Unleashing the Circle Trigon

So, it’s very weird how when dealing with the early “Circle Trigon” phase of US military OPFORs (a history of their progression I recorded in another post at Baloogan Campaign), my usual approach to exercise scenarios has been turned on its head. I played a largely futile attack by USMC aircraft on a battleship/cruiser pair in Command, and it was really fun.

However, instead of an American battleship and cruiser, I represented the Trigonist warships with a French battleship and Spanish cruiser. This was “in-character” for the Aggressor backstory, which featured them carved out of Bavaria, Italy, Spain, and France. The Aggressor Navy being vaguely defined gives me a lot of creative freedom (it’s neither a direct copy of an American unit or obvious Soviet stand-in). I think my approach involves…

  • For later OPFORs, using “Actor” aggressor units adds variety, as a break from the waves of units. But for this earlier environment, obscure French/Spanish/Italian units “in-character” get their chance to shine. The Circle Trigon backstory is so goofy I feel compelled to run with it.
  • The proficiency setting is not always “Ace”. Weird how, even as I focus on the ‘characters’, I shift to the ‘actors’ proficiency. These are ad-hoc units trained in Aggressor tactics and speaking Esperanto, not the full-time OPFOR that became a beast at Nellis and the NTC. But who knows, I could make them aces if I wanted to 😀
  • Just wanting to have fun.

And I certainly did. I really should make a full Aggressor scen that treats everything seriously.




Unconventional Army Formations

I’ve been looking at two unconventional military formations. The High-Tech Light Division proposals of the 1980s (brought to life in the form of the 9th Infantry Division), and the various plans to mechanize the US’s airborne infantry.

This led to me reading the book “AIR-MECH-STRIKE” by the infamous Mike Sparks.

The failure is when they stop talking about mechanizing airborne forces (which does have a lot of precedent behind it) and start talking about “AIR MECH STRIKING” the entire military, ripping apart heavy armored units in favor of their zippy-airborne operations, and yanking the helicopters away from existing divisions. Aviation assets would be concentrated at high levels similar to Cold War Soviet practice of focusing on the operational level.

Out of fairness, they do keep M1 and M2 AFVs in the proposal. Which begs the question of how often the AIR MECH units would go deep in practice. That is a question the authors shy away from. The three hypothetical scenarios given in the book are an attack against a ragtag force threatening Afghanistan with a handful of T-55s, a North Korea scenario which is tailor-made for the AIR MECH forces to jump in and save the day, and a Kosovo scenario that is laughable in its overoptimism (easy and over in ten days, against an enemy that showed that they weren’t to be underestimated).

Most of the book talks about organization and the exact gizmos employed, with little space devoted to how they’d be used. As a contemporary critique in Armor Magazine by LTC Steve Eden (page 48) noted, the buried secret to the AIR-MECH unit’s success is precision indirect weapons-which, if working as well as claimed, would turn any unit, regardless of organization, into a juggernaut.

Then there’s the secret weapon-the M113 GAVIN. (Yes, this is where the meme got started). Now, in the book’s context, it’s a lot more forgivable, since the term Gavin is only used to refer to a heavily modified M113 that I’m still skeptical could be airdroppable and have the equipment upgrades they want at the same time. Sparks later retconned it into being a name for the APC overall.

I just have the gut feeling that the AIR-MECH units would, the majority of the time, fight as conventional mechanized infantry in vehicles scrunched-up to fit a requirement that they would rarely execute. Either that or be deployed in an overambitious 21st century Market Garden.

_ _ _ _ _ _

The HTLD is more interesting. There’s a plan for an “assault gun” (either the Stingray or AGS could work), buggies, and zipping Humvees containing the line infantry. While it’s still a little dubious in terms of facing a combined arms force, the Cold War background makes it more tolerable. After all, it was raised along with the heavy divisions and didn’t pretend to be a substitute for them. (That the requirement was for air-transportability rather than droppability helped a little).

What doomed it was interservice politics-to be truly effective, it needed new specialized equipment, but that came at a time when the Army wanted every M1A1 it could get. So it limped along with stopgaps such as TOW-Humvees and conventional M60 tanks until being disbanded post-1991.

I do like to imagine a “semi-objective” HTLD, with the in-production Stingray and commerical buggies being used. While I don’t think the HTLD was still a good idea, it’s at least an interesting one.

Arrows And Torpedoes

Now, only recently have I looked more in-depth at the legendary Preston Tucker and his failed attempts at building cars.

The SEC charges were rather weak and there is no evidence to indicate that Tucker was an outright scammer, but even many of his defenders state that he was unaware of what going into the brutal auto industry actually meant. Kaiser-Frazer and Crosley, started by far more successful businessmen with more resources, still failed.

(The car itself did have many innovative and unique features, but even some of those were pared back in development. Never facing the stress test of sustained use marketing gives the vehicle an unnaturally rosy picture).

