Millennium Challenge, has conducted three JEFXs since 1999 with some participation by other services. It ran an earlier version without joint elements in 1998.
This year, however, Air Force experimentation found itself joined at the hip with the other services and a major combatant command at the helm.
Much of Millennium Challenge focused on improving connectivity among various pieces of the military force. Joint air, land, and sea commanders collaborated over networks from various training ranges. They reported to the regional commander’s joint force headquarters that responded to the unfolding crisis while on the move, including aboard a USAF C-17 aircraft and then the Navy’s Coronado command-and-control ship in the Pacific Ocean.
For the live-fly portion of the exercise, USAF could not pull its new F/A-22s out of their testing schedule, so it simulated the F/A-22 by using F-15Cs and F-15Es, flying out of Nellis AFB, Nev. The service also used computer simulation to give the older F-15s the capabilities of an F/A-22, including its stealth and supercruise features as well as its weapons.
The exercise’s 55-person regional headquarters, led by an Army lieutenant general, twice conducted live sorties using USAF’s F-15 fighters and B-2 bombers. They were sent to destroy the “enemy’s” double-digit SAM batteries. Meanwhile, the Army was able to roll out its new Stryker Interim Combat Vehicle at the Ft. Irwin training range in California. The Navy for the first time used its Advanced SEAL Delivery System.
The services also applied new organizational techniques and high-tech communications systems. These systems, though viewed as major enablers, were untested in the joint world. The objective was to see whether planners could use them to develop an attack plan in less time and execute it with precision.
For example, the Air Force tested a so-called toolkit that retrieves information from databases to build strike packages and help execute an air attack plan. This Master Air Attack Plan Toolkit is already fielded at a combined air operations center in the Persian Gulf region. Experimentation officials said other Air Force commanders have been clamoring for the technology.
Bryan said he believes the experiment helped to hone how the toolkit should be used, which should help push it out to the other commands.
“That was a huge success, not only in reducing the time it took to develop that air attack plan by 50 percent, but [enabling] us in that joint expeditionary air and space operations center to reduce our footprint by what we think will be approximately 10 workstations right now,” Bryan reported.
The Air Force also used several new technologies and organizational changes to push information faster to the warfighter seeking to engage time-sensitive targets, or targets that must be destroyed within a certain period. One classified initiative, for example, tried to improve coordination among intelligence sensors that can identify and locate mobile surface-to-air missiles.
Hobbins said these initiatives enabled him to assess intelligence and make smarter decisions faster.
For example, “as the time-sensitive targeting coordinator at Nellis Air Force Base, I could say, ‘OK, the Navy can take this target out in five minutes vs. the Army that can do it in an hour and five minutes, so let’s let the Navy do it,'” said Hobbins.
Experimentation officials also gave Hobbins tactical control of space assets, a deviation from current doctrine. Accordingly, Hobbins’s air operations center was reorganized as one that was also commanding joint space assets and became billed as the air and space operations center.
Officials said these new approaches–even if only organizational–helped save time.
“We’ve integrated capabilities that are spaceborne and airborne into a tighter package that allows us prosecution of not only standard target sets but time-sensitive targets as well, which is what we want to do to prosecute the battle,” Bryan said.
The only initiatives unlikely to receive the green light from the Air Force’s JEFX are a new tool used to manage ISR data and the “predictive battlespace awareness” concept. Bryan said both need significant work but will remain capabilities wanted by the service.
Meanwhile, concepts tested successfully are being polished, with plans to reach the warfighter as soon as possible. For example, a new survival radio that allows a downed pilot to transmit secure messages was sent immediately after the experiment to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia for software integration. Engineers are also tweaking a Blue [US] force tracking tool to work aboard a fixed-wing aircraft; the experiment revealed the tracking tool would not operate properly when the aircraft flies above a certain speed.
Hobbins said portions of the Master Air Attack Plan Toolkit are being refined as well, before full operational fielding. The final capability should allow a commander to easily move assets or change a flight sequence before the attack begins, he said.
“That’s an example of one that because we exercised it, we learned exactly all the things we needed to do to fix it–and right there with the engineers [present] to do that,” he added.
Not in the Script
By the time Millennium Challenge had ended, the Army Times reported that Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper, a retired Marine Corps general who led the opposition force during the experiment, resigned in protest. He claimed the game had been scripted to allow US forces to win and his team had not been allowed to apply legitimate Red [opposition] team tactics, such as simulating the release of chemical weapons.
Van Riper again made headlines when he disclosed that his Red forces had simulated cruise missile attacks launched from aircraft and small boats, successfully “destroying” 16 Navy vessels, including an aircraft carrier, an Aegis cruiser, and five amphibious ships. Joint Forces Command would not confirm specifics of the losses, contending that analysis of the wargame must be complete before individual elements can be given context.
However, Kernan did tell reporters in September that it was the modeling and simulation tools that inadvertently put the Navy in “harm’s way.”
“The Navy was just bludgeoning me dearly,” said Kernan, because the service maintained it would never fight the way the simulation was set up.
Regarding whether opposition teams were too restrained, Navy Cmdr. Sandra Irwin, a JFCOM spokeswoman, said US and enemy forces “worked under similar constraints and requirements” to ensure concepts were tested adequately. Also, because live exercises were “layered” upon ongoing virtual experiments, “the timing and evolution of the experiment at times required both Red and Blue forces to make choices they might not have taken in the real world,” Irwin said.
Likewise, senior military officials publicly defended their decision to restrict Red force tactics during Millennium Challenge, contending that an experiment augmented by live operational exercises must remain somewhat scripted to be effective.
“There’s a difference between experimentation, which takes a particular set of criteria and changes one at a time to see what the results of that change are, and exercises, which are primarily free play,” Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in late August.
Millennium Challenge was an experiment “designed to help quantify where we are and where we might be able to go, and then to experiment again,” he said.
The Pentagon plans to pull together perceptions from various players and assess the value of the experiment. Any findings could change how the next major experiment, Olympic Challenge 2004, will be executed, Pace said.
In his Sept. 17 briefing to reporters on the results of the experiment, Kernan echoed the notion that maintaining the integrity of an experiment that involved 13,500 warfighters was challenging and required certain constraints. He said the event was an “experiment in experimenting” but ultimately “the endorsement” from the services and combatant commanders that testing new warfighting techniques in a joint context like Millennium Challenge “is the way to go.”
Some Congressmen said they too plan to take a good look at how Millennium Challenge was conducted and possibly draft legislation that would mandate the Pentagon experiment with less popular concepts and take bigger risks. Another concern for lawmakers is the level of control Joint Forces Command has over service experiments like the Air Force’s Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment. The services devise their own concepts to test and decide how much to spend.
Still, the architects of JEFX maintain the USAF experiment held this summer was invaluable. Hobbins said a small team from 12th Air Force will travel to the Middle East this fall and share lessons learned with Air Force troops there.
“From my view, … we learned a lot,” Hobbins said. “We learned how to operate together [and] how to collaborate using information tools that are very advanced.”
Bryan, the new leader of Air Force experimentation, agreed. He said the event offered the service technology and organizational solutions that will ultimately produce a more effective air operations center.
As for the future of joint experimentation, the approach could change.
“I think the great debate is whether experimentation [should worry] about winning or losing,” Bryan said. He added, “It’s a good debate that will probably be ongoing, and we’ll probably draw some lessons learned from it.” Anne Plummer is an editor with Inside the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. This is her first article for Air Force Magazine.