09 September 2012

Harpoon: You Know When You've Been Tango'd - 1.51 ("The Big Red One", HDS III GIUK)

There is a popular brand of canned fizzy soft drink in the United Kingdom called "Tango" - I've had a few cans of it myself in my time. The most infamous adverts for the brand first aired in 1991 and involved a man drinking Tango then suddenly getting slapped on both cheeks by an orange-painted man. Kids started copying the adverts, there was an outcry and eventually the ads were changed to the guy getting kissed by said orange man.

The former experience was not entirely unlike my experience with the hard "can" that NATO calls "Tango" in this scenario.


Harpoon Classic gets a major upgrade at 1.51. The interface improves dramatically; many buttons that you used to have to go to menus for can now be accessed from the main operational screen, there are a lot more alert sounds, your Staff Assistant is a lot more helpful and the music is of a somewhat higher quality. Another item of note is that when you go into the "Sensors" page via Full Report on a unit actively emitting, you now hear an ESM-style sound.

It's a lot easier to use than the older versions and a lot more enjoyable.

So, onto the scenario.


HDS III is a group of four battlesets all based on one theme - a Third World War in 1990. "The Big Red One" is the ninth scenario (of twelve) from the GIUK set. BLUFOR's mission is to ensure that 1st Armoured Division (in three convoys) gets to the Wilhelmshaven area safely so that they can unload and join the fight in West Germany. These transports are being escorted by a variety of NATO ships, including the Tico Leyte Gulf, two Type 42s and some German PTMs. You also have a large number of land-based fighters and attack aircraft, ranging from F-15s to F-117s to provide CAP and SuCAP to stop land-based Warsaw Pact air and other targets from attacking your ships.

It's a very long scenario - almost two days in game time and took me a considerable time to complete in RL. It's also a large scenario, involving over 300 aircraft.

As soon as the scenario started, the alert noises came rapidly as my Sentry detected enemy aircraft taking off from airbases in East Germany. MiG-23s and MiG-29s...

As I've mentioned, this is a long (and large) scenario, so you're getting the edited highlights, a bit like Match of the Day without the catchy music.

I sent F-16s to intercept the MiGs and its now worth mentioning the new SAM and Aircraft AAW settings this version adds. You can now set the range that your aircraft and SAMs engage targets, the options being 75% of max range, 50%, 25% or "optimal". I eventually went for 75% after bad losses at "optimal".

As part of the initial response, I also launched an airstrike against a GDR airbase with F-16s and F-4s, being escorted by F-15s. At 2344 07 Feb (game time) I noted that aircraft kept on coming up.

It's noteworthy at this point in time that the F-16 did not possess a radar-guided AAM - an important point in Red Phoenix - which I noted "could prove problematic".

The early air battle was intense to put it mildly. I was having to scramble aircraft north, south and centre, hitting the intercept option on every contact and getting fighters to intercept where I could. I tried, where possible, to assign "superior" or equal" aircraft to contacts that ranged from MiG-21s to Su-27s.

I also discovered that AA-11s can be deadly AAMs and when midnight came around, I was 21-20 down on aircraft losses. Then I picked up a "Backfire" on my scope, with the nearest fighters over 250 miles away. I eventually took care of that one.

My initial thought about the Phantoms (the ICE upgrade for West Germany) was that they got destroyed if the enemy looked at them funny, but they soon proved their worth.

At 0010, I launched 12 Tomahawks from Leyte Gulf at Rhein-Main airfield, but only did 1% damage when they arrived at 0043. Two minutes later, Nordholz AB took out the first of a good number of attacking aircraft that it would take out with Patriots during the course of this particular battle.

Five Su-24MKs got close to the Leyte Gulf convoy (AGS) where the ship duly Standarded them to death.

One particularly dumb move on my part was sending 14 Phantoms to attack Sola AB loaded with iron bombs without ensure that the base defences were properly suppressed. I lost 6 on the way in, dropped 192 bombs for 16% damage and had the rest shot down on leaving.

The score eventually turned in my favour and I realised another important point - if you shoot down an aircraft that is attacking you with SARH missiles, you no longer have to worry about the missiles as they've now lost lock.

Other observations at this point included the discovery that the Tornado IDS has a "Standoff" loadout that only has a range of 5, the MiG-23MLD "Flogger K" can carry AA-11s in this database (on further checking, they did get them in RL in 1982) and that HARMs don't do a lot of damage to the rest of an AB, or as I later discovered, missile boats. That last point just seems odd.

I'd sent the Lynx helicopters with my two Type 42s forward on a fixed point patrol rather than keeping them in formation. At 0147 a sonobuoy picked up a "Tango" SS... 

Since I'd rather stupidly sent my ASW helicopters ahead, they were out of range of the Tango SSK, even on military power, they would not get there for a while. The quiet diesel submarine was however in range of Southampton's own Stingrays torpedoes. When I detected no less than six 53-83 torpedoes (the Captain must have emptied all of the tubes at once) heading from the convoy, I had no option but to fire two of the Stingrays from the Type 42.

It now feels appropriate to reference Red Dawn, which I recently watched. Taking out the Mi-24 is no good to Jennifer Grey after she's been mortally wounded by a 20mm cannon... So taking out a submarine after its launched torpedoes at you won't stop the torpedoes...

Anyway, my torpedoes missed. Southampton was hit and sank (new sinking music in this version) - another torpedo hit the T-AK Antares and slowed it to 5 knots. I took the advice to leave that particular vessel behind.

Not my best moment by any stretch of the imagination.

