Today's conflicts sway futuristic war game

Eighteen months of lessons learned in the Middle East have given new purpose to the computerized war game staged each year by the military services.

Unified Quest, hosted last week by the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., pitted the blue forces of an American-led coalition against the red forces of a fictional Middle Eastern country and insurgents on a Pacific island.

The annual event is intended to give military experts an opportunity to simulate how battles might be fought in 2015. This year's game examined how the services might work together to respond to crises in a global environment.

In a new twist this year, Unified Quest included scenarios based on ongoing operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. That marks a radical shift from last year's game, which did not incorporate political and military issues of the time.

"The impact of [the game] will be more than on just war gaming, but on the entire force development process," said David Ozolek, who works at the Joint Experimentation Directorate at U.S. Joint Forces Command. "This is a problem the [Defense Department] has faced for 50 years: There was no common definition for joint operations."

Ozolek said the important lesson already learned from joint war gaming is that the services must preserve their ability to develop their own capabilities, while simultaneously ensuring interoperability.

The planners of the game make reasonable assumptions about the authenticity of available technologies, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Donald Holder, commander of the blue forces in the Middle Eastern scenario.

For instance, the blue forces in Unified Quest had access to the Army's Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), which will provide high-speed communications and real-time voice, video and data services to soldiers in battle, and the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), a software-programmable radio system that will be used by each of the services and certain allies. WIN-T isn't expected to be available until after 2009, and the implementation of JTRS is slated to take place from 2006 through the next three years.

But even Unified Quest participants acknowledge that nobody knows if those systems will provide the 100 percent ubiquitous connectivity they're designed to. "We can't really simulate these kinds of things in detail," Holder said.

Dan Goure, a senior defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a think tank, said the scenarios are designed to allow leaders to understand the implications of using certain technologies, not necessarily to accurately gauge their failure rates.

"Perhaps more important than the accuracy of the assumptions about the technology's success is the value of having the technologies at all," he said. "Whether a future technology in these scenarios is successfully deployed could precipitate change."

Goure said it is important that game planners incorporate current situations. "Last year, [Unified Quest] was basically a World War IV scenario," he said. "It's good that they add to the mix current situations to determine how they might best be countered."

The game concluded May 7, and senior military leaders were scheduled to be briefed on the outcome and some initial lessons at the college this week.

Last week Army Maj. Gen. James Dubik, director for joint experimentation at Joint Forces Command, said he wasn't sure what the outcome of the game would be, although a victory was imminent for the blue force team at press time. He said lessons from this year's game could have an immediate impact on policies and technologies being deployed in today's war zones.

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