Like the video shows, in Harpoon V this battle is very quick to finish. The Harpoon V rules note:
Small craft, size class F and G, are tougher, ton for ton, and cannot be sunk by successive turns of fire that add up to their total damage point rating. They have to roll for critical hits for damage effects, but their point total is not reduced after each hit like larger craft. If the damage they receive in a single turn is twice their damage point rating, they are sunk.
14.1 Applying Damage
So…a Bayraktar TB2 dropping a single GAM-L hits and scores 14 damage points. The Raptor PB has a damage rating of…6.2.
MBT: The Game of tank-to-tank combat on a tactical level in 1987 Germany is solidly part of the “Cold War goes hot” genre of wargames. Which means it comes close, but not quite all the way, to replicating ground combat in today’s Ukraine War. Although MBT may not be the most modern “fit” for today, it still is a great game at discovering lessons of armored combat.
Most of Russia’s tanks are well protected to the front. The frontal armour of the slope at the front of the hull, known as the glacis, typically combines high hardness steels with composites or materials like fibre glass that are known to be challenging for weapons like the RPG-7. The angle of the armour – 68 degrees – increases its line-of-sight thickness to 547 mm for some of the earliest T-72 designs – it may be more for others. The turret armour on Russian tanks is also relatively capable to the front of the tank. The ‘cheeks’ of the cast turret are hollow, allowing additional advanced armours to be inserted that significantly extend protection against some types of threat.
This is what MBT models best. Playing a game of MBT with its precise hit locations and penetration versus armor model is what the hardcore Grognard in me loves.
MBT is—by design—a wargame that recreates the (past potential) battlefields of Europe at the height of the Cold War. The game—again by design—is optimized to simulate those massed Soviet thrusts or defensive stands. In many ways MBT is built around the U.S. Air-Land Battle Doctrine and the competing Soviet Army of that day. Both focused on combined arms. From the past two months of fighting in the Ukraine, the reformed Russian Army, though equipped with more modern equipment, appears to have lost the ability to execute combined arms operations. While MBT has many of the rules that can be used to simulate the new war we see today, what it doesn’t simulate is the poor decisions in the Russian operational art of this war.
While stabilisation of the main armament has been improved and its recoil mechanisms balanced to reduce impact upon the vehicle during firing, most Russian tanks appear to lack the quality of stabilisation that most Western tanks carry.
A second element of this problem is the mission system fit of Russian tanks. The sights and fire control computers are generally less modern than their peers.
Russian designs are also very cramped, and few Western tank operators would want to operate a main battle tank with a crew of three – which is standard for all Soviet designs from the T-64 onwards.
The first two factors are generally reflected in MBT as stabilization and sights are taken into account in the combat model. The last point does not directly appear to be modeled, but may play a part in overall determination of Force Grade and Morale.
While MBT has a good detailed model of platform versus platform, what it doesn’t capture very well are all the human factors in battle. Some are here, like Grade or Morale or even Tank Fright, but at the end of the day the real human factor in MBT is the players. To recreate the war in the Ukraine would require MBT players to make decisions that they might not be inclined to make.
Soviet-era tank design, starting with the T-64 and continuing with the T-72, T-80 and T-90 families – albeit with some minor differences – introduced an automatic ammunition handling system which sits beneath the turret of the tank.
This is a problem for Soviet designs because the ammunition carousel sits in the hull, which is very well protected to the front by the glacis, but less well protected to the sides. If the side or roof of the tank can be penetrated, the projectile stands a chance of hitting the tank’s ammunition, causing it to ‘cook off’. This is where the charges and explosive projectiles catch fire – a fire which quickly spreads because of a lack of firewalls between the munitions. If enough of the ammunition catches fire and detonates, it will often result in an explosion that throws the turret a considerable distance and the death of the entire crew.
Suffice it to say that the damage model in MBT is built upon what today might be seen as a “charitable” view of Russian armored survivability against modern ATGMs.
Further, in MBT ATGMs (found in Advanced Game Rule 22.214.171.124) are of the 1980’s. What is missing in MBT are rules for modern top- attack ATGMs like the FGM-148 Javelin.
Command & Control
The third and final point is the need to consider of Russian tactics and doctrine, which typically emphasise combined arms operations with a view to creating opportunities for artillery and close air support to deliver overwhelming force onto an opponent. Mission command – the delegation of authority and creativity to the lowest levels – rarely features in Russian training. This means that armoured formations operating independently from their supporting arms are probably doing something that they are not trained to do.
