Weird Wargaming: Conventional Bush War

The Rhodesian Bush War passed without a decisive 1975-style conventional campaign. Of the two main guerilla organizations, it was the Ndebele, Soviet-favored ZIPRA that placed more of an emphasis on conventional operations, compared to the majority Shona, China-favored ZANLA’s “people’s war”. A combination of largely successful preemptive strikes by the Rhodesian military and a (smart) focus on inherent strengths than weaknesses by the opposition meant that the large battle never came.

The common wisdom about such an operation “Zero Hour” (as one code name for it was) is that it would be stopped with ease (although it does not help that most surviving prominent sources are either from the ZANLA-veteran regime or former Rhodesians, neither of which has an incentive to talk up their opponent). But even if the first such offensive was stopped with ease, the rebels definitely had the people and enough hand-me-down aid to try multiple times.

Such an offensive would feature the fairly light Rhodesian military against an opposition that would have at least T-34/85s, BTR-152s, appropriate artillery, and even rumors of fighter aircraft. (If said fighter aircraft could disrupt the deployment of the infamous Fire Forces, it would not be good for the Rhodesians). It can obviously be played with any kind of wargaming ruleset that can handle early/mid Cold War equipment and formations.

Weird Wargaming: Missile Iowas

The Command database now has many more hypothetical proposed missile upgrades of the Iowa-class battleships, including adding a ramp for fixed-wing aircraft in one entry (!). These ships bring a very strange feeling to me. Because they inspire equal parts awe, horror, and disgust.

See, the problem is that missile launchers intended for long-distance operations render the 16 inch guns nothing but a heavy explosive risk. This has been known in real life too. There was a serious consideration during the reactivation of the Iowas (primarily to have tons of box launchers for Tomahawks) of just leaving the guns closed up and inoperable. They’d be unlikely to fire in a fleet action, and if they did fire, it couldn’t be good for any sensitive machinery in the rest of the ship.

So my head regards the Missile Iowas with derision. But my heart adores them. Simply because of how crazy and audacious they are. Do I really need to explain this?

Anyway, for the boring details, they’d likely be used in a way similar to how the real 1980s reactivated Iowas were. As the centerpiece of surface action groups. If you wanted to be cold-hearted, you could treat them as expendable sunk costs. But you can also revel in the absurdity.

Weird Wargaming: The Axis Contraptions

After World War II, various veterans of the vanquished (to put it that way) offered to design and make various military platforms. Only a few actually entered production. Kurt Tank designed the HF-24 Marut and sputtered-out Pulqui jet fighters. An Italian submachine gun, the TZ-45, found its way into the Burmese Army. Most fell victim to the same culprits: A combination of Cold War military aid and cheap Allied surplus sweeping them aside, while not being high-performance enough to beat them that way.

Yet for alternate historians/wargamers/writers wanting to add various wunderwaffe to their scenarios, it’s not that implausible that a few could slip through here and there. They’d mostly be out of the way unless history moved to that region (for instance, the Willy Messerschmidt-designed HA-300 would undoubtedly see service in the Arab-Israeli Wars if it entered mass production.) But they could still be done.

What would be most interesting would be the really exotic and large Luft 46 aircraft and wunderpanzer tanks. Those would probably need veto-able foreign engines (or other less obvious components) and would be no picnic to design. But they would be the most fun to play.

Weird Wargaming: The Abrams-SPH

The year is 1995. Faced with either leaping into the unknown with a clean-sheet system or plugging along with legacy platforms, several contributors to Armor Magazine decided to pursue a middle ground. In the November-December edition, they unveiled their contraption: An Abrams-chassis 52-caliber (same as the PzH2000 and Archer) self propelled howitzer with an autoloader and a whopping 80 rounds inside.

The M1-Arty, or AFAS/M1. Of note is the Archer-esque “backwards” layout of the main gun.

AFAS/M1 would fire 4 to 8 rounds in a Simultaneous Impact Mission (SIM) between 6-40 km. All rounds will impact within 4 seconds (first-to-last round). This requirement can be attained with an effective combination of a battle management system, fire control system, global positioning system (GPS) and an autoloader.-claim for its power from the article.

A resupply vehicle on the same chassis would also be designed. The AFAS/M1 had a target weight of 55 tons.

For all the unusual elements about its design, in practice this beast would have been deployed conventionally. In action, it would have served with heavy divisions/brigades in the usual format. It could be simmed by using the offensive stats of the PzH-2000. Yet it still stands out, in appearance if nothing else.

