Friday, September 16, 2016

Central America - The SS-20 Incident (Redux)

My recent playthrough of the first scenario from VG's 1987 classic, Central America, was tons of fun. I really love how insurgents work in this game and how they can pop in and out of existence anywhere on the map. But one of my absolute favorite scenarios from this game (and maybe almost any other game) is Scenario 4, "The SS-20 Incident".

Yeah...it looks like a hot dog on wheels but you won't be laughing when it visits your city!


Only one turn long, this scenario pits the US Navy and Air Force against the Nicaraguans in an effort to destroy an intermediate range nuclear weapon that the Soviets have so helpfully provided to a hostile regime in the Western hemisphere. The Americans only get one turn to dismantle the Nicaraguan Air Force and then pave the way for Special Forces guys to parachute out of a C-130 and destroy the missile launcher, Eat your heart out, Michael Bay.

The US gets a huge number of aircraft to start with but so do the Nicaraguans.

The Americans start with:

Pacific Holding Box:
2 x aircraft carrier complements of aircraft (2 x F-14, 2 x F-18, 1 x A-6E, 1 x E2 AWACS)

Honduras airbases:
4 x B-52 bombers
5 x F-15C Eagles
5 x F-16 Falcons
1 x EF-111
3 x O-2 (EW)
1 x E-3 AWACS
3 x C-130  w/ 3  Ranger battalions

Costa Rica:
1 x C-130
1 x 3/7 Special Forces battalion


The Nicaraguans get:

2 x Y-28c
2 x Y-28
5 x MiG-19
5 x MiG-21
1 x IL-76 (this can actually be used to transfer the SS-20 missile and launcher to another airbase in Nicaragua)
2 x AN-12

Cuba has helpfully supplied 5 x MiG-23s and an An-12 while the Soviets have 6 x MiG-27s based in Nicaragua.

These aircraft are based among the three airbases in hex 1919, 2218, and 2219.

The SS-20 is in 2218 along with a fixed SAM site and an infantry brigade in a fortification. This should be a very tough nut to crack.

There are also non-mobile AA units and infantry brigades with MANPADS in the other hexes.

To make matters more difficult for the US, the Nicaraguans have a powerful radar system at Masaya. Built with the help of Soviet and Cuban engineers, Masaya has a 10-hex detection radius. If Masaya is operational, it can vector joint Nicaraguan air missions to intercept incoming American planes. It also negates a +2 bonus to air-to-air combat rolls the US player's planes get for having an AWACS in theater. So clearly Masaya needs to go and the sooner the better.



Strike Package 1:
Mission: Wild Weasel
Target: Masaya Radar Facility


One carrier wing launches with 2xF-14, 2xF-18, 1xA-6 and heads towards the west coast of Nicaragua. The F-14s have standoff air-to-air missiles while the F-18s and A-6s are armed with standoff air-to-ground missiles meant to hit Masaya.

Wild Weasel aircrew logo patch: "YGBSM" stands for "You Gotta Be Shittin' Me". The common response when told that their assignment is to approach enemy air defense sites and turn on their radar in hopes of exposing the enemy's position.


4 Cuban MiG-23s attempt to intercept the American planes. The F-14 Tomcats launch AIM-54 Phoenix missiles at their targets and splash two MiGs. The rest of the Cuban pilots return to base.

US air mission adjacent to Masaya hex. Air group 2 is actually one hex north. I fixed this a bit later and it didn't change any outcomes.


The air mission reaches 2121 and launches its smart weapons. The US player rolls a 6 (modified to 8 due to the effectiveness of smart weapons against Masaya). Masaya is damaged. The Nicaraguans no longer get the +2 die roll modifier for air-air combat and they are no longer able to detect incoming planes at long range. However, they aren't completely blind thanks to their An-12 EW aircraft orbiting around their airfields.



Strike Package 2:
Mission: Air Facility Denial
Target: Punta Huete Airbase 

Let's try and damage Punta Huete airbase. Maybe the Nicaraguans will transfer the SS-20 to a less secure location if the airbase shuts down. Right now, the hex is protected by SAMs, MANPADS, and everything is heavily fortified. This is not an easy place for our Spec Ops guys to get into, if you ask me.

