Iran’s Symmetric Weakness

The impetus for my latest foray into Command was a timeline on alternatehistory.com that didn’t live to its potential. Dealing with an expansion of the Iraq War into Iran, it was a badly written jumble. The author admitted not knowing much about the military, and it showed in that a lot of it was simply copy-pasted. The focus was on the politics-except a lot of that was copy-pasted too.

I wanted to do better.

First, the author involved a ground invasion. No one, at least after the Iraq War intensified, supported one. The US military, already strained to the limit, would have to secure a much larger, much more populous country (in the TL they only secure a small area as of now), and doing so would play to the regime’s strengths-allowing its deliberately planned unconventional defense to work, and in all likelihood unifying the people against an invasion.

Air and naval strikes, on the other hand, play to the strengths of Iran’s opponents. Far superior technology-the Iranians, if more skilled and certainly more willing to fight on, have technology roughly equivalent to the Iraqi airforce that the American-led coalition bulldozed in 1991, while said coalition’s forces have some advances, most notably AMRAAMs. So I’ve put my foot in the water with a few Command experiments-not integrated scenarios.

How badly is the Iranian Air Force outclassed by its potential opponents? To put it mildly-very.

 An Iranian F-4 Phantom. Generations behind its opponents, it scored hits on attacking fighters in only a few cases.

The circumstance involves a combat air patrol of F-15Cs near Bushehr. Red Flag veterans and trained exclusively for aerial battle, their proficiency is set to Veteran. Taking off from Kuwait, they fly, are picked up by a radar, and are moved to be intercepted by a flight of ten Iranian fighters-a mix of F-4s and F-5s. The proficiency has been set to “Cadet”, as the lran-Iraq veterans have retired, and the replacements face a constrained, limited environment.

If the pilots are suboptimal, the mission pattern is not-a pop-up “tethered intercept” that means they don’t just fly up high and get smashed by an AMRAAM immediately. I set up the missions and hit play. F-15s, 10. F-4s, zero. F-15s 10, F-4s zero. F-15s Dix, F-4s Zéro.

Then I look closely at the logs, to see the endgame calcs. This is just as important, because having an endgame calc happen at all means that there’s a chance for damage in a way that isn’t there when fighters are shot down before they can engage. I got only a handful of endgame calcs, and in many cases, it didn’t even reach the dodge stage-the ECM and decoys frequently bested the ancient seekers.

But the calcs also showed that the tethered intercepts were “working”. This was not just an AMRAAM-push-button kill. There were close scraps that required the use of AIM-9Xs (another advantage over the Gulf War-vintage fighters) and even a gun burst now and again. The combination of technology and skill was just too strong.

To even the scales in one case, I added an I-HAWK site. The furball ensued again. This time, when the dust settled, one F-15 had been downed. Looking at the log, I found it was-the ground defenses that did the trick.

Then I did another ‘rigged’ test, fighters only. This time the F-15s were set to novice, the justification being that after years of unconventional war, their skills had decayed. Logs showed one shot down, one additional close call, and-ten Phantoms and Tigers down. Again.

In the timeline thread, my stated aircraft losses to all kinds of enemy action were 10-20 American planes. This was a guesstimate based off of two posted losses for a scenario featuring a huge strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities (seven and eight aircraft). The authors of a book theorizing on war with Iran got ten in the initial, highest-intensity phases as well, albeit by abstracting. They took Gulf War loss rates and applied them to the theorized numbers of sorties without going into detail.

While the Bushehr engagement favored the F-15s by giving them easy reach (no coordination to hit a target deep in Iran and possibly get too far from the strike craft, just fly immediately), it still showed the weakness of the IRIAF when such clashes did result. My remaining guestimate is that only a small number of the losses would be due to fighters.
This is not to say that the IRIAF will be totally worthless beyond inflicting a few victories. Their mere ability to resist at all will force more combat air patrols and diversions, and keep crucial but vulnerable support aircraft at a distance. But the disparity is there and growing, and the immense focus on asymmetric tactics means the Iranians know it.

