I played the scenario on launch day as Japan and it was fairly easy, I think I lost one or two subs and one or two F-15s in exchange for destroying all the Russian aircraft (including tankers and Mainstays) and sinking all the Russian surface ships and two or three of their subs. That was before the recent MiG-31 AA-9 hotfix though, so the MiG-31s never engaged my F-15s, although if the F-15s are used properly, it won't make much difference. Anyway, now that the hotfix is in place, I'm trying the scenario as Russia. Before I get into the AAR proper, a couple items:
Things I particularly liked about the scenario:
* Weather and Sea State. All too often in scenarios, it's November in the Barents Sea but somehow the air is CAVU and the sea is a perfect mirror surface... Clouds and weather can make a tremendous tactical difference. IIRC the Sea State in Northern Inferno was sometimes as high as 5, which makes finding subs absolutely beastly.
* Small size. I almost always micromanage all my units, not sure how popular that is here. I know it breaks some of the spirit of the game, but it's just what I find most fun. Also, manually controlling units can make them *much* more effective, and I have a hard enough time with some of the scenarios as it is. So anyway, I like that this scenario is small enough to pretty easily micromanage everything. It also runs faster. I do like some of the large scenarios, but I find they try my patience after a while, and my computer isn't fast enough to run them smoothly.
* Some interesting units. The MiG-31 is relatively unusual, as is having so many advanced subs at your disposal. Also, having so much satellite coverage is rare, and I feel like satellite intel would be used more in real conflicts, so it's nice to see here. The Russian satellites were regularly able to pick up the Japanese CAP units as they launched, and often ID'd them as well, and the radar sats also picked up the Japanese surface group.
* Lots of false underwater contacts. Made for some tense moments when a Goblin popped up and I didn't immediately know it was an enemy.
Things that might improve the scenario:
* Set exclusion zones for each side to make contacts over the area of battle automatically hostile. I don't know how realistic this is for the scenario... I assume in an "Air Battle Central Europe" situation, if you saw two contacts flying right next to each other in a patrol pattern you'd shoot first and ask questions afterwards. But in a post-Cold War fight, maybe positive ID would still be required. However, as it is, I was not able to get positive ID in all cases, and yet in every case the targets would have clearly been enemies just based on their behavior, even if civilian planes had been flying around for some reason. An exclusion zone might make the AI responses more effective, since they could start shooting at longer range.
* Change the Japanese CAP mission to either put up fewer planes at once, or coordinate it better with the shipping strike as a massive wave. F-15Js are considerably better planes than the Russians have, and when I played as Russia, I had to be extremely careful whenever they were around. (Maybe that's just my bad tactics, since from the recent Wargamer review, it sounds like other people might not have had much trouble killing the F-15s. If so, please tell me how you did it.) One possibility could be to put half or more of the F-15s on a CAP mission that would trigger 15 minutes or so before the strike mission activated. A sudden flood of F-15s could establish air superiority against most of the Russian force, long enough for the strike to get through.
(I will note that I haven't actually playtested any of these suggestions, I'm just speculating here.)
Starting with the scenario environment, things to keep in mind are the Sea State, which will degrade sonar performance, and the cloud layer, which means optical and IR sensors are divided into two realms: above and below the layer. Russia has a ton of satellites, which give quite a bit of useful info, including Specific Emitter IDs on many enemy planes. From my previous playthrough, I know Japan has enough F-15s to keep up a pretty heavy CAP, and the only planes that can really hope to fight the F-15s on anything like equal terms are the Su-27s out of Dolinsk-Sokol. However, you only have 10 of them, and the AA-12B is seriously outclassed by the Japanese AAM-4B. Important differences to note are that the AA-12B does not have the Level Cruise Flight attribute, which means its Pk is much worse at max range, and it does not have as long a range to begin with, and it has a lower base Pk as well. When I played as Japan, I used my F-15s to establish absolute air dominance over the entire area; that's not going to be possible playing as Russia, I'm going to have to be much sneakier.
Another thing to note is that the Russian surface ships have almost no air defence. The SAMs they have are at best barely adequate for point defense, and are not capable of area defense at all. So when the Japanese strike comes, it'll have to be knocked down by fighters, as the ships won't be able to defend themselves.
