Category Archives: Iran

Eager Lion Now Supplants Bright Star as Largest U.S. Exercise in Middle East

The details emerging about the Eager Lion 12 military exercise in Jordan are almost as scary as the speculation circulating in the press about a Syria (or Iran) mission preparation.  Jordan and the United States continue to insist that the exercise has no connection with any real-world events.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) now says that the exercise is “the largest annual exercise in the Central Command area of operations,” supplanting Bright Star, the exercise series previously conducted in Egypt.  I guess the masters of war planning have a lot of faith in the stability and resilience of the Jordanian government, come to think of it, just like they did about Egypt.

Eager Lion, which most press reports refer to as including 17 participants, actually includes 19 participants, according to CENTCOM.   They include Australia, Bahrain, Brunei, Egypt, France, Italy, Iraq, Jordan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Qatar, Spain, Romania, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.  The exercise is touted as “building relationships,” but the 19 nations weren’t named until May 15th: I suppose it’s more like a furtive affair than a relationship.  It’s interesting to note that Turkey, previously reported as participating, evidently is not; and that Iraq is there.

Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit offload from a Navy Landing Craft Utility vessel at the Royal Jordanian Naval Base in Aqaba, May 2, 2012, to begin their participation in Exercise Eager Lion 12. (Official Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Richard Blumenstein)

And though special operations is the undeniable focus, more than 1,000 U.S. Marines with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit stormed ashore – okay maybe didn’t storm, but landed – in a display of amphibious readiness.  What surprised me in the belated announcement of the Marines May 2nd landing is that the Marine Corps casually referred to the augmented battalion and its Iowa Jima assault ship as the “forward-deployed crisis response force.”

I didn’t even know that there was such a crisis response force, and nothing was reported in the news media when it was deployed in March.

The on-scene U.S. commander for Eager Lion 12 is Maj. Gen. Ken Tovo, who in his day job is Commander Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) and for the exercise is Commander, Combined Joint Task Force Spartan (CJTF Spartan).  Tovo is one of the most talented officers in our Army’s senior ranks and clearly is one of our nation’s Special Operations Forces’ superstars,” CIA Director David Petraeus said in an email to the Tampa Tribune.  There’s an odd hit job on Tovo on Examiner.com, as if anything is actually known about the man.

Operation Chimichanga practices North Korean strike?

Three B-1 bombers from the 37th Bomb Squadron, stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota took off in the early hours of April 4 on a ten-hour bombing mission to Fort Yukon, Alaska as part of a complex long-range Strategic Command “anti-access” bombing mission dubbed Operation Chimichanga.

The exercise, starting with a simulated warning order to bomb targets in a classified country, included multiple live fly participants and command and control elements, finishing with battle damage assessment and an after action report.

Participants included F-22 Raptors and E-3 AWAC command and control aircraft assigned to the Alaskan 3rd Wing, along with F-16s from Misawa AB, Japan, and KC-135 aerial refuelers from Eielson AFB, Alaska.

F-22s and F-16s escorted the B-1s “into an anti-access target area,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Kunkel, 90th Fighter Squadron commander.

It was also the first time that increment 3.1, an air-to-ground bombing software upgrade was used on F-22’s, which also acted as follow-on forces, to assess B-1 bomb damage at the target and follow with an immediate restrike.

The B-1 bombers were also carrying new long-range radar evading AGM-158 joint air-surface standoff missile (JASSMs).

North Korea or Iran, take your pick.

Ten air forces meet in Bahrain to do what?

Front page Bahrain-based Gulf Daily News today: The largest air exercise since 1988, involving 10 nations — Bahrain, the United States, plus Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and Pakistan?

Is there so much surplus military money to throw around that now that the Iraq war is over, these large exercises are coming back with a vengeance?  Or is there some desire to send messages to countries like Iran that everyone’s ready?

And where’s Iraq in this?  Some Arab spring, eh?

