Fatadin Mukhamedov

In one of those weird footnotes of aviation history, Mukhamedov, like Stavatti in the west, has been a maker of so-called “paper planes”. The company owes its existence to Fatadin Mukhamedov, a Soviet/Tajik engineer who had a successful career with the big bureaus (for instance, the Dushanbe center of Mikoyan) before striking out on his own. No actual aircraft were produced by the Mukhamedov bureau before Fatadin’s death in 2013, but the bulk had one specific shape.

Mukhamedov designed everything from fifth-generation fighters to gargantuan transports with the same distinctive circular inner wing. The most practical and achievable design was an advanced jet trainer/light strike aircraft for the competition eventually won by the Yak-130. Not coincidentally, the design may have found its way to Iran as the would-be HESA Shafaq. All of the other circular planes were just interesting and distinctive dreams.

But, in other timelines, dreams can come true….

Review: The Soviet/Russian Aircraft Carriers

The Soviet/Russian Aircraft Carriers

It’s time to ring in the new year with…. another history book. This one is Simon Beerbaum’s book on Soviet and Russian aircraft carriers. It’s not just about the Kiev and Kuznetsov classes, which I feared it might have been. On the contrary, it has everything from pre-WWI czarist proposals to post-revolution plans for converting surplus ships (with limited technology/resources, it would have been easier to finish a large warship as a carrier rather than an armored, big-gun battleship) to never-weres like the Ulyanovsk and Project 11780 Kherson “Ivan Tarava” helicopter amphib based on the Kiev.

This is an amateur enthusiast project, so it has issues with formatting and inconsistent quality in the line drawings. Those are small issues, and if I had a bigger gripe, it’d be that far too little attention is given to the actual air wings of those carriers-the entire reason they’re built. It’s vague, especially when there’s no shortage of equally fascinating never-were carrier planes as well (from the Yak-141 to navalized MiG-23s to other exotics).

Still, this book does what it sets out to do. For a country whose carriers have arguably all been prestige peacocks, a lot of designs were made. If you want an intro to these flattops, you could do a lot worse than this book.

Soviet-Romanian War: Background

I’ve talked before about a Soviet-Romanian War that’s a kind of “Soviet Gulf War“. There have been many obstacles to me actually writing such a thing, ranging from “what do I do with it” to “it’s a little eerie seeing Russia’s OTL buildup and interventions, including currently off Ukraine…”. But I figure I might as well get the rivet-counting parts of it down now while they’re fresh in my mind.

The Setting

It is the year 199X. The USSR is still intact. The reason isn’t because, as in Northern Fury, the August Coup succeeded. Here, it never happened, and the result is a “Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics” ( Союз Советских Суверенных Республик ), which allows for the continued use of the “USSR”, “Soviet Union”, and “CCCP” abreviations. The resulting semi-decommunized USSR has varying degrees of freedom and business openness, and is best symbolized by a flag: Still red, but with the hammer and sickle replaced with a light green vertical stripe on the left and a darker blue one on the right (to symbolize Central Asia and the Western Slavic republics).

Its economy has also been better improved from the historical collapse, but it retains its gigantic spending on the military. Having a bigger pie and more access to the Asian tech industry helps a lot. The result is that one of my favorite OPFOR models, the “Mobile Forces“, can finally be put into practice.

Meanwhile, to its west, the renegade Romania has clung on. But the time has finally come to eliminate it…

(Yes, I haven’t thought of the casus belli yet. Oh well.)

The Combatants

The USSR is able to deploy the Dniester and Danube Fronts. The Dniester Front is to the north and is composed mainly of national-level deployment forces and local ones in the Ukrainian and Moldovan military areas. The Danube Front stages out of Bulgaria (the most docile Warsaw Pact ally), and consists mainly of Bulgarian units with a smattering of Soviet ones, often in support roles. The only other foreign ally participating in a major role is a by-now-fairly-stabilized Afghanistan, contributing a motor rifle division and various mountain/commando units to the Dniester Front.

Investment has paid off, as the new pride and joy of the Red Army, its “mobile corps” are ready and set to participate in the invasion. A new generation of equipment has entered service. Many of the local participants are less well-equipped (in Bulgaria’s case, sometimes severely less so). The force contains thousands of tanks, artillery pieces, and aircraft, many of them new.

Opposing it is a force long considered the bottom of the Warsaw Pact barrel. Romania has had time to introduce some external and indigenous weapons systems. It has also semi-openly planned for a conventional delaying action followed by irregular resistance since the Ceausescu/Soviet split. But it remains hopelessly outclassed.

