Weird Wargaming: Iron Eagle

Weird Wargaming: Iron Eagle

One may not expect a cheesy 80s action movie to produce a viable wargaming setting. Yet Iron Eagle offers a strange example of this.

The antagonist country in Iron Eagle is basically “close to Libya without saying Libya”. Several years before the Gulf War, the Middle Eastern antagonist du joir was Libya and not Iraq, and a hint at the end about Chappie being picked up by an “Egyptian trawler” gives another hint.

Equipment/Organization

First, the obvious issue. As Iron Eagle was filmed in Israel, we got Kfirs as “MiG-23s” and AH-1 Cobras as the enemy helicopters. Now the Mirage (which the Kfir is a variant of) is a hugely prolific fighter series serving in many air forces, including Iraq’s and Libya’s. The Cobra, not so much, but some other medium “attack helicopter on a transport platform” could stand-in.

It depends on the degree of “actor” vs. “character” the player wants.

For organization, Libya serves as an obvious inspiration, along with many other Middle Eastern countries. Having looked at various scenes of aircraft lined up, 5 to 6 appear on one side of a runaway, and six are depicted in one flight formation, for exact detail.

Proficiency

Considering that the antagonist nation failed to stop a pair of F-16s, including one which landed and took off again , that they’re based on Libya, a nation with a bad track record in conventional war even by the standards of 20th-century Arab armies, and they have incredibly poor munitions discipline (what else can explain every building going up in giant flames?), it’s safe to give them specifically a low overall proficiency in settings that allow it.

Other Notes

There’s two specific things I’ve considered for Iron Eagle. The first is to go “what realistic force would you need, against a pseudo-Libyan OPFOR, to have even a slight chance of rescuing the colonel”.

The second is how it leads into one of my pet projects, designing a generic Middle Eastern OPFOR country for wargaming purposes, with the working title “Seleucia” (after the Seleucid Empire), since a nameless, vague country fits that.

Conclusion

-Low proficiency in settings that allow it, for equipment use either Libya or whatever you’d expect a country of that nature to reasonably have, and have them be guarding a prisoner if you want to “realistically” (to the degree that such a thing is even possible) reenact the movie.

The Fuldapocalypse Year in Review

This has been a great year for Fuldapocalypse. Not only have I completed many reviews, and many diverse reviews, but the blog finally broke free of the shackles I’d initially imposed on it. After tinkering with the narrow scale a bit, I just tossed it aside entirely in March without any regret. Of course, my reviews became a lot more off the cuff and looser without that structure, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

It’s definitely not a bad thing that Fuldapocalypse has become a general fiction review blog with an “analytics of World War III” side-section. As I’ve said before, I would have literally run out of books had I kept trying to do that.

While I did not read a 27-book series in one binge, I did read all eleven Blaine McCracken books and all seven Black Eagle Force books.

What were my favorite literary discoveries of 2019? It’s a little hard to figure out given how much I read, but here they are.

-Northern Fury: H-Hour.

I knew very much of the Command scenarios this book started from, but was impressed by the novel itself. It managed to not fall into the pit of being just a thinly-veiled lets play, and flowed well. This is how to use wargames well for writing.

-Blaine McCracken.

If the Survivalist was last year’s “binge read a long series”, McCracken was this years, with me devouring all eleven books in short order. Jon Land tosses aside such frivolities as “plausibility” and “logic” in favor of ridiculous set-pieces. And I loved them.

-The Draka series.

This has been an infamous series in internet alternate history for a long time. Reading the actual books was something weirdly relieving, cutting through the decades-long telephone game to find. I had the suspicion that they were less than their reputation beforehand, but reading them confirmed it.

I’m left with the conclusion that, weirdly like the Spacebattles-favorite Worm, the Draka series became internet-famous for having a legitimately distinct setup and a variety of timing/circumstance-related things that had little to do with the prose itself. It’s mostly just “the bad guys win” and “bizarro-America, a continent-sized superpower founded on tyranny” used as the (interesting) setup for middling sleazy pulp in a variety of genres.

-The Casca series.

Ah yes, it’s one of those series where the background of “Guy who sang The Ballad Of The Green Beret makes a cheap thriller series about an immortal Roman soldier” is more interesting than the bulk of the books themselves. The first two books will never be more than trashy cheap thrillers, but they’re still good trashy cheap thrillers.

