#Wargame Wednesday – Did Poseidon feed Moskva to Neptune, or was it Mineral-U spirits? What does Harpoon 5 (admiraltytrilogy.com) wargame say?

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.

oslint.org, April 21,2022

Using the wargame Harpoon 5 (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2021) lets see what we can learn. For this exploration we will need to dig deep into two particular rules sections; 5.0 Detection and 6.0 Fire Control.

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.

6.3.10

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
Mineral-U radar vehicle seen displayed at the open-air exhibition ”A Digital Future for the Army” held in Kyiv in October 2021 (Courtesy en.defense-ua.com)

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.


* UPDATE: On Tuesday, April 26, NBC News published a story that talked about the degree of intelligence sharing between the United States and Ukraine:

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.


RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Moskva Burning – Using the #wargame Harpoon V from admiraltytrilogy.com to assess the story

Update as of April 14, 4:30pm Eastern time. Reports from Russian state media now say Moskva sunk while under tow.

As I start writing this post, it is the day after the news broke that the Russian Navy cruiser Moskva either was struck by Ukrainian coastal anti-ship missiles or suffered an ammunition explosion and fire. Pending further developments, let’s assume for the purposes of this post that the ship was attacked. This allows me to look at the event through the lens of wargaming, specifically using the rules for Harpoon V: Modern Tactical Naval Combat 1955-2020 (designers Larry Bond & Chris Carlson, Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2021).

Courtesy ATG

In the October 2006 issue (#31) of The Naval SITREP: The Journal of the Admiralty Trilogy Game System, the co-designers of Harpoon V assessed the anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) attack on the INS Hanit in July 2006. I’m not going to go into the same technical depth here but instead want to talk a bit about what Harpoon V helps explain and what it doesn’t.

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.

Combatants

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.

Courtesy Military-Today.com

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.

Courtesy @Naval_Graphics on Twitter

The “Engagement”

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.

Detection

  • 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 8.1.1.3 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
  • SAMs
    • 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
  • CIWS
    • 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?

“Naval combat at sea has always been highly lethal to the participants.”

Captain Wayne P. Hughes Jr., USN (Ret.)

Unexpected Lethality?

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.

Courtesy aerotime.aero

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.


Feature image courtesy koko.ng

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#Wargame Wednesday – Air War: Ukraine from a wargame perspective

Over at the Royal United Services Institute, Justin Bronk wrote an article, “Is the Russian Air Force Actually Incapable of Complex Air Operations?” As I read the article I thought, as I am wont to do, about how the issues Mr. Bronk raises are reflected—or not—in wargames. As I worked my way through the article, it reminded me that many wargames approach air warfare differently. The different game mechanisms used in wargames to represent complex air operations seemingly try to balance playability versus a “realistic” depiction of complex air operations resulting in wildly different mechanisms and gaming experiences. Alas, many of these air warfare wargames present a very “western” view of complex air operations that actually may not be reflective of the Russian way of war.

No (Air) Show?

One of the greatest surprises from the initial phase of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been the inability of the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) fighter and fighter-bomber fleets to establish air superiority, or to deploy significant combat power in support of the under-performing Russian ground forces. On the first day of the invasion, an anticipated series of large-scale Russian air operations in the aftermath of initial cruise- and ballistic-missile strikes did not materialise. An initial analysis of the possible reasons for this identified potential Russian difficulties with deconfliction between ground-based surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries, a lack of precision-guided munitions and limited numbers of pilots with the requisite expertise to conduct precise strikes in support of initial ground operations due to low average VKS flying hours. These factors all remain relevant, but are no longer sufficient in themselves to explain the anaemic VKS activity as the ground invasion continues into its second week. Russian fast jets have conducted only limited sorties in Ukrainian airspace, in singles or pairs, always at low altitudes and mostly at night to minimise losses from Ukrainian man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) and ground fire.

Justin Bronk, “Is the Russian Air Force Actually Incapable of Complex Air Operations?” RUSI.org, 04 Mar 2022

Mr. Bronk goes on to explain how many analysts, like himself, tended to focus on equipment modernization. Is this not just like wargamers, who always want to play with “the latest toys?” He then discusses three possible explanations as to why the VKS is almost a total “no-show” in the early days of the Ukraine War:

  • The VKS is being held in reserve as a deterrent to NATO
  • The VKS has few aircraft able to employ precision-guided munitions and in an effort to avoid civilian casualties its use was restrained
  • VKS commanders have a low-risk tolerance and are unwilling to risk expensive platforms.

Bronk contends that none of these explanations are sufficient. As he explains:

While the early VKS failure to establish air superiority could be explained by lack of early warning, coordination capacity and sufficient planning time, the continued pattern of activity suggests a more significant conclusion: that the VKS lacks the institutional capacity to plan, brief and fly complex air operations at scale. There is significant circumstantial evidence to support this, admittedly tentative, explanation.

Justin Bronk, “Is the Russian Air Force Actually Incapable of Complex Air Operations?” RUSI.org, 04 Mar 2022

So, how does one reflect an “institutional capacity to plan, brief and fly complex air operations at scale” in a wargame?

“…plan, brief and coordinate complex air operations…”

Of the several reasons Bronk lists for the failure of the Russian air force in the Ukraine War, scale and complexity are directly relatable to wargaming.

First, while the VKS has gained significant combat experience in complex air environments over Syria since 2015, it has only operated aircraft in small formations during those operations. Single aircraft, pairs or occasionally four-ships have been the norm. When different types of aircraft have been seen operating together, they have generally only comprised two pairs at most. Aside from prestige events such as Victory Day parade flypasts, the VKS also conducts the vast majority of its training flights in singles or pairs. This means that its operational commanders have very little practical experience of how to plan, brief and coordinate complex air operations involving tens or hundreds of assets in a high-threat air environment.

Justin Bronk, “Is the Russian Air Force Actually Incapable of Complex Air Operations?” RUSI.org, 04 Mar 2022

If we want to understand complex air operations in a high-threat environments, it seems to me we need to look at both the scale and complexity of Cold War or modern/near future air warfare wargames. While the scale may be easy to distinguish, “complexity” becomes a bit more, uh, complex of an issue. As we look at different games, we need to distinguish between “game complexity” and depictions of “complex” air operations.

Dogfights

Looking at my personal collection of Cold War/modern or near-future wargames, I have a wide variety of titles like J.D Webster’s modern Air Power combat games (Air Superiority/Air Strike, GDW 1986/1987 and Speed of Heat, Clash of Arms Games, 1992) or Gary “Mo” Morgan’s Flight Leader (Avalon Hill, 1986) and even the incredibly detailed Birds of Prey (Ad Astra Games, 2008). What all of these air combat wargames have in common is a very granular scale with a focus on individual aircraft. Indeed, these air combat wargames are focused just like VKS operations in Syria since 2015—great for dogfighting individual or small numbers of aircraft but less applicable to integrated complex air operations.

Some wargames with individual aircraft try to get towards complex air operations, but often suffer from playability issues. What I mean here is that “game complexity” does not necessarily lead to a better representation of “complex air operations. For example, Persian Incursion (Clash of Arms Games, 2010), based on Harpoon from Admiralty Trilogy Games, tried to take individual aircraft and defensive batteries and depict Israeli strikes on Iran nuclear weapons facilities. While in development, the designers and developers discovered the game mechanisms were actually far too granular for what they were trying to do. The result was a streamlined air combat system that eventually worked its way into the next generation of Harpoon. Even with the streamlined approach, however, the game is still incredibly complex to plan and play and players often get bogged down in figuring out how to manipulate the game rather than explore the effects of planning choices. Then again, this might be a reflection of the challenge the VKS face; they are more practiced at “dogfighting” but when planning and executing more complex operations (aka an “air campaign”) they themselves get bogged down by details and lose sight of outcomes.

Raids

One series of wargames that certainly allows players to “plan, brief, and coordinate complex air operations involving tens or hundred of assets in a high-threat air environment” is Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s “Raid” series of wargames that started with Downtown (GMT Games, 2004) and was followed by Elusive Victory (Terry Simo, GMT Games, 2009) and Red Storm (Douglas Bush, GMT Games, 2019). These games are excellent for planning and coordinating “modern” large strike packages (i.e. “air raids”) in high-air defense threat environments. The “scale” in these wargames is minutes and flights of aircraft. If they have a drawback in this discussion, it is they are almost strictly focused on the air combat domain and only indirectly show the impact of air operations on ground forces.

For an air “raid” wargame that shows the impact of air power on ground forces, I look to Gary “Mo” Morgan’s TAC AIR from Avalon Hill in 1986. TAC AIR is at-heart a manual wargame training aid used to, “depict modern air-land battle, complete with integrated air defense systems, detailed air mission planning and Airspace Control considerations” (“Game information – Designer’s Profile,” TAC AIR Battle Manual, p. 20). Like Red Storm, flights of aircraft move about the board in TAC AIR. The main difference is that TAC AIR has a ground combat system integrated into the game whereas Red Storm abstracts ground units and is only concerned with the effects of air strikes while not attempting to depict the ground war in any real level of detail.

Squadrons & Tracks

The next “scale” of air combat wargames I see are what I call “squadrons and tracks.” These wargames tend to have air units at the squadron-level and often move air warfare “off-map” to a sideboard set of tracks. A good example of a modern operational “squadron and tracks” wargame that integrates complex air operations is Mitchell Land’s Next War series from GMT Games. Specifically, I am talking about the Air Power rules in the Advanced Game (22.0 Air Power in Next War: Korea 2nd Edition, 2019). As the design note comments, “This air game is not for the faint of heart” as it adds a great deal of complexity to the game. Instead of flying units on the map, squadrons of aircraft are allocated against broad missions. The air system in Next War demands players allocate for Air Superiority (22.6) or Air-to-Ground Missions (23.0) which includes Wild Weasel missions to suppress enemy Detection and SAM Tracks (23.3), Air Strikes (23.4.1), and Helicopter Strikes (23.4.2). Air Defenses (24.0) get their own section of rules which includes “Local” Air Defense Network (24.2) such as man-portable air defenses (MANPADS) as well as SAM Fire (24.5) and anti-aircraft artillery (24.6 AAA Fire). The Next War air system certainly steps up game complexity while simultaneously reflecting the “complexity” of air operations. These game mechanisms are also maybe the most tied with the ground war of any wargame we will discuss here, albeit at the cost of that increased complexity of showing complexity.

Although designer Brad Smith calls NATO Air Commander (Hollandspiele, 2018) a game of “Solitaire Strategic Air Command in World War III” I view the game as an operational-level depiction of the NATO Air Campaign for a war in Central Europe. Much like the Next War series, player in NATO Air Commander allocate air units against different missions. The whole gamut of missions are here, from various recon missions like Battlefield Surveillance (6.1) to Locate Headquarters (6.2) to Locate Staging Areas (6.3). Primary Missions (7.1) include the Close Air Support, Follow-On Forces Attack (think interdiction), Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses (DEAD), Offensive Counter-Air (OCA), and even a Decapitation Strike against enemy headquarters. Aircraft can also fly Support Missions (7.2) such as Air Escort or Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD). In the 1980’s, precision guided munitions (PGMs) were of limited supply so there are restrictions their usage. Likewise, pilot quality can make a difference and assigning a Pilot to an Air Unit on a raid is beneficial. Ground combat in NATO Air Commander is a bit abstracted with the use of Thrust Lines and a Cohesion Value for the Warsaw Pact attacker being compared to a NATO Defense Value. In many ways, NATO Air Commander does an excellent job capturing the complexity of air operations with a relatively simple ground combat interface that emphasizes the impact of air operations on the ground war without a detailed model of that part of the conflict.

