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US to hold classified war games on countering Russian, Chinese attacks, report says

A U.S. soldier at 7th Army Training Command's Grafenwoehr training area, Germany, March 23, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger)
March 29, 2021

The U.S. military will hold highly classified war games this summer to study how the U.S. could respond to aggressive actions by China and Russia, CNN reported on Saturday.

CNN reported that while the enemy force in the war games scenario will be a fictional one, it will mimic possible avenues of attack by Russia or China. Multiple defense officials told CNN that the war games are a top priority for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, and that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be briefed as the games play out.

The war games will cover a range of actions Russia or China could likely take in the future, ranging from Russia continuing to militarize the Arctic and China continuing to militarize the South China Sea, to major cyber attacks, to a Russian advance in the Baltics and a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The war games will reportedly play out as a fictional global crisis erupting on multiple fronts, with constantly changing scenarios and players competing for shared military resources like aircraft carriers and bombers.

Discussing the upcoming war games, Eric Edelman, a former defense undersecretary for policy and an expert on military planning told CNN that both Russia and China are expanding their abilities to operate in areas like the Arctic and the Indo-Pacific region and the U.S. is often disadvantaged by having to respond with troops stationed hundreds and even thousands of miles away.

“Russia and China are playing a home game, we are playing an away game,” Edelman said.

The U.S. military frequently plays out war game scenarios to study how potential security risks or military conflicts could play out.

The war games come at a critical time for Joe Biden’s presidency, and according to CNN, it is hoped the games will help inform the defense budget, as well as troop levels and military priorities going forward.

According to CNN, war games like the ones planned for this summer are always sensitive and the outcomes are typically closely guarded, though some military planners have raised concerns for the U.S. about recent war game scenarios.

Last fall, the U.S. Air Force carried out a separate set of games to study how a Chinese campaign to seize control of the Indo-Pacific region would play out. Describing the war game outcome in an interview with Yahoo News, Air Force Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote said in scenario after scenario the Blue Team, those playing the role of the U.S. and its allies, faced defeat and that the U.S. could “lose fast” in a Taiwan invasion scenario.

“I distinctly remember one of our gurus of war gaming standing in front of the Air Force secretary and chief of staff, and telling them that we should never play this war game scenario [of a Chinese attack on Taiwan] again, because we know what is going to happen,” Hinote said. “The definitive answer if the U.S. military doesn’t change course is that we’re going to lose fast.”

In that set of war games, China was able to hinder the U.S. military with a biological weapons attack before it launched a rapid invasion of Taiwan. While China was able to capture Taiwan in that scenario, it was also able to repel a U.S. counterattack with a hail of missiles targeting U.S. warships and bases throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

David Ochmanek, a senior RAND Corporation analyst and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for force development told Yahoo News, “Whenever we war-gamed a Taiwan scenario over the years, our Blue Team [those playing the role of the U.S.] routinely got its ass handed to it, because in that scenario time is a precious commodity and it plays to China’s strength in terms of proximity and capabilities.”

Speaking with CNN, Ochmanek said that in a scenario where Russian advances in eastern Europe, U.S. and NATO efforts to bolster their own force presence may not be enough to counter Russia’s own force buildup for the region. “The US and its allies do not have sufficient combat power” and said that, with its prepositioned forces, “within 48 to 60 hours Russian forces could be on outskirts of a Baltic capital.”