The Vehicle Puzzle

The GENFORCE-Mobile organizational chart got the then-still-in-development BTR-90‘s stats wrong. It’s both too light (at 17 metric tons compared to the 21 of the real one), and more importantly has too many dismounts (ten as opposed to seven I’ve seen in every real source). The real BTR-90 was cursed by coming right as the USSR fell, but in many ways it was also just a wheeled BMP-2, so its lack of entry into service is understandable.

But I thought (both for the All Union story and for my own fun) “Well, what if you could get a vehicle with ten dismounts?” The squad would grow to USMC size (two or three in the vehicle plus ten dismounts), and it presents a very tricky puzzle: Get a vehicle that is fit for a mobile corps (so it has to be viable in direct combat, both offensively and defensively), can carry ten dismounted troops as standard, and can’t be too big or heavy. If you want heavier weapons, it basically needs a remote uncrewed turret to not tip the scales. It’s not technologically impossible by a long short, but tradeoffs will have to be made.

Finally, the big squad means I can finally introduce my “eastern fireteam” concept I rejected for the next-gen BMP. Which makes more tactical sense, since doctrinally they’ll be fighting away from their vehicle more often, especially in rough terrain or as part of a tactical heliborne operation. So they need to be (theoretically) better in terms of both equipment and skill.

As for how it works, well, I’m writing right now a chapter where such a motorized rifle unit storms a Romanian town…

The Ultimate Trench and Dugout Building Guide

I stumbled into this 1920s American training document on building fortifications with the lessons of World War I in mind. The full piece has detailed guides on everything from “the kind of thing you build when you have only a few hours” to “the kind of thing you build when you have a few years”. Both fighting positions and gargantuan medical/residential/command underground dugouts (or “cave shelters” as the document calls them) are there.

There are a couple things I found interesting in particular. The first is that antipersonnel mines, despite becoming a hallmark of later fortifications, are only mentioned very briefly and dismissively. According to it, they take too much effort to emplace for something that’s going to be knocked aside/detonated by the big artillery preparation already. (Antitank mines, including ones rigged to be sensitive, are treated somewhat more favorably.)

The second is that what became known as an overpressure system (ie, higher pressure in the area than out of it, pushing clean air out instead of poisoned air in) is talked about as a counter to poison gas for large bunkers. I didn’t know it was talked about that early, and thought it was a Cold War invention. So that was interesting.

The third is that while machine guns were present, very few of the later infantry support weapons were. Besides indirect mortars, the only thing talked about for forward emplacement is the 37mm infantry support gun. So this was a very interesting time capsule, and some of its TTPs (techniques, tactics, and procedures) are still relevant. After all, artillery hasn’t exactly gotten less lethal since the 1910s.

Weird Wargaming: The Mobile Corps Squad

So first I must say that I owe a lot to the Battle Order website and channel for inspiring me. Go check it out. Anyway, the GENFORCE-Mobile document, while a tour de force overall, has surprisingly little on the absolute smallest unit tactics. It does say that the basic and mobile forces do use very similar tactics (it’s just the latter have more training on them). Anyway, there isn’t much to say for the high-intensity doctrine. Primarily use lines, squads are unitary without teams, the vehicle commander doubles as squad leader, and that’s that.

The table of orders and equipment does (by virtue of looking at quantities of in a platoon), have one RPK variant and one RPG variant (marked as an RPG-29 in that example) per squad in the mobile forces, similar to historical practice. The company weapons platoon has an array of light ATGMs (marked as Metis, but those would probably be superseded) and PKM belt-fed machine guns.

(Strangely, the early 199X OPFOR squad is actually weaker on paper dismounted than its predecessors, with only one magazine machine gun instead of two belt-fed ones).

Soviet unitary squad line. From DDI-1100-7-776, The Soviet Motor Rifle Company, 1976

The legacy regular army, basic forces, or whatever you call them uses this doctrine relatively unchanged. But what about the new ones?

I had the Sovereign Union’s mobile corps using tank-based IFVs. There have been similar attempts in actual history, yet I figured these would be the more interesting. Basically the priorities shift a lot here. The historical BMP-3 is skewed in exactly the wrong direction. Instead of a glass cannon packed with all kinds of boom-makers, the focus is on shielding the newly-important resource with tank-level armor.

So in this timeline the BMP-3 is one of those things that only sees small amounts of use in its home country, but nonetheless achieves success on the export market. The Mobile Corps in All Union primarily rode into Romania with either BMP-2s or IFVs based on existing tank platforms. Whereas the historical T-64 APC proposals were an act of desperation, these have a deliberate goal of more protection and mass production ability, similar to the Israeli tank-APCs of real life.

