Red Storm AAR Playtest, Part 2

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The following is part 2 of an after action review of my most recent test game of Red Storm with my good friend and playtest team member Chris Baer.  This scenario is titled “Offensive Counter Air” and features two big NATO deep strike raids going over the front and into southwestern East Germany.  In Part 1 Chris and I both provided our thoughts as we went through the pre-game planning phases.  Here in Part 2 we’ll discuss some of the action in the scenario itself.

NATO Thoughts:

The SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) phase went well and the early warning condition is “surprise attack”, so I am going to be aggressive early when I have a numbers advantage in the air.  I’ll push the CAP flights forward quickly to try to knock back whatever flights Chris has in the air at the start.  That should also keep his fighters off my valuable SEAD flights, which have a lot of work to do finding and taking out SAMs before the bombers come in on Turn 3.  If the initial air-to-air combats don’t go my way, I can pull the SEAD flight back and keep them down low (and thus hard to find) until the raids come on with four escort flights that can re-engage any WP fighters.

I start with my three CAP flights (2 x F-4E and 1 x F-15C) and four SEAD flights (1 x F-4G, 1 x F-16C, and 2 x Tornado GR1) on the map, along with my standoff jamming flight (1 x EC-130).  I get 8 dummies in this scenario, but I only setup 2 for now since I want to use the other 6 to enter a “dummy raid” on turn 3 (when the real raids enter) to keep Chris a little off balance on where I’m headed.  Loads for the flights on the map are as follows.

2 x F-4E (“Denver” and “Vegas” flights, 4 aircraft in each flight): AIM-7F {3}, AIM-9L {3}, 20mm Gun {3}.  The F-4s are aging but can still hold their own in Red Storm, especially in Beyond Visual Range (BVR) combat where their AIM-7F Sparrows give them a range advantage over most WP aircraft.  The AIM-9Ls also have BVR capability, which is a nice backup if the Sparrows deplete early (the {3} is a depletion rating on the weapons, which is checked against with a 1d10 every time you use them; a lower number is better).  Their APQ-120 radar has a search range of 12, but it does have some lookdown limitations. I’m hoping the WP flights stay up at Medium/High before they try to get past the CAP flights and attack the SEAD or bombing flights.  They also have a decent fuel load (10 points), which allows them to move at top speed and enter air-to-air combat without too much worry.

1 x F-15C (“Shade” flight, 4 aircraft): AIM-7M {3}, AIM-9M {3}, 20mm Gun {3}.  Even though it is just one flight, having a 4-ship of Eagles gives the NATO player a lot of advantages.  It’s missiles are the best in the game, and when paired with the F-15’s APG-63 radar (search range 30) and lookdown capability there won’t be anywhere the WP flights can hide for long.  F-15s also automatically pass BVR engagement checks due to their tight coordination with AWACS, so I’m counting on this flight to kick some butt.  I also have the option of splitting it into 2 x 2-ship flights, which I’m planning to do so it can cover more ground.  The F-15s big fuel load (12 points) and high speed on ‘burner allows them to cover a ton of airspace.

1 x F-4G (“Bud”, 2 aircraft): 4 x AGM-88 HARM missile shots.  The F-4G’s are the premier “Wild Weasel” air defense suppression aircraft in the game.  They have an electronic countermeasures suite which will let them find SAMs at long ranges, even if they haven’t fired yet.  A standard 2-ship of F-4Gs can also haul 4 x AGM-88 “shots” (representing one or two HARMs each).  I could do a load of smaller “Shrike” (AGM-45) ARMs and cluster bombs, but I decide to go with the HARMs due to their long range.

1 x F-16C (“Hammer”, 2 aircraft):  2 x AGM-65 missile shots.  The F-16Cs operate with the F-4Gs in a “hunter-killer” team.  Here, I load up the F-16s with Maverick missiles, counting on their accuracy to give me the best chance of taking down two SAMs.  I could have loaded cluster bombs / shrikes instead, but I want to try the Mavericks for this test scenario.

