Playing hypothetical modern conflicts is an amusing intellectual exercise as long as they remain hypothetical. When they become real, the blush comes off the rose and an eerie, cold feeling grips the belly. The recent missile attacks on Syria have a haunting resemblance to what could happen in Command LIVE: Old Grudges Never Die using Command Modern Air and Naval Operations and talks about a diplomatic solution to that civil war are going nowhere. With the sailing of the USS Carl Vinson battle group to the Yellow Sea and the US administration’s hard line on North Korea, the WarfareSims and Slitherine teams appear to have been depressingly prescient again with Korean Missile Crisis.
Before describing the new product, some of the changes to the game done in the last few months should be pointed out culminating in v. 1.11 SR 7. The patch log for Command Modern Air and Naval Operations now runs to 198 PDF pages. Most items concern new units, weapons, enhancement and bug fixes only old salts would notice although all are welcome. However, changes in the interface have eased how players handle the game. The most obvious is streamlining the mission editor. Tabs for the different mission types make changing settings easier. Gone is the assigned unit box so checking a units tick box is the only action needed before changing loadouts. Selected bases or units now have a sidebar where actions can be taken without going into different pop-ups or screens. Oft used functions are now default settings. The only quibble is the small size of the unassigned unit box forcing players to scroll carefully down what can be a very long list of planes, ships and facilities. Version 1.12, slated for release with upcoming Chains of War stand-alone game, promises more.
Grabbing Either Headlines or Body Bags
The scenario opens with North Korea sending the ballistic submarine Sinpo to sea. The UN Security Council reacts by authorizing action to get the sub and to cripple the North Korean (NK) nuclear arms program. The US and its regional allies as well as Russia take up the challenge; China remains neutral as long as no regime change occurs. The nub of the problem is that the US has eight primary goals including sinking the Sinpo, destroying the nuclear manufacturing facilities but not detonating the nukes and a broad brief to neutralize the NK air force and navy. Russia simply has to sink the sub and destroying the nuclear NK land based missile system at Nadong. The infrastructure targets are secondary. With the two major powers not cooperating, each strives to be the first to accomplish their goals.
Although the US has the more difficult task, the forces at hand are almost an embarrassment of riches. Two air wings in South Korea (SK), two air wings in Japan, a carrier battle group, two independent submarines, a Marine F-35 squadron, a naval recon group and a recon air wing would seem to be more than a player can handle, Nevertheless, the US controls two SK air wings and two Australian warships. The Russians have eleven air regiments, two large ship brigades and a submarine brigade of five subs.
North Korea has spent over almost seventy years becoming a barrack state. Although sanctions may have stymied increases in quality of air defenses, NK has made up the gap in quantity and training. Its air force can put swarms of Migs in the air and the entire country is studded with SAM sites. With the exception of the Simpo, the navy can be ignored but the Nadong nuclear missile system is a three-hundred pound gorilla for the region. Both the US and Russia must take two steps early to fulfill their primary goals: knock out the NK air defenses and find Simpo. The latter job can be left to normal naval operations carried out quickly but the multitude of air defense targets present problems of allocation of resources. Fortunately, the game comes with detailed US and Russian briefs that can be copied to Word. Players should run the game windowed and leave the briefs open on the task bar for reference.
Work still remains. Should players drag their cloaks around the borders hoping SAM sites will reveal themselves or should they attack airfields hoping to fox the SAMs and knock out most of the enemy air force on the ground while accepting losses or should the first operations be “suppress enemy air defenses” (SEAD)? Doing both is possible but requires extensive use of the Order of Battle and Database Viewer. Clicking on a group or a unit in the OoB will bring the cursor to its location while the database will give the capabilities of weapons. The plethora of platforms makes composing missions exercises in knowledge of modern systems which makes the learning curve steep for new players. Fortunately, some missions are pre-loaded and ready to go from the start.
As with all LIVE scenarios, curve balls come with game play. Possible US/Russian clashes are possible if players aren’t careful with reference points. Much more frightening is that aggressive but slow UN attacks will spur NK to go nuclear in a matter of hours. Perhaps destruction of the Nadong complex should be job one after all, overturning the more conventional approach of crippling or eliminating air defenses first. The intersection of strategic concerns with tactical capabilities puts players in the dual role of strategist and group commander.
Command LIVE: The Korean Missile Crisis is perhaps the most challenging LIVE scenario to date. All the ingredients for this battle are already in the field in real life. The rhetoric, posturing and actions are not imagined but can be read in headlines each day. Perhaps if the leaders of the involved nations could have an aide show them how the game could play out (I doubt if Trump, Putin or Kim Jong-un could handle the game), they would calm down. As of five hours before this article was finished, China announced it was expecting a war in this region. Sometimes playing games becomes no laughing matter.