#ThreatTuesday: South China Sea #wargame danger zone – Will the PLAN wield a trident with ASBMs and carriers?

I play wargames to learn. Wargames, or what some call “historical conflict simulations” have taught me alot of history. But I also believe wargames can provide insights into the future. While think tanks use wargames to inform or influence decision and policymakers, hobby wargamers can explore similar issues using commercial titles.

I recently read the article “Analysis of the Relations between Chinese Aircraft Carriers and the Maritime Order of the South China Sea” in The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis (Vol. 34, No. 3, September 2022, 433-452). What caught my attention in particular about this article was the authors; Xingxing Wang and Jiyong Zheng, are from the Shanghai International Studies University; Fudan University; People’s Republic of China. Articles about sea power and the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) are a dime-a-dozen these days, but to read an article written by “the opposition” is not as often encountered. Wang and Zheng’s article is intended more to inform than to propagandize, but it does fit into a series of studies around the maritime aspects of the U.S.-People’s Republic of China (PRC) competition that relates several articles and books together. Along the way, we also have an opportunity to look at what wargames can help us better explore these issues.

Aircraft Carriers

As Wang and Zheng explain:

“China has gradually shifted its geopolitical focus from land-based control to sea-based developments out of both security and economic considerations. Marked by the official launch of its aircraft carriers a decade ago, China has dedicated resources to building up its navy as a blue water force rather than the offshore defensive force that it had primarily been until that point. Meanwhile, by serving as the pillar of sea power, these aircraft carriers will play more important roles in China’s naval development, ultimately reshaping the global strategic picture of sea power. This article aims to explore the influence of Chinese aircraft carriers to maritime order of the South China Sea and strategic pattern of global sea power by analyzing the Chinese aircraft carrier fleet’s operational design and reconstruction of China’s naval strategy. The presence of Chinese aircraft carriers in the South China Sea and their inherent combat capabilities has inevitably cased a subversive light on the region and brought the attention of the United States’ and other regional actors’ own activities and strategies for the region. This research has great significance for understanding China’s grand strategic conception and practice on the South China Sea issue as well as construction of a new maritime order in the context of China-U.S. competition.” (Wang & Zheng, 433)

If you are a wargame player like me, then you might of gamed out a confrontation between a PLAN Carrier Task Force and a U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Group (CSG) using a game like South China Sea: Modern Naval Conflict in the South Pacific (Compass Games, 2017) or Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2020). Playing such scenarios may lead to the assumption that a PLAN Carrier Task Force is not a true match for a CSG. While that conclusion may have some basis, it ignores the impact of the PRC’s “carrier killer.”

Carrier Push Back

Gerry Doyle and Blake Herzinger are co-authors of the book Carrier Killer: China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile and Theater of Operations in the early 21st Century (Asia@War No. 29, Warwick: Helion & Company Ltd., 2022). Doyle and Herzinger frame the issue this way:

“The idea of an anti-ship ballistic missile has taken root in China’s military planning. The country is not only building more of its first version of such a weapon, the DF-21D, but has developed an anti-ship warhead for another such missile, the more-numerous DF-26, billed as having a 2,500-mile-range — more than enough to hit Guam from several hundred miles inland in China. In theory, that puts any naval adversary at risk long before it is in Chinese waters, let alone within striking distance of China’s coastline.

That puts US carrier strike groups — a linchpin of US power projection, able to hit any corner of the world at short notice with overwhelming force — in a situation they have never before faced. For years, US war planners took for granted that American naval power could operate unimpeded anywhere on Earth and deliver strikes with relative impunity. If a missile can sweep that option off the board, it changes the balance of power not just in Asia, but across the Pacific.”(Doyle & Herzinger, book back)

Photo by RMN

Again, wargames like Harpoon V or South China Sea can help game out the impact of these anti-ship ballistic missiles, at least at the tactical levels. While South China Sea provides some insight into the strategic impacts of the ASBM on operations in the South China Sea, the topic is actually underrepresented in wargames. Maybe, just maybe, the arguments advanced by Wang and Zheng regarding the capabilities of a PLAN Carrier Task Force are not that inconceivable if the PRC uses their “carrier killers” to keep the U.S. Navy out of the South China Sea…and beyond. That in turn creates opportunities for the PRC to “wield a trident.”

