#ThreatTuesday – The sky is falling…with SKYFALL via @CovertShores

HI Sutton over at Covert Shores has a “look” at possible preparations by the Russians to test their nuclear-powered cruise missile, codenamed SKYFALL. At least one previous missile test ended in a failure. Talk about a hot topic…

Wargamers may be interested in gaming out an intercept of this weapon. Not only do you have to find it, intercept it, and shoot it down but you need to do it in a manner that 1) Doesn’t irradiate yourself and 2) Brings it down away from a populated place and 3) Helps you file the Environmental Impact Statement for the debris field.

See “SKYFALL Imminent: Signs Of Russia’s Next Nuclear-Powered Missile Test” via Covert Shores.

Feature image courtesy HI Sutton.

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

#MaritimeMonday – Russia vs. Ukraine in Harpoon V #Wargame

This weekend I added to my digital Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Group) wargame collection by purchasing Russia’ s Aircraft: Soviet & Russian Military Aircraft 1955-2020. At the same time I bought the latest issue of The Naval SITREP (#62, April 2022) which has a featured article, “Ships and Aircraft of the Ukrainian Navy and Air Force.” Now I can rerun my Moskva sinking scenario with the benefit of several plays (aka “rules learning sessions”) and validated game data.

While I have already studied the sinking of the Moskva using Harpoon V, the only other real naval engagement has been a Ukrainian Bayraktar TB2 UAV versus a Russian Raptor patrol boat (PB).

Ukrainian army sank 2 patrol boat “Raptor” of the Russian occupiers. Bayraktar TB-2 “| Ukraine War

Like the video shows, in Harpoon V this battle is very quick to finish. The Harpoon V rules note:

Small craft, size class F and G, are tougher, ton for ton, and cannot be sunk by successive turns of fire that add up to their total damage point rating. They have to roll for critical hits for damage effects, but their point total is not reduced after each hit like larger craft. If the damage they receive in a single turn is twice their damage point rating, they are sunk.

14.1 Applying Damage

So…a Bayraktar TB2 dropping a single GAM-L hits and scores 14 damage points. The Raptor PB has a damage rating of…6.2.


One less Raptor…

Look for the full “unboxing” video of Russia’s Aircraft, The Naval SITREP #62, and Russia’s Navy at the Armchair Dragoons on Thursday, May 19.

Feature image “Ukraine announces destruction of two Russian patrol boats – NATuts

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

Today’s War – Some thoughts on The Ukraine War using the Next War series of #wargame by @toadkillerdog fm @gmtgames

The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine started on 24 February. As a wargamer, I often look at these military events as though it is a wargame on my table, complete with maps and units. I try to discern relationships between actual combat activities and how those might be depicted by various game mechanisms. So, in no particular order, here are some of my thoughts.

[A Disclaimer for all the rabid GMT Games Fanboys – I frame my thoughts below in terms of Mitchell Land’s Next War series of modern conflict wargames from GMT Games. You are going to see me comment on (question?) some of the designer’s decisions below. I assure you I have the highest regard and respect for Mitchell and my comments are in no way intended to denigrate his game design. To the contrary, I hope you join me in recognizing how incredibly useful a tool the Next War series of wargames are and take my comments in the spirit in which they are intended, i.e. to improve the wargame experience for designers, developers and, most importantly, players.]


Time: As I start writing this post on 26 February it means we are still in Turn 1 of the war if using Mitchell Land’s Next War series of wargames from GMT Games. My plan is to publish this post on Wednesday, 02 March, or the end of “Turn 2.” While I think the popular perception at the moment is that Russia is becoming bogged down, from a wargame perspective it’s still—literally and figuratively—the opening moves.

“End of Turn 1” courtesy @DefenceHQ on Twitter
“Turn 2” courtesy @DefenceHQ on Twitter

Air Defenses: The Russian invasion supposedly started with massive ballistic and cruise missile attacks to destroy the Ukrainian air defense network. Judging from the continued combat operations by Ukrainian fixed-wing fighters and SAM systems, the Russian claims are made dubious. So often in modern wargames when addressing suppression of integrated air defense systems (IADS) the assumption is that the counter-IADS effort will look like what the U.S. did in the Gulf War or Yugoslavia. The major difference I perceive is that the counter-IADS effort in the Gulf War was against an IADS that was relatively “fixed” and immobile whereas it appears the Ukrainian IADS was alerted and “mobile.” Does this mean modern wargame designers need to revisit their assumptions of how the air campaign in a wargame is handled?