I strongly believe that if you want to play MBT and really understand modern combat, you MUST use the rules for Grade (5.8), Command Range (126.96.36.199.2), and Command Span (7.43). These rules, along with Morale (and especially Optional Rule 7.1 Morale) are essential to getting past the simple “force-on-force” wargame that so many gamers seem to relish in. Of course, MBT does not have Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) in it either, but by using these rules you can get a bit closer to understanding the challenges the BTG commander has in combat. The more I think about it, the more I realize that MBT might actually be too granular a model to use to explore the effectiveness of a BTG in combat. Instead of a very tactical game like MBT it might be more useful to use a platoon-scale system, like Frank Chadwick’s Assault series from GDW in the 1980′s but updated for today. Maybe even a version of Less Than 60 Miles from Thin Red Line Games could be used…but I note that this game might be best used to depict only a single axis of advance and not the whole campaign. In case you haven’t noticed, Ukraine is a HUGE place!
Back to the Future
The demise of the tank has been talked about for almost 50 years now, especially in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli Wars of the 1960’s and early 1970’s that were the first to feature mass use of ATGMs. So strong was the sentiment that it even crossed over into science fiction:
Tanks were born in the muck and wire of World War One. Less than sixty years later, there were many who believed that technology had made the behemoths as obsolete as horse cavalry. Individual infantrymen of 1970 carried missiles whose warheads burned through the armor of any tank. Slightly larger missiles ranged kilometers to blast with pinpoint accuracy vehicles costing a thousand times as much. Similar weaponry was mounted on helicopters which skimmed battlefields in the nape of the earth, protected by terrain irregularities. At the last instant the birds could pop up to rip tanks with their missiles. The future of armored vehicles looked bleak and brief.
“Supertanks,” Hammers’s Slammers, 1979
Of course, the answer in Hammer’s Slammers was the supertank. While I am saddened that similar combat vehicles are not on the near-horizon for us, I am confident that there will be a response. Probably not from Russia, but from someone. More importantly, along the path towards that new technology will very likely be a wargame. It might be similar to MBT, but depicting not the past but a bold new future.
To date, most of my science fiction RPGs could probably be best described as space opera focused with a healthy dose of starships and high tech gadgetry. The reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV series certainly has starships and gadgets, but the focus is very much on the human story. Indeed, the trivia says that actor Edward James Olmos, who played Commander William Adama in the reimagined series, had a clause in his contract that no strange aliens or monsters would appear so that the story stayed focused on the human drama.
Creating a character in the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is actually very straight forward. Indeed, in many ways it is not that much more complicated than my beloved Classic Traveller or Traveller 4 which is probably why I embraced the system so readily. Oh, there are major differences; the first being the dice pool mechanic. In many ways I was a bog-standard d6 gamer, so having to suddenly use d2, d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12 was a bit of a shift. The other major shift was Plot Points, a meta-game currency that players can use to influence (control?) the storyline. The closest I had previously come to Plot Points was the Luck game mechanic in Star Trek: The Role Playing Game and James Bond 007. The other major adjustment in my thinking was “ships as characters,” which I discussed in the Serenity Role Playing Game.
The Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game also made me think about the “math” behind the game mechanics of RPGs. Most of my RPGs to date used either 2d6 or d%. I was very comfortable with “figuring the odds with those dice. Here though, you had a target number and often were mixing different die types together. If our Target Number is seven (7), what are the odds of rolling 7 or greater with a d8+d6? In many ways the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game created for me an interest in RPG mechanisms as I yearned to learn more about the “models” underlying the games.
Reporting for Duty
Creating a character in the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is a simple seven-step process:
Set Staring Level: Determines the number of Attribute/Skill/Trait Points to spend
Concept: General personality
Buy Attributes: These are the character’s innate abilities
Buy Traits: Assets…and Complications
Buy Skills: Purchased in the form of “dice”
Calculate Derived Attributes: Simple calculations
Finishing Touches: Gear and other details
Unlike so many of my TTRPG before, character generation in the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is a point-buy system. The nice part here is that the system has little incentive to min-max, in part because of the Assets and Complications. Taken in conjunction with the Plot Point game mechanism, I barely realized that the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game was very nearly my first “narrative” RPG. That is, this was the first game where players had the ability to control the narrative through creative use of their Assets and Complications and Plot Points.
But before we get too far along on that idea, let me introduce Thomas “Puke” Dogg, a Viper pilot aboard the Battlestar Galactica.
Thomas “Puke” Dogg
Starting Level – Puke is a Veteran starting with 48 Attribute Points, 68 Skill Points, and 4 Trait Points.
Concept: Puke is a Viper pilot that suffered from a bout of spatial disorientation in flight school that led to him “losing his lunch” during a flight with a very senior instructor. Thus, “Puke” was born.
Buy Attributes: Attributes come in two flavors; Physical and Mental. Attribute Points are used to purchase different die levels at 1-to-1 cost.
Agility (Physical) – d12
Strength (Physical) – d8
Vitality (Physical) – d6
Alertness (Mental) – d8
Intelligence (Mental) – d8
Willpower (Mental) – d6
In keeping with the “Puke” story, our Viper pilot has far above average Agility, but lesser Vitality and Willpower.
