Command Modern Air and Naval Operations (CMANO) LIVE continues to pump out scenarios dealing with situations “ripped from next year’s headlines”. The latest DLCs are “Spratly Spat” and “Don of a New Era” Getting past the painful plays on words in the titles, these scenarios make a fine attempt demonstrating not only how modern armed forces may cause conflicts but also resolve them.
South China Sea Cauldron
The rights and privileges over the Spratly Islands, an atoll-filled choke point in the South China Sea, has been a major topic of diplomacy and news over the last year. Six nations claim different levels of sovereignty over them but China, the three-hundred pound gorilla in the area, has been most active. Not only has she delivered increasing bellicose threats about her claims but has created artificial islands in the straits. Combined with her naval build-up, the other nations face the choice of either making a stand or ceding China this crucial region. The US has opposed the Chinese positions.
Spratly Spat is CMANO LIVE’s simulation of the two forces playing a deadly game of “chicken”. The US-backed coalition has sent a task force from five regional powers – the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia – with an American guided missile destroyer (DDG). The taskforce is comprised of another DDG, four guided missile frigates (FFG), a corvette and a supply ship. This play is backed by two submarines and a ring of airbases containing a polyglot mix of fixed wing attack aircraft, interceptors, surveillance and electronic warfare craft, tankers and helicopters. The Chinese response is to send the Liaoning Carrier Strike Group. The group consists of the formidable Liaoning, three DDGs, two FFGs and a supply ship. Two more FFGs serve as advanced screen. This force is supplemented by aircraft from five mainland airbases and a submarine that appears when an event is triggered. Both forces have the same initial tasks: enter into a large quadrangle and only attack surface units and subs. If attacked, all enemy units including aircraft must be destroyed. The Chinese have the additional requirement of controlling the area for twenty-four hours, making the scenario quite long.
The opposing forces start a good distance outside the area but land-based radar already covers the critical area multiple times. Players should launch airborne surface, anti-submarine (ASW) and anti-air (AAW) patrols immediately although no engagements should occur yet. Anti-electronic warfare begins immediately with some radar jammed. The Chinese should put the two advance FFGs on ASW patrols, creeping along dropping sonabouys. The coalition counterpart is to flood the area with many kinds of surveillance craft.
Players may be tempted to rush to battle with their main force by going full speed and increasing game time compression. Such tactics would be a mistake. First, the area is crawling with commercial shipping; sinking a freighter due to impatience ruins a score. Second, the enemy has the area filled with “eyes in the sky”; a premature move will tell them all they need to know. Therefore, both players need to advance with measured steps, patrolling the area to ascertain enemy assets and intentions while keeping combat aircraft ready. Players would do well to review the aerial refuelling tutorial.
Initiating combat must be a well-considered and timed move. The first attacker puts his air assets at risk and will lose surveillance craft, decreasing intel. Hence, players should identify the gravest enemy threats, assemble forces to take most of them out fast and then be prepared for a hours-long knife fight with events being triggered right and left. The opposing forces are so well matched that the first strike must give players the edge in the following brawl.
A special challenge to coalition players is the many types of weapon platforms. The minor nations have bought aircraft and vessels from all over the world. Thus, Vietnamese Flankers will fight alongside F-16s. The OoB is clumsy to read so players may want to write a crib sheet for quick reviews of unit capabilities.
Flames over Moldova
Putin’s Russia seems bent on reconstructing the Soviet Union and, perhaps, the Warsaw Pact. The take-over of the Crimea and ensuing involvement in the Ukraine makes this ambition clear. Don of a New Era submits the case that Russia would attempt to outflank the Ukrainians by invading its weak southern neighbor, Moldova. Naturally, NATO must react in its slow, piecemeal fashion.
Characteristically, the Russians spare no resources when attacking. Their ground forces, which players don’t control, are a reinforced Guards Army with some Speznaz units infiltrating NATO bases. Critical to play is the Russian Black Sea fleet, tasked to sweep any NATO naval forces from the map and to support the ground forces. The fleet consists of the missile cruiser Moskva, a DDG, three FFGs, four missile corvettes, six missile corvettes including two hovercraft variants, two ASW corvettes, three AGI spy ships and three modern submarines. Their huge air contingent is based from four airbases. NATO forces in the Black Sea include the Turkish missile cruisers Gemlik and Cerbe, an American DDG, a British DDG, a Bulgarian frigate and two Rumanian frigates. Two American vessels in the Mediterranean can provide long-range missile back-up. Air support comes from at least six different nations although not all will be in theater immediately.
Given that the scenario only lasts eleven hours, the Russian player must strike with fast, brutal and overwhelming force. The Black Sea fleet can swamp the NATO vessels with surface-to-surface missiles and sub attacks, then go on to support ground forces with the rest of their arsenal. Strategic assets can take out the Land HQ in Turkey and the AEGIS Ashore station in Rumania. The land forces can be protected with electronic warfare measures and by filling a large patrol area with MiG-29s and SU-25s. The Russians have the advantage early.
The NATO player must buy time with casualties. The Black Sea flotilla is doomed but can disrupt the Russian timetable and inflict damage. The ships in the Med can hit Sevastopol and other bases with cruise missiles. However, air power is the only tool to cripple the juggernaut. From the first second of game time, players should create air patrols over crucial bases and in the path of Russian ground forces. Electronic warfare craft should attempt to blind the foe. Inflicting enough damage will trigger events that will bring in enough new resources that even Vladimir may stand down.
These two DLCs exemplify the traits of CMANO LIVE. They are detailed, realistic and fascinating with many hours of replay possible. Having said that, two factors arise that deserve comment. In a changing world, the scenarios represent a moment in time that can quickly become slightly obsolete. The president of the Philippines is not the most stable of individuals and may not want to take part in a coalition force over the Spratlys. The post-coup crackdown in Turkey has decreased chances of its entry into the EU so their participation in an anti-Russian operation may not be whole-hearted. The US may be entering a phase of neo-isolationism. The scenario designers can’t be expected to have a crystal ball and the scenarios can be edited. More importantly, CMANO has no “novice” setting. To fully enjoy these scenarios, players need to have a good background in the series. Players who want to take advantage of the scenarios’ great realism but have come late to the game should be prepared to do some homework. Not to worry; it’s worth the effort. Meanwhile, experienced “old salts” should snap up these DLCs pronto!
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