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Feel the thunder! Command: Desert Storm is unleashed

March 28, 2019 · Posted in Command · Comment 


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Companion to Desert Storm: The v1.15 update
The scenarios of Desert Storm: Part 1
The scenarios of Desert Storm: Part 2

The scenarios of Desert Storm – Part 2

March 26, 2019 · Posted in Command · Comment 

The new “Desert Storm” DLC is now well into production, and is set to launch on March 28 (see the trailer!). The companion v1.15 update has also been released, and the dev team is already tweaking the new features and fixing issues based on early feedback. Let us take a look through the scenarios available in this battleset and explore the historical and hypothetical events that it surveys.


8. BUFFed Up

Coalition vs. Iraq

Date/Time: 29 January, 1991 / 04:00:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 72 Hours
Playable Sides: Coalition

The B-52 Stratofortress (aka. “Buff” for “Big Ugly Fat… Fella,”) has enjoyed a long history in the US Air Force. The bomber was contracted in June 1946, made its maiden flight in 1952 and has been in service since 1955, operating in every major US air campaign since, with final retirement still decades away. Anecdotally, there are a handful of cases where the sons (and grandsons) of early B-52 pilots have also flown the aircraft – and, reportedly in one instance, the same airframe.

During Desert Storm, B-52s flew 1,624 missions, dropped over 72,000 weapons, and delivered over 25,700 tons of munitions on area targets on airfields, industrial targets, troop concentrations and storage areas across Iraq. They also performed standoff precision attacks with AGM-86C cruise missiles (a conventional-warhead modification of the nuclear-tipped AGM-86B), a weapon still classified at the time.

In this representative scenario of Buff operations during the air campaign, aircraft dispersed at four different bases in Saudi Arabia, the UK, Spain and Diego Garcia are tasked with attacking multiple Iraqi airbases and knocking them out of action.


9. Alliances

Coalition vs. Iraq/Iran/USSR

Date/Time: 30 January, 1991 / 23:00:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 24 Hours
Playable Sides: Coalition

Recognizing the importance of Middle Eastern oil resources, the USSR had long nurtured favorable relationships with the major oil-producing states. Publicly, and more often privately, they would provide financial, technical, diplomatic, intelligence and military support as needed to cement these links.

The Gulf War found the USSR in a precarious situation. After the fall of the Berlin wall and re-unification of Germany, Russia found it increasingly difficult to contain the other states within the Soviet sphere of influence. A number of them had already declared their independence by 1990. In January of 1991, just as Desert Storm was starting, the USSR was busy in Lithuania trying to suppress rising nationalist independence movements. By the end of the year, Soviet premier Gorbachev abandoned this futile effort by officially dissolving the Soviet Union.

Beset by these various headaches at home and a domestic economy that was already visibly collapsing, Gorbachev was disinclined to interfere with either the western build-up of Desert Shield, or the subsequent air & ground campaigns of Desert Storm. While Soviet diplomatic delegates played a major part in the prewar negotiations between Iraq and the coalitions, the political apparatus very explicitly declared the Union’s neutrality – declarations matched with overt gestures of military stand-downs and reduced readiness in Central Europe and other theaters in which Soviet forces had traditionally been on high peacetime alert, ready to commence offensive operations.

It is hard to overstate the importance of this very visible Soviet neutrality on the coalition’s ultimate success. Active Soviet support for the west’s adversaries (in many forms & guises) was one of the defining attributes of almost every military contingency the western powers had fought throughout the Cold War. This time, the Soviets would literally sit it out. In addition, the visible reduction of the Soviet threat in Central Europe (a process begun in 1989 with Gorbachev’s massive unilateral troop reductions in Warsaw Pact states and further codified by the provisions of the CFE treaty) allowed the expedited transfer of massive first-line, high-readiness forces (such as the entire US 7th Corps) from the European theater to Saudi Arabia. This move – which ultimately enabled the strategic “left hook” maneuver that outflanked and destroyed the bulk of the Iraqi army – would have been unthinkable with a politically-hostile USSR, or at any time prior to ~1990.

While the USSR was in no position to commit significant assets to the theater in 1991, it maintained regional forces and basing arrangements much as the US did; part of the long chess-game of positioning and influence peddling that characterized the Cold War. In addition to the latent threat those assets posed, materiel aid, technical support and military advisers would have significantly boosted Iraq’s chances of effective resistance. It is unlikely the USSR would remain on the sidelines if it perceived that a significant portion of the Middle East’s oil production was about to fall completely into Western hands.