Buy Traits: Traits can be positive (Assets) or negative (Complications).
Assets: Dogfighter d4; Split-Second Timing d4
Complications: Illness d4. The occasional weak stomach is actually something more serious…but who wants to see the Flight Doc when there is another Cylon raid inbound?
Buy Skills: Skills are bought in General and Specialty levels.
Covert d6 (Sleight of Hand d8)
Discipline d6 (Concentration d8)
Guns d6 (Pistols d8)
Heavy Weapons d6 (Autocannons d8)
Knowledge d6 (History d8)
Perception d6 (Tactics d8)
Pilot d6 (Viper d10)
Technical Engineering (Skilled only) d4
Calculate Derived Attributes:
Initiative (Agility + Alertness) = 20
Life Points (Vitality + Willpower) = 12
Finishing Touches: Puke is a Lieutenant.
Launch the Alert Viper!
Another aspect of the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game that I had to adjust to was a very character-centric approach to combat. So often in my RPG games to date, starship combat was a mini-wargame. Heck, the Star Trek: Roleplaying Game or The Babylon Project or Traveler: 2300 came with an entire set of wargame rules for ship combat. However, vehicle combat is the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is a bit abstract. As the text box “A Matter of Drama” in the Vehicle Combat rules section (p. 152) states:
…For the players, the most important part of any combat comes from the point-of-view of their characters.
In short, this is the Battlestar Galactica Roleplaying Game, not a miniatures wargame. Viper combat should be run on a personal level, with rolls made to attack or dodge incoming raider autocannons. It plays out very similarly to combat on a personal level.
The only time a roll is needed is when something dramatic is about to happen, when there’s a real question to be resolved.
“A Matter of Drama,” p. 152
In many ways, this character point-of-view approach to combat (or any encounter) in the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is not that far removed from the original Little Black Books of the Traveller Roleplaying Game. This is probably why this game clicked so well with me.
In the Cortex system, one doesn’t just roll a d6, but many other die types too. The Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game opened up a whole new world to me based on the Cortex game engine. Indeed, the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game and the Serenity Role Playing Game were the start of what I term my “Game Engine” era of RPGs where Cortex, FATE, a new Traveller, and what would eventually become known as Genesys would become the preponderance of my games. Alas, there were other games in there too; some titles might even seem a little mousy to some…
There are reports floating around the internet making the interesting claim that a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft was operating in the area the night the RFN Moskva was sunk. The implication is that the U.S. Navy P-8 fed targeting data to the Ukrainian Navy Neptune coastal defense anti-ship missile battery and therefore contributed to the sinking of the cruiser.
On April 13th, a P-8 Poseidon with a hex code of AE681B was spotted leaving the U.S. Airbase at Sigonella in Sicily, Italy, and was then detected over the Mediterranean at 1:32 pm local Kyiv time.
FlightRadar24 data then showed the P-8 flying over the Balkans and Bulgaria, after which it flew over the Romanian coast in the Black Sea in the afternoon. The last known position of the aircraft was Valea Nucarilor, Romania which is about 12 miles from the Ukrainian border, at 3:27 pm, about 100 miles from the location where the Moskva was found after allegedly being hit.
It had begun descending from an altitude of around 29,000 feet down to 11,900 feet just before dropping off FlightRadar24 tracking and disappearing.
It disappeared for about 2 hours and 56 minutes before appearing again at 6:23 pm, where it was seen flying towards the Black Sea coast above Casimcea in Romania, around 37 miles from the position it had been before it disappeared.
It is standard procedure for an aircraft to turn off its transponder or the device that broadcasts its location before entering any kind of conflict zone.
Around 19 minutes later the aircraft disappeared from the radar once again and then reappeared after 42 minutes near Abrud, in Romania at 7:24 pm. After that, it traveled back to Sigonella.
The Moskva was first reported to have been hit at 8:42 pm after a Facebook post that came from a Ukrainian who had links to the military, and then at 10:31 pm, the Ukrainian governor of Odesa confirmed that a strike had been carried out on the vessel.
In Harpoon 5, detection takes place in the Detection Phase of the Tactical Turn Sequence (2.3.3). Assuming the P-8 was using it’s surface search radar in the active mode after descending to 11,900 ft (3,627 m or Medium Altitude), taking the Radar Line of Sight table (part of rule 5.2.8 Radar Line of Sight) we cross-reference a P-8 flying at Medium Altitude and a Medium-size surface target to get a detection range of 170 nm; Moskva was very likely detected by the P-8 (and Moskva very likely also detected the P-8 in return).