2 x Tornado GR1 (“Wildcat” and “Lion” flights, both 2 aircraft): Wildcat 4 x ALARM missile shots, Lion 6 x CBU points.  The RAF Tornadoes aren’t quite as good at SEAD as the US F-4Gs, but they are close.  They have a modern ECM suite that provides decent SAM detection range and strong jamming.  The ALARM ARMs they carry can be fired directly at SAMs or into “Loiter” mode where they float at high altitude and wait for an enemy SAM to activate.  I want to try them out here.  I load the other Tornado with regular CBUs.  They have double strength against SAM targets, so those 6 points will give him up to 6 bomb runs on SAM sites.  With the Tornado’s sophisticated avionics, I hope for good results.

1 x EC-130H (“Buzz” flight, 1 aircraft):  No weapons load, but I’m counting on his standoff jamming to help neutralize WP SAMs and Radar AAA.  He can reach way out with the jamming and spot jam two targets at a time.

WP Thoughts:

With “surprise attack” Early Warning conditions, my Quick Reaction Alert flights (1 x DDR MiG-23MLA and 1 x DDR MiG-21MF) start on the ground, meaning they have to go through the take-off routine in order to get into the fight. They’ll be two turns getting airborne before they have full movement capabilities. My CAP flights (1 x USSR MiG-29A and 1 x DDR MiG-21bis), starting airborne at Orbit Points, will have to shoulder the initial brunt of the NATO fighter sweeps. I’ve set up my CAP flights at High altitude in a Safe Passage Corridor, which allows my SAMs (the real workhorses of the Warsaw Pact defense here) more flexibility to fire at NATO flights. Normally, the Rules of Engagement for SAM attacks prevent attacks within a certain number of hexes of a friendly flight, to prevent friendly fire attacks; SAMs can ignore the RoE if friendly flights are inside the Safe Passage Corridor.

So the thought is to bait Doug’s CAP flights into SAM range with my own CAP flights (plus dummy flights) in the Safe Passage Corridor. Even if I take losses in dogfights, I’m closer to my Orbit and Rally points than Doug, so I might be able to bring the flights back for another pass if/when they become Disordered. But if Doug is bringing F-15s to the fight, this plan becomes sub-optimal. The F-15 rules the sky, and they can bring down my MiGs from long range before my SAMs have a chance to acquire and attack.

And, oh, look, Doug has F-15s!

Squaring up against the Eagles and friends, I’m bringing the following flights.

1 x USSR MiG-29 Fulcrum A (“Antonov” flight, 4 aircraft): R-73 {3}, R-27 {6}, 30mm Gun {4}. My best flight, and one of the finest Soviet aircraft of the day. Unlike most other Warsaw Pact aircraft, the MiG-29A does not adhere to the restrictive Soviet Doctrine that limits the number of aircraft that actually participate in an attack; under Soviet Doctrine restrictions, a one or two ship flight only fires with one flight, while a three or four ship flight fires with two, accounting for the rules under which WP wingmen operated at the time. The R-27 radar homing missile can reach out to seven hexes on a frontal/closing attack, just one hex shy of the eight hex range of Doug’s F-15s, so if I can use my limited fuel to burn into firing range, I might be able to get off a shot before Doug’s fighters return the favor. A lot will depend on who moves first and how we approach one another in the merge.

1 x DDR MiG-21bis Fishbed N (“Hemer” flight, 4 aircraft): R-60 {6}, R-13R {6}, 23mm Gun {3}. The ultimate variant of the stalwart MiG-21 class, the 21bis brings radar homing missiles to the party with the barely adequate R-13R, capable of a two hex BVR shot from the front. I’m just hoping this flight stays undetected long enough that Doug might think it’s a dummy flight, but somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen. It’s got plenty of fuel, though, so perhaps I can use repeated afterburner moves to blow past the initial line of NATO CAP and threaten the SEAD flights.

