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Largest US wargame in a generation: 25,000 US sailors, Marines testing China, Russia conflict scenarios

The Carl Vinson strike group operates with the Ronald Reagan strike group, June 2017. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate/Released)
May 25, 2021

Twenty-five thousand U.S. Navy sailors and Marines are set to take part in the largest set of U.S. military exercises in a generation, with forces within the U.S., Africa, Europe and the Pacific joining in. The exercise intends to test scenarios that are expected in a possible future conflict with another near-peer power to the U.S., such as China or Russia.

Military.com reported the exercise, known as Large Scale Exercise 2021, will begin late this summer. The war games, which will take place across an area spanning 17 different timezones, are designed to test how the services can coordinate their actions in a fight across vast distances.

“LSE is more than just training, it is leveraging the integrated fighting power of multiple naval forces to share sensors, weapons, and platforms across all domains in contested environments, globally,” Adm. Christopher Grady, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces, told Military.com.

The LSE will test several concepts they’re likely to encounter in a possible future conflict with China. Military.com reported those scenarios are designed to test whether sailors and Marines’ can carry out various distributed operations, near-shore “littoral” operations, and set up expeditionary advanced bases and more in a contested environment. Practicing those scenarios could prove useful against China’s military strategy in the Pacific, which has been increasingly geared towards an “Anti-Access, Area Denial” (A2/AD) intended to allow China to assert control over vast maritime areas and either delay or block outright other countries’ navies to re-enter those areas.

Grady said the LSE will be the first in a series of war games “that will continue to push the envelope of what it means to be the superior maritime force.”

Lt. Cmdr. Tabitha Klingensmith, with U.S. Fleet Forces Command, told Military.com the war games will use a range of methods to expand the overall scale of the war games.

“LSE 2021 will use technologies similar to what you see in virtual video gaming environments to expand the number of participants by linking commands and units around the globe virtually, thereby increasing the number of players, real and synthetic, to better replicate the realistic scale of scenarios the Navy and Marine Corps team is likely to face in the future,” Klingensmith said.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday has already referred to the upcoming exercise as the biggest naval training event in a generation.

USNI News previously reported LSE will also see the Navy experiment with integrating specialized Information Warfare Commanders (IWCs), who typically operate within a carrier strike group, to now operate closer to the front line units to relay critical information, including intelligence, oceanographic and meteorological data that can affect operations.

Vice Adm. Jeffrey Trussler, the deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare (OPNAV N2/N6) said the move means “instead of taking classic warfare officers, having them integrate among several, we’ve now put this IWC in place – ‘hey, that is your job. Integrate these disciplines and environments into the best decision space so that the commander can take advantage of, point at one unit, one cell, one commander and take recommendations or give orders to that can affect some of those things.’”