The “enemies” will have fictional names, but when hundreds of US military personnel around the globe log on to their computers later this summer for a highly classified war game, it will be clear what a major focus of the scenarios will be – how the US should respond to aggressive action and unexpected moves by China and Russia.
Several defense officials tell CNN that the war game is a top priority for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, who will lead the exercise. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be briefed as it plays out.
The war game is designed to equip the US military’s top leaders to deal with a fictional global crisis erupting on multiple fronts and players will have to deal with constantly changing scenarios and compete for military assets like aircraft carriers and bombers.
They will take place at a crucial time for the Pentagon just months into Joe Biden’s presidency.
The military budget is being set and major decisions on troop levels and priorities are being made so it’s hoped the war game will help prepare the military to face the challenges of the next few years.
War games are always sensitive and outcomes are closely guarded because they can reveal shortfalls in US military plans and operations. One former defense official confirmed that in a recent exercise gaming out a conflict against major adversaries like Russia and China, “we found the Blue Team, the US and allies, kept losing.”
The scenarios covered in the game this summer will reflect real life possibilities. Those could include major cyber attacks, a Russian advance in the Baltics, further militarization of the Arctic by Moscow or China flexing its muscles in the South China Sea or even invading Taiwan.
And preparations aren’t just virtual. This week, the US and Canada have been carrying out military exercises, in tough conditions where temperatures can plunge to -20 Fahrenheit, to make clear they are ready to push back against Russian military advances in the resource rich Arctic.
Russia has put advanced missiles in the region to protect its bases there and is directly challenging the US. In 2020 more Russian aircraft flew near US airspace off Alaska than at any time since the end of the Cold War, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command with multiple flights of heavy bombers, anti-submarine aircraft, and intelligence collection planes.