Two real Soviet surplus IFV proposals are two from Ukraine, the circa 36 ton “Vavilon” on the T-64 chassis and the 46 ton “Berserk” on the T-84 (upgraded T-80) one. Apart from trading protection (the Vavilon was advertised as having STANAG 6 30mm AP protection and being able to withstand a 125mm round from 500 meters, likely against the front) for weight and logistical issues, the armament is pretty standard IFV fare: A 30mm autocannon, various machine guns and grenade launchers, and ATGMs. Crew of both is three for the vehicle itself and up to eight dismounts.

Now for the fun part.

Option A: 7+3 Unitary

Composition: Squad leader/vehicle commander (rifle/PDW), vehicle driver (PDW), vehicle gunner (PDW), 1-2x machine gunner (LMG), 1x rocket launcher (RPG), 1x assistant (rifle+RPG ammo), 1x rifle grenadier (self explanatory), 2-3x riflemen (rifle). One of the riflemen could be a “deputy leader” who commands dismounts when the commander stays with the vehicle.

This is the smallest and most conservative organization. It’s designed to duplicate the BMP procedure of having one empty paper-strength seat so that platoon/company troops can ride along. It fights like a standard unitary squad.

Option B: 8+3 Unitary

Composition: Squad leader/vehicle commander (rifle/PDW), vehicle driver (PDW), vehicle gunner (PDW), deputy commander (rifle), 2x machine gunner (LMG), 0-1x marksman (DMR), 1x rocket launcher (RPG), 1x assistant (rifle+RPG ammo), 2-3x riflemen (rifle, possibly one with underbarrel).

This also fights as a unitary squad, although a marksman is moved to squad level and the deputy commander who controls the dismounts is a permanent table position. Still fights as a simple unitary squad. Marksman is optional

Option C: 4-4-3 Fireteam

Composition: Squad leader/vehicle commander (rifle/PDW), vehicle driver (PDW), vehicle gunner (PDW). Fireteam A: Team leader (rifle), team machine gunner (LMG), team launcher (RPG), rifleman (rifle, ammo for MG/RPG). Fireteam B: Team Leader (rifle), team machine gunner (LMG), team launcher (RPG), rifleman (rifle, ammo)

This is a massive divergence and features the dawn of the fireteam, with two four-man elements and two RPG launchers (with one of the riflemen possibly a marksman). Naturally, more advanced formations and dismounted maneuvers are used.

My personal choice for the sake of the All Union story would be Option B. It’s still similar enough to be comfortable, informal task-organized teams can still easily be formed if need be, but is also more advanced. Not just having a squad marksman but in having a specific dismount commander, which makes it easier for the APC to act as part of a separate “armored group“.

VTOL Landing Zones

Finding the (ideally) safe landing zone radius for hypothetical VTOL transports is a little hard because there haven’t been that many of them. The first precedent is the ideal landing radius for a V-22.

From a Marine Document, we get:

V-22s are about 84 feet wide at their widest. So that ranges from 2.1 times their width/wingspan to 4.1 times.

The second is an EASA draft regulation on “vertiports”. The “D” value is defined a circle around the aircraft when its thrusters are in takeoff/landing mode.

Credit EASA

The draft describes the safe landing area as at least 1.5 times the D-value of the aircraft plus a safety buffer of at least 3 meters or 0.25 times the D-value, whichever is greater. These are of course just guidelines (and keep in mind they’re for constant civilian travel, not military action), but they’re still good rules of thumb.

SOF Infiltration Techniques

I’ve decided to kick off the new year on Fuldapocalypse with my current “I justify it by claiming it’s for book research, but really it’s mostly for its own fun sake” obsession. This is the way special forces teams are infiltrated (moved in to their target, almost always with the intention of stealth).

Granted, there are elite teams moving about in All Union (without spoiling any specific element), and the Soviet-Romanian War saw the biggest deployment of special forces in modern history. But it’s still a fascinating topic. So in rough order from least to most complicated…

  • On Foot. This is the most basic type, with very obvious limitations. In this case the borders are already packed with conventional troops (including recon ones), so very few to no SPF teams would go in that way.
  • Helicopter/VTOL. This needs little explanation. Both its strengths and weaknesses are pretty obvious to those with basic military knowledge.
  • Boat. This also doesn’t need much explanation. In this specific case, it’s hindered by Romania having only a small amount of coastline suitable for amphibious landings. One 1970 CIA analysis put it at only nine miles (page 10), but this admittedly would be far less a problem for small SOF craft as opposed to large landers.
  • Ground Vehicle. AKA the Desert Rats. This gives the force a lot more mobility once in the target area, but it also makes it more noticeable and adds to their logistical areas. And especially for the more prosaic role of most spetsnaz, this also overlaps to a large extent with the horde of BRDMs and long-range patrols in “conventional” units.
  • Static Line Parachute. This is less precise than helicopters but can take advantage of (often) longer range or higher-performing aircraft. The type of aircraft also differs-I have a soft spot for planes like the An-2 and C-145 Skytrucks that are small for mass paradrops but quite able to release small teams.
  • Infiltration in Peacetime. This uses secret agents and other “peaceful” means to help bring the SPF in before the fighting starts. The problem is that you need a good network of secret agents to succeed this way.

These are the mundane, usual, “boring” techniques. Now for the “interesting” ones.

  • Free fall parachute jumps. Requiring more skill and risk, this is further divided into the “easier” HALO (High Altitude, Low Opening) and “harder” (High Altitude High Opening) jumps. The former is mostly intended for unconventional war to keep the drop plane hidden (in a visual and sound sense) and less vulnerable, while the latter is an extreme jump that involves the parachutists gliding a considerable distance.
  • Ultralight aircraft and paramotors. Mentioned in both the GENFORCE-Mobile and TC 7-100.2 manuals for special forces insertion, these seemingly silly devices have been considered a serious way of moving in. The performance of motorized paragliders and ultralight planes varies, but can be “increased” if only a one way trip in is needed.
  • Wingsuits. The most exotic yet, these are mentioned in TC 7-100.2 and the various Worldwide Equipment Guides. Still conceptual as of this writing and the absolute hardest to use, these squirrel-gliders are nonetheless, well, awesome. Especially the powered ones.

It’s important to note that the majority of historical spetsnaz from the 1950s to 1991 were still two-year draftees. The best and most motivated two-year draftees, but still two-year draftees. Infiltrators in the second category in a Soviet-style military would have to be officers or professional volunteers with longer-term contracts to get the time to master such exotic techniques.

A massive number of Soviet, Bulgarian, and Afghan special purpose forces participated in the invasion of Romania. The very first substantial Soviet casualties in the war came when a Romanian MiG-23 shot down a transport carrying SPF for a parachute insertion, killing all eighteen people on board. While those three nations are well known, there have also been rumors of other SPF as well as western mercenaries disguised as employees for humanitarian NGOs.

The Zombie Gym Leader Who Never Was

It’s no secret that all kinds of fictional works change from their beginning to their final product. And a minor character in a classic video game embodies this very well. In the Kanto Pokemon games, Erika is the grass-type specialist leader of the Celadon City gym. Wearing traditional Japanese clothing, her characterization is that of a graceful flower lady (who has a tendency to fall asleep).

But apparently she wasn’t always that way. And some of the changes made to her were after her Gen I artwork had already been drawn.

Development and concepts assets that have emerged have shown a picture of the original Erika. She would have been placed in what would have been Lavender Town (which in the final version didn’t have a gym at all). And, unsurprisingly, she would have specialized in ghost types. The sole ghost specialist who actually emerged in Gen I was Agatha, portrayed as a normal person who just happened to use ghost types.

At least judging from her art design, Erika would, uh, not have been. Her eyes were closed and the Poke Ball in her sprite was in midair, which could be justified as her juggling it but which was likely meant to have her hovering it with supernatural powers. Finally, her clothes were folded in a way that was only used for the dead in her initial sprite. (A pretty big implication of this is that her design was changed in Yellow and all later appearances to be folded the correct way).

In other words, she was heavily implied just from the visual assets alone to be some kind of undead. Since no final text dialogue was made, there’s no 100% confirmation, but it’s pretty clear. Would this design carrying over really change much?

Probably not. Unlike a few other Gen I leaders, Erika did not become a superstar in her own right. At the time, not much would really change. Except for her prominence. See, spooky Lavender Town became a centerpiece of internet creepypasta campfire stories immediately. And having someone who was an outright zombie? Oh yeah, she’s definitely getting featured in them. So even if official media stays out, Erika the Zombie would become a star of the internet.

Since a multiverse canonically exists in Pokemon, Zombie Erika probably lives in some variant universe. Much as how creepy supernatural anime Sabrina exists alongside normal actress game Sabrina. Who knows, maybe this Erika starts conventional Fuldapocalypses as a hobby. Has the zombie sorceress been found?!?

Mobile Corps Artillery

Indirect fire assets available to a GENFORCE mobile corps. As expected, they have a lot of them. The basic forces are largely equipped and organized with 1990-era Soviet equipment.