Other disadvantages for the Russians are that the A-50 Mainstay is a much worse AEW plane than the E-767. It only has a 215 mile search range and a significantly less effective ELINT sensor. And the Sa-20 batteries you have, which should be pretty good area-denial weapons, are restricted to cover only the areas immediately surrounding your airbases.
So far, Japan has the advantage here. Russia does have some good assets though. First, the Tu-142s have ELINT sensors with the Specific Emitter ID attribute, and with their long loiter times, they can be used to monitor the Japanese CAP and also get an approximate location of the E-767. The F-15J's radar, despite saying APG-63(V)1 in the brackets, is not an LPI radar and therefore can be detected from a long distance (see my post on radar and ESM). The MiG-31s are extremely fast, and if flown properly, should be untouchable, but on the other hand they are really only usable against the Japanese support airplanes; they can't tangle with the F-15s and hope to win without significant losses. (The reason is, the AA-9 is SARH, and can only be launched against an F-15 at about 55 miles, and then it has to be guided all the way in. Meanwhile you've got active radar missiles heading your way, with much higher Pk. It's a good way to waste missiles while simultaneously committing suicide.) As mentioned before, the Russian satellite coverage is pretty good, and the Russian subs are also pretty good, although they have some important weaknesses, including a lack of good ELINT systems, and not as good sonar as the Japanese subs. On the other hand, the SS-N-15 and SS-N-16 should allow me to engage an enemy sub from a long distance (this turned out to be extremely useful). Finally, although the Mainstay isn't a very good AEW plane, you have good high-altitude radar coverage from your Big Bird ground-based radars.
So that's the initial analysis out of the way. As I write this sentence, I'm actually several hours into the scenario already. I've put my subs in line-abreast, spaced 15-20 miles apart, and my plan is to sweep them down the coast, hopefully clearing the path for the surface group. The Yasen has the best sonar, followed by the Akulas, then the Oscar, and the Kilos are by far the worst. The Russian subs don't have proper ELINT systems, but they do at least have RWRs (120 mile range) with Specific Emitter ID, so I'm going to use the Kilos at periscope depth to monitor for aircraft, and the nukes at Just Over The Layer to get maximum depth coverage. Once I assembled the subs in a line, I put them all on creep speed while I wait for the surface group to catch up. I'm leaving the Oscar about 8 miles behind the line to act as a shooter in order to take full advantage of the SS-N-15 and -16. I put a Mainstay up over the surface group to make sure nothing sneaks in, and I've been keeping up at least one pair of MiG-31s and a tanker as a standing patrol for opportunity targets. At one point, a P-3 got outside of CAP coverage and I was able to dash in with the MiGs and nail it before the F-15s could respond.
I also tried getting really sneaky and flying a pair of MiG-31s and a tanker way down to southeast of Hokkaido, outside of Japanese radar range. Once in place, I tried running in at high speed with the hope of getting the E-767, but a bunch of F-15s were in between it and my MiGs, and I had to abort the attack. I've just launched two more pairs of MiG-31s and tankers though, and I'm going to try again, coming in from southeast and north simultaneously, which will hopefully draw the fighters in one direction so the MiGs coming from the other direction have a clear shot.
Meanwhile another Orion has wandered out from under the CAP and nearly overflew one of my Kilos; I ran in my standing MiG-31 patrol and knocked it down. Several more followed and I shot down each one. It looks like the Orion patrol area may extend outside the coverage range of the F-15s, and that leaves them vulnerable. They do fly at low altitude though (1000 ft when on their ASW mission), and that means the Mainstay is the only thing that will detect them at a reasonable range, so it's important to keep your ships under radar cover.
