My second Command LIVE scenario, Commonwealth Collision, featuring a fleet of one British and two Indian aircraft carriers going against a Pakistan-China alliance, has now been officially released.
So, I’ve torn into enough bad military fiction to go, “What about good military fiction?” And so I’ll answer it by pointing to a guilty-pleasure cheap thriller favorite ebook of mine: Kevin Miller’s Raven One.
Written by a naval aviator, it covers the adventures of a few aircraft carrier pilots as they fight in the Middle East. Now I’ve mentioned it before, but thought I should go into some more detail as to why I like it so much.
It’s not perfect, it still has some perspective-jumping, still has a lot of technical overdetail, still isn’t exactly the deepest in its plot or characterization. But it’s got a recognizable main character. Some of the perspective shifts make sense, as it shows the team of fighters in an individual battles. It feels overall like part of a whole. The enemy is given a handicap to make them stronger, not weaker, while at the same time not being monstrously overhyped. And for the jargon, there’s a sense of immediacy, of being there in the fighter with the heroes.
Having seen the pitfalls of what the genre can fall into, I can say that Raven One avoids a lot of them. And for that reason alone, it’s well worth a read.
Today is a Command Fiction day, but it’s also the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. So, what should I do?
Link back to the old Final Countdown reenactment in Command, of course. And ponder something about the date the movie was made. If it had been made a few years later and/ or been a potboiler book with no need to worry about budgets, would it have been, like the scenario was, a triumphalist tale of 1980 airpower crushing the 1941 IJN with the carrier strike going through? (Given the infamous Japan Inc fears of the time, it might be included just for that purpose.)
Interesting how pop culture can change quickly.
This vignette is based on my scenario Phoenix of Indochina. When I saw the carrier Hosho in the database, my love of oddball units made me think I had to use it. So I did. Here’s a fictional essay talking about pop-history “worst of ____” lists, and defending it.
_ _ _ _ _ _
Most of the sailors who served aboard the Le Phénix hated the ship. There was a legitimate fear that it wouldn’t be able to reach Indochina. That fear proved unfounded. There were concerns its jury-rigged deck couldn’t handle air ops at all. Those fears proved unfounded as well. Thus, the ship cannot be considered a truly “poor” warship.
The ship was intended to plug the carrier gap. This it did, and its oddball surplus arsenal was no different from the other forces in the region-not in the least the Japanese surplus planes used by the fledgling PLAAF. Dozens of sorties were launched, and a tail-gunner from the group even scored the Aéronavale‘s first air to air kill.
The deterrent effect its fighters had on the detachment of PLAAF Oscars was vital. Without them, it’s entirely possible that the Chinese “advisors” may have attempted an airstrike against French Navy warships. Thus, simply by existing, hundreds of lives may have been saved by the “ugly firebird”.
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.
I’ve talked about about how my “Rollback” plan ended up semi-stalling, but there was one exact “ok-looks like this isn’t working” thought that hit me. So I’ll explain it.
The exact moment when I realized my “Rollback” scenario project was when I was planning Super Tomcats, naval F-117s, and maybe even NATFs launching as part of a large carrier mission-and then realizing that I’d be putting them against the same force that was hopelessly bulldozed by units vastly inferior to that.
I’m sure other scenario authors have had a problem like that.
I’ve made two scenarios (the latter more of a Lua experiment than a proper scenario) detailing a planned “Rollback Campaign”. The idea was for a scenario set in Command featuring plans theorized in the 1990s to oust Saddam Hussein by using air power to back a native opposition army.
The actual plans were highly dubious, even in comparison to the actual Iraq War. The non-Kurdish Iraqi “opposition” was far too small to be effective and had very little popular support. And even if the campaign “succeeded”, it would lead to simply another repeat of contemporary Libya’s power vacuum.
But as a Command scenario pack, it held some promise. I made a scenario with the hideously overconfident title of “The First of Many”-naval F-117s conduct a secret attack on the bridging equipment of the Iraqi Army. The remnants of Saddam’s military oppose them.
Then I kind of stalled. There were some inherent problems beyond just the effort.
-Strength of the opposition was one. I didn’t feel like scenario after scenario of the player just beating on MiG-21s, and I didn’t want an “Oh, that SA-2 rolled a one-now you have a major defeat you wouldn’t have if it rolled a ten” situation. There was another option-state the sanctions failed and Iraq was able to rebuild its military with better equipment. This wouldn’t change the outcome, but it would make the battles a lot more challenging-except that ran into plot.
-If the sanctions fail and the Iraqi military is more powerful, having the internal opposition alone being able to defeat it on the ground is an even more questionable concept. While I could use any justification, that one got me stuck.
-One scenario with the working title “Kickoff” stumped me. Huge arrays of enemy ground units, little opposition, but no margin for error (each unit would be worth say, a point destroyed and you needed hundreds of points for victory), massive air forces on your side-it felt like a hard-work little reward experience.
-I’m thinking of scaling Kickoff down into the saga of one smaller unit during the battle.
Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. In light of recent struggles with military projects, I decided to write this hypothetical op-ed. One of my chief inspirations was a forum post where people were talking about the cancelled Space Shuttle as this hideous missed opportunity-why, it was a reusable craft that could pay for itself with commercial launches! The fun was that while we know now that the “self-funding” goal was too ambitious, someone who never had to experience it wouldn’t.
