For the past several months, a highly specialized team of Navy strategists has been traveling to military command posts throughout the United States with the results of their latest war game: an Iraqi invasion across Kuwait into Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, Army officials are now sifting through the lessons learned in their war scenario of the year 2015: A Middle Eastern nation seeks U.S. military aid after an oil-rich neighbor is overrun by an Arab aggressor.
Both hypothetical scenarios, dreamed up by military academics and planners and discussed and studied in a series of recent conferences, revealed serious shortcomings in the ability of U.S. armed forces to sustain combat in situations almost identical to that now unfolding in the Middle East, according to military officials.
The games revealed serious problems in getting large numbers of American ground forces to the region and difficulties resupplying troops in the area without major support from other nations, officials said. The gaming scenarios also found that the introduction of chemical weapons to the combat zone would force the soldiers to don protective gear that dramatically reduced their ability to fight.
All are significant concerns that have been raised by military officials involved in the airlift and sealift of U.S. troops, equipment, aircraft and ships to the Persian Gulf region to defend Saudi Arabia against attack from Iraqi forces that have seized neighboring Kuwait.
"We could be anointed for seeing the future," James Predham, of the Army Materiel Command said, describing the service's recent war game scenario. "But it was an accident actually."
Predham's organization, which drafts recommendations for the weapons and equipment of future battlefields, discovered some scenarios for which military strategists could find no solutions, illustrating the political, economic and military difficulties of military actions in the Middle East.
"Red Team" Arab forces seized a neighbor nation's valuable oil terminal, but eventually offered to relinquish the facilities to the American-led "Blue Team." The Red Team commander's order that the last soldiers out of the terminal area blow it up proved a paralyzing caveat. Blue Team commanders could not agree on how to respond and the scenario's vignette dissolved into lively disagreements with no solution. Winner and loser went undetermined.
The desert war-fighting scenario in the Middle East "presents real technical difficulties," said Marian Singleton, an Army Materiel Command spokeswoman.
"The deployment all by itself is very, very difficult," Predham said. "You're doing a 12,000-mile commute moving heavy forces into that area."
Predham said that war-gamers preparing for the year 2015 scenario now believe that the Defense Department will not be able to get troops to the region by sea any faster then than the several weeks necessary for the current deployment to Saudi Arabia. Predham, echoing the anxieties of current commanders, said the war game revealed it took 30 to 45 days to get enough ground troops to the region to combat the 40,000 enemy troops in the scenario's Kuwait-equivalent nation, with an additional 150,000 troops on the border.
U.S. intelligence officials report that about 200,000 Iraqi troops are now in Kuwait and amassed just over the border in Iraq.
The Army war-gamers said that weapons and equipment now used by military forces are too large and bulky to be well-suited to the kind of long-distance deployment now underway. They recommend developing lighter, more lethal hand-held weapons for troops.
In the games played out last April at the offices of Bethesda defense consultants and in June at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., one commander designed a small, high-precision cruise missile on a scrap of paper that became an important weapon for U.S. forces in the exercise.
In one battle scenario, enemy troops disperse chemical weapons, a current concern of American commanders wary of an Iraq army that has previously used chemical weapons.
"We concluded that operating in chemical gear for any substantial length of time was really debilitating to human beings," Predham said. "We tried to figure out ways to allow them to operate better. . . . But an awful lot of technology has to be worked on before we could provide that."
The researchers said that the hot, bulky suits now used to protect troops from chemical vapors should be replaced by lighter "exoskeleton" suits that include some type of air conditioning apparatus.
The Army also is experimenting with antitoxins and other medicines that could be used to combat the effects of the chemicals, efforts the war-gamers encouraged.
The Navy scenario bore an even more uncanny resemblance to the current situation, but took the final provocative step of sending Iraqi troops over the Kuwait border into Saudi Arabia.
The study group, appointed by the chief of naval operations, revealed major "operational problems" in resupplying ground troops and said the frequent refueling required by carrier-based aircraft with relatively short flying ranges would present continuing problems.