#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.

#Coronatine #Wargame Thoughts – Why to fight in Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (@compassgamesllc, 2019)

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. – Captain Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, Second Edition, Annapolis (Naval Institute Press), p. 9

ALL TOO OFTEN WHEN WE GROGNARDS PLAY WARGAMES, we focus on the ‘how’ of the fight and forget ‘the why.’ My history of playing naval wargames shows this to be very true for myself. My first naval wargames were Wooden Ships & Iron Men (Avalon Hill, 1974) and Harpoon II (Adventure Games, 1983). Both of these game are very tactical; in each you are often fighting an individual platform (or groups of platforms) executing a specific mission or task. This makes it very easy to get focused on ‘how’ a platform fights but not necessarily understanding ‘why’ the ship/sub/plane is there. Operational-level wargames, like the venerable Fleet-series from Victory Games in the 1980s, do a bit better of a job by forcing you to combine platforms to execute missions. But at the end of the day the real reason for a navy does not always come thru. In true wargamer form, the battles are often fought out to the last with no objective other than the complete an utter destruction of the enemy. Fun (in a way) but not very informative.

Thus, I was surprised at Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (Compass Games, 2019).  The game is another in the recent renaissance of ‘Cold War Gone Hot’ wargames, this time focusing on the naval war in the North Atlantic, Arctic, Mediterranean, and Baltic. As the ad copy says:

Blue Water Navy covers the war at sea, air, close-ashore and low-earth orbit from the Kola Peninsula in Northern Russia to the Mediterranean Sea and West over the Atlantic Ocean to the United States and Cuba. The game models the full order of battle that could be expected in 1980’s wartime, from multi-regiment Soviet Tu-22 Backfire bombers to multiple US carrier groups.

I posted some thoughts on Blue Water Navy before. At that time, I focused in on the ‘how’ to play the game. With my extra Coronatine-time I pulled the game out again for a deeper dive into the system. I happily discovered another layer of the game that I had missed; one that makes Blue Water Navy a great example of ‘why’ navies fight. It is so obvious. I mean, designer Stuart Tonge put it in the Introduction, “Always remember the game is about the convoys – if they get through, NATO wins the war.”

Of the 32 numbered major rules in the book, the two most important for this discussion are 18.0 Amphibious Landings & NATO Troop Delivery and 20.0 War & Invasion Tracks. Indeed, buried within 20.0 is the actual victory condition for the Campaign Game:

Hammer and Sickles: This shows when the game is won. To win the Soviet player must be able to count four hammer and sickle symbols on War Tracks overrun by Soviet armies.

“But wait,” you say. “I thought Blue Water Navy is a naval wargame! What is this talk of Soviet armies?” The truth is no matter what you do in Blue Water Navy, as a player you are trying to move the Invasion Marker along the War Tracks.

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Blue Water Navy Invasion Tracks (North to South): Norwegian, Danish, Europe North and Europe South. Hammer & Sickles for the win!

The Soviet player advances along the Norway and Denmark Invasion Track by putting Troops ashore using Amphibious Landings. NATO can strike Soviet troops to stall the advance. One advance is cancelled for every three hits scored by NATO. This means NATO needs to project power ashore, in this case using airpower or cruise missiles to slow the Soviet advance.

 

The North and South War Track both represent the invasion of Europe. The North Invasion Track is the classic Central Germany front and the South Invasion Track is the route through Yugoslavia to Italy. Every turn the Soviets advance one box westward. On the North War Track, NATO can cancel the advance by expending Supplies or Partial Supplies. These ‘supplies’ can only be delivered by NATO Convoys to Western Europe ports. On the South War Track, the advance is cancelled by hits by NATO, much like the Norway or Denmark War Track.

Rule 28.0 NATO Losses also forces the NATO player to think about what he is fighting with. A Convoy Massacre (destruction of a Convoy) earns one NATO loss point. Another point is lost for a carrier damaged (2 if sunk). If the carrier is lost north of the SOSUS line it’s another loss point. If the NATO loss marker ever reaches six points, it’s worth one  Hammer and Sickle of the four needed to win for the Soviet player.

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From my NORTHSTAR ’92 cruise above the SOSUS line. Nice to know if sunk I would’ve been worth an extra NATO loss point!

There are several other rules that have an outsized impact on the number of Hammer and Sickle. Rule 22.1 First Strike Points (FSP’s) , “…represents the nuclear posturing of both sides. If the Soviets can maintain a credible First Strike capability, the Politburo…will feel able to take aggressive actions such as using nuclear weapons or assassinating high-value targets.” FSP’s play directly into 27.0 Soviet Stability which tracks the political climate in Moscow. If the Soviets trend toward instability, the advances may be slowed, more ‘supplies’ arrive, and at worst they lose a Hammer and Sickle. Oh yes, less you think nuclear weapons are a quick route to victory, once the genie is out of the bottle and Battlefield Nuclear Weapons are used those Hammer and Sickle spaces on the Invasion Tracks with more than one are reduced to a single symbol.

 

The Rule Book for Blue Water Navy is 56 pages. Realistically speaking, 52 pages are ‘how’ to fight the war but there are four essential ‘why’ to fight pages. That is part of the lesson here; the fight is complex even when the reason or objective is simple. All those rules for ships and submarines and different aircraft exist for a few simple reasons. Going back to Captain Hughes’ words at the beginning of this post, Blue Water Navy very clearly illustrates that the role of the navy in war is, 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.


Postscript Note: Bit worrisome that in this day of return to near-peer competition the ability of the US Navy to protect the movement of forces across the Atlantic is doubtful. See Navy Drills Atlantic Convoy Ops for First Time Since Cold War in Defender-Europe 20. I particularly note this quote, “The Navy is exercising a contested cross-Atlantic convoy operation for the first time since the end of the Cold War, using a carrier strike group to pave the way for sealift ships with a cruiser escort to bring the Army ground equipment for the Defender-Europe 20 exercise.” First time since the Cold War? First time since 1986? Looks like the USN needs to find a way to play the 1:1 scale version of Blue Water Navy more often.

#WargameWednesday – Using Captain Hughes’ Fleet Tactics to consider a modern naval #wargame: Part 6 -South China Sea: Modern Naval Conflict in the South Pacific (@compassgamesllc, 2017)

(Part 6 of my series of what I think makes a good modern naval wargame)

To help evaluate modern naval wargames I am comparing various games to the writings 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 chapter 7 of that edition, Hughes writes of The Great Trends & Constants:

  • Maneuver
  • Firepower & Counterforce
  • Scouting & Anti-Scouting
  • Command & Control (C2) and C2 Countermeasures (C2CM)

Capt. Hughes also writes on ‘What a Navy is for.’

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

South China Sea: Modern Naval Conflict in the South Pacific, Compass Games, 2017

This post I look at South China Sea: Modern Naval Conflict in the South Pacific designed by John Gorkowski and published by Compass Games in 2017. This game is actually a successor to another game on my list, Breaking the Chains: War in the South China Sea (Compass Games, 2015). South China Sea (SCS) is not only updated in terms of order of battle, it is also a refinement of the rules. Whereas Breaking the Chains is almost exclusively a ‘battle’ game, SCS adds Political Turns which introduces a strategic dimension to the conflict. As such, I am not going to treat Breaking the Chains as a separate entry but instead the reader should consider most of what I talk about in the Military Turn of SCS as applicable to Breaking the Chains.

BLUF – South China Sea may be the best representation of modern missile combat at sea but suffers from a questionable political game and needs to be updated to keep pace with rapidly changing political, technological, and military developments.

Why Fight?

The scenarios in South China Sea do not particularly focus on a reason for the conflict or what role naval forces really have, but instead seemingly make the assumption that that conflict between the USA and PRC is coming. Play in South China Sea consists of a series of 1-6 Political Turns (3-7 weeks of time) during which Armed Conflict may break out. If Armed Conflict occurs, the game transitions to Military Turns (defined as ‘several hours’ each).

It is possible that the Political Turns end without triggering Armed Conflict (see 4.47). The most important outcome of the Political Turns is the alignment (via Military Cooperation) of Regional Powers (The Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam).

[The alignment system immediately shows the fragility of designing a modern game. In almost every scenario, the rules have Malaysia aligning with the PRC, Vietnam aligning with the US, and the Philippines rolling a die to cast their fate. The usual spread on the die is 1-3 aligns with US, 4-5 stays neutral, and on a 6 aligns with the PRC. I have to wonder what the spread should be given current issues with the Duterte administration….]

Victory in South China Sea is a combination of the outcome of the Political Turns and the battles fought in the Military Turns. VP moves during Political Turns, and once battles start the standard Victory Points for Military Events focuses on destruction of enemy units or, in the case of the US, control of the Spratly Islands:

  • -1 For each ‘at-start’ PRC Spratly Islet hex controlled by US forces
  • -1 If the PRC fires the first strike
  • -1 For each PRC air, non-CV naval, or ground unit destroyed
  • -3 For each PRC CV destroyed
  • +5 For each US CVN destroyed
  • +1 If the US fires the first strike
  • +1 For each US air, non-CVN naval, or ground unit destroyed

[The final VP score is translated to a Regional Power Victory or Global Power Victory. Again, the design shows some fragility given the ever-changing geopolitical situation in the South China Sea and ASEAN.]

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Courtesy weforum.org

Few scenarios have modified VP but in general the standard numbers are used. For a game that starts with a very strategic, political view of the conflict the final victory determination (and the bulk of the scoring?) is very much focused on destruction of the enemy. There is little strategic insight to be gained from a play of South China Sea but if you are more operational or tactically-focused the interplay of the various units may yield more insights.

Maneuver

“Through maneuver the elements of a force attain positions over time.” – Hughes, p. 177

“Maneuver is tactical speed and agility” – Hughes, p. 179

“The fundamental tactical position is no longer defined by the geometric relationship of the opposing formations, but by an operational element: the early detection of the enemy.” Guiseppe Fioravanzo as quoted in Hughes, p. 179.

