#ThreatTuesday – The 80’s Are Calling and They Want Their Super Etendards Back!

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Courtesy BGG.com

I have written elsewhere that I am a child of the Cold War and had my wargame coming-of-age in the 1980’s. One of the games I got during that time was Harpoon II. H2 is a miniatures game of modern tactical naval combat. The game system would eventually inform an author by the name of Tom Clancy who famously used the game to play out a key battle of his book Red Storm Rising. That game series is explained in Dance of the Vampires available at Wargame Vault. But Red Storm Rising was still five years away. I was interested in Harpoon because of another war, one that had just happened – The Falklands War.

 

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Courtesy dailymail.co.uk

One of the most dramatic events of that war was the attack on HMS Sheffield on May 4, 1982. Using an Exocet anti-ship missile launched from a Super Étendard fighter, the Argentinians sank the Type 42 destroyer. Many times I replayed this scenario as well as the larger naval confrontation. To this day the Falklands War remains my favorite modern naval battles scenario generator.

 

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Courtesy BGG.com

So it was with much interest that I read Argentina intends to buy six Super Étendard fighters. Sorta proves that everything that is old is new again. It also makes we want to bring out Harpoon 4 and see how the Royal Navy’s Type 45 Daring-class destroyer would fare against this new-old threat.

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Courtesy dailymail.co.uk

 

 

#ThreatTuesday – War in the South China Sea?

Amongst the many issues facing the new US administration is the contentious issue of the South China Sea. Not only is this battle being fought on the high seas, but also on the gaming table.

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Courtesy BGG

John Gorkowski previously designed Breaking the Chains: War in the South China Sea. BTC is a very near-future, operational-level simulation of conflict in the South China Sea. In late 2016, John announced:

One of the War Colleges asked me for a streamlined version of the game for classroom use. They may or may not actually use it, but I plan to make such a “lite” version and share it with the community. ConSimWorld Forum, Aug 26, 2016

The work-in-progress is called South China Sea (SCS). John explained the changes between BtC and SCS:

The South China Sea (SCS) system is BtC pruned for play-ability. How did we do that? We took the scale down from 70 nautical miles per hex to 45. We standardized unit sizes at two-steps each with exceptions for aircraft carriers and certain large cruisers. That meant going with land battalions rather than regiments. And, we created a rule that allows naval units to move more than one hex in a single “go”, but included a mechanism, based on stealth, that enables the other side to “check” that move to create a more variable and volatile environment.

This last adjustment is most important and was most difficult. Because modern anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) have such long reach, 290 nmi in some cases, you can’t just let phasing ships “jump” more than one hex at a time without giving the non-phasing player a chance to react. Otherwise, the phasing player could move through his enemy’s field of fire, or beaten zone if you prefer, without drawing fire. So the new “intervention” mechanism allows the non-phasing player to “react” by stopping a multi-hex move by the phasing player, but not with certainty. So stealthy ships can dart two or three hexes at a time while larger less stealthy ships will not progress that far before the enemy can react.

What did not change? The core strike mechanism that applies across all forms of combat and the air naval movement/combat sequence all remain the same. ConSimWorld Forum, Nov 9, 2016

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Sample South China Sea Playtest Counters (courtesy ConSimWorld)

I have been participating in the playtest of SCS. My early verdict is I like the revised combat system, but question the political system. In an email exchange, John shared the following comment:

I know what you mean about political turns….The good news is that in several scenarios players can chose to just skip POL [Political] turns and go right to the action.  Email from John Gorkowski, Jan 14, 2017

John is caught between two customers here – the immediate paying customer (important for income NOW) and the future gaming consumer (potential future income). I think SCS will be a useful addition to the library of modern naval combat. I sincerely hope SCS makes it to the public so we too can explore potential South China Sea conflicts.

 

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 – 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.