The implication in the story is that the P-8 passed targeting data. In Harpoon 5, data is passed during the Detection Phase when players, “exchange visual, radar, sonar, Electronic Support (ES), data links, and other sensor information.” Once Moskva was detected, the P-8 would have to pass a fire control solution (see 6.3 Fire Control Solutions) to the Neptune battery to enable an attack. Per rule 6.3.1 Fire Control Solution Quality, there are four levels of quality; Good, Fair, Poor, and No Attack. Building a fire control solution is a combination of time (longer time in contact the better), contact speed, the generation (age) of the Combat System (aircraft are always a modifier of 0), and the generation of the weapon being used in the strike. Equally important is the Tactical Data Link being used to “pass” the solution. Given the amount of time the P-8 allegedly spent near Moskva—hours—the quality of the fire control solution would very likely be the best possible—Good.
In Harpoon 5, like in real life, how does the P-8 get that Good fire control solution to the Neptune battery? Did it use a Real Time or Near Real Time tactical data link? Although there are plenty of reports the U.S. is sharing intelligence with Ukraine*, there is no clear evidence that tactical data links are being used. A more plausible scenario is that U.S. and NATO intelligence is being collated and passed to Kyiv. At best, and assuming the P-8 was directly in contact with Ukrainian forces (a big assumption), we have to go to rule 6.3.10 Sharing Contact Information Without TDLs which states:
Contact data can be manually shared by radio (voice or teletype) or even cell phones, however, the process is slow, with a higher risk of errors, and has little tactical use other than reporting the presence of a contact in the area.
Even if the fire control solution was passed in real (or near) time to the Ukrainians, it was good at ~6:23 pm when the P-8 reappeared in the flight tracking application. This was maybe as long as two hours before Moskva was struck. There is no way in Harpoon 5 to keep a “good” fire control solution when not in contact. After two hours, the fire control solution from the P-8 by-the-rules was of No Attack quality.
If the Ukrainian Neptune battery commander in Harpoon 5 had only the general information (“No Attack” quality fire control solution) provided by the P-8, the commander is forced to use a Bearing Only Launch (BOL) following rule 6.3.6 of the same name. BOL attacks in turn are executed using rule 8.4.2 Bearing Only Launch (BOL) Attacks. The commander must pick a launch azimuth and a range for the seeker head to activate and start looking. The fire control solution quality is automatically Poor (interestingly, an improvement over the No Attack starting condition). As in any surface missile attack, when the seeker head opens the player must make a Placement Roll (6.3.8 Rolling for Weapon Placement) to see if the seeker finds its intended target. The chances of an anti-ship cruise missile using a BOL and finding its intended target when the seeker activates is 30%.
How could the Neptune battery commander improve his odds using the rules in Harpoon 5? It’s quite possible he used his organic sensors. The Neptune ASCM is part of a weapons complex that includes the missile, the launcher, command and control, and sensors. The sensor intended for the Neptune system is called Mineral-U. The Mineral-U is an interesting system, known in Harpoon 5 as a Targeting Radar (SS-T):
Targeting radars (SS-T) are a type of surface-search radar used by the Soviet Union/Russia. They not only function as a surface search radar optimized to use the surface duct to extend their range over the horizon, but can serve as extremely precise ES [Electronic Support] sensors….They can use the radar duct to extend their range.
5.2.4 Shipboard Radar Types
Although one could argue about the lack of Russian air superiority, the Neptune battery commander might not want to “go active” and try to get an Active RF [Radio Frequency] fire control solution. To radiate the Mineral-U radar is to invite an attack. Alternatively, it is possible to work towards a Passive RF fire control solution using rule 6.3.2 Radio-Frequency (RF) Fire Control Solution. To achieve a Good solution for the Neptune means tracking Moskva for at least 15 minutes (5 Tactical Turns); a risk but one well worth it? With a Good quality fire control solution the Placement Roll is 90%—a vast improvement over the 30% chance with a BOL Poor quality solution.
This little exploration using Harpoon 5 shows us that, while it is technically possible the P-8 “tracked” Moskva, even if that data was somehow passed to the Ukrainians it was more likely used for (at best) general situational awareness and not for targeting. To achieve the greatest chance for success, the Ukrainian Neptune battery commander more likely used organic sensors to Find, Fix, Track, and Target Moskva to enable the Neptune missiles to Engage. Harpoon 5 gives us a tool to Assess strike success.
Ukrainian forces have used specific coordinates shared by the U.S. to direct fire on Russian positions and aircraft, current and former officials tell NBC News.
As Russia launched its invasion, the U.S. gave Ukrainian forces detailed intelligence about exactly when and where Russian missiles and bombs were intended to strike, prompting Ukraine to move air defenses and aircraft out of harm’s way, current and former U.S. officials told NBC News.
That near real-time intelligence-sharing also paved the way for Ukraine to shoot down a Russian transport plane carrying hundreds of troops in the early days of the war, the officials say, helping repel a Russian assault on a key airport near Kyiv.