Trident Strategy

Kohji Kuhara of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force writes in the Spring 2022 edition of the Naval War College Review about China’s ‘Trident” Strategy (Kuhara, Kohji (2022) “Countering China’s “Trident Strategy—Frustrating China’s Aims in the South China Seas and the Indian Ocean,” Naval War College Review: Vol. 75: No. 2, Article 4):

“China is trying to construct a naval strategy to deny U.S. forces freedom of action in the western Pacific Ocean. Looking back to the U.S. Navy’s last major strategic contest, against the Soviet navy during the Cold War, provides comparisons between Soviet and Chinese strategies that yield insights and analogies that can help develop more effective countermeasures against undesirable Chinese initiatives.”

Kuhara reminds us that, unlike the claims of Doyle and Herzinger, the U.S. Navy has indeed faced before a situation in which access to the worlds oceans was contested. In the Cold War, the Soviet Union challenged the United States for supremacy on the high seas. Wargamers can play out this confrontation in many games, ranging from Victory Games’ Fleet series (Victory Games, 1985-1990) for operational campaigns to the strategic Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (Compass Games, 2019) or Seapower and the State (Simulation Canada, 1982). Alas, there are very few “modern” equivalent game showing the confrontation between the U.S. Navy and PLAN, and certainly none at the strategic level. Quite simply, there is no good wargame to help fully navigate “the danger zone.”

Danger Zone

Hal Brands and Michael Beckley write in Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2022) that:

“China is at a perilous moment: strong enough to violently challenge the existing order, yet losing confidence that time is on its side. Numerous examples from antiquity to the present show that rising powers become more aggressive when their fortunes fade, their difficulties multiply, and they realize they must achieve their ambitions now or miss the chance to do so forever. China has already started down this path. Witness its aggression toward Taiwan, its record-breaking military buildup, and its efforts to dominate the critical technologies that will shape the world’s future.” (Danger Zone dust jacket)

Photo by RMN

Finding a wargame, or in this case maybe more properly a strategy game that looks beyond kinetic military confrontation, of the U.S.-PRC competition is nearly impossible. I had some hope earlier this year with the release of Flashpoint: South China Sea from GMT Games which advertised itself as thus:

Flashpoint: South China Sea is a two-player strategy game that simulates the complex geopolitical contest currently taking place between the United States and China in a disputed region of the South China Sea. The game is driven by a card deck that captures developments ripped straight from today’s headlines, bolstered by cards with a context-setting reading of recent history, and a set of speculative cards capturing a diverse range of potential future events. 

The Chinese player works to influence other countries in the region, establish territorial claims and regional hegemony, and improve its world standing. The U.S. player works to maintain influence with allied countries in the region, secure freedom of navigation, and keep China in check. Success for both players hinges on the support and allegiance of non-player countries in the region. The game stops short of dealing with a potential full-scale military conflict. Rather, it requires the nuanced exercise of political, economic, and military resources, in a form of prima facie diplomacy – on the waters, in the air, and ultimately in the minds of the people – to achieve victory.”

Photo by RMN

Alas, for all the theme in the ad copy, Flashpoint: South China Sea is more “Euro” than “wargame;” it’s a mechanically well-executed game with the thinnest of themes layered over. Consequently, its ability to explore the “danger zone” is limited at best.

Building from the Brands & Beckley book, we can see how the “Trident Strategy” is but one part of the danger zone, and the PLA’s “carrier killer” anti-ship missiles are one of those technologies that change maritime strategy. Does our perceptions of what a PLAN aircraft carrier is intended to do change?

Wargaming the South China Sea

Wargames seem very popular in the think tanks of Washington, DC. A recent article from War on the Rocks by Robert Haddick titled “Defeat China’s Navy, Defeat China’s War Plan” talks about what wargames are “teaching” decision and policymakers:

“Washington has already lost the war for Taiwan — at least according to the most recent wargames organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The think tank’s simulation of a conflict between the United States and China saw several U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups sunk, hundreds of U.S. combat aircraft destroyed, and thousands of U.S. military personnel lost in the war’s opening days.

These games, planned long before the most recent Taiwan crisis and set in 2026, add to decades of analyses of the Taiwan scenario conducted at war colleges and think tanks on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Scheduled to be written up later this year, the games have reinforced at least one previously well-known conclusion: should the United States attempt to fight the battle for Taiwan relying mainly on military forces located west of Guam, U.S. losses will be severe. The United States and its allies might stalemate the People’s Liberation Army. But the cost could very well be too high for U.S. society to sustain. And if China’s leaders believe this, even wrongly, deterrence will collapse, and the risk of war will rise.”