10. Reprisals

Coalition vs. Iraq/Iran

Date/Time: 01 February, 1991 / 04:00:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 36 Hours
Playable Sides: Coalition

In retrospect, the risk of Iranian involvement in the Gulf War seems minimal to nonexistent; the unmitigated brutality of the Iran-Iraq war ensured that no love was lost between Tehran and Baghdad. However, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s brief history had been one of constant animosity with the west – the Iran hostage crisis and subsequent economic sanctions, US support for Iraq during the war, constant support for terrorist actions against Israel, Operation Praying Mantis’s reprisal bombings in 1988, the shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655, and numerous smaller incidents. The Islamic Republic’s theocratic leadership, then and now, embraces a vision of grand ideological clash; Islam versus the West; which in practice means Islam versus the US. Tehran’s open hostility and wars-by-proxy against Israel, and the US-Israeli alliance, have always been part and parcel of this. Had Saddam’s attempt to draw Israel into the Gulf War via Scud attacks been successful, these underlying factors might well have overcome even the bitterness of a brutal eight-year war and impelled Iran to action.

Absent such events, Iran still had plentiful means, motive and opportunity to harass Coalition forces. In possession of the Persian Gulf’s entire northern shore – including the crucial strait of Hormuz – Iran could have utilized its preferred plausible-deniability tactics with irregular and terrorist forces utilizing light craft, speedboats, and mines. Its qualitative military edge was in better balance with the US than it is now; with much of their military inventory (like Tomcats and Phantoms) mirroring assets still in active US service at the time, making such provocations less risky. Such action would require curtailing if Coalition efforts against Iraq were to be successful, and as Operation Praying Mantis shows, the US was not adverse to reprisal attacks to effect that outcome. This hypothetical scenario explores how such an operation may have been conducted.

Additionally, this scenario includes two proposed, but never-built platforms – the A-12 “Avenger II”, a flying-wing, stealthy carrier bomber meant to replace the A-6, canceled in 1991 as the full-scale mockup was nearly complete, and a proposed carrier-capable variant of the F-117A Nighthawk. These units “stand-in” for the land-based stealth capabilities the coalition historically had in-theater, and also allow a retrospective look at early efforts to bring deep-penetration, stealthy strike to the carrier battle group. The wedge-shaped A-12’s strike role was later subsumed by the nascent MQ-25 Stingray (before urgency prompted the Navy to delay its strike capacity in favor of fielding carrier-integral air tanking ASAP). Likewise, the F-117’s navalized variant was declined as the Joint Advanced Strike Technology program was already promising a superior aircraft – which would eventually emerge (after a program renaming) as the F-35 Lightning II.

These aircraft were early attempts at the capabilities the F-35 is now delivering to the fleet, after a protracted delay. The future is finally here. In 1991, the future of carrier strike looked very different – and had the possible scenarios (like this one) that prompted the Navy to chase these capabilities been judged more probable, the future might have arrived earlier than expected.


11. Extreme Prejudice

Coalition vs. Iraq

Date/Time: 01 February, 1991 / 10:00:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 48 Hours
Playable Sides: Coalition

“I heard the bullets whistle and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound…”

            -George Washington

“By God, he would not think bullets charming if he had been used to hear many.”

            -King George the Third

For reasons both political and practical, the Coalition never made an explicit goal of decapitating Iraq’s leadership – but nonetheless, a small, concentrated and persistent effort was made to hit headquarters units and command bunkers throughout the war. Strike planners knew they were unlikely to catch Saddam Hussein, known for his caution even prewar, and political optics revolved around the liberation of Kuwait, not the execution of the Coalition’s enemies. However, a 2,000 pound bomb hitting one’s HQ tends to inhibit the command performance of even the most composed of generals, and scrambling between bunkers by day to flee invisible black bombers hunting by night wears on the nerves of any general staff.

A portion of these efforts pursued Saddam Hussein himself, as often as intelligence sufficed to cue them. From the opening strikes in the early hours of January 17th to the last “Winnebago hunt” strikes on February 25th, high-explosive, precision-guided ordinance dogged Hussein’s heels. F-117s and F-111s delivered almost 200 precision-guided weapons against roughly 40 separate targets to include Iraqi’s general command staff in the harrowing experience.

This scenario is representative of this small, but important category of strikes that persisted throughout the conflict, including the intensive ISR, SEAD/DEAD and intelligence gathering efforts that preceded them.


12. Bubiyan

 

Coalition (UK) vs. Iraq

Date/Time: 29 January, 1991/ 10:00:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 30 Hours
Playable Sides: United Kingdom

“If any battle squadron goes to sea it will run a fearful risk of annihilation from torpedo craft, and it is unlikely to sink any torpedo craft save some of it’s own side by accident. Until the masses of mosquito craft are accounted for, it is quite on the cards that only cheap (i.e., small and relatively unimportant) ships will dare go to sea.”