Everything beyond that is incredibly formulaic and risk-averse, even by cheap thriller standards. The immortality gimmick is just a way to get the same dull character into whatever pop-history period the book demands.

-Marine Force One.

David Alexander’s Marine Force One is perhaps the single most middling piece of fiction I’ve read. It’s so mediocre, so “51%”, that it actually stands out somehow. Thus it makes a good benchmark for other “51% books”, especially action thrillers, that I’ve weirdly come back to time and again.

It’s been a great year for this blog and for me in terms of reading. See you in 2020!

Fuldapocalypse 200 Posts: The Logistics Of Red Dawn

So for my 200th post on Fuldapocalypse, I’m going to be looking at the contrivances in Red Dawn. This may seem like an unfairly easy target. And it is. But I figured I might as well take a look at it anyway.

So, first getting a staging point for the giant invasion. You have to get across the Atlantic with at least some of the US Navy in the way. The most common is the “Red Mexico” solution.

So, the PRI government has to collapse (at least slightly possible given Mexico’s economic problems and upheaval in the 1980s), and an explicitly pro-Soviet government has to take over (with the US doing nothing, politically or militarily). Then they have to move the invasion force in. Now, even in the USSR, high-end divisions don’t grow on trees. My hunch is taking some of the high-category divisions from inside the USSR itself-and you’d have to stripmine a lot of them to the point of jeopardizing operations in Europe.

Now comes the issue of moving them there. A declassified CIA document argued it’d take two or three months even with no interference to move two armies (6-10 divisions) to Syria. The Atlantic is bound to be much tougher. Another argued Cuba could move 10,000 troops locally. The highest figure for intervention is 25,000 , or about a corps (given the smaller size of Cuban divisions)-and it drops to a “few thousand” of the lightest troops with the US Navy in the way.

A smaller, but still very present issue is concealment. Trying to keep it the invasion force hidden isnt’ the equivalent of trying to go “we’re landing at Calais”, it’s “we don’t have anything in Britain at all.” Take a country that remains one of the most tied-in with the US and has never had a giant mechanized army. The Soviets would need to hire the same people from Dark Rose or Day Of The Delphi who managed to stash a bunch of tanks in empty parts of buildings and keep them there undetected until it was too late.

And if the US military is reduced to the point where it can’t interfere with this giant, fragile tail… then like Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist, it’s probably been reduced to the point where the Soviets can just walk in and take it (conventionally).

Of course, the original Red Dawn isn’t the kind of story where you worry about such a thing. I really doubt John Milius was calculating supply norms as he wrote and directed the movie.

_ _ _ _ _ _

There is an interesting “North American theater” possibility. Handwave in a Red Mexico and equip it, like Cuba and Nicaragua, with surplus hand-me-downs. If it can keep American heavy divisions stateside (and it probably would) at the cost of some equipment that’d probably just erode in depots, they’ve won before the first shots are fired. There could be engagements along the Rio Grande. But that isn’t Red Dawn.

Alternatively, if somehow the zombie sorceresses can move a significant number of the Soviets in, then a bizarro Case Blue to knock out the oil industry in the Gulf Coast seems more reachable with a scrounged-together front. From the border, the 570 km to Houston fits in the radius of a typically planned Soviet operation, and there’s never been better terrain or infrastructure for armored operations. But that still isn’t Red Dawn.

It can be naval-based and involve stockpiling (and shielding) a giant amount of landing craft in Cuba, conducting a preparatory campaign, and then storming across the Florida Strait. But that still isn’t Red Dawn, even if it’s almost as implausible.

Or the Soviets can somehow choose Colorado as a goal and get the supplies/forces to make it up there. They can, with the aid of their plotnukes, reach the Mississippi river and Rocky Mountains, but still can’t knock out enough of the American heartland to prevent an ultimate (implied) American victory. That is Red Dawn, but it’s not remotely “plausible”, even with hordes of handwaves.

One Red Dawn fanfic project listed a gigantic invasion force that’s actually bigger than the GSFG. I’ve been harder on that project in the past than it deserves-it’s clearly just a fun internet collaboration, and to occupy the entire country would indeed need such a gigantic army (for comparison, another estimate of the force necessary to conquer Iran alone was 20-25 divisions, with 30-40 to continue the invasion to the Arabian Peninsula). It’s still squaring a circle. Oh well.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Strangely enough, specific order of battle details and North American invasions in general seem to work more in games than in actual books. In wargames, exact detail is relevant, and if you need 50 Soviet division counters to fill every hex, you have those 50 division counters. In less “crunchy” games, the invasion plot (read: Call of Duty’s memetic “Teleporting Russians”) is a clear excuse for set pieces (like Red Alert 2’s Allied campaign which leads you from one landmark to another).

