Sometimes, the hallmark of a truly bad setting is it making the heroes weak or their enemies strong, often inadvertedly. So, revisiting an old “classic”, I found it was even worst in that regard than I previously knew.

I knew TBO was a bad setting. I knew it gave the Germans ridiculous logistics.

But still…

  • Advance to the Don and Volga Rivers to the point where they serve as the frontlines while the Soviets/Russians are still actively resisting.
  • Stay there in the wake of the Russo-American armies for 4-5 years.
  • Keep their warlord states in South Russia going for close to a decade after Germany proper is nuked, and they have to be pushed out of them.

Yeesh. For a series intended to debunk the Wehraboo Wunderwaffe, this doesn’t look so good. But somehow it got even worse.

  • Pull off a Crimea-style amphibious sneak attack to quickly occupy Britain.
  • Keep mobile forces running around as fire brigades to shore up the undermanned line for those 4-5 years. And do so effectively, without the counters the Allies historically developed.
  • Inflict 1.3 million combat deaths on the Americans alone without suffering similarly monstrous losses.
  • Finally, when they do flee into the Middle East, serve as the only viable force of the strawman Muslim superstate that can do anything except riot and rant.

There’s a backwards reason here, and it’s to make the story possible at all. The initial forum post that led to it (a kind of ‘strategic decision game’) described it as follows.

“How is this for a strategic scenario?

We’re in 1947, the US has successfully tested a nuclear device (and managed to keep a lid on it). They’ve built up an arsenal of around 60 devices, all Mark 1s of average 10 kiloton yield (up a bit, down a bit, things weren’t terribly precise back then). They have a production rate of around one Mark 1s per month with a single 15 kiloton Model 1561 every four month. Coming up is the 25 kiloton Mark 3 (one a month from mid-1947) and the 50 kiloton mark 4 (one a week from the start of 1948 ) . This is a somewhat faster production rate and reflects an acceptance of wartime engineering standarsd rather than peacetime. It means the devices shorter lives. By the way, Super (fusion device) is on the way.

Bomber force will be 500 B-36s, all jet equipped (the B-36s have priority for jets precisely because of the nuclear device). B-29s are there but mostly face the Pacific.

In Europe, the Germans occupy from the Urals to the Pyranees and from the UK to North Africa. They range into but do not hold the Sahara. In the east they have a hell of a partisan warfare problem in the occupied territories. That requires a major force commitment. Western Europe is relatively peaceful. Spain is doing a balancing act – pro-German enough not to be invaded by Germany, not pro German enough to be pounded by the US.

At sea, the Germans aren’t so lucky. The US Navy and what’s left of the RN have swept the seas of the German fleet. The Atlantic is a US lake. The US carriers are pounding the Western edges and there isn’t much the Germans can do about it. Of their submarines, only the Type XXIs can do anything useful and they are hunted mercilessly. The older subs have an at-sea lifetime of hours rather than days. There are no transatlantic convoys to sop up Allied resources so everything goes into an attack fleet.

In the air the German jets had a temporary transcendence in 1944/45 but thats fading fast. The P-80 and the new Grumman F9F are marginally inferior to the latest German jets but they are enormously greater in numbers. Both the allies and the Germans have a problem; there isn’t enough jet fuel. This forces them to keep piston engined fighters in the inventory (historically correct by the way – that problem took until the late 1950s to solve – know you know why the ANG kept Mustangs so long). The US carriers are running in, grabbing local air superiority, smashing targets and the defenses then pulling back out to sea before the germans can concentrate to match them. The areas the Germans stripped to do that then get hit by another carrier raid. The Germans know the B-36 is coming and are trying to do something about it but they have problems. Their older piston-engined fighters are useless; they can’t get up high enough and fast enough to intercept. They have specialized high altitude piston engined fighters but they are too lightly armed and the performance differential is too low. The jets have a better chance but they have problems all of their own. Oddly the German plane that is best suited to a B-36 interceptor is the He-219. It has the speed, altitude, firepower and endurance to be a threat. The Germans are building them again (despite its shortcomings) and they have replaced most of the older twin engined fighters. They’re taking a beating from the carriers though.

