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U.S. Army to begin conducting large-scale ‘major warfare’ tabletop exercises

Upcoming tabletop war games being conducted by the U.S. Army will focus on “major warfare” against an advanced peer or near-peer force involving armor, ground-attack, long-range weapons, air power, and even cyber/electronic warfare.

“We are going to be doing tabletop wargames to see what kinds of things we will need in our platforms to counter threats,” Maj. Gen. Cummings, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, told Warrior Maven.

Such games most often pit “blue” (friendly) team forces against “red” (enemy) team forces, the latter of which operate as a major power.

Exercises can involve utilization of maps, various terrain, geographic factors, weather conditions, intelligence, and other elements that would affect operations.

Often such exercises literally take place on a table top, Warrior Maven notes, but they can sometimes be large enough to move structures around on a gym floor.




“Through a series of structured questions, you have leaders make decisions. In a tabletop you get reactions. You may even have players that act like a local population. You put it in context of geopolitical and tactical circumstance,” a senior Army official told the news site.

The objective of these exercises is to mimic as closely as possible how friendly and enemy forces would act/react in battle in terms of air, ground, naval, and cyber forces.

Analysis: As we have been documenting, the Pentagon under Defense Secretary James Mattis is shifting is warfighting focus away from so-called ‘brushfire wars’ and insurgencies in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and focusing much more on fighting major powers like Russia and China, as well as regional powers like Iran and, perhaps, North Korea should negotiations fail.

The shift is occurring in several ways. First, the kind of weapons the Pentagon is buying is reflective of the Trump administration’s refocus on great power warfare. Nuclear upgrades, new submarines, longer-range artillery and missile systems for ground forces, the F-35, the B-21 bomber program, etc., are all designed to fight major power warfare. 

Secondly, the way the service branches are training now reflects the shift as well. Navy exercises have begun to include a focus on carrier/convoy escort duty with an emphasis on anti-submarine warfare. The Air Force’s F-35 was designed to penetrate sophisticated enemy radar and air defenses. All branches are developing longer-range weaponry, to include hypersonic missiles.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is shifting resources to NATO and the Indo-Pacific while the State Department is shoring up alliances and mutual security agreements. 

And frankly, all of this was overdue. The American military had been focused for far too long on small, regionalized conflicts involve low-tech enemies, all while the major powers like Russia and China were focused on meeting and defeating the U.S. military and its NATO allies.

It could well be that the shift in strategy and capability will be enough to deter a potential enemy, much as Reagan’s defense build-up did. But it’s not wise to count on that, especially these days, given Russia’s and China’s revisionist tendencies. 



In fact, you could say we are closer to major power warfare today — particularly with China — than at any time in recent history. Beijing isn’t going to back down from its outsized claims in the South China Sea and the Trump administration isn’t going to back away from freely navigating in international waters no matter who ‘claims’ them.

Should the U.S. and China exchange blows, it’s a safe bet that Russia, as we are distracted, would make territorial moves in eastern Europe — which is another reason why the Trump administration is pushing NATO to become better prepared after years of neglecting their militaries.

As for the upcoming major warfare tabletop exercises, some say it is better to lose on a gymnasium floor so you learn lessons that will make you victorious when it counts. Clearly, the Pentagon expects to be in such fights in the future.


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