This was a fun post to write. Happy Holidays!

Weird Wargaming: Introduction And Raines’ Rebels (Ashes)

 

Weird Wargaming

Welcome to a new feature on Fuldapocalypse that I’d like to call “Weird Wargaming.” The question I seek to answer is “what if you tried to wargame out an armed force from a strange and/or bad piece of fiction? What if you tried to apply a kind of logic to an illogical setting?”

Why do this? Why not?

I’m starting at the bottom with William W. Johnstone’s Ashes series (see the first installment’s review here). This strangely fits because, in spite of its nominal billing as a postapocalyptic adventure, a lot of the books are de facto “big war thrillers.” Very bad big war thrillers.

Led by super-Mary Sue Ben Raines, the “Rebels” take the fight to the enemy of the week, who range from elements of the US government to cannibals to foreign invaders to “punks”. Although their political background shifts from the doomed “Tri-states” of the first book to the “Southern United States of America” in later ones, they’re consistently referred to as the “Rebels”, so I’ll be doing the same in this piece.

Equipment/Organization

Raines’ Rebels use Cold War American equipment, although there’s lots of gimmicks and, to put it mildly, lack of rigor (for instance, one later Ashes book has an “Abrams M60 tank fitted with a flame thrower”) . Their organization ranges from four-battalion independent brigades to “Several divisions”.

If in doubt, fall back on Cold War American organization and weapons-not surprising, since the books started being published in the 1980s.

Proficiency

Let me just let Johnstone himself explain.

“The armed forces of the Tri-states ranked among the best in the world, their training a combination of Special Forces, Ranger, SEAL, and gutter-fighting. Every resident of the Tri-states, male and female, between the ages of sixteen and sixty was a member of the armed forces. They met twice a month, after their initial thirty-week basic training, and were on active duty one month each year. And the training was a no-holds-barred type.”

(Out of the Ashes, pg. 356)

(Incidentally, I think this paragraph gives a good impression of the literary quality of the Ashes books.)

So treat the Mary Sues right and give them the highest proficiency scores possible, however applicable. (So, in Command Modern Operations, they’d all get the “Ace” proficiency setting).

Other Notes

  • Ben Raines leads from the front. A lot. This makes him a good human MacGuffin/figure with max stats in a small-scale game.
  • The Rebels typically blast their opponents away quickly with tanks and artillery. Of course, what modern army doesn’t?
  • The Rebels, and to be fair, their opponents have this ability, despite a seeming apocalypse, to use huge mechanized armies without any issue whatsoever.

Conclusion

In larger-scale games, use Cold War American equipment and the highest proficiency setting the ruleset will allow. Sometimes use four-battalion brigades if that matters for the game. In smaller-scale games, Raines himself can feature in all his Mary Sue glory.

Invasion Fiction

So, the World War III Blog series on Red Dawn has gotten me to write a piece on invasion literature, especially Anglo-American invasion literature. Now a part of my thoughts on invasion fiction, specifically Anglo-American invasion fiction, stretched back to Jerry Ahern’s Survivalist. There the Americans get the worse of a nuclear exchange and the Soviets invade. Now a part of me was thinking this:

“The 1981 book, not far removed from the infamous ‘Malaise Era’, might illustrate how even in the most star-spangled genre, a sense of American pessimism was still present.”

But another part of me was thinking this:

“You’re overthinking this to a huge degree. All it is is a way to put Russians in the path of John Rourke without that pesky “Army” or “Atlantic Ocean” being in the way.”

The point is that, whatever it was, this was very different-about as different as could be-from Clancy/Bond-style war thrillers. To the point where it basically broke the narrow grading system I’d set up for the blog. And this was before the series turned into science fiction.

It was also a type of invasion novel, Bobby Akart’s Axis of Evil, that took the first step in moving Fuldapocalypse away from a narrowly focused review blog to a general one. And it was the best decision I could have made. So invasion novels are pretty rooted on Fuldapocalypse.