Now for what never was:
OP-ED: The missed opportunity.
The US Navy’s carrier decks have never been more diverse. A state-of-the-art carrier wing houses an air superiority squadron of Lockheed F-24 Hellcats, a squadron of A-6F Intruder IIs, and two squadrons of F-14 Super Tomcats-themselves divided into the 21st Centruy F-14E “Tomcat 21” and the mildly upgraded F-14Q “Quickstrike”. In practice, most carriers house “leftover” F/A-18 Hornets and F-14 “legacy” Tomcats, adding to the logistical backlog.
On land, the F-23 Kite now enters service as the US Air Force’s mainline air superiority fighter, despite having less powerful missiles and radar than the Navy’s F-24. The US operates four different air superiority fighters, four ‘multirole’ jacks of all trades, two specialized close-support aircraft, and two specialized “deep-strike” aircraft.
To find out this situation is not difficult. One need only look at the post-Cold War overcapacity in military aviation, and the desire of the military-industrial-complex to avoid any downsizing. Sen. Shaun Winters and Rep. Bill Morgan, the chairmen of the Appropriations and Armed Services Committee, both hail from New York-and both are very, very, good to Long Island-centered Northrop Grumman.
The A-6F was the most egregious example of the triumph of pork over common sense. Not only was it a simple update of an old, subsonic plane designed in the 1950s, but in terms of role, it clashes with its own successors. The Super Tomcat offers very similar performance and range in an agile, supersonic fighter body, and it is even made by the same company in almost the same location.
Grumman themselves were cool to the A-6F, feeling it could jeopardize the Super Tomcat and feeling the burden of producing still more aircraft. The real support came from the subcontractors and parts suppliers-all healthy donors to Winters’ and Morgan’s campaigns, and spread farther than just Queens and Nassau.
Thankfully, A-6F production stopped. But the looming gap in fighter quantity is fast approaching. Nothing is in sight to replace the thousands of aging F-16s-except maybe the Super Tomcat. Carrier crews will have to juggle parts for five types of airplane, and the taxpayers will be denied a true ‘peace dividend’.
And that is without the effects this aero-naval spending spree has had on the rest of the military. The Army’s much-ballyhooed “LI-21” plans for more of a focus on light infantry exist in large part because the buildup has hacked away at its budgets.
There was one spot of hope. The Defense Department initiated a “Joint Strike Fighter” program. This would provide inter-service commonality of parts, and, with twenty-first century computer design, make true multirole stealth planes that could serve equally well on carriers, VTOL amphibious ships, and conventional airbases. Both the capability and savings would have been immense compared to the current hodgepodge of souped-up Vietnam designs and one-trick ponies foisted on the actual military.
Naturally, Winters wasted little time in attacking the JSF program, and succeeded in killing it.
Command’s latest series of updates have brought a new array of hypothetical units to the forefront. The question is what units would be used in a way that would maintain plausibility.
This is easy. The A-6F, being an upgraded version of the old A-6 Intruder, would replace older A-6E units.
(Note: the biggest difference between the A/F-117X and F-117N is that the former has air to air capability and the latter doesn’t).
This is tricky. They can replace A-6s as carrier strike aircraft, or they can serve in small detachments (3-6 planes, numbers closer to a specialty plane like jammer or AEW than a basic attacker) to serve as niche attack aircraft.
If the Terrible Triangle was made to work and became the Awesome Triangle, it would also replace A-6s. In what quantity depends on the degree of success-like the naval F-117, it could be either a full-blown replacement or a costly niche plane.
Trickier. Super Tomcats can easily replace their direct predecessors, as well as the A-6 in the long-range heavy attacker role. What’s harder to say is whether or not they’d muscle aside the Hornet family as well-whether the Super Hornet gets cancelled or replaces the original F/A-18 as a light fighter rather than as a do-everything plane depends on politics and funding.
Replaces the S-3.
Replaces the F-14 as the pure air-to-air fleet defense fighter.
So, for one of the carrier wings, not in a limited intervention/peacetime profile, but a fully-loaded major war loadout, composed entirely of hypotheticals (at least in the fighter/attack units)
12-15 F-24 (1 squadron, fighter VF)
24-30 F-14E (2 squadrons, fighter VFA)
12 A-6F (1 squadron, attack VA)
18 other (Ea-6, E-2, S-3/SV-22, etc..) (multiple smaller squadrons).
-This assumes a more balanced, offensive-focused deployment. For the threat of a continued Soviet Union or other opponent that posed a greater threat to the fleet, swapping one of the multirole squadrons for another pure fighter one would not be surprising.
-This also does not take legacy aircraft into account. Either unupgraded F-14s or those in the database that have the AAAM but nothing else can replace the F-24s, and Hornets (legacy or, more doubtfully, Super) can replace the Super Tomcats. The A-6F can be replaced by the stealth attackers or super/legacy Tomcats (Legacy Intruders were some of the oldest platforms in the fleet and badly needed retirement). The ratio can range from only one squadron of new aircraft on the carrier to one squadron of old ones left (i.e, the small force of A-7s in the Gulf War).
-Just because all the planes are on the carrier does not mean that they are all ready to fly at a moment’s notice. The F-14 in particular was a high-maintenance plane, and while Super Tomcats may have eliminated some of the clunkier components, its swing-wing design is still inherently time-consuming to service. So for high plausibility, put some planes of all types in “Maintenance-Unavailable” .