In the late 1980s battlefield imagined in the upcoming game Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987, beyond visual range (BVR) combat changes significantly from earlier games in the series. BVR missiles by the late 1980s were both more numerous and more deadly than ever before, and both sides were expected to use them in large quantities. This article will discuss some of the potential changes in BVR combat in Red Storm and the thinking behind them.
BVR Combat in earlier games in the series
In the early 1970s air combat world depicted in Downtown and Elusive Victory, air combat beyond visual range (BVR) was rarely effective. The best such weapon of the day, the US AIM-7 Sparrow missile, had a spotty record in Vietnam, with a kill percentage at best around 15% according to most sources, and that was in the later years of the war. US pilots also had to follow restrictive rules of engagement (ROE) to ensure friendly aircraft weren’t accidentally targeted, further limiting their impact. In the skies over the Sinai Peninsula, Israeli pilots appear to have had a similar experience with these types of engagements, although they had a second BVR weapon in the mix, the French Matra 530.
The limited effect of this era’s BVR capabilities are reflected well in the rules for both games. In Downtown only US F-4 Phantom II aircraft carry AIM-7s, and they have a limited range bracket of between 2 and 5 hexes. They can’t be fired if the firing flight is at a higher altitude band than the target (“Lookdown” in game terms). Further, the ROE don’t allow shots into the front arc/beam of an enemy flight if a friendly US flight is within 6 hexes, or within 2 hexes if the F-4 is firing from the MiG’s rear arc (there were some limited exceptions for F-4s with certain missions). After those exacting conditions are met, you still have to get some shot attempts from the maneuver table (needing a 10+ result), with significant possible mods kicking in (-1 for each altitude difference, -4 for low/deck targets, -2 against defensive wheel/beam shots, +2 for front arc, and +X for
All that sounds doable, but as the US player in Downtown I usually found myself in situations like the one shown here. F-4s are up high due to AAA and the MiGs are on the deck in a defensive wheel. The bombers you are protecting are slogging nearby at speed 3 and the odds of there being no US flights within six hexes are low. A tough situation for a BVR shot, even if you risked going down on the deck to tangle with the MiGs.
Assuming if you did get to shoot, a combat rating of “0” for AIM-7s requires rolling an unmodified 14+ to get any result (a 28%
chance). Within that range, you have an 8% chance of a damage, 6% chance for a cripple, and a 14% chance for a shoot down. And, of course, you have a whopping 72% chance of doing nothing at all.
The situation in Elusive Victory was very similar, although that game features three BVR missiles that varied in range. The AIM-7 (carried by F-4s) retained its 2-5 hex range, while the new Matra 530 (carried by Mirage IIIs) had a fixed range of 2 hexes. The Soviet AA-3 (added in a C3i expansion and carried by Su-15s) had a range of 1-4 hexes. ROE were a little looser over Egypt (4 or more hexes of separation for front/beam arc shots, 2 hexes for rear shots). But, your odds of getting any shots from the maneuver table, and then actually doing damage, were identical to Downtown.
BVR Combat in Red Storm
Air-to-air missile technology improved substantially over the 15 years between Downtown and Elusive Victory (1972-1973) and the 1987 setting for Red Storm. Radar homing missiles, and more importantly the aircraft radars that detect targets for the missiles and guide them, were far better at finding and tracking targets. One of the biggest combat tests of such capability was the 1982 Israeli-Syrian conflict, where the Israeli Air Force racked up staggeringly one-side kill ratios flying the latest US F-15 and F-16 aircraft against older MiG-23 and MiG-25s. Then, in the mid-1980s the United States began to field the first true “all aspect” infrared seeking missile, the AIM-9L Sidewinder, which could be fired under some circumstances at just beyond visual range.
The Soviet Union had a long history of IR-guided BVR missiles, going back to the R-98 (AA-3) that appeared in Elusive Victory. They had fielded many more in the 15 years since.
The missiles came in many variants, but in Red Storm I hope to simplify and amalgamate missile types somewhat to avoid too much unnecessary detail. As of now, here are the BVR missiles that will appear in Red Storm:
NATO: AIM-7E, AIM-7F, AIM-7M, AIM-9L, AIM-9M, Skyflash:
Warsaw Pact: R-23 (AA-7A), R-24 (AA-7B), R-27 (AA-10A), R-40 (AA-6), R-3B (AA-2B):
The capabilities of these missiles vary greatly. So, after chatting with Terry Simo (designer of Elusive Victory), I decided to add more detail to the BVR aspect of the rules in Red Storm.
The first change I want to add to BVR combat in Red Storm is the need for an engagement roll before a flight can make a BVR missile attack. In the game’s base air-to-air rules (which simulate “dogfight” combat) a flight has to roll a final 9 or higher (with 2d10, so ~ a 64% chance) to actually enter combat with a detected enemy flight. A higher final roll of 13 is needed at night or when cloud cover separates two flights. The defender has to do the same. The varying outcomes determine if the attacker gets “surprise” combat, which provides significant positive modifiers. Earlier games in the series allowed BVR combat to automatically skip this engagement step and go straight to the maneuver table to determine the number of actual shots to resolve.
In the late 1980s skies of Red Storm, the highly complex electronic warfare environment (with massive jamming and spoofing efforts, plus other methods used by both sides), when combined with the vast numbers of aircraft in the air, would create a highly chaotic situation. While pilots might get cleared to fire by their controllers (see Rules of Engagement discussion below), actually getting into position, acquiring and retaining a missile lock, and launching a possibly effective shot would prove a challenge. To work that complexity into the game I am planning to use the existing “engagement” mechanism rather than creating something entirely new. As of this writing, it is slightly easier (a final 8+, so ~ a 72% chance) to successfully engage in BVR combat compared to regular air-to-air combat. Aggression and altitude modifiers can make this harder or simpler. So, a bit easier than entering a dogfight, but also not a gimmie.