Staying Creative in This Season

This is always a hard season for me to stay creative in. I don’t know if I have a formal seasonal affect disorder or not, but the earlier night, the dry air, and everything else in it makes me more metaphorically huddled. All my existing blocks and issues seem to be greatly magnified-as I struggled to write even this post.

But I hope to overcome it and stay creative, stay very focused. After all, I still want to write so much.

Reformers and the CAS Conspiracy Theory

I don’t like believing in conspiracy theories. But the “Pentagon Reformer” obsession with close air support at the expense of everything else is drawing my attention. The theory goes like this.

Starting in the late 1970s, there was a small group that came to be known as the “Defense Reform Movement”, which I wrote about at length here. The Reformers, already having lost most of their procurement battles by the time of the Gulf War, were totally crushed by the decidely not poor performance of the US military in that conflict.

This was in large part because of poor decisions on their part. In the past post, I mentioned that the popular image of high-tech weapons working put the Reformers on the opposite side of what they’d been used to.  There were two others that hurt them. The first was that the reformers at this part largely ignored the politics of intervention in favor of focusing on an artificial technothriller war freed from restrictions. The second was that they had, from the start, a “chicken little crying wolf” attitude towards the military. Nothing it could do (except make A-10s) was right.

In 1991, the US got as close to that artificial war as it was going to get, with well-known results. While the Iraqis were a hapless enemy, and while much performance was exaggerated, there was still much the American-led coalition did to earn the victory. Most importantly, the claim that the new equipment was too ‘complex’ to go into a combat environment without breaking down was disproven.

In this environment, the Reformers stumbled. Pierre Sprey just kept yapping about how electronic junk was weighing down the aircraft and how the ideal air force was souped-up radarless F-5s and tiny radarless jet sturmoviks with nothing but 30 mm cannon. More just promoted the A-10 and just flailed around for criticism of everything else. One, William Lind, actually turned the trend towards unconventional war towards his benefit, aided by his er-interesting cultural views, but that’s another story.

But whether past or present, the Reformers have always, always screamed for CAS. Sprey talks of interdiction and strategic attack as totally useless, and talks only of close support, as shown in his rather misleading and biased ‘history’. (Yes, the battlefield-centric Luftwaffe was dominated by big bomber barons just because they built planes other than the underpowered, short-range Stuka.)

The neo-Reformer dominated War is Boring tells a similar tale, citing Sprey. I could go on and on-jets were in a very difficult position in that time period as performance improved so quickly that planes built as first-rate air superiority fighters soon became slow ground attack hand-me-downs, that those jets were nonetheless better for attacking defended targets (their speed made them harder to track and hit), that of course the Army wanted ground support planes and doctrine tailored to its view, and that it’s been sixty-five years since Korea and fifty since Vietnam.

I could also point out that in the Gulf War, air force commander Charles Horner essentially agreed with the Refomers and followed the actual plan reluctantly. Horner had the not-unreasonable concern of the Iraqis attacking into Saudi Arabia while the Coalition buildup was still in its weak, early phase.  Thus, far from being a swashbuckling, deep-strike, blow-up-every-palace fetishist, he actually wanted an army-centric approach focused to holding this hypothetical attack off as much as possible.

But enough of that. Now I want to talk about the CAS Conspiracy. The conspiracy goes like this-the Pentagon Reformer focus on CAS is part of a deliberate “chain the beast” strategy. By taking away the tools of ‘easy’ military intervention-the long-range strike aircraft, the cruise missile, etc.., they can thus further the cause of noninterventionism by tying the hands of the policymakers.

Note that in political terms, I’d actually agree with most of their non-interventionist viewpoints. But the strategy is still a puzzling question. On one hand:

-Effectively all Reformers were/are politically opposed to every military action fought by the United States since the movement’s introduction. They were quiet about it for political reasons (especially in the 1980s, not wanting to appear like reflexive McGovernists).