Maneuver in South China Sea is abstract in the Political Turns (some units may be placed on the map but generally the map is unused) and very simple in the Military Turns. There are few considerations. For instance, in the Air Movement Phase, aircraft can move up to double their Combat Radius but units that do so are marked Spent and cannot make another strike in the turn. As always there is an exception; in this case rule 5.551 Mid-Air Refueling which can be used once per game by each side. In the Sea Movement Phase it is very straight-forward with the only exception being submarines which can spend extra movement at the risk of Cavitation or chose to not move at all and increase their Stealth score (see Scouting/Anti-Scouting below).

Like most of sea movement, there is a strong interaction with the Scouting/Anti-Scouting elements of the design. The most important element of movement is actually 6.25 Intervention. Basically, ships that enter the Illumination Radius of a unit can be stopped. The Design Note on p. 15 under 6.25 is the best explanation:

The intervention mechanism does not represent actually stopping the other guy’s ships, rather it accounts for the stationary (non-phasing) side’s ability to respond to enemy movement. Without it, the simple I-go-You-go turn sequence would enable the currently moving player to literally ride circles around the enemy. With it, each side suffers a very realistic uncertainty about how far they can push before provoking a response. This rule allows for full moves (to speed play) when opposing units are far apart, but it curtails movement as units close range and more interaction becomes necessary.

Firepower

“Firepower is the capacity to destroy an enemy’s ability to apply force.” Hughes, p. 175

“At sea the essence of tactical success has been the first application of effective offensive force.” – Hughes, p. 206

“Another recurring tendency, perhaps common enough to be called a constant, is to overestimate the effectiveness of weapons before a war.” -Hughes, p. 207

“In modern battle, ships and aircraft will be lost at an agonizing rate. but we observe no trend toward greater destructiveness; we see a continuation of naval combat’s decisive and destructive nature. – Hughes, p. 208.

Every unit is South China Sea is rated for combat in four warfare areas. Where applicable, each area is rated in terms of a Weapon System Score and if necessary a Weapon System Range (in hexes). All NavalAircraft, and Ground units are rated for:

  • G – Gun Strikes (Note – see Ground unit below)
  • U – Anti-Submarine
  • A/S – Anti-Surface
  • A/G – Anti-Ground

Naval units also can have a T- Torpedo rating. Aircraft units can add an Air-to-Air rating. Ground units have Combined Arms (CA) in place of the G-factor of Naval and Aircraft units.

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Strikes in SCS are executed in a strict Air/Sea Engagement Sequence. The order of Strikes is predetermined with attacks executed in descending order of the attackers Stealth factor or by order of the particular Weapon System Factor:

  1. Anti-Air Strikes (Air-to-Air vs Aircraft) / Stealth Order
  2. Torpedo Strikes by Submarines (Submarine T vs ships or subs) / Stealth Order
  3. Anti-Ship Strikes (AS vs ships) / Stealth Order
  4. Anti-Submarine Strikes (U vs subs) / In U order
  5. Gun Strikes (G vs ships, Air or Naval Bases) / In G order
  6. Torpedo Strikes by Surface Units (Ship T vs ships or subs) / In T order
  7. Anti-Ground Strikes (AG vs Ground Units, Air Bases, or Fort) / In AG order
  8. Combined Arms Strikes (CA vs Ground Units or Fort) / By CA order within Artillery then Defender then Attacker.

The obvious advantage goes units with higher Stealth or Weapon System Score get to strike first, with the results of that strike immediately implemented, regardless of being the attacker or defender. This is very different from many naval wargames where the attacker often gets to strike first or where combat results are applied simultaneously.

Counterforce

“Counterforce is the capacity to reduce the effect of delivered firepower.” – Hughes, p. 175

“While the success of defense against firepower has waxed and waned and at present is on the wane, the importance of diluting or destroying enemy offensive firepower continues.” – Hughes, p. 208.

“The prominent trend in defense is away from survivability through armor, compartmentation, bulk, and damage control. and toward cover, deception, and dispersion.” – Hughes, p. 186

Important to understanding these discussions is the way a fleet tactician looks at defensive force. Defensive systems collectively act like a filter (not a wall, or Maginot Line) that extracts a certain number of incoming aircraft or missiles. As it is able, a hull absorbs hits and allows a warship to conduct curtailed offensive operations.” – Hughes, p. 192

Counterforce in South China Sea takes three forms, StealthSteps and the Defense Score.

Stealth in effect represent the ‘Information Warfare’ elements of cyber and EW as many Strikes are resolved in Stealth order conferring an advantage to units with a greater score. Stealth not only effects the chances of successfully evading a Strike, but also where in the Strike order the unit acts – a better Stealth score is highly advantageous.

Steps represent both hits and a breakdown of units. A player can use Consolidation or Breakdown on two-step (only) units to combine, or break up, those units.

The Defense Score comes in two flavors; Missile Defense and ‘intrinsic.’ Some units have an Area Missile Defense (AMD) value that can protect other friendly units:

AMD scores represent area defense systems built around phased array radar such as those carried by US Navy Arleigh Burke destroyers and the People’s Liberation Army Navy Lu Yang III destroyers. AMD provides very accurate, supersonic interceptor missiles (and maybe one day lasers or rail gun projectiles) to shoot down incoming missiles tens of miles away. The very simplified anti-aircraft fire of AMD accounts for its ability to down enemy planes without having to get lost in details about which stand-off weapon was fired from where by each aircraft. Design Note, p. 13

[Again, this relatively recent design is already showing its age. What about attacks using hypersonic weapons? Should the MD or AMD score be reduced, and if so, by how much?]

Scouting

“Scouts deliver tactical information about the enemy’s position, movements, vulnerabilities, strengths, and, in the best of worlds, intentions.” – Hughes, p. 175

“The goal is scouting is to help get weapons within range and aim them.” -Hughes, p. 193

“It seems pedestrian to say that scouting has always been an important constant of war. Perhaps the way to put it is this: winners have outscouted the enemy in detection, in tracking, and in targeting. At sea better scouting – more than maneuver, as much as weapons range, and oftentimes as much as anything else – has determined who would attack not merely effectively, but who would attack decisively first.” – Hughes, p. 212

In South China Sea, Scouting is accounted for in rule 5.4 Situational Awareness: Illumination, Evasion, and Hiding, rule 6.25 Intervention, rule 6.41 Focus, and rule 6.42 Evasion. SCS starts with a major assumption about detection as found in the Design Note for rule 5.4:

The modern air-sea-land battle space is awash in electromagnetic radiation that has enhanced detection capabilities and made stealth paramount to survival. Drones with modern detection technology ensure that units will have situational awareness well beyond the limits of old fashioned ship based radar even after satellites are knocked out. These rules account for this new dynamic.

[Ah…but don’t those drones also rely on satellites for control and communications? What if those satellites are gone?]

Rule 5.41 directly addresses the Gods-Eye issue:

Although players can see all their pieces on the map, those pieces have varying degrees of awareness of each other. Illumination is the key to awareness. Evasion describes how pieces escape detection. Hiding is avoiding illumination altogether.

Rule 5.44 allows for ‘hidden’ units. Basically, a hidden unit is not on the map and, “…do not assert control, do not illuminate, cannot intervene, cannot strike, cannot provide their AMD to friendly units, etc. Nor can they be targeted for strikes.”

As noted under Maneuver above, the non-phasing player can use rule 6.25 Intervention to ‘stop’ the phasing player’s movement. This in turn allows a player to Focus (rule 6.41) on a hex in order to strike it. Using a F2T2EA (Find-Fix-Track-Target-Engage-Assess) construct, the default map condition is ‘Find-Fix’ and Focus is ‘Track-Target.’ If the targeted units fail to evade (rule 6.42 Evasion) they are attacked.

Anti-Scouting

“Antiscouts destroy, disrupt, or slow enemy scouts.” – Hughes, p. 175

“As the destructiveness and range of weapons grew, the means of surviving enemy attacks diminished and emphasis shifted to reducing the enemy’s scouting effectiveness.” – Hughes, p. 197

“Antiscouting by cover, deception, and evasion would now aim at limiting detection, tracking, or targeting.” – Hughes, p. 197

In South China Sea a unit can avoid Intervention and Focus by evading. Both uses of evasion utilize the same mechanic; roll 2d6 adding the evading units Stealth score and an amount equal to one-half the range to the nearest enemy unit. If the roll is greater than 11 the unit has successfully evaded. Note that units that evade remain in the targeted hex but do not participate in Strikes. They also cannot illuminate targets, cannot be targeted by Strikes, cannot be hit, and cannot use their AMD score to defend other friendly units.

C2

“Command decides what is needed from forces and control transforms needs into action. These are processes. C2 systems are defined, perhaps a bit artificially, as the equipment and organizations by which the processes are performed.” – Hughes, p. 176

“A tactical commander uses C2 to allocate his forces for four activities: firepower delivery, counterforce delivery, scouting, and anti-scouting.” – Hughes, p. 176

“A modern tactical commander will expend relatively less of his energy on planning for and delivering firepower, and relatively more on planning and executing his scouting efforts and forestalling that of the enemy with antiscouting and C2 countermeasures.” – Hughes, p. 201-202.

For the most part, C2 in South China Sea is abstracted out of the game. All units are always commanded; there is no Information Warfare ‘strike’ in the game. 5.34 Stacking, 5.35 Air Basing, and 5.36 Naval Ports impose some restrictions on how combat units are organized.

That said, commanders will have to decide when a unit needs to evade (given the restrictions that come with that condition) and when a unit Strikes. Once a unit Strikes it is Spent and cannot participate in a later Strike in the Air/Sea Engagement Sequence (with AMD-capable defenders being a notable exception).

The Stealth score of a unit is used when sequencing strikes. Most Strikes are executed in the descending order of the Stealth score. The higher the Stealth score the earlier in the Strike Sequence one can operate.

