Old Crows – Electronic Warfare in Red Storm

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While only fifteen years separate the air wars depicted in Downtown and Elusive Victory from the hypothetical conflict in Red Storm, major advances in computer technology significantly changed all aspects of electronic warfare between the early 1970s and late 1980s. Radars, jammers, missiles, countermeasures, and counter-countermeasures all evolved at a rapid pace. From the Israeli Air Force’s engagements with Syria in 1982, the United States Air Force and Navy’s bombing of Libyan targets in 1986 during Operation El Dorado Canyon, and definitively in the Coalition control of the skies over Iraq in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, electronic warfare changed dramatically. So, when I started developing Red Storm I knew that updating the game’s modelling of electronic warfare would be a critical to “getting it right.” At the same time, I didn’t want the game solely to become an electronic warfare (EW) game. Finding the right balance between realism and playability would be the key.

Electronic Warfare in the Downtown series

In the first game of the series, Downtown, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood did an excellent job simulating the effects of 1960s-1970s EW in an elegant way that complimented the basic game system without overwhelming a player’s workload.  The two basic modes of jamming were there: “defensive” jamming by individual aircraft and flights, represented by a jamming rating for each aircraft type; and “standoff” jamming from dedicated EW aircraft that project jamming effects in a 60 degree arc, with strength varying by range.  On the countermeasures side, chaff corridors received a separate rule, with on-aircraft countermeasures like chaff, flares, and radar warning systems folded into other game mechanics.  Overall, rather than creating a separate system, Lee effectively embedded EW effects into base odds or as modifiers to SAM acquisition, SAM attacks, Radar AAA attacks, and Detection, nicely blending EW into the game without taking over the players’ attention.

Electronic Warfare in Red Storm

In designing Red Storm, I knew the changes in real-world electronic warfare demanded a thorough review and update of the existing rules.  However, I wanted to maintain the basic architecture of Lee’s elegant original model in Downtown.  Right off the bat, I realized that EW in Red Storm would be very different because both sides would be using EW weapons and systems extensively rather than in the asymmetric situation in Downtown where only the US side had any EW capability.  In addition, both NATO and the Warsaw Pact had added many new weapons to their arsenals in all areas of EW in the intervening years, and I wanted the new game to reflect as much of that change as possible.


I started with the most abstracted part of the game’s EW: Detection.  In this series, a flight can be either “detected” or “undetected,” which affects a large number of game functions.  “Detected” in the game’s context means more than being tracked on radar as it also represents the overall command and control network’s recognition of a flight and an ability to act on it by giving orders to other elements of the system.

In the late 1980s central European battlefield of Red Storm, both sides have extensive detection networks that include airborne and ground radars, acoustic listening stations, ground spotters, electronic intelligence aircraft and ground stations listening for radio chatter. Even the combat aircraft themselves pass their sensor readings up the chain, adding to the overall situational awareness.  Critical NATO detection aircraft in this timeframe include the E-3 “Sentry” AWACS and RC-135, while the Soviet Union fields the An-50 “Mainstay” and IL-20 “Coot”.

Modeling the entire intelligence networks in detail would make for an entire game in and of itself.  In Downtown, similar factors were worked into a “Detection Rating” for each side associated with a column on the detection table.  In Red Storm, in general, early in the war when the front is close to East Germany, the WP has a detection advantage.  That represents proximity of the front to their ground radar network and what I’m assuming is an initial “mass electronic attack” over the opening days of the war that NATO would have a tough time adapting to initially.  Later in the game, the detection advantage shifts to NATO due to the front moving west and NATO figuring out new WP techniques as they are revealed in combat.  However, throughout the game NATO has a decided advantage in detecting low altitude targets due to the E-3 AWACS aircraft whose effects are abstracted into the game’s detection function.


For example, Soviet radars automatically lose track of NATO flights at Deck altitude over rough and mountain terrain, but the reverse is not the case due to NATO AWACS capability.  Given the amount of rough terrain in central Germany, this ability represents a big advantage in situational awareness for NATO.


Jamming is a rules area that has required the most additions and changes from earlier games in the series.  However, I wanted to avoid adding any entirely new mechanic to the game, so the basics remain the same in game terms: standoff jamming, spot jamming, and defensive (onboard) jamming. 

