The UN Legion and its opponent

One serious proposal for a standing “UN Legion” got me thinking. How would it compare to its most likely [conventional] opponent? The UN Legion (highly unlikely to be deployed in its entirety) would compare on the high-end to a Light OPFOR (conceived around the same time) mechanized force.

In short:

  • The two have a comparable mix of equipment, however the Legion’s equipment is likely to be newer but lighter (their heaviest vehicles are MGS/ERC-style wheeled ‘tank destroyers’). The Legion’s IFVs are considerably better, being newer wheeled ones, while the Light OPFOR division will be lucky to get older BMPs.
  • The biggest divergence is in heavy weapons. The Light OPFOR division has no organic aviation while the Legion has a sizable helicopter force. However, the entire Legion has only 18 towed artillery pieces, while a single mechanized brigade has that many self-propelled ones.



The Forward Detachment Protagonist

The “Forward Detachment” seems effective as both a tactical formation and a storytelling one. The Soviets (understandably) formalized it to a greater extent, but the basic concept has been used in any army with a fast-moving component. In oversimplified terms, it’s a task force (often a reinforced battalion) used for racing ahead of the main body and seizing/destroying something to aid its advance.

And I think a unit like it is an ideal place to put a protagonist (or antagonist, if the goal is to stop the forward detachment). At least in theory, it solves a lot of issues. It’s small enough that the component characters can be developed without fading in, but is big enough to have a large conventional battle. It can be dramatic and have a clear MacGuffin/goal without sacrificing too much in terms of plausibility.


Command-ing a Slapfight

One of the appeals of Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations is that it gives players a chance to use military platforms to their full potential. It can be a carrier group launching a super-strike. It can be a unit of heavy bombers fighting equally advanced SAMs.

Or, in the case of my latest scenario editor experiment, it can be a more realistic battle of what Saltybet would call “P-Tier” units. I took the MiG-21bis and Mirage V, eastern and western aircraft both armed with just rear-aspect AAMs, set both sides to “novice” proficiency, set up spotting radars, and let them have at it, with ten on each side in a staggered patrol.

The result, when the survivors ran out of fuel/ammo and returned home, was:

  • Seven lost MiGs and four lost Mirages, albeit with a good number of endgame calcs that could have swung things the other way with better/worse rolls.
  • A LOT of flopping around and being unable to fire, and some missiles overshooting once the target turned. However, the low proficiency was such that when a good solution was obtained, it usually meant that the target aircraft was shot down.

Politicized Armies

Kenneth Pollack’s Armies of Sand, and its thesis predecessor, “The Influence of Arab Culture on Arab Military Effectiveness”, is fascinating not just for its core claim, but also in how, culture aside, politicization and underdevelopment worked in theory and practice.

Pollack listed three main types of excessive politicization for militaries.

  • “Praetorianism”, where the military is more interested in politics and/or gaining power than preparing for serious combat.
  • “Commissarism” or ‘coup-proofing’, where the military is subject to measures designed to neutralize it as a political threat.
  • “Palace Guard” where the military is designed more for combating internal threats than for high-intensity combat.

The three can easily blend together. Praetorianism can be followed by commissarism as the winner of a power struggle consolidates, and commissarism and palace-guardism can be tied as the regime and country blur.

Palace-Guardism appears to be the least worst of the options, because in many cases an internal threat is far more urgent and far more credible than an external one, and because the common separate palace-guard forces (think the Republican Guard) are frequently benchmarked against the regular army and thus serve as the strongest conventional force.

Pollack’s description, which he backs up with evidence and case studies from several heavily politicized armies, is that politicization frequently leads to wildly uneven performance and affects the politically vulnerably upper ranks far more than it hits the lower, more obscure, or safe lower ones. Sometimes it can be downplayed, particularly in commissarist systems, if the regime lucks into a few high-ranking officers who are both militarily capable and politically friendly. And it often doesn’t need that many (For instance, a sample Light OPFOR Expeditionary Army needs only one army and three to five division commanders)

It’s an interesting study, as overly politicized armies will exist as long as politics and armies do, and it shows both the similarities and differences in every incarnation of it.

Saddam’s Ring of Doom: Corps Defense of a Large City

The “Ring defense of Baghdad” that was the ideal goal of Saddam in the 2003 Iraq War was illustrated by a later CIA illustration as this:

The “rings” were a British-influenced line system. Yellow is the initial deployment of forward screening forces, green the initial line of main forces, blue the first fallback line, and red the final one, where the survivors would switch to a positional defense after a fighting withdraw.

In practice, the shambolic 2003 army facing an overwhelming opponent was unable to implement it in any meaningful way. Even in theory, it uses the mobile heavy divisions as part of the ‘anvil’ rather than a separate Stalingrad-style “hammer”. Yet it remains an interesting example of a plan to have a large corps-sized unit defending a very large city.