Over at Fuldapocalypse Fiction, I have a new review up. I figured I didn’t want to burn myself out with “ordinary” WW3 books, so I decided to take a chance on a modern “invasion novel”. And the gamble ended like a lot of gambles do, let me just say that much.
Gunner98 has released two new Command scenarios for testing. This one is the Indian Ocean Fury set, taking place in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. (The out of order numbers are no cause for alarm, simply because some scenarios take longer to make than others)
Both are as big and complex as you’d expect. I’ve noticed that Gunner98 throws in a lot of minor nations as allies to the USSR-everyone from Algeria to Finland to Eritrea has thrown their hat in the ring in his various “_____ Fury” scens. I don’t know how much of this is motivated by plot concerns and how much of it is motivated by gameplay ones.
One of the best things about Command is that it can be both a what-if simulation and an enjoyable experience at the same time.
So I designed a scenario, intended as an exercise (a favorite of mine). In this case, the exercising nation was Iran, and the goal was to see if its air force had any offensive capability whatsoever. Hordes of shah-surplus and ex-Iraqi “reparation planes” face against the best approximation of the Gulf States’ ultra-modern hardware-F-14s, modified I-HAWKs, and a Tor missile battery.
A combination of feedback and my own trials answered the question. “Nominally.”
Over two dozen aircraft were lost in the full playthrough in exchange for moderate damage to part of the target airbase. Enough to win the scenario (which was only asking if they can get anything on the target at all, regardless of cost), but in real terms, not cost-effective in the slightest.
Against a force with better missiles than the AIM-54, they’d have fared even worse.
The scenario is available under the Steam Workshop as “Iran Airbase Attack Drill”, and has been submitted to the community pack. Making it was very fun-the concepts of both the player being qualitatively inferior and forcing them to take heavy losses are ones I’ve been interested in, and I’m already entertaining ideas for using a similar force mixture in a “real” battle scenario.
Earlier, I theorized about an air battle over Iran and posted the results of several informal Command demonstrations that supported the seemingly obvious conclusion. The third generation fighters in the Iranian Air Force are not match for those of their likely opponents. But those were not the strongest or most recent planes.
First are the MiG-29s. Fulcrums get a kind of undeserved reputation as hopelessly inferior to F-16s simply because of the way they were designed-as the next type of short-range point defense fighter with very limited ground attack ability that was designed to work inside a Soviet integrated system rather than the F-16’s offensive multirole design. If I was to put MiG-29s on that Bushehr tethered intercept in their element, they’d do better.
F-14s are the most dangerous components of the Iranian air force, though not because of their threat to enemy fighters. They’re more dangerous than F-4s, to be sure, and I’ve frequently upped the proficiency to symbolize the prestigious nature of their assignments. But against an enemy F-15, they just go from “loses, but has a small chance of taking one down with it” to “loses, but has a somewhat better chance of taking one with it”.
They’re still a 1970s fighter that, Top Gun reputation aside, was more of a clunky missileer than a aerobatic champion in actual service. No, the biggest threat the F-14 poses is to support aircraft. The ability (assuming availability, of course) to fire long-range AIM-54 missiles is one that threatens the multitude of necessary but vulnerable platforms on the other side-AWACS, tankers, intelligence planes. The F-14 can also function as a sort of semi-AWACS by itself thanks to its huge radar.
The capabilities of these two types of planes are not to be exaggerated-their weaknesses are still known, there aren’t that many of them in service compared to the Phantoms and Tigers, and they have known serviceability issues. That being said, they are more capable.
The impetus for my latest foray into Command was a timeline on alternatehistory.com that didn’t live to its potential. Dealing with an expansion of the Iraq War into Iran, it was a badly written jumble. The author admitted not knowing much about the military, and it showed in that a lot of it was simply copy-pasted. The focus was on the politics-except a lot of that was copy-pasted too.
I wanted to do better.
