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.”

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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.

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.

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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.

Command Fiction: All Minus One

This is from an in-progress scenario/editor experiment. I haven’t decided on the details, where this post-Soviet conflict should be, or even who it’d be against (either a real or fictional amalgamated former SSR), but figured I’d have too good an idea.

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199X.

As a foreign journalist, I was very lucky to be able to witness the oncoming offensive at all. I was-sitting at an airbase in central Russia, taking pictures of the red-starred fighters as they roared into the sky. While it wasn’t as dangerous as the frontline (to which I was incredibly thankful to be away from), I wasn’t exactly going to be getting infamous scoops, like the crazy gonzos who were going deep.

So, when six bomb-laden Sukhois roared down the runway, all that meant was footage of them taking off. Just like the last time they took off. Then it was back to sitting around and hearing the well-rehearsed official claims.

A few hours later, we were taking more pictures of the unit returning. The unit of five fighters. Now, this would not be the first aircraft lost in the conflict, but they were understandably tight-lipped about it.

I reported the loss anyway. Somehow I got away with it. The loss of a single fighter aircraft wasn’t really worth covering up, especially as ten had fallen already.

SU-17 FROM (REDACTED) AB HAS NOT RETURNED TO BASE ENEMY ACTION SUSPECTED.

Years later, I was sitting in retirement, reading about the war I’d played a small part in covering. There it was. A credible picture of the wreck, and a listing. On that day in question, Su-17s from the air base I saw launched an attack. One was hit by an enemy SAM and shot down. The pilot was killed on the ground-likely inadvertently, as regulars and other aviators were prized POWs. I learned that Su-17s were pushed extra hard because they’d soon be retired anyway.

But at the time, all I saw was six aircraft leaving and five returning.

Command Semi-Fiction: Pearl Harbor

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.

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.

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.

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 Fall of the Technothriller

I have recently read an extraordinarily good article detailing the ascent and descent of the military technothriller.

The article touches on many of the influences on the genre and speculates that the fall of the USSR was a gigantic blow to it. I agree, but think that they’re neglecting to mention what I consider my own theory for the fall of the story-that, as I said in my review of the prototypical example of the genre, the very ubiquity of high technology in warfare made it lose almost all of its novelty value. There’s also the substantial changes to the publishing business as a whole that are not mentioned, although out of fairness, that’s a totally different subject than what the author wanted to talk about.

Another feeling I have is that technothrillers may have simply burned themselves out. Reading multiple Dale Brown books, where the setups get increasingly ridiculous but the structural flaws mentioned in the article are never countered, gives me that feeling.

This might just be my contrarian attitude, but for all that I’ve enjoyed some of the classic technothrillers, the decline in the genre has not exactly been one that I’ve shed the most tears over.

Kind of like adventure games.

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.

640px-Derelict_Iraqi_MiG-21

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).