            -Jane, Fred T., Fortnightly review, May 1865-June 1934; London Vol. 70, Iss. 416

 

A century before armchair admirals declared aircraft carriers obsolete in the guided missile age, the mighty battleship had its own turn in the theorist’s crosshairs. The slingstone hailed as Goliath-slayer was a fearsome new high-tech weapon – the self-propelled torpedo. Capable of transforming any small boat into an “eggshell carrying a sledgehammer,” battleships were decried as obsolete targets, easily sunk by ships a bare fraction of their extreme cost.

Torpedoes would soon prove their lethality, but much like airpower, never realized the wildest dreams of its proponents, even when pursued with a will (e.g. Imperial Japanese Navy). History would repeat itself when the humble torpedo boat evolved into the missile boat, or Fast Attack Craft (FAC). The sinking of INS Eilat by Egyptian missile boats in 1967 and a superlative showing by Indian FACs in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war lent weight to those claiming the obsolescence of the large surface combatant.

On the 29th of January, 1991, those theories were tested when the bulk of the Iraqi navy (plus captured Kuwaiti vessels, manned by Iraqi crews), attempting to flee to Iranian ports, was engaged by coalition naval airpower and completely destroyed in a drawn-out, 13-hour engagement. Bereft of the air-defense systems carried by larger hulls, the missile boats were little more than targets. Antiship missiles fared little better. HMS Gloucester made history by shooting down a shore-launched Silkworm aimed at USS Missouri; the first-ever interception of an incoming missile by a ship-launched interceptor.

Being more of a turkey shoot than a “battle,” Bubiyan never provided definitive answers in the surface combatant debate. Had a few things gone differently, however, the clash in the Bubiyan channel might’ve provided a test of doctrine closer to the battles of Lissa or Latakia. Had the Soviet Union’s historical neutrality failed to materialize, or Saddam’s Scud barrages against Israel succeed at fracturing the Arab coalition arrayed against him, things could have gone very differently.

This semi-historical scenario expands on the actual engagement and explores a more massive “Battle of Bubiyan” that never was, but easily could have been; one that would have put the question of missile boat doctrine to a much more definitive test.


13. Shooting Gallery

Coalition vs. Iraq

Date/Time: 26 February, 1991 / 08:00:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 36 Hours
Playable Sides: Coalition

After their rough handling in the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqi Air Force entered Desert Storm with a realistic view of their chances against first-rate coalition assets (ie. practically none), and planned accordingly. Tucked away in hardened aircraft shelters (HASs), Iraqi aircraft patiently rode out the first few days of strikes, trusting in their air defenses as they waited for an opportunity to strike; a kind of air-fleet in being. It was a well-considered strategy, but it was invalidated from January 23rd, when US F-117s and F-111s with bunker-buster bombs began cracking open the shelters that the Iraqis (and the Soviets before them) had considered immune to non-nuclear attack. Unable to fight, and with nowhere to hide, the IAF’s only remaining option was to run.

The resulting mad scramble produced the most unexpected challenge to coalition forces of the entire war. Given the IAF’s evacuation of assets to friendly neighbors in the early years of the Iran-Iraq war, coalition planners anticipated a possible retreat to their mostly-friendly neighbor, Jordan.

Instead, the IAF fled for Iran.

Nobody could imagine that Saddam would hand his air force to a bitter enemy he had just fought a brutal eight-year war with. Caught off-guard and out of position, the coalition scrambled to seal the Iran-Iraq border and destroy the remainder of Iraq’s air force before they could escape. The geography – and the odds – were weighed against them. The border’s distance let bandits slip through, when F-15s – flying grueling seven-hour BARCAPs – suffered breaks in coverage during station rotations. Iraqi pilots usually made their dash for survival on the deck, where the coalition’s distant AWACS over northern Saudi Arabia could scarcely detect them. Despite every effort, over one hundred Iraqi airframes escaped to Iran, with only thirteen shot down running the gauntlet.

The consequences were ultimately few – Iran, unsurprisingly, declined to return the aircraft postwar – but the coalition would still have preferred those aircraft destroyed, rather than in the hands of the Islamic Republic. This scenario replicates the historical challenges facing coalition fighters attempting to check the retreat. It also explores the scale of effort comprehensive destruction of the IAF’s inventory would have required, with a hypothetical airborne operation.