The Plan

The Dniester Front will do the bulk of the heavy lifting, sweeping through Romania. The Danube Front’s main goal is to cut off Bucharest and the Yugoslav border to head off reinforcement or escape in that direction. The biggest airborne and special operations since World War II will be conducted to aid the advance, secure the western side of the Carpathian Mountains, and interfere with the Yugoslav crossing.

Romania’s plan is to simply hold off long enough to set up a guerilla oppositions. In addition to all their other problems, an insistence on holding down the more Hungarian northwest, if only with security troops, lingers. (Hungary proper cares little for either side and has almost no intervention ability).

The Outcome and the Story

Ah, now that’s what I want to write about. I have many vignettes in my mind as of now but less of a coherent narrative. Still, I think I’ll have fun trying.

World War 199X

The Zapad-99 exercise, the first massive maneuver conducted since the fall of the USSR, shows some interesting insight into the conduct of a World War III in the 1990s instead of the classic 1980s. The conduct of the exercise went essentially like this:

  • The OPFOR, or “Hypothetical Enemy”, as is the official Russian term for such things, launched a giant campaign in the Baltic/Belarusian region, overwhelming the overmatched CIS troops with air and missile power.
  • Kaliningrad was overrun by the Blueeaglelanders.
  • In the most famous and controversial part of the exercise, a limited nuclear “escalation by deescalation” after the fall of the exclave was conducted in which bombers attacked several important targets with cruise missiles. Two Tu-95s and two Tu-160s were successfully launched, and the missiles on those are enough to cause monstrous damage. (that’s 36 AS-15s with 200kt warheads. Ouch.)
  • Said targets are likely to be NATO bases in Europe and American bomber and logistics bases in the continental US.

To a degree, this era has already been explored, however imperfectly, in Arc Light and Red Hammer 1994. Northern Fury takes place in the 1990s but assumes a stronger, intact USSR and conventional weapons (at least for now…)

The Artillery Growth Spurt

I was looking through my old planning documents and noticed something very interesting. In a 1969 piece on conventional-only operations that was one of the first of its kind, the Soviet planners estimated their artillery could inflict a maximum of 20% enemy losses in the opening fire strike.

By 1974, just five years later, when their conventional balance was arguably at its height, it had grown to the more familiar OPFOR ratio of 30-40% in a similar document.

I’m thinking (pure idle speculation), various combinations of bigger guns, more mobile guns, more accurate guns, better shells (cluster warheads that make conventional SSMs more than just a nuisance are mentioned in the same document), and probably stuff I missed.

What I find extra-fascinating is that the Azeri’s Nagorno-Karabakh opening half-hour mega-strike apparently destroyed 40% of the Armenian artillery-which is in line with the previous estimates, especially if you take into account technical superiority and massive, massive advancements in smart weapons. (Also, though, for all that, the war still lasted a month and a half and claimed around Azeri 3,000 KIA by its own admission.)

Review: Super-Squad

Super-Squad: The Now Missing Component

It’s time to look at one of the most prolific military theorists: Vietnam veteran H. John Poole. Poole’s recent Super-Squad is a detailed call for improved light infantry tactics and a different squad organization, along with a historical study of various opponents from World War I to the present.

I may have never, ever encountered a “mean 51%” nonfiction book like this one. Poole is an infantry veteran who’s walked the walk. His desires are sincere and heartfelt, and many of his goals are valid or at least understandable. Yet there’s just so much else wrong in presentation and even theory here.

The book could probably be around half of its length and work with a concise message of “This is my proposed squad organization. This is how various limited-resource opponents across history used maneuver and skill to counter their lack of direct resources. You cannot always assume superior resources, so this is vital.”

Instead, it’s a long rambling bunch of anecdotes and illustrations, often from old field manuals. Anything that shows the “eastern army” succeeding is trumpeted. Anything that shows them failing is quickly glossed over. The writing lacks humility, to put it mildly. There are statements like “no combined infantry/tank attack has succeeded except on open terrain”, which is simply untrue. The ridiculous lumping of every possible Asian opponent into generalized “eastern armies”, combined with an obsession with ninjas (really!) doesn’t exactly help much. Neither does (especially if you want change) the constant bashing of the existing American military, something that will put most people on the defensive.

This has to be understood as being like Curtis Lemay calling for a giant fleet of super-bombers dropping souped-up nuclear weapons. If your experience involves a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Everything. It gets kind of repetitive and even a little annoying at places.

I don’t regret getting this book. As an “OPFOR light infantry tactics and case studies as written by your kooky old granddad who’s convinced he can save the economy through multi-level marketing” book, it (and many of Poole’s other books, given their similarities) works for what it is. Just don’t really expect it to be anything more.