“There has been a lot of real-time intelligence shared in terms of things that could be used for specific targeting of Russian forces,” said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the situation. The information includes commercial satellite images “but also a lot of other intelligence about, for example, where certain types of Russian units are active.”
Ukrainian forces have used specific coordinates shared by the U.S. to direct fire on Russian positions and aircraft, current and former officials tell NBC News.
While the phrase “real-time intelligence” is liberally sprinkled throughout the article, and some of the reporting implies extremely timely exchange of intelligence, the association of the P-8 and the Moskva sinking is not discussed. The fact remains that even if the P-8 passed target-quality intelligence “in real-time,” the data was “aged” by at least two hours before any Neptune strike. The Harpoon 5 -derived situation still stands as a very plausible explanation of the likely events at the time of the sinking.
North Korea is celebrating another anniversary of some event that means something important to them but for the free world means we get to see a military parade with lots of missiles and other lethal toys for Kim Jong Un.
Well you know what, Rocket Man? I have missile trucks too.
Mine carries two missiles and is a smaller three-axle vehicle. It gets the job done. It came from China, like so many of yours might have too.
The difference is mine are environmentally friendly, not destructive of it.
Seriously, this was a fun build. I took it into the office and spent part of lunchtime building it. All the wood pieces punched out cleanly with little-to-no sanding required. I assembled mine without glue except for one part which was weak. Finished model is a bit over 5″ long. Sits on my office desk and is a great conversation starter.
In the podcast I mentioned that I have 20 items either in Kickstarter, on GMT Games P500, or on preorder (mostly with Compass Games). Already in the short time since we recorded (just days before posting) there has been movement on more than a few items:
Reality Shift (Academy Games) – Kickstarter December 2020 with estimated delivery May 2021 (11 months delay); per April 21, 2022 update the games are on ship expected to arrive New York on May 17, 2022 with fulfillment to start immediately thereafter
“OK… US & Canadian backers – unfortunately, there is a delay. I only found out yesterday night so this is fresh news but shipping is likely to be 6 weeks late. That would be early May for the games to ship, with an additional 2-3 weeks for Canadian deliveries on top of this. I will not make excuses for the responsible company – they’ve let me down. But I also won’t reveal them, as that would serve no purpose. Please accept my apologies for the delay.”
In the podcast I repeatedly mentioned that communications is the key to my happiness with a crowdfunding or pre-order campaign. Jim Dietz of The Dietz Foundation ran a most excellent Kickstarter campaign for Supercharged and 1979 Revolution in Iran. The major reason I am happy is that he always communicated—good or bad!
While I am an anxious to get 2 Minutes to Midnight into my hands, Stuart Tonge’s explanation is perfectly acceptable and very welcome. It also shows that a bit of humility and honesty are extremely valuable in a relationship. While I wait for my game, I do so with great respect for the efforts Stuart is making.
In 2002 I was stationed overseas with the U.S. military. If you have ever been stationed in the military overseas you will know all about the American Forces Radio & Television Service, or AFRTS (pronounced “A-FARTS”). What you will very likely remember is that AFRTS had no real commercials; instead you got “public service” and command messages.
What you also didn’t get was the latest television shows, which is why I didn’t get around to watching the 2002 season of the TV series Firefly until after I returned stateside in mid-2004. By 2005 I discovered the movie Serenity and the Firefly TV series and eventually even a new RPG, the Serenity Role Playing Game from Margaret Weis Productions (2005)
Technically speaking, I didn’t actually discover the Serenity RPG until 2007 when I got the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game (Margaret Weis Productions, 2007) and then went hunting for the older game. But in this 2022 CharGen Challenge I’m working my way through titles chronologically by publication date which is why this game is here.
The books for Serenity are beautiful, full color hardbacks that are lavishly illustrated with extensive use of the intellectual property. They were then, and still today, bloody expensive. But between those covers I discovered a RPG game engine that reinvigorated my RPG mojo after a decade of darkness.
Serenity was written by Jamie Chambers and uses a game engine that eventually came to be call Cortex. Unlike many of the RPGs I played before, Serenity uses a dice pool system. The fact I needed to buy d2, d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12 to play was enjoyable. Characters were easy for me to understand as they have Attributes and Skills. Finally, a game that doesn’t have Classes or Feats or Talents!
While I had grown very comfortable over the decades with a lifepath character generation system of random tables and the like, Serenity uses a point-buy approach. Yes, this demanded a change in my attitude, but here it seemed so natural. I will admit that the first time I came across Traits, Assets, and Complications it was a bit tough to understand, but again the whole package was put forward in such an enjoyable and understandable way I just went with it.
Little did I realize it at the time, but with Serenity I was moving into a more narrative style of RPG play. Nowhere was this more evident than with Plot Points—a form of currency used in-game to “buy” a bonus or create a short-term, expiring “reward” for players. The other part major change Serenity showed me was the concept of “ships as characters.”