1 x DDR MiG-23MLA Flogger G (“Crump” flight, 2 aircraft): R-60 {3}, R-24 {6}, 23mm Gun {3}. A capable aircraft, the Flogger wields the respectable R-24 radar homing missile, with a maximum five hex reach. If I can get this flight into the fight, it might be able to tangle successfully with the F-4s or even help the MiG-29 gang up on the F-15s. Starting on the ground, though, they’ll be slightly disadvantaged both in time and altitude. Hopefully my setup location for the flight is close to where the action will be.

1 x DDR MiG-21MF Fishbed J (“Wenzl” flight, 2 aircraft): R-13 {3}, 23mm Gun {3}. Well, it has wings. That’s a start. Lacking any sort of BVR capability, though, the 21MF will need to employ Slash Attacks using its copious fuel reserves to be successful. Lining up Slash Attacks can be difficult, since they require two turns at Dash speed. If I can sneak this flight through Doug’s CAP barrier, I might have a chance at engaging with his SEAD flights.

Turns 1-2

NATO Thoughts:  Not a ton of action in these turns, although my detection rolls are good, and I quickly sort through Chris’ dummies and figure out where his real flights are.  I push the F-4s and F-15s to max speed and get them well out in front of the slower SEAD flights behind.  I also split the F-15 flight in Turn 2, so I now have four flights to work with to Chris’ two flights (his other 2 started on the ground, so they are still climbing to altitude over their airfields).

WP Thoughts: With my dummy flights taken out of play early and my real flights detected, any hopes at a shell game vanish. I’m committed to the High altitude merge with my CAP flights, and I push them both forward, trying to stay inside my Safe Passage Corridor. The two QRA flights begin their takeoff routines, and they look decently placed to deal with Doug’s CAP thrust.

But when Doug splits that F-15 flight, I know I’m in a spot of bother. Even with the penalties associated with flight splitting (lowered Aggression and increased Weapon Depletion chances), that split flight creates a huge force multiplier. Still, more targets for the SAMs, which begin powering on and searching out targets. I have plenty of SAMs and lots of ammo, so I’m going to take shots as soon as Doug’s flights enter my range.

Turn 3

NATO Thoughts: My two big bombing raids and a swarm of 6 dummy flights enter this turn, so I stack them up near their ingress hexes.

The Random Event phase generates “Warsaw Pact Command Confusion”, which means Chris won’t be able to initiate any air-to-air combat this turn.  Chris has pushed forward two of his CAP flights pretty aggressively.  I don’t know what type of aircraft they are yet (flights use “generic” markers until they are visually identified).  So, with the random event advantage this turn, I turn the two F-4E flights loose to go after one of them.  I’ll lead with “Denver” flight and have “Vegas” flight trail about 8 miles behind in case things go wrong.

“Denver” flight (Generic NATO flight #400 in the image above) takes a BVR shot with his AIM-7Fs at max range and the dice smile on me.  I only get 2 shots and don’t get a shoot down, but the USSR flight blows its morale check, resulting in a “Disorder” on him.  It turns out later this is a dangerous MiG-29 Fulcrum flight.  There is another WP flight about 10 miles behind the one I hit and climbing to altitude, so I’ll have to deal with him next turn.

WP Thoughts: Losing the MiG-29 flight to a Disordered result hurts. After suffering any attack in Red Storm, be it long range BVR or SAM fire or a dogfight, the flights affected have to test their morale, and failure often leads to Disordered status, representing not damage but the inability to fight effectively. Until I can rally them, they will not be able to launch any attacks and suffer penalties if attacked. Getting that flight out of trouble becomes my first priority.

To add insult to this injury, Doug’s jammers have been pumping out enough electrons to keep my crafty Safe Passage Corridor trap from fruition, as I don’t manage to acquire his CAP flights yet. It’ll be up to the MiG-21bis to get the job done . . .

Turn 4

NATO Thoughts: With the bombing flights now on the map, I need to put the SEAD flights to work.  In this image you can see the raids stacked up with the SEAD and CAP flights pushing out ahead.