-Thus the ‘chain the beast’ strategy makes sense given this context-shrink the capabilities of the USAF to prevent and hinder ‘limited’ interventions, while insisting you’re interested in keeping them strong for the unlikely-to-impossible ‘big war’ to avoid a backlash.

On the other:

-This implies much more coherence than it appeared they had. The Reform Movement was a loose, vague group based largely around opposition. Even if they had wanted something like this, there’d be doubts about having the skill to do so.

-Correlation is not causation. Pierre Sprey’s obsession with numbers above all else could be driving the push for thousands of cheap aircraft more than any deliberate strategy.

-The very incoherence would prevent such a strategy from being formulated. Some may have preferred it, some may have just been narrow in their views.
What do I think? I’m going with Other-3, that such a theory might have been considered by many, but that the movement was too disorganized to adopt such a concrete goal by itself. Sometimes my thoughts on it change, but it just seems the most right.

Gate First Cour Review

So, the first block of the Gate anime I previously talked about is done. Forget the implausibility of it-how is it from an artistic perspective?

Even given the low standards (I’m not expecting anything beyond a shamelessly nationalist adventure story), it’s-mediocre at best. The biggest problem by far is the very frequent changes in tone. Multiple times within the same episode, the story goes from gory gruesome dark war to silly anime antics to its politics and back again. The latest episode, for instance, starts with dozens being burned to death by a dragon, follows one of the surviving elves as she melodramatically searches for the JSDF to help, has the princess who loves sleazy comics receiving a batch of ‘art books’, and has the JSDF soldiers complaining about how they can’t move to where the dragon is because it’ll just “give the opposition party ammunition”.

If this was done well, I might have been more tolerant of it, but for the most part, it isn’t.

The politics were also annoying. I actually don’t mean the politics on the other side of the gate (Reading Baen and similar books has mithridatized me towards far-right politics), but rather the laughable attempt at dramatizing it from the Empire’s view. My reaction, which has held up, was-“Why is there even a faction that still thinks they can win at all when they’ve just been on the receiving end of something that makes the Gulf War look like Borodino in comparison?”

There are a few mitigating factors beyond just the setting. The animation isn’t bad at all, and since it’s been adapted from something (adapted from a manga which was adapted from a novel), almost everything was in the original source material (which doesn’t excuse the problems, but explains them as not being entirely the anime producer’s fault).

Recommendation:

Watch a bit for the novelty, and see if you like it more than I did.

The Second Best is What Gets You

There’s been a longstanding maxim that it’s not the best weapon that inflicts the most damage, it’s the second-best. The reason is that so much effort is used to mitigate the best weapon that it drives the target into the arms of the second-best.

Hence the SA-2’s small number of direct kills in Vietnam may make it seem poor-until one sees both the huge losses to AAA caused by planes flying low to avoid it, and the huge and complicated countermeasures (ARMs, coordinating Weasels) that it necessitated.

I learned the second-best issue the hard way in a Command playthrough. The scenario was called “Meteors Over Korea”, and it featured the titular planes in the Australian Air Force hitting North Korean targets. The Communist forces had at their disposal:

-MiG-15s operating out of China.

-AAA in significant quantities.

-Propeller fighters on a nearby local airfield.

The AAA I couldn’t do anything about. The fighters I could. To avoid the MiG-15s, I would check the mission editor to “Only go once”, and use escorts rather than separate patrols-as speed was of the essence. Go in, hit, go out.

So they went in, hit, faced a wall of flak and furballs with the propeller planes, took some losses, and got out. Four Meteors had fallen, and the damage was limited compared to what it could have been, but the MiG-15s never got close enough to engage. So I checked the log. Despite its intensity, the AAA didn’t hit anything-but the little propeller planes did.