[Interestingly, a playtest version of the follow-on game to NATO Air Commander from Brad Smith provisionally called Warsaw Pact Air Commander that I saw used a different ground combat model. The new model which is a bit more detailed used areas instead of just the Thrust Lines of NATO Air Commander.]

Missions, Point Salads, & Assets

More than a few wargames abstract air power away from even squadrons and use an even more simplified sideboard set of tracks. Different wargames use different approaches, but I arbitrarily group many into a broad set I call “Missions, Point Salads, and Assets.”

An example of a “Missions” wargame is Carl Fung’s Iron Curtain: Central Europe, 1945-1989 (Multi-Man Publishing, 2020). Here, points of individual aircraft types (i.e. F-15 or MiG-29) are assigned to broad mission categories on a sideboard track. In the case of Iron Curtain, aircraft are assigned to either Air Superiority or Air Strike missions. As air combat is resolved, some aircraft might be eligible to support a combat action on the mapboard. While Carl’s approach is very playable, it is hardly a depiction of “complex air operations.”

Another example of a “Missions” wargame is Bruce Maxwell’s original edition of NATO: The Next War in Europe (Victory Games, 1983). Instead of allocating different types of aircraft players track Tactical and Operational Air Attack Points and assign them to different missions. Interestingly, air superiority and air defense missions are not represented; Air Attack Points are allocated against Airstrike Missions, Support Suppression, Road Interdiction, or Rail Interdiction. While certainly more playable, the reflection of “complex air operations” in this system is heavily abstracted.

Fabrizio Vianello’s C3 Series wargames (Less Than 60 Miles, 2019 & The Dogs of War, 2020) from Thin Red Line Games give players Air Points every turn. These Air Points—which do not get any sort of aircraft typing or identification—can be used for Interdiction or Bombardment and can be “shot down” with Anti-Aircraft Fire. In a similar fashion, in Jim Dunnigan’s Fifth Corps: The Soviet Breakthrough at Fulda (Strategy & Tactics Nr. 82, Sept/Oct 1980, SPI) each player gets air points to allocate in the Airpower Segment. Air superiority is a simple die roll at the beginning of the Airpower Segment, and Air Points (if any) may be added to the attack or defense strength of a unit in combat. These air “Point Salads” wargames once again are light on gaming complexity with a commensurate lightness on their depiciton of complex air operations.

Designer Peter Bogdasarian’s Corps Command series game Dawn’s Early Light (LnL Publishing, 2010) is an example of an “Asset” wargame. When the Airstrike Asset Chit is drawn, the player is allowed a single airstrike in each day impulse of the remaining turn. Of all the games discussed here, the Asset approach is by far the most abstract and least complex to play. It is also the least reflective of complex air operations. Indeed, one could make the argument the Asset approach is so abstract that it, in effect, almost totally ignores complex air operations…

(Another) Russian Way of War?

In 2015, Russian military forces started a major reorganization. As Grau and Bartles explain in The Russian Way of War: Force Structure, Tactics, and Modernization of the Russian Ground Forces (U.S. Army Foreign Military Studies Office, 2016) from this reorganization the Aerospace Forces (VKS) developed. The reorganization has not been seamless; the Russian Ground Forces and Airborne continually try to maintain control of army aviation assets (ground attack aircraft and helicopters) to integrate into their forces (Grau, 385). One must also be cognizant of how the Russian Ground Forces integrates attack aviation with artillery planning. Generally speaking, aircraft are assigned targets beyond artillery range or not located with sufficient accuracy for an artillery strike; “fixed-wing aircraft attack deep targets while helicopters operate over their own force or the forward line of contact” (Grau, 386). Planning for airstrike missions is accomplished at the Army or Military District level with further planning at the brigade or battalion level (Grau, 387). On-call fires for close air support is possible, but requires coordination through a Forward Air Controller that should be assigned to a Battalion Tactical Group (BTG) (Grau, 387). One has to wonder if the Russian BTG can actually keep up with all this planning. Interestingly, it appears that BTG commanders assume fires, electronic warfare, and air defense artillery (ADA) superiority in a fight (see CPT Nic Fiore, “Defeating the Russian Battalion Tactical Group,” eArmor Magazine, September 2017). Air Vice-Marshal (retd) Sean Corbett, formerly of the Royal Air Force, writes for Jane’s:

From a tactical, close air support perspective, the apparent limited effectiveness of the VKS is easier to explain. Co-ordination between air and ground forces is technically and procedurally challenging, requiring a robust communications architecture and well-rehearsed processes. It is highly unlikely that most of the Russian ground formations will have the required enablers in place, nor will they have trained in joint land/air operations and, with both sides using similar ground equipment types, the potential for fratricide would be significant.

“Ukraine conflict: Is the VKS underperforming?”Jane’s online. 03 March 2022

It is difficult to discern anywhere in the reorganization anything akin to an Air Operations Center or an Air Planning Cell. Could this be the reason, “the VKS lacks the institutional capacity to plan, brief and fly complex air operations at scale?” More directly related to wargames, does this lack of institutional planning in the VKS mean we are giving the Russian Air Force too much credit—or capability—in a wargame?

Mirror Image – Not?

Many analysts—and wargames—seem to think the Russians will execute an air campaign like those seen since DESERT STORM. In the Ukraine, this does not appear to be the case:

The Russian invasion of Ukraine began as expected in the early hours of 24 February: a large salvo of cruise and ballistic missiles destroyed the main ground-based early warning radars throughout Ukraine. The result was to effectively blind the Ukrainian Air Force (UkrAF), and in some cases also hinder aircraft movements by cratering runways and taxiways at its major airbases. Strikes also hit several Ukrainian long-range S-300P surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries, which had limited mobility due to a long-term lack of spares. These initial stand-off strikes followed the pattern seen in many US-led interventions since the end of the Cold War. The logical and widely anticipated next step, as seen in almost every military conflict since 1938, would have been for the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) to mount large-scale strike operations to destroy the UkrAF. With its early warning chain blinded and some runways cratered, the UkrAF was left vulnerable to raids by strike aircraft like the Su-34 with guided munitions, or even multirole Su-30 fighters with predominantly unguided munitions. If present in significant numbers, escorting Su-35 and Su-30 fighters would have overwhelmed the Ukrainian fighters, even if they did manage to take off for sorties conducted at very low altitudes with limited situational awareness. This did not happen.

