29 August 2012

Harpoon: 1.1

I was discussing with Tony about the lack of the vessel that became Admiral Kuznetsov in the earlier DB. The vessel is present here, under its present name (albeit spelt "Kusnetsov") and described as the ship of a thousand names.

I chose the Indian Ocean battleset and Invincible?, as Ark Royal retiring this Friday (12 November).

The mission here is to use a British carrier group, consisting of Invincible, two Type 42/3s, two Type 22/3s and a Type 23, along with a Trafalgar SSN and an Upholder SS to stop a Soviet surface action group reaching the Arabian Sea.

It appears the Soviet SAG is randomly determined. On first play, it included a "Slava". That game froze shortly after HMS Argyll got splattered by a bunch of "Sandbox" missiles that we first saw coming visually (I understand getting a Sandbox by visual means still gives people nightmares...)

I decided to operate my radars intermittently; about five minutes on, then five minutes off. I increased my formation zones to 20/40/80/160 and set ASW patrols, with a two-Harrier CAP covering a Sea King AEW patrol. To be honest, I'm not sure the CAP was needed; the Soviets didn't have any AAW capable aircraft.

The problem with the Invincible class that it doesn't have that many Harriers, especially as the type wasn't initially designed for STOVL. I had only eight on board; although this was due to the presence of the (rather handy) Sea Dart launcher that would later be removed.

There is a little satellite system codenamed KEYHOLE and it features in this game, giving one helpful hints as to where to look in a vast ocean. KEYHOLE gave me the location of a number of units in the SAG including a "Kashin", a "Kresta II" and a "Sovremmenny" (henceforth called a "Sovvie"). While these units wouldn't stay up there for long,

I had an idea where they were and so sent my entire group towards them, planning for a mass fleet action.

I actually first had a CZ contact from one of my subs, but since I couldn't identify the target, I decided not to risk a long-range Harpoon shot. I never did manage to launch anything from those subs...

The British used to have a rather good stand-off ASuW missile called Sea Eagle; it has now been retired. This was an option for Lynx, Sea King and Harriers; I used plenty of them.

With my two-plane CAP, I only had six Harriers to do the attacking business, but the helicopters would also help. I could safely launch from stand-off range of 50 miles; well outside the Soviet SAM umbrella.

As we got closer, I decided to launch a Harrier based air-attack using AMRAAMs against a Soviet ASW helicopter. This was rather like shooting fish in a barrel; but it's clear that the RN lost something when they retired the Sea Harrier back in 2006.

As we approached, the Harpoon missiles of some of my escorts came into range. Perhaps I should have held off on the attack until everything was in range and chucked one massive strike at them (although I don't appear to have had any Exocets, which made that strategy a bit stupid).

This is where the clear advantage between us and them came into play. Apart from the Sovvies, most of the ships were only equipped with SA-N-1 or SA-N-3a SAMs, which didn't stand a snowball's chance in a blast furnace against Harpoons.

I took down a Sovvie and a "Kashin" (IIRC) in fairly quick order. The Sovvie managed to shoot down a couple, but the "Kashin" didn't stand a chance. If you look at the "Full Report" of a damaged ship, you can see flame animations on the top-down view. An interesting feature.

A strange little tune played when these vessels sunk. When I listened through it on the third go, I found it was meant to be "Rule Britannia".

As our forces closed, the Soviets let off a small riposte; eight "Sunburns" from the Sovvie and later four "Styxes" for a "Mod Kashin" (the class classically called "Tattletales").

Rapid responses to this launch came from my escorts and the Sea Dart-carrying Invincible, with saw Sea Darts and Sea Wolves launching from their launchers in fun style. These proved successful in dealing with the seaskimmers and further Harpoons were fired back.

Then the Soviets tried a different strategy. Missiles were going to be used in different ways...

I probably should have changed formation earlier; I wouldn't have lost as many choppers. With inbound Harpoons heading for a "Kashin", the Soviet destroyer started to launch SA-N-1s. I realised that he wasn't shooting at my missiles, he was shooting at my helicopter. A Sea King had wandered over and the "Kashin" was taking shots at that.

The S-125/SA-3/SA-N-1 series isn't a very good missile these days. It may have bagged an F-117A back in 1999, but that was more luck and stupidity than quality. Even c.1990, it was rapidly becoming obsolete (cf. Operation El Dorado Canyon- OK, that was an export version).

It took about eight missiles before the Sea King eventually went down. Another chopper or two would be shot down later.

The Soviet ships then started hurling the "Goas" at my two Type 22/3s, which had run out of Sea Wolf missiles.

The AI at this point then decided to do something a bit stupid. It launched Sea Darts that it could have more effectively used.

Basically, whenever an SA-N-1 was launched, the Sea Darts on board HMS York and HMS Manchester, my Type 42s, would try to shoot down the SA-N-1s. However, due to the short distance that the "Goas" had to travel and the long distance the similarly-fast Sea Darts had to cover, they simply weren't able to reach the attacking missiles in time. They'd have been better used against the attacking SAG!

A lot of the missiles missed. However, some slammed home. With one of my frigates taking serious damage, I decided to move it to the back of the formation, followed by the other one later on.

Both, however, eventually sank under heavy fire from the remaining Soviet ships.

The "Kresta" and the (extremely obsolete) "Sverdlov" went down in due course. I was basically chucking Sea Darts at them as the range closed - and decided, wisely, to move Invincible to the rear of the formation, lest she get too close and take damage; she eventually ran out of Sea Darts. The Sea Darts proved highly effective; while they weren't doing much damage, they were far more accurate than the SA-N-1s.

I was also launching off air strikes at every opportunity. At this close range it was basically a case of taking off, launching missiles then landing again. I'm sure that the crew would complain about the sortie rates I was enforcing on them...

With only one "Mod Kashin" left, clearly crippled, I decided to close in with my Type 23 and finish it off with guns, but it went down before I could do that.

I was expecting a victory message; I didn't get one. Clearly I had to find the subs.

KEYHOLE gave me the location of an Alfa to my east and I sent the force over there, along with my two subs. Fixes were gained and lost, but eventually helicopter-launched torpedoes from the Sea Kings managed to send two Alfas to the bottom. They are rather noisy subs, it should be remembered. This was done with liberal use of time compression.

The rest of the battle was spent sailing the task force towards the Arabian Sea, with a few ships running aground and frequent weapon breakdowns. Oh, and I lost four Sea Harriers due to a lack of fuel.

The clock ran out and the game was a draw. Subs are notoriously hard to find. 

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