C2CM (Command & Control Countermeasures)

“Command and control countermeasures (C2CM) are steps to limit the enemy’s ability to decide (command) and disseminate decisions (control). – Hughes, p. 176

Like C2, C2CM in South China Sea is heavily abstracted. The closest thing to a C2CM factor is the Stealth score which is used to avoid Intervention and Focus.

Final Verdict

I really like how Stealth and Missile Defense are represented in South China Sea. I feel like this game (as presaged in Breaking the Chains) is the first ‘modern’ naval warfare game to get missile combat ‘right.’ That said, the game is not without its problems.

I am not very keen on the Political Turns. In 2017 I wrote a post about the lineage of South China Sea and the ‘conflict’ designer John Gorkowski had between a paying government customer who set the requirements for the game and a commercially released version.  Suffice it to say I am not fully satisfied with the outcome.

I also question the ‘rosy’ view of detection used in the game. With the recent creation of SPAAAACCCE FORRRRRCCE (!!!) the assumption that the space domain is automatically available is, well, a questionable assumption at best.

As with any modern game, it is hard to keep up with the times. One glaring omission I see in South China Sea is Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBM). Even Breaking the Chains had a rule on the Chinese ASBM so I was very surprised to NOT see it here.

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Courtesy businessinsider.com

John Gorkowski and Compass Games will have another volume of South China Sea releasing in 2020. Indian Ocean Region: South China Sea Vol. II – Modern Naval Conflict in the Indian Ocean will take the SCS-system and apply it to the Indian Ocean. I pre-ordered this game at first opportunity and cannot await this next version.


* The book is now in a Third Edition which I need to order the next time it’s on sale.

#WargameWednesday – Using Captain Hughes’ Fleet Tactics to consider a modern naval #wargame: Part 5 -Battle Stations: An Operational Game of Modern Seapower (Simulations Canada, 1984)

(Part 5 of my series of what I think makes a good modern naval wargame)

To help evaluate modern naval wargames I am comparing various games to the writings 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 chapter 7 of that edition, Hughes writes of The Great Trends & Constants:

  • Maneuver
  • Firepower & Counterforce
  • Scouting & Anti-Scouting
  • Command & Control (C2) and C2 Countermeasures (C2CM)

Capt. Hughes also writes on ‘What a Navy is for.’

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

Battle Stations: An Operational Game of Modern Seapower (Simulations Canada, 1984)

This post I look at Battle Stations: An Operational Game of Modern Seapower designed by Stephen Newberg and published by Simulations Canada in 1984. Battle Stations follows Seapower & the State, the strategic World War III at sea game from Simulations Canada and Stephen Newberg, and in many ways is the “same game, only different.”

In the Design Notes, Mr. Newberg writes:

So it seems that there is still a place for a fairly easy but broadly reflective modern naval game at the tactical / operational level. We found a need for such a game ourselves, since sometimes it is nice to play out a fast battle rather than a long war. BATTLE STATIONS! is an outgrowth of these desires. We had a well worked out existing data bae from the research for SEAPOWER & THE STATE and it seemed a good idea to use it.

BLUF – Battle Stations is an ultra-low complexity game that emphasizes ‘layered’ combat with little to no Scouting/Anti-Scouting model or C2 nor does it explore ‘why’ the naval battles are happening.

Why Fight?

The back cover of Battle Stations enticingly hints that the game goes beyond a very generic “You sank my battleship!” approach to naval warfare:

The world depends on the sea. 90 percent of all bulk shipment between nations travel by sea. Much of the edible protein consumed yearly comes from the sea. Major nations hide their strategic deterrent under the sea. In the event of a Third World War the seas of the world will be the scene of some of the most intense conflict in the history of mankind. Such conflict will center on the shipping lanes and extend from the ice cap at the North Pole, through the transit straits and gaps, to the open sea of the oceans.

Alas, that is as close Battle Stations comes to a Hughes-view of why navies fight. Rule 7.21 Victory Points awards VP strictly on the basis of units destroyed. After the incredible insight seen in Seapower & the State this step back is shocking but admittedly in keeping with the low-complexity the designer seems to be seeking.

Maneuver

“Through maneuver the elements of a force attain positions over time.” – Hughes, p. 177

“Maneuver is tactical speed and agility” – Hughes, p. 179

“The fundamental tactical position is no longer defined by the geometric relationship of the opposing formations, but by an operational element: the early detection of the enemy.” Guiseppe Fioravanzo as quoted in Hughes, p. 179.

In keeping with the low-complexity approach to game design, movement is extremely simple. All sea hexes cost 1 movement point to enter while littoral hexes cost double. Aircraft do not move on the map but are assigned a hex within range of a base and can fly a set number of sorties in a turn.

Firepower

“Firepower is the capacity to destroy an enemy’s ability to apply force.” Hughes, p. 175

“At sea the essence of tactical success has been the first application of effective offensive force.” – Hughes, p. 206

“Another recurring tendency, perhaps common enough to be called a constant, is to overestimate the effectiveness of weapons before a war.” -Hughes, p. 207

“In modern battle, ships and aircraft will be lost at an agonizing rate. but we observe no trend toward greater destructiveness; we see a continuation of naval combat’s decisive and destructive nature. – Hughes, p. 208.

Like Seapower & the State, every platform in Battle Stations is rated for combat using two factors; an numerical strength and an alphanumeric range. Combat is resolved in ‘layers’ with the far standoff Range A going first and proceeding down to to Range D (Visual Range) with a final anti-submarine resolution segment at the end. This layered combat (or as call it, the ‘Combat Onion’) is the heart of Battle Stations.

Counterforce

“Counterforce is the capacity to reduce the effect of delivered firepower.” – Hughes, p. 175

“While the success of defense against firepower has waxed and waned and at present is on the wane, the importance of diluting or destroying enemy offensive firepower continues.” – Hughes, p. 208.

“The prominent trend in defense is away from survivability through armor, compartmentation, bulk, and damage control. and toward cover, deception, and dispersion.” – Hughes, p. 186

Important to understanding these discussions is the way a fleet tactician looks at defensive force. Defensive systems collectively act like a filter (not a wall, or Maginot Line) that extracts a certain number of incoming aircraft or missiles. As it is able, a hull absorbs hits and allows a warship to conduct curtailed offensive operations.” – Hughes, p. 192

Counterforce in Battle Stations is abstracted into a single factor – the EW Rating. Combat is resolved by summing the attack strength of all attackers and comparing it to the EW Rating of a defender. This comparison is rolled for on the Combat Results Table. If the number rolled is within the range on the CRT the unit is destroyed. The Defense value from Seapower & the State becomes the VP in Battle Stations.

Scouting

“Scouts deliver tactical information about the enemy’s position, movements, vulnerabilities, strengths, and, in the best of worlds, intentions.” – Hughes, p. 175

“The goal is scouting is to help get weapons within range and aim them.” -Hughes, p. 193

“It seems pedestrian to say that scouting has always been an important constant of war. Perhaps the way to put it is this: winners have outscouted the enemy in detection, in tracking, and in targeting. At sea better scouting – more than maneuver, as much as weapons range, and oftentimes as much as anything else – has determined who would attack not merely effectively, but who would attack decisively first.” – Hughes, p. 212

Since Battle Stations displays all units on the map, the game assumption is that the general location of all units is known. However, to attack, ships and submarines must be targeted (6.2 Targetting). At the start of the Joint Combat Phase is the Targetting Resolution Segment where players determine which ships have been targeted in the fight. Ships with a higher EW Rating have a better chance of NOT being targeted. Possible modifiers include a scenario-specific national assets and being a submarine. Aircraft are automatically targeted.

Anti-Scouting

“Antiscouts destroy, disrupt, or slow enemy scouts.” – Hughes, p. 175

“As the destructiveness and range of weapons grew, the means of surviving enemy attacks diminished and emphasis shifted to reducing the enemy’s scouting effectiveness.” – Hughes, p. 197

“Antiscouting by cover, deception, and evasion would now aim at limiting detection, tracking, or targeting.” – Hughes, p. 197

The concept of Anti-Scouting in Battle Stations is captured in the EW Rating of a unit. The higher the EW Rating the better chance of not being targeted.

C2

“Command decides what is needed from forces and control transforms needs into action. These are processes. C2 systems are defined, perhaps a bit artificially, as the equipment and organizations by which the processes are performed.” – Hughes, p. 176

“A tactical commander uses C2 to allocate his forces for four activities: firepower delivery, counterforce delivery, scouting, and anti-scouting.” – Hughes, p. 176

“A modern tactical commander will expend relatively less of his energy on planning for and delivering firepower, and relatively more on planning and executing his scouting efforts and forestalling that of the enemy with antiscouting and C2 countermeasures.” – Hughes, p. 201-202.

The C2 rules in Battle Stations are very limited. There is no stacking limit for hexes  although rule 6.8 Optional Nuclear Weapons may make one pause to put ‘too many eggs in one basket.’ The most complicated part of the C2 rules is actually found in 5.41 Aircraft Available, 5.42 Assignment, 5.43 Sortie, and 5.44 Upkeep Attrition. These rules call for assignment of INDIVIDUAL aircraft points to INDIVIDUAL hexes. If there is one area that low-complexity approach to the game fails, it is with this bookkeeping.

C2CM (Command & Control Countermeasures)

“Command and control countermeasures (C2CM) are steps to limit the enemy’s ability to decide (command) and disseminate decisions (control). – Hughes, p. 176

There are no rules in Battle Stations that I can identify as explicitly C2CM-related. Again – a low complexity game with little need to stretch C2 of the players.

Final Verdict

If Stephen Newberg wanted to create a low-complexity modern naval game at the operational / tactical levels of war then Battle Stations fits the bill. Indeed, Battle Stations is almost too simple as the entire game focuses on the ‘Combat Onion’ with little attention paid to anything beyond an abstract layered combat model. Simple, fast, easy to learn and play but not very insightful.


