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.

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