Let Me Tell Ya About this FREE Trader…
Up until this point in my tabletop role-playing game experience, vehicles—be they ships or aircraft or ground vehicles or whatever—were always thought of and described simply as equipment. That is, they had a very mechanical description for they were really nothing more than tools for characters to use. Going a bit further, given the wargame heritage of designer Frank Chadwick it’s not surprising that vehicles in the Traveller Roleplaying Game were described in wargame terms. The listing for any ship in Traveller is little different than one finds in Janes’ Defense journals.
Not so for Serenity. While ships are given some encyclopedic entries (Dimensions, Tonnage, Crew, etc.) the in-game statistics mirror characters with Agility, Strength, Vitality, Alertness, Intelligence, Intuition, Willpower, Initiative, and Life. Ships even had SKILLS! Add to that the different traits and complications and every ship could be given a personality. Which really does make sense and is totally in keeping with the sci-fi roots of the game. Enterprise (Star Trek), Eagle 1, Space: 1999) the Millennium Falcon (Star Wars) , Galactica (Battlestar Galactica), and Serenity (Firefly) all are more character than setting in each of those franchises.
In the Serenity Role Playing Game building a ship is like building a character. You start with a Concept, determine Ship Attributes, figure out some Specifications, and then assign Ship Traits, Ship Skill, and so on.
Concept: Small(?) courier ship to move (few passengers) and (some) cargo between planets. Usually owned by corporations or governments but few operate “freelance” in the verse.
Agility d6 “Average Maneuverability”
Strength d4 “100-1,000 tons / Small Transport”
Vitality d8 “Requires low maintenance”
Alertness d4 “Basic, typical needs for privately-owned vessel”
Intelligence d4 “Substandard; can handle mundane flight details”
Willpower d4 “Basic; automatically seal bulkheads at critical sections, backups for the most critical systems”
Have you heard of Force Design 2030? It’s the new warfighting concept for the U.S. Marine Corps. Apparently it’s become quite controversial. What I find interesting is the prominence wargaming is getting in the arguments for and against the concept.
One of the commandant’s first priority tasks was to identify risks associated with this design. The task sparked an immediate series of wargames, which I oversaw, to examine the divestments. Based on this risk assessment, the commandant decided to proceed in some areas while deferring trade-off decisions in others, pending more analysis.
Wargames…as risk assessment. A solid reminder that wargames don’t (can’t?) predict the future, but are useful to help identify areas of concern (i.e. “risk”).
In an article in Politico, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Paul Van Riper appeals, “What we want to see is these changes are based on thorough study and analysis, not just projections of what might be needed.” Yet there were reams of reports on wargames, experiments, and studies on potential investment decisions and warfighting concepts that informed Berger’s decisions.
Wargames…as one tool in the Commandant’s kitbag to help inform decisions (not make them).
There is, however, a legitimate critique of the commandant’s approach: He handed the force development enterprise a single course of action, which dominated the analysis and wargaming in a way that left little room for a consideration of alternatives.
In the military planning process, the step for wargaming is preceded by COA (Courses of Action) development. At the very least there needs to be at least two COA identified; Most Likely and Most Dangerous. This apparently did not happen.
Having wargamed many of the ideas that contributed to stand-in forces, my view is they are, without a doubt, applicable to crisis response scenarios and will do better than the legacy force under most circumstances.
An opinion, but again one informed by wargaming.
Force Design 2030 drops the active component infantry from 24 to 21 battalions and the size of each battalion from 896 to between 733 and around 800, according to the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab. As such, in the most extreme case, the Marine Corps drops active component infantry from 21,504 to 15,393 — a 29 percent overall reduction. However, based on experimentation and wargaming, the Marine Corps is likely going to settle around 800 per battalion, a 22 percent reduction in total infantry
Experimentation in the Warfighting Lab, aka “wargaming,” used again to inform a decision.
What is a concern is that Force Design 2030 envisions infantry that are both commando-like in their employment and episodically become the core of new littoral combat teams focused on sea denial. Given the National Defense Strategy, the idea of a littoral combat team contributing to a joint maritime campaign has merit. There are many joint, Navy, and Marine Corps wargames from the past several years that support this. But multi-tasking the infantry, by design, to be both commandos and littoral combat teams may undercut their ability to effectively do either. There are alternative configurations that avoid this stress to the force. The service’s World War II-era coastal defense battalions serve as precedent for this. According to the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, in the ongoing refinements to the infantry battalion and the Marine littoral regiment, such an alternative approach is in consideration.
It’s good to see wargaming being used to inform decisions, as well as some acknowledgement that although they were handed a single COA, there are still alternatives emerging form the process. Marines and wargaming have a bit of a controversial history, with then Maj Gen Van Riper right in the middle of it (look up Millennium Challenge 2002).
