William Lind looks at our fake military in action

Summary: William Lind looks at a demonstration of our military’s greatest weakness. Let’s hope no foe discovers and exploits it.

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Fake Military Exercises

By William Lind at Traditional Right.
Posted with his generous permission.

The mice of the Washington foreign policy establishment are trying to nibble around the edges of President Trump’s successful summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. One of their squeaks is that the President gave up too much when he ordered the suspension of major U.S.-South Korean military exercises.  The June 16 New York Times reported that:

“’You could probably cancel a single major exercise, like this one (Ulchi Freedom Guardian, planned for August) without doing major damage to the alliance and its readiness,’ said Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center.

“But that cannot become the standard… If several major war games were cancelled for more than a year, the impact could be significant, officials said.”

Balderdash. Giving up our joint war games with South Korea entails no military risk what so ever. Why Because the games are fake.

The reasons are two. First, the enemy or Opposing Force (OPFOR) is trivial. It is tiny, ill-armed and amounts to little more than a tethered goat. It bears no relation to North Korea’s armed forces. Second, the exercises are scripted. The OPFOR has to lose; it’s in the script.  Real war is not scripted. What makes war is the “independent, hostile will of the enemy.” That is scripted out in these so called “war games”. They may be games (with rigged outcomes), but they are not war.

A poster depicting North Korea's military power is displayed in the communist state and released by North Korea Central News Agency, 31 January 2003.
Image from the North Korea Central News Agency, 31 January 2003. REUTERS/Korean News Service.

A timely book speaks directly to the Korean war games. American Cobra Pilot, written by Marine Captain Jeff Groom (and timed for release the day after he left the Corps) is the detailed account of one such exercise, Operation Ssang Young in 2014. Its subtitle, appropriately, is “A Marine Remembers a Dog and Pony Show.” Right at the outset he records …

American Cobra Pilot
Available at Amazon.

“Before heading to my stateroom (on the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard), I attended a preliminary briefing for the exercise and as I scan my notes it dawns on me that I haven’t taken anything down on the enemy situation.I understand we were going to do some shooting at one of the southern ranges in the vicinity of Pohang. But there is no mention of the enemy. Nothing, the word “enemy” isn’t even written…

“Luckily, as if almost from heaven above, my inbox populates and I read words of my salvation from our executive officer… ‘Everyone needs to realize this is NOT a tactical exercise. This is a political exercise to show that even in fiscally constrained times we (Uncle Sam) can still throw together a dozen ships and do a beach assault with all of our toys. What actually makes it to the beach is mostly irrelevant…’

I breathe a sigh of relief… There just isn’t an enemy situation. None. My life is so much easier now…”

Later in the book, when Capt. Groom offers a detailed description of the exercise, he writes,

“I found out after the exercise that there was actually a small contingent of South Korean soldiers playing the role of the enemy on the beach. They dug some shallow holes about 50 meters from the water and waited to be run over. I don’t know if they did their homework on that one, but even by the battle of Okinawa, the Japanese figured out it was more advantageous to move into the center of the island and wait. But then again that would make it hard if not downright impossible to get a picture of both the opposing force and the amphibious landing at the same time.

“Taking pictures is of course the main goal of the exercise. The pictures are then edited and reported on by the propaganda division of the Marine Corps, the Public Affairs Office.”

It is typical that Washington foreign policy types would accept this show as real.  They know nothing about war, and they peddle the same kind of baloney themselves, in a city where one hand washes the other. But the fact of the matter is exactly as President Trump stated it: we lose nothing by cancelling the Korean war games, and we save many millions of taxpayer dollars.

Sadly, the factors that make the Korean exercises poor simulations of war affect almost all U.S. military training. The OPFOR is trivial and even that small force is constrained to follow a script in which it just sits there and gets pounded.

Decades ago, on a visit to the Army’s supposedly premier school, the School of Advanced Military Studies at Ft. Leavenworth (God help us if it is), the students were playing a war game set in the Persian Gulf.  The OPFOR was two majors with a tiny force. I met with them and suggested some things they could do, small as their force was, that would cause the Americans some problems. They got excited but said, “we have to ask permission.” (Obviously, this was not the Kriegsakademie.) They came back to me and said, “We were told, just follow the script.”

There is an old military saying, ‘you fight the way you train.’ We will, whether we want to or not.