* The book is now in a Third Edition which I need to order the next time it’s on sale.

#WargameWednesday – Using Captain Hughes’ Fleet Tactics to consider a modern naval #wargame: Part 4 -Seapower and the State (Simulations Canada, 1982)

(Part 4 of my series of what I think makes a good modern naval wargame)

To help evaluate modern naval wargames I am comparing various games to the writings 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 chapter 7 of that edition, Hughes writes of The Great Trends & Constants:

  • Maneuver
  • Firepower & Counterforce
  • Scouting & Anti-Scouting
  • Command & Control (C2) and C2 Countermeasures (C2CM)

Capt. Hughes also writes on ‘What a Navy is for.’

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

Seapower & the State: A Strategic Study of World War Three at Sea, 1984-1994

This post I look at Seapower & the State: A Strategic Study of World War Three at Sea, 1984-1994 designed by Stephen Newberg and published by Simulations Canada in 1982. Seapower & the State (S&tS) is a rare game in that very few wargames present a strategic view of World War III at sea. As the designer notes, “The viewpoint of the simulation is that of grand strategy and thus has the players acting as the overall commanders of the naval forces of the Eastern or Western alliances.” (1.0 Introduction)

What may be the most distinguishing feature of S&tS is the Conflict Level. Each turn, player bid on the level of conflict with five possible choices ranging from no combat to all-out nuclear war (yikes!). Each one has different game effects:

Level 1: No Active Combat

Level 2: Conventional Weapon Combat

Level 3: Conventional & Tactical Nuclear Weapon Combat

Level 4: Conventional, Tactical Nuclear, & Operational Nuclear Combat

Level 5: Strategic Nuclear Weapons Combat

That said, the game has elements of the operational level of war (allocating missions) and even a bit of a dip into tactical warfare (combat). As the designer notes, “The very strategic level of the game requires numerous abstractions, but to keep the doctrine differences clear an upper operational level was retained for the purposes of combat resolution systems.” (21.0 Designer’s Notes) Scale-wise, the map covers the entire world using 900km hexes. The time of each turn is amorphous with only turns at Conflict Level 2 or higher counted as turns played towards the Endturn. The game ends after about 10 turns of Conflict Level 2 or greater conflict, or as the designer notes “about 6 weeks of combat.” The game automatically ends if Conflict Level 5: Strategic Nuclear Weapons Combat is chosen.

The General Course of Play (2.0) provides a good overview of the game:

After choosing a scenario to be played and which player will play which side the players start each turn with a Conflict Level Determination phase in which the intensity of the combat for the turn will be fixed. The Eastern player then begins his player phase by moving his units. After movement is completed a combat sequence if followed for each hex that contains units of both players. Next, the Eastern player conducts mine operations and finally satellite operations. The Western player then begins his player phase, which is identical to that just completed by the Eastern player. After the Western player’s phase is completed and Endturn phase begins in during which the players determine the effects the turn has had that will apply to later turns and determine victory points each has earned during the turn. the turn ends and the next turn begins. In general each player should try to use his units in a manner as to prevent the other player from earning victory points while at the same time trying to earn as many victory points as possible. At the conclusion of the last turn a comparison of victory points will determine the winner of the game.

BLUF – Seapower & the State provides a grand strategic view of a potentially nuclear 1980s/1990s World War III at sea using an abstracted Scouting/Anti-Scouting model, a range-dependent Firepower combat system, and a doctrinal C2 model that emphasizes maritime Sea Lines of Communications and preservation of nuclear deterrent forces.

Why Fight?

Seapower & the State fully embraces CAPT Hughes’ viewpoint that navies are designed to ensure the safe delivery of goods. However, S&tS goes even further by introducing a political element concerning allies and neutral nations. The game also has a very Cold War element of preserving an at-sea nuclear deterrent. Indeed, the treatment of nuclear war sets this game apart form many others in an unsettling manner.

In recognition of CAPT Hughes’ importance of delivering goods and services across the sea, the primary means of generating Victory Points for either side is through Shipping. There are 24 shipping routes on the map. The Eastern player earns VP for interdicting routes with ships or aircraft and sinking merchants and tankers. The Western player earns VP for preventing Shipping loses and getting ships through. Further, if the Eastern player interdicts certain routes, Western bases are captured or rendered inoperative.

S&tS also the strategic issue of allies and alliances. As the Conflict Level escalates, Western alliance nations may waver and sue for a separate peace (16.5 Committed Nations Armistice / 16.51 Early Wavering). Additionally, if the Western player fails to keep the sealanes open, bases fall as some nations may be overrun (16.52 Overrun) and drop out of the war. India and China appear in S&tS in a very interesting manner. India can enter the war on the Eastern side once enough Western bases are overrun. Once India enters the war China enters on the Western side. I recognize that these rules are very dependent upon a somewhat narrow interpretation of the political situation as seen in the early 1980s. The designer recognizes it as such and even has a specific rule, 16.53 Opinion, which encourages players to modify or suit the political judgements as they feel fit.

The last element of victory in S&tS is one of the more macabre wargames rules I have ever encountered. It concerns Level 5 Conflict – All out nuclear war. If the Conflict Level Determination Phase goes to Conflict Level 5 a special ‘end of the world’ procedure is executed:

17.6 Level 5 Conflict – If a Level 5 conflict was bid for the turn the Level 5 Conflict Resolution portion of the play sequence [is] used. Both players must examine the positions of all their SB [SSBN] type units. The BM [Ballistic Missile] range is on the back of the SB unit counters and may not be examined by the opposing player prior to a level 5 turn. The range represents the number of hexes distant that the SB unit may attack a land target hex….After totaling points earned by each player for SB units in range, each player must subtract from his total 10 points for each opposing target hex that did not have at least one of his SB type units in range to attack that target (regardless of the BM range of the SB unit). In addition, 1 point is subtracted for each SB unit that was in range to attack but was not within 14 hexes of a friendly CSAT [Communications Satellite] present marker….A Level 5 turn is always the last turn of the game, regardless of the number of turns that have been played.

Maneuver

“Through maneuver the elements of a force attain positions over time.” – Hughes, p. 177

“Maneuver is tactical speed and agility” – Hughes, p. 179

“The fundamental tactical position is no longer defined by the geometric relationship of the opposing formations, but by an operational element: the early detection of the enemy.” Guiseppe Fioravanzo as quoted in Hughes, p. 179.

Like many other naval games, Seapower & the State uses a God’s Eye view of the map with all surface and submarine units on a shared map. Given the scale of the map there are few restrictions on movement. Aircraft are assigned to a given base and can be assigned missions to particular hexes on the map.

There are relatively few movement restrictions in S&tS. The Panama and Suez Canals are present, littoral regions and the Ice Cap special rules. Weather may also have an impact.

The rule with greatest impact to maneuver is actually the Conflict Level. At Conflict Level 1: No Active Combat many movement restrictions, like neutral forces, change. Conflict Level 2: Conventional Weapon Combat sees all the movement rules used in the standard manner. Conflict Level 3: Conventional a & Tactical Nuclear Weapon Combat sees the firepower of most units increase by a factor of 5 (tactical nukes) which will likely change a player’s scheme of maneuver.  At Conflict Level 4: Conventional, Tactical Nuclear, & Operational Nuclear Combat all ships or subs in European bases are eliminated, all non-base hexes with 5 or more units are potentially eliminated. Three out of four aircraft and two out of three satellites are eliminated. The list of impacts goes on but you hopefully get the point – nuclear war at sea is BAD.

Firepower

“Firepower is the capacity to destroy an enemy’s ability to apply force.” Hughes, p. 175

“At sea the essence of tactical success has been the first application of effective offensive force.” – Hughes, p. 206

“Another recurring tendency, perhaps common enough to be called a constant, is to overestimate the effectiveness of weapons before a war.” -Hughes, p. 207

“In modern battle, ships and aircraft will be lost at an agonizing rate. but we observe no trend toward greater destructiveness; we see a continuation of naval combat’s decisive and destructive nature. – Hughes, p. 208.

Every platform in S&tS is rated for combat using two factors; an numerical strength and an alphanumeric range. Combat is resolved in ‘layers’ with the far standoff Range A going first and proceeding down to to Range D (Visual Range):

8.3 Range: The range concept is central to AA [Anti-Aircraft] and AS [Anti-Surface] combat resolution in that certain weapons systems can only be applied so far away from the location of the firing platform. As AA & AS combat is resolved for each range, simulating the phasing units moving deeper into the area represented by the hex, more weapons of shorter range will be able to contribute. Similarly, as the phasing units move away from the non-phasing units in the hex (if they break off combat before range “D”) the shorter range weapons will no longer play a part sooner. In addition, the actual localization and resolution of combat against submarine type units requires very close ranges, and hence phasing units that do not close to range “D” are prohibited from participating in these operations.

Counterforce

“Counterforce is the capacity to reduce the effect of delivered firepower.” – Hughes, p. 175

“While the success of defense against firepower has waxed and waned and at present is on the wane, the importance of diluting or destroying enemy offensive firepower continues.” – Hughes, p. 208.

“The prominent trend in defense is away from survivability through armor, compartmentation, bulk, and damage control. and toward cover, deception, and dispersion.” – Hughes, p. 186

Important to understanding these discussions is the way a fleet tactician looks at defensive force. Defensive systems collectively act like a filter (not a wall, or Maginot Line) that extracts a certain number of incoming aircraft or missiles. As it is able, a hull absorbs hits and allows a warship to conduct curtailed offensive operations.” – Hughes, p. 192

Counterforce in S&tS is abstracted into two factors – Defense and EW Rating. Combat is resolved by summing the attack strength of all attackers and comparing it to the summed EW Rating of all defenders. The difference is the attack superiority. the defender has to eliminate units with a total Defense value equal to the attack superiority.