In my eyes and reading, there’s basically two types of invasion novel: Grim invasion (ie, Tomorrow series) and pulpy invasion (ie, early Survivalist). There’s of course overlap, but the categories seem a little clear. The classic pre-WWI invasion novels fall into “grim invasion” (“See the fate that will befall us if we don’t fund the army!”) while many later invasion stories aimed at pure entertainment fall into the latter. In fact, I’d argue that the biggest issue I had with the original Red Dawn was how it sat a little awkwardly between the two, not having the clearest tone.

Command Took Me To Fuldapocalypse

So, Command: Modern Operations is now released. I was more than just an eagerly waiting enthusiast or even a beta tester. I had the privilege of writing the manual for it.

I have a celebratory post on the Creative Corner, but I wanted to talk on this blog about something a little more important to it. See, it’s almost guaranteed that without my interest in the original Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations and thus without the subsequent leap into military history/fiction that followed from that, this blog, Fuldapocalypse, would not exist.

Many World War III books are tied to wargaming. Red Storm Rising was famously assisted by Harpoon. The War That Never Was is more or less a novelization of a Newport wargame. More recently, Northern Fury H Hour started off as part of a Command scenario set before becoming a solid novel. And so it makes sense that wargaming would lead me to this blog.

How Many World War IIIs Are There?

So I diversified Fuldapocalypse because of a sense that I’d get burned out if I just tried to read Hackett/Red Storm Rising-style World War III novels. But there’s a bigger, much bigger issue. See, even if I had the endurance for reading them all, I’d face the issue of, no joke, outright running out of books in the genre to read.

Here’s the rough classification for what I meant.

  • The series must be a military action novel.
  • It must feature a large worldwide war, usually against Russia and/or China, that still stays (mostly) conventional.
  • It must be “big-picture”, have a lot of detail on units/formations and the like, often going from viewpoint character to viewpoint character.

I haven’t done (if it was even possible) a count. But going by a restrictive interpretation, I’d say I’d be running out of books, or at least scraping the bottom of the barrel pretty quickly. It’s a little surprising just how many books do not meet all three of those categories.

At least among traditional commercial presses, I’d be pretty comfortable saying there are probably less than 50 books of this type ever, and definitely less than a hundred. Even with indies, I’d have to amplify the numbers by reviewing every individual book in a series.

The Military Techno-Thriller: A History

The Military Techno-Thriller: A History

I absolutely loved Nader Elhefnawy’s “The Rise And Fall Of The Military Techno-Thriller.” So when I found that he’d written a recent big-picture overview of the genre , I was delighted and eagerly snapped it up. Rather than starting with the classic ‘invasion novels’ of the late 1800s, Elhefnaway moved even further, beginning in the 1600s.

Thus begins a multi-century tour de force, deftly pointing out not only the books themselves but also the cultural context behind them. This book is both long enough to be comprehensive (mostly) and short enough to be easily readable, making it the best of both worlds.

The picture it paints of the “techno-thriller” per se is of a genre that could only really thrive at one very specific sort of time. It has to exist in a period of heightened military tension that can’t spill over into any sort of massive backlash and a period of novel technology at the same. Such a period existed around the turn of the 20th Century and in the 1980s. At least in the latter case, it was not sustainable even without “events”, and with the “events” (ironically consisting of a war in the first period and a peace in the second), both were doomed.

There are a lot of fascinating insights that made me go “a-ha”, for lack of a better term. Elhefnawy’s statement that “Full-scale great power war scenarios like Clancy’s Red Storm Rising, Coyle’s Team Yankee or Ralph Peters’ Red Army (1989) were in the minority” matches what I found after starting this blog-my “blind man touching the elephant” background in wargaming and alternate speculation made me think the ‘big-war’ subgenre of that sort was considerably larger than it actually was. Another insight I found intriguing was the notion that Red Army was as successful as it was because it was novel in large part compared to other Fuldapocalyptic tales. And the tone of the writing, being frequently critical but never sneeringly dismissive, works very well too.

I think my biggest substantive disagreement with Elhefnawy’s conclusions is his depiction of the technothriller now. He mentions the “rise-of-China/return-of-Russia” change in geopolitics, but argues that “Nonetheless, the cultural trends evident in the 1990s proved quite robust”. I think that shift gave the the technothriller a bigger bump in popularity than he gives it credit for, especially given the headwinds it’s had to work against (the fragmentation of publishing and pop culture).

