Finally had some time to catch up with a sitrep.
Well, there's a war on, and its extending into the South China Sea, and all the way down to Australia. We've been tasked to reinforce the tiny oil-wealthy state of Brunei with troops delivered by air, and assemble an assortment of ships in the region to guard its off-shore oil infrastructure. Unfortunately there's an obstacle-course of unstable island nations between most of our forces and our objectives, and rebellious hot-spots are bursting into open flames throughout the region. Indonesia is guarding its own sovereign territory throughout its vast archipelago arc, Singapore will share data but has no room for us, Malaysia is reluctantly granting the most limited of basing (2 planes only!), and the southern Philippines are a rebellious mess where nobody wants to deploy aircraft. Meanwhile, Vietnam glowers at us from across the South China Sea, and although they're not hostile, their masters the Soviets definitely are. Some of their aircraft are already in the region at Cam Ranh Bay, and rumour has it that more forces will arrive soon.
We've got a few ships together to form TG Endeavour, heading up through the Banda Sea to deliver troops to Brunei, and a wide scattering of ships in ones and twos around southern and western edges of the theatre. Nowhere do we have more than two warships ships together, and none of them are truly powerful vessels. Our air assets are composed of numerous MPA, primarily P-3s, but they're all spread out around the periphery of our AO, far from the main zone of concern. We've also got some decent F-18s, but they're far south in distant Australia, and are required to stay based at home. At least we have a few tankers for them. Other than a few Philippine F-5s, and some A-4s which will eventually fly in from New Zealand, that's about it for combat air power. Last of all, we've got one O-boat in mid archipelago, and one British SSN, complete with lamentable British torpedoes, headed north into the South China Sea. If you look up 'scattered' in the dictionary, we're it...
There's not much of a plan we can make at this point. My various ships will thread their way through the Indonesian islands, and I will try and provide P-3 cover for them, to proof their routes in advance. With so many choke-points to pass through, we are very vulnerable to lurking subs, who can simply wait in silence, confident we will pass within range. Hopefully the Russians haven't deployed this far south.
There's almost no chance to form up into strong task groups yet, and in most cases the ships will have to proceed as they are. I decide to send HMAS Newcastle (the Australian tail-less Perry) to hurry north and reinforce TG Endeavour, rather than having her stay back to support the Westralia. Westralia will head east, to pick up a helicopter from Darwin, before turning north for her main journey. Black Rover will head south down the west side of Borneo, to clear the combat zone. HMS Spartan is ordered north to patrol just off Cam Ranh Bay, to keep a close watch on any Russian ships lurking there.
Other than that, it'll be the normal procedure for reconnaissance and patrol, until we can identify the enemy positions and attack.
FIRST MOVE - RUSSIA vs BRUNEI OIL
ESM from our scouts rapidly pick up the position of the expected Nanuchka NNW of Brunei, a patrolling Bear, and some far distant MiG-29 radars, while our own radar picks up a pair of very high altitude contacts loitering (radar off) over the ocean. Those are presumably MiG-25s. I send out a Philippine F-5 to try and stalk the Bear if it gets any closer, but those MiGs mean I won't be able to operate over the South China Sea, and any MPA in the region will be at risk.
That Nanuchka is a problem, since it has long range missiles and long range OTH radar, which completely outclass the Exocets on my two Bruneian missile boats. It can see me first and shoot me first, long before I could engage it. I order the one at sea to hurry back into port, where it will hide with the other two until I can deal with the Nanuchka.
The Russians don't give me time to worry about that, because suddenly there's a high-velocity high-altitude missile hurtling in from the north. Nothing I have is remotely capable of intercepting or stopping it, and it smashes and sinks a tanker in short order. Fortunately, the Bear-hunting F-5 manages to intercept and kill the Blinder afterwards, but then four more are spotted. Two head for the airfield at Rimba, coming in low and fast, but the SHORADS there manage to shoot them down with a barrage of Mistrals, while the other two head for the Philippine radar site on Palawan. My second F-5 gets one of them, but the other one launches a huge missile at the radar site, only to see it malfunction and go corkscrewing across the sky, wildly out of control. The F-5s attack that last Blinder with cannon fire, and even though they hit it a couple of times it manages to make its escape.