The Tucker cars remind me of another lost vehicle that attracts a disproportionate amount of nostalgia. This vehicle is the Avro Arrow. The Arrow was at best a limited F-4 or Western equivalent of the Su-15. Its main reason for being dropped dramatically after the Soviets shifted to missiles.

What makes the Tucker and Arrow stand out is the belief among far too many devotees that their success would have been game-changing. With the Arrow, Canada would be cranking out hordes of fighter jets. With Tucker, Detroit would have been nimbly pushed into shape, so that when the imports started arriving, they’d have far less of an opening.

I find both of these claims highly dubious.

Air Force Coups

So, one of my endeavors in Command has been to make a scenario where the player controls the plotters of a coup attempt. At first, the main stumbling block was what country to set it in, and at what time. I figured that out.

The problem is that fixed-wing aircraft are inherently the worst tools to use for a coup. Coups are about seizing, even more so than conventional battles. Because of this, there have been only a handful of historical coup attempts that relied largely on aircraft and all of them failed.

The paradox is this-if the circumstances make the coup likely to succeed, the fighter aircraft are superfluous. If the circumstances make it likely to fail, they’re irrelevant no matter what their performance.

I do have an idea of how to model their niche, so that’s not an issue with making the scenario.

Just an observation that shows why an unorthodox situation is unorthodox.

Alternate History and Economic Reality

Few industries are as ruthlessly grinding as mainstream automobile manufacturing. This makes alternate histories where the “independent” American auto companies stay in business extra-challenging.

Historically, most of the independents were wiped out by the Great Depression. After an artificial postwar spike thanks to demand after a lack of car production in the war, the survivors were forced to consolidate in the early 1950s after a production race between Ford and Chevrolet glutted the market.

Studebaker-Packard was out of the auto business in a decade. Nash and Hudson “merged” into American Motors (in reality Nash essentially kept Hudson’s dealers and obliterated everything else), and were only saved by investing in an inherently counter-cyclical compact just in time for the 1958 recession.

This could only happen once. Domestic compacts and imports moved in to hit AMC’s niche, and they were forced to play an innovation game with few resources for the remainder of their existence.

And that was the successful one. Kaiser Frazer fizzled out simply because it didn’t have enough money.

All this happened before the 1973 gas crisis, and before the bulk of emissions and fuel economy regulations came into effect. Tough business, the auto industry. This, combined with the inability of GM itself, much less a smaller competitor, to sustain a giant multi-brand lineup without large quantities of badge engineering, makes me skeptical of timelines where the independents stay active.

An exercise in excessive force

So, when repeatedly flipping through the Command scenario generator, I discovered the “South American Tuna Wars”. Reading more about it, my interest was raised.

(Long story short-Peru and Ecuador were seizing American tuna boats for unauthorized fishing in what was to become their Exclusive Economic Zones. In real life, the issue never progressed beyond small, often lifted sanctions before the US accepted the EEZ concept in the 1980s ).

It wasn’t making a scenario based on it (which would probably be either a nonviolent enforcement exercise in all plausibility) that held the most appeal to me. No, it was thinking of the concept for a deployment based on the notion that the two nations were preparing to sucker punch the Yanqui ships at any minute, and thus they needed a massive guardian force to counter that.

For basic screening, a few light warships, with endurance and then speed being the chief factors, would have done the trick. However, given their opposition in the early 1960s time frame, the following assesment was done by me.

  • Peru possessed a pair of cruisers. Therefore, a similar, if not bigger ship was necessary to counter them on the American side. For one editor experiment, I used a hypothetical surviving Alaska class, and for another, a conventional 8-inch CA.
  • Peru also possesses submarines, requiring ASW forces to have a surer counter. In an extreme case, American submarines themselves could be deployed.
  • Both countries have air forces, and therefore some defense beyond just increasingly ineffective AAA is necessary. A SAM warship, still fledgling even at this point, is a possibility.
  • Of course, there’s one ship that can do both ASW and air screening. Yep, they’re going to send in a carrier. Along with its immediate escorts, since what if they launched an attack on it?
  • And of course, the logistics vessels to support this armada.

And all for some tuna fish. This is a goofy exercise, but this take no chances and do nothing by halves attitude is a real one in real crises, and illustrates the reason for lopsided expenditures and deployments.


Missile Outliers

I’ve looked at missile outliers in Command and real life.

From what I’ve read, just one AMRAAM has been successfully dodged from an optimal firing position. Looking up more of the “Kosovo Slammer Dodger”, and reading about the engagement in detail gave me a fuller appreciation.

The context is like this: Capt. Mike Shower fired an AMRAAM (which missed), launched a second missile, stated by some sources to be an older and less capable AIM-7[1]. Whatever it was, the context was that of a shot to keep the enemy on the defensive. This worked, and the third and final shot (of an AMRAAM) hit home.