Finally my MiG-31 pincer attack on the E-767 was ready. Both groups were fully fueled, about 360 to 400 miles away from the center of Hokkaido where I could detect the E-767. I put both MiG groups on full afterburner and charged in. By this time (~0930Z), I think most of the F-15s have been on CAP and returned, and because Japan doesn't have quick turnaround enabled in this scenario, that means they're out of the fight for the next 20 hours. As soon as one pair of MiGs got within firing range, I launched 4 missiles and slowed to cruise. This time there were no F-15s close enough to get in the way, and that was the end of a very expensive Japanese national asset. I then headed back to the tankers, but as the MiGs were refuelling and preparing for the long flight home, a satellite picked up powerful radar emissions: another E-767 had just been launched. Japan was just throwing good money after bad, but I wasn't about to turn down a chance to completely remove their airborne radar from the battle, so I ordered my tired MiGs back in. This time the other pair was closer and they took the shot. Again 4 missiles, and again a dead AEW plane. And sure enough, a couple minutes later my satellites again picked up an E-767, and I decided I might as well go for it, so once more my MiGs went in... But I should have taken full advantage of the lack of fighter cover, because I launched my missiles at maximum range, and every one of them missed this time. The final Pk for each one was about 53%, and RNGesus wasn't watching over me. So I'll have to fly in one more pair of MiGs and try again. Fortunately, I have several hours to do it, since it looks like all the F-15s are asleep for the night...
Meanwhile, as the AEW assassination was playing out, I was rearranging my subs a bit and starting them on a manual sprint/drift cycle, trying to keep ahead of my surface group, now 140 miles behind the line of subs and catching up quickly. One of my Akulas had just come off a sprint and was coming back up above the layer when it detected a torpedo in the water! I ordered it to dive and run away at flank speed. Fortunately, because the rest of my subs were close (go mutual support!), I quickly picked up the enemy sub, an SSK doing turns for 10 kts. Within a couple minutes, I had what seemed to be a pretty good directional bearing, and a range to within 2 or 3 miles, and decided to try dropping a torpedo on him and see what happened. I brought my Oscar to shallow and did a Bearing Only Launch of a SS-N-16 to the near side of the range estimate, counting on the torpedo sensor to pick up the target, or at least scare the sub into making enough noise that my next drop would be on a point target. I also started vectoring in a Bear, since now there's no fighter coverage to worry about for some hours. The torpedo came in and started circling (I wish there were a way to tell it to keep running out on the same vector it was flying), and that scared the enemy sub into running. That gave me a better location, and I dropped another SS-N-16 right on top of him, which acquired and killed him. It was an Oyashio though, not a Soryu, and unfortunately, the enemy torpedo managed to chase down and kill my Akula; not a very good trade.
Now that I have temporary access to the air, I figured there was no better time to do as much ASW work as I could. I launched all my remaining Bears and assigned all of them to a large ASW area of about 110x60 miles, running from just in front of my line of subs almost to the landing area on Iturup. With 4 Bears working it, I figured I should be able to find at least a few enemy subs. And sure enough, I pretty quickly got a contact that went right under one of my sonobuoys. I wasn't able to identify it, but figured I'd take the risk and had my Oscar drop an SS-N-16 on it. It turned out to be a Soryu class, and the torpedo killed it. Over the next couple hours I picked up a bunch of biologicals, and after the search area got saturated with sonobuoys, I expanded it backwards over my line of subs to cover more of the area between them and the ships. I picked up another Oyashio and killed it.
Then I picked up two contacts at almost the same time that both seemed likely to be hostile. (Biologicals often have a speed of only 1 kt, while creeping subs are usually 3, 4, or 5 kts depending on type.) One was in my expanded ASW area, behind my line of subs, so I'm glad I started searching back there. And in fact, it must have somehow gotten a location on my ships, because after I'd been trying to lock down its location for a couple minutes, it launched 4 Harpoons at the surface group. AA-9s can't engage targets lower than 150 ft, and my standing MiG-31 patrol was too far out of position to move in and shoot AA-11s, so I had to rely on the SA-N-11b missiles on the Sovershennyy. Fortunately, they're my best SAMs, and I'd moved the Sovershennyy close enough to the surface group that the Harpoons flew right past it (go mutual support!), and it was able to shoot down 3 of the 4. The last one got dangerously close to the ferries; my MiGs got there just in time to shoot at it with Archers but missed with their first 2, and the Harpoon was finally shot down with SA-N-4s from the Grisha escorts. Meanwhile one of my Bears dropped a torpedo on the sub and killed it. The other contact proved extremely elusive. I was not able to pin it down to a good location, and despite dropping many torpedos from the Bears, it never panicked. I finally decided it must be a biological, but kept monitoring it.
Eventually my Bears started running out of sonobuoys and I started worrying about when the first F-15s would show up again, so I recalled them back to base to rearm. Losses currently stand at 1 Akula I for the Russians, and for Japan, 3 E-767s, 8 P-3C Orions, 1 Soryu, and 3 Oyashios. That's pretty good so far, but the mission still isn't complete. I don't want to rush my ships forward too fast and risk running into a sub, but at the same time, if I take too long, his fighters will start coming up again and they'll eventually get a fix on my ships for an airstrike.
I kept up the manual sprint and drift with my subs. With the suface group about 20 miles behind the line of subs, doing 10 kts, and the subs about 50 miles from the landing site, doing 20 kt sprints keeps them ahead just far enough. I had the Yasen in the middle, with the Akula I on the right side of the line (NW of the Yasen) and the Akula II on the left side (SE of the Yasen), with the Oscar about 6 miles behind the Yasen. Suddenly, as the Akula I came off a sprint, it detected a torpedo in the water! Deja vu all over again... Again I ordered it to run away at flank speed, and I used the Oscar to drop a SS-N-15 on the temporary sub contact. That contact turned out to be right on, because the torp dropped in, immediately acquired, and killed a Soryu. I'm starting to really like these Russian flying rocket torpedoes.
This time the Akula was able to get clear. Killing the launch platform removed the wire guidance, and I set the Automatic Evasion to No and ran the sub at a 90 degree angle to the torpedo path to get it out of the sensor cone, and the torps ran themselves out without getting close to any of my subs. Now I'm reestablishing the line and bringing in a couple of my rearmed Bears; hopefully I'll have enough advanced warning if the F-15s show up to get the Bears safely back out of the way.
Not long after that, I did indeed start getting satellite ELINT warnings about F-15 radars. I moved my Bears back, and set up for my next trick... Now that the Japanese have no airborne radar, they're entirely dependent on their ground radars and fighters. I launched all 10 of my Su-27s from Sakhalin and set them to a ferry mission with a single waypoint as a rally point, keeping them at minimum altitude all the way. I'm hoping that I can let the F-15s go by, and then sneak in for a flank attack (get it? Flankers? oh yeah) at low altitude before they realize I'm there. Unfortunately, at some point after getting to the rally point, they lost their altitude setting and went to 36000 ft, which of course made them fully visible and drew all the F-15s... Not sure why that happened. I managed to lose the F-15s by dropping back down out of ground radar coverage and staying just outside the fighters' radar range, and I brought in my standing MiG-31 patrol and further distracted them, leading them on a merry chase over the Sea of Okhotsk with my Su-27s skulking along just above the waves behind them, trying to get into missile launch parameters.
Meanwhile, the Big Bird on Iturup picked up a large group of planes that seem to be making a beeline for my surface group; I assume this is the strike I've been waiting for. I scrambled all my MiG-29s on Iturup, to be followed by the Su-33s if needed. All the F-15s are pretty far away up north, chasing after my MiG-31 patrol, so if I'm lucky, the MiGs will have some Phantoms for lunch...
Too many things were happening at once though and I couldn't micromanage it quite closely enough. All 8 Phantoms were shot down, but they took 4 MiG-29s with them, and while I was distracted with that, the F-15s caught up with my MiG-31s and shot them down as well. Still, my ships are now safe from air attack, and Japan has no ASW capability left, so if my subs can escort the ships into the landing zone I'll win. I did manage to get my Flankers into the flank of 4 of the F-15s and launched 4 missiles each at them, but then had to break away because I was out of fuel from running so long at low altitude. It also probably saved me from getting return fire as well, but 1 of the F-15s still survived the volley. It was a near-run thing to get the Su-27s back to base and safely on the ground before the F-15s got them. I bought myself some time by winging AA-12s at them at max distance while my planes were descending for landing, and actually killed 2 F-15s that way. But on the other hand I couldn't quite get all my MiG-29s back to base on Iturup before the other F-15s caught up to them, and lost 2.
Despite the losses, I have to count the engagement as a success. Japanese surface striking power was eliminated, and I destroyed almost a third of their fighter force in exchange for some of my least capable planes. Now all I have to do is keep the subs from getting near my ships for these last 40 miles.