The attacks continue. One of the other tankers off Brunei reports that it's being torpedoed, but my MPA are all far away, and there's nothing I can do to help. Some MiG-25s come screaming in at 18,000m and 1350 knots, and sprinkle my airbase with iron bombs. They miss so badly it's a wonder they hit the ground. But then another Blinder shows up, and I have no fighters to interfere with it. For a moment it looks like it might be hunting the fleeing Black Rover, but it launches its missile at another tanker and sinks that instead.
At 15:17, Malaysian MPA relay a spotting report on three incoming ships, moving towards Brunei at 10 knots, accompanied by the Nanuchka which now seems to be escorting them. Are they light amphibs of some sort? Maybe a raid? I've got nothing that can deal with them yet. My missile boats don't dare approach because of the Nanuchka, my own light aircraft are leery of the Nanuchka's SAMs, my F-5s are all re-arming for air-to-air (and they don't want to brave the MiG-25s anyway), and everything else is occupied elsewhere. Still, the boats are hours away, so I should have time to send a Harpoon-armed P-3, right?
That's when the Nanuchka starts engaging my oil platforms with its missiles, which I had not expected, completely destroying at least one of them before turning for home. It's a painful economic blow, but it also means my own missile boats are free to attack now that the enemy's missiles are gone. They come surging out of port at flank speed, and close on the three advancing ships which turn out to be very large trawlers. They sink those with a combination of Exocets and cannon fire, before dashing back to port for reloads. A P-3 does eventually arrive from Butterworth, and harpoons the retiring Nanuchka, but it is forced to return home almost immediately for lack of fuel.
It feels like the Russians are solidly in the lead here. I've managed to kill a few Blinders, a Nanuchka, and three trawlers, but the Russians have sunk three big tankers and wrecked two oil platforms. Not a great trade!
BRUNEI - REBELS ON THE GROUND
There's plenty happening on the ground too. Battlefield scout helicopters are sent out from the airfield in Brunei, and they almost immediately draw SAM fire from MANPADS in the south edge of the little country. Fortunately, these are old SA-7s, and the gunners are firing at long range, so the odds of a hit are quite low. Several of them are spotted this way, including one in Malaysia itself, and ground troops close in and kill most of them using a combination of mortar fire and direct fire from the Scorpion recce tanks.
There doesn't seem to be a lot of rebel activity near the Bruneian troops, but a lot more start showing up near the British forces in the west. These seem to be mostly technicals, armed with heavy automatic weapons, and they're actually quite dangerous to any plain infantry units. They start moving east, towards the Shell installations there, but the Ghurkas manage to whittle them down, with a combination of mortar fire, helicopter attacks (AS-11s proving to have dismal accuracy), rocketing from the little SF 260 attack planes (also dismal), nicely accurate Milans, and finally a few Scorpions. (Maybe my missile boats should have helped too, but they were busily hiding from the Nanuchka at this point.)
The first of several troop reinforcements starts late in the day, with Australian forces arriving by 707. More will arrive in the next few hours, so the situation seems stable here for the moment.
As the fighting in Brunei goes into an evening lull, my ships continue to advance through the archipelago. The Westralia has picked up a helicopter flown in from Darwin by now, and has turned north, but this diversion eastward has put her well behind schedule, and I have to admit the decision was a mistake. It looks like she'll be a few hours too late, even if she steams at flank speed. (Lesson - measure routes and distances before committing!)
Things seem calm most other places, as P-3s try and proof lanes in front of advancing ships. Some P-3s have deployed to Christmas Island, and most of the others are moving up to Darwin, but even so the long ranges are a problem. This is particularly true for the distant TG Endeavour, where my P-3s have shorter and shorter times on station. Sonobuoy coverage in front of those ships is spotty at best. My SS, the Onslow is doing what it can to keep ahead of the TG, snorkelling frequently, and pausing to listen, but she won't be able to maintain her position for much longer.