Weird Wargaming: The Jeep Compass Army

Using variants of civilian vehicles from Model Ts and Rolls Royces in World War I to the omnipresent Land Cruisers and Hiluxes of today is nothing new. But I saw a proposal from an Indian armoring firm (which also advertised the boxiest armored vehicles ever) for uparmored Jeep Compasses, and my brain sparked. After all, compact crossovers like it are so common now, so why not send them to war? This isn’t like the classic jeep, even in its latest form.

Well, there’s obvious reasons against it. It can barely fit five normal-sized people without wargear. Five big soldier men with all their equipment would probably be a nonstarter. You could use it as a pure weapons carrier-but the disadvantages of that would be obvious as well. There are plenty of off the shelf SUVs far more suitable… but I don’t care.

The Compasses would be used by recon/raiding teams, being too small (regardless of how many people you can stuff inside) to be a line carrier. The least bad option, of gun vehicles, involves a crew of three with extra munitions in the (gulp) trunk/back. Even then, the Compass has a max payload of only around 1,100 pounds/500 kilograms. Which would probably have been eaten up by the armoring, but I’ll let it slide for now.

So, here it goes:

  • Command vehicle: Unit commander, driver, comms equipment, aide, maybe lighter machine gun RWS.
  • Personnel Carrier: Driver, 2-4 additional troops, lighter machine gun RWS.
  • Weapons Carrier: Driver, Gunner, Commander, either light missile or heavy machine gun.

The number of vehicles of each type depends on the exact mission. And the Jeep Compass could be replaced by any light SUV. And I do not recommend actually trying these small light SUVs unless you have no other choice.

Weird Wargaming: The Soviet-Romanian War

If you want to use small-unit wargames in my never-was draft percolating of a futuristic USSR deciding to finish off a surviving Ceausescu, some basic guidelines. Obviously, it’ll depend on the exact ruleset, but here’s the basics:

Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics

The USSR, under a Sovereign Union that in real life got scuttled by the August Coup, follows the 1990s GENFORCE “Mobile Forces” concept. Which is to say a multi-tier force. The “Basic Forces” divisions resemble slightly better late Cold War ones. The Mobile Forces ones have more futuristic equipment, better body armor/night vision, and substantially better training.

Mobile Forces battalions are organically combined arms mixed. APCs/IFVs are three to a platoon with each squad having a magazine LMG and rocket launcher. Company weapons platoons have lighter ATGMs and belt/tripod GPMGs. All Mobile Forces mechanized battalions have a large number of organic 2S31s (or Nonas for less-equipped formations).

Given the terrain, mountain formations have been plucked and sent in. GENFORCE mountain brigades are a four-infantry-one-tank battalion setup with supporting equipment suited for high altitudes (ie, lighter and higher-angle artillery). They also have a separate APC battalion that can be used to motorize if the terrain is appropriate. The one historical Soviet mountain brigade was inherited by Kyrgyzstan and consisted of two BMP and two soft-skin battalions with some attached cavalry and pack animal units.

Soviet Allies

The main contributors to the Soviet effort are Bulgaria and the stabilized Afghanistan. The former mobilizes to its full ability, which means it runs the gauntlet from “1980s NSWP” to “T-34s and World War I heavy artillery” (hey, if it can shoot and make a big explosion, it’s still worth something). The latter contribute a fairly standard BTR-equipped motor rifle division and numerous commando units.

Romania

Romania has a regular army with a degree of military modernization that it lacked. While select units have SRBMs based on foreign civilian sounding rockets, bespoke grenade launchers, and more (comparably) advanced tanks like the bizarrely shaped TAA, others are bottom of the barrel. All units should be mostly low quality, but some (particularly Securitat irregulars) will have better morale than others if applicable.

Organizationally, most should resemble lower-tier eastern forces.

Weird Wargaming: The Red October

Yesterday I placed a formal Command database request for a hypothetical Soviet submarine. But this wasn’t something like say, a Yankee Notch with conventional missiles. No, this was of a famous literary submarine. The titular undersea ship in The Hunt For Red October. And it made me think of more than just wargame stats.

First, the boring stuff. The Red October in the book isn’t just a re-engined Typhoon. It’s bigger, and has 26 tubes for SS-N-20 missiles instead of the twenty in the original. Weirdly, and this is actually a kind of accidental serendipity, it has only four torpedo tubes compared to the six in real Typhoons. This is probably just getting the not-yet-confirmed details wrong (a sillier example is the even-then biased Clancy portraying the Typhoon as a cramped mess when in fact it famously boasts a gym, arcade, and small swimming pool). But it makes to give up some low-priority torpedo tubes to help make room for the caterpillar drive.