Civilian Resistance/Clearing Operations: Standard Series rule 8.4.1 Clearing Operations is used when units advance after combat into enemy-controlled Installation, City, or Urban hexes. A randomly draw Clearing Marker is placed in the hex, and to remove the player makes a d10 die roll that, after appropriate modifiers, must be equal-to-or-greater-than the Clearing Number (ranging from 3-6). While the extensive use of Molotov Cocktails in Ukrainian cities may be worthy of a Game Specific or Special Scenario Rule, regardless of how they are depicted we should recognize that, operating Mechanized or Armored units in urban areas has always has been—and continues to be—exceedingly difficult and it is easy to underestimate the game impacts of that lesson.

Cyber Warfare: While it is easy to see the effects of cyber operations against government infrastructure in both Russia and Ukraine, the effects of cyber on the battlefield is harder to discern. Next War Series Supplement #1 includes Cyber Warfare Rules. These rules detail the use of cyber in battle and its effects on detection and strike/combat actions. It is a bit of a puzzle why we are not seeing the reflections of cyber or Electronic Warfare activities on the battlefield. As Jane’s Defense reported, “However, despite the significant utility that these systems offer, a senior US defence official told reporters during a briefing that they “don’t believe that the Russians have employed the full scope of their electronic warfare capabilities and it’s not clear exactly why.” Maybe they are too afraid to confront Elon Musk…

Efficiency Ratings: Efficiency Ratings are described in Standard Series rule 2.3.3 as a, “unit’s morale, training, doctrine, cohesion, and ancillary weapons systems.” Some military wonks are making the observation that the Russian new concept of Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) may not be working as the small staff might be finding themselves overstretched at coordinating supporting fires and logistics. Further, the large scale use units composed mostly of conscripts may also factor into the assumptions behind the ER of a unit. Even professional wargames tend to make the Russians 10-feet tall at times…

Fog of War: The open source community is heavily involved in tracking the war on social media.The entire build-up of forces was watched by think tanks and the media, and the invasion itself is being live-tweeted. Many on social media have called for being “cagey” about posting on Ukrainian forces while being very open about Russian forces. This social media impact on the Fog of War can be simulated by allowing the Ukrainian player to freely examine Russian stacks using Standard Series rule 8.1.2 Examining Enemy Stacks while the Russian player is subject to the limits of optional rule 13.2 Fog of War and can only see the top unit of a stack and cannot further inspect their opponent’s stacks.

Missiles: Advanced Game rule 26.0 Theater Weapons covers the use of cruise and ballistic missiles. Strike results are found on the Advanced Strike table. Some of the Die Roll Modifiers (DRM) that we might need to revisit are:

  • -1 Russian Rocket Artillery (seen as precise but not used to overwhelming effect?)
  • +1 non-US Cruise Missile Strike (Russian cruise missiles seem to be precise but again the damage effect is questionable)
  • +3 vs. Enemy AAA Track (does this appropriately account or the mobility of the AAA defenders?)
Uh…not so sure about “all” of them…

Refugees: In the Next War series of wargames refugees are usually handled via a Game Specific Rule or if you have Next War Series Supplement #2 in rule 11.0. The general assumption behind the rule is that the country being invaded will have its road network clogged on early turns by hordes of internally displaced persons (IDPs, aka “refugees”) which reduce mobility for combat units, especially if they are trying to use those same roads. While there certainly has been refugee movement in Ukraine, we have not seen many reports about how this has hampered movement of military forces. Indeed, the images of the peaceful stand of locals against the movement of invading Russian troops is far more common. Maybe what is needed is a Game Specific Rule where the invader must roll to pass through a hex with a populated location smaller than a city. The result is the number of additional movement points required representing the slow-down and doubling-back required. The attacker may also be allowed to bypass the penalty, but in doing so gains a social media “atrocity” ala the Atrocities rule (“But push your men too hard, and they might commit atrocities that will rally world opinion against you”) from Brave Little Belgium (Hollandspiele, 2019).

Stay Behind Forces: Next War Advanced Game rule 20.0 Special Operations Forces covers the operations of SOF behind enemy lines. In the early days of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, there appear to be more than a few “groups” of Ukrainian forces that are operating behind the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA) and executing missions against logistical units. Some of these forces are actually not “regular army” units, and in many ways could be considered insurgents. Next War Series Supplement #2 includes a new module, Next War: Insurgency, that can be used to represent an insurgency that occurs AFTER the end of major combat operations. I think what we are seeing in Ukraine today is melding of these two wargame mechanisms of “special forces” operating behind enemy lines and “insurgents” or local armed resistance that are operating even before the end of major combat operations.