Via YouTube

With an online moniker of “RockyMountainNavy” it should be obvious where my loyalties lie between navalists and (ch)air force advocates. This makes it a bit hard to accept Haddick’s advocacy of using U.S. Air Force bombers to defeat the PLAN:

“Destroying China’s maritime power would end China’s capacity for conquest in the western Pacific. Yet the Chinese navy is not an Air Force priority, despite its vulnerability to U.S. bombers. As Taiwan-focused wargames show, the shortage of U.S. anti-ship munitions represents a missed opportunity that will come with high costs. 

Civilian policymakers should make China’s maritime forces a top targeting priority for the U.S. bomber force. First, they should require Air Force officials to explain how their munitions strategy supports deterrence by denial against Chinese forces. Following that, they could demand the Air Force fund the rapid development of Mark Gunzinger’s affordable mid-range munition and acquire, say, 2,000 long-range anti-ship missiles, even if this means acquiring fewer joint air-to-surface standoff missiles. Policymakers could also demand the Air Force repair and return to service some of the 17 B-1B bombers that were recently sent to the boneyard despite each being able to carry 24 long-range anti-ship missiles. These relatively minor expenses would quickly add substantial striking power against the Chinese Navy.

More broadly, policymakers should recognize that the sensor-missile military-technical revolution has transformed the Indo-Pacific into a military theater where long-range aerospace power dominates. America’s aerospace power is an enduring competitive advantage that matches up well against several Chinese vulnerabilities, starting with its navy. Exploiting this competitive advantage is the most direct way to strengthen U.S. deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Regardless of my service biases, even I recognize that Haddick’s proposal is probably worthy of exploration with a wargame. This seems like a good scenario to explore at the tactical level using Harpoon V or at the operational level using South China Sea.

What does the wargame tell you?

Which brings us back to our original inquiry: Wang and Zheng talk almost exclusively about the “defensive” power of a PLAN aircraft carrier. What if the PLAN wants to operate those carriers out to the limit of, or beyond, the coverage of their ASBMs? Will the pointy end of the trident be sharp or dull? Does that change the nature of the danger zone? What are the alternative strategies that armchair commanders can wargame at home? More broadly, how can we use hobby wargames to explore this strategic situation?


Feature Photo: Simon Yang, CC-BY SA 2.0

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

#ThreatTuesday – Sub-optimal NorKs and Ukraine Air-to-Air Survey (mentions @19_forty_five admiraltytrilogy.com @WessexGames @gmtgames)

North Korean Submarines

In a past #ThreatTuesday on North Korean military reference sources, I mentioned that there was no good single-source on the the North Korean Navy (aka the Korean People’s Navy). A recent article posted to 19fortyfive.com may help explain why. See “North Korea’s Submarine Fleet: Underwater Coffins Or Threat To The U.S. Navy?” by Christian Orr (posted 30 Aug 2022). Given the current state of the KPA, it is not surprising that even years ago Larry Bond gave them a Kilo-class SS in his Second Korean War book Red Phoenix (1989) just to make it interesting.

Ukraine Dogfights

Another interesting 19fortyfive.com article is “The Air-To-Air War In Ukraine No One Saw Coming” published 02 Sep 2022. Author Sebastian Roblin presents a survey of aircraft losses in the war, with a particular focus on trying to identify those that fell in air-to-air combat. He concludes:

It’s essential not to over-extrapolate from an incomplete dataset drawing on deeply selection-biased sources. However, it does suggest the technical advantages of Russian fighters (especially long-range radars and fire-and-forget missiles) are working in their favor.

Nonetheless, both sides’ aviation operations are geographically constrained by the robust ground-based air defenses of the other. On the balance, that means Russia’s air force can’t press its advantage into Ukrainian-defended airspace to claim air superiority. That allows Ukraine’s air force to continue flying and impose costs on a foe with a larger number of more advanced warplanes.

“The Air-To-Air War In Ukraine No One Saw Coming”

While the title of the article seems to focus on the air-to-air aspects of the Ukraine War and would therefore seemingly make good scenario fodder for a modern dogfight wargame like Air Superiority (GDW, 1987) or AirWar: C21 Max (Wessex, last updated 2008) the truth is that you probably need to use a more operationally-focused wargame. Titles like Harpoon 5 from Admiralty Trilogy Group (using a variant inspired by Persian Incursion) or a modern Red Storm (GMT Games, 2021) would be more useful.

Feature image courtesy Creative Commons

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

#SundaySummary – Death, Taxes, and…#boardgames?

