It is 1979 and the Marcos regime in the Philippines has been overthrown by a Communist insurrection. The rebels are now harassing US bases and Washington has ordered Marine reinforcements to be sent to the Manila area. Vietnam has been making bellicose noises in support of the insurgents and Soviet ships, planes and subs are in the area.
The extra troops are being carried from the Indian Ocean region in the helicopter carrier Tarawa and three large transports, escorted by three destroyers (TF 76.4). Tarawa is mainly equipped to support ground ops and, while she has some Harriers for air defence, her only strike aircraft are Huey and Sea Cobra choppers. The force has precisely one ASW helicopter and SAM protection is less than you would normally expect for an American Task Force. At least the destroyers have some ASROCs and decent sonar.
Nearer the Philippines are three more US destroyers (TF 70.04) with a decent ASW capability, but very limited air defence. These are intended to run interference ahead of the convoy.
You otherwise have three subs (one of which has an impressive sonar range) and a selection of Phantoms and Orions based around Manila. The subs never got into the action in my playthrough. The Phantoms can provide CAP, but at an inconvenient distance from the convoy, which limits its effectiveness. They also have a strike capability with a mixture of bombs and Maverick missiles. The Orions have an excellent ASW capability, good surface search (once you turn it on, as it's off by default) and some are loaded with Mavericks. Note that the Maverick has a range of just 6nm and is therefore less powerful than the Harpoon, being outranged by Soviet Goa SAMs.
There is no threat from the Philippine rebels. Vietnam has a couple of captured US patrol craft near the convoy and a limited air strike capability with Sukhoi Fitters, escorted by MiG-21s. The main potential danger comes from the Soviets. They have half-a-dozen subs in the South China Sea, two of which carry long-range missiles, plus a surface squadron with the usual Shaddocks and Vietnam-based Fitters (carrying anti-ship missiles) and Mail patrol flying boats. You are ordered not to engage forces of either nation without being fired-on first. However, your ASW aircraft are all sneakily set to Weapons Free, which means they'll blaze away at schools of fish given the chance. This simply isn't fair on the player. I don't normally quit and go back to the last save, but I did in this scenario when an Orion prematurely attacked a Soviet sub in complete contravention of the briefing. Whether I'd have suffered a penalty if I'd just played on, I don't know - probably not.
Frankly, it seemed a tall order getting the convoy through given the potential strength of the opposition and I was left hoping that the Soviets would stay out of it if I left them alone. I didn't believe it, though and there was the feeling of being played for a sucker as I held off prosecuting contacts (especially on the occasion described above).
You have a choice to make with the convoy, either slowing down to optimise ASW detection and stealth or going full speed ahead to reach Manila. Going slow won't actually get you there in the scenario time limit, so I stuck to the default speeds. I also opted to keep radars dark, which proved to be a bad thing, albeit not an unmixed one.
Early on, a Vietnamese frigate (Tran Quang Khai) was sighted NW of the convoy (you can usually guess what contacts are by their speed and emissions if you've done your homework). As my Hueys weren't much use for anything else, I sent one over to tempt her into firing. She predictably took the bait and I then had some modest fun tickling her to death with choppers firing HYDRA rockets and TOW anti-tank missiles. Tarawa's entire strike force wasn't enough to sink her, but she was left dead in the water. Couldn't really afford to detach a destroyer and finish her off, even though this cost me victory points.
Soviet Mails appeared and shadowed the convoy, passing intel to the Viets. The latter then sent in an airstrike, with a second patrol frigate approaching from the E. Harriers downed a MiG and two Fitters, but another pair of attack planes snuck past them and were only just destroyed by Tarawa's SAMs before they could attack. Meanwhile, the destroyer Hull easily overwhelmed and sank the frigate Dai Ky. So much for the Vietnamese threat.
Three Soviet subs then appeared from the NW, picked-up by the large-scale marine sonobuoy litter being strewn around by my Orions. One was a Charlie, carrying Starbright missiles and another was a Victor I, which mounts defensive SAMs. Feeling like a mug, I held-off until, surprise, surprise, the Charlie opened fire. Thankfully, having my radars off helped and the missiles, presumably fired on an approximate contact, went well wide. Retribution was swiftly visited on the Charlie and Victor (which was too deep to use her SAMs) but the third sub (a Foxtrot) vanished.
As the Soviets had tipped their hand, I unleashed Clark Field's Phantoms on their Mails and shot three down in short order. The enemy have no long-range fighter cover, which helps. Planes score no points in this scenario.
So far, so good. At this point, though, missiles started coming at TF 76.4 from multiple directions. Not Shaddocks, but air-launched Kyles, Keglers and Karens from a wave of Soviet Su-17s, which had flown in low and been helped further by my radars being off. Presumably, I'd been spotted either by the Mails before they died, a sub, still-functional radar on the Tran Quang Khai or a satellite that periodically came over. CAP downed a couple of attackers, but their missiles crippled my best destroyer, the Benjamin Stoddart and damaged Tarawa 25%, as always in these situations destroying practically all the aircraft on board. (To be honest, carriers are too durable in this game, which doesn't seem to take account of all the flammable stuff they carry - look at what happened at Midway and other WW2 battles). Kept the radars on after that... At least I had a couple of Harriers left (which could still take off and land without problems, maybe because of their VTOL ability, but I think I'm being generous there ????).
A Zulu IV sub then appeared in front of the convoy and was taken-out by ASROCs from the destroyer O'Brien. It's hard not to feel sorry for enemy subs sometimes, as they have such a rough deal. Another Mail appeared and was downed by a Phantom.
Ominously, a Hormone ASW chopper came into view W of Luzon, a sure sign that the Soviet surface fleet was nearby and blocking the convoy's route to port. A Phantom destroyed it, just in time to report a shoal of Shaddocks heading for TF 70.04. At least the Soviets pumped all their ammo at the picket destroyers instead of saving it for the convoy. The destroyer Morton was hit and sunk, but the Shaddocks were surprisingly inaccurate and did no more damage.
As another Mail fell to the Phantoms, I mounted a desperate airstrike from Manila against the Soviet ships. There was a high risk of losses to SAMs, but no real choice under the circumstances. One flight of Phantoms, for some reason, didn't have the endurance to reach the target, but others steamed-in with bombs and Mavericks, aiming to hit as many targets as possible and degrade them rather than concentrating on sinking one or two. The Kashin-class destroyer Stogiy was sunk and the Kresta cruiser Vladivostok crippled, with a Kotlin destroyer and Sverdlov cruiser taking damage. We lost four Phantoms and a couple of Orions. Soviet profligacy meant that they used-up all of their SAMs in the process. During the attack, there were a couple of weird pieces of AI behaviour. Some Phantoms continued to fly around the target after dropping their bombs and I allowed this (it accounted for three losses), as it distