#ThreatTuesday – Planning the PLA Navy

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Courtesy BGG

Being a Navy guy, I have long played naval wargames. For modern tactical naval combat nothing beats Harpoon in my book. I started way back with Harpoon II in 1983. The current version is Harpoon 4 first published by Clash of Arms in 1997 and now by Admiralty Trilogy Games.

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Courtesy BGG

I am also a fan of the Asia-Pacific theater, having spent way too many years in the Western Pacific. The Harpoon system does have a “sourcebook” for the Pacific Rim in the expansion Sea of Dragons, but it was published way back in 1997!

With the news that China is set to launch it’s first indigenously built carrier any day now, I got to thinking about how one would update at least the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) order of battle information in Sea of Dragons. Fortunately for wargamers, there are several excellent publicly available sources to help!

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Courtesy ONI

The first is from the Office of Naval Intelligence. In 2015, ONI published The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century. In addition to the publication itself, ONI also has provided useful graphics and videos and maps on their website. This should be every wargamer’s first stop when looking at the modern PLA Navy.

But today is 2017, and the Chinese have not been resting on their laurels since ONI printed their book. In another stroke of luck, gamers can look to Ronald O’Rourke of the Congressional Research Service. China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress is updated several times a year and is one of the best running estimates of the threat. It is a very useful publication for bringing the ONI 2015 report forward to today.

I would also point the wargamer to Andrew Erickson’s excellent website. Dr. Erickson is on the faculty of the Naval War College, China Maritime Studies Institute. He specializes in using Chinese-language sources to study the PLA Navy and is a prolific speaker and author on the topic.

Between these three sources one should be able to update Sea of Dragons and get a better sense of what the PLA Navy would look like in a tactical naval game like Harpoon 4. One probably also will need to purchase back issues of The Naval SITREP magazine from the Admiralty Trilogy Group on a site such as Wargame Vault to get many ship characteristics.

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!

Model Monday – Pegasus Hobbies ME-262

Little Rockymountainnavy is into building model kits these days and really has a love for World War II aviation. We have been collecting the Pegasus Hobbies 1/48th scale series and the latest one he has built is the Messerschmitt Me-262. This is a wonderful E-Z Snap series kit molded in dark green. Assembly was super easy and the parts fit the well with few gaps. This model even has a metal counterweight to place in the nose that will balance the aircraft on the tricycle landing gear. We will be painting and applying decals in the coming week.

The model did inspire Little RMN to dig into my library and pull out several books on the Me-262 and World War II jet aircraft. This has led to another spate of Lego creations and further exploration into German jet plans (ala Luft ’46). Once again, a model has inspired greater learning by Little RMN. After all, isn’t that what a good hobby does for you? (Image Courtesy modellingmadness.com)

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 – Sino-Japanese Naval War of 2012

PLA Navy aircraft carrier Shi Lang underway

Take a peek at this article over at the Foreign Policy website. Time to get Harpoon 4.1 out and start generating some scenarios! Hmm, Sea of Dragons was published in 1997. So much has changed an update is urgently needed.

If the author is right, and the key factor is the human equation of combat, then no wargame is going to accurately simulate the battles. Without very detailed (and despised) rules for when to break off combat most wargames are “fought to the death” or past the point where a rational commander would stop fighting.