The other AMRAAM misses involved either “insurance shots” where more were fired than turned out to be necessary or shots at extremely long range (where the lack of maneuverability is obvious no matter what the missile).

One thing that makes AMRAAM PK even blurrier is that the sample size is so small that a single incident could make its on-paper hit percentage much higher or lower. You don’t fire missiles to look good on the stats sheet, you fire them to destroy the target. This context has also given me more appreciation for the F-35’s seemingly small missile capability-if its LO features and sensors give it the ability to better set up an optimal shot, then the PK noticeably improves.


[1]Mixed loadouts were indeed carried during Allied Force, as shown in this picture taken during the operation.

Of course, my “favorite” outliers are missiles against low-capability targets. These include Sea Darts against a 707-turned recon plane in the Falklands and AIM-7s against an Iranian C-130 in the Tanker War. These have the mitigating factor of extreme range, but still show that you can’t spell “missile” without “miss”.

So, with real outliers out of the way, I’m trying to remember my Command unlucky/lucky missile rolls.

One I still vividly remember is missing with three out of four MK48 ADCAP torpedoes against a North Korean minisub that never saw anything (BuOrd strikes again!). Another more recent one is a novice proficiency Catalina taking seven (albeit early) SAMs to bring down, while in the same engagement, the identical Sea Slugs one-shotted several proper combat aircraft.

Finally, although not containing an unusual roll, an embarrassing incident (well, embarrassing to the Raptor crews at least) happened in a scen where F-22s were present, but the one air-to-air victory was scored by an A-10.

Weird stuff happens.

Playing As a Stealth Aircraft

Now, there’s something about playing as an F-117 or B-2 in Command that is the exact opposite of pop culture stealth. The feeling isn’t a crazed “Ha! You can’t get me”. Rather, it’s a feeling of worry, that I’d be getting just a little too close to the radar, meaning it finally can get me…

F-22s don’t quite share this feeling, as they’re agile in addition to being stealthy. Note that I said “quite”-being the aircraft that takes on the toughest target is always nerve-wracking.

Given that I’ve seen accounts from the Gulf War from F-117 crews who were half-expecting stealth not to work at all, I think my feeling of dread is somewhat accurate.

The Saga of the Escort Cruiser

This all started off with me seeing a database entry in Command, and ended with me understanding a fascinating process of evolution in naval history. The British “Escort Cruiser”, beginning as a supplement to its large carriers, ended up replacing them.

(The most invaluable sources on these never-were ships were DK Brown’s Rebuilding the Royal Navy and Norman Friedmans British Cruisers, Two World Wars and After)

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the escort cruiser concept was conceived of as a way to increase the ASW power of a carrier task force, leave space on the deck for strike aircraft by putting the helicopters on a separate ship, serve as a potential independent force for the RN’s defensive ASW mission (extra-crucially after the large carriers were cancelled), and in desperation, be a staging ship for helicopter landings. Thus they were to be helicopter carriers with a SAM armament.

Early designs were called cruisers but had the size and would-be construction standards of a large destroyer.

(early escort cruiser, source shiplover on ShipBucket )

Later they grew bigger, to become “proper” cruisers.

(late escort cruiser, source shiplover on ShipBucket )

This design was not unprecedented. Similar ships with a similar role can be found in the Italian helicopter cruisers and the Soviet Moskva .

Due to the “issues” in the postwar British economy and military system, the escort cruisers were never built. The story might have ended there, except the still-larger proposals turned into the  actually-built Invincible-class .

HMS Invincible turned into an impromptu American-style power projecting carrier for the Falklands, and the rest is history. Now to describe my own experience

When I first saw the escort cruisers in the Command Cold War Database, it was an early build, the game didn’t have the marked “Hypothetical Unit” symbol it now does, and so all I was looking at was a cruiser I couldn’t find a name for, with a strange missile-only armament and helicopter deck. (At the time I didn’t even know the Italian or Soviet counterpart).

While looking around on ShipBucket and Alternatehistory.com, I found the escort cruisers with the hull numbers the DB entries matched. Then I, interested, looked up their history (and saw some discrepancies with their in-game portrayals that I noted in the CWDB thread, backed up with sources as is proper procedure).

It’s extremely fascinating to look at such a clear evolutionary process, from drawing to drawing to actual ship.

Desert Shield Simulations

Last year, I did a three part series of posts on Baloogan Campaign detailing a big what-if that many alternate history scholars have speculated-if Iraq had been more proactive in the 1991 Gulf War, how damaging would it have been to the US-led coalition?

Now I’ve decided to link back to them, seeing another “WI greater Iraq competence” thread on alternatehistory.com (where I cited the simulation posts).

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3/Conclusion