Why? Because I didn’t use a sweep patrol. Even with bad dice rolls, that would have limited casualties among the more important strike planes (the romance of the fighter pilot obscures the fact that if the enemy shoots down them instead of the bomber, they’ve “won” by losing). Why didn’t I use a sweep patrol? Because it would have given the MiGs time to get there.
Despite not scoring any victories or even firing a shot themselves, the MiG-15s accomplished their purpose of limiting the damage, by forcing me to do the desperate-quick maneuver at all. That they gave the propeller fighters one last chance to shine was just a bonus.

Hindsight is 20/20-The JSF Bargain

Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. In light of recent struggles with military projects, I decided to write this hypothetical op-ed. One of my chief inspirations was a forum post where people were talking about the cancelled Space Shuttle as this hideous missed opportunity-why, it was a reusable craft that could pay for itself with commercial launches! The fun was that while we know now that the “self-funding” goal was too ambitious, someone who never had to experience it wouldn’t.

Now for what never was:

OP-ED: The missed opportunity.

The US Navy’s carrier decks have never been more diverse. A state-of-the-art carrier wing houses an air superiority squadron of Lockheed F-24 Hellcats, a squadron of A-6F Intruder IIs, and two squadrons of F-14 Super Tomcats-themselves divided into the 21st Centruy F-14E “Tomcat 21” and the mildly upgraded F-14Q “Quickstrike”. In practice, most carriers house “leftover” F/A-18 Hornets and F-14 “legacy” Tomcats, adding to the logistical backlog.

On land, the F-23 Kite now enters service as the US Air Force’s mainline air superiority fighter, despite having less powerful missiles and radar than the Navy’s F-24. The US operates four different air superiority fighters, four ‘multirole’ jacks of all trades, two specialized close-support aircraft, and two specialized “deep-strike” aircraft.

To find out this situation is not difficult. One need only look at the post-Cold War overcapacity in military aviation, and the desire of the military-industrial-complex to avoid any downsizing. Sen. Shaun Winters and Rep. Bill Morgan, the chairmen of the Appropriations and Armed Services Committee, both hail from New York-and both are very, very, good to Long Island-centered Northrop Grumman.

The A-6F was the most egregious example of the triumph of pork over common sense. Not only was it a simple update of an old, subsonic plane designed in the 1950s, but in terms of role, it clashes with its own successors. The Super Tomcat offers very similar performance and range in an agile, supersonic fighter body, and it is even made by the same company in almost the same location.

Grumman themselves were cool to the A-6F, feeling it could jeopardize the Super Tomcat and feeling the burden of producing still more aircraft. The real support came from the subcontractors and parts suppliers-all healthy donors to Winters’ and Morgan’s campaigns, and spread farther than just Queens and Nassau.

Thankfully, A-6F production stopped. But the looming gap in fighter quantity is fast approaching. Nothing is in sight to replace the thousands of aging F-16s-except maybe the Super Tomcat. Carrier crews will have to juggle parts for five types of airplane, and the taxpayers will be denied a true ‘peace dividend’.

And that is without the effects this aero-naval spending spree has had on the rest of the military. The Army’s much-ballyhooed “LI-21” plans for more of a focus on light infantry exist in large part because the buildup has hacked away at its budgets.

There was one spot of hope. The Defense Department initiated a “Joint Strike Fighter” program. This would provide inter-service commonality of parts, and, with twenty-first century computer design, make true multirole stealth planes that could serve equally well on carriers, VTOL amphibious ships, and conventional airbases. Both the capability and savings would have been immense compared to the current hodgepodge of souped-up Vietnam designs and one-trick ponies foisted on the actual military.
Naturally, Winters wasted little time in attacking the JSF program, and succeeded in killing it.

Languages

I have an interest in conlangs that isn’t matched by my knowledge of linguistics. This, combined with me wanting desperately to avoid the “Garbled English with tons of apostrophes” cliches, has made my actual output slim.

The only non-English languages I have real experience with are small quantities of French and both Mandarin and Cantonese variants of Chinese. Yes, those two rare, unstudied Chinese and Romance languages. (I also have some indirect contact with Hungarian)

So all I have is concepts, that I’d need a lot more experience actually processing to get right (well enough to say this has a weird word order, but would need more to get the word order consistently right. About the only non-English grammar I ‘get’ is grammatical gender.