For one raid, I have a pair of Tornado GR1 flights.  There are at least three SA-6 SAMs sitting right on the flight path for my F-111s, so they will be the focus of the SEAD efforts initially.  I send in the first flight and fire an ALARM anti-radiation missile into “Loiter” mode.  It will attack in SAM Acquisition phase.  I send the second flight down to the deck to setup a low level bombing run with cluster bombs next turn.  By the end of the turn both flights have all kinds of SAMs tracking them, but so far, so good.  The Spot Jam markers are from the EF-111A jammers that just entered on Turn 3.

The SEAD flights for my other raid up north also push on afterburner to close the range.  I have a cluster of SA-15s on the ingress route for my four West German Tornadoes and some nasty SA-11s near the egress route.  I need to knock some of both down.  My F-4G gets a radar shutdown result on a dangerous SA-11 with a HARM shot while the F-16C drops to the deck for its bomb run on one of the SA-15s.

WP Thoughts: Time for the SAM crews to earn their pay. Doug is bringing the SEAD flights in, but my strategy focuses on keeping all my radars turned on, even with ARM shots flying in. I have to rely on sheer numbers, and if I suffer a few involuntary radar shutdowns (or, worse, ARMs smacking into the radar huts), that’s the price I’m going to pay. Doug’s heavy jamming output makes every acquisition marker I am able to place invaluable—they’re so difficult to gain, but once gained, they have a bit of persistence. Shutting down radars just means losing acquisitions. Bring on the ARMs!

Turn 5-6

NATO Thoughts: My CAP flights still have three likely WP interceptor flights to deal with.  Up on the north side of the map one of my F-15 flights swoops in and tangles with with what turns out to be a DDR MiG-21 (“Hemer”).  The F-15 doesn’t get any kills, but the morale checks result in the MiG-21 heading home on an abort result.  Down further south with Raid 2, the chit draw results in Chris getting his DDR MiG-23s (generic “D” in the image below) into position for a decent BVR missile shot at one of my F-4E CAP flights.  He gets 2 shots, but I get lucky and neither one scores a hit.  The F-4E passes the morale check in good shape.

On the next chit my my F-4 flight returns the favor and closes for a dogfight with the MiG-23s.  Again, no kills, but again, Chris’ morale check dice fail him and the East German MiG-23s blow their morale check and get a “disordered” result (as does my F-4).  Still, I breathe a sigh of relief since that Flogger was lined up to intercept my two Tornado SEAD flights (201 and 205 above) next turn.

In turn 6 my F-15s send home the last of the WP CAP flights, this time with a BVR missile shot that leads to a disorder result on another DDR MiG-21 flight. The SEAD flights keep up the work and one of my Tornado flights takes out an SA-6 flight with cluster bombs at deck altitude.  Very nice.  Two more SA-6s to go though.  Up north my F-16C SEAD flight takes down one SA-15 battery with his AGM-65 Mavericks, but only after a very close call on a SAM shot by another SA-15 nearby.

WP Thoughts: Not the finest day for the Warsaw Pact air forces, but they escape mostly undamaged. If I can bring at least one of them back from Disordered status through the rally process, I might still have a chance of engaging those onrushing bomber streams. Doug will have to choose between chasing my now retreating CAP flights deeper into the SAM zones or letting me reach my Rally Points unhindered.

On the SAM front, I’m torn between trying to acquire the marauding SEAD flights or focusing on the real threat, the bombers. With the EF-111s in play now, the NATO jamming becomes even more intense, making radar acquisition that much more difficult. Almost all of my acquisitions are “partial,” resulting in negative modifiers when I attack. I plan on offsetting that modifier by salvo firing SAMs, chewing through my ammo supply but offsetting the negative modifiers somewhat. I launch plenty of attacks these turns, but with little to show for my efforts. Still, Doug can see the acquisition markers piling up. Quantity does have a quality of its own, after all.

