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.