The Germans have spotted something else. A stripped recon version of the B-36, the RB-36 has been making runs all over Germany. They’ve tried to intercept and failed. Whatever’s going to happen is about to start. They’ve heard a codeword but don’t know what it means. That codeword is “Dropshot”.

Hows that for a base. If we can all live with that strategic situation, we’ll go ahead and plan a nuclear war.”

So, it was trying to ram a square ‘plausible’ scen into a round ‘pure hypothetical exercise’ hole. The result was-well, that. But that still doesn’t explain why Stuart insisted on the warlord states holding out.

Or the way they’re described in TBO itself, which seems to me like layering stuff from the real war on without thinking of the ramifications. The story lists fuel shortages, the same turf wars that hurt German production, the loss of so many pilots that the Germans were forced to stuff kids into He-162s like in the real 1945, to the point where a 21-year-old is one of the oldest members of his unit (TBO, page 11)-and yet, because the story calls for them to hold the line until the super-bombers break the stalemate, they somehow hold the line.

As for the postwar divergences, well, the Middle Eastern ones can be sadly explained as not wanting to give any credit to Muslims.

This sort of ‘analysis’ is why I bizarrely like reading bad fiction.

Command Fiction: Two Hypothetical Units In One

This Command Fiction takes a look at two hypothetical units operating together.

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Operation Central Latitude

The life of a surveillance aircraft navigator was almost always boring. Today promised to be an exception in that the abnormally clear weather promised to rename the entire reach of land from Luanda to Kikwit “Paveway-ville”. So, they were going to be doing some real BDA, and, if the CAPS and SEAD forces hadn’t done their job right, going to be facing a few of the Angolan flankers.

So, after the first group of fighters departed MOB Alfa in the South Atlantic, Argus One did so as well. As her pilot steered the Aurora upwards, Capt. Nancy Le recalled what she was actually doing…


Yes, her sister was far and away the wealthier of the two. But did she ever FLY A MACH 5 PLANE OFF A MILE-LONG SHIP?

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In-game, the hypothetical SR-72 Aurora can fly off Mobile Offshore Bases. The obsessive statistician in me envisioned a detachment traveling with each and every mixed tactical wing to serve as their recon assets.

Command Fiction: The Challenge

This is based on my scenario “A Day At Red Flag”. That scenario was intended to be a brutally difficult challenge. And it succeeded. I’m intending a revision to make it more diverse, but in the meantime, enjoy this in-universe challenge.

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The MiG-28s of the Krasnovian Frontal Aviation served as the first line of defense. If anything limited them, it was that they had been too successful. Their ground-intercept radars were intact, while those of their enemy had long since been reduced to scrap. The war was going well. But not well enough that they didn’t have problems. An array of contacts appeared on the radars. The enemy was trying something.

The CAPs were doing their job. As skilled as the Krasnovian pilots were, the F-4 Phantom could simply fire more weapons at more angles than their own light fighters. More importantly, the dogfights were keeping the MiGs off the strikers.

Of course, the strike craft had their own problem, as they flew right into a hail of Yastreb-U missiles and AAA. To their credit, the Weasels had managed to hit a surprisingly large number of radars-but it was a far from bloodless victory.

Then the few surviving Phantoms dropped their bombs on the fuel depot. The result was-very little damage, with only a handful of AA guns destroyed for good. Analysts revealed that the bombs released were not intended for such a hardened target.

In all, the mission was a success. At the cost of a few replaceable light fighters and radars, they had obliterated a high-end strike package.

For years afterwards, Krasnovians would celebrate “The Wipeout of ’77.”

_ _ _ _ _

In fact, this was all a simulated but intense exercise. The Wipeout of ’77 over Nellis would go a long way to minimizing the odds of a similar one in real life. Many lessons could be learned.