Turn 7-8

NATO Thoughts: All WP CAP flights have been sent home, so now the SEAD flights can do their thing without interference.  Down south one of my Tornadoes does low level bomb runs on two more SA-6 sites, but blows the attack rolls and misses both entirely.  Out of bombs, he heads home.  The other Tornado with the ALARM missiles goes deep to target some of the longer range SA-2 and other SAMs in the backfield.  Up north my F-4G gets some more shutdowns with his HARMs, but my F-16C takes a “SAM Avoid” result from an SA-15 that forces him to dump his remaining Mavericks, sending him home.

By the end of turn 7 my F-111s in the southern raid are closing in on their first target, the WP major airfield near Eisenach.  The two lead 111s break to the right to line up for their bomb runs.  I’m wary of AAA near the target, so I’m going to do “toss” bombing on the airfield with regular Mark 82 bombs.

As you can see in the image my F-111s have all kinds of SAM acquisition on them, but you can also see the big-time jamming support I have going with two EF-111s and an EC-130 further back.  Their spot jamming on those pesky SA-6s should help the bombers get through.

 During Turn 8 my last SEAD flight with weapons (one of the Tornadoes) fires off his last ARM and gets a shutdown result on an SA-3 (the radar shutdown marker on the far right of the image below).  My F-111s (“Sledge” and “Condor”) also make their bombing runs and get mixed results, leaving a “1” result on the runway and a better “3” damage result on the revetments.  Those two F-111s turn to head home after their toss bombing attack.

Finally, up north my bombing train of West German Tornadoes is almost past the first belt of SA-15 SAMs.

WP Thoughts: This scenario takes place in Poor Weather conditions, with advantages for the attacker and the defender. With a band of dense clouds between Deck and Low altitude, my infra-red SAMs lose one of their key strengths, the ability to attack a flight in their line of sight without needing acquisition. Given the jamming environment, that might have come in handy. Doug still needed to stay off of the Deck, but my IR SAMs were rendered ineffective for the most part. Conversely, not being able to see a SAM that is attacking you leads to negative modifiers for the defender, and Doug’s flights didn’t have line of sight to any of my SAMs, giving me a decent chance when I was able to take shots. Too, visual bombing attacks suffer from the clouds, forcing Doug to attack from lower altitudes than he might prefer to try to offset those penalties.

The WP SAM batteries give it their all, with my two long-range SA-10 launchers launching eight SAMs each (half their ammo supply) through turn 8. Almost every one of my non-IR SAMs got into the act at some point, but they just didn’t manage to inflict damage or a “mission kill” on the bombers.

Final Thoughts

NATO: We wrap things up after turn 8 due to the time.  Still, we gave the game system a good workout in many areas, particularly air-to-air combat, jamming, and SAMs.  By the end of Turn 8 I have my first bombs on target but a long way to go with the remaining six bombing flights.  Chris has rallied one of his MiG flights, but I now have an overwhelming advantage with my escorts so I think I could have handle that easily enough.  We ended up deciding to make some tweaks to various rules for the sake of clarity, but I’m pleased we didn’t run into any showstoppers.  The scenario feels about right balance-wise since with better luck Chris could have gotten some of his interceptors through my CAP flights and messed with my SEAD and bombing flights.  We also had a lot of close calls on SAMs, so those could have done a lot more damage with slightly different rolls.  Here’s a final picture of the whole setup before we picked it up:

WP: The real heart of this scenario for the Warsaw Pact player is the SAMs, and my main focus during this test was on the workflow for the Warsaw Pact player. Even though I had over two dozen SAMs to run, of varying models and capabilities, I didn’t feel overwhelmed. The SAM acquisition and attack procedures resolve fairly simply with a few die rolls, and there’s a great deal of decision making in choosing which flights to acquire and when to attack. When my handful of aircraft were sent scurrying, I remained very much in the game. Indeed, I almost felt sorry for Doug and his cardboard crews as they advanced further into my SAM fire zones. Almost . .

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One thought on “Red Storm AAR Playtest, Part 2

  1. A good After Action Report is like watching a good war movie. This was a good war movie. I’m look forward to this game.