Command Fiction: The Truth About The Incident

This week’s edition of Command Fiction stars the infamous “F-22s didn’t score an air-to-air kill but A-10s did” incident I mentioned before. The scenario is “Breaking Bad”, or rather an earlier test version, since revisiting it showed much more enemy air assets than the one Cessna I encountered in my playthrough.

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So, there’s been a lot of hooting and hollering from that crowd about how F-22s didn’t score an air to air kill in the mission to clear out the Bab-al-Mandab strait, but how an A-10 did.

This had nothing to do with the aircraft and everything to do with the ROEs and context. The aircraft in question was a Cessna 208 Combat Caravan that was apparently being used as a surveillance platform. It was unarmed, posed little threat to the operation, and could be mistaken for a civilian one. As a result, the F-22s screening a package in preparation for rumored launches from fighters to the north (that never happened) had enough reasonable doubt as to not open fire.

By the time A-10s began attacking, the reasonable doubt had been lifted as no civilian aircraft would stay in the air that long. Thus they got permission to engage, and the rest is history. One Sidewinder, one hit, confirmed by enemy reactions, pictures of the wreck, and ground forces overrunning said wreck.

The forces worked as a team to secure the strait, with each aircraft doing its part. That an A-10 scored an opportunity victory was just a coincidential footnote. The F-22s potentially deterred the enemy fighters from launching, thus accomplishing their goals without firing a shot.

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.

F-15C

[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.

Command Scenarios I’ve Wanted To Make

Here are some Command scenarios I’ve wanted to make. This whole list would be incredibly long, because of just how excellent the editor is and how much I’ve wanted to make. But a few in my mind right now are (all titles working).

-GIUK-21:

Modern/futuristic GIUK gap engagement.

-Rollback Kickoff

Previously mentioned.

-Three Squared

An attack on a very different and alternate Venezuela. Hugely ambitious, with strict ammo limits, hypothetical platforms galore, a long target list, and an air tempo slowdown. You’d control the USMC Aviation in three days of air strikes on a newly established regime.

-FLAG-21

An exercise scenario featuring carrier and amphibious warfare ship attacks against an OPFOR-state. The scope of it is something I’m debating, and also whether to make two versions-one against a huge “Heavy OPFOR”, and another against a smaller, weaker “Light OPFOR”.

-Sink The Alaska

Vietnam scenario where you use North Vietnam’s aircraft in a sea-attack role to hit American warships bombarding the coast. Was thinking of making a hypothetical Alaska modifiction the biggest target, hence the name.

-Operation Reinforce Padlock

(Had to think of a good name, so I fired up Mgellis’ command Inspiration PadPro generators a few times)

Historically, the Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000 led to the quick collapse of their allies. Here, it’s conducted under the umbrella of a high-intensity air campaign against Hezbollah and Syria.

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Cuban Missile Crisis airstrikes. Lua and events to trigger a “delay, then surviving missiles launch” if any one site is destroyed.

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.