How a Rusty Monkey Wrench took down a U.S. Fleet
Any individual, business, or government can throw money at initiatives, but when the real test comes, only smart creative thinking will make true breakthroughs.
Remember when you played soldiers as a kid? Sometimes the kids down the street would have better toy guns than you. Maybe they had those fancy Nerf guns and all you had were simple rubber band guns. And when things weren’t going so well for one of the teams, they’d call time out and try to change the rules.
Now although I don’t play soldiers anymore because I’ve grown up, although I still eat Fruity Pebbles cereal, the military does and they call these ‘War Games’. The biggest war game was called the Millennium Challenge. It happened in 2002 and over 13,000 troops participated. These troops along with real and virtual military planes and warships were spread out across the Middle East. There were two teams – the blue team was the United States of course and the red team was the bad guys.
The blue team had new technology at their disposal. They had precision guided missiles, overhead surveillance systems, several warships including an aircraft carrier, and thousands of marines. The red team, which was led by retired marine, Lt General Paul Van Riper, appreciated that new technology, but unfortunately was not allowed to use it at his disposal. Instead, General Paul Riper was given a fleet of small and inexpensive boats and planes – most of them civilian, along with some machine guns, rockets, and small army. One could have said this was like Germany taking on the Vatican Army. Surely General Paul Riper and his army are going to get crushed. But General Riper was not frightened by the overwhelming force. He put his mind to the problem: how can I adapt and avoid this overwhelming force and yet do damage against the United States?
So after two years of planning, the Generals and Admirals who were commanding the blue team were excited to begin the Millennium Challenge. As the war game began, the U.S. fleet entered the make believe Persian Gulf determined to overwhelm General Riper’s forces. Assessing the situation, General Riper reacted and began to give orders. But he did not give orders using radio transmission – those orders might have been intercepted. Instead, he sent coded messages delivered by motorcycle messengers. He also announced these codes messages from mosques throughout the area. After the orders were received, wave after wave of those small civilian boats headed out into the Persian Gulf and began swarming the naval convoy from all directions. They fired at the U.S. fleet with rockets and machine guns. Bratatatatatat. Some boats were loaded with explosives and they crashed into the U.S. boats damaging them severely. The sheer numbers of the civilian boats and speedboats overloaded the blue team’s ability, both mentally and electronically, to handle the attack.
Within 30 minutes, 16 U.S. war ships including thousands of marines were sunk. Within half an hour, General Van Riper, who did not have the latest military weapons or technology, who was only given a fleet of small and inexpensive civilian boats and airplanes, sunk 16 U.S. Navy warships and thousands of marines. If this war really had happened, it would have been the worst naval disaster since Pearl Harbor.
Any individual, business, or government can throw money at problems, but when the real test comes, only smart creative thinking will make true breakthroughs. General Paul Riper illustrated a very cheap way to beat a very expensive fleet. The blue team considered themselves invincible and thought they were going to dominate the battlefield. Imagine the look on the blue team’s Generals and Admirals faces after they got their butt kicked. I bet it was Priceless.
General Paul Riper, despite having limited resources, put his mind to the problem – let’s think of a way we can adapt to the situation, avoid the overwhelming U.S forces, and yet still do damage against the opposition. When it comes to smart creative thinking, I think Robert Hughes said it best – “a determined soul will do more with a rusty monkey wrench than a loafer will accomplish with all the tools in a machine shop.”
Some people might think that this would never happen. For me, the story of General Van Riper and the Millennium Challenge reminds me of the American Revolutionary War. When the war began, the 13 colonies lacked a professional army or navy. Instead, each colony sponsored a local militia. Militiamen were lightly armed and had little training. In fact, most of them did not even have uniforms. Their units served for only a few weeks or months at a time, and they were reluctant to travel far from home and thus were unavailable for extended operations. They lacked the training and discipline of soldiers with more experience. However, if properly used, their numbers could overwhelm British forces. And guess who won that war.
I bet at the battle of Yorktown, the last major battle during the American Revolutionary war, the British General, Lord Cornwallis, who was commanding the British army, as he saw his enemy being defeated by these militiamen, probably wanted to call ‘time-out’ – you know, like what we used to do as kids when things weren’t going our way.