First, the author involved a ground invasion. No one, at least after the Iraq War intensified, supported one. The US military, already strained to the limit, would have to secure a much larger, much more populous country (in the TL they only secure a small area as of now), and doing so would play to the regime’s strengths-allowing its deliberately planned unconventional defense to work, and in all likelihood unifying the people against an invasion.
Air and naval strikes, on the other hand, play to the strengths of Iran’s opponents. Far superior technology-the Iranians, if more skilled and certainly more willing to fight on, have technology roughly equivalent to the Iraqi airforce that the American-led coalition bulldozed in 1991, while said coalition’s forces have some advances, most notably AMRAAMs. So I’ve put my foot in the water with a few Command experiments-not integrated scenarios.
How badly is the Iranian Air Force outclassed by its potential opponents? To put it mildly-very.
An Iranian F-4 Phantom. Generations behind its opponents, it scored hits on attacking fighters in only a few cases.
The circumstance involves a combat air patrol of F-15Cs near Bushehr. Red Flag veterans and trained exclusively for aerial battle, their proficiency is set to Veteran. Taking off from Kuwait, they fly, are picked up by a radar, and are moved to be intercepted by a flight of ten Iranian fighters-a mix of F-4s and F-5s. The proficiency has been set to “Cadet”, as the lran-Iraq veterans have retired, and the replacements face a constrained, limited environment.
If the pilots are suboptimal, the mission pattern is not-a pop-up “tethered intercept” that means they don’t just fly up high and get smashed by an AMRAAM immediately. I set up the missions and hit play. F-15s, 10. F-4s, zero. F-15s 10, F-4s zero. F-15s Dix, F-4s Zéro.
Then I look closely at the logs, to see the endgame calcs. This is just as important, because having an endgame calc happen at all means that there’s a chance for damage in a way that isn’t there when fighters are shot down before they can engage. I got only a handful of endgame calcs, and in many cases, it didn’t even reach the dodge stage-the ECM and decoys frequently bested the ancient seekers.
But the calcs also showed that the tethered intercepts were “working”. This was not just an AMRAAM-push-button kill. There were close scraps that required the use of AIM-9Xs (another advantage over the Gulf War-vintage fighters) and even a gun burst now and again. The combination of technology and skill was just too strong.
To even the scales in one case, I added an I-HAWK site. The furball ensued again. This time, when the dust settled, one F-15 had been downed. Looking at the log, I found it was-the ground defenses that did the trick.
Then I did another ‘rigged’ test, fighters only. This time the F-15s were set to novice, the justification being that after years of unconventional war, their skills had decayed. Logs showed one shot down, one additional close call, and-ten Phantoms and Tigers down. Again.
In the timeline thread, my stated aircraft losses to all kinds of enemy action were 10-20 American planes. This was a guesstimate based off of two posted losses for a scenario featuring a huge strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities (seven and eight aircraft). The authors of a book theorizing on war with Iran got ten in the initial, highest-intensity phases as well, albeit by abstracting. They took Gulf War loss rates and applied them to the theorized numbers of sorties without going into detail.
While the Bushehr engagement favored the F-15s by giving them easy reach (no coordination to hit a target deep in Iran and possibly get too far from the strike craft, just fly immediately), it still showed the weakness of the IRIAF when such clashes did result. My remaining guestimate is that only a small number of the losses would be due to fighters.
This is not to say that the IRIAF will be totally worthless beyond inflicting a few victories. Their mere ability to resist at all will force more combat air patrols and diversions, and keep crucial but vulnerable support aircraft at a distance. But the disparity is there and growing, and the immense focus on asymmetric tactics means the Iranians know it.
A regime, born out of a fanatically anti-Western revolution and the veteran of a long bloody war has emerged as a ‘rogue nation’ to the established international order. Said nation has, directly and indirectly, went to war with the United States, unleashing its troops and arsenals to damage the US military and pin it down defending a new client state out of fear for its own survival. Now the US security establishment sits nervously as said nation, which has emphasized an unconventional approach to warfare to make up for its lack of an effective conventional arsenal, moves closer and closer to building a nuclear weapon.