Another example of fake military exercises: vs. Iran

Military exercises are valuable tools, but only if we learn from them. Simulations discovered the weaknesses the German’s used to gut France’s defenses in 1940 and the tactics Japan used to successfully attack Pearl Harbor in 1941. Today our military leaders have the same closed mind that led to those great defeats.

In 2002 Lt. General Paul van Riper of the Marines commanded the opposing force in the most elaborate war game the U.S. military has ever held, Millennium Challenge 02. He devised a way to win, allowing Iran to defeat the combined US military. He was ordered to throw the game. He refused. So they faked the games without him. A real opponent in a real war won’t be so obliging.

  1. During Millenium Challenge 2002, by Ed Beakley (Project White Horse), posted at the Defense & the National Interest (DNI).
  2. What we should have learned from MC02, by Dag von Lubitz, posted at DNI.
  3. Recommended reading: an autopsy of the 2002 Millennium Challenge war games.
  4. War games, the antidote to “Victory disease.”
  5. The Achilles’ Heel of military simulations.

William Lind

About the author

William S. Lind’s director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation. He has a Master’s Degree in History from Princeton University in 1971. He worked as a legislative aide for armed services for Senator Robert Taft, Jr., of Ohio from 1973 through 1976 and held a similar position with Senator Gary Hart of Colorado from 1977 through 1986. See his bio at Wikipedia

Mr. Lind is author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook (1985), co-author with Gary Hart of America Can Win: The Case for Military Reform (1986), and co-author with William H. Marshner of Cultural Conservatism: Toward a New National Agenda (1987).

He’s perhaps best known for his articles about the long war, now published as On War: The Collected Columns of William S. Lind 2003-2009. See his other articles about a broad range of subjects…

  1. Posts at TraditionalRight.
  2. His articles about geopolitics at The American Conservative.
  3. His articles about transportation at The American Conservative.

For More Information

Ideas! For ideas about using Holiday cash, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about William Lind’s work, about North Korea, and especially these…

  1. War games, the antidote to “Victory disease.”
  2. Are war games a competitive edge of conventional forces vs. non-state 4GW foes?
  3. The Achilles’ Heel of military simulations.

William Lind collected essays about modern war

On War: The Collected Columns of William S. Lind 2003-2009
Available at Amazon.

On War:
The Collected Columns of William S. Lind 2003-2009

Sadly, most of these articles about  are as relevant today as the day they were written. From the publisher …

On War is a seven-year collection of columns written by the father of 4th Generation War theory while observing the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. It is an intriguing account of a war in progress, as seen through the eyes of a military theorist able to anticipate events with an almost prophetic degree of accuracy.

“Throughout the book, 4GW theory is defined, described, and refined as events in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places demonstrate the theory’s utility in making sense of current events and predicting future ones. The inevitable failure of the New Iraqi Army and the U.S.-installed al-Maliki government is explained years in advance, as is the rise of the Islamic State and other 4th Generation forces presently battling for power in post-occupation Iraq.

“Lind also makes an ominous, but compelling case for the gradual spread of 4th Generation chaos and the decline of the state throughout the world, including in the United States of America. Featuring a Foreword by the brilliant Israeli military theorist Martin van Creveld, On War is a fascinating book that is a must-read for every military professional, wargamer, and amateur student of the art of war.

“In one of the key passages of the book, Lind writes: ‘4th Generation war is the greatest change since the Peace of Westphalia, because it marks the end of the state’s monopoly on war. All over the world, state militaries are fighting non-state opponents, and almost always, the state is losing.'”

19 thoughts on “William Lind looks at our fake military in action”

  1. BoyDownTheLane

    I’d appreciate some learned commentary and insight on the state of desktop wargaming that supposedly was in development as an off-shoot of the Bolt, Beranek & Newman armor simulations before Desert Storm that also gave rise to games like MAGTF and the enitre concept of what was then called DARWARS, a DARPA-driven 24/7 simulation gaming system across all types and levels from grand strategy down to low-level tactics, logistics and more that was — once the main platofrm was constructed — to sub-contractors with sign-in security limited to approved and active solderis. Is it sill used? viable? worthy?

  2. “The secret story of how America lost the drug war with the Taliban” by Josh Meyer at Politico — “A high-stakes plan to indict Afghan drug lords and insurgency leaders on criminal conspiracy charges ran afoul of the Obama team. Five years later, it remains buried under Trump.”