Supply Lines: Even on “Turn 1” of the Russian invasion of Ukraine there are numerous stories about fuel shortages plaguing Russian forces. In the Next War series, rule 13.1 Supply is an optional Standard Series Game rule. The approach used is very basic; certain hexes are Supply Sources (13.1.2) and in order for units to be in supply they must able to trace a Line of Communication (13.1.3). Units that are Out of Supply (13.1.5) have their Attack and Movement ratings halved and their ER reduced. They also are not eligible for Elite Reaction or Exploitation Movement. In the Advanced Game rules, 19.0 Supply introduces a somewhat more complex set of rules, the most important (and relevant to todays conflict) of which are 19.1 Supply Sources with their range limitations and 19.4 Supply Depots and MSUs (Mobile Supply Units). The later, those MSUs, are what is being “attacked” by the stay behind forces and local civilian resistance. I feel that one way to portray the “supply wars” in today’s conflict is to allow the Ukrainian player to use the Standard Game supply rule (13.1) while the Russian player must use the Advanced Game Rule 19.0.

Nuclear War: While the conflict in Ukraine is certainly conventional, reports that Putin raised the alert status of his nuclear forces are troublesome. To me it invokes in some ways memories of Able Archer ’83 where the Soviets were convinced that the US and NATO were ready for a decapitating nuclear first strike. How much I had hoped those days were behind us…

Courtesy nsarchive.gwu.edu

Casualty Markers: There are no casualty markers in the Next War series. When military units suffer casualties one simple flips or removes a counter. Very simple. Very clinical. One part of war that so many wargames fail to capture is the human cost of conflict, especially amongst the non-combatants. To some the clinical detachment that comes with wargames where units have no face, no cry of anguish, no bloody entrails, is the very problem with wargames. I for one made my peace with wargames years ago when I read the words of Sir Basil L. Hart:

 If you wish for peace, understand war.

Basil Liddell Hart, Strategy (1967)

I study war not to make war but to help understand and (hopefully) prevent it. I hate war, especially the incredible toll war takes on humanity. Remember that for most of us war is on the tablet, smartphone, or gaming table. For too many it’s a harsh reality. Remember them, and seek peace for their sake.

Feature image courtesy dreamstime.com

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

#ThreatTuesday – #Wargame Library: 2019 China Military Power Report from @DefenseIntel

This past week, the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) publicly released the 2019 edition of it’s China Military Power Report. With a subtitle of “Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win,” this report compliments the Pentagons’s Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China in 2018 released in August. I previously wrote how the Annual Report is a useful tool for wargamers; the new China Military Power Report is probably even more useful for game designers looking to portray the Chinese military in a modern wargame. The chapter Core Chinese Military Capabilities and the various appendixes give a useful broad outline of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Flying under the radar is a second report recently published by the US Department of Defense. Assessment on U.S. Defense Implications of China’s Expanding Global Access is a supplement to the August Annual Report. For wargamers long focused on scenarios across the Taiwan Strait or in the South China Sea, there is more to think about:

China’s expanding global activities in some of the areas listed above present military force posture, access, training, and logistics implications for the United States and China. The PLA’s first overseas military base in Djibouti and probable follow-on bases will increase China’s ability to deter use of conventional military force, sustain operations abroad, and hold strategic economic corridors at risk. The PLA’s expanding global capabilities provide military options to observe or complicate adversary activities in the event of a conflict. (p. 4)

The Annual Report, the new Assessment, and Military Power Report are good for the broad strokes and a top-level view of few key platforms but a naval wargamer (like me) looking for more tactical depth will find the publications wanting. In 2015 the US Navy Office of Naval Intelligence published The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century which shows many ships but unfortunately lacks individual ship details. Oh, but do note the two other products available from ONI, Iranian Naval Forces: A Tale of Two Navies and The Russian Navy: A Historic Transition.

For a wargamer, this abundance of “official” open source information is a real boon for designing your own games or scenarios. Now if we could only get similar items for US forces. I note that the last Naval Institute Guide to Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet was published in 1993!

Feature image  – Type 055 Renhai-class guided missile destroyer from Chinese internet via thediplomat.com