Scouting

“Scouts deliver tactical information about the enemy’s position, movements, vulnerabilities, strengths, and, in the best of worlds, intentions.” – Hughes, p. 175

“The goal is scouting is to help get weapons within range and aim them.” -Hughes, p. 193

“It seems pedestrian to say that scouting has always been an important constant of war. Perhaps the way to put it is this: winners have outscouted the enemy in detection, in tracking, and in targeting. At sea better scouting – more than maneuver, as much as weapons range, and oftentimes as much as anything else – has determined who would attack not merely effectively, but who would attack decisively first.” – Hughes, p. 212

Since S&tS displays all units on the map, the game assumption is that the general location of all units is known. However, to attack, the targets must be localized (7.0 Localization / 7.1 General). To localize a unit the phasing player rolls 1d6 and compares it to the unit in the hex with the highest EW Rating. After some simple map a result is given in the number of units localized, starting with those possessing the lowest EW Rating. Modifiers are limited and center on submarines (silent SSBNs) or Trailers (i.e. ‘tattletales’) shadowing US carriers at the start of a conflict.

Both players also have access to RSATs (Radar Satellites) which are launched to provide coverage detection in different areas of the world. Seabed Sonar Sites (i.e. ‘SOSUS’) also can assist in localization.

Anti-Scouting

“Antiscouts destroy, disrupt, or slow enemy scouts.” – Hughes, p. 175

“As the destructiveness and range of weapons grew, the means of surviving enemy attacks diminished and emphasis shifted to reducing the enemy’s scouting effectiveness.” – Hughes, p. 197

“Antiscouting by cover, deception, and evasion would now aim at limiting detection, tracking, or targeting.” – Hughes, p. 197

The concept of Anti-Scouting in S&tS is captured in the EW Rating of a unit. Players also have access to Anti-Satellites (ASATs) and can even alter the orbit of their RSATs to destroy or preserve those assets.

C2

“Command decides what is needed from forces and control transforms needs into action. These are processes. C2 systems are defined, perhaps a bit artificially, as the equipment and organizations by which the processes are performed.” – Hughes, p. 176

“A tactical commander uses C2 to allocate his forces for four activities: firepower delivery, counterforce delivery, scouting, and anti-scouting.” – Hughes, p. 176

“A modern tactical commander will expend relatively less of his energy on planning for and delivering firepower, and relatively more on planning and executing his scouting efforts and forestalling that of the enemy with antiscouting and C2 countermeasures.” – Hughes, p. 201-202.

The C2 rules in S&tS are actually a bit subtle. In the Movement Segment, rule 6.31 Logistics defines stacking limits and a requirement to touch bases throughout the game (carriers and nuclear ships are exempt from this rule). Different classes of bases can supply different numbers of ships – or aircraft. Players must pay attention to the ‘supply lines’ of their fleet. The price paid for not having ships in supply (or even ‘overstacking’ in supply) is brutal – unit elimination.

Buried within the Anti-Surface Combat rules is another subtle C2 rule – 10.33 Central Command. This rule, based on doctrine, requires the Eastern player to be within a certain range of a Communications Satellite (CSAT) to conduct certain attacks.

C2CM (Command & Control Countermeasures)

“Command and control countermeasures (C2CM) are steps to limit the enemy’s ability to decide (command) and disseminate decisions (control). – Hughes, p. 176

There are no rules in S&tS that I can identify as explicitly C2CM-related with the possible exception of ASATs that can be used against CSATs. That said, the improper application of the C2-related rules creates, in effect, a C2CM situation.

Final Verdict

Seapower & the State is strategic wargame that is the embodiment of CAPT Hughes’ concepts of naval warfare. It is also the only naval wargame I know of that addresses a strategic World War III at sea. The game is deceptively simple with only 14-pages of rules, a simple map, and rather plain counters. By today’s standards it looks like a cheap DTP effort. The reality is designer Stephen Newberg has created a relatively simple model of a worldwide – potentially nuclear – conflict that captures the essential essence of why navies fight (and the potential for nuclear Armageddon) using Firepower/Counterforce, Scouting/Anti-Scouting, and C2/C2CM elements.

IMG_0577


* The book is now in a Third Edition which I need to order the next time it’s on sale.

#WargameWednesday – Using Captain Hughes’ Fleet Tactics to consider a modern naval #wargame: Part 3 – Task Force (SPI, 1981)

(Part 3 of my series of what I think makes a good modern naval wargame)

To help evaluate modern naval wargames I am comparing various games to the writings 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 chapter 7 of that edition, Hughes writes of The Great Trends & Constants:

  • Maneuver
  • Firepower & Counterforce
  • Scouting & Anti-Scouting
  • Command & Control (C2) and C2 Countermeasures (C2CM)

Capt. Hughes also writes on ‘What a Navy is for.’

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

Task Force: Naval Tactics and Operations in the 1980’s

This post I will look at Task Force: Naval Tactics and Operations in the 1980’s (SPI, 1981). Task force is an interesting game in that it is depicts both the operational and tactical-levels of naval warfare at it was understood in the early 1980’s.

The box side of Task Force proclaims:

Task Force examines on an operational/tactical level a hypothetical naval confrontation between Soviet, NATO, and other forces in three major ocean-going routes of the world. Ships must search out enemy fleets and then attack them with missiles, gunnery, or, in the advanced game, aircraft.

IMG_0559Turning to the designer’s Notes hints at some explanation for how the game evolved but, frankly, it’s incomplete:

Task Force has a long and checkered history. Originally designed as a purely tactical naval game covering both the contemporary period and the Second World War, the game underwent several facelifts over the past two and a half years and, in fact, few elements present in the game as published are leftovers from the designer’s original ideas.

BLUF – Task Force: Naval Tactics and Operations in the 1980’s (SPI, 1981) is an operational game emphasizing Scouting & Anti-scouting combined with a tactical combat system emphasizing surface-to-surface missile Firepower and Counterforce.

Why Fight?

Nowhere in the Task Force rules does the designer explicitly state “why” the various hypothetical naval battles are taking place. To divine the designer’s viewpoint, one must interpret the Victory Conditions. Victory in Task Force comes from standard and special Victory Conditions. In all scenarios Victory Points are awarded for the elimination of enemy ships (standard). Scenarios may also have special Victory Points. Of the eleven included scenarios, five use the Standard Victory Conditions only. Five of the remaining six scenarios award special VP for the movement of freighters into specific megahexes. Thus, without explicitly stating so, designer/developer Joe Balkoski appears to at least recognize that sea control for the “safe delivery of goods or services ashore” is a vital mission of the navy.

Maneuver

“Through maneuver the elements of a force attain positions over time.” – Hughes, p. 177

“Maneuver is tactical speed and agility” – Hughes, p. 179

“The fundamental tactical position is no longer defined by the geometric relationship of the opposing formations, but by an operational element: the early detection of the enemy.” Guiseppe Fioravanzo as quoted in Hughes, p. 179.

Maneuver in Task Force takes place on two levels. At the operational-level, platforms maneuver across the operational map with few restrictions aside from weather for ships and aircraft and ocean depth for submarines. Given the scale of the game (both time and distance) ships don’t ‘dash about’ the map. On the tactical level, several combat types use the Tactical Display which is, quite literarily, the formation of the group when in combat. Interestingly, movement on the Tactical Display is limited to surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) in SSM Combat, submarines in Torpedo Combat, and aircraft when flying Strike Missions. Gunnery and Anti-submarine (ASW) Combat are abstracted and do not use the Tactical Display.

IMG_0561Firepower

“Firepower is the capacity to destroy an enemy’s ability to apply force.” Hughes, p. 175

“At sea the essence of tactical success has been the first application of effective offensive force.” – Hughes, p. 206

“Another recurring tendency, perhaps common enough to be called a constant, is to overestimate the effectiveness of weapons before a war.” -Hughes, p. 207

“In modern battle, ships and aircraft will be lost at an agonizing rate. but we observe no trend toward greater destructiveness; we see a continuation of naval combat’s decisive and destructive nature. – Hughes, p. 208.

Ships and submarines in Task Force are rated in combat by ASW, Anti-Air (AA)Gunnery/Torpedo, and SSM Value. The ASW or AA Value may have an asterisk representing Area coverage; that is, an ability to reach some distance beyond the same or adjacent arc on the Tactical Display. Indeed, the Tactical Display (TD) is the heart of the tactical-level game of Task Force.

The SSM Value on ships is a bit more complicated but that is expected as SSM Combat is the heart of the tactical battle game. As rule 16.12 explains:

An SSM Value consists of a letter followed by a number. The letter is the type of SSM carried (see 16.13) and the number is its Simultaneous Launch Capability (SLC) – that is, the maximum number of SSMs that may be fired by the ship in a single  SSM Combat action.

SSMs in turn are given a rating of Range and Accuracy. Aircraft are very similar to SSMs in that for Strike Missions they can use Air-to-Surface Missiles (ASM) or bombs. I find it interesting to see the designer’s interpretation of Strike Missions notes in 24.55:

a. Air-to-Surface Missile (ASM): This type of attack is safer, but less accurate than bombing (24.56).

b. Bombing: This type of attack is more dangerous than ASM’s, but also more accurate (24.57).

Optional rules in Task Force include Mid-Course Guidance for SSMs and Long-Range ASM Attacks as well as Rocket-Assisted Projectiles for Gunnery Combat and the special Tomahawk SSM. I’ll also call your attention to the fact there are no rules for nuclear munitions in Task Force.

Counterforce

“Counterforce is the capacity to reduce the effect of delivered firepower.” – Hughes, p. 175

“While the success of defense against firepower has waxed and waned and at present is on the wane, the importance of diluting or destroying enemy offensive firepower continues.” – Hughes, p. 208.

