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"SAMs in Danger Zone- Continuing Design" Topic

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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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TGerritsen06 Feb 2017 9:10 p.m. PST

An A4 begins his final run on the target, a tank farm designated by intelligence as a primary target in an otherwise unremarkable stretch of jungle. The A4 levels off and begins its descent toward the target when the pilot spots a flash out of the corner of his eye at the 10 o'clock position on the ground. He sees something akin to a telephone pole rising on a column of smoke, turning slowly toward him as it arcs upward into the sky. A Surface to Air Missile! The A4 pilot swings his aircraft toward the SAM as he considers his options for evasion.

I've done a lot of research as I continue work on my jet air combat rules, Danger Zone. I'm currently wrapping up the first draft of the SAM rules and I've done a lot of reading on how SAMs were used historically and how they were intended to be used.

The above paragraph is a shortened version of pretty much every depiction I had seen in fictional works and in movies where SAMs are depicted. However, I was somewhat surprised at how the first SAMs really were used, and what Soviet doctrine intended.

What I didn't see in the fictional accounts was the use of salvos. A typical battery of six launchers would fire 2-3 missiles per salvo, and the lone SAM launch that you see so often in movies or books was the exception, not the rule.

For some of you this is 'duh' info, but I was surprised to read accounts by Soviet technicians who were exasperated by how the North Vietnamese and Egyptians used the SAMs they provided and helped set up and how they didn't match doctrine. Doctrine was to fire 2-3 SAMs at a single target per battery and fire the other half as a follow up salvo if the first salvo missed.

This doctrine was altered as data came in from the Vietnam War, mainly so that the battery bugged out after the initial salvo and reset up in a different location since once revealed, SAM batteries became high priority targets.

However, the image of the sole SAM rising up to take on a target was the exception- largely it happened only when there was a malfunction, someone panicked, or the SAM operators just launched a missile without guidance in hopes that they would spook the enemy aircraft. This was what frustrated the Soviet advisers, as the odds of a sole SAM hitting a target were VERY slim.

Add to this the fact that clusters of batteries would each pick out separate targets and you could have a dozen or more SAMs in the air at any given moment. This was a huge pucker factor for aircraft operating in the area. In fact air defense kill rates with flak and SAMs combined in Vietnam were below air defense kill rates of flak guns alone in World War 2.

In the West, we read all the time about the very low probability of kill for early air to air missiles, but the dirty secret for the enemy was that the PK of SAMs was as low or worse. This was why salvos were the preferred doctrine.

Ironically, as SAMs became more effective as a system, the West got better at using electronic countermeasures and tactics to minimize their impact. Despite marked improvement in SAM technology and doctrine throughout the 1960s, SAMs became less and less effective as they lost the technological race between offensive and defensive systems. This had a huge impact in the outcomes of both the 1972 Rolling Thunder campaign and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Of course this race continued to seesaw into the decades to come.

I just found this to be an interesting item to share as I continue to work on my rules.

I'll be playtesting a pair of scenarios at the upcoming Little Wars in Illinois taking place in a fictional conflict set in 1962 with mixed fighter and bomber forces against air defenses. If you go to Little Wars, I hope you swing by to check the game out!

TGerritsen07 Feb 2017 4:31 a.m. PST

Oops, meant to,say Linebacker II, not Rolling Thunder in 1972. My bad.

emckinney07 Feb 2017 12:25 p.m. PST

If you haven't read all of the background material for Lee Brimmicombe-Wood's Downtown, you need to. At his site, in the downloadable rulebook and playbook, and on the GMT Web site.

TGerritsen07 Feb 2017 2:14 p.m. PST

Yep, big fan of Downtown and Elusive Victory. Very nice work. My game's a bit more Dawn Patrol / FITS style and somewhat RPG in approach, but the data is awesome from these great games. The trick has been to take the data and boil it down to the style of game Danger Zone is.

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