Saddam’s Ring of Doom: Corps Defense of a Large City

The “Ring defense of Baghdad” that was the ideal goal of Saddam in the 2003 Iraq War was illustrated by a later CIA illustration as this:

The “rings” were a British-influenced line system. Yellow is the initial deployment of forward screening forces, green the initial line of main forces, blue the first fallback line, and red the final one, where the survivors would switch to a positional defense after a fighting withdraw.

In practice, the shambolic 2003 army facing an overwhelming opponent was unable to implement it in any meaningful way. Even in theory, it uses the mobile heavy divisions as part of the ‘anvil’ rather than a separate Stalingrad-style “hammer”. Yet it remains an interesting example of a plan to have a large corps-sized unit defending a very large city.

A Study of a Slapdash Army

The later part of the book’s own title was evidence alone of it being severely dated. The book in question was “The Iraqi Threat and Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction” by Stephen Hughes.

Hughes’ book, released in 2002, is self-published and essentially a compilation of other sources, some of which I’ve already seen[1]. The book has lots of grammatical errors, is fairly scattershot, doesn’t go into detail in parts when it should have, and puts a little too much effort into things like illustrations of aircraft.

However, it did go into more detail on niche stuff like mountain infantry that I found useful. And it’s also interesting to show just how hard it was to get reliable information at the time on an army increasingly reduced to a twisted, tangled jumble of wrecked divisions and an alphabet soup of competing paramilitaries.

As the unofficial “know your enemy” reference book for military officers in the impending Iraq War it was intended as, the book’s format, aircraft illustrations and all, makes a lot more sense. Even if tank formations and corps orders of battle would soon be the last thing American soldiers had to worry about.

Indeed, its very flaws serve as illustrative examples of how murky such states can be. Hughes’ book should not be the first or most prominent source for someone studying the army or period, but it definitely deserves a place on the shelf, if its weaknesses are understood.

[1]Which makes me kind of biased, and not necessarily representative.

Michael Farmer’s Tin Soldiers

So, I read Michael Farmer’s Tin Soldiers and for the most part enjoyed it. It’s a cliche “cheap thriller”, but it’s not a bad cheap thriller in spite of its flaws. If you want to see tanks firing and exploding, it has that.

So, it’s a post-USSR technothriller, which means it plucks an opponent of the week, in this case a sanctions-less, aggressive Iraq. There’s a war, and that’s pretty much all I need to say about the overall plot.

The best part of the book is the middle portion. It reads like a somewhat clunkier Team Yankee, but the upgraded T-72 vs. M1A1 action is good, and the way Farmer evened the odds is something I appreciate. The beginning is pretty stock technothriller (a combination of training scenes and infodumps in offices and conference rooms), and the end drags on too long, contains the shoved-in damsel in distress love story, and a bit of near-Dale Brown escalation.

Still, Tin Soldiers is not a bad book if you like cheap thrillers or tanks.

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).

Alternate Gulf Wars

I’ve been thinking of trying a few Command scenarios as part of the 25th anniversary of the Gulf War, some dealing with what-if equipment, and others dealing with what-if politics. So far none have gotten any farther than a few experiments in the scen editor to see how balanced they are.

The F-16XL one I mentioned earlier was equipment-wise. The rest is going to be political. One possibility, actually mentioned in the official US Navy history, Shield and Sword, was that the nations who openly supported the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Libya, Sudan, and Yemen, would interfere with Coalition operations-most importantly, their vital supply routes.

The book also mentioned that a show of force quickly deterred them from doing so-understandably. Iraq’s would-be allies are considerably weaker than their patron-and my experiments showed it.

 

Targets

So, I have a potentially unusual bottleneck in making Command scenarios: What targets to go for?

Any air-to-ground scenario needs targets. In some cases, the wealth of imports makes targeting easy-just use a multi-unit airfield and you have a ton of targets right there. Mobile vehicle targeting is also fairly easy-plop down a few trucks/tanks/APCs and there you have it.

Now for the bigger issues, which in many ways are opposites: Priority targets and massive target sets.

This is a gigantic issue for real military planners, so it’s not a game design issue. Figuring out the “weak links” in the supply bottleneck is important-and difficult. I frequently use “supply facilities” as a catch-all, but that’s an oversimplification. Even in terms of attacks on line units, some things are higher-priority than others.

In one recent “what-if” scenario editor sample, I was having the never-were F-16XL conduct attacks with AGM-65s against Iraqi forces in the Gulf War. I had multiple rocket launchers (not ballistic missiles like the Scud, MRLs like the BM-21) as the chosen targets due to their lethality.

F-16xl

(an F-16XL, the hunter).

MRLtarget

ASTROS/Sejil-60 MRLs, the hunted.

(By the way, the outcome was fairly similar to the real Gulf War air campaign-massive damage to the Iraqi targets, and a few low-probability SAM launches in return. One did connect and downed an F-16XL)

Putting in gigantic target sets is time-consuming for a scenario designer, and becomes a bigger problem when munitions get more capable. (WWII-vintage planes in Command can bomb a target repeatedly and still miss-a modern fighter, even with unguided weapons, can easily knock the same thing out in one go). Putting over a hundred targets in has deterred me before.

Then there’s the issue of how many points should be given to what targets. I’ll admit in one scenario, I disabled scoring altogether to not have to deal with that issue. Since scoring has to be matched with expected player losses, it’s even harder to do right.