Tac Air - Scenario 1 "Covering Force" - A Turn 1 Snapshot

Introduction

"Tac Air", Avalon Hill's Cold War-turned-hot game from 1987, is about air and ground combat in a modern fast-paced land battle between the Soviets and NATO.  In Scenario 1,"Covering Force", the Soviet 6th Guards Tank Division is pitted against the US 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

Scenario 1 - Objectives

The 6GDT starts with all of its forces in East Germany and its objective is to get as many of their units as possible south to hex T22, a victory hex located just across the border with West Germany and over a river.  The 6GDT also want to inflict some damage on the American 2nd ACR, which is presumably covering a retreat by a much larger force that has fled somewhere off the southern edge of the map.  The 2nd ACR's job is to prevent the Soviets from reaching the objective hex without losing too many units in the process.

Order of Battle

While the Soviets have a straightforward order of battle with similar types of combat units (tanks with tanks, infantry with infantry, etc.) grouped together, NATO has a mix of helicopters, tanks, and infantry all working together under the same HQ. This reflects the different doctrinal approaches of both armies.

In this scenario, the 6GDT consists of the 51st Guards Tank Regiment, (with 3 tank battalions) and the 22nd Motorized Rifle Regiment (with 3 infantry battalions). Each regiment has its own HQ along with its own anti-air defense (2 units apiece), supply, and artillery units.  To back up the HQs, the 6th Guards Tank Division HQ is also present in this scenario and it can effectively command both regiments even if the lower regimental headquarters were to be wiped out.  If that's not enough, Soviet 6GDT assets such as engineers and attack helicopters are also provided for the Soviet player.

The US 2nd ACR has 1 tank battalion and 3 infantry battalions along with 2 attack helicopter battalions.  The 2nd ACR has only 1 anti-air defense unit, consisting of a HAWK SAM battery.  The lack of American anti-air defense quantity is made up for by the HAWK's very long range and deadly effectiveness.  The US commander just has to hope that he doesn't run out of missiles.

As for air assets, the Soviets and Americans are somewhat evenly matched.  The Soviets have 2 flights each of MiG-29 Fulcrums, great for air-to-air combat, and Su-25 ground attack aircraft. The Americans get 2 flights each of F-16s and A-10s.

Assignment of Air Assets

One big advantage for the Soviets is that they start off with a recon unit.  Looking around on the forums and going over the rules, there seems to be different interpretations of line-of-sight and spotting distances.  The rule that seems to work okay for me is to double the spotting range of recon units to 12 hexes while regular ground and helo units have just a 6 hex spotting range.  This means that the Soviets start the game off with a better idea of how the Americans are deployed while the Americans have a good idea of how the Soviet frontline combat units are positioned but not so much how the rear elements are deployed.

This affected how air units were assigned to their targets at the start of Turn 1.  The Soviets and Americans both played it smart by assigning their air units to the proper roles (F-16s and MiG-29s to air control roles and A-10s and Su-25s to close air support).  As a solitaire player, my preference for assigning exact roles and specific target hexes basically involved trying to look at the situation logically and making a list of potential decisions based on die rolls at the end of the manoeuvre phase.  This kept me from "cheating" during the maneuver phase by basing decisions about unit movement on what was going to happen later in the air phase.  In the regular game with two players, the exact targets and roles of enemy aircraft would be kept secret until the air phase commences so I thought this method was the next best thing.

Turn 1 Maneuver Phase - Soviets

With a list of potential decisions and targets made up, I started turn 1 with the Soviets moving first.  The 22nd MRR moved southeast towards the long road going straight down to hex T22 while the 51st Guards tanks rumbled slightly to the southwest, ready to smash the Americans sitting in a small city further to the south.  Positioning your combat units is tricky in any turn where you know the enemy air is coming.  Air and helo attacks against ground units sitting in a road hex are potentially devastating, as there is no defensive terrain bonus for units in such a hex.  Another headache is making sure that your air defense units have a proper line of sight needed to defend nearby units.  Finally, slower-moving supply lines need to be maintained so combat units are often forced to slow down a bit to stay in range of logistics units.  As a result, any attacker is going to find themselves constantly trading off mobility and speed for the sake of cohesion and mutual support, which seems to make sense.

Turn 1 Maneuver Phase - Americans

With the Soviet maneuver phase over, the Americans now had the chance to move their ground and helo units.  The first thing the American commander did was to have the engineers blow up the bridge nearest hex T22.  This could slow the Soviets down but not stop them entirely - especially since the Soviets brought along their own engineer units for river fording.

The Americans rushed two infantry units to the dense forests just south of the 22nd MRR advance.  Positioning the units here on their non-moving side (which gives them a higher defense rating) helps to cut off the 22 MRR from advancing quickly along the road going straight for hex T22.  One of the attack helo units was sent along to hang back and potentially help out with any combat in the area.  The 2nd ACR HQ also moved up right behind this defensive line, which serves as an automatic removal of disruption each turn during the disruption removal phase.

The remaining tank, infantry, and attack helo were kept back in the setup city (Dreisechseckigdorf) as a reserve.  With the 51st Guards Tank Regiment to the northwest of the city, it seemed very dangerous to commit everything against the 22nd MRR.

End of Turn 1 Maneuver/Air Phase


Turn 1 Air Phase

Finally, the air turn came and I basically rolled a d10 to determine the turn in which each air unit would come on the board.  When each air unit entered the map, I rolled for their actual specific mission and targets.  The MiG-29s drew defensive CAP over the Soviet frontline units while the American A-10s flew straight for the lightly protected 6th Guards Tank Division HQ.  American F-16s entered on the same turn and I decided that it would be most logical for them to clear the air of MiGs.  The Soviet Su-25s entered quite late and went directly for one of the American infantry units sitting in the forests to the northeast of Dreisechseckigdorf.

It all panned out rather messily for both sides.  The F-16s closed in on the MiG-29s but heavy AAA fire forced them to abort their mission.  The A-10s, however, managed to drop bombs on the 6th GDT HQ but only scored 1 disruption (which would be easily shaken off automatically at the start of turn 2).  As the A-10s egressed from the target, the MiG-29s pounced and shot down an entire flight of Warthogs. The Su-25s were forced to abort after being fired at by American HAWK SAMs although they did not take any losses.

Turn Record Track - all air units return to base...except for one unfortunate flight of A-10s



An Analysis of Turn 1

Although no ground combat had occurred in Turn 1, the Soviets scored a huge victory by destroying a flight of A10s in the air phase.  The major strength of the Americans in this scenario is the sheer destructive capability of the Warthogs and with half of them out of the picture for the remainder of the scenario, the US commander was indeed hurting.  However, the game is nowhere near decided at this point.  The Americans could play a clever stalling game with the Soviets, drawing them around their defensive lines and forcing them to take the long way to the victory hex rather than the short route.  This would indeed force the Soviet commander to sacrifice defensive terrain and unit cohesion for speed, making their forces vulnerable to air attack. The Americans can also start laying mines with their engineer unit and building up defensive positions in cities to help blunt Russian attacks.

On the other hand, the Russians, may decide to fix the Americans with one regiment while the other slips through their fingers.  This would dampen the number of Soviet victory points but still provide a nice win for them in the end.

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