Justin Bronk, “The Mysterious Case of the Missing Russian Air Force,” RUSI.org, 28 Feb 2022

Most every wargame listed above can capture, in some fashion, the initial strikes. In order to reflect the later days, we are depending on a “player choice” to consciously NOT execute an air campaign. While that player choice doesn’t invalidate the wargame models, it begs the question of WHY and a desire to ensure that the reason is a truly player choice and not a deficiency of the model.

That “player choice” may be what we are seeing in the Ukraine. As Air Vice-Marshal Sean Corbett (retd) wrote for Jane’s:

Given these limitations, the VKS would normally resort to unguided weapons, employed on a greater scale to make up for the lack of precision. However, this type of employment appears to have been sporadic and limited so far. This supports the view that the VKS has been deliberately holding back in its offensive campaign rather than lacking the capability [my emphasis]. Whether this has been to preserve combat power for later in the operation or in the misapprehension that Ukraine wouldn’t fight remains to be seen, but worryingly, the likelihood is that we would expect to see a significant increase in airstrikes in the coming days with increasingly indiscriminate targeting, including of urban areas, tactics previously employed by the VKS in other operations including in Chechnya and Syria.

“Ukraine conflict: Is the VKS underperforming?”, Jane’s online. 03 March 2022

It is possible that, in a zeal to “model” complex air operations, designers have (unconsciously?) modeled complex air operations according to how the west wants to execute them and not how the Russians actually will or do? The models in the wargames give the Russian player the ability to execute a complex air operations in a mirror-image manner to a player using U.S. or allied forces. This may be wishful thinking and not an appropriate representation of reality. As Air Vice-Marshal Corbett explains:

Even if stiff resistance was expected, another question is how far in advance did VKS planners have sight of the full extent of the operation. Effects-based targeting is both time-consuming and resource-intensive, and to be effective, it would have taken from weeks to months to identify, gather, and assess the necessary information on target types and locations. While there was undoubtedly a limited VKS shaping air campaign, employing predominantly cruise and ballistic missiles to target both airfields and air defences, it was clearly ineffective and the Ukrainian Air Force and its air defence elements have continued to operate, albeit at a lower capacity.

“Ukraine conflict: Is the VKS underperforming?”, Jane’s online. 03 March 2022

Even U.S. Air Force General Mark Kelly, Commander, Air Combat Command, responded to a question about Russia’s air defense systems since the beginning of the invasion by stating, “They’re operating pretty well when they’re operated by Ukrainians.” While that is certainly a funny soundbite, is it a fair assessment of Russian capabilities?

Courtesy Seapower Magazine

Player Choice – Pass!

In summary, I’m going to quote Air Vice-Marshal Corbett again who I think brings a good perspective on the issue:

The poor performance of the VKS to date is probably not explained by a single issue, but a combination of factors. The relative lack of VKS offensive and defensive counter-air activity over the whole area of operations cannot be explained solely by the remaining threat, but will likely be a contributory factor, to which a combination of limited aircrew experience and training, a lack of precision munitions, and poor air/ground co-ordination are likely playing a role. However, the biggest factor is likely to be that the need for a comprehensive air campaign to both shape the operational environment and support ground forces was never envisaged as being necessary, and therefore not planned for [my emphasis].

“Ukraine conflict: Is the VKS underperforming?”, Jane’s online. 03 March 2022

Not planned for…that’s hard to believe. It’s not even true if Anonymous is to be believed and the Russian military had at least 30 days to plan for an invasion.

Prior planning?

It’s as if the Russian VKS has simply chosen to “pass” on their turn…


Feature image courtesy airplane-pictures.net

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

2021 #Wargame Expansion of the Year – or – SITREP: Wing Leader Harpoon’d in Tank Duel (@gmtgames admiraltytrilogy.com)

There are certain wargames in my collection that I just cannot get enough of. For these games I’m always looking for more to play with. This year three games got lots of new love. The candidates for my 2021 Wargame Expansion of the Year are:

Before we go any further, it’s worth mentioning here that there are two other titles I acquired in 2021 but—for various reasons—I deemed ineligible:

First, the DQs. The Holland ’44 scenario I disqualified due to age. Second, as much as I love Panzer and have eagerly awaited the reprint of Expansion Nr. 1, it is a reprint and not “new” material.

As for the nominees…you can see they really cover three games—Harpoon, Tank Duel, and Wing Leader.

Harpoon – The Expanded Critical Hit Tables are nice, but not necessary for play. The Naval SITREPs are always welcome content, but again missing them doesn’t mean game failure.

Tank Duel – The RMN Boys and myself like the Tank Duel system. It’s a very different game system that challenges the very defintion of a wargame. The North Africa expansion is very welcome, and one can never have enough tank “mats” to play with.

Wing Leader – One of my all-time favorite game systems. Legends adds depth and the Supremacy update keeps an already clean system that much tidier.

…and the winner is…

Tank Duel Expansion Nr. 1: North Africa. Not only does this expansion take the game into a new theater, it also cleans up the rules. This expansion, along with Tank Pack Nr. 1 ensures Tank Duel will be on the table often this coming year.


RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2021 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#SundaySummary – From cavemen in KINGDOMINO: ORIGINS to Tigers of Normandy during a DARK SUMMER and a new SITREP @BlueOrangeGames @BrunoCathala @gmtgames @tdraicer admiraltytrilogy.com #boardgame #wargame

Boardgames

New Arrival Kingdomino: Origins by Bruno Cathala from Blue Orange Games (2021). I really like the changes in this Kingdomino. Thoughts coming this week.