[Note: Updated April 9, 2012:  The exercise is called “Initial Link.”]

Gulf Daily News frontpage, Sunday, April 8, 2012.

U.S.-Israel military exercise quietly underway

I added the classified Sixth Fleet sponsored exercise Noble Dina 12 exercise to my list of military exercises today.  This year’s U.S.-Israel exercise runs from March 26-April 5.

The exercise, ongoing since at least 1999, focuses on submarine and anti-submarine warfare in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.  Greece has been a participant since last year, and the exercise, according to the Greek press, is based out of Souda Bay naval base on Crete.

Last year, Noble Dina 11 took place from April 3-14 and included reportedly included two Greek submarines and four Greek Air Force F-16 Block 52 fighters.  According to the U.S. Military Sealift Command, during last year’s exercise fleet replenishment oiler USNS Kanawha conducted astern refueling with two Israeli ships, while Maritime Prepositioning Force ship USNS LCPL Roy M. Wheat served as a “high-value unit” for the surface action group operating in the Eastern Mediterranean, presumably a simulated target.

According to defencenet.gr and the Greek Reporter, the U.S., Greece, Israel exercise has all sorts of anti-Turkish political messaging involved.  Defencenet.gr says that the scenario for Noble Dina this year from Crete to Haifa “bears great resemblance to the Turkish aeronautical forces in this particular military operation scenario.”

The Turkish press reports that the “first phase will take place near the island of Meis, a small island close to the southern Turkish district of Kaş, and south of Cyprus before proceeding to Israel’s Haifa port.”  It says that Greece was invited to the war games this year by Israel.

New Radar in the United Arab Emirates Watches Iran

Another sign of the times regarding preparing for war with Iran:  Last week, the Air Force installed a new long-range air surveillance radar in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to the 380th Air Wing.

Of course the press release on the defending airmen of the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron from the Ohio National Guard makes no mention of Iran or the UAE.  The radar is being deployed to the “Arabian Gulf” to an unnamed country.

“Our job is to constantly watch the skies,” said Lt. Col. Steven A. Breitfelder, 727th EACS commander, deployed from Blue Ash Air National Guard Station, Ohio.  “Our operators defend the Arabian Gulf and its surrounding countries by monitoring the area for enemy aircraft.”

The 380th Wing is deployed at the hyper-modern Al Dhafra Airbase, located approximately 20 miles south of Abu Dhabi and operated by the United Arab Emirates Air Force.

According to the 380th Wing’s official fact sheet, the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing was reactivated on January 25, 2002, but Global Hawk UAVs and other U.S. aircraft started operating from Al Dhafra almost immediately after 9/11.  The 380th’s mission is to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and aerial refueling, the official fact sheet says, and currently the wing is comprised of five groups and 18 squadrons.  The Open Source GEOINT blog has in incomparable layout and description of the base, just in case you wondered whether there is any real secret involved here.

Al Dhafra air base has been almost continuously occupied by the United States since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, some secret.  The Air Force says the defenders have “another arrow in their quiver,” a freudian slip no doubt.  I’m sure Iran sees it as an arrow.

Iran: A Closer Look at Internal Look

The New York Times scoop on the recently concluded “Internal Look” military exercise involving war with Iran seems another alarm bell signaling imminent war, while also at the same time constituting an intentional leak to communicate caution both to Israel and the administration.  According to The Times, the exercise, which included an Israeli first strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, escalated to a regional war between Iran and the United States.

No one needs a sophisticated exercise to come to this conclusion, so the real questions are: Why the leak?  What was Internal Look really trying to practice?  And most important, what did The New York Times miss in its reporting?

Some background: Internal Look is a biennial (held every other year), unilateral Central Command (USCENTCOM) battle staff exercise.  Unilateral meaning it is a U.S. exercise; battle staff exercise meaning it is a computer assisted command post exercise to train headquarters and components staffs in doctrine and procedures pertaining to a major Middle East war.