_ _ _ _ _ __

So, my most-developed concept:

Iflinikh-

-Mentioned as being extremely unlike English.

-OVS word order (meaning it sounds ‘backwards’ to English, which is SVO)

-Very few vowels and a ton of consonants, with the inspiration being the now-gone and extreme Ubykh.

-I was originally going to pile on the genders, noun cases, and everything irregular and non-English, but have considered instead having it be an agglutinative language with many affixes like Hungarian.

-Can technically be written in the Latin alphabet but is hard due its ton of consonants, with the native writing system being an abugida.

Now there’s names, which I’ve found are frequently neglected in existing conlangs. When using an existing conlang, I often have to get objects that could be used as names and shove them together. This is unsatisfactory a lot of the time. A lot of names (especially English names) are ‘weird’ in their origins, so I can understand, but it still can be tough..

How I make Command Scenarios

What’s my secret for making a lot of Command scenarios?

-A focus on making small scenarios, driven by a mix of computer limitations and personal focus.

-Adopting a “better is the enemy of good enough” attitude and thus being less willing to constantly tweak a scenario before its release. I’d rather have something I’m 80% satisfied with than 0%

-So far, not attempting to push the limits-no Fei Lian with its complicated scripting or a huge scenario with hundreds of units and dozens of missions (yet).

-Basing most of the scenarios around forces with limited resources. I find minor clashes to be more interesting (most of the time) than the 3045600th fight in the GIUK Gap. Even when the latter is good to play, I find the smaller ones a lot more fun to make.

-However, I’m beginning to feel like I want to push the limits more. Paradoxically, having less Command time is making me want to go into more detail. Small matches lasting a few in-game hours are good, but I’ve made so many I want to see how far I go with one lasting multiple days.

-A few of my scenarios are based on documents. A piece on the early Red Flags was enough to inspire me to make a 1970s Red Flag scenario-similar with a piece on Soviet submarine operations in the Atlantic.
-Thus, I’m making (or hope to make) a scenario lasting several days, involving Lua to change operational tempo throughout those days, based on a Parameters article advocating a rather-unconventional- doctrine.

Spacebattles Creative Writing Trends

Spacebattles has had several huge fanfiction trends, most of which I’ve naturally missed.

-Star Trek/Wars/B5/BSG/Stargate fics. Waay back in the day. I entered just as those were fading. Mostly before my time, and Creative Writing was a relatively small, out of the way forum.

-Familiar of Zero. Already mentioned. Gained popularity because of its enormously crossover-friendly setup. Has since largely petered out.

-Self-inserts. Not an exact genre so much as a style of writing. Goes against everything a writer is supposed to do, but as a combination of wish-fulfillment and way to write in an established setting, it worked.

-Worm. This was a bit of a surprise. A long, obscure web-fiction about a superheroine, Worm’s fandom is concentrated on SB-but is very concentrated. Having read only a little, Worm’s draw of both “taking advantage of” superpowers and its surprisingly crossover-friendly nature (fanfic writers love to give the main character different powers) have earned it a huge following on the board.

-Time-loops. Lowest-common denominator goofball-fic. Basically, think Groundhog Day-styled stories. Add in characters of all the settings one could want. Huge needlessly complicated backstory and set of nominal rules. Ability to avoid such matters as plot, character development, or pacing by just rushing ahead to the goofy. (You get the feeling about my opinion on these).

As of the time of this writing on the Creative Writing front page:

Worm, Worm, Star Wars, Worm, Self-Insert, Worm, Loop, Loop, Mass Effect, Worm Self-Insert, Worm, My Little Pony, Worm, BSG, Self-Insert, Self-Insert, Worm, Self-Insert, Loop, Loop, Self-Insert, Loop, Loop, Pokemon, Stargate, goofy meme, Lord of the Rings, Self-Insert, Worm.