14. Liberation

Coalition vs. Iraq

Date/Time: 27-28 February, 1991 / 01:00:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 36 Hours
Playable Sides: Coalition

“There is nothing as melancholic as a battle won – except a battle lost.”
– Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

After weeks of unceasing attack by coalition airpower, ranging from tank busting with guided weapons to area-bombing attacks by B-52s, Iraqi ground forces were ill-prepared to hold Kuwait. Less than a day after coalition ground forces joined combat on Feb. 24th, Iraq’s army was beginning a full retreat northwards. Coalition airpower fell upon them like a thunderbolt, sealing choke-points with burning vehicles and bombed bridges. Once the routed army had piled up into miles-long traffic jams, continued air attacks began a rain of destruction to rival the carnage unleashed on the Falaise Pocket in WWII. Entire vehicular columns vanished in flames, including 1,400 vehicles along Highway 8, the fabled “Highway of Death.”

Though technically a media misnomer (many vehicles had been abandoned by the time they were struck, and far more trucks died than troops), Highway 8 was a microcosm of how Coalition airpower had shattered Iraq’s ground troops as an effective fighting force. Weeks of punishing bombardment had convinced many Iraqi soldiers that their heavy equipment was of no use, or worse, actively detrimental as it attracted airstrikes. The Iraqi soldiers’ decision to abandon their vehicles on Highway 8 – and their subsequent prompt destruction by airstrikes – underlines how effectively coalition airpower had disarmed, demoralized and dismantled what had once been one of the largest, most battle-hardened mechanized forces in the world. Of those units that hadn’t already abandoned their equipment, some did so upon engaging coalition ground forces, others surrendered to same when air power showed up, and the rest were paralyzed. Unable (due to lacking supplies & support) or unwilling (due to the threat of air attack) to maneuver effectively, they could only face the ground assault and return fire from their prepared positions. Airpower asserted itself even in these desperate last stands, such as the close air support of Marines advancing on Kuwait International Airport.

Though strategic bombing had proved its worth in WWII (though at steep cost), tactical airpower had never before accomplished such complete devastation of fielded units in detail. Despite tasking its forces with attriting Iraqi ground forces by 50% before the ground invasion began – more than had been expected or asked of airpower in any previous conflict – the US military expected these results mostly from the same dumb munitions that had failed to deliver effectively since WWII. The surprise superstar of the war was the humble Laser Guided Bomb (LGB), which soon proved efficient at destroying tanks, a feat thought technically unfeasible prewar. Given their low cost compared to dedicated anti-tank missiles like Mavericks, many F-111s were hastily devoted to “tank plinking” for much of the war. Ultimately, the power of the Precision Guided Munition hadn’t been fully understood even by the military that pioneered them.

This scenario is representative of the four-day ground/air campaign; reducing the numbers involved (and consequently compressing the timeline) to something manageable by the lone strike planner (i.e., you.) The rain of steel you can unleash is staggering, but ultimately just a sampling of the colossal destruction Coalition airpower historically wrought.


BONUS: Israeli Counterpunch

Israel vs. Iran

Date/Time: 06 April, 2019 / 04:30:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 72 Hours
Playable Sides: Israel

“-the greatest dangers facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. To defeat ISIS and let Iran get nuclear weapons would be to win the battle, but lose the war. We can’t let that happen…

“…as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.”

                        – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, March 3rd, 2015

 

Of all the existential threats to Israel, none loom larger than the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has made the destruction of Israel the core tenet of its foreign policy since its inception. It’s pursued that goal with devoted persistence, pouring money and materiel into a three and a half decade effort to damage or destroy the Israeli state in any way possible. This hypothetical scenario explores how this long-simmering conflict might boil over into all-out war. North Korea and the Indo-Pakistani conflicts have attracted more attention of late, but with the status of Iran’s nuclear program still in doubt (and bitterly debated,) the Israel-Iran conflict is still a potential nuclear flash-point entering 2019. This hypothetical scenario explores one possible – and very probable – way this flash-point might finally blow.

Due to geographic distance and inferior military strength, Iran has traditionally utilized proxies such as Hezbollah to pursue its ends. In 2011, Iran joined the Syrian civil war, eager to gain an easier overland supply route to its proxies. What started as weapon shipments to Hezbollah eventually grew into a comprehensive Iranian forward-basing effort, including construction of missile and rocket factories, with output intended for Hezbollah. This led to direct conflict in 2018, when the Israeli Air Force began routinely attacking Iranian troops, facilities and supporting elements in Syria to stymie their efforts.

Looming over the worsening situation is Iran’s longstanding nuclear weapons program and the dramatic impact – literal and figurative – an Iranian bomb would have on the conflict. In light of Iran’s already-extant delivery systems and Israel’s all-but-confirmed nuclear capability, such a development would instantly place Israel and Iran in a nuclear standoff.