Battalion

Combined arms battalions have a…. something of 24 2S31 120mm gun-mortars at paper strengths. Why the “something”? It’s because it’s called a battalion in the document, but feels a little awkward to have a battalion under the command of a battalion. It’s just as confusing in Russian, where it’s a variant of the word “division” equivalent to a western battalion of artillery or missiles-yet a different variant of “division” is a classical multi-regiment/brigade division. Anyway, the battalion’s battalion/division-whatever takes the place of the classic regimental 2S1 formation.

The other indirect-capable (if clumsy) asset is the four 2A45 Sprut 125mm AT guns in the battalion’s anti-tank battery. While the USSR used towed anti-tank guns in the classic TD role throughout its existence, it also used everything for indirect fire. Although firing tank ammunition and only having a max elevation of 25 degrees, a big cannon is a big cannon is a big cannon.

Light motor rifle battalions used for infantry-dominant areas and heliborne operations have 8 towed 82mm 2B14 mortars and just as many 2B16 Nona-K 120mm towed gun/mortars.

Brigade

Intended to be treated similarly the Basic Forces division, combined arms brigades have an organic artillery regiment. This consists of 54 six-inch SPHs (the 2S19 Msta is the default) and 18 light multiple rocket launchers (the default is the “Prima”, a version of the BM-21 with 50 tubes per truck instead of 40). The artillery regiment has its own set of organic spotter drones.

Light motor rifle brigades, which are used for a similar role as the battalions mentioned above, only larger, have 18 MRLs, 36 towed 2A65 Msta-Bs, and 18 2A61 light 152mms (Think a smaller, lighter 152mm gun with muzzle brake on a three-pronged D-30 carriage).

Corps

The combined arms corps has two missile brigades with eighteen surface-to-surface missile TELs each (Tochka/SS-21 in the document, but anything in that category could be used). It also has a multiple rocket launcher brigade with 72 medium MRLs (default is BM-27, but again, anything in that ballpark). Rounding it out is an artillery brigade of Giatsints- 48 towed and 48 self-propelled.

The corps air assault battalion has eight 2S9 Nonas.

Front/Strategic Grouping

Fronts will have brigades/regiments, usually lumped into one administrative artillery division of the weapons mentioned above and 2S7 eight-inch SPHs. They will also usually have a rocket brigade of the 9A52/BM-30 Smerch or something similar (bigger than a BM-27, that’s for sure), as well as longer-ranged ballistic and cruise missiles.

The guns and multiple rocket launchers are almost always pushed down to army and corps-level artillery groups in battle.

Mobile Corps Order Of Battle

So my book project now has a name: All Union. To celebrate this milestone and excellent progress on it, I figured I should share the rivet-counting infodump of very little actual relevance to the plot (or is it…) but which is fun to do: An Order of Battle chart of the Mobile Corps (of GENFORCE-Mobile inspiration) of the Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics, most famous for their actions in the invasion of Romania.

The methodology is simple: For the number of corps and locations, I went with this analysis, which predicted eight total by the turn of the millennium and theorized their number by district. In actual history, only one was created, the 5th Guards Army Corps stationed in Belarus. For their numbering, I went with the invaluable ww2.dk and looked for defunct/easily disbandable corps HQs in the general area (HQ cities here NOT always correspond to historical bases). So on with the fun exercise/sneak preview-oops, did I say too much??

General Notes

Mobile Corps have adopted a degree of heraldry beyond previous divisions. All save one have a geographic semi-nickname, and all have a “mascot” creature displayed prominently on all unit patches and symbols. The “Sovereign Guards” honorific was made to reward units for the Romanian war without worrying about legacy “guards” titles from long ago.

Western TVD

5th Guards Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Neman” (bison): First (and in actual history only) mobile corps created. Peacetime garrison Minsk, Belarusian SSR, served in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front.

7th Sovereign Guards Mobile Combined Arms “Vena” (elk): Peacetime garrison Vitebsk, Belarusian SSR. Served in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front, given sovereign guards status postwar.

28th Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Buh” (medieval lion): Peacetime garrison Lviv, Ukrainian SSR. Served in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front. Considered one of the primary frontline units against independent, hostile Poland.

Northwestern TVD

26th Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Lagoda” (Karelian Bear Dog): Peacetime garrison Petrozavodsk, Russian SSR. Did not participate in Romanian invasion but was on high alert and was earmarked for a proposed second large offensive operation that never had to be conducted.

Southern TVD

17th Sovereign Guards Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Fergana” (Huma bird): Peacetime garrison Tashkent, Uzbek SSR. Participated in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front. Given sovereign guards status postwar. Its base in the otherwise remote area makes it the closest thing to a strategic reserve mobile corps, and it is poised to always go either west, east, or south. One of the main characters in All Union, Cholpon Murad-Kyzy, served in the 17th Corps during the war in a forward medical station.

Southwestern TVD

64th Sovereign Guards Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Donets” (nightingale): Peacetime garrison Luhansk, Ukrainian SSR. Participated in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front. Given sovereign guards status postwar. Its base in the birthplace of All-Union president and legendary leader Anton Yatchenko is widely believed to not exactly be the most coincidential, as is it receiving sovereign guards status and massive accolades.

32nd Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Roman-Kosh” (mythical hippocampus mermaid-horse): Peacetime garrison Sevastopol, Russian SSR [not a typo]. Participated in Romanian invasion under Danube Front, the only mobile corps to do so. Is believed to be the mobile corps with the most focus on amphibious invasions and operations in extreme terrain. There are even rumors that detachments from it are earmarked for the seizure of Iceland should it come to that.

Far Eastern TVD

57th Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Kisilyakh” (lynx): Peacetime garrison Ulan-Ude, Russian SSR. Did not participate in the Romanian invasion but was earmarked and prepared as part of the ultimately unnecessary second offensive operation.

43rd Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Amur” (mosquito): Peacetime garrison Khabarovsk, Russian SSR. High-priority unit for potential war with China. Because of this and its distance did not participate in the Romanian invasion and was never considered for doing so, even as part of the hypothetical second wave.

VNG/Efir Group

“VNG Elite Corps”/”Efir Group Corps”/”Phantom Corps” (ghost): Peacetime garrison Gorky, Russian SSR. Formed after the Romanian invasion, exact strength still unclear. Under the control of KGB successor VNG (based on an acronym that can translate to “All Union Monitoring Group”). Part of the mysterious and nominally private “Efir [Aether] Group, which officially is nothing but a small real estate firm registered in Pune, India. It is said that the corps is haunted and anyone who gazes at its facilities without approval is immediately flung out of a tall window by poltergeists.

The Armored Group

Looking at the 1990s OPFOR documents, a “new” (well, newer in a formal sense) type of formation arises: The “armored group” (bronegruppa). It’s important to note the history of Soviet-style doctrine beforehand. The stereotype, often true, is of formations operating as entire units for a certain task. Thus a formation (generally a company as the smallest) will as an entire unit operate as one arm of an attack or another. In defense one formation will sit and fire behind fortifications while another will act as the counterattack/reserve.

The armored group is ad hoc by nature. Formed with a number of armored vehicles usually equivalent to slightly more than a platoon (although GENFORCE-Mobile mentions ones slightly smaller than a company if the parent unit is big enough to handle it), the key is the following:

  • The tanks operate away from their parent unit.
  • More crucially and importantly, the IFVs operate “empty”, with their infantry having already dismounted.

The use of an armored group depends on the situation, of course. Examples given in the GENFORCE-Mobile and Heavy OPFOR Tactical documents are:

  • Sweeping around to hit the side while the dismounted infantry and main force attacks from a different axis.
  • Serving as the base of fire while the dismounted infantry and supporting arms do the sweep.
  • Acting as a reserve/pursuit force, especially one that can quickly roar in and (however temporarily) block off a route from a retreating foe.
  • Acting as a counterattack force on the defensive.

The armored group’s origins come from the Soviet war in Afghanistan, where such formations were used in an irregular, nonlinear, frequently rough-terrain war.

College Coaches Fail In The Pros

College football coaches have a track record of failing in the NFL, with Urban Meyer being the most recent predictable casualty. The interesting question is “why”? The most stated answer is simple: Because the player-coach power dynamics are completely different.

In college, the coach is the centerpiece of the team, his players are short-term by the very nature of college, and he’s the one who gets the megadeal. In the pros, the players are the centerpiece of the team, most coaches are expendable and expected to be tossed aside at the slightest failure, and the players know it. Free agency and bigger player contracts have not exactly swung things in favor of the coaches, but as the tale of Lou Holtz and the Jets shows, the same dynamic existed long before 1993.

The other issue is that the gap between the best and worst pro players is a lot smaller than the gap between the best and worst Division 1 college players. There’s no “coasting through a week against the paid tomato can”, as the point spreads show. The biggest NFL point spread of all time was only 28 points for the Broncos against the Jaguars in 2013, and it was not covered by the favorite. Meanwhile seemingly every Week 1 (and many subsequent ones) power program game is so lopsided that most sportsbooks don’t even bother with moneyline (straight win-loss) options at all.