Wargames

It took a while, but hitting the gaming table this week is The Dark Summer: Normandy, 1944 by Ted S. Raicer from GMT Games (2021). This is the latest entry in the GMT Games Dark-series that uses a chit pull mechanic making it excellent for solo play.

For all you naval wargamers out there the latest edition of The Naval SITREP: The Journal of the Admiralty Trilogy Game System dropped this week. Available via wargamevault.com, at a mere $3 The Naval SITREP is a bargain not only for players but naval history lovers too. This issue includes a long-form article, “Combat Ships of the People’s Liberation Army Navy in the 20th Century” by the ATG’s China editor Chang Lei that is a good history lesson. I also appreciate that ATG is finally breaking from deadtree publishing thinking and will be marking changes in the pdf copies of their rules in red.

Professional Wargaming

Recently been reading several article on nuclear wargaming. This has got me thinking…

Gaming Social Media

Hmm. As I put together this post I see that designer Bruno Cathala “protects” his tweets. That’s ok; he very likely has good reasons to not allow random follows. I also see that designer Ted S. Raicer blocks me. Well, fortunately for his royalty checks I don’t have to agree with a designer’s politics to play their games.

#SundaySummary: @ADragoons goes @originsgames, @CatastropheGam2 ZURMAT emerges, kicking BOER WAR canvastemple.com, @stonemaiergames TAPESTRY unfurls, & almost 1979 again | @FoundationDietz @Bublublock @AcademyGames revolutiongames.us admiraltytrilogy.com #wargame #boardgame

Wargame Origins

Very happy to see Regimental Commander Brant and other members of the Armchair Dragoons at Origins Game Fair this week. Origins started out as a wargame convention and over the years it, uh, changed.

The Dragoons bring wargaming back to the Fair and it’s good to see. Some of the games played included Tank Duel (GMT Games), Second World War at Sea (Avalanche Press), Team COIN, and Command & Colors Napoleonics (GMT Games). I am very sad that I missed the Persian Gulf game with the admiraltytrilogy.com folks.

The new game Zurmat (currently on Kickstarter from Catastrophe Games) was also prominently featured; this “small COIN” game looks very interesting! Check out the Armchair Dragoons Twitter feed (@ADragoons) or their webpage for pictures and the like.

I look forward to talking with Brant about how this year’s convention went and what he sees (or doesn’t ) as the future of wargaming at Origins. So far it looks good

Kickstarter Wargame

This week I also backed Imperial Campaigns Series Game Nr. 1: Boer War by designer Joseph Miranda from Canvas Temple Publishing on Kickstarter. Several reasons drove my decision; the topic is interesting, Joseph Miranda can be a hit-or-miss designer but Jon Compton at CTP is involved in development, CTP is a smaller publisher somewhat local to me so I think of them as my FLGP*, and the price is not outrageous.

Revolution Wargames

The October Sale from Revolution Games is underway. Great chance to pick up more than a few bargains. Personally I recommend Pacific Fury. If you are willing to purchase folio-packaged games some of the prices are really low and (hopefully) more affordable.

Boardgames

I continued my local acquisitions support program by picking up a copy of Jamie Stegmaier’s Tapestry (Stonemaier Games, 2019) from a nearby gamer. Used but in great condition. Will try to get this to the table soon, maybe as the season kickoff for the Weekend Family Game Night Return.

Reality Shift from Academy Games is closing in on final production. It was also demo’d at Origins.

Jim Dietz has been doing a great job communicating the shipping status of 1979: Revolution in Iran (which I affectionally call Volume II of the Axis of Evil Series following No Motherland Without). For many games we are happy just to hear that “it’s printed” or “it’s shipped” but Jim is giving us shipping movement details at the near-daily level. Certainly helps build anticipation!


*FLGP – Friendly Local Game PUBLISHER

Rocky Reads for #Wargame…K-Pop? Republic of Korea Navy Damage Model vs. Harpoon V (admiraltytrilogy.com)

Thanks to Rex Brynen at PAXSIMS for pointing out some recent modeling & simulation (and wargame) professional reading. One of the articles is from a South Korean journal and discusses the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy wargame model for ship damage.

Wargame is a simulated military operation with certain rules, specifications, and procedures, in which soldiers can virtually and indirectly experience the war. The ROK Navy operates the Cheonghae model, a training wargame model for helping commanders and staff master the procedures for conducting the war. It is important for commanders, staff and analysts to know whether a warship can perform its missions and how long it can last during a war. In existing model, the Cheonghae, the probability of kill of a warship is calculated simply considering the number of tonnage without any stochastic elements, and the warship’s mission availability is also determined based on predetermined values. With this model, it is difficult to get a value of the probability of kill that makes sense. In this dissertation, the author has developed a probabilistic model in which the warship vulnerability data of ROK-JMEM can be used. A conceptual model and methodology that can evaluate the mission performance of personnel, equipment, and supplies has been proposed. This can be expanded to a comprehensive assessment of wartime warship loss rates by integrating damage rates for personnel, equipment, and supplies in wartime.

Bong Seok Kim , Bong Wan Choi , Chong Su Kim, “Methodology of battle damage assessment in the naval wargame model – Forcusing on damage assessment of warship,” Journal of KOSSE 17, 1 (2021). [In Korean]
North Korea sank ROKS Cheonan in March 2010; the ship was later raised and put on display (Photo by Larisa Epatko/PBS NewsHour)

Although the article is in Korean, many of the graphics are in English, and figuring out what the various algebraic equations likely relate to is possible in places. As I read what I could in the article, it struck me that I had seen much of this before from the Admiralty Trilogy Group (ATG), designers of my beloved Harpoon V naval miniatures wargame.