Prediction is a much tougher subject. In recent weeks I can’t even tell you how many “experts” have popped up on social media claiming expertise on tank warfare in the Ukraine based on a high score in World of Tanks. Putting those clowns aside, there are some commercial hobby players who don’t want to even touch wargames about the future and only want to play historical conflict simulations. Others look at modern/near-future games as not that different from science fiction. With the recent sinking of the RFN Moskva, I think we can at least see that some game models can be “validated.” Beyond that, I think hobby wargames can be useful in providing insight into the future. The real challenge is not in designing a wargame that looks at the future and “gets it right,” but understanding the various biases and assumptions underpinning the game and models. Before one can draw conclusions, one must understand the model.
Given that Moskva is a major combatant with a wide assortment of radars and defensive systems, the result of the attack/accident seems almost implausible. On paper this is a Ukrainian David vs. a Russian Goliath. Alternatively, how could the Russian Navy lose a ship to a fire? A closer examination of a plausible “engagement” using the Harpoon V rules reveals it’s not as lopsided as one might think.
If reports are to be believed, Moskva was struck by by two RK-360MC Neptun (Neptune) anti-ship cruise missiles. Neptune is generally reported to be a Ukrainian version of the Russian Kh-35U but with a longer body, more fuel, and a larger booster. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s use the Kh-35U which is listed as the Uran (3M24) [SS-N-25 Switchblade] in Annex D1 of Russia’s Navy: Soviet & Russian Naval Vessels, 1955-2020 (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2021). The most important data element is perhaps the damage caused by the 150kg warhead which Harpoon V rates as “35+D6/2” or 36-38 damage points. Admittedly, this number may be a bit low given the Neptune has more fuel and is larger, factors which lead to more damage in Admiralty Trilogy models.
Moskva is (was?) the lead ship of the Project 1164 Atlant class. To Cold War Grognards like me it’s perhaps better known as a Slava-class guided missile cruiser. The lead ship, Slava, entered service in 1983 and eventually was renamed Moskva in 1995. This particular ship was overhauled between 1991-2000 and was to be overhauled again in 2016. Reports indicate the overhaul stalled for lack of funds and the ship reentered service in 2019 with few—or none—of the planned upgrades completed. Full details for Moskva are found in Annex A of Russia’s Navy. Of particular concern to this analysis, Moskva is rated at 341 damage points.
There are many unanswered questions about how the Ukrainians may have hit Moskva with two ASCMs. In Harpoon V one can play out the detection, engagement, and damage results. While many pundits are saying that Moskva “should” have seen—and defeated—the inbound missiles, Harpoon V helps us understand why this may have not been an “automatic” thing.
Missile Size/Height of Flight: The Neptune is a “Very Small” missile that approaches at “Very Low” altitude (Annex D)
Radar Detection Range: The MR-710 Fregat-M (Top Steer) air search radar has a detection range of 27 nm versus a VSmall target (Annex J1)
“A radar’s range is reduced by rising sea states, rain, and nearby land masses” (5.2.9 Environmental Effects on Radar)
Although it is unclear exactly where Moskva was operating, general weather reports from the region indicate poor weather with possible precipitation; assuming Sea State 3 with Light Rain the detection range is reduced by 40%
The Fregat-M is a 4th Generation radar so technically it should be able to deal with the environmental clutter and keep the full detection range—if the crew was properly trained.
Missile Speed: The 3M24 flies at 580 knots, or almost 10 nm a minute. That’s a little less than one Tactical Turn (3 minutes, or 6x 30 second increments) in Harpoon V.
Once the missile was detected the ship’s defenses should have engaged. Maybe…but not so fast…
Of SAMs and CIWS…
Reaction Time: Rule 188.8.131.52 covers Reaction Time; with a 3rd Generation SAM the normal delay is 3 increments (90 seconds) with a variable 0 to +4 increments added (see Combat System Reaction Time and Combat System Reaction on page 8-4).
Moskva at best may have gotten one SAM volley off and then point defense CIWS—if they were fully alerted at General Quarters
The S-300 Fort (5V55R) [SA-N-6a Grumble] has a minimum range of 2.7nm (Annex D1)
The Osa-MA (9M33M2 [SA-N-4a Gecko] has a range of .5 to 6.5 nm (Annex D1)
Using 8.1.1 Radar-Guided Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs), step 7) Punch the Table, we look up SAM Intercept Table – VLow Altitude Targets and cross-reference Subsonic & Transonic with 3rd Generation (Fregat-M radar) and get”S-P” meaning there will be one chance to engage at Short Range and one chance for Point Defense (good guess above!)
If the S-300 Fort got off a two-SAM salvo, the Probability of Kill (Pk) is around 80%; the Osa-MA is a bit less with a Pk of ~75% for a two-SAM salvo
Moskva mounts two, twin AK-130 130mm/70 guns; given the short reaction times involved I’m going to rule they were very likely not able to get into action fast enough to engage the inbound missiles
Moskva also mounts six AK-630 30mm close-in-weapon systems (CIWS); assuming one pair is able to engage at Point Blank Range it has roughly a 76% chance of knocking down a missile.