Behind the scenes:

  • Krasnovia (from “Krasny-red”) was a common placeholder name for a Warsaw Pact-styled force in Cold War exercises.
  • MiG-28s are from Top Gun, played by F-5s. Since I used F-5s as Aggressors in the scenario, the name works.
  • Yastreb-U is a crude translation of “I-Hawk”, the missile I used in the scen.

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.

Command Fiction: Democratic War Theory


For whatever reason, a Command scenario that has stayed in my imagination long after I released it was Regaining Honor. Perhaps it’s the unconventional drone gameplay or something else. While its description of the state of the Yemeni armed forces has turned out to be the exact opposite of what happened in real life, the circumstances-similar to real life but also different, have gripped me.

So I’m writing this “Command Fiction”, describing the aftermath of a scenario. There will be more of this, from multiple perspectives.

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June 12, 2015.

The irony of it all. A Middle Eastern nation with little history of anything but authoritarianism holds a democratic election and hands over power. Under most circumstances, it would be cheerful.

Not today.

On April 2, routine drone operations turned into the largest aerial combat losses for the United States since the Vietnam War. Four American fighters, including two of the previously unbeaten F-15s, fell. In return, they shot down at least seventeen Yemeni planes. The regional buildup has accelerated, and now a fleet of warships sits off the coast, backed by hundreds of land-based aircraft everywhere from Jordan to Djibouti.

All against a military that, even before the loss of half its air force, was hideously weak even by regional standards. But every American from President Winslow down to the lowest-ranked enlisted knows that striking first after the event would be politically suicidal. Even the initial sweep and cruise missile strike (apparent an awkward enactment of a CENTCOM contingency plan for the loss of a crewed aircraft over Yemen) was considered by many domestic and international observers as overreacting.

An immediate snap election was called. The ruling YPP won 79 out of 141 seats in the Yemeni national parliament, allowing it to (theoretically) form a cohesive leadership without the awkward dealings and rumblings that characterized the past two years of civilian rule. No one believes its large victory to be the result of anything but fear and a desire for some kind of stability.

The YPP’s coalition partners accepted the defeat (at least for the time) and the new single-party cabinet was sworn in on June 10.

Unresolved issues include POW Jim Butterfield, an F-15 pilot captured during the air battle (Two were killed and a third was safely rescued).

The elected, civilian government chose to shoot down the drones as a political move-an irony that, for the claims of “democratic peace theory”, it proved more belligerent than its authoritarian predecessors.

Whatever, markets have jittered and oil prices spiked since the start of the crisis. While Yemen has little interdiction capability and the American buildup would make any attempt near-impossible, the instability is bringing fear. If Winslow hoped that a large buildup would reassure financial leaders, he is mistaken.

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.

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.

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


The Limits of the Fishbed in Command

The introduction of what I call “tethered intercepts” has gone a long way to increasing the viability of the MiG-21 (and its closest western counterpart, the F-104) in Command.

For what a tethered intercept is, I’ll let this dev video explain.

Even with tethered intercepts, the lightweight third-gen fighter has very real limits. I’ve been testing those limits.


An Iraqi fighter, the guinea pig. (The original photo caption said it was a MiG-21 but the cockpit shape makes it look like it could be an F-7)

This started as part of my on-and-off “Rollback” series, where Iraq decides to sacrifice its fleet of MiG-21s. For both that and for a last-ditch effort (in either 1991 or 2003), I was curious to see how they’d fly.

Against a “Big Blue Blanket”, they were toast. Against small groups, with low proficiency, they occasionally got an endgame calc in and even more occasionally scored a victory, but were still ultimately toast.

Upping the proficiency only slightly improved matters.

Note that assuming such a mission is possible at all (beyond game mechanics) depends on the willingness of the pilots to fly such a dangerous operation. For the truly fanatical, determined, and/or naive, it’s possible. But for an already demoralized, broken force, it’s not.

Lua and the event editor enable the possibility of such a mission, although programming in dozens of MiG-21s is not the same as programming in a half-dozen Su-27s (as I did in one previous scenario with random options).