“The prominent trend in defense is away from survivability through armor, compartmentation, bulk, and damage control. and toward cover, deception, and dispersion.” – Hughes, p. 186

Important to understanding these discussions is the way a fleet tactician looks at defensive force. Defensive systems collectively act like a filter (not a wall, or Maginot Line) that extracts a certain number of incoming aircraft or missiles. As it is able, a hull absorbs hits and allows a warship to conduct curtailed offensive operations.” – Hughes, p. 192

Counterforce in Task Force comes down to three forms:

  • Formation (location on Tactical Display)
  • Jamming
  • Defensive Firepower

The first element of Counterforce is the formation a group is in when attacked. The first step in resolving combat on the Tactical Display is for the defender to deploy their force onto the display. In SSM Combat the attacker then declares their Wave Plan. Aircraft on Strike Mission enter the TD similar to SSMs. Even submarines using Torpedo Combat start at the edge of the TD. As the attackers move through the TD they are confronted by various defenders.

At this point the second layer of Counterforce comes into play. This second layer is a combination of Combat Air Patrol (CAP), AA fire, and Jamming. Defenders are limited to engaging threats in a single Arc (thus the importance of the formation setup) although Area weapons can be used in adjacent Arcs. If an attacker makes it thru the second layer of defense a final layer, or close defense, can be called upon.

All ships have a Jamming Value. In SSM Combat, a ship can attempt to jam SSMs which can eliminate missiles before they attack. For Strike Missions, aircraft can use jamming offensively to improve their attack chances while ships use jamming to improve their defense. Jamming even gets an optional rule for the US Navy in the form of the Design-to-Price Electronic Warfare System (DPEWS) which is called out as the “SOQ-132.” In reality, this systems would enter service as the SLQ-132.

Scouting

“Scouts deliver tactical information about the enemy’s position, movements, vulnerabilities, strengths, and, in the best of worlds, intentions.” – Hughes, p. 175

“The goal is scouting is to help get weapons within range and aim them.” -Hughes, p. 193

“It seems pedestrian to say that scouting has always been an important constant of war. Perhaps the way to put it is this: winners have outscouted the enemy in detection, in tracking, and in targeting. At sea better scouting – more than maneuver, as much as weapons range, and oftentimes as much as anything else – has determined who would attack not merely effectively, but who would attack decisively first.” – Hughes, p. 212

Whereas the Tactical Display is the heart of the tactical game of Task Force, Scouting and Anti-Scouting is the heart of the operational-level game. I am glad to see designer Joe Balkoski in his Notes actually channeling CAPT Hughes:

A confrontation between two opposing forces on the seas resolves around the salient feature of military intelligence; he who first obtains information concerning the accurate composition and whereabouts of the enemy while concealing his own presence will probably win the battle. The US Navy dictum, “shoot first – shoot enough,” is certainly a theme that is understood in the Task Force game system.

However, this policy is far easier to fulfill in theory than in actual practice. In the truly vast expanses of an ocean, an individual ship is utterly minuscule. Especially in the present day, very few ships have the capability to perform very many functions and, as a result, locating and tracking them is extremely difficult. Furthermore, closing the range to attack them is even harder. Of course, this severely limited intelligence is multiplied tenfold when dealing with enemy submarines sailing far beneath the waves.

…Thus, Task Force is a game of limited intelligence between players, simulating short, sharp engagements with relatively few ships over vast geographic distances…. Players will always have at least some idea where enemy forces are at the start of a scenario. Their true task is to attempt to pinpoint these locations more specifically and attack – all while remaining undetected themselves. Tactically, the most important considerations that will face the players during each Game-Turn are the modes in which each of their task forces and subrons will operate. Essentially, the start of each scenario will see opposing groups stalking each other like clumsy boxers. During this period, it will be far more important to know roughly where the enemy is rather than immediately pinpointing him and recognizing his exact force structure. Thus, task forces will operate in EMCON mode – preventing the revelation of their own positions through emissions detection, but permitting the employment of helicopters for visual searching, as well as allowing the use of passive detection against enemy subrons. Similarly, at the start of each scenario, subrons will usually operate in deep mode. Although their movement will be restricted and their weapons useless, such subrons will be difficult to detect and yet will still remain a highly potent passive search platform.

As the scenario progresses, more and more specific intelligence concerning the enemy will become a necessity. Locations will have to become exact, tracking more constant, and knowledge of enemy force structure more clear. Only with such information can an attack become effective and devastating to the enemy. Numerous limited attacks against undefined enemy forces will never be as effective as one gigantic, all-or-nothing strike against a recognizable and desirable target.

Hunting down the enemy in this fashion will usually only be possible through active search or – less frequently – intensive helicopter search. Active searches are effective but highly dangerous – they automatically reveal the position of the searching force, indicating that it will most likely be pounced upon by any enemy force in the vicinity that survive a friendly surface-to-surface missile, torpedo, or gunnery attack.

Task Force uses a double-blind map to create a ‘limited intelligence’ game. Both players have identical maps but are not allowed to view their opponent’s board. Ships that compose a group are never placed directly on a map – they go on each player’s Group Display.

IMG_0562Before a unit can search, players must decide on a Mode. For Task Forces the choice is to operate in normal or EMCON mode. A subron must operate either shallow or deep. The choice made has a significant impact on Scouting and Anti-Scouting.

Whether it is Active/Active ASW or Helicopter/Helicopter ASW or Task Force/Subron Passive all Search Actions are resolved in a somewhat similar manner. The searcher declares a megahex to be searched and a Search Value. The searching player then rolls a single die in view of both players and can declare aloud a modification based on the Surveillance Level. The player being searched applies secret modifiers based on the type of search, Mode or even EW equipment. The modified result is translated into a Search Report of Precise, Accurate, Approximate, or False. Of course, the searching player does not know what the quality of the report is!

Satellites, spying, and code-breaking are represented in the abstracted Surveillance Level. The Surveillance Level is set by the scenario. Other abstracted concepts include Long-Range Patrol Missions and Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS).

Once a Task Force or subron is found, it doesn’t automatically stay that way. Groups that were had Precise or Accurate Search Reports are tracked. However, at the conclusion of the next Movement action, the tracked group is announced and the track removed. Thus, it is important for the tracking player to note where the units were last located and plan their next search accordingly.

Anti-Scouting

“Antiscouts destroy, disrupt, or slow enemy scouts.” – Hughes, p. 175

“As the destructiveness and range of weapons grew, the means of surviving enemy attacks diminished and emphasis shifted to reducing the enemy’s scouting effectiveness.” – Hughes, p. 197

“Antiscouting by cover, deception, and evasion would now aim at limiting detection, tracking, or targeting.” – Hughes, p. 197

The concept of Anti-Scouting in Task Force is illustrated through through the Mode. Depending on the Mode chosen (normal or EMCON / shallow or deep), groups are either automatically detected by their emissions or have secret modifiers on the search.

C2

“Command decides what is needed from forces and control transforms needs into action. These are processes. C2 systems are defined, perhaps a bit artificially, as the equipment and organizations by which the processes are performed.” – Hughes, p. 176

“A tactical commander uses C2 to allocate his forces for four activities: firepower delivery, counterforce delivery, scouting, and anti-scouting.” – Hughes, p. 176

“A modern tactical commander will expend relatively less of his energy on planning for and delivering firepower, and relatively more on planning and executing his scouting efforts and forestalling that of the enemy with antiscouting and C2 countermeasures.” – Hughes, p. 201-202.

If there is one area in Task Force that I think the designer missed it is Command & Control. C2 in Task Force takes two forms; group organization and personal. Group organization is very straight forward and nothing special. On the other hand, Task Force makes Leaders available to players. Leaders have a Command Value which modifies the die roll used to determine the number of actions available to a group. Rear Admirals have a Command Value of 2, Commodores 1, and Captains 0. In effect, Command Value represents staff planning, although I note that it is based purely on the command level of the staff and not any other factor. More interestingly, there is an optional rule for Commanders who possess a Command Value of negative 1. What does Joe Balkowski have against navy commanders?

C2CM (Command & Control Countermeasures)

“Command and control countermeasures (C2CM) are steps to limit the enemy’s ability to decide (command) and disseminate decisions (control). – Hughes, p. 176

C2CM in Task Force appears in only a single rule; Command-Control Loss. This Random Event results in a loss of actions available to a single group.

Final Verdict

The combination of a double-blind map and the search rules makes the operational-level game of Task Force one of the better representations of Scouting & Anti-Scouting I have found in a modern naval wargame. This from a design that was originally a pure tactical naval game. But what does the designer say the game was trying to achieve? Again, the Notes provide some insight:

Thus, Task Force should simply be regarded as information – illustrated not with words, but with counters, maps, and hexes.  This information is accurate (hopefully) and presented in a manner such that even the layman with little knowledge of maritime affairs can understand what navies are, what they are intended to do, and how they might go about doing it. Therefore, Task Force is basically meant to be an enjoyable game for passing leisure hours, while at the same time assessing a very real and very dangerous – although little understood – situation in the contemporary world.

From this perspective, Task Force absolutely hits the nail on the head.


* The book is now in a Third Edition which I need to order the next time it’s on sale.

#WargameWednesday – Using Captain Hughes’ Fleet Tactics to consider a modern naval #wargame: Part 2 – Warship Commander (Enola Games, 1979)

(Second installment in my series of “What is a ‘good’ modern naval wargame?”)

Everybody loves a good fight, and in the late 1970s if you wanted to game out a ‘modern’ tactical fight at sea one set of rules available was Warship Commander: 1967-1987 Present Day Tactical Naval Combat (Enola Games, 1979). More properly, this is a set of minatures rules (1:3000 scale recommended) than a boardgame. But is Warship Commander a good set of rules for ‘modern’ naval combat? My answer is variable; if you are looking for a ‘realistic’ depiction of tactical naval combat – at least as it was understood in the unclassified world – then Warship Commander is a very good game. However, if you are looking for a streamlined, playable wargame that plays briskly then this is NOT the game you want.

Is it a Range Dependent Model?

Far below is the summary of what Captain Hughes’ A Range Dependent Model of Modern Naval Combat is. Warship Commander certainly has all the 12 elements of the model. The real question for me is not, ‘Does it satisfy the model,’ as much as it is, ‘HOW does it satisfy the model?”