I decided to stretch the meaning of those terms to capture more of the electronic war.  For example, “spot jamming”, in Downtown, is a term specific to one particular noise jamming technique that a standoff jammer might use.  In Red Storm, I keep the term but expand it to cover numerous other jamming techniques that aircraft might use, such as sweep jamming, pulse jamming, or cover pulse jamming.  The nice thing about this rule approach is that the game effect at this scale is largely the same: lower chances of detecting, acquiring, or successfully attacking an enemy flight.  The same goes for “Defensive” jammers.  By the late 1980s, aircraft jamming pods and internal jamming systems were highly sophisticated and usually included multiple different modes in the same form factor.  Again though, the basic game mechanics of defensive jamming nicely handle this complexity, so I left it largely unchanged from the original system.

One big difference players will notice with standoff jamming is the amount of it as well as its increased effectiveness.  This was modified through a simple change to the standoff jamming strength brackets from 2 / 1 / .5 to 3 / 2 / 1 at varying ranges.  The orders of battle for “Deep Strike” missions have multiple escort jammers per raid for each side.  In addition, players will often have one or more standoff jammers operating in the backfield.  On the NATO side, the main standoff jammers are the EC-130 “Compass Call” and the EF-111A “Raven”. The West German Luftwaffe operated a small number of HFB-320 “Hansa Jets” in an electronic warfare role as well.  The Soviets have two pure standoff jammers in the game, the AN-12PP “Cub” and the Mi-8PP “Hip” (the only helicopter jammer in the game).  They also have several dedicated escort jammers, including the Tu-16P, the Tu-22P, the Su-24MP, the MiG-25BM, and the old but still serving Yak-28PP.

The basics of standoff jamming are also used for “escort jamming” where the jammer accompanies the strike package all the way to and from the target. Based on testing so far, players will find escort jamming one of the trickier tactics to apply effectively in the game.  The jammer has to stay close to the bombers, but not get out too far ahead of usually slower bombers.  I’ve found so far that operating in pairs makes the most sense, with one of the escort jammers “in the bomber stream,” so to speak, with the other lagging further back to cover the dead space behind the lead jammer.  I’m sure there’s a textbook way to conduct escort jamming as practiced by both sides, but playing around with different techniques is a lot of fun, and the game gives players the ability to experiment.


Defensive Jamming Systems

Even though Red Storm takes place 15 years after Downtown, in my research I found that a lot of aircraft in the late 1980s still didn’t have any onboard jamming systems beyond a basic radar-warning-receiver (RWR) and chaff/flares, and sometimes not even that.  There are several reasons for that scarcity of onboard defensive jamming, the primary one being the high cost of such pods or onboard systems.  In addition, the non-US members of NATO and non-Soviet members of the Warsaw Pact often had (in theory, and maybe more of a hope) a limited mission set that would rarely find them close to the enemy SAM systems and thus less in need of an advanced jammer.  Finally, it appears that a lot of air forces of the time still thought that operating at very low altitudes would provide significant protection against most radar-guided SAM systems, the US experience in Vietnam and the Israeli experience in 1973 notwithstanding.  So, in the game, players are going to see a wide range of defensive jamming, from the highly advanced internal jammers on the US F-15 and F-111 to the relatively “naked” East German MiG-21s which have only a very basic RWR.

In general though, players will find jamming pods common on bomber flights but less common on fighters.  Defensive jammers, usually pods like the US AN/ALQ-131, UK Stormshadow, or Soviet SPS-141, equip various aircraft types in the game.  There are also older jammers, like the Vietnam-era AN/ALQ-101, in service with various NATO air forces.  In game terms they vary in effectiveness ratings, but basically work the same.


The other side of the electronic war is the world of countermeasures.  In addition to the defensive pods and internal jammers already discussed, Red Storm includes several other weapons or weapon features on both sides.

While little used by NATO by the late 1980s, Soviet EW doctrine still included the use of chaff in some circumstances, such as creating corridors for deep strike raids or trying to conceal large areas from fixed-frequency NATO search radars.  Information on exactly how it might be used is still buried in Soviet-era archives, but I’ve assumed for now that older fighter aircraft like MiG-21bis and MiG-23M models could handle chaff-laying duty in most cases.