    I ran across this yesterday. It’s a long and detailed expose’. It seems to complement Dr. Lind’s assessment.

    As usual, a great post. Dr. Lind made me a FM follower. His 4GW books are excellent. His book Victoria. I recommend highly. The works of Drs. Lind, Richards and Van Creveld are invaluable.

    I second the first comment.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      The Politico article is accurate, but it is the usual pro-war, Go USA! propaganda that keeps us ignorant. It is a variant or offshoot of the Big Lie of the Afghanistan War, painting the Taliban as bad guys needing US intervention.

      The Taliban fought the drug trade — with total success, reducing it to near zero. The resurgence of the drug trade came after the US shattered the Afghan government, replacing it with regional warlords offering us some degree of sovereignty.

      Ignoring that history makes the article a mockery of reality.

  3. I get the impression that the military’s true enemies are actually the American public and the politicians. These two forces control the money that the military desires, and the military must continually wage psychological warfare against their true opponents in order to convince the public and politicians to keep giving money to the military. All other concerns (like defeating insurgencies and such) are secondary at best.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      I think that’s too harsh, and a gross oversimplification of complex social dynamics. I want more pay from my employer, but that doesn’t make my boss my enemy.

      Not everything is a struggle between good and evil.

    2. “Opponent” might be a better word here, especially since “enemy” implies a much more hostile relationship than I ever wished to imply. The public and politicians aren’t out to hurt the military, but they do have the power to hurt the military (by cutting off funds) and the military knows this, so they work to make sure that never happens. Actually winning wars is not necessary as long as the funds keep coming.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        There are conflicting interests between almost everybody in a society. That’s true for the military as much as your coworker and neighbor and the Red Cross.

        We have different perspectives and compete for finite resources — trust, money, other resources. To regard everyone else in a society as an opponent puts us on the express lane of the highway to hell. That’s how low trust societies work. They don’t work very well.

  4. Gavin Longmuir

    There are different kinds of “War Games”. Mr. Lind seems hung up on the idea that there has to be an opponent who has resources and is trying to win — which is certainly one valuable type of “War Game”. But a lot of these exercises are focused rather on giving the troops experience in operating equipment, coordinating, communicating — no opponent necessary. Go and watch your local volunteer fire department train some weekend — there is great value in people learning how to adjust and adapt to the normal vicissitudes of real world action, even without people dying in burning buildings.

    And let’s not forget the corrosive influence that Political Correctness has had on the military. Hundreds died (without any enemy involvement) in the very serious training exercises before WWII’s Normandy Invasion; how many crocodile tears would the New York Times shed today for anything similar? Then there is the horrible example of US Navy sailors dying when their incompetent female officers drove their ship into an island-sized Philippines freighter — the NYT swept that one under the rug, and we citizens don’t know if the lesson that competence is more important than gender has been learned. Mr. Lind should be thinking about that kind of issue, as well as the utility of certain War Games.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “Mr. Lind seems hung up on the idea that …”

      Having know Mr. Lind for over a decade, and heard the serving and retired officers who speak highly of him, I suspect…

      (1) That he knows vastly more about both the subject of military games and the nature of the US military than you. Also, it is nuts to assume he does not the basic types of games.

      (2) That you are missing the point of his essay. Our large scale military exercises are scripted like Kabuki plays, limiting the operational freedom of the opposing force to produce a predetermined outcome. Your assumptions that the many exercises like this reported by uniformed participants are misleading — and that there are other exercises providing such challenges to our tactics and doctrine — are bizarrely confident guessing.

  5. “we lose nothing by cancelling the Korean war games, and we save many millions of taxpayer dollars”
    God forbid the American people extrapolate that sentiment across all of the military’s global operations.
    Perform honest cost-benefit analyses of what exactly is the return on that monumental investment and I imagine most of it would fall short.

  6. Gavin Longmuir

    Mr. Kummer — I willingly admit that lots of people know more about War Games than I do. I freely admit that many people know more about actual war than I do. But I reject the notion that certain people get designated as “experts”, and the rest of us have to cast aside what we do know, and common sense too, and simply be lectured by those “experts”. That path leads, for example, to the junk science of Anthropogenic Global Warming.