The short answer is, ‘it’s complicated.”

  • Complicated because the product is more simulation than game
  • Complicated because the rules are dense and complex
  • Complicated because the game is a product of its time – caught at the start of a digital revolution in publishing, a revolution in digital weaponry, and a revolution in ‘open source’ public awareness of military weaponry.

Simulation or Game?

Here is how designer Ken Smigelski describes Warship Commander in the Introduction:

Warship Commander is a set of rules for recreating present day naval actions using military miniatures or cardboard counters. The rules can be used with military miniatures of any scale, although we recommend the new 1:3000 scale models. The game is designed to be played by two players or teams. Regardless of the number of players, Warship Commander is a thoroughly playable, highly detailed, and exceptionally realistic game.

Well, I’m going to give him the ‘highly detailed’ and ‘exceptionally realistic’ but I will argue about playable. Ken continues:

Warship Commander is the culmination of three years of research into the weapons, tactics, and battle damage of World War II as well as in depth research into present day naval weapons and tactics. It is a highly detailed and unique game, and is unlike any other naval game ever produced. Most of the game’s mechanics will be unfamiliar to the veteran naval wargamer as they are to the novice.

Luckily, the designer gives us a bit of insight into his sources used. What strikes me the most about the sources listed are these two (cited as they appear):

  • Seatag: A Sea Control Tactical Analysis Game (Naval War College)
  • An Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Game, Croyle (Naval War College)

So…the designer (or folks helping the designer – none are credited) were familiar with tactical naval games from the Naval War College. Looking at Warship Commander in this light, it is no stretch-of-the-imagination to see this game as a commercial version of the rules used by the Naval War College. Maybe not an outright copy, but heavily influenced at least? It certainly appears the legacy of the rules come from the simulations of the Naval War College. Indeed, looking at the introduction the designer makes the point that this to play the game well, an understanding of modern naval warfare is a prerequisite:

We recommend that all players read this section before reading the rules, as it will provide the information needed to thoroughly understand the rules. In order to play Warship Commander well, a player will need to throughly understand modern naval warfare, not just memorize a series of rules.

“…thoroughly playable, highly detailed, and exceptionally realistic….”

Warship Commander is a manual wargame. I don’t recall a calculator being called for but having some way to track all the modifiers when resolving a situation is essential. The game is also chart-heavy. Indeed, in the 68-page core book the introduction and background takes up the first eight pages, the rules to page 42, and the rest is tables and charts (~26 pages worth). Players need a deck of playing cards, decimal dice (d10) and d6 to resolve the various sub-routines.

I probably should mention at this point that Warship Commander is not all-encompassing when it comes to the various domains of naval warfare. Warship Commander has rules for:

  • Movement
  • Visual Sighting
  • Gunfire Against Ships
  • Damage
  • Damage Control
  • Communications & Data Link
  • Torpedoes
  • Electronic Warfare
  • Surface to Surface Missiles (SSMs)

Movement thru Torpedoes takes up about 14 pages. Electronic Warfare takes up the next eight pages and SSMs use the next 10. In effect, EW and SSMs take up over half the rules! If you want to add aircraft and submarines, you are going to need Sea Command: Present Day Naval-Air and Anti-Submarine Warfare (The Supplement to Warship Commander) from Enola Games in 1980.

Just how complicated is the game? I was going to add the SSM Attack Example from Sea Command (there is no comprehensive example provided in Warship Commander) but as I started typing I realized it looks to be around 3000 words long. That’s 3000 words (roughly double the size of this post) to resolve a single eight-Harpoon salvo against a Soviet Krivak-class destroyer fired from a range of 15 nm. If you actually get done reading the whole example (it’s over two double-column pages in the book) you easily understand the degree of complexity in the rules and why I, contrary to the designer’s claim, am loathe to agree that the game is ‘throughly playable.’

A Revolutionary Game?

As I wrote above, Warship Commander was published at at time of several revolutions in the wargaming industry. The first revolution was in publishing. Slick cover aside, Warship Commander has the look and feel of a desktop publishing product. The format is very simple with few graphics. An errata sheet in Sea Command looks like it was done on an IBM Selectric typewriter and mimeographed. I have to wonder how different the game rules would be if somebody used even an early generation personal computer and word processor. (Funny aside – My father was audited by the IRS in the mid-1980s because he claimed a ‘Personal Computer’ – PC – as a business expense. The IRS told he he couldn’t claim a ‘personal’ computer for a business – but an IBM one would be OK since it was made by International BUSINESS Machines.)

The second revolution, and one that Warship Commander really tries to capture, is the revolution in digital weaponry. The designer makes it clear how important ‘The Wizard’s War” is to Warship Commander:

Modern weapons rely on electronic sensors, and electronic warfare is perhaps the most important element of modern warfare. The side that controls the electromagnetic spectrum will be the side that will win the next war at sea. All navies constantly improve their radars and similar sensors to make them more resistant to electronic countermeasures, while also improving their own electronic countermeasure devices to make them more effective against opposing radars.

Later on in his modern naval warfare primer, he writes, “Modern warfare is electronic warfare” (emphasis in original). Those eight pages of EW rules are broken down into Radar, Passive Sensors, Electronic Countermeasures (ESM), and Electronic Counter-countermeasures (ECCM) going down to detailed techniques like Deception Jamming – false target generation or Jittered PRF. Communications and data links and surface-to-surface missiles get similar, albeit not as detailed, treatment.

67482The third revolution was more a societal revolution being the public’s access to information. In 1980, Alvin Toffler published his book The Third Wave which introduced many to the ‘information revolution.’ I can see how Warship Commander was riding the bow-wave of the information revolution, specifically in how it was taking advantage of many information sources. I recall being a middle school student and comparing the Ship Characteristics Table in Warship Commander to the latest issue of Jane’s at the public library (not my county library, but the Denver Public Library downtown – and yes, I was a geek). Bookstores started carrying military weapon compilations like Arco’s An Illustrated Guide to Modern Warships (1980) which I poured over, again with games like Warship Commander at my side. In just a few short years the ultimate military techno-thriller, The Hunt for Red October, would be published. (I will get to the Hunt for Red October and Harpoon wargame link when I discuss that game). My point is Warship Commander came onto the scene at a time when the information available to the average gamer was exploding. As a result, the game could be judged by how ‘realistic’ is was, at least in terms of concept. Warship Commander holds up surprisingly well, and even showed some ability to ‘see’ into the future. What holds it back is the detailed rules, an issue that will be addressed by a later wargame.

Take Command?

If you want a ‘realistic’ depiction of tactical naval combat – at least as it was understood in the semi-professional, unclassified wargaming world of the late 1970’s, then Warship Commander is a very good game. Be warned, however, that this is a complicated game that is high on detailed processes. Warship Commander delivers a ‘realistic’ simulation of modern naval warfare in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, but as a game it is overly complex. Today, I see it useful both as a example of the information and understanding of its time and what an extremely detailed model can look like (but that I don’t really want to play).


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. Wayne 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:

  1. Two forces
  2. Defensive power in soft and hard-kill defenses thought of as a filter that subtracts incoming weapons
  3. Neither side can deliver weapons or be fully ready to defend without scouting information
  4. Scouting information may come from active search or passive intercept
  5. The content of scouting information is expressed in terms of Detection,Tracking, and Targeting
  6. Scouting performance is a function of the electronic emission control of the active side
  7. Passive scouting performance is a function of enemy EMCON choices
  8. Net delivered firepower as a function of range reduces the defender’s offensive and defensive combat capability after an attack is delivered
  9. Each unit that is mobile may move and carry along its firepower potential
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. Surviving forces may reattack after accounting for damage from hits, aircraft lost, and missiles expended (Adopted from Hughes, p. 295-296).

#WargameWednesday – Using Captain Hughes’ Fleet Tactics to consider a modern naval #wargame: Part 1 – Sixth Fleet (SPI, 1975)

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 chapter 7 of that edition, Hughes writes of The Great Trends & Constants:

  • Maneuver
  • Firepower & Counterforce
  • Scouting & Anti-Scouting
  • Command & Control (C2) and C2 Countermeasures (C2CM)

Capt. Hughes also writes on ‘What a Navy is for.’

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

BLUF – Sixth Fleet uses a very land-centric view of warfare and attempts to apply it to modern war at sea with very strange results.

Sixth Fleet: US/Soviet Naval Warfare in the Mediterranean in the 1970’s was published by SPI in 1975. Designed by Jim Dunnigan and David B. Isby, the introduction proclaims:

Sixth Fleet is a simulation of operational naval warfare in the Mediterranean based on a hypothetical war between the Soviet Union and the NATO Alliance during the late 1970’s. The game counters (or playing pieces) represent individual ships or groups of ships or aircraft whose actual counterparts exist in the Soviet and NATO navies as constituted at the present time. All of the essential elements of a potential contemporary naval war in the Mediterranean are depicted, including the latest aircraft and ultrasophisticated surface and submarine naval vessels. The Sixth Fleet scenarios, each of which is a complete and separate game, simulate various periods in the war in which the initially inferior Soviet Mediterranean Squadron is reinforced from the Black Sea and attempts to seize control of the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean and disrupt the vital communication lanes between Europe and the Middle East.

In terms of scale, Sixth Fleet is an operational-level wargame with counters representing single capital ships or groups of lesser ships. Aircraft are considered 12-ship squadrons. Each hex is 45.4nm across and each turn represents 8 hours of time.

As the Game Notes state, “Sixth Fleet is an interesting study of a modern military situation done in a very abstract way.” Yeah, no kidding!

Why Fight?