The increased effectiveness of smart bombs firsthand

I decided to indulge my inner VVS target planner and do some (very basic) calculations for air power against opposing targets. What I found made me smile. The methodology is extremely simple-I used a regiment of 36 paper-strength aircraft, carrying 4 PGMs each (a proposed upgrade for the MiG-29 had a targeting pod on the centerline and up to 4 KAB-500L laser bombs). Then I used the 60% hit rate estimated for smart bombs in the Gulf War. Then I had only 25 aircraft actually launched to simulate attrition and realistically low readiness.

So that gets 100 drops and 60 targets plinked. That’s one-two battalions worth, if we’re talking about armored vehicles. And even that’s ideal and doesn’t take stuff like aborts, aircraft getting shot down before reaching their target, and hitting the wrong thing into account. But this is an oversimplified spherical cow exercise anyway.

What makes this more interesting is the 1969 claim that “a fighter-bomber division is capable, in one day of combat with two or three sorties, of inflicting destruction (up to 20% losses) on one to two enemy brigades”. Meaning at the very least, even earlier PGMs can have an air regiment do what used to take a division three times its size.

This was a fun little thought exercise to do.

Review: The Iraqi Threat

The Iraqi Threat And Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction

In the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, Stephen Hughes released an unofficial sort of OPFOR compilation called “The Iraqi Threat And Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction.” As the intelligence forces of the world found out after the war, getting any kind of accurate information on a country both as secretive and as slapdash as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a very difficult challenge. So I can forgive Hughes for any inaccuracies in the book, just as how I can forgive pre-1991 western sources on the USSR for not having information that was only unclassified/found out later.

What is significantly harder to forgive is the layout of the book. It’s, to be frank, a total mess. A lot of the most important parts on Iraqi (conventional) capabilities are lifted from an NTC document but strewn about in a way that makes them less understandable. Likewise for his pieces on Iraqi equipment. And militias. And so on. About the only thing really interesting and coherent is a huge section on mountain formations and defenses, which is applicable to far more than just Saddam’s Iraq.

But that can’t save the rest of the book, which is just too poorly organized to be much good. Even accepting it as a product of its time, it’s still effectively unusable, unlike many other OPFOR documents.

The Growing MOUT Frontage

The Soviets had a love-hate relationship with city combat. On one hand, the pitfalls of something that went against their desire to move fast were very apparent. On the other, as the world became more built-up, they recognized it as a necessity. So in my relaxing reading of old field manuals, I decided to look up the frontage they desired in cities. Strictly defined frontages and unit boundaries were a trademark of them. Having both late 1940s and mid-1990s as my primary dates (because that was where I had the most detailed primary sources/analyses) wasn’t ideal, but oh well.

By the Heavy OPFOR/Genforce Era, the city block (generally 80-100 meters wide and 200-300 meters long) that had doctrinally taken a battalion or even entire regiment to storm fifty years earlier had been reduced to a reinforced company (whose reinforcements included SPHs meant to engage buildings with direct fire). Me being an detached armchair enthusiast, I’m wondering how much was better trust in a smaller unit with better training and communications and how much was the belief that they just had to walk over the rubble because their supporting firepower was so much greater.

And of course different circumstances would produce different geographical densities. But I still found it interesting. As was the shift of where the tanks should generally be compared to the infantry. With the Battle of Berlin undoubtedly in their minds, the most relevant statement in the early postwar regulations was “The mission of the tanks and the self-propelled artillery is to support the infantry attack with fire and shock action [note the “Fire” appearing first]”. Then much later their assault drills had the tanks usually going ahead of the infantry. Then after the uncomfortable experience of Chechnya, it shifted back to “the infantry should almost always go first unless the situation specifically calls for something otherwise”.

Review: ATP 7-100.3 Chinese Tactics

ATP 7-100.3 Chinese Tactics

After seeing the excellent work on North Korea, I eagerly awaited the next installment in the ATP 7-100 series on the most potential opponents. When ATP 7-100.3, Chinese Tactics dropped, I was not disappointed. Well detailed and well laid out, this is the first comprehensive unclassified analysis of the PLA in decades.

In some ways, being a far more advanced opponent that’s far closer to the fictional maximum-challenge “composite OPFOR” than North Korea is means that the tactics shown feel a lot more mundane and slightly less interesting. But showing the (deliberately overcomplicated and confounding) organization is where this shines. The modern PLA is organized a lot like the old “GENFORCE-Mobile” OPFOR with a bunch of brigades and combined arms battalions jumping straight to corps-equivalents with six line brigades each.

This is a great resource and I highly recommend reading it. Besides its topicality, seeing a force structure diverge from the classic Russo-American style is interesting to see and valuable for wargamers.