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Exercise Internal Look

Internal Look is a major planning wargame exercise of US Central Command. Up to 1990 often held annually, it is now biennial. From 1983 to 1990, it was often focused on a rapid deployment of U.S. forces to the Zagros Mountains in Iran, where they would have attempted to stop an expected Soviet invasion by the Soviet Southern Strategic Direction. The Southern Strategic Direction, headquartered in Baku, would have consisted of the Transcaucasus Military District, North Caucasus Military District, Turkestan Military District and follow-on forces.


It proved to be prophetic during July 1990, when held just prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's army. As noted above, US Central Command's wartime mission as envisaged during cold war days was to stop the Soviets from seizing the precious Iranian oil fields. When General Norman Schwarzkopf took over the reins of Central Command he decided to review this mission.[1] In his perceived opinion the threat was no longer from the Soviet Armed Forces, but from Saddam's Iraqi Army. Accordingly, he tasked his operational staff to play up a fresh scenario wherein Iraq would attack Saudi Arabia.

The exercise was conducted with the setting up of a mock headquarters at Hurlburt Field, and Duke Field in Florida, sponsored by the Joint Warfare Center (JWC) computer wargaming simulation agency. The scenario envisioned a force of 300,000 soldiers, 3,200 tanks and 640 combat planes being amassed in south Iraq prior to attacking the Arabian peninsula. Central Command's operational role required them to prevent seizure of Saudi oil fields, shipping ports and refineries.

The lessons learned during this war game proved invaluable for the Coalition forces during their initial buildup for Desert Shield especially with regards to the logistic management of the forces. Many planners[who?] would just turn around and say "hey we just did this on Internal Look, right". General Schwarzkopf's astute foresight and in-depth understanding of the Arab politics coupled with a desire to have Central Command ready for any contingency scenario was the cornerstone of the success that was to follow in the days of Desert Storm. later reported that Internal Look 96 commenced March 20, 1996, at Camp Blanding, an Army National Guard facility near the town of Starke in northeast Florida.[2] It was CENTCOM's largest domestic training exercise. The eight-day exercise involved approximately 4,000 active duty and reserve soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and civilians from the Department of Defense and other supporting agencies.

Previously last held in 1990, Internal Look was scheduled at the time to become a biennial event. However, Internal Look 98 was cancelled due to 'real-world events' (probably the chain of events that led to Operation Desert Fox).

From 7–17 November 2000, CENTCOM executed Internal Look 01, by establishing a Contingency Forward Headquarters and simulating the execution of one of the principal plans. The exercise trialled a number of military messaging systems for SIPRNET and NIPRNET.


Internal Look '03, actually held in late 2002, enabled General Tommy Franks and his staff to practice what became Operation Iraqi Freedom.


In 2012, Internal Look was used to simulate the consequences of an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, finding that this would lead to a regional conflict into which American forces could be dragged, and sustain substantial losses.[3]

The New York Times said Internal Look "forecast[ed] that the strike would lead to a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States and leave hundreds of Americans dead, according to American officials."

The exercise "played out a narrative in which the United States found it was pulled into the conflict after Iranian missiles struck a Navy warship in the Persian Gulf, killing about 200 Americans, according to officials with knowledge of the exercise. The United States then retaliated by carrying out its own strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. The initial Israeli attack was assessed to have set back the Iranian nuclear program by roughly a year, and the subsequent American strikes did not slow the Iranian nuclear program by more than an additional two years. However, other Pentagon planners have said that America’s arsenal of long-range bombers, refueling aircraft and precision missiles could do far more damage to the Iranian nuclear program — if President Obama were to decide on a full-scale retaliation." (New York Times)


  1. ^ It Doesn't Take a Hero : The Autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. Bantam Books. pp. 640 pp.  ISBN 978-0-553-56338-2
  2. ^ "Internal Look". Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  3. ^ Mark Mazzetti and Thom Shanker (March 19, 2012). "Pentagon Finds Perils for U.S. if Israel Were to Strike Iran". The New York Times.