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US ‘failed miserably’ in wargame reportedly against China attack on Taiwan

Gen. John Hyten. (U.S. Air Force photo by Sarah Goldblum)
July 27, 2021

The U.S. military “failed miserably” in an October wargame scenario reportedly involving a battle for Taiwan, and now military leaders are looking at how to change the U.S. joint warfighting strategy, a top U.S. general revealed for the first time this week.

During a Monday speech before the National Defense Industrial Association’s (NDIA) newly-formed Emerging Technologies Institute (ETI), Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman and U.S. Air Force Gen. John Hyten said, the U.S. tested out its joint warfighting strategy in a wargame scenario in October of last year.

“Without overstating the issue, it failed miserably,” Hyten said of the U.S. joint warfighting strategy. “An aggressive red team that had been studying the United States for the last 20 years just ran rings around us. They knew exactly what we’re going to do before we did it.”

A defense official told Defense One on Monday that one of the wargame’s scenarios centered around a battle for Taiwan. China has increasingly practiced for an invasion of the island and has frequently described “reunification” with Taiwan in recent months.

Hyten did not provide additional details of the scenario but described the failed U.S. strategy just moments after describing China’s rapid advancement in military capabilities.

Hyten said the U.S. advantage is “shrinking fast, and China is running the race very quickly and we have to figure out how to stay ahead.”

The defense official who spoke with Defense One said one of the key lessons from the October wargame was that aggregating ships, aircraft, and other forces to concentrate their combat power also made those forces easier targets.

Hyten said after the October wargame, the U.S. has reevaluated the joint warfighting concept. He said the new strategy being developed is “not quite a clean-sheet approach, because you can never take a clean sheet of paper if you want to get between now and 2030, you have to start with what you have.”

Hyten said the new strategy to overcome the challenges posed by the joint warfighting strategy entails, in part, how to “aggregate” forces for “significant effect” and then “disaggregate to survive in any kind of threat environment.”

“We always aggregate to fight, and aggregate to survive,” Hyten said. “But in today’s world, with hypersonic missiles, with significant long-range fires coming at us from all domains, if you’re aggregated and everybody knows where you are, you’re vulnerable.”

Hyten went on to describe four new methods for improving the joint warfighting concept, called “functional battles.”

The first “functional battle” Hyten described is “contested logistics” which puts a focus on creating ways to deliver fuel and supplies to front-line troops in contested areas.

The second “functional battle” is “joint fires.” Hyten said, “You have to aggregate to mass fires, but it doesn’t have to be a physical aggregation. It could be a virtual aggregation for multiple domains; acting at the same time under a single command structure allows the fires to come in on anybody. It allows you to disaggregate to survive.” Hyten said the “joint fires” concept is largely still aspiration because it is “unbelievably difficult to do” And the military will have to figure out what part will be affordable and practical, he said. 

The third “functional battle” Hyten described is Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). This component entails having centralized access to information from all domains of the battlefield, but still disaggregated in a manner that avoids an entire force losing access to that information if a centralized information structure were to be targeted. Hyten said, “The goal is to be fully connected to a combat cloud that has all information that you can access at any time, anyplace,” but that can’t be compromised by an attack on one centralized location.

The final “functional battle” Hyten described is “information advantage.” Hyten described this element as the sum of the first three “functional battles.” He said, “If we can do the things I just described, the United States and our allies will have an information advantage over anybody that we could possibly face.”