The second carrier sends up its strike package (same as the first one). It gives a wide berth to Puerto Sandino airbase on the coast by flying far to the north of it. The flight turns south after traveling east for a bit and then gets detected three hexes from Punta Huete by the Nicaraguans in 2218.

Two Cuban MiG-27s and an An-12 scramble to intercept. The standoff missiles inflict a step loss and the AN-12 is eliminated. A MiG-27 unit takes a step loss to continue the interception.  The F-14s tangle with the enemy planes at close range. One communist plane takes a step loss and the others return to base. The US loses nothing.

F-14 Tomcat fires an AIM-54 Phoenix missile.


The strike package arrives over Punta Huete airbase and comes under SAM attack. Rolling a 1, the attack fails and a roll of 3 means the Nicaraguan ground unit misses with its shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles. The US player rolls for his attack and gets a 1. Even with the +2 bonus for using cluster bombs, the attack fails to damage the airbase. Oh boy.

I don't care what they say. That's a beautiful aircraft.

Strike Package 3:
Mission: SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses)
Target: SAM site in 2218

Well, that wasn't good. I wonder if it would be better to suppress or destroy that SAM before going for the airbase and then hit the ground troops and finally the missile. I have four B-52s just itching to go. Let's send up a flight with a pair of F-15s to cover a B-52 strike. Each B-52 has an impressive 9 bombardment value, which means that two of them working together could damage the fixed SAM with a roll of 4, 5, or 6.

The AN-12 orbiting around Punta Huete detects the incoming airstrike and vectors three Soviet MiG-27s and a Cuban MiG-23 to intercept. Because the Americans have an AWACS advantage and the Nicaraguans have lost Masaya, there are a couple of interesting things happening here. First the US player can choose whether or not to be considered the attacker or the defender. The big deal here is that the combat table's odds always get rounded off in favor of the defender.

In this case, the F-15s have a combined anti-air value of 16 while the Communists have only 13 (3 x MiG-27s w/ 3 anti-air and a MiG-23 with 4). The result is that the ratio of 16:13 with a US defender is considered a 1:2 odds attack for the Communists. The attacker now rolls a six-sided die to resolve air combat. The AWACS helps to modify the die roll by -2 and this lower die roll result will skew towards the attacker taking losses. The Communists aren't completely helpless here. The An-12 that is 3 hexes or less away from where the interception occurs helps to modify the attacker's die roll by +1 in their favor.

The F-15 Eagle design motto - "Not a pound for air to ground!"



Adding up the number of combat air units involved here, we have 8 total units, which puts us at medium intensity level. We look up the 1 to 2 column on the corresponding chart and roll a 3, modified to 2. The result is 2r/0. The number on the left of the slash shows that the attacker (Communists) take 2 step losses and must return to base. The number to the right of the slash indicates how many losses (in this case, none) the defender takes. The Communist player chooses to have two of his MiG-27s take a step loss.

The B-52s arrive over target and the fixed SAM site fires away followed by the air-defense capabilities of the ground units in the hex. Rolling a 1 for the SAM, we get a miss after checking the Air Defense Chart. Rolling a 3 for the ground unit also means a miss. The B-52s drop their payload on the fixed SAM site and we get a 5. The site is now damaged.

Add Hex 2218. L to R: Fortifcation counter, SAM Site damaged marker, ground unit w/ air defense capability, the SS-20, Communist Air group marker and US Air mission marker. Good thing I'm using Vassal here!


Looking at the situation now, things seem pretty good so far for the Americans. The Masaya complex is down, seriously reducing detection ranges for our airstrikes. The fixed SAM site at Punta Hueta is damaged so it's pretty hard for them to shoot down our bombers. The two major annoyances left are:

1.) The An-12 orbiting near Punta Huete is still active, able to detect our air missions from 3 hexes away and also able to scramble joint air missions to intercept US planes.

2.) The infantry in 2218 with the SS-20 is in a fortification. This makes it very hard to score the hits I need for my Special Forces and Rangers to get in there and destroy the missile.