At 0028, after shooting down some more aircraft, including one that wandered a bit too near my Sentry, a chopper finally launched a torpedo at the Tango, along with another two Barracudas from a Seasprite just before it came into land on my other T42. As these were running, I had 16 HARMs heading from Rhein-Main all shot down before they could hit.

At 0235, two Barracudas acquired the Tango and one of them hit. Of course, most Soviet submarines have double hulls and this pesky thing was still rather viable... As it amply demonstrated 7 minutes later when it launched three more torpedoes. It was a race between my torpedoes and his to see which would hit first...

The answer was a draw, more or less. I lost Del Monte and its entire cargo of oranges, but the Tango finally went to the bottom. Not fully content to have claimed one merchie, the still running Tango torpedoes took another one as well.

The air battle was going a lot better - I'd destroyed 118 aircraft belong to the enemy as of 0303. Even the Phantoms were doing well and I had four Su-27 Flankers going for a Sentry being shot down by Patriot and Sparrow missiles.

At 0323, I realised what happens when you orbit a Sentry too near the front line (near Nordholz) without fighter escort - let's just say some West German kids were going to find some interesting debris.

At 0324, my other Sentry, over the North Sea, detected two surface contacts. "Tarantul III" missile boats...


So, I had Tarantuls - in fact, three of them now, to deal with. While they were still a long way off, I really wanted to deal with them ASAP so they couldn't launch Sunburns at me (I don't honestly recall if I actually had any Harpoon-armed ships).

At the same time, I also discovered that Nordholz had emptied its SAM magazines, although these were reloaded six minutes later.

Once they had been readied, I launched four HARM-carrying Phantoms at the PTGs. Carrying 8 missiles in total, I thought these would do some damage. If I set off a 150lb bomb off on board a boat, especially one of the tin can, hit-and-sink variety that the USSR built in droves during the Cold War, I expect the thing to take some damage.

Not lose the radar mount only and not take any additional damage. Seems highly illogical to me.

I then did another stupid thing - send the Phantoms to intercept an aerial target, where they flew over the boats and were shot down by the Gremlins carried by the Tarantuls. Which of course don't need radar in the first place.

After MiG-25s tried and failed to shoot down the F-15s forming up over Nordholz, I detected a Kilo SSK... 


I had absolutely zero intention of allowing the Kilo to get any shots off on my main group and sent two Seahawks after it. One of the SH-60s got into range and fired a Mk50 at it, while I lobbed two ASROCs at it (why did the USN get rid of those?) for good measure. The Mk50 missed and the other torpedoes vanished. I fired off another ASROC. Just as I did I got a sinking message anyway. Job done.

At 0436, a solitary Viper (that's an F-16. I defer to the pilots on that name) launched a pair of Penguins at one of the pesky Tarantuls (the word translates as "tarantula", which is appropriate, as they have a nasty bite, but are easy to step on). Personally, I'm wondering who decided to call a missile after a flightless bird best known for looking cute in cold climates, but I don't work for the Norwegian Navy. Anyway, after one missile was shot down by Gremlins (the Igla, not the creatures you do not feed after midnight, amusing a thought that may be), the other one slammed into "T301" and turned the vessel into a hazard for Danish divers.

At 0443, I got my 10 F-16Cs to launch Maverick missiles at the other two Tarantuls. Eight of them made their way through the targets to sink the two vessels. As they say in Schlock Mercenary, there is no kill like overkill. Threat dealt with.

My F-16s returned to base, jettisoning their unused Mavericks, which was honestly a waste. I could have sent them after something else. As they landed, they were shot at by AA-9s, which all missed.

At this point, I made one of my better tactical decisions. I don't remember why I did it, but I had some F-15s over Poland, where they shot down a A-50 Mainstay (called an Il-76TD in this DB). I noted that getting rid of that would help a lot. One of the F-15s was lost later, but the trip was worth it.

I lobbed no less than 60 Maverick missiles at Parchim, which did 42% damage to the airbase and lost two aircraft in the process. Not a bad exchange rate, all told.

At 0751, I detected two small low-level aircraft heading for group AGS - at a time when my interceptors were badly out of position... 

The two low-level aircraft turned out to be Flankers, who were obviously going for the Sentry. A combination of F-15 fire (which I sent over very fast) and Leyte Gulf's SAMs took care of these particular intruders.

0834 saw three more surface contacts turn up - Nanuckha I corvettes. I sent F-16s to intercept them. After an initial attack with HARMs (one of which actually caused 17% damage), followed by others repeatedly missing, the Penguins finished off the vessels before they could become any threat.

I fast forwarded now- there were no more planes coming up. I also had two Phantoms run out of fuel and crash.

At 1419, I encountered another sub surprise. Missiles were detected on radar heading from AGS and I stupidly forgot to go to 1:1 time. Cape Johnson, a T-AK was sunk. I concluded that the attack came from a submarine and I was correct - an hour and a half later (1547) I spotted a Charlie I SSGN nearby.

I promptly jumped on it with four helos and an FFG-7. Eventually, the Charlie (which would still have been a threat due to its torpedoes) went to the bottom.

I was pretty much done. Aside from a 31-plane strike on Parchim that fired 54 Mavericks in the place and resulted in two F-16s being lost due to my not ordering them back fast enough, all I needed to do was wait.

At 1921, I hit minimum victory conditions, heard "The Star-Spangled Banner" and called it a day.

My losses: 4 ships, 102 A/C, 1 helicopter.

Red's losses: 6 ships, 3 subs, 188 A/C and three damaged airbases.

With 1.51, Harpoon's playability has gone up considerably. I don't expect to see much more in the field of functionality until we hit WinHarp.

The next mission will be "Glidepath to War" from the original IOPG. That's right, I'm taking a casino for a ride.

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