Despite the obvious deterrence potential of nuclear-tipped IRBMs, Iran might still opt for deployment via proxy. Silo-launched missiles have an obvious return address, and Israel – protected by a dense, multi-layered anti-ballistic-missile system – might handily “win” a full exchange. Iran seeks to damage Israel, not deter it, and its terrorist proxies have enjoyed long success in that mission, sometimes with methods as primitive as flying flaming kites over the border fence to ignite Israeli farm fields. A nuclear device infiltrated over the border by terrorists would be almost impossible for Israeli forces to stop, and most importantly would offer some level of plausible deniability that might forestall nuclear retaliation.

However, even a conventional Israeli response would surely be comprehensive.

The scenarios of Desert Storm – Part 1

March 21, 2019 · Posted in Command, Uncategorized · Comment 

The new “Desert Storm” DLC is now well into production, and is set to launch on March 28 (see the trailer!). The companion v1.15 update has also been released, and the dev team is already tweaking the new features and fixing issues based on early feedback. Let us take a look through the scenarios available in this battleset and explore the historical and hypothetical events that it surveys.


1. Invasion

Coalition vs. Iraq

Date/Time: 1 August, 1990/ 23:00:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 48 Hours
Playable Sides: Coalition

On August 2, 1990, the world watched in stunned surprise as Iraq’s elite armor divisions invaded and conquered Kuwait within two days.

This irrevocable act was the culmination of years of disputes between the two states. During the Iran-Iraq war, Kuwait had made a series of large loans to Iraq totaling over $14b. By the war’s end in 1988, Iraq was unable to repay and repeatedly asked Kuwait to forfeit the debt, arguing that by standing up to Iran it had indirectly protected the small, wealthy state. Furthermore, Iraq accused Kuwait of “drinking its milkshake”, i.e. using slant-drilling techniques to exploit oil reserves from the Iraqi portion of the rich Rumaila field.

The US administration, balancing between its long-standing allies Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and its desire to continue using secular Iraq as a bulwark against fundamentalist Iran (as it had done throughout the 1980s), had long been trying to mediate a solution that would placate all sides. During the spring and summer of 1990, Iraq’s military preparations were closely observed by western intelligence but were interpreted as a show of force designed to intimidate Kuwait and third-party negotiators rather than as the prelude to action. On July 25, the US ambassador met with Iraq’s leader, President Saddam Hussein, to reaffirm that (a) the US was committed to a peaceful resolution of the disputes between the two states and (b) that they held no opinion or favor towards either side in the disputes themselves. Hussein apparently interpreted the former as a token statement and the latter as a tacit approval of his regional ambitions. He thus finalized his operational plans and, just one week later, set them in motion.

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) had long-prepared plans for the rapid transfer of heavy US forces in the Middle East and Arabian peninsula. The concept of the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) postulated a sudden threat to the oil fields of Iran or Saudi Arabia, in both cases from a sudden Soviet invasion out of Afghanistan or the Caucasus TVD. To counter such a threat, multiple rapid-reaction forces and schemes were put in place: Elements of the 82nd Airborne Division were on a constant two-hour alert, with a brigade-size commitment scheduled 18 hours later; division-sized army forces were to be airlifted and delivered within 2 weeks; multiple container ships pre-positioned in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean carried supplies to be used by the arriving troops; multiple tactical and strategic airwings were earmarked for immediate relocation, and more. CENTCOM regularly practiced these plans in concert with regional allies, e.g. the bi-annual “Bright Star” exercises held in Egypt.

Though nobody on the ground yet knew it, all these plans and preparations were about to be put to the real test.


2. The Thin Red Line

Coalition vs. Iraq

Date/Time: 15 August, 1990/ 20:00:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 38 Hours
Playable Sides: Coalition

 

“I can tell you this, those first few nights were pretty strenuous, we didn’t have very much to stop ’em. [If the Iraqis attacked], the plan was to hit the supplies for the attacking army, slow ’em down that way, and meanwhile we kept a full tank of gas in all of our cars and we were ready to [withdraw] to Jeddah (Red Sea coast).”

– Charles Horner, commander of coalition air ops on Desert Shield / Desert Storm

Emboldened by his army’s swift success in conquering Kuwait and its oil fields, Saddam Hussein considered a possible advance into Saudi Arabia.

US reinforcements had already started pouring into the country, but slower than required, because the Saudi monarch was unconvinced that Iraq would invade (Saddam had privately assured the Saudis that Kuwait was his sole objective). A massive global air/sea-lift operation was well underway, but forces and supplies were by necessity streaming in piecemeal and simply getting the right people and hardware where they needed to be was challenging. In many ways, the rapid-reaction force being assembled in Saudi Arabia during August & September was a rag-tag motley crew of assets. Opposite them, just across the border stood Iraq’s best armored units, flush with confidence, ready to advance on a moment’s notice.

If that armored fist had crossed the border, would the thin red line have held?