Cheonghae (“Blue Sea”)

The abstract from the Korean article makes it sound like the original ROKN damage model is quite simple; “In existing model, the Cheonghae, the probability of kill of a warship is calculated simply considering the number of tonnage without any stochastic elements, and the warship’s mission availability is also determined based on predetermined values. I find this a bit astonishing because I can’t think of a single commercial tactical naval wargame in my collection where ship damage is solely a function of tonnage. I mean, even my 1975 version of General Quarters (NavWar Productions) or the 1978 edition of Bismarck (Avalon Hill) has hits against different ship components.

The ROKN study goes on to explain a new methodology that is, “expanded to a comprehensive assessment of wartime warship loss rates by integrating damage rates for personnel, equipment, and supplies in wartime.” While this certainly sounds like a “modern” approach, I have to point out that the damage model in the commercial tabletop wargame Harpoon V already does this through a Critical Hit damage mechanism.

Harpoon V from ATG

Fortunately for naval wargamers who want to understand the Harpoon V damage model, ATG publishes on their website a series of presentations from various conventions they attend. These presentations provide some insight into their games, with more than a few being game design “peek under the hood” content. This allows us to do a limited comparison between Cheonghae and Harpoon V.

ATG Harmonization

In the mid-2000’s, ATG realized that the various damage calculation methodologies used in their three principle games (Fear God & Dread Nought for World War I, Command at Sea for WWII, and Harpoon for “modern”) were unsynchronized. Thus, they embarked on a “harmonization” process. A major component of the harmonization process was a rebuild of the ship damage model in the game.

At the 2006 Cold Wars convention, ATG designer Chris Carlson presented, “Weapons Effects and Warship Vulnerability” (Cold Wars 2006) where he identified weapons damage effects on warships as one of the biggest issues in the Harmonization Process. The conclusion of his presentation shows where they are going:

  • Weapon damage effects across the Admiralty Trilogy games are now consistent with basic physical principles
    • –  Convert all damage mechanisms into energy terms
    • –  Use standard explosive theory equations
    • –  Eliminates model distortions (edge effects)
  • Damage point value changes vary based on weapon type and warhead size
    • –  Torpedoes have the greatest change
    • –  Less so for bombs, shells and missiles
    • –  Smaller warheads become more lethal, very large ones are less

At Cold Wars 2008, Chris made another Admiralty Trilogy Seminar presentation titled, “Variable damage Effects in Naval Wargames” (Cold Wars 2008). This is an excellent review of many popular naval wargame systems and how they model damage. More than a few here use a stochastic model, but it is also interesting to see how many use something more. Again, the conclusion provides great insight into where the ATG designers were going, and maybe also how far ahead of the ROKN:

  • Damage variability is a high interest item for players
    • Variability drivers: Location, warhead performance, secondary effects
    • Admiralty Trilogy games don’t use specific hit locations
    • Warhead performance variability isn’t realistic
    • Secondary effects the best option for our games
  • Damage effects are very difficult to model
    • Significant tension between playability and accuracy
  • Revised model gives greater variability in fire and flooding critical hits and in the DC [Damage Control] die rolls
  • Delayed implementation of some critical hit results means ships aren’t instantaneously crippled

Cold Wars 2012 saw another presentation, “Staying Power: Assessing the Damage Capacity of Ships” (Cold Wars 2012). As the presentation says, “Quantifying damage is vexingly complex, and any approach is hard to defend because it is a subjective estimate.” What follows is another review of historical approaches to solving this problem, and how ATG designers are approaching it for their games. Along the way they identify two main models; deterministic and stochastic:

  • Two main approaches to damage effects modeling:
    • Deterministic Model: A ship sinks when the cumulative damage exceeds the ship’s life
      • NWC [Naval War College] Fire & Maneuver Rules and RN [Royal Navy] 1929 Wargame Rules
      • Combat capability and mobility decreases with damage
    • Stochastic Model: A ship sinks, not from cumulative damage, but from a catastrophic event, such as a magazine explosion or excessive flooding
      • U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance developed this model during the war
      • Striking Power of Air-Borne Weapons Study, ONI, July 1944
      • Another way to look at it is as a loss of function model

From the limited portions of the Korean study I can read, it sounds like the original ROKN damage model is Deterministic and the goal of the new Cheonghae version is to add Stochastic elements. The ATG approach to damage in their games always has been to create a hybrid. ATG pointed out—back in 2012—that, “Wargaming is best served by a hybrid approach to damage effects (deterministic/stochastic elements).

What’s Old is New Again

Given that I cannot fully read the new Korean journal report there is a fair chance I am missing something here, but I feel that I’m not far off in saying that Korean modeling & simulation may be a step (or more) behind commercial naval miniatures wargaming. I skimmed the journal article bibliography in the vain hope of seeing some reference to miniatures wargaming but alas, no. I find it a bit ironic that when comparing the damage model in Harpoon V to this Korean study, the Harpoon V model, long begrudged in some wargame circles as “too complex,” is in this case the “simpler” model in that it does not need a computer to run nor overtly resort to all the algebraic functions and the like. If one wants to recreate the math behind the ATG model, you can dig through back issues of ATG’s journal, The Naval SITREP, and find articles that show you the way.

There are some (many?) wargamers out there that proclaim Harpoon V (or any of the ATG games) are more simulation than game. I will rise to the defense of ATG here and say that these complaints have not fallen on deaf ears and the ATG staff makes tremendous efforts to make their games playable. Regardless of what you think about their success in doing so, they should nonetheless be recognized as serious game designers who can really math the wicked problems. One can both play and study with ATG naval miniatures wargames. Both players and researchers could benefit from their work with just a little more attention. Surely, adopting (or even adapting) a commercial-off-the-shelf model is less expensive than all the development work that is going into Cheonghae. More importantly, the ATG staff has worked hard to validate their model—I would like to see what Cheonghae says about many of the same cases ATG modeled. Now that would be a great comparison.

Can you figure out how many Damage Points were inflicted here?