And while I don’t want to nitpick the omission of certain areas in something that’s meant to be a general overview, there’s a few I where thought more detail could have been warranted. In particular are what he calls the “vigilante novels” (ie, Mack Bolan). These are interesting in that they provide a parallel track of pop culture that both stood apart from and moved closer to the technothriller across the length of time. That phenomenon gets a segment but deserved more. There’s also the long-term “squeezing” of the mainstream publishing industry, and a deeper look at how that and the push for big, higher-margin books both helped and hurt the technothriller would have been nice. (It’s mentioned several times, but never in too much depth).

Still, these are just very small critiques for an excellent book that examines an overlooked genre through a variety of interesting perspectives in a highly readable way. I cannot recommend The Military Techno-Thriller: A History enough for fans of the genre.

Guns of Cheap Thrillers

I’ve found there are three main categories of firearms writers use in cheap thrillers. I want to note that all three can be done well or done badly, and that even them being chosen poorly is almost never a story-breaker on its own.

Category A: Generic

Common to people with little knowledge of the subject matter, Category A firearms tend to be fallbacks on the most generic, widely used, and widely known boomsticks. Stuff like “M-16s, AR-15s, AK-47s, Glocks”, and “RPGs”.

Done Well: Common weapons are common for a reason. In many, arguably even most cases, you don’t really need to know the exact details. Just “the guard had a Glock” or something along those lines can do in many cases. Or even less.

Done Poorly: When it’s clear the author wasn’t doing much research and just took what they heard. This is clear when it’s accompanied by an incorrect caliber or some other fairly obvious detail, ie, one thriller with a “.25 Glock”. Often this is a “brown M&M” (from an infamous Van Halen contract that had a request for a bowl of M&Ms but no brown ones to make sure the contractors were reading it closely) that shows something else is off.

Category B: Specific

This ranges from knowing the specific kind of what a certain country/organization uses to the kind of exact descriptions [certain obscure AR-15 variant by certain obscure company] in [certain obscure caliber] with [certain obscure accessories] firing [exact weight of the bullet].

Done Well: In many cases, it’s more accurate to have someone who, for whatever reason, doesn’t use the most common firearm. It can add legitimate flavor and be a “bowl without brown M&Ms” in a good way.

Done Poorly: Besides the inherent issues with overly detailed exposition, this can be jarring if its combined with bad research in regard to something else. That something can even be other weapons-I’ve found super gun-exposition and terrible detail in anything bigger than a belt-fed MG. It’s like a sports story where the car used to drive the characters to the stadium is overly detailed (“A 1999 Ford Crown Victoria LX with a 4.6 liter V8…”), but then once they get there, says “And then they watched the Yankees win the Stanley Cup with twenty dunks.”

Category C: Exotic

There’s a lot of overlap with the first two categories here, but I feel it’s worth mentioning. Basically, “exotic” weapons that are very big (Desert Eagles! .44s! .44 Desert Eagles!), operate on a very unconventional system (The infamous G-11), or both are a staple of classic action-adventure fiction.

Done Well: I don’t fault an author for wanting to throw in their favorite obscure “pieces”, I do the same in a lot of my CMANO scenarios with aircraft and ships, and especially if they know what they’re doing, it can be fun. Like knowing the impractically of a Desert Eagle but giving it to a Ziggy Sobotka-esque dummy as a sign of his style-over-substance personality, or knowing the legitimate advantages/capabilities of an exotic and using it.

Done Poorly: This can have the flaws of either category, amplified by the nature of the weapons themselves. The “common exotics” lean more to Category A, while ones the author has a specific liking to move more to Category B.

 

Tank Losses

The Soviet calculations for tank losses in a World War III were incredibly high by the standards of “smaller” wars, around the level of each front losing 6-15% of its tanks every day (and even more when facing either nuclear or advanced smart weapons)[1]. Interestingly, their theorized APC/BMP loss rates were substantially lower despite thinner armor. This probably has to do with tanks leading the attack and thus being more likely to hit minefields and the like, as well as being the first targets.

“Loss” does not necessarily mean “permanently destroyed”, and one of the crucial determinants is who holds the battlefield, since that can turn a knocked-out but repairable tank into a permanent loss.

Still, even the best-case scenario still involved more than a division worth of tanks being knocked out each day, and this in a period where the Soviet advantage over NATO was arguably never greater.

 

[1]See “Generic Enemy: Mobile Forces Part 1, Operational Art And Tactical Doctrine”, pg. 11-18, par. 1141, “The Front Offensive Operation, CIA/DO Intelligence Information Special Report, 15 June 1979“, pg. 316, and “Front Offensive Operations“, pg. 369”.