Death and Taxes and Boardgame Markets

If you aren’t tracking the news already, the BoardGameGeek GeekMarket is dead. Yes, both the “Classic” and new “Beta” version. There has been lots of discussion on the BGG forums, so much so that many of the relevant threads are locked.

Behind the scenes, the story apparently is that BGG had issues with how to tax sales when buyers are purchasing from each other and “on honor” to pay a commission fee. As one friend of the blog explained the situation:

“Hey, here’s a new marketplace so the IRS doesn’t crawl up our ass”

“Hey y’all hated the IRS crawling up your asses in our new marketplace, so we’re shutting it down”

“Oh yeah, to keep the IRS off our backs, we’re shutting down the old marketplace, too, so good luck!”

Personally, I will miss the BGG GeekMarket. I did some buying and even a bit of selling there, and always was happy with the other folks I met. I lurk in a local flea market GeekList that I occasionally buy from but it’s not very good for wargame purchases. The part I will miss the most is the price history function. This loss seems to have generated lots of talk. My first reaction was horror but, after some further thought, I’m sure we will survive.

Wargames

New arrival: Aircraft & Missile data cards for Red Storm: Baltic Approaches (GMT Games, 2022). Includes Tomcats and Backfires and SRAMs (nuclear-capable). What’s not to love?

Produced by The Game Crafter

Family Gaming

RockyMountainNavy Jr. is off to college this week. This leaves just Mrs. RMN and RMN T at home (he works full-time locally). Thus, we face a sea-shift in our family gaming as it will be RMN T and myself for weekend gaming. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it means many more WARGAMES can land on the table. There are lots of Conflict of Heroes or Commands & Colors scenarios to work through, and many many more!


Feature image courtesy Pexels Free Photos

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

#SundaySummary – Reality #Boardgame and Policy #Wargame season with @Academy_Games @gmtgames @HBuchanan2 @Bublublock @compassgamesllc

I knew it was close to shipping, but the surprise arrival this week was Reality Shift Deluxe from Apollo Games (an imprint of Academy Games).

I’m very glad to see this game as it has been on my Kickstarter/Preorder GeekList since it funded on Kickstarter in December 2020. Originally projected for delivery in May 2021, arrival in July 2022 leaves five games ordered earlier than Reality Shift that are yet to deliver. Sigh…

As hinted at last week, two new wargame/boardgame arrivals this week. The first was Flashpoint South China Sea: Flashpoint Series Volume 1 designed by Harold Buchanan for GMT Games. Here is how the ad copy from GMT Games describes the title:

Flashpoint: South China Sea is a two-player strategy game that simulates the complex geopolitical contest currently taking place between the United States and China in a disputed region of the South China Sea. The game is driven by a card deck that captures developments ripped straight from today’s headlines, bolstered by cards with a context-setting reading of recent history, and a set of speculative cards capturing a diverse range of potential future events. 

The Chinese player works to influence other countries in the region, establish territorial claims and regional hegemony, and improve its world standing. The U.S. player works to maintain influence with allied countries in the region, secure freedom of navigation, and keep China in check. Success for both players hinges on the support and allegiance of non-player countries in the region. The game stops short of dealing with a potential full-scale military conflict. Rather, it requires the nuanced exercise of political, economic, and military resources, in a form of prima facie diplomacy – on the waters, in the air, and ultimately in the minds of the people – to achieve victory.

GMT Games Ad Copy

If you are looking for a wargame that depicts a potential military conflict between the United States and the People’s Republic of China then you need Next War: Taiwan (Mitchell Land, GMT Games, 2014) or South China Sea (John Gorkowski, Compass Games, 2017). Flashpoint South China Sea stops short of military conflict. In military planning terms, this is the Competition Phase of an operations plan. In some ways Flashpoint South China Sea is the Political Phase in South China Sea. Hmm….

The other new arrival this week was a micro-expansion published by designer Dan Bullock for No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War (Compass Games, 2020). One comment I had about the original Compass Games publication was the very “red” look to the game; many of the original markers were “lost” in the color scheme on the board. This micro-expansion includes new markers that use a different color scheme that is easier to see on the board. It also includes eight (8) new Policy Cards for the West player to use in the Songun Era of play.

Both of these games will be landing on my office desk in the next few weeks (months) as “office-al” gaming. I especially am looking forward to Flashpoint as it is supposed to be playable in 30-60 minutes; i.e. lunchtime!