Feature image – Ex-USS Ingraham being sunk a target in Large Scale Exercise (LSE) 21 (courtesy pacom.mil)

Sunday Summary – Summer Heat Wave of #Wargames, #Boardgames, and #Books

Not only is the heat arriving in waves, but so are the games!

Wargames

Boardgames

2 Minutes to Midnight: Fight the Cold War. USA vs Soviet Union – 1949-1991. A Strategic Historical Game (Preview Copy) (Stuart Tonge, Plague Island Games, 2021) – Stuart was kind enough to send me a preview copy. Plan is to share thought s around the kickoff of the Kickstarter campaign in mid-late June! Stay tuned!

2 Minutes to Midnight Preview Copy

Books

Am reading Most Secret and Confidential: Intelligence in the Age of Nelson by Steven E. Maffeo (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000) and sitting down with the wargame 1805: Sea of Glory (Phil Fry, GMT Games, 2009). I am working to make this a “#Wargame to History” (or is it “History to #Wargame?”) or “Rocky Reads for #Wargame” entry.

Puzzles

No, not puzzles, but actual jigsaw puzzles. As I type this I just got my shipping notice for my Academy Games historical puzzles. More relaxing summer fun!

#SundaySummary – Stepping into Combat Commander: Pacific (@GMTGames), a throw back to the Falklands (admiraltytrilogy.com), red alert kudos for No Motherland Without (@compassgamesllc) and Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (@StrongholdGames) #wargame #boardgame

Wargames

I was able to pull off an excellent local trade to land a copy of Chad Jensen’s Combat Commander: Pacific from GMT Games this week. It only cost me my 1984 copy of Ranger from Omega Games. This is my first foray into the Combat Commander series of tactical infantry games from GMT. As there were several snow days in my local area I had the opportunity to do a sort of “deep dive” into the game and get multiple plays in. My major discovery is that Combat Commander: Pacific may be built on many “new-age” mechanics but it is thematically highly realistic. Those thoughts will be the subject of a later posting.

In 1982, the Falklands War occurred at an important time in my wargaming career. I was in high school so “aware” enough to follow the geopolitics and I had friends with common wargame interests for playing game like Harpoon II (Adventure Games, 1983). So it was very interesting this week to read The Falklands Wargame which is an unclassified, publicly released study prepared in 1986 for the Strategy, Concepts, and Plans Directorate of the US Army Concepts Analysis Agency. What really caught my attention is the study lead was none other than CAPT Wayne P. Hughes, USN (Ret.) who wrote the foundational naval text Fleet Tactics and was greatly admired by the designers of the Harpoon series of naval wargames available these days from Admiralty Trilogy Group. It’s a very interesting document which has made me think of many of my Falklands wargames, especially those using the Harpoon series of rules. So of course, more thoughts to follow!

Boardgames

Got No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War (Compass Games, 2021) to the gaming table several times this week. I played the solitaire module provided in the rules. Mechanically it works fine, though the hard part for me is now trying to get those mechanics to do what I need them to do. Component wise, well, this title is a bit of a miss. The red game board is good looking but all the red counters and markers get lost on it making it very hard to see the game state. More detailed thoughts are coming in the future.

<soapbox on> A shout out to Compass Games is also in order. There was a minor production issue with my copy of No Motherland Without but it was quickly resolved by Compass Games. Awesome customer service. And no, I didn’t mention it before because I was giving John and company a fair chance to resolve the issue which they did to my utmost satisfaction so I will commend, not condemn Compass publicly and share with you a positive story not an undeserved negative one. </soapbox off>

Kickstarter

After lamenting a few weeks back on my reluctance to back any Kickstarters I succumbed to the pressure – to back Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (Stronghold Games via Kickstarter). My hope is that this can be a Family Game Night title. Speaking of which, we have sadly fallen off the Weekly Game Night bandwagon. Time to get back up….

The Pratzen, Austerlitz 1805 by Peter Perla from Canvas Temple Publishing will fund later today. As this posts I have less than 20 hours to resist temptation. Yeah, Napoleonics is not my thing but I absolutely respect Dr. Perla, love CTP productions, & would need a bigger gaming table.

Books

With the arrival of new games and my “Falklands Excursion” this week the reading for My Kursk Kampaign was put on hold this week. As I resume my reading I am through the events of July 12, 1943 and the Battle of Prokharovka so now turn to the aftermath and follow-on actions – which means The Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, by Trevor Bender from RBM Studios should land on the gaming table again.

Rocky Reads for #Wargame- China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power (Michael A. McDevitt, 2020)

BLUF

A very thorough analysis of the present capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy). This is perhaps the best single-source compilation of open source analysis on the PLA Navy presently available. Persuasively argues that the PLA Navy is a “blue-water” navy – today. Analytical breakdown offers many opportunities for wargaming.

Naval Institute Press, 2020

Not your father’s PLAN

How often do we hear about “China rising?” If you subscribe to that school of thought then you are in for a surprise if you read China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power: Theory, Practice, and Implications by Michael A. McDevitt, RADM, US Navy (Ret.). In this very recent (late 2020) publication from Naval Institute Press, RADM McDevitt argues that fifteen years of anti-piracy patrols has already made the PLA Navy the second most-capable naval power in the world. He further argues that the PLA Navy is well on track to be a true “world class navy” but 2035, a deadline set by Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Rear Admiral McDevitt starts out with a discussion of where China’s maritime power ambitions come from. The sources he uses are nothing special; everything is publicly available (although some needed to be translated). This is good grist for wargame designers; understanding what China wants to do on the high seas supports good scenario design.

The second chapter, “Getting Started: Learning How to Operate Abroad” contains the core argument in the book. McDevitt shows how fifteen years of overseas anti-piracy patrols has directly contributed to the development of a highly professional and capable blue-water navy. For wargame designers this is a challenge; so often wargames looking at the PLA Navy seem to dig into the whole “China rising” meme and don’t acknowledge (or refuse to acknowledge) that the Chinese Navy is not “coming soon” but “already here” and far removed from a second-rate coastal defense force that couldn’t even deal with Vietnam.