    Yes, there need to be military exercises in which the generals fight War Games against serious opponents who are really trying to beat them. Those used to be called table top exercises, simulating the general’s tent under wartime conditions — no real need for actual troops in the field. But remember the saying that while the battle can be lost in the general’s tent, it can be won only on the front lines. The military need exercises in which real soldiers use real equipment and deal with real logistics and operate in real environments firing real ammunition. If the military finds that scripting those real world practice sessions with only token resistance is most efficient, that is their choice. It would not be surprising to find that the Chinese and the Russians do their real world practices in a rather similar way.

    We don’t have to worry about foes discovering that certain types of training exercises are scripted. That is not the US military’s greatest weakness. The great weakness — which all potential foes know — is the deleterious effect that decades of Political Correctness have had on troop readiness and on leadership competence. It would be very interesting to hear the views of an experienced person like Mr. Lind on that real problem.

  7. Very good points by Bill. Military, Law Enforcement, Fire and Emergency Response folks conduct exercise events for many reasons and at many different levels. purpose, Objectives, participants, audience should drive metrics, data collection and analysis. Once the event purpose is defined such that it has a very diverse set of players and large breadth, complication and complexity can be overwhelming which can easily lead to commanders forcing heavy control and scripting. This can be OK if the intent is just to demo that National League players can play in the sandbox together and leaders get to know folks from other teams for future reference in real world ops. Even at this level, it takes a lot of work away from real jobs.

    As Mr. Lind says, not too much lost when those things are cnx and most likely save a lot of money.

    But the process of moving from individual, to small unit, to big unit to multiple units and multiple services is a hard road, valuable if done correctly, but costly and time consuming. To be done correctly, the merging of multiple layers of objectives, necessary metrics and data collection, plus experienced exercise controllers, requires much effort, and that’s without even considering the command control elements at higher level. Bottom line it’s time and cost consuming.

    And now to make it meaningful rather than a demo, the OPFOR must be robust and within the bounds of safety, scripting needs to be as little as possible. But that means your exercise folks have to be prepared to deal with actions by commanders that go off script. Certain use of Live-Virtual and Constructive simulation can be of great assistance but you gotta watch depending on the “I believe button.

    I spent a lot of time in the test-training-experimentation world as Navy T&E and contractor guy and for me I saw way too much genuflection toward operational realism which really wasn’t there. Got that check in the box though.

    Appreciate the plug for Project White Horse. brought back lots of memories. Lind nails it: lots of motion, not much results, so… not much lost

    Parting shots: Good resources: Scream of Eagles (Top Gun), Revolt of the Majors (Red Flag), and work by Gen Russ Honore on NTC.

  8. The Man Who Laughs

    It was not always so. Back in the thirties the military held large scale exercises that featured, among other things, armored divisions, one them commanded by a General named Patton. A lot of it comes down to whether you’re looking for what works or looking to validate your preferences. As for war games…I spent a lot of time pushing counters across a map. Everyone can tell you stories about That Guy who showed up with a script instead of a plan. You don’t want to be That Guy, because it never works out for him.

    But back in the thirties, the US Army, though it was open to testing methods of armored warfare, had few, id any, battleworthy tanks. We didn’t have a huge investment in legacy systems to protect, and for politicians and contractors to grift off of. I remember reading a book about the history of airborne forces in World War II in which the author (Whose name I have forgotten) pointed out that if a nation was going to war with an empty arsenal then it would at least be open to new ideas. Maybe we’ve just got too much invested in the hardware, strategy, and tactics of past wars to really prepare properly for the next one.

  9. Paul van Riper—that man has brass balls. And integrity. No place for any of that in our Armed Forces, of course.

  10. Richard Marcinko, the first CO of SEAL Team 6, went on to form Red Cell to do just the sort of thing Lind advocates here: no holds barred war-gaming against naval bases and other installations. He believes the embarassment of the senior officers he pwned lead to his ouster, as quoted in this wikipedia entry for his autobiography, Rogue Warrior:

    “While commanding Red Cell, he was directed to use them to test the Navy’s anti-terrorist capabilities and to expose the security weaknesses of U.S. properties around the world. During the tests, Red Cell was often able to infiltrate supposedly impenetrable, highly secured bases, nuclear submarines, ships and other “secure areas”, including the Presidential plane Air Force One. In doing so, he claims to have embarrassed several superior officers, whom he accuses of involvement in his subsequent nonviolent conviction for misappropriation of funds and resources under his command.”


  11. Pingback: We can win our wars. One of our warriors explains how. - Fabius Maximus website (blog) | Bible Prophecy In The Daily Headlines

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