Feature image by RMN

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

#SundaySummary – Flash news, marking #Wargame & #Boardgame, and Midway summer reading

Wargames

Next wargame arrival (this week?) should be Harold Buchanan’s Flashpoint: South China Sea from GMT Games. I expect this one to be an “office-al” lunchtime game. I also ordered from The Gamecrafter the “Baltic Approached Aircraft & Mini-Cards” for Red Storm: Baltic Approaches also published by GMT Games.

Boardgames

Speaking of markers, designer Dan Bullock offered a set of after-market markers for his game No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War (Compass Games, 2021) which should make the game look so much nicer on the table.

The Kickstarter fulfillment for Reality Shift from Academy Games is supposedly “ready to ship.” Funded in December 2020 with an original projected delivery of May 2021, it’s only running about a year late. Sadly, of the nearly 20 items in my Kickstarter/Preorder GeekList this one is smack dab in the middle of the pack, doing much better than the oldest P500 from October 2019 that still languishes…

Books

Articles

The Spring 2022 edition of Naval War College Review has an article by Jonathan Parshall, co-author of Shattered Sword. The new article, “What WAS Nimitz Thinking?” looks at the Admiral’s battleplan for Midway. One part I really enjoy in this Parshall analysis is the comparison of “Bad Hornet” and “Good Hornet” with regards to that carriers initial strike. Of great potential interest to wargamers, Parshall actually looks at some of the alternative battle situations by using an Operations Research approach through the work of Aneli Bongers and Jose L Torres and their article “Revisiting the Battle of Midway” published in a 2020 issue of Military Operations Research. Hmm…


Feature image courtesy navsource.org. The accompanying text reads: “On Thursday, 4 June 1942, during operations near Midway Island, an F4F-4 Wildcat, # 3-F-24, from VF-3—USS Yorktown (CV-5)—, piloted by Ensign Daniel Sheedy, accidentally fired its .50-cal machine guns while landing on USS Hornet (CV-8). ENS Sheedy had been wounded during the battle and the controls to safe the guns had been shot out, according to eye-witness accounts. Five Hornet crewmembers were killed (one of them LT Royal R. Ingersoll II, son of ADM Royal E. Ingersoll and grandson of RADM Royal R. Ingersoll) and 20 others wounded in this accident.”

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

#SundaySummary – Summer, Kid’s Games, and INCOMING! #Wargame #Boardgame @ADragoons @kbgpublishing @SmartGamesUSA @LederGames @AcademyGames @gmtgames

Summer Slow Down

Now comes the time of the year that the days are longer and outdoor chores call, which means there is less time for gaming which in turn means a bit of a seasonal slow-down in this blog too. That said, in the coming weeks look for:

  • A new Wargame Library series
  • Some American Independence Day wargaming
  • A return of my 2022 #TTRPG Character Generation (CharGen) Challenge
  • A return of family boardgame/wargame weekends
  • A new long-piece on a next Korean War for The Armchair Dragoons
  • New arrivals (more on that below)

Coco-NUTS

Mrs. RockyMountainNavy’s favorite student had her birthday this last month. We gifted her with Coconuts (Korea Boardgames Co., 2013). Coconuts is ranked #8 on the BoardGameGeek Children’s category and deservedly so. This is a fun dexterity game with an awesome toy factor. Miss A loved the game and we all had fun playing it with her.

Courtesy BGG

We also gifted Miss A Smart Farmer (Smart Games) which is a one-player puzzle game. Now I get it; one-player puzzle games are considered “Outside the Scope of BGG”. Doesn’t mean these are not “games” and more importantly aren’t fun. Mrs. RMN has long favored Rush Hour (Think Fun) as the go-to puzzle game for youngsters, but admittedly getting girls to play with cars is sometimes “challenging.” In Smart Farmer you have to use the fences to separate the animals. What makes this game so appealing (yet again) is the toy factor; the animals are cute to look at and have some heft and a slightly rubberized texture when handled. So not only does the game look great, it feels great. Little Miss A is already working though the 60 challenges. Truth be told, we also learned that Miss A’s mother is working to keep up with her daughter as they are “racing” each other to see who can solve more puzzles in a day.

Courtesy smartgames.usa

For what it’s worth, Youngest RMN played Police Escape Blockade (now available as SmartGames RoadBlock…but apparently only in Europe) when he came home after school in his early elementary years. While his older siblings worked on their homework, he would work on the next one or two puzzle challenges. When he finished all of them he just went back to the beginning and started all over again. This game was instrumental in helping him learn life-long skills like concentration, logical thinking, spatial awareness, and problem-solving. Yeah, we played many other boardgames but puzzle games like Police Escape Blockade were very useful as after school fillers for the young ones.