And yet, some hope-could the regime be a lesser evil? Could a deal with it actually work?
This could be a description of Iran today, but it also describes Maoist China in the early Cold War. Throughout the early 1960s, the intelligence community navigated a fog as the country moved through its atomic development program, mystery continued and rhetoric escalated until the PRC detonated its first nuclear weapon in October 1964. Throughout the decade and beyond, the nation became the biggest wild card in the Vietnam War, and offers, if not lessons, then observations.
John F. Kennedy remained especially vigilant about the Chinese bomb, leaning towards a forcible strike against it. Against him, one unknown Policy Planning Council analyst named Robert Johnson continued to push for calm. Johnson-no relation to president Lyndon Johnson-’s view eventually won out, and the long-awaited nuclear test passed without much incident.
A surviving JFK, or a more hawkish administration, may very well have ordered a strike on PRC nuclear facilities. One of the best available sources is this document laying out a large array of options for fighting China’s nuclear ambitions, that range from the mild (condemn it and conduct a PR campaign) to the impossibly bold (support a Taiwanese reinvasion of the mainland (!) )
China detonated its first nuclear bomb in October 1964. However, its capacity remained extremely limited-missile production was slow, and delivery systems remained limited to clunky H-6 bombers. As anticipated, the psychological effect was greater than the military changes.
Still in fear, the PRC rushed to support -within limits- the North Vietnamese, showing that the United States was not the only power politically restrained in the Vietnam War. Many thousands of Chinese troops, most being laborers and specialist engineers, were deployed to North Vietnam, where they assisted in infrastructure repair, construction, and deployment of anti-aircraft artillery. Although using a “volunteer” legal fiction for reasons of law and war, they did not even attempt to use a shallow “duelist deniability” and remained overt in all other means.
The fear of offensive forces deploying, even if in an unconventional capability, remained on the table throughout Rolling Thunder, and while unlikely, could not be discounted altogether (nor did planners feel it wise to, after the debacle of Korea).
The rest is history. China was approached as a balance to the Soviets, and in hindsight, the nuclear arsenal-with first bombers and then a small number of missiles-, proved less decisive than the worst fears indicated.
How many parallels are there between China in the 1960s and Iran today? Less than the initial comparison may seem. But some still exist. One may be to overestimate the effects of nuclear weapons by themselves. A nuclear missile that can destroy one thing at the expense of bringing a hundred Minutemen down in return is, in many ways, less of a threat than a conventional missile capable of accurately hitting any airfield on the Arabian Peninsula.
Another is the gap between public rhetoric and private will. This is why I get annoyed by the “only alternative to a nuclear deal is war” talk-if Iran wasn’t overtly attacked while Bush was in office and there was a more valid military reason to, why would there be the will for it in much more dovish circumstances? Similarly, I’d bet that for all of Israel’s public (and understandable, much as the Nationalist government on Taiwan’s worries of mainland nuclear weapons in a fairly similar situation were understandable) warnings, it has privately resigned itself to a nuclear Iran for some time.
The document of proposals and plans shows an array of PRC responses to US-led measures. They range from naval harassment to the takeover of Hong Kong or renewed attacks against India, after their victory in 1962. China’s arsenal at the time was numerous but low-technology-in naval/air matters, the best it could manage was mass production of fighters one generation (later two generations) behind its opponents.
The Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations simulation offers many opportunities for simulating the what-ifs. Areas surrounding China’s nuclear program have inspired many scenario ideas from me, including full-scale B-52 raids on the infrastructure itself. However, the most I’ve managed to actually make is a scenario called “Probe or Feint”, a limited aerial recon-in-force by F-106s over the Yangtze.
I’ve taken an interest in simulating a hypothetical blockade, although the scope of that is room for concern (Too small an area and it becomes unrealistically cramped, too big and you have scenario creep).
As both a historical example and wargaming effort, the political and military plans surrounding the Chinese nuclear weapons project are well worth studying.