#WargameWednesday Retrospective – My 1980’s Skirmish Wargames

As part of my RPG Retrospective, I looked at the game Commando by SPI published in 1979. I found it interesting that Commando is considered both a wargame and an RPG.

Looking through my collection, I found several other near-contemporary skirmish combat games from the early- to mid-1980’s. These games are Close Assault (Yaquinto, 1983), Firepower (Avalon Hill, 1984), and Ranger (Omega Games, 1984). Now Close Assault and Firepower are literally the same game just covering different time periods (World War II for Close Assault, post-1965 for Firepower). Ranger is more a simulation than a game; it plays like a tactical training aid for the military.

What I Thought About Them Back Then – Super-tactical, or skirmish-scale combat was not the preferred scale for my wargaming group. We were heavy into tactical battles, be it land (Panzer-series from Yaquinto), sea (Harpoon), air (the Battleline version of Dauntless), or space (Star Fleet Battles by Task Force Games). I had Close Assault/Firepower and later Ranger because we thought they could be used as an adjunct combat system for our Traveller RPG adventures. It never panned out that way though.

What I Think of Them Now – Each of these games still stand the test of time. Close Assault/Firepower are a bit more chart-heavy than more modern games, and the combat system still has a strong I-go/U-go feel to it, but it still feels like a good simulation (and fun wargame). Ranger is an interesting creation, and could serve as a great story/adventure engine for an RPG.

Threat Tuesday – Un’er’s New Missile

NorK Missile Launch, June 2015
NorK AntiShip Missile Launch, June 2015

The world’s favorite naughty boy, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, showed off a some new naval toys this weekend. He watched a firepower demonstration where a “new” antiship cruise missile, which some in the press call the “KN-01”, was launched. The missile looks to be a near-copy of conventional Russian designs. If one looks close, you can see a radar reflector set up on the target (gotta make sure you get a hit for the big guy or you’ll end up a dead guy yourself).

For Harpoon 4 players, just use a Russian Kh-35 and see what it gets you!

Threat Tuesday – Liaoning

AFP/Getty Images

China is now officially an aircraft carrier-operating navy with the commissioning of Liaoning on 25 Sept 2012. Though much has been written, I direct you to Andrew Erickson’s column in the Wall Street Journal, “Introducing the ‘Liaoning’: China’s New Aircraft Carrier and What it Means.”

Courtesy Killer Apps/Foreign Policy

Andrew (and many others) point out that the Chinese have yet to meet a major milestone; landing aircraft on the deck. Just one day after being commissioned, photos appeared on the ‘net that may indicate that landings have already happened (see “Who left skidmarks on the flight deck of China’s new aircraft carrier?“)

But does China really need an aircraft carrier? Yet elsewhere in Foreign Policy is an argument entitled “Shipping Out: Are Aircraft Carriers Becoming Obsolete? I will be the first to say that the arguments put forth are very simple and the author shows little real understanding of naval matters; not to mention apparent ignorance of anti-ship ballistic missiles. For a far better analysis of the Chinese naval threat I recommend the latest edition of  Ronald O’Rourke’s Congressional Research Service report China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress. On the issues of China’s aircraft carriers, the report points out:

Although aircraft carriers might have some value for China in Taiwan-related conflict scenarios, they are not considered critical for Chinese operations in such scenarios, because Taiwan is within range of land-based Chinese aircraft. Consequently, most observers believe that China is acquiring carriers primarily for their value in other kinds of operations that are more distant from China’s shores, and to symbolize China’s status as a major world power. DOD states that “Given the fact that Taiwan can be reached by land-based aviation, China’s aircraft carrier program would offer very limited value in a Taiwan scenario and would require additional naval resources for protection. However, it would enable China to extend its naval air capabilities elsewhere.” (p. 20-21)

Regardless of the threat, it will be fun to play out a wargame scenario using Liaoning. Indeed, the Oct 2011 issue of The Naval SITREP from Clash of Arms featured a Harpoon scenario “The Wisdom of Shi Lang” (Shi Lang being what the west originally thought the carrier would be named).

Threat Tuesday – Mighty Midgets for the Short Guy in Pyongyang

OR so says the Chosun Ilbo:

South Korean patrol boats and corvettes are able to detect a mere 30 percent of submarines at a time when North Korea is increasing the frequency of submarine infiltration drills.

The article continues in typical Korean fashion; many statistics with little background. The problem with so many of the Korean numbers is there is no real basis or understanding the measurement. What is an “exercise?” Are they counting individual subs or days? For instance, if you have two subs out for two days, is it 2 exercises (2x subs), 4 exercises (2x subs x2 days) or what.

There is also a bit of intel “I’m telling you now so you can’t blame me latter” going on here:

This year’s submarine exercises in the West Sea were reportedly concentrated between June and August. “There’s a likelihood that the North will seek a chance for provocation as a lot of North Korean and Chinese fishing boats are busy in the West Sea during the blue crab harvest season” that began in early September, Shin said.

Take a look at the geography and oceanography of the Northwest Islands some time. Makes for a very interesting Harpoon scenario!

The definition of a midget submarine is also interesting. The NorKs have apparently been developing semi-submersible craft with torpedoes. This is part of the detection challenge the article alludes to.

Courtesy NOSINT.blogspot.com

Threat Tuesday – Confrontation at Sea

The official Chinese military website Jiefangjun Bao Online on 24 August published this picture of the Type 022 Houbei-class fast attack missile boat. The text that accompanies the picture – besides being written in poor English – does provide fodder for a wargame scenario.

“The confrontation drill organized by a guided-missile speedboat detachment of the PLA Navy under complicated electro-magnetic conditions was in full swing on August 22, 2011. Hardly did the mine-sweeping ships of the Red Side intrude into the mine matrix set up by the Blue Side when they suffered electronic disturbance caused by the latter. Then the four new-type guided-missile speedboats of the Red Side rapidly conducted electronic counter-attack by way of roundabout communication, camouflaged intelligence and radio deception which led to the failure of the Blue Side’s audio-visual equipment before launching fierce fire attack.”

Let’s break this down into some scenario-specific items:

  • “The confrontation drill organized by a guided-missile speedboat detachment of the PLA Navy….” – other photos show a large formation of at least 10 boats so a detachment of that size is reasonable
  • “Hardly did the mine-sweeping ships of the Red Side intrude into the mine matrix set up by the Blue Side when they suffered electronic disturbance caused by the latter.” – this is an anti-access scenario where the Blue Side is trying to sweep a minefield while the Red Side is trying disrupt that mission
  • “Then the four new-type guided-missile speedboats of the Red Side rapidly conducted electronic counter-attack by way of roundabout communication, camouflaged intelligence and radio deception” – so even though the larger group of 10 boats was shown they operate in smaller units of possibly four boats; the reference to “roundabout communications” may indicate a use of other targeting data (shore-based?) and the “camouflaged intelligence and radio deception” may reference an ECM/ECCM or EMCON environment
  • “[W]hich led to the failure of the Blue Side’s audio-visual equipment before launching fierce fire attack.” – the reference to AV equipment seemingly implies only a concern with the visual or near-visual (IR?) spectrum but the overall tone of the article definitely leaves one concerned about operations in a heavy ECM/ECCM environment.

So what we have is a scenario where the Blue Side is attempting to sweep a Red minefield which is being defended by 10 missile boats operating two to three smaller detachments supported by shore-based targeting in a heavy ECM/ECCM environment. Who will win? Sounds like a good Harpoon scenario in the making!