I can get rid of the An-12 problem by simply damaging its airbase and forcing it to transfer to another air facility (where it will remain useless for the rest of the turn). The only problem with doing that is that the SS-20 can immediately transfer to another airbase that has An-12 protection (in this case, Puerto Sandino. The benefit of doing this is that it solves problem number 2, as the infantry in the other airbase hex is not fortified.

The problem here is that the ground unit sitting in the hex has anti-air capability which will make hitting the airfield much harder for my planes. If I can eliminate this infantry unit and then get my spec ops guys to capture the airfield and the SS-20, most of my problems will be solved entirely.


Strike Package 4:
Mission: Tactical Bombardment
Target: Nicaraguan 313th Infantry Battalion in 2218

This mission will consist of one of the two remaining B-52s teamed up with the EF-111 with an escort package of F-15s and F-16s.

Two Nicaraguan MiG-21s and a Soviet MiG-27 intercept the US strike package directly over Punta Huete. Both sides suffer a step loss in the ensuing furball. A MiG-21 is reduced and an F-16 is also reduced. The Nicaraguan ground-air defenses miss.The US player rolls a 4 for the attack and it is enough to cause a step loss to the Nicaraguan infantry in the hex. It's a good start. Just one more successful bombardment mission and Punta Huete is done for.

Strike Package 5:
Mission: Tactical Bombardment
Target: Nicaraguan 313th Infantry Battalion in 2218

We have one B-52 and 3 A-10s left right now for strike aircraft. I can send in one package with a B-52 and an A-10 together, put incendiaries on the B-52 and hit the infantry in 2218 as hard as possible and hope that it eliminates them.  The Nicaraguan Air Force has been ripped to shreds with very little left to go up in the air so I don't need double coverage anymore with the F-15s. I put an F-15 with an F-16 as escort and throw in an O-2 for EW support.

The Nicaraguans intercept in hex 2218 with 2 MiG-19s and 2 MiG-21s. They can inflict a step loss on the US units if the Communist player rolls a 6. We get a 5 and a MiG-19 takes a step loss.

Enemy air defenses fire at the incoming Americans and fail to score a hit (rolled a "1" here). The B-52s drop their bombs while the A-10s lazily circle a safe distance away from the target area. Once the bombs hit, the A-10s go in and take out anything that's left over. We get a "5" on the to-hit die, After the modifiers are tallied (-1 for the fortification and +2 for the incendiaries) we get a "6" and the ground unit is destroyed for a total of 4 VP.

Strike Package 6:
Mission: Ground Unit Insertion
Target: Punta Huete Airfield

It is time to secure a scenario victory by taking out the SS-20. The 2/75 Rangers are chosen to paradrop into hex 2218, seize Punta Huete Airbase and destroy the SS-20. I'm still hoping to use the rest of my air units to hit the other Nicaraguan airbases to help rack up more VPs so I'm trying to perform this drop on the cheap. I'll send a single F-15 escort with an O-2 for EW support along with the C-130.

The Nicaraguans send up three MiG-19s and a Yak to intercept the mission. In the ensuing dogfight over the airbase, the Yak is destroyed and the other MiGs scatter. The Rangers parachute down into the night and although they run the risk of running into big trouble by being in an enemy ZOC, we roll low ("1") on the Paradrop table. The 2/75 Rangers take the airfield, secure the missile, and destroy the launcher.  That's pretty ninja.


2/75 Rangers capture the Punta Huete Airfield and secure the SS-20 missile.


Strike Package 7:
Mission: SEAD
Target: Puerto Sandino AAA Battalion

I want to try something a bit risky here. I'd like to try and seize Puerto Sandino airfield for bonus VPs. If I can manage to hit the AAA site, I'll get 4 VPs and then follow that up with an air attack on the infantry in the hex (step loss gains 2VP) with a final paradrop into the hex by Special Forces (capture/damage of airbase is 2 VP), I'll have an additional 8 VP by the end of the game. I doubt this will work but it's worth a shot.