When my ships were 35 miles away, I suddenly detected 2 sea skimming missiles. I immediately launched a SS-N-16 at the location I first detected them (go mutual support!), but unfortunately had no luck. I ordered my surface group to creep speed so I could get a little more time to clear the area of submarines. I'm not in any particular hurry to get to the beach now that the main threat has been blunted. A few minutes later I detected more missiles, and launched several SS-N-16s at different ranges. That time, one of them came in right on top of a sub and killed it, a Soryu. There would be no stopping me now... A couple more missiles coming from across the island hinted at the existance of another sub, but it's too far away to affect the outcome. I was able to shoot down every incoming missile; keeping the Sovershennyy very near the ferry group helps a lot.
The F-15s kept coming, usually in two or three flights of 2. I worked out some tactics with the MiG-31 that work some of the time at least. With no AEW, and outside the range of ground radar coverage, the F-15s are blind except for their own radars. If you can use one group of MiG-31s to draw their attention, you can use another group to go around their radar cone and get within AA-9 range. I've found the only reliable way is to launch 4 AA-9s per enemy plane, from 60000 ft and at maximum possible range, then slow to loiter and start dropping to 12000 ft altitude. They'll almost always launch one or two missiles back at you, and because the AAM-4B (and other Level Cruise Flight missiles) have a more efficient trajectory, they'll actually be extremely close to you by the time your missiles get to the enemy planes. You'll need to set the Automatic Evasion to No so your MiGs don't lose their lock trying to dodge. Assuming you kill the enemy planes, then immediately set Automatic Evasion back to Yes, and you'll typically dive under the incoming missiles' radar cones. If you didn't kill both the enemy planes, or if you're being tracked by other enemies, then you're probably dead (hence why you want massive overkill with 4 missiles), but sometimes you can get away on afterburners. MiG-31s are really not optimized for taking on fighters, but I was able to trade them about 1:1 for F-15s using those tactics.
I ended up losing a Mainstay when I was distracted with sub stuff and an F-15 got close enough to launch a missile; if I had been paying attention, I would have had plenty of time to move it out of the way. I also lost a Mainstay when it ran out of gas and crashed. Not sure how that happened, but I must have somehow cancelled its RTB orders. However, the mission was accomplished, and Russia now owns the Kuriles!
TRIUMPH Your final score is: 1000
10/30/2018 05:25: Score changed from 0 to 1000. Reason: Event Action: 'Convoy Arrival Points' has been fired (part of Event: 'Convoy Arrival')
Complete losses/expenditures below:
2x A-50 Mainstay A
6x MiG-29SMT Fulcrum C
6x MiG-31BM Foxhound
1x PLA-971 Akula I Improved [Shchuka-B]
1x 30mm Gsh-30-1 Burst [30 rnds]
25x AA-10 Alamo A [R-27R, MR SARH]
8x AA-11 Archer [R-73]
24x AA-12 Adder B [R-77-1, RVV-SD]
70x AA-9 Amos [R-33S, SARH]
4x APR-1 Kondor
2x Generic Acoustic Decoy
11x Generic Chaff Salvo [5x Cartridges]
1x MG-114 Berilly
664x RGB-1 [NATO BM-1, Search, Passive Omni]
50x RGB-2 [NATO BM-2, Track, Passive Bearing-Only]
12x SA-N-11b Grisom [9M311K-1]
12x SA-N-4b Gecko [9M33M3]
1x SS-N-15 Starfish [RPK-6 Vodopad, UMGT-1 Torpedo]
8x SS-N-16 Stallion [RPK-7 Vodopei, UMGT-1 Torpedo]
3x E-767 Sentinel
12x F-15J Eagle J-MSIP
8x F-4EJ Phantom II Kai
8x P-3C Orion Update III
3x SS 501 Soryu
3x SS 590 Oyashio
31x AAM-4B Kai [Type 99]
8x AIM-7F Sparrow III
8x Generic Acoustic Decoy
6x Generic Acoustic Decoy
49x Generic Chaff Salvo [5x Cartridges]
3x Generic Flare Salvo [3x Cartridges, Single Spectral]
186x J/HQS-12 DIFAR
103x J/HQS-33B DICASS [AN/SSQ-62]
2x RIM-7M Sea Sparrow
5x Type 89 [G-12]
12x UGM-84D Harpoon IC
SIDE: Russian Satellites
SIDE: Russian Defensive Batteries
1x SA-15e Gauntlet [9M338K]
1x SA-20a Gargoyle [48N6]