Saturday, December 21, 2013

War game helps reinvigorate nuclear strategic thinking

by Airman 1st Class Joseph Raatz,  Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- The first war game developed and sponsored by Air Force Global Strike Command concluded here Dec. 13.

Codenamed Strategic Vigilance, the four-day war game was convened in conjunction with a recent re-emphasis on nuclear war-gaming by Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, and renewed emphasis by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III on nuclear table-top exercises to enhance strategic thinking across the service.

Key objectives for the first-of-its-kind war game included exploring AFGSC's ability to operate across the full spectrum of conflict from its conventional long-range strike mission to its capstone nuclear deterrence and assurance mission. This included assessing whether the command is developing and fielding the right kinds of capabilities to meet its warfighter requirements against assessed future threats and environments; and the professional development of a cadre of long-range strike and nuclear experts to lead AFGSC in the future.

"Strategic Vigilance was designed to explore our ability as a command to conduct operations across the stages of nuclear conflict," said Maj. Andrew Smith, chief of war-gaming and strategic studies for AFGSC. "The results will help us better prepare for the future and provide a more credible deterrent for the nation."

The war game involved participants from several commands, including USSTRATCOM, Headquarters Air Force and the LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education, which develops doctrine and conducts war games for U.S. armed forces.

Strategic Vigilance participants brought their unique expertise into the mix, improving the quality of the war game and its outcome, Smith said. This influx of knowledge and experience created a higher fidelity experience.

"While war games are hypothetical, we still seek the highest fidelity in simulating current and future forces," Smith said. "The greater the fidelity, the more reliable the result will be."

War games are designed to allow participants to determine what tasks would be required during a real-world conflict and whether the resources are available to support those tasks. In the case of Strategic Vigilance, participants and observers scrutinized the abilities of AFGSC in particular to respond to and interact with an adversary.

"Strategic Vigilance represents a uniquely focused examination of nuclear issues," said Brig. Gen. Clint Crosier, AFGSC's strategic director of plans, programs, requirements and assessments. "The strategic environment today is much different than during the Cold War. The number of countries who can threaten the U.S. and its allies with weapons of mass destruction is increasing at an alarming rate. Potential nuclear-armed adversaries are rapidly modernizing their delivery systems for air, land, and sea, and the concept of deterrence against hostile regional actors presents a very different problem set than the Cold War strategic model. All of these issues highlight our need to fully understand the environment we operate in and ensure we can successfully execute our missions. This 'first' for the command is indicative of the command's commitment to constantly improving the nuclear enterprise."

"We learned a lot from the war game and will undoubtedly learn more as we continue to process the results," Smith said. "It's a great opportunity to learn when we step back and think about how the big picture comes together."

Lessons learned from war games and exercises enable the Air Force to continually refine and improve its capabilities, facilitating the mission to deter enemies and assure allies.

"There is a definite call to think more deeply about the Air force's number one mission, and I believe we've done that with Strategic Vigilance," Smith said.