Over the years, Internal Look has been CENTCOM’s number one training priority and its primary mission rehearsal for theater level conflicts.

From Internal Look 90 (1990) through 02, the exercise focused almost exclusively on Iraq.  Internal Look 90 was the first exercise to supplant a Cold War scenario involving a Soviet invasion of Iran scenario.  In December 1989, the JCS authorized CENTCOM to shift the geographic focus of the upcoming game from defense of Iran to defense of Saudi Arabia.

Then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz was working on the Defense Department’s 1992-1997 Defense Planning Guidance, a document that made the “central objective” for U.S. regional planning the prevention of a hostile power from gaining control over oil supplies or shipment routes.  The final document, dated 24 January 1990, stated:

“The Secretary has increased the relative priority of Southwest Asia by making explicit that the region ranks above South America and Africa in terms of global wartime priorities and by outlining an initial theater strategy.”

Internal Look 90 thus began as an exercise to test the military’s ability to respond to an incursion by Orange Forces from the north down through Iraq to seize control of Saudi oil fields. Given that Saudi Arabia, unlike Europe had no pre-positioned war stocks, no road network, and no water, logistics planning ended up being the major preoccupation.  The exercise commenced on July 9th, and before it was over on August 4th, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  Though many officers at CENTCOM’s Florida headquarters and at Ft. Bragg, North Caroline could not even pronounce the names of the towns in Saudi Arabia and were still scratching their heads over the problems identified in moving the forces to the area, they never even had the opportunity to remove the maps of Iraq and Saudi Arabia from their map boards when the invasion occurred.

Urban legend has it that Internal Look 90 thus presaged an Iraqi invasion – it did not – but there is no question that it ushered in the Iraq era, or more centrally, the oil era, which is to say, that protection of Middle East oil assets and flows became the priority U.S. military focus in the 1990’s as each subsequent exercise honed the defense of Saudi Arabia and the oil routes scenario.

By the time Internal Look 03 was held in December 2002, the focus was unambiguously a practice implementation of OPLAN 1003V, the war plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Internal Look provided the venue for the Air Force, Marine, Navy, and special operations commands to each examine their plans.   The major outcome of the exercise was the success of the Army commander to convince General Tommy Franks to provide him a minimum of forces to execute what was called the “running start option” for an Iraq war.  The attack would focus on Baghdad command and control as the center of gravity; a simultaneous and synchronized ground attack from multiple directions aimed at isolating the regime within Baghdad and ultimately at striking sites in the city.   The official history talks of a “rolling transition to stability operations and support operations” as ground forces advanced on Baghdad.  The U.S. would be welcome as liberators and the rest would be history.

After 9/11, most high-level CENTCOM exercises, including Internal Look, morphed to operational tasks associated with ongoing fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and the global war on terrorism (GWOT).  Mission rehearsal exercises for each new deployment, and each revision of strategy, were called the United Endeavor series. Desert Sailor became the mission rehearsal for the Proliferation Security Initiative Maritime Intercept Operations (PSI-MIO).

All along, CENTCOM commanders pushed for refocusing the exercises for potential future operations, but the reality was that the requirements of real war and even the operational tempo of the staff inhibited such a shift in planning or development.  A new exercise, Internal Advance, was added to focus on lesser contingencies (so-called “tier II” scenarios).

Joint Chiefs of Staff Powerpoint slide from 2011 showing major mission rehearsal exercises and large scale exercises worldwide of the various combatant commands.

The last Internal Look exercise of this series (Internal Look 09) replicated a humanitarian assistance and disaster response scenario; in other words, for all of the grinding of teeth about the Bush administration’s sneaky plans for war with Iran and October surprises, Iran didn’t become the focus until the Obama administration.