Fire Mission; Grid 20….

After a long (postal) drought, it looks like some wargames and boardgame pre-orders are finally nearing delivery!

To date in 2022, I have taken delivery of just a mere two pre-order/Kickstarter fulfillments; that being AuZtralia: Revenge of the Old Ones and AuZtralia: TaZmania from Schimil Games in mid-March. and (just this week) 2 Minutes to Midnight by Stuart Tonge from Plague Island Games. Now a few more games are getting closer to gracing the shelves of Casa de Rocky:

This week I also ordered another Ben Madison product from his White Dog Games studio. The Mission: Early Christianity from the Crucifixion to the Crusades will be arriving soon.


Feature image Virginia Beach in the morning, taken by self

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

#Wargame Wednesday – Ukraine War thoughts on #MBT by James Day fm @gmtgames

The last few weeks the sinking of the guided missile cruiser RFN Moskva has taken up alot of my wargaming bandwidth. The event afforded me a deep look into Harpoon 5 by Larry Bond & Chris Carlson from the Admiralty Trilogy Group. This week I decided to go from sea to land and pulled out MBT by James Day from GMT Games (2016).

MBT: The Game of tank-to-tank combat on a tactical level in 1987 Germany is solidly part of the “Cold War goes hot” genre of wargames. Which means it comes close, but not quite all the way, to replicating ground combat in today’s Ukraine War. Although MBT may not be the most modern “fit” for today, it still is a great game at discovering lessons of armored combat.

Courtesy GMT Games

Wither the Tank?

One very common theme we hear from pundits and mainstream media is a constant harping that the Ukrainian use of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) has sealed the fate of armored vehicles on the battlefield. Sam Cranny-Evans and Dr Sidharth Kaushal from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI.org) looked at this thinking in a recent article titled, “Technical Reflections on Russia’s Armoured Fighting Vehicles” (April 27, 2022). In the article they tell us the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on lessons learned for armored combat in the Ukraine. Playing MBT helps to see these lessons on the gaming table in front of us.

The Good

Most of Russia’s tanks are well protected to the front. The frontal armour of the slope at the front of the hull, known as the glacis, typically combines high hardness steels with composites or materials like fibre glass that are known to be challenging for weapons like the RPG-7. The angle of the armour – 68 degrees – increases its line-of-sight thickness to 547 mm for some of the earliest T-72 designs – it may be more for others. The turret armour on Russian tanks is also relatively capable to the front of the tank. The ‘cheeks’ of the cast turret are hollow, allowing additional advanced armours to be inserted that significantly extend protection against some types of threat.

This is what MBT models best. Playing a game of MBT with its precise hit locations and penetration versus armor model is what the hardcore Grognard in me loves.

For the massed head-on engagements that they were designed for, and especially in defensive positions, Russian tanks are capable and effective vehicles – providing that they are properly operated.

RUSI.org

MBT is—by design—a wargame that recreates the (past potential) battlefields of Europe at the height of the Cold War. The game—again by design—is optimized to simulate those massed Soviet thrusts or defensive stands. In many ways MBT is built around the U.S. Air-Land Battle Doctrine and the competing Soviet Army of that day. Both focused on combined arms. From the past two months of fighting in the Ukraine, the reformed Russian Army, though equipped with more modern equipment, appears to have lost the ability to execute combined arms operations. While MBT has many of the rules that can be used to simulate the new war we see today, what it doesn’t simulate is the poor decisions in the Russian operational art of this war.

The Bad

While stabilisation of the main armament has been improved and its recoil mechanisms balanced to reduce impact upon the vehicle during firing, most Russian tanks appear to lack the quality of stabilisation that most Western tanks carry. 

A second element of this problem is the mission system fit of Russian tanks. The sights and fire control computers are generally less modern than their peers. 

Russian designs are also very cramped, and few Western tank operators would want to operate a main battle tank with a crew of three – which is standard for all Soviet designs from the T-64 onwards. 

The first two factors are generally reflected in MBT as stabilization and sights are taken into account in the combat model. The last point does not directly appear to be modeled, but may play a part in overall determination of Force Grade and Morale.

RMN Boys at the Tank Farm in 2019…T-72 height to top of cupola is 7’4″ (2.2m)

While MBT has a good detailed model of platform versus platform, what it doesn’t capture very well are all the human factors in battle. Some are here, like Grade or Morale or even Tank Fright, but at the end of the day the real human factor in MBT is the players. To recreate the war in the Ukraine would require MBT players to make decisions that they might not be inclined to make.