The only remaining air unit at Puerto Sandino is a lowly Yak fighter, which scrambles to intercept the incoming F-16, O-2, and A-10. Amazingly, we roll a 6 for the Communists and they manage to inflict a step loss on the F-16 before being shot down in a blaze of glory. AAA fire at the airfield misses the raid. We roll a 4 for the attack and the AAA site is damaged.

O-2 Skymaster


Strike Package 8:
Mission: Tactical Bombardment
Target: Nicaraguan DGSE infantry battalion

With the Nicaraguan Air Force badly mauled before even the end of the first turn, the Americans throw some Air to Ground ordnance on a pair of F-16s and send them up with an A-10 to hit Puerto Sandino.  We simply roll to hit the hapless infantry guarding the mostly empty airbase on the ground and score a hit after getting a "5". The Nicaraguan infantry battalion is now flipped over to its reduced side.

Strike Package 9 & 10:
Mission: Air Transport
Target: Puerto Sandino Airbase

With all our tactical aircraft sitting in the Used portion of the Allied Air Display, it's time to paradrop our remaining ground troops into Puerto Sandino in an effort to seize the airfield. Three C-130s load up with Rangers and Special Forces troops.

The 1/75 and 3/75 Rangers parachute into a bad position and end up taking step losses. The 3/7 Special Forces, however, makes it into the hex without a scratch. Now they'll have to fight it out with the DGSE battalion for control of the airbase.

Allied Ground Combat Phase:

The American ground troops attack the DGSE battalion at odds of 2-1 in clear terrain. The Spec Ops and Rangers have no CAS to help them out (oops!). Still, they get a column shift in their favor because these are elite troops. We roll a 2 for the attackers, modified to a 1 due to the port in the hex. The DGSE battalion is eliminated and the 3/7 takes a step loss. The Americans seize the airfield and it is marked with a damage marker as per rule 4.3.

Game over - Puerto Sandino is captured after heavy losses by both sides.

----

US VPs:
Damage Masaya: 5 pts
Damage fixed SAM: 4pts
Damage AAA site: 4pts
Damage Punta Huete: 5pts
Damage Puerto Sandino: 2pts
Per step loss to FLSN infantry battalion (x4): 8 pts

VP loss:
1 US F-16 step loss x 2: -2 pts

Victory Level:

According to the victory levels, the US player wins an Allied Decisive Victory at 26 points. The scenario VP conditions are a little ambiguous in some places (and downright erroneous in others - for example, there is no AA battalion at Punta Huete - it is at Masaya). Does capturing a base lead to damage or are we counting damage results from airstrikes only? I think the IL-76 had the chance to transfer to another facility after paradropping troops into Punta Huete. On the other hand, I managed to secure a second airbase so I think the SS-20 would have no doubt been destroyed anyway - just at the end of the game instead of in the middle. Even with this error, the end results didn't change very much.

If we decide to be radically honest with the VP conditions, we could remove VPs from damage to Puerto Sandino and Punta Huete. The results would be an Allied Tactical Victory at 19 points.

How can the Nicaraguans win this one? Well, it's all just a matter of juggling your interceptions and hoping for the best. Count on losing Masaya early on in the game and falling back on your An-12s for short-range interception and detection.

Always intercept over your airfield hex because that gives you a +1 on the die roll. Send up the minimum required planes to get the best odds column on the CRT. Remember that the lowest odds on the low intensity air combat table are 1 to 2 no matter how badly you are outgunned. Conserve as many air units as possible and use joint missions among your three bases to make sure that everyone can defend themselves if attacked.

Having no air units to intercept the US ground troops transporting in on C-130s sealed the fate of Puerto Sandino airbase at the end. Even a single plane would have forced the US player to shift one of his planes from air-to-ground to air-to-air.

4 comments:

  1. The Nicaraguan infantry brigade (not battalion) covering the SS-20 does not have AA capability as claimed, it only has a half-AA capability. There needs to be two such units in a hex to grant AA capability, per rule 10.3. Very, very important.

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  2. Great AAR! I tried to play Central America some years ago but gave up after reading half of the rules, maybe I'll make another attempt.

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    1. Thanks Fabrizio! I did the same thing when I first got my hands on a copy and then I just recently tried it again. I'm gaining a new appreciation for it.

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