The next several chapters are probably the best for wargame and scenario design. RADM McDevitt addresses area denial, anti-access and a Taiwan campaign, the South China Sea, and the Indian Ocean in turn. In each section he discusses the what the PLA Navy is charged with accomplishing and the doctrine and equipment they developed to meet the challenge. His discussion of equipment is particularly helpful for wargame designers as each piece of kit is evaluated against what its mission is. This evaluation is far more helpful than just comparing it to the US Navy. The breakdown by area also can be useful for scenario design, and if one puts it all together a larger campaign view is possible.

Pacific Trident III

This book is not the only writing on China’s navy that Rear Admiral McDeveitt delivered in the past year. In February 2020, RADM McDeveitt wrote the final report for the unclassified Tabletop Exercise (TTX) Pacific Trident III sponsored by the Sasakawa USA Foundation. The goal of Pacific Trident III was to explore challenges to the US-Japan and US-South Korea alliances. In that final report, RADM McDevitt foreshadowed some of what he was going to write in China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power. Like in his book, some of the policy recommendations from the TTX are good wargame fodder:

  • Recommendation 3: The United States should consider the merits and risks of adopting a position on the conflicting maritime claims in the South China Sea, persuade other countries to support this position, and develop diplomatic strategies as well as military contingency plans based on these positions (emphasis mine).
  • Recommendation 4: The United States should conduct a policy review of its responses to Chinese aggression against occupied or unoccupied features in the South China Sea. While the details of military actions should be classified, the United States should make it clear that treaty obligations would be invoked by aggression, and could under certain circumstances result in military intervention (again, emphasis mine).
  • Recommendation 6: Planning associated with US military options in support of the TRA [Taiwan Relations Act] recognize the requirement for a rapid expansion of consultative and cooperative mechanisms with Taipei.

Other Views

The Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) was kind enough to publish Toshi Yoshihara’s article, “China as a Composite Land-Sea Power: A Geostrategic Concept Revisited.” The article is adapted from a report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), Seizing on Weakness: Allied Strategy for Competing With China’s Globalizing Military. Yoshihara’s thoughts go hand-in-hand with McDevitt:

Imperial overreach is not as farfetched as one might assume, despite China’s impressive wealth creation over past decades. As a classic land-sea power, which faces the seas and shares contiguous borders with its neighbors, Beijing must always stay alert to threats in the continental and maritime domains. This inescapable two-front challenge imposes perpetual opportunity costs: every yuan spent on one area is one fewer yuan available for the other flank and vice versa. The trade-offs between its landward and seaward commitments could impose built-in limits on China’s global plans.  

Toshi Yoshihara, “China as a Composite Land-Sea Power: A Geostrategic Concept Revisited”

Rocky’s Thoughts

Best Value

Up-to-date capability assessment mixed with analysis of doctrine and mission.

Weakness

Read it now because the PLA Navy is growing so fast the data will be outdated sooner than later.

The PLA Navy from Office of Naval Intelligence (2015) – sorely out of date

Wargame Application

Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Games, 2020)

The discussions in “Chapter Four – Area Denial” and “Chapter Five – Keeping the Americans Away: Anti-Access and the Taiwan Campaign” have lots of potential Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Games, 2020) scenario material. One part in particular that struck me is RADM McDevitt’s assertion that the anti-access strategy doctrine of the PLA Navy is not too unlike the Soviet Union in the Atlantic during the Cold War. This made me immediately think about a 21st Century version of Dance of the Vampires, the Harpoon scenarios and campaign that Larry Bond and Tom Clancy used to support the writing of Clancy’s Red Storm Rising novel. It would be great to see a new 21st century version starring the PLA Navy!

Dance of the Vampires from Admiralty Trilogy Games

“Chapter Six – The PLA Navy and the South China Sea” is perfect update material for South China Sea (Compass Games, 2017). The same can be said for “Chapter Seven – The PLA Navy in the Indian Ocean” and the forthcoming release of Indian Ocean Region: South China Sea Vol. II (Compass Games, 2021).

A 21st Century VitP?

As I read China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power, I appreciated how RADM McDevitt broke down the problem geographically. At the same time, it made me realize that many (all?) modern naval wargames take that same approach. We have wargames on the invasion of Taiwan and confrontation in the South China Sea or Indian Ocean. We also have wargames that can deliver a very fine tactical simulation of a modern conflict. What is lacking (in the commercial hobby wargame space, at least) is a wargame that shows the entire campaign. What I’m thinking about here is something like a Victory in the Pacific-type of overview. Although McDevitt breaks the PLA Navy problem down into discrete geographic areas they are all interrelated: the flow of shipping in the Indian Ocean must travel through the South China Sea to get to the mainland. I can think of no commercial wargame that looks at rolling back the PLA Navy across the globe, or even across the Pacific. Just what is the Plan ORANGE wargame for the 21st century?

Victory in the Pacific (Avalon Hill, 1977)

Citation

McDevitt, Michael A., China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power: Theory, Practice, and Implications, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2020.


Feature image: 200818-N-KF697-3150 PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 18, 2020) Royal Brunei Navy Darussalam-class offshore patrol vessel KDB Darulehsan (OPV 07), Royal Canadian Navy ship HMCS Winnipeg (FFH 338), Republic of Singapore Navy Formidable-class frigate RSS Supreme (FFG 73) and Royal New Zealand Navy ship HMNZS Manawanui (A09) maneuver during a division tactics (DIVTACS) exercise during Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC). Ten nations, 22 ships, one submarine, and more than 5,300 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from August 17 to 31 at sea around the Hawaiian Islands. RIMPAC is a biennial exercise designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships, critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The exercise is a unique training platform designed to enhance interoperability and strategic maritime partnerships. RIMPAC 2020 is the 27th exercise in the series that began in 1971. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Isaak Martinez)