The most excitement is in the centre of the Sulu Strait, where the patrol boat Pangasinan suddenly notices that the civilian traffic among the islands there includes a number of fast movers, which are suddenly closing at an alarming 38 knots! The captain turns to put them on the starboard aft quarter, just within the arc of his main gun, and accelerates to a mighty 15 knot flank speed, trying to reduce the closure rate. All glasses are pointed at the approaching boats, and when the first one gets within two miles he orders his gunners to fire. The Boghammers are fast, but very fragile, and a few hits are enough to slow them down. The Pangasinan manages to tackle them one at a time, keeping out of their gun range, and then circles around to shoot up the armed dhows which are following more slowly in their wake. The engagement goes well, and the Pangasinan continues to patrol, eventually finding a second pack of Boghammers shortly after midnight. That engagement turns out to be rather riskier, since it almost runs my ship out of ammunition, and the crew retire to the Philippine naval base at Rio Hondo to reload and patch a few bullet holes.
POLITICS AND INTELLIGENCE
Politics never sleeps, and I soon get an interesting political choice to make. Would I like access to Indonesian airspace, removing those geographical barriers which are keeping my P-3s from reaching their patrol zones? All I have to do is bomb the East Timorese! And eat a heaping plateful of hypocrisy, of course... After all, our government has been trying to protect them from persecution for some time now. I'm given an hour to reflect and decide. While it would be very helpful to have access, I think we can scrape by without it. I tell HQ that we will try to manage without the Indonesian help.
The news from Intel is much less controversial. They've got confirmation that a major Soviet convoy, P-9417, is headed for Cam Ranh Bay. It's coming through between Taiwan and Luzon, and should reach its destination in 2 to 3 days. Clearly, we'd like to interfere with this, but it's a long way from our strike assets. HMS Spartan is ordered to accelerate its progress towards Cam Ranh Bay, and take up a patrol station 30 miles off-shore in the anticipated direction of the convoy. That will help, but pinning our hopes on one sub is much too risky a gamble. Far better to hit them some other way. The P-3 guys keep muttering to each other, and measuring the map. They're up to something, I can tell, but so far they won't say exactly what.
INTO THE NIGHT
Enemy air-power is still active in the night. Singaporean patrol planes report numerous ESM contacts from large formations of Vietnamese MiG-21s, at one point counting 24 of them active at one time! They seem to come and go, and we come to the conclusion that this is some sort of intermittent CAP. At first it seems absurd to have so many up, but on reflection I really don't want to push into a swarm like that, even with superior aircraft. Quantity has a quality of its own...
The loitering Bear eventually goes away shortly after dark, but another one shows up, along with fresh MiGs around 22:00 hrs. An F-5 goes up to loiter, in case the Bear comes south, but it seems to be staying north now. Instead, a May comes sniffing around, so the F-5 obligingly shoots it down instead. The Bear's turn comes later, when another F-5 gets it by swinging around from the north, nervously eyeing the MiG-29s and 25s for signs of hostile action.
The enemy fighters seem to be quiescent, so one of my P-3s from Butterworth takes advantage of the darkness to make a discrete radar-off hunt for the sub (subs?) which was operating near Brunei. The sonobuoys turn up one false target, but nothing else. Maybe the sub has gone home for reloads? In any case, the P-3 soon has to leave for fuel, and the crew is happy to go. Those MiG-25s have the potential to dash in and snap up a P-3 before there is any hope of escape, if they decide to leave their station.
Another pair of P-3s arrives from Guam, flying pure reconnaissance missions. They fly across the northern Philippines, and press on towards the west, hunting for the convoy, and at first there's no sign of it. The southern plane gets so far west that it picks up a sniff of a couple of 2-ship Vietnamese patrol groups operating off Phu Cat. They seem to be sub hunter groups, and they're not an immediate concern. The other plane finds the convoy further north than I had expected, and cheerfully radios its position back to base. Then, having waved their radars around long enough, they go radio silent and return to Guam.
Administrative moves are continuing too. More airliners are trickling in to Brunei, and dropping off troops as quickly as they can, before refuelling and heading back to Darwin. (Nobody wants to linger here, fat and helpless in the war zone.) The A-4s arrive from New Zealand, demanding to be armed immediately, only to be told that the C-130 full of munitions won't be here for at least half a day. The pilots express their frank displeasure at this boneheaded move. I should have kept the A-4s securely at home and timed them to arrive along with the C-130. The F-18s are on the move too, having hopped up to Darwin to give them a little more range in the coming day. With any luck, we can soon try and regain some of the initiative.
< Message edited by AndrewJ -- 6/16/2021 8:53:20 PM >