The second major change in BVR combat in Red Storm shifts from a set missile range to three range brackets for most missiles, depending on the facing of the target flight. BVR missile ranges are “egg shaped” in real life, with head on shots possible from much farther away than flank (beam) or tail shots, the latter having the shortest range due to the dramatically lower closure rate of the missile chasing a target rather than closing on it head-on. So, to reflect that dynamic in Red Storm each BVR missile has 3 ranges: one for a shot into an enemy flight’s forward arc, one for forward beam/rear beam shots, and a third for a rear arc shot. Some very short range infrared guided BVR missiles (like AIM-9L and AIM-9M) have fixed ranges of 1 or 2 hexes.
As an example of the 3 range brackets, the UK “Skyflash” semi-active homing air-to-air missile possesses ranges of 1-8 hexes (20 nautical miles) from the front, 1-5 hexes (12.5 nautical miles) from the beam, and 1-3 hexes (7.5 nautical miles) from the rear. So, against an enemy flight the different ranges would look like this, depending on the firing flight’s location in relation to the target flight:
In this image, “Axe” (a UK F-4M FGR.2 flight) armed with Skyflash radar-guided BVR missiles would be able to use BVR combat at a range of 8 from the front arc of “Leonov” (a USSR MiG-23MLA flight). But, that range goes down to 5 hexes from the beam, and just 3 hexes for a rear arc shot.
BVR Rules of Engagement
A third change in BVR combat in Red Storm is the rules of engagement (ROE). At this point, they are slightly different for the two sides. For NATO, which would be operating with Airborne Warning and Control (AWACS) aircraft providing command and control, BVR shots are restricted if there are friendly flights within 3 hexes for front/flank shots or within 1 hex for rear arc shots. In Elusive Victory, BVR shots are restricted when friendly flights were within 4 hexes front/beam, and 2 hexes from the rear arc. So, the same construct, but slightly easier to get within the ROE based on my assumption that the AWACS will provide better situational awareness and that NATO Interrogation Friend or Foe (IFF) systems are better than what the Israelis had in
the early 1970s. For the Warsaw Pact, the ROE are a little looser, with only 2 hexes of separation from friendly flights needed for front/beam shots and 1 hex for a rear arc shot. The WP flights would be expected to be under very tight ground radar control, and would likely fire when ordered to do so with a bit less regard for possible friendly fire situations. The WP side is also, in most cases, at a BVR missile technology disadvantage and knows it, so is also likely to be a bit more willing to take risks to get in the first shot.
To better depict the disruptive effect of a swarm of BVR missiles closing on a flight, and the evasive actions they’d likely take, I’m planning to add a “BVR Avoid” mechanic to the game. Much like the existing “SAM Avoid” mechanic, a “BVR Avoid” counter is placed on a flight that has defended against a BVR attack and requires 1MP to remove the next time the flight moves. It isn’t a huge penalty, but that 1MP can be a big deal in a lot of situations, and removing it also opens a flight up to SAM/AAA fire before it can actually do anything in its movement phase. Further testing may lead me to make this penalty more severe, but I like the idea as it provides an effect between a damage/cripple/shoot down and a total miss.
A final change related to BVR combat in Red Storm involves the issue of “Lookdown” (a target flight being at a lower altitude than the shooter). In Red Storm, that situation remains, but the lookdown limitations vary greatly by aircraft (and more importantly, the radar type). Some older aircraft will face the same limitations pilots faced in the early 1970s, but many others in newer aircraft will have look-down, shoot-down capability, in whole or in part.
Here are two examples:
In the first one, two DDR Su-22 flights have just done a number on a NATO artillery ground unit (it has a “3” attack success marker on it). A late-arriving NATO combat air patrol flight of US F-15C “Eagle” fighters (“Cobra” flight) is closing in, trying to track and shoot down the escaping Su-22M4 “Fitter” bombers (“Jacobs” and “Schmidt” flights). The F-15s are way up at high altitude, with the Su-22s down on the deck. Note that one of the Su-22’s is also unidentified (“Schmidt” flight with the ? side showing). In Downtown and Elusive Victory, a flight at that altitude would likely have been unable to either successfully radar detect or engage the Su-22s due to a “lookdown” condition.
However, the F-15’s sophisticated APG-63 radar is exempt from all “lookdown” restrictions in Red Storm, so “Cobra” flight will be able to do a radar search in the upcoming detection phase in an effort to identify “Schmidt” flight, and then also close the range and conduct a BVR missile shot with his AIM-7M Sparrow missiles.
The second example shows a more traditional “lookdown” situation where it is very difficult for fighter aircraft to find or attack enemy targets at lower altitudes. Here, we have three flights of West German Tornado IDS aircraft (“Saxon”, “Emil”, and “Milo” flights) on a bombing mission. They are lining up to attack Haina airfield near the East German town of Eisenach. They are
headed toward their target at low altitude and the trail flight is unidentified.
There is a Soviet MiG-23 nearby (“Budarin” flight) but the MiG flight’s Sapfir-23MLA radar is much less capable than the F-15’s APG-63, so it suffers from an inability to search for or attack targets in a “lookdown” situation when the target is at low or deck altitude. So, it won’t be able to search for the unidentified Tornado flight or engage any of the three flights in BVR combat
unless it dives down to low or deck altitude first.
Overall, radars and BVR combat will both have more detail in Red Storm than in earlier games in the series due to technology changes in the 15 years between 1973 and 1987. In the next article, I’ll detail the deadly new air defense missiles both sides would have had in great numbers.