Break Right!—SAMs and AAA in Red Storm

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Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) and Antiaircraft Artillery (AAA) are well known threats to players of Downtown and Elusive Victory.  They appear again in Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 and with a vengeance.  This article will discuss the SAM and AAA forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact in Red Storm and how they may affect both defensive and offensive planning in the game.

SAMs and AAA in earlier games in the series

In Downtown, set in the Vietnam war, SAMs came in only one flavor: the Soviet SA-2 “Guideline”.  By the time of the Arab-Israeli conflicts in Elusive Victory, the SAM threat evolved significantly with the addition of the SA-3 “Goa” and SA-6 “Gainful” systems, which were both much more effective against low altitude aircraft than the SA-2.  Elusive Victory also introduced the US MIM-23 HAWK (Home-All-the-Way-Killer) system on the Israeli side.

SAMs in both games were very numerous, but with limited lethality.  To even get a possible hit/avoidance result, the straight up odds in both games were only 28%.  Scoring an actual result required a second low-odds roll at 36% without effective jamming and just 28% with jamming.  Multiply those odds together and you get a 10% and 8% chance of doing anything to the target flight. SAM shots could often, however, get “mission kills” on bomber aircraft by forcing them to jettison their bomb loads or take their chances on the morale table.  They also contribute to indirect kills by forcing enemy aircraft down to low or deck altitude where AAA is far more effective.
In Downtown, AAA came in four densities: Small Arms, Light, Medium, and Heavy, with radar-guided AAA represented by “Fire Can” systems. Elusive Victory made the important addition of the ZSU-23-4 “Shilka” system (represented in the game by “Gundish” counters) and also added modifiers representing the nascent SA-7 man-portable SAM threat.
In both games, AAA is far more effective than SAM fire (appropriately reflecting the far higher loss rates to AAA in both conflicts), with a higher “possible hit” chance and few defensive modifiers for the targeted aircraft.  However, the numbers for unguided AAA aren’t dramatically better, with even the best odds of a possible hit at Deck altitude only being 10%, 21%, 28%, 36% for Small Arms, Light, Medium, and Heavy AAA respectively.  Again, another roll is needed to actually get a hit, with a final 13 or higher (36%) chance, but with many modifiers.  However, radar-guided AAA is far more effective, with Fire Cans having a 55%, 45%, 28% chance at Low/Med/High and the ZSU-23 (Gundish) having 55%, 45%, and 21% chance at Deck/Low/Medium.
Overall, the choice faced by an attacking player in both games was similar: go “high” and be more vulnerable to SAMs or go “low” and face a significant AAA threat.

Warsaw Pact SAMs and AAA in Red Storm

The 15-year gap in time between Downtown/Elusive Victory and Red Storm saw the development of more, and much more capable, types of SAMs on both sides. Furthermore, the NATO/WP central front setting of Red Storm means that both sides would have had their most capable systems, their best operators, and the greatest density of SAMs anywhere in the world.  This dramatic increase in density and capability of SAMs on both sides is one of the major differences between Red Storm and the games that came before it.

The Soviets have a wide range of SAMs in Red Storm, from the short-range, IR-guided SA-9 “Gaskin” and SA-13 “Gopher” to the Army-level SA-10 “Grumble”.  In between, the ground units represented in Red Storm (mostly from the 8th Guards Army, DDR 3rd Army, and 1st Guards Tank Army) appear to have had a diverse mix of systems, including the older SA-6 “Gainful” and newer SA-11 “Gadfly” and SA-15 “Gauntlet” systems.  In rear areas, SA-2 and SA-3 systems would still be found defending fixed locations.
AAA systems came in several versions, but were overall similar to the tried and true systems from the 1960s and 1970s that proved so effective in Vietnam and Egypt.  Radar-guided “Fire Can” AAA systems appear in Red Storm, at the division and higher levels of air defense.  The ZSU-23-4 “Shilka” appears all over the battlefield, both inherent to the ground units in the game (armor, mechanized, etc.) as well as being represented by separate counters.
In practice, the Warsaw Pact would deploy these systems in several layers, with the short-range IR SAMs right at the front, divisional SAMs 6-10 km farther back, Army SAM battalions behind those, and finally wide-area air defense SAMs like the SA-10s as the final layer.  In game terms, a fairly typical WP deployment would look something like this:

A typically scary portion of the Warsaw Pact front in Red Storm to attack or get through…

As you can see, a daunting array of SAMs to fight through.  The Soviets were well aware of how the United States and Israel tried to overcome their client state air defense systems in the 1970s and had adapted their defenses on the NATO central front accordingly.  They sought to create threats at all altitudes, with overlapping coverage in terms of both range and radar frequencies. If a NATO player “goes low” he has to deal with the dangerous IR SAMs and numerous AAA threats.  If he “goes high” then he’ll likely face three layers of radar-guided SAMs (not to mention Soviet fighter aircraft).


The NATO side of the front fielded an equally impressive and effective array of air defense systems, which by the late 1980s was, while not as dense, arguably just as capable as the Warsaw Pact’s network.  The only non-Soviet SAM in the system in the first two games was the US “HAWK” system operated by Israel in Elusive Victory.

The MIM-23 “HAWK” provides a major part of NATO’s air defenses the the 1980s in the form of the “Improved HAWK”.  A wide range of short-range/low-altitude and long-range/high-altitude systems join it in West Germany.  Close to the front, the NATO units represented in Red Storm would have fielded three different SAMs: the IR-guided US MIM-72 “Chaparral” and the radar-guided UK “Rapier” and West German “Roland 2”.  All three have relatively short ranges and cannot engage targets at high or very high altitude, but do provide a significant threat to any WP flights at medium or lower altitude.  Farther back from the front, the main line of defense for NATO appears in the form of both MIM-23 “I-HAWK” and MIM-104 “Patriot” SAMs.  The Patriot significantly upgrades NATO’s defenses with its highly capable phased array radar and long-range missiles capable of engaging targets at all altitude bands.  In rear areas, there were still a limited number of MIM-14 “Nike-Hercules” SAM systems.  Although very vulnerable since they are in fixed locations, these had been steadily improved over their many years in service and continued to pose a deadly threat to medium/high altitude WP aircraft.
NATO’s AAA systems were in general capable, but not nearly as numerous, as their WP counterparts.  There is almost no unguided AAA.  For radar-guided AAA, I’ve amalgamated many different systems into the “Bofors” system, roughly comparable to the WP “Fire Can” system.  NATO also fielded systems similar to the ZSU-23-4 in the form of the US “Vulcan” and German “Gepard” air defense systems, both of which appear in Red Storm frequently both near the front and in defense of critical rear area targets.

A likely NATO SAM and AAA layout in the West German III Corps area early in the war…

NATO would deploy these different systems in three zones, much like the WP side, with the short range systems near the front lines, corps-level systems 10-15 km behind, and then area air defense SAMs like the “Patriot” and “Nike-Hercules” in rear areas.

What’s New in Red Storm

So, those are the weapon systems available to both sides in Red Storm, but how has the system changed “under the hood”?  Overall, I think the basic system of SAMs in the series is sound, so I am likely to only make modest changes to adapt the rules to the late-1980s war imagined in Red Storm.

  • The first change is obvious from the above description of the SAMs on both sides—much greater numbers of SAM types.  In Downtown there was one type, in Elusive Victory there were four, and in Red Storm there are a whopping fifteen.
  • The next change was to increase the chances of a “possible hit” result from SAM shots, reducing the base number needed from 14 (28%) to 12 (45%).  That is a significant difference, but I think it’s warranted based on the wide range of highly capable SAMs on both sides and the presumed skill of the operators fighting the air defense war on the central front in World War 3.  The technological upgrades make the electronic defense side of the SAM war very difficult on defending flights.  Each SAM has numerous search and fire control radars, which can operate in more than one mode.  Multiplying those frequencies and modes times a wide range of SAMs makes for a hard day for defensive jamming systems.
  • However, while possible hits are somewhat more likely, actually getting a result remains challenging (players still roll for “SAM Defense” with the same odds as earlier games in the series).  Compared to Downtown and Elusive Victory, here in Red Storm almost all flights would have defensive jammers better than those from the early 1970s, and both sides also have extensive ground and airborne electronic jamming going on as well, all reflected in the game with better defensive jamming ratings for flights.  Escort and standoff jamming flights also appear in significant numbers.  So, the needle is probably only slightly moved in favor of the SAM side in the critical SAM vs Aircraft conflict in Red Storm.
  • Another new feature is a new type of SAM, the “IR-Guided SAM,” to the system (such as the US “Chaparral” and Soviet SA-13).  These SAMs can fire effectively without radar acquisition at short ranges and aren’t affected by rough terrain or the normal limit on SAM shots in a turn.
  • To simulate better the large number of man-portable SAMs like the US “Stinger” and Soviet SA-14, I am adding modifiers to AAA damage rolls to increase the chance of damage if a player rolls high enough.
  • Another new rule gives both sides “Anti-Radar SAM” capability for some of their systems.  Think of these as ground-launched versions of the Anti-Radiation Missiles (ARM) already in the game.  Remember all those jamming aircraft?  The Anti-Radar SAM provides the answer both sides came up with to target those valuable jamming aircraft.
  • Finally, when flights are down at Deck altitude, there are several new random events that model the wide range of threats to aircraft operating down low, from the thousands of heavy machine guns and shoulder-launched SAMs on the battlefield to the many obstacles to low-level flight in the built-up German countryside such as radio towers and power lines.

So, the same fundamental choice of “go low” or “go high” from the earlier games in the series faces players in Red Storm as well, but with even more unappetizing consequences.  If you try to “go high” you will likely be detected at all times, face numerous SAM shots each turn, and have to deal with enemy fighter aircraft.  If you “go low” you face a scary array of IR SAMs, flak, radar-AAA, and some nasty random events to account for the inherent dangers of flying at low altitude in (usually) bad weather in the rough terrain of central Germany.

Red Storm vs Desert Storm…

It’s worth mentioning here the experience of US and coalition aircraft in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, which featured many (but not all) of the same SAMs, AAA, and defensive systems depicted in Red Storm.  The SAM threat was significant in Desert Storm, but in my conversations with several veterans of that conflict, most spoke of them as a “manageable” threat given that the right intelligence, tactics, and support systems were in place.  On the other hand, AAA at low altitude remained very dangerous.
However, I assume that the war depicted in Red Storm would be different in some important ways from what transpired during Desert Storm.  First of all, the Iraqis were often operating “export” versions of Soviet SAM systems, which were not as capable as the “real” Soviet ones NATO pilots would face over Germany.  Second, the terrain and weather of central Europe would provide more places for SAMs to hide, making them harder to detect on launch, which is an important part of maneuvering to avoid them.  Third, in Red Storm the rules portray “both sides” of the SAM war, not just the (mostly) US aircraft vs Soviet SAM conflict seen over the skies of Iraq.  Would Soviet pilots have described the HAWK and Patriots as “manageable”?  I tend to doubt it.  Fourth, describing the SAM threat in Desert Storm as “manageable” doesn’t quite mean “easy”.  Avoiding losses to Iraqi SAMs required many pieces to be in place for each mission: intelligence, supporting aircraft, highly trained pilots, properly configured jammers, etc. In a central front “total” war scenario with the highest of stakes, I assume many NATO and WP missions would be launched in less than ideal conditions out of necessity. All those factors would, in my view, likely have made the SAM threat depicted in Red Storm more dangerous for both sides than what happened in Desert Storm.  So, I am hopeful that dialing up the SAM threat a bit on both sides makes for a more interesting and fun experience for players, while simultaneously depicting a very plausible situation given the available information of the forces and tactics employed by NATO and the Warsaw Pact in the late 1980s.
Overall, both sides face a much denser and more dangerous air defense network than in earlier games in the series, balanced by both sides’ attempts to protect their aircraft with large numbers of jammers and SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) flights.  The result will hopefully be very interesting problems for both players to try to solve in the nearly thirty different scenarios currently planned for this game.

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