Ah yes, the caterpillar drive. For the database request-in game, I wanted to go the simple route. While in the book it has a combination of the quiet caterpillar-impeller drive and louder normal propellers, I think doing complex mechanics changes for one whimsical hypothetical unit would not be a good cost-benefit. So my suggestion in the real request was just to treat the sub overall as very quiet (at the level of a post-1991 SSBN with advanced propulsion) and leave it at that.

But what got me thinking, especially with full post-USSR hindsight, was how a sub of that nature could be used. Now ballistic missile subs do not have the most complicated or versatile mission structure. But the question (regardless of what the book would say) whether it’d just be used as a more defensible bastion sub or dare to venture out to its quietness would make for interesting study/simulation.

Finally, a part of me views the sub as being something like the ill-fated Komsomolets: A capable and advanced vessel, but one that’s still ultimately a test-bed with additional members of the class unlikely to be built. Especially because the base Typhoon is so big and bulky already.

Weird Wargaming: Supersonic VIP Jets

Every so often, a supersonic business/VIP jet proposal emerges, often derived from high-performance fighters. One of the most interesting was a plan to use the MiG-25 of all airplanes to make a very fast transport. (It wasn’t that serious of a design, but still…)

Now, I can think of a few legitimate, cost-is-no-deterrent users (both governmental and private) who would benefit from moving a few people or a small amount of material around very quickly. But other than that, in private hands I can honestly see supersonic bizjets as being knowingly ridiculous status symbols. Like the supercar that never goes above the speed limit or the SUV that never navigates anything more than a small hill on the road, it’s the symbolism that counts.

And then there are the Jon Land-style super-conspiracies, who of course would have the fastest, shiniest, most capable aircraft imaginable…

Weird Wargaming: My dream wargame…

…Is based on a boxing simulator.

Yes, after playing a lot of Title Bout Boxing, I’ve come to the conclusion that I honestly think you could apply it to a (consumer-level) wargame. Of course, I’m not a programmer and know very, very well that thinking up something and actually making it could not be more different. But what I think…. yeah.

  • Start with a sort of MCOAT-style War of the Spreadsheets, with a variety of inputs. The fighter stats have this in Title Bout.
  • Make the inputs editable, to remove bias. It would come with several default guesses/theories.
  • Add in other conditions on the menus. In Title Bout, this is the fighter’s career state, skill level, and their corner staff. This could be something like battle circumstances, terrain, skill, and morale.
  • When the fighting actually starts, the player realistically has very little ability to intervene. You can try to push more or less, but the ability to actually execute them depends on the virtual dice. Adding luck is realistic and keeps it from being a deterministic spreadsheet war.
  • There’s a summary afterwards. Casualties are not the same as holding territory.
  • Mismatches can happen. You pit Ali against Ben Askren, and the latter gets crushed. You make a battle where the difference makes the Gulf War look like Verdun, you get that.

The important thing to me is the same thing that made me fall in love with Command when I saw what its editor could do. An ability to combine fast setup with diverse results. Of course, I can already see a thousand pitfalls, but the dream is there.

“Put a higher-than-normal quality force of ‘BTRykers’ supported by independent tank battalions and have them attack an entrenched old-style rifle division. See how it shakes out. See if one side gains territory [the attackers probably would] and list the casualties”

A lot of people might not like this wargame’s lack of interactivity, but I would enjoy it scratching an itch.

The Seventh Marine Division

So with the help of the Spatial Illusions Unit Symbol Generator, I set to work making an alternate historical USMC formation. First, the very name. The name “7th Marine Division” is deliberate to symbolize its fictional nature. In real life, the USMC never had more than six divisions even at the height of World War II.

The 7th Division itself is basically an administrative formation that would never actually deploy in full as one manuever unit. Even its subunits are often unlikely to deploy in full at any one location. Its “line” formations are the following.

  • The Parachute Regiment, a sort of revival of the Paramarine concept. The heaviest formation in the 7th Division (in that it has the light artillery and vehicles that an airdroppable regiment/brigade elsewhere would), it functions as a parachute-qualified light airborne formation.
  • The SOF Regiment, which essentially is just the real MARSOC under a different structure type.
  • The Raider regiment, which unlike the real renamed “MARSOC” is meant (at least on paper) to be a more direct-action focus formation comparable to the traditional Army Rangers.

I’m sure there are very good reasons for not adopting an organization or formations like this in real life. Oh well. This is for thriller fiction and wargaming, after all.