Victory (found in 13.0 Victory Conditions) in Sixth Fleet comes from a combination of two factors. First, players score VP for destruction of enemy units; “For each Enemy unit destroyed, the opposing player receives a number of Victory Points equal to the Electronic Countermeasure Value of the destroyed unit.” The Soviets also receive bonus victory points (13.1 Soviet Bonus Victory Points) if they achieve any of three additional conditions:

  1. ‘The Soviet Player receives ten (10) bonus Victory Points if there are no NATO units (of any type) in the Aegean Sea area at the end of the game.’
  2. ‘The Soviet Player receives fifteen (15) bonus Victory Points if at the end of the game it is impossible for the NATO Player to trace a line of communications from any coastal hex in Israel leading off the western mapedge.’
  3. ‘If the Soviet Player has received bonus points for fulfilling the [second] objective given in case 13.12, he receives fifteen (15) additional bonus Victory Points if at the end of the game there are no NATO units east of the Eastern Mediterranean Boundary Line indicated on the map.’

As one will discover upon further reading, destruction of ships in Sixth Fleet is not a given making the fulfillment (or avoidance of) Soviet objectives the primary focus of the game.

Maneuver

“Through maneuver the elements of a force attain positions over time.” – Hughes, p. 177

“Maneuver is tactical speed and agility” – Hughes, p. 179

“The fundamental tactical position is no longer defined by the geometric relationship of the opposing formations, but by an operational element: the early detection of the enemy.” Guiseppe Fioravanzo as quoted in Hughes, p. 179.

Maneuver in Sixth Fleet is very simple and straight-forward. Ships and submarines are given a movement allowance which is the number of hexes it can move in a turn. Aircraft have a range allowance.

There are no formations per se. That said, the Stacking rules allow a player to stack units in a hex in any order, but when attacked the combat is resolved in the order in which the units are stacked. Aircraft are allowed to perform a Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over airbases or carriers.

Although the seas are often thought of as featureless of terrain, Restricted Water (i.e. littorals) cost additional movement points to enter.

In Sixth Fleet all ships possess a Zone of Control (ZoC). Ships can enter, but not move thru, an enemy ZoC. Ships must immediately stop upon entering an enemy ZoC. The presence of an enemy ZoC in a friendly hex forces combat. The major exception to this rule is that if a unit does not possess a combat value in that warfare area (Air / Surface / Subsurface) then no ZoC exists against units of that type. The concept of ZoC is very important to achieving the second Soviet bonus objective, leading to what the designers in the Game Notes call, “a solid front.”

By far the most interesting (maybe even unbelievable) element of maneuver in Sixth Fleet is the concept of Retreat. The Combat Results Table (CRT) is bloodless; the loser is not destroyed or damaged but must retreat a hex. The Game Notes attempt to explain why:

The bloodless Combat Results Table does make the situation abstract since it is a commonly held belief  that if your ship receives a hit these days its all over. Here the designer felt that the ship’s captain would realize when he was outmatched and rather than stay and die he would concede a little bit of ocean.

Ships can be eliminated in Sixth Fleet (indeed, players accumulate victory points for destroying enemy units) but that destruction only occurs if retreat is impossible. The designers seem to think that ensuring a retreat is not a foregone conclusion, especially if you use terrain:

While playing Sixth Fleet it will be useful to remember that it is almost impossible to insure a retreat in your combat phase. The best tactic is to place a force of friendly units in such a position that any enemy units adjacent to it during their Combat Phase cannot get a zero differential against it and must therefore retreat. This is most easily accomplished in restricted waters due to the doubling effect it has on the Defense Strength. 15.0 Game Notes

Firepower

“Firepower is the capacity to destroy an enemy’s ability to apply force.” Hughes, p. 175

“At sea the essence of tactical success has been the first application of effective offensive force.” – Hughes, p. 206

“Another recurring tendency, perhaps common enough to be called a constant, is to overestimate the effectiveness of weapons before a war.” -Hughes, p. 207

“In modern battle, ships and aircraft will be lost at an agonizing rate. but we observe no trend toward greater destructiveness; we see a continuation of naval combat’s decisive and destructive nature. – Hughes, p. 208.

All units in Sixth Fleet are rated for combat in three areas; Anti-Air, Anti-Surface, and Anti-Submarine. All ships have a combat range of one hex (45.4nm). I have to wonder what sources were available in 1975 as the range of the US Harpoon missile in the early 1980s was publicly proclaimed as 60nm (2 hexes?) and the new SS-N-12 missile on the Soviet Kiev-class carrier was seen as 250nm (5-6 hexes?).

The Retreat rules also have an interesting interaction with Firepower. Since ships in Sixth Fleet are not destroyed by firepower but by an inability to retreat just what ‘firepower’ is being portrayed?  The Game Notes seem to indicate a ship’s captain will retreat when he “realizes” the hopeless situation. Although there may be an element of truth to that concept, I think reality will need to see ordnance flying downrange and hitting to make that happen.

Counterforce

“Counterforce is the capacity to reduce the effect of delivered firepower.” – Hughes, p. 175

“While the success of defense against firepower has waxed and waned and at present is on the wane, the importance of diluting or destroying enemy offensive firepower continues.” – Hughes, p. 208.

“The prominent trend in defense is away from survivability through armor, compartmentation, bulk, and damage control. and toward cover, deception, and dispersion.” – Hughes, p. 186

Important to understanding these discussions is the way a fleet tactician looks at defensive force. Defensive systems collectively act like a filter (not a wall, or Maginot Line) that extracts a certain number of incoming aircraft or missiles. As it is able, a hull absorbs hits and allows a warship to conduct curtailed offensive operations.” – Hughes, p. 192

Sixth Fleet uses two factors to express defense, or the counterforce that Hughes describes. First, ships have a Defense Strength. This single factor is used in defense regardless of the attack type. There is no distinction between air defense or surface defense or ASW defense – one factor covers it all. This is the survivability and defensive filter Hughes describes.

All units in Sixth Fleet also possess an Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) value. In many ways, this factor is the most important of all the values for a unit. The Game Notes comment, “The designer saw the situation as being a battle of the little black boxes. Thus, he placed a very heavy emphasis on the ECM of various units involved.” The ECM value of a unit is a combination of defensive filter and, “cover, deception, and dispersion.”

Terrain also plays a role in Counterforce. As mentioned in Firepower above, units in Restricted Waters double their Defense Strength.

Scouting

“Scouts deliver tactical information about the enemy’s position, movements, vulnerabilities, strengths, and, in the best of worlds, intentions.” – Hughes, p. 175

“The goal is scouting is to help get weapons within range and aim them.” -Hughes, p. 193

“It seems pedestrian to say that scouting has always been an important constant of war. Perhaps the way to put it is this: winners have outscouted the enemy in detection, in tracking, and in targeting. At sea better scouting – more than maneuver, as much as weapons range, and oftentimes as much as anything else – has determined who would attack not merely effectively, but who would attack decisively first.” – Hughes, p. 212

Sixth Fleet uses a ‘Gods Eye’ wargame model. All units are on the same shared map for both players to see. There are no rules (even optional) for hidden units. The rules are silent on whether a player can examine an enemy stack of units though I think it would be fair to it can only be done if the stack is within a ZoC.

In effect, Sixth Fleet is silent on Scouting. All units are assumed detected, tracked, and targeted (if within a ZoC).

Anti-Scouting

“Antiscouts destroy, disrupt, or slow enemy scouts.” – Hughes, p. 175

“As the destructiveness and range of weapons grew, the means of surviving enemy attacks diminished and emphasis shifted to reducing the enemy’s scouting effectiveness.” – Hughes, p. 197

“Antiscouting by cover, deception, and evasion would now aim at limiting detection, tracking, or targeting.” – Hughes, p. 197

The concept of Anti-Scouting is not apparent in Sixth Fleet except in a very narrow implementation. The ECM Value of a unit represents deception – making the enemy  think you’re  elsewhere – and evasion (ruining or delaying an attack). That said, the Anti-Scouting concept is really almost below the level depicted in the game.

C2

“Command decides what is needed from forces and control transforms needs into action. These are processes. C2 systems are defined, perhaps a bit artificially, as the equipment and organizations by which the processes are performed.” – Hughes, p. 176

“A tactical commander uses C2 to allocate his forces for four activities: firepower delivery, counterforce delivery, scouting, and anti-scouting.” – Hughes, p. 176

“A modern tactical commander will expend relatively less of his energy on planning for and delivering firepower, and relatively more on planning and executing his scouting efforts and forestalling that of the enemy with antiscouting and C2 countermeasures.” – Hughes, p. 201-202.

In Sixth Fleet the player is the embodiment of C2. The process of C2 is in the Sequence of Play which has only two phases per player; a Combat Phase followed by a Movement Phase. With no Anti-Scouting there is no need to plan for it, nor is there a need to implement C2 countermeasures.

C2CM (Command & Control Countermeasures)

“Command and control countermeasures (C2CM) are steps to limit the enemy’s ability to decide (command) and disseminate decisions (control). – Hughes, p. 176

In Sixth Fleet there is no way to interfere with (or interrupt) a players Sequence of Play. Like Anti-Scouting, the concept of C2CM is not apparent in Sixth Fleet.

Final Verdict

Sixth Fleet is very land-centric view of modern naval warfare using very dated wargaming concepts. The idea that ships at sea exert interlocking Zones of Control to create ‘solid fronts’ and force an enemy ship to ‘retreat’ because the captain realizes he is outmatched is far too simplistic, even dare I say, incorrect view of naval warfare. Although Sixth Fleet captures some of the essence of Maneuver, Firepower, and Counterforce that Capt. Hughes describes, it falls far short if not outright ignores Scouting, Anti-Scouting, C2 and C2CM. Sixth Fleet also narrowly focuses on only two of four objectives of why a navy fights (“From the sea, it (3) guarantees safe delivery of goods and services ashore, and (4) prevents delivery ashore by an enemy navy.”). It appears to me that the designers were victims of their own biases as they tried to shoehorn land-warfare concepts on a naval wargame. 

It doesn’t work for me.


* The book is now in a Third Edition which I need to order the next time it’s on sale.