Specialized anti-radar aircraft and missiles saw wide deployment by the late 1980s.  The USAF had the most advanced “Wild Weasel” aircraft in the world in the form of the F-4G Wild Weasel V.  Its combination of advanced radar detection and anti-radiation missiles like the AGM-45 “Shrike” and AGM-88 “HARM” would have made it extremely dangerous to Warsaw Pact SAMs.  However, there were only so many F-4Gs to go around, so NATO players will sometimes have to get by using other fighter-bombers in that role as best they can.

The Warsaw Pact generally saw suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) as a mission that any aircraft could do when properly equipped.  So, in many scenarios WP players will get regular Su-17s, Su-24s or MiG-27s for the job.  Toward the end of the 1980s the Soviets seemed to be changing their minds however, and they developed a “Wild Weasel” version of the MiG-25 Foxbat (the MiG-25BM) that could carry long-range Kh-58 ARMs.  A small number of Su-24MPs were also in the field by 1987, which in theory would have combined a serious bomb load with more advanced radar detection capability.  Both appear in the game in limited numbers.  With all these changes, the basic countermeasures system from Downtown needed to be updated.  For example, in Downtown there are only two classes of RWRs (“A” and “B”).  In Red Storm I added two more (“C” and “D”) representing more advanced RWR systems like the AN/APR-38 on the F-4G and the SPS-5 “Fasol” on the Su-24MP.  In both cases, they have significantly longer SAM detection ratings and better DRMs when locating SAMs as well.

Red Storm also introduces more anti-radiation missiles than any previous game in the series.  On the NATO side the two main weapons are the improved, but still short range, version of the AGM-45 “Shrike” and the new (at the time) long-range AGM-88 HARM.  The WP side has two primary ARMs: the short range Kh-25MP (AS-12 “Kegler”) and the big and long-range Kh-58 (AS-11 “Kilter”).  Players will still find themselves short of these weapons, so they have to be used sparingly against only the most important targets for protecting the raid.  For other SAM or Radar AAA targets, regular cluster bombs still represent a highly effective threat.

SAMs – New Capabilities

So with all these ways to jam and destroy radars and SAMs, do players have a chance to fight back?  They do indeed.  On the SAM side, Red Storm gives players some new options for using SAMs in the face of extensive jamming and countermeasures.

The first way is to shoot the jammers themselves.  Certain SAMs in the game, like the US “Patriot” and Soviet SA-12 “Gladiator”, have a “home on jam” anti-radar capability that lets them make special attacks against aircraft performing standoff or escort jamming without having to independently acquire the flight.  While in most cases the jammer can avoid damage by simply turning off the jamming, that loss of jamming is often the goal, giving other SAMs a brief break in the jamming to acquire enemy flights.

The second option for some SAMs is to use their backup “optical tracking” attack capability.  A lot of SAMs had optical tracking, either via regular scopes or TV sights, in order to provide an ability to engage targets in an intense electronic warfare environment.  In Red Storm, a wide range of SAMs have this capability as an option, including the West German “Roland 2”, Soviet SA-8 “Gecko”, and US MIM-23 “HAWK”.

A final new addition to the EW game is each side’s “Infrared” SAMs: the SA-13 “Gremlin” for the Soviets and the older US MIM-72 “Chaparral”.  Both are best used in “ambush” mode at very short range, ideally when the enemy flight is on the deck trying to evade other SAMs.  These are IR, not radar, missiles, so even the biggest jamming strength won’t help a flight if one of these SAMs engages at low altitudes.

Overall, I think players will find the electronic warfare “game within a game” greatly expanded and more interesting in Red Storm, reflecting the advanced equipment both sides would have used in a late 1980s war in central Europe.  Players will find themselves having to really think through how and when to use SAMs, because leaving them all on all the time will attract a lot of jamming, ARMs, and other munitions.  Concealment, dummy SAMs and radars and using all the different SAM attack modes becomes critical.  At the same time, both players have to think through how to “maneuver” their jamming and SEAD assets into the best possible place at the right time during a raid.  The extra detail adds only minimal complexity to the game, keeping the essential elegance of the Downtown system intact while modelling the significant role that electronic warfare would have played in this conflict. Players will find the greatly expanded electronic warfare a highlight of the Red Storm design.

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2 thoughts on “Old Crows – Electronic Warfare in Red Storm

  1. Don’t have hardly any experience with air war games, especially at the operational level, but this sounds very enticing. Have P500 in. Thanks to Doug Bush for his thoughtful updates.