Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC02) was a major wargame exercise conducted by the United States armed forces in mid-2002, likely the largest such exercise in history. The exercise, which ran from July 24 to August 15 and cost $250 million, involved both live exercises and computer simulations. MC02 was meant to be a test of future military “transformation”—a transition toward new technologies that enable network-centric warfare and provide more powerful weaponry and tactics. The simulated combatants were the United States, denoted “Blue”, and an unknown adversary in the Middle East, “Red”.
Red, commanded by retired Marine Corps Lt. General Paul K. Van Riper, used motorcycle messengers to transmit orders to front-line troops, evading Blue’s sophisticated electronic surveillance network. They also used a fleet of small boats to determine the position of Blue’s ships without being detected. In the early days of the exercise, Red launched a massive salvo of cruise missiles, overwhelming the Blue forces’ electronic sensors, destroying sixteen warships. The equivalent of this success in a real conflict would have resulted in the death of over 20,000 service personnel. Soon after that offensive, another significant portion of Blue’s navy was “sunk” by an armada of small Red boats carrying out both conventional and suicide attacks, able to engage Blue forces due to Blue’s inability to detect them as well as expected.
At this point, the exercise was suspended and Blue’s ships were “re-floated.” There were many within the upper echelons of the Department of Defense that found the results displeasing, and it was decided to restart the wargame and change the rules of engagement. In the new restarted exercise the different sides were ordered to follow predetermined plans of action, leading to allegations that the exercise was scripted and “$250 million was wasted”. Due to his concerns about the scripted nature of the new exercise, Van Riper resigned his position in the midst of the war game. Van Riper later expressed concern that the wargame’s purpose had shifted to reinforce existing doctrine and notions of infallibility within the U.S. military rather than serve as a learning experience. He was quoted in the BBC/Discovery Channel documentary The Perfect War as saying that what he saw in MC02 echoed the same attitudes taken on by the Department of Defense of Robert McNamara going in to and during the Vietnam War, namely the idea that the U.S. military could not and will not be defeated.