The Ugly

Soviet-era tank design, starting with the T-64 and continuing with the T-72, T-80 and T-90 families – albeit with some minor differences – introduced an automatic ammunition handling system which sits beneath the turret of the tank. 

This is a problem for Soviet designs because the ammunition carousel sits in the hull, which is very well protected to the front by the glacis, but less well protected to the sides. If the side or roof of the tank can be penetrated, the projectile stands a chance of hitting the tank’s ammunition, causing it to ‘cook off’. This is where the charges and explosive projectiles catch fire – a fire which quickly spreads because of a lack of firewalls between the munitions. If enough of the ammunition catches fire and detonates, it will often result in an explosion that throws the turret a considerable distance and the death of the entire crew.

Suffice it to say that the damage model in MBT is built upon what today might be seen as a “charitable” view of Russian armored survivability against modern ATGMs.

Further, in MBT ATGMs (found in Advanced Game Rule 5.1.3.1) are of the 1980’s. What is missing in MBT are rules for modern top- attack ATGMs like the FGM-148 Javelin.

Command & Control

The third and final point is the need to consider of Russian tactics and doctrine, which typically emphasise combined arms operations with a view to creating opportunities for artillery and close air support to deliver overwhelming force onto an opponent. Mission command – the delegation of authority and creativity to the lowest levels – rarely features in Russian training. This means that armoured formations operating independently from their supporting arms are probably doing something that they are not trained to do.

I strongly believe that if you want to play MBT and really understand modern combat, you MUST use the rules for Grade (5.8), Command Range (6.2.1.1.2), and Command Span (7.43). These rules, along with Morale (and especially Optional Rule 7.1 Morale) are essential to getting past the simple “force-on-force” wargame that so many gamers seem to relish in. Of course, MBT does not have Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) in it either, but by using these rules you can get a bit closer to understanding the challenges the BTG commander has in combat. The more I think about it, the more I realize that MBT might actually be too granular a model to use to explore the effectiveness of a BTG in combat. Instead of a very tactical game like MBT it might be more useful to use a platoon-scale system, like Frank Chadwick’s Assault series from GDW in the 1980′s but updated for today. Maybe even a version of Less Than 60 Miles from Thin Red Line Games could be used…but I note that this game might be best used to depict only a single axis of advance and not the whole campaign. In case you haven’t noticed, Ukraine is a HUGE place!

Back to the Future

The demise of the tank has been talked about for almost 50 years now, especially in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli Wars of the 1960’s and early 1970’s that were the first to feature mass use of ATGMs. So strong was the sentiment that it even crossed over into science fiction:

Tanks were born in the muck and wire of World War One. Less than sixty years later, there were many who believed that technology had made the behemoths as obsolete as horse cavalry. Individual infantrymen of 1970 carried missiles whose warheads burned through the armor of any tank. Slightly larger missiles ranged kilometers to blast with pinpoint accuracy vehicles costing a thousand times as much. Similar weaponry was mounted on helicopters which skimmed battlefields in the nape of the earth, protected by terrain irregularities. At the last instant the birds could pop up to rip tanks with their missiles. The future of armored vehicles looked bleak and brief.

“Supertanks,” Hammers’s Slammers, 1979

Of course, the answer in Hammer’s Slammers was the supertank. While I am saddened that similar combat vehicles are not on the near-horizon for us, I am confident that there will be a response. Probably not from Russia, but from someone. More importantly, along the path towards that new technology will very likely be a wargame. It might be similar to MBT, but depicting not the past but a bold new future.

That’s a wargame I can’t wait for.


Feature image courtesy dreamstime.com

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

#SundaySummary – #Wargame and #boardgame #crowdfunding with @ADragoons @TheGascon @gmtgames @Academy_Games @LederGames @stuarttonge @FoundationDietz

I made an (audio) appearance on Mentioned in Dispatches Season 8 Episode 12 “Crowdfunding” with Regimental Commander Brant and Napoleonic colorguard Jim. Please take a listen and leave your thoughts either at the Armchair Dragoons forums or here.