3. First Night

Coalition vs. Iraq

Date/Time: 17 January, 1991 / 00:00:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 48 Hours
Playable Sides: Coalition

Two Soviet generals sit at a café in Paris, watching the Red Army’s victory parade. One of them turns to the other and asks: “By the way, comrade, who won the air war”?

This grim joke, popular in NATO circles in the 1970s and 80s, reflected a common prevailing wisdom distilled from the lessons of WW2, Korea and Vietnam: Airpower alone had never been able to decisively determine the course of a war.

The potential of airpower as a paradigm-shifting strategic weapon had been evident since its inception. Capable of bypassing the front lines to strike at the enemy’s heartland, it might end wars in days, rather than the years of brutal front-line attrition required in past conflicts. A century of failed attempts dispelled the dream; the reality was an attritional war of fighters and flak (and more recently SAMs), as bloody as anything earthbound. The same applied to direct destruction of fielded enemy forces; airpower was important, but as plenty of experience attested, never dominant.

As the US-led coalition air forces prepared for their first round of offensive operations against the Iraqi military, a lot was riding on the men and machines tasked with the job. The machines themselves were a mix of old and tried, and new and untested. The US military still lied in the shadow of the failures of Vietnam, where “a thousand tactical victories” had nevertheless ultimately resulted in strategic and political defeat. The directives from the highest level were clear as crystal: This would not be allowed to turn into another Vietnam. Strategic victory had to be achieved swiftly, massively and decisively – in other words, unlike any previous major conflict the US and its allies had ever fought.

Some students of airpower pointed to Israel’s swift victory in 1967 (and especially the first-day annihilation of the Egyptian air force) as a possible model to emulate. While there was indeed much to learn from the Arab-Israeli conflicts of the past (indeed, Israel’s extensive use of electronic warfare in 1982 did not go unnoticed and was to be intensely replicated), the reality was that the conditions that enabled the IAF to triumph in 1967 had come and gone. Low altitude was no longer a safe sanctuary for strike aircraft; Radars had become more resistant to jamming; Aircraft were no longer parked in long rows in the open begging to be bombed & strafed, each instead now being individually protected by a hardened aircraft shelter (HAS) seemingly impervious to anything but a dead-on nuclear impact. Catching the Iraqi air force on the ground and wiping it out within a few hours was a pipe dream. The Iraqi integrated air defence system (IADS), an odd mix of Soviet-supplied radars and SAMs together with a backbone of mostly French-originated command, control and communication infrastructure (a detail that turned out to be eminently exploitable) appeared to be a very tough nut to crack. Campaign planners, by every right a conservative group, estimated potentially heavy aircraft losses for the first nights of intense airstrikes.

Desert Storm would famously prove the “never dominant” claim invalid, but before airpower savaged the Iraqi army itself, it reached one more time for the first and dearest dream – overwhelming and instant strategic supremacy. The first night’s strikes on Iraq proper saw a dizzying ballet of assets, coordinated by modern AWACS and satellite communications, overwhelm Iraq’s air defenses, plaster its airbases and hammer its C3 infrastructure – simultaneously. Assets ranging from fighters and bombers to attack helicopters to drones to cruise missiles struck their targets with impunity, but none more boldly than the F-117s which braved Baghdad itself, hit their targets, and returned without loss.

To what extent those first-night strikes realized the traditional goals of strategic airpower – especially the shattering of enemy morale – is a question still debated and might never be truly answered. But one promise, beyond a shadow of a doubt, had finally been realized: At long last, the bomber had gotten through.


4. The Gates of Hell

Coalition vs. Iraq

Date/Time: 18 January, 1991 / 04:00:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 36 Hours
Playable Sides: Coalition

Prior to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, it had been established that Iraq possessed a significant chemical weapons capability. Iraq’s military had used chemical weapons on numerous occasions against Iran, as well as various rebel groups such as in Kurdistan. By the time of the coalition build-up during Desert Shield, the consensus of western intelligence agencies held that Iraq still had a sizable chemical arsenal, had likely forward-deployed these weapons, and was prepared to use them against coalition forces.

The concern about Iraq using WMDs as a counter to the coalition’s superiority in conventional forces prompted numerous US officials to implicitly or even explicitly state that the US would respond to such an attack with WMDs of its own, probably employing tactical nuclear weapons.

At the tactical and operational level, Iraq’s chemical weaponry constituted one of the prime strategic targets of coalition air power. The effort to neutralize it was two-pronged: chemical agents still stored in their rear-area bunkers were attacked before they could be deployed; and ready-forces already outfitted with chemical warheads (Scud missile batteries, artillery units, etc.) were prioritized by coalition airpower. But as frequently happens with such plans, the best efforts still resulted in misses and leakers.