The defensive model in Harpoon V assumes ships are at General Quarters with all sensors and weapons at the ready. General Quarters is also very hard to maintain with watertight doors secured and people constantly on edge. It is more likely that Moskva was operating in some lesser readiness condition. This of course means sensors and weapons may not have been ready (extending the Reaction Time) and watertight integrity/damage control teams may not have been set to immediately deal with damage.
Damage (Out of) Control
Regardless of the defenses, if stories are to believed at least two ASCM got through and hit. Let’s see how Harpoon V portrays that:
Applying Damage (14.1): Two hits cause ~74 points of damage which is less than the 85 needed to reach 25% damage and no loss in speed (14.1.1); 341-74=267 damage points remaining
Ship Critical Hits (14.1.2): To compute damage ratio take 74/267 for a result of .277 rounded down to .2; the Critical Hit Damage Ratios table indicates a a D6 roll of 4 is 1x Critical, 5 is 2x Critical, and 6 is 3x Critical.
Missile Impacts (14.1.5): Guided missiles cause additional Critical Hits because of the airframe and fuel based on the damage points from the missile; the 3M24 will cause D6/2 extra Critical Hits PLUS one Automatic Fire Critical hit
Critical Hit summary: So far that’s between 0-6 Critical Hits with an additional automatic Fire Critical
Fire Critical (14.4): Rolling D6 gets 3 or 3% of the original 341 damage points or 10 more damage points scored immediately (257 remaining)
Flooding Critical (14.4): Let’s assume for the moment that one of those other Critical Hits was a flooding scoring 4% (13 DP) for a total of 97 hits or 244 remaining; this is more than 25% overall damage so speed is reduced
Weapon Critical Hit/Mount Detonation (14.5): There are some reports that “broadside ammunition” was the cause of the fire. Moskva has those huge tubes for the P-500 Bazalt (4M80) [SS-N-12 Mod 1 Sandbox] missiles; if there was a Weapons Critical Hit that scored against this weapon, there is a 10% chance of detonation which would score 71+D6 damage (average 75?) reducing the damage points to 244-75=169 which is just under 50% remaining which means speed is reduced to 16 kts and kicking off another round of Critical Hits (75/169=.44 rounded to .4 for between 0-5 more Critical Hits)—it’s easy to see a snowballing damage effect here especially if more fires or flooding in involved…
Fire & Flooding Severity Level (see 14.4): If Moskva suffered at least 16% in Fire and Flooding damage the crew is considered “Overwhelmed.” The damage is considered a “Conflagration” which has a 25% chance every Intermediate Turn (30 minutes) of causing a magazine explosion which can only be avoided by flooding the magazines and pushing ordnance overboard.
So why is everybody seemingly surprised at the outcome of events?
The late Captain Wayne P. Hughes Jr., USN (Ret.) in his book Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat Second Edition (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000) shared a study showing the number of Exocet equivalents (approximately equal to one 3M24) it would take to cripple or sink a warship (see Fig. 6-1, Exocet Missile Equivalents versus Full-Load Displacement for Ships Out of Action and Sunk, p. 160). The table goes up to 7,000 tons but extrapolating the data to ~10,000 tons (Moskva is 9,380 tons standard displacement) indicates that two hits are very likely enough to put Moskva out of action and four or five hits would be sufficient to sink the ship. Assuming two missiles and maybe one sympathetic detonation of ordnance that’s already three hits…with maybe a fourth from fire and flood damage. In many ways the surprise should not be Moskva sinking but if the ship somehow survives.
To be or not TB2
Part of the story of the Moskva attack includes the Ukrainians using a Bayraktar TB2 drone (Harpoon V stats found in The Naval SITREP #56) to “distract” the crew. Personally, I am unsure as to the chances that the Ukraine Navy would operate a TB2 at range (the datalink is rated in Harpoon V as 150 km range), at night, and in bad weather but it’s possible? Some allege the TB2 pulled off Moskva’s radars so they didn’t “see”the attack coming on on the other side. Note that the air search radars used aboard Moskva provide 360 degree coverage. A more plausible explanation to me is that the crew became fixated and focused on a potential TB2 threat and in turn failed (at night and in sea clutter) to see inbound sea-skimming missiles. This is a reality of life in combat and not necessarily replicated in a wargame simulation model.
Which is the real point of this post; wargames can help us understand more about a battle but in the end it cannot capture many human factors. Was Moskva ready for an attack? If not, how long does it take the crew to react (this is a major training issue). Was the crew “distracted” by a TB2 and lacked the discipline to maintain their sector watch and “missed” the inbound missiles? We may never know these answers.