In the podcast I mentioned that I have 20 items either in Kickstarter, on GMT Games P500, or on preorder (mostly with Compass Games). Already in the short time since we recorded (just days before posting) there has been movement on more than a few items:

  • Red Storm: Baltic Approaches (GMT Games) – P500 since April 2020 (24 months); per April 19, 2022 newsletter, “At Sea – No Arrival Date Yet”
  • Reality Shift (Academy Games) – Kickstarter December 2020 with estimated delivery May 2021 (11 months delay); per April 21, 2022 update the games are on ship expected to arrive New York on May 17, 2022 with fulfillment to start immediately thereafter
  • Stuka Joe’s CDG Solo System(GMT Games) – P500 since January 2021 (15 months); per April 19, 2022 newsletter, “At Sea – No Arrival Date Yet”
  • Root: The Marauder Expansion / Root: The Clockwork Expansion 2 (Leder Games) – Kickstarter March 2021 with estimated Delivery January 2022 (3 month delay); per March 28, 2022 update on shipping, “Updated start date: first week of April / Updated end date: mid to late June” NO SHIPPING NOTICE RECEIVED TO DATE…
  • 2 Minutes to Midnight (Plague Island Games) – Kickstarter July 2021 with estimated delivery December 2021 (4 month delay); per April 22, 2022 update from designer Stuart Tonge:
    • “OK… US & Canadian backers – unfortunately, there is a delay.  I only found out yesterday night so this is fresh news but shipping is likely to be 6 weeks late. That would be early May for the games to ship, with an additional 2-3 weeks for Canadian deliveries on top of this. I will not make excuses for the responsible company – they’ve let me down. But I also won’t reveal them, as that would serve no purpose. Please accept my apologies for the delay.”

In the podcast I repeatedly mentioned that communications is the key to my happiness with a crowdfunding or pre-order campaign. Jim Dietz of The Dietz Foundation ran a most excellent Kickstarter campaign for Supercharged and 1979 Revolution in Iran. The major reason I am happy is that he always communicated—good or bad!

While I am an anxious to get 2 Minutes to Midnight into my hands, Stuart Tonge’s explanation is perfectly acceptable and very welcome. It also shows that a bit of humility and honesty are extremely valuable in a relationship. While I wait for my game, I do so with great respect for the efforts Stuart is making.


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

#SundaySummary – RockyMountainNavy’s recent military reading acquisitions #military #books #wargames

As much as I play wargames, I also try to keep up a good pace of reading. Here are some of my recent reading acquisitions.

Cumming, Anthony J., The Royal Navy and the Battle of Britain, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2010. // Bought to compliment my learning of Paddy Griffith’s Wargaming Operations Sealion: The Game that Launched Academic Wargaming (John Curry, The History of Wargaming Project, 2021). Will also inform a future replay of Britain Stands Alone (Jim Werbaneth, GMT Games, 1994).

Photo by RMN

Dunnigan, James F., How to Make War: A Comprehensive Guide to Modern Warfare for the Post-Cold War Era, New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1993 Third Edition. // Written by one of the Elders of Wargaming, this book supposedly provides much insight not into wargame design, but what topics Mr. Dunnigan thought was best suited for inclusion in a wargame about the post-Cold War era..

Dupuy, Colonel T.N., U.S. Army, Ret., The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc, 1980 Third Edition. // Colonel Dupuy is in many ways the greatest evangelist of Operations Research, a field of military study closely related to but not the same as wargaming. I have Colonel Dupuy’s much later 1993 book Future Wars: The World’s Most Dangerous Flashpoints but inThe Evolution of Weapons he delivers a historical perspective.

Fontanellaz, Adrien, Red Star Versus Rising Sun – Volume 1: The Conquest of Manchuria 1931-1938 (Asia@War Series No. 22), Warwick: Helion & Company, 2021. // Helion books are much like Osprey; a decent short summary of the topic usually build upon secondary sources with photos, maps, and color plates. Pre-World War II in Asia is an interest of mine; here is just a sampling of the topic. More of a guide to further reading.

Fontanellaz, Adrien, Red Star Versus Rising Sun – Volume 2: The Nomonhan Incident 1939 (Asia@War Series No. 27), Warwick: Helion & Company, 2021. // I am constantly fascinated with the Battle of Nomonhan; this is a decent summary again based primarily on secondary sources.

Photo by RMN

Friedman, B.A., On Operations: Operational Art and Military Disciplines, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2021. // Argues that the military fascination with the Operational level of war is misguided; instead we should focus on Operational Art.

Photo by RMN

Schelling, Thomas C., Arms and Influence, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966. // My job has me going back to the roots of deterrence theory, which also conveniently fits with my interest in game theory and wargames.

Thorpe, George C., Pure Logistics, Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1986. // With the 2022 Russian invasion of the Ukraine the study of logistics is suddenly all-the-rage. Let’s see what was said 30 years ago…

Photo by RMN

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