On January 18, the second day of Desert Storm, Iraq’s President Hussein – dismayed by Iraq’s inability to resist the coalition’s massive aerial onslaught – conveyed an ultimatum to CENTCOM headquarters: unless coalition forces immediately ceased offensive actions and withdrew from Kuwait, Iraq would strike coalition troops and/or any city of their choice with chemical weapons.

While US forces scrambled to locate and neutralize the chemical threat immediately, other standing-alert assets prepared to deliver the nuclear response the US had committed to. The gates of hell were about to swing open…


5. Scud Hunt

Coalition vs. Iraq

Date/Time: 19 January, 1991 / 00:00:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 36 Hours
Playable Sides: Coalition

Saddam Hussein’s first serious reaction to the commencement of Desert Storm was to unleash a protracted bombardment of Israel (and to a much lesser extent Saudi Arabia) using Iraq’s considerable arsenal of SS-1C Scud-B tactical ballistic missiles (TBMs). While the strikes against Saudi Arabia were merely punitive gestures, attacking Israel was an astute political gambit: if Israel retaliated, as Hussein hoped, reawakened anti-Israel fervor in the various Arab states that had either remained neutral or actively joined the coalition could fracture the alliance mere days into the campaign.

CENTCOM planners and Schwarzkopf himself had neglected the Scud threat up to that point, correctly considering the missiles as militarily insignificant without WMD warheads (which the US nuclear deterrent would preclude.) Though tactically and operationally ineffective, they had suddenly become a serious strategic/diplomatic threat. Persuading Israel to hold back was no easy task, again demanding multiple parallel measures. First, several Patriot batteries with PAC-2 missiles (optimized for TBM engagements) were hurriedly deployed to key Israeli target areas like Tel Aviv. Secondly, Iraq’s TBMs and launchers became priority targets for air campaign planners.

The missiles installed in fixed launchers at the large H2 and H3 airbases in western Iraq were straightforward enough to attack; however, most Iraqi Scuds were deployed on highly mobile 8×8 transporter/erector/launcher (TEL) vehicles exploiting the vast Iraqi desert to hide themselves. To destroy them, a large portion of available coalition aircraft and special operation forces (SOF) teams were re-tasked to seeking out and eliminating Scud TELs exclusively. This veritable “needle in a haystack” hunt would become the longest operation of the entire conflict and a maddeningly frustrating experience for everyone involved.


6. Reviving a Giant

Coalition vs. Iraq

Date/Time: 24 January, 1991 / 00:00:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 48 Hours
Playable Sides: Coalition

By January 20th, 1991, the initial strikes on Iraq had been highly successful, destroying or degrading much of Iraq’s communication and anti-air capabilities. However, the coalition naval fleets in both the Eastern Med and Persian Gulf had by this point expended most of their long-range land-attack capability. In particular, the Persian Gulf Task Force needed to replenish its stock of Tomahawk cruise missiles as soon as possible.

Historically, two Iowa Class battleships, Missouri (BB-63) and Wisconsin (BB-64), played a part in the Gulf War. Four Iowas were built during WWII and two other keels were laid – the Illinois (BB-65) and Kentucky (BB-66). These two hulls were to be the Iowa’s follow-on class, the “Montana Class” battleships. In real life, the end of WWII halted their construction and they were never commissioned. The BB-65 hull was broken up in September 1958.

In the 1950s, several proposals were floated to complete the Kentucky as a guided missile battleship. This project was authorized in 1954, and Kentucky was renumbered from BB-66 to BBG-1, only to be canceled later.

Conversion of the 73% complete Kentucky would have entailed extensive refits to replace the two original aft 16″ turret barbettes with an assortment of missile launchers and sensor systems. Apart from Phalanx CIWS, quad Harpoon launchers and Tomahawk armored-box launchers received by the four Iowas during their 1980s modernization, the Kentucky would also have room for multiple SM-2 Standard area-defence missile and Sea Sparrow point-defence missile launchers, plus their associated air search and SAM-illumination radars. Its original twin 5-inch gun turrets would’ve been replaced with modern Mk45 guns. If employed correctly, the last of the BBs would have been a fearsome addition to coalition naval power.

In this hypothetical scenario, the conversion was completed instead of abandoned, and BBG-1 Kentucky has been commissioned into service, receiving subsequent modernization during the 1980s similr to the Iowas. The Kentucky and her accompanying escorts and supply ships have been tasked to reinforce the Coalition’s naval force in the Northern Persian Gulf and relieve the first-strike shooters.


