OVER ON BGG there is a thread asking for recommendations of a modern naval warfare wargame. This got me thinking, just what do I consider a ‘good’ modern naval warfare game? As a hobby gamer, I certainly have my opinions but what about my professional wargamer side?
When reading about naval warfare, one surely will run across the name of Capt. Wayne Hughes Jr., USN (Ret.). Capt. Hughes recently died, which led me to reread his classic Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat (Second Edition)*. In this series I am going to use Fleet Tactics to look at different naval wargames in my collection to arrive at some evaluation as to their value in understanding ‘modern’ naval warfare.
Modern naval warfare is a complex business and finding one model to use to evaluate a game is challenging. As I dug into Fleet Tactics, I discovered that Capt. Hughes really looks at naval warfare at two levels.
- Tactical using a Range Dependent Model of Modern Naval Combat, and
- Operational (Strategic?) through the lens of his Great Trends & Constants.
A Range Dependent Model of Modern Naval Combat
Modern tactical naval warfare involves fighting a platform, be it a surface ship, submarine, or aircraft. Capt. Hughes uses A Range Dependent Model of Modern Naval Combat, “to help a tactician relate the scouting and weapon effectiveness of his force to that of the enemy so that the net deliverable striking power of the two sides may be compared. This model indicates the circumstances that govern which side will be able to attack effectively first” (Hughes, p. 293).
Paraphrasing Capt. Hughes, the model has 12 elements:
- Two forces
- Defensive power in soft and hard-kill defenses thought of as a filter that subtracts incoming weapons
- Neither side can deliver weapons or be fully ready to defend without scouting information
- Scouting information may come from active search or passive intercept
- The content of scouting information is expressed in terms of Detection, Tracking, and Targeting
- Scouting performance is a function of the electronic emission control of the active side
- Passive scouting performance is a function of enemy EMCON choices
- Net delivered firepower as a function of range reduces the defender’s offensive and defensive combat capability after an attack is delivered
- Each unit that is mobile may move and carry along its firepower potential
- Onboard sensor move; other sensors may be in motion or fixed with the battle outcome resting on information collected and denied before the first weapons are fired
- Once enough scouting information is thought to be in hand, an attack is ordered; mounting and delivering it takes time and an enemy attack may arrive before the order is executed, rendering it null, or the enemy’s attack may arrive too late, in which case bot sides suffer
- Surviving forces may reattack after accounting for damage from hits, aircraft lost, and missiles expended (Adopted from Hughes, p. 295-296).
The Great Trends & Constants
When looking at modern operational naval warfare, I want to evaluate those wargames using Capt. Hughes by looking at his seven processes of naval action:
- Firepower & Counterforce
- Scouting & Anti-Scouting
- Command & Control (C2) and C2 Countermeasures (C2CM)
I’m not going to define these here but through each game evaluation will discuss how the title implements (or ignores) the processes Hughes discusses.
Capt. Hughes also writes on ‘What a Navy is for.’ Comparing operational or strategic naval wargames to these functions may also provide insight.
A navy’s purposes deal with the movement and delivery of goods and services at sea; in contrast, an army’s purpose is to purchase and possess real estate. Thus a navy is in the links business, while the army is in the nodes business. Seen that way, a navy performs one or more of four functions and no others: At sea, it (1) assures that our own goods and services are safe, and (2) that an enemy’s are not. From the sea, it (3) guarantees safe delivery of goods and services ashore, and (4) prevents delivery ashore by an enemy navy. – Hughes p. 9
There are numerous wargames on modern naval combat out there. For the purposes of this exploration I am artificially limiting myself to titles I own. I propose to use the Hughes model to look at:
- Sixth Fleet (SPI, 1975/1979)
- Warship Commander 1967-1997: Present Day Tactical Naval Combat Revised and Updated (Enola Games, 1979)
- Task Force (SPI, 1980)
- Seapower & the State (Simulations Canada, 1982)
- Battle Stations: An Operational Game of Modern Seapower (1982)
- Harpoon II (Adventure Games, 1984) – Will also include Harpoon (GDW, 1987) and Harpoon 4 (Clash of Arms / Admiralty Trilogy 1997+)
- Victory Games’ Fleet Series
- Compass Games’ Breaking the Chains (2014) and South China Sea (2017)
- Naval combat in GMT Games’ Next War: Poland (2017) and Next War: Korea 2nd Edition (2019)
- Blue Water Navy (Compass Games, 2019)
I admit to stretching the definition of ‘modern’ here since I am covering everything from the late 1960’s to the near-future. Let’s just agree that, for the purposes of this discussion series, ‘modern’ naval combat started with the first successful use of surface-to-surface missiles against a ship on 21 October 1967 when the Egyptians sank the Israeli Elath off Port Said and continues into the near-future of the 2020’s.
* The book is now in a Third Edition which I need to order the next time it’s on sale.