So that’s it?  The staff’s time is now freed up to focus on a new “tier I” major war and Iran’s it?  This is the way thing work on the inside; it isn’t that anyone is particularly rooting for a war; it isn’t as if the order has come down (as it did with Bush in 2002) to prepare for an offensive war.  But it is the case that Iran is now the focus of planning and that precipitates changes and revisions and scenarios and deployments all of which build up a greater likelihood of war.  It seems to me that The Times got the story of the war game but missed the story of the war, how the dynamics of an idle planning staff steers the United States ever so slightly in a certain direction.

It’s Official: CENTCOM has started preparing for war with Iran

The U.S. military command responsible for the Middle East is augmenting its Iran war-planning and intelligence analysis staff at a time when navy minesweepers are going to the Persian Gulf and there is an increase in other naval defenses.  The U.S. has also quietly deployed Patriot missile batteries to the Gulf for possible conflict with Iran.

So while all eyes in this stand-off might be focused on Iran’s nuclear pursuits and Iranian actions, there are American defensive measures as well, some open and some not so open, that also provide stimuli.  Each move and counter-move can intrinsically escalate tensions; so much so that that the nation’s top military officer is speaking openly about Iranian misjudgments of either American intentions or the purpose of American defensive preparations.

In an interview with Charlie Rose last week, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that Iran could suffer the consequences of misjudgment.  “There are some things that we know they will respond to,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey was mostly warning that Iraq “could get it wrong and suffer the consequences,” as he said, describing U.S. (and Israeli) will to act if it defies the international community.  But rationality is obviously on Dempsey’s mind.

I’ve been writing for at least five years about U.S. war preparations for Iran, and in 2006, I wrote that “on the surface, Iran controls the two basic triggers that could set off U.S. military action.”  Those then were acquisition of nuclear capability in defiance of the international community and lashing out militarily at the United States or its allies, or closing the Strait of Hormuz to international oil traffic.  Not much has changed in five years and it’s always useful to remind ourselves that Iran’s imminent acquisition of nuclear capability has been imminent for too long to qualify any longer as imminent.

But five years ago, the United States was overwhelmed by a war in Iraq and most of the writing about an Iran war focused on the Bush administration and its irrationality.  Five years later, Bush is gone and Iraq is no longer a resource-sucking military albatross for the United States.

Does that mean then that war is more likely today – this week, this month, in the next six months – than before?  Well one thing is clear: Iran still holds most of the cards.

So when I hear that CENTCOM’s Joint Intelligence Center has stood up an Iran Integrative Assessments Team, and that the planning staff in Florida is redoubling efforts to assess Iranian strategy and military capabilities, I’ve got to ask myself if there’s something I’m missing, something that’s going on behind the scenes that makes this time anything other than contingency planning as usual.

Though both the United States and Israel have the ability, with conventional, nuclear, or cyber weapons to mount a tactical surprise attack upon Iran – and that’s why it’s easy for so many to endlessly speculate about attacking that (or any other) country — at least for the United States, there is a certain cycle of preparations, a certain time scale of preparations, that are really necessary.   It even took the United States almost a month to attack the Taliban and al Qaeda after 9/11 and a lot of the reasons had nothing to do with Afghanistan’s geographic isolation or the absence of a plan.  The reality of war was the need to get everything prepared.

Thus the United States would accompany any strike with the mobilization of requisite strike, air and missile defense, naval forces, and even force protection elements to prepare for a counterstrike and protect the U.S.   Some of these moves are taking place, but they sort of still follow a cyclical pattern and next month, those same minesweepers could leave the Persian Gulf,

But when the responsible command CENTCOM starts to work on “conceptualizing, directing and executing long-term research and all-source analytic production on Iranian strategy, calculus and military operational capabilities,” which is what the Defense Intelligence Agency personnel stationed at the Florida headquarters are now doing, it seems more methodical and serious than deployments here and there.  The Integrative Assessments Team, according to DIA papers, is supporting CENTCOM’s “analytic activities on Iran’s strategic calculus, operational art and military resource decision-making” in support of war planning.

The ducks are indeed being prepared, even if they are not being put in order yet.