7. Israel Stands Up

Israel vs. Iraq/Gaza

Date/Time: 26 January, 1991 / 23:00:00 Zulu
Location: Middle East
Duration: 36 Hours
Playable Sides: Israel

Desert Storm was arguably the strangest war in Israel’s military history. Even though a nationwide state of emergency was declared, and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were put on alert, the order to commence offensive operations never came.

Saddam Hussein had attempted to turn Iraq’s dispute with Kuwait into a larger Arab-Israeli matter long before the air campaign started. For example, on August 12, 1990, just ten days after the Iraqi invasion, he had publicly suggested that Iraq might withdraw from Kuwait if Israel withdrew from all occupied Arab territory and Syria withdrew from Lebanon. Unsurprisingly this proposal drew considerable praise from the Arab world, even from principals that were otherwise critical of Iraq and its invasion.

Hussein’s order to fire a protracted barrage of Scud missiles against Israel right after the beginning of the coalition air campaign was therefore a step-up in this shrewd political maneuver: he attempted to draw Israel into battle, thus transforming what had started as an Arab-Arab conflict into an Arab-Israeli conflict, one in which Iraq would suddenly find new allies. Realizing this, the US-led coalition urged Israel to “stay down” and take the punches on the chin. It was necessary to keep Israel out in order to keep the Arab states on the side of the coalition. To demonstrate the US commitment to Israeli defence, a number of Patriot missile batteries were hastily ferried to Israel to provide additional ABM cover, and a substantial part of the coalition’s tactical airpower was dedicated to eliminating the Scud threat at its source. The Israeli government understood the stakes and, despite suffering repeated Scud impacts on Tel Aviv and elsewhere, held fast.

In this hypothetical scenario, Saddam’s gamble paid off: mounting public pressure in Israel from the relentless Scud bombardment has reached the breaking point. Rumors are spreading that dissident Arab factions within Palestine and the Gaza Strip are assembling material, supplies, equipment and personnel to launch independent attacks against Israel in support of Iraq’s pressure. The government feels that it has to respond, even in a limited fashion, or completely lose legitimacy. Israel’s gloves are about to come off.

Companion to Desert Storm: The v1.15 Command update is available

March 19, 2019 · Posted in Command · Comment 

So, the free v1.15 update for Command is now available to both Steam & Matrix users. The release notes are currently available here. The Desert Storm DLC is also currently in production and will be released very soon.

This update rolls up all the minor updates that we have released since the launch of v1.14 and the “The Silent Service” DLC, and brings together a lot of small improvements and some big major new features. Let’s briefly walk through them:

  • Personal persistent map profile. You asked for it, we explained to you why it’s generally a bad idea, you understood and insisted, so we are giving you the rope to hang yourselves with once more demonstrating our customer-oriented approach. It is optional and disabled by default, so you actively have to enable it in order to use it and love it (or more likely, hate it).
  • Dynamic ORBAT window: This is a genuinely good idea, and a bit overdue. This makes the ORBAT window more useful as a “live tally” of friendly forces, and also very handy for quickly jumping around a large theater of operations by selecting the desired unit.

It also makes ultra-wide monitors genuinely useful

  • The “Magazines” and “Weapons” window received massive speed optimizations, so they are much easier to use even with units/installations with bazillions of different weapons and magazines (looking at you, Burke DDGs and Incirlik airbase).
  • Visual and IR sensors are no longer precise insta-spotters, except at very short ranges. This removes the overpowering effect of these sensor types and restores the advantage of ranging-capable sensors (radar, laser etc.). They are still very useful, but now they have to be combined with other sensors (or in pairs, e.g. for cross-bearing) to provide useful geolocation for subsequent engagements.
  • No more “blind AMRAAM shots”. We covered this recently, but it is a major improvement so worth repeating. There is a good reason everyone is trying to develop CEC technologies and tactics nowadays.
  • New doctrine setting specifically for BVR engagement behavior: This is a hidden gem, and part of the real reason that western fighters tend to have a better real-world BVR record than their Soviet/Russian/Chinese counterparts so far. Try it out and see what difference the various tactics make.
  • Updated terrain data for Spratlys and other areas.
  • The submarine snorkelling noise penalty is now gradual (depending on sub throttle) instead of a binary yes/no. This can make anti-SSK hunts more challenging if the sub captains are careful.
  • Serious sim-performance improvements on heavily-populated scenarios. Monsters like the 12K+ AU “why the hell not” setups now run significantly faster than real-time.
  • Approximately 2 billion new Lua methods available to scenario authors; including some real teasers like updating satellite orbits, preserving damage on a unit from one scenario to the next, exporting .inst files, enumerating through contact emissions (Wild-Weasel AI!), retrieving cargo properties and much more.
  • Content updates & additions a-plenty; Updated databases & official scenarios, new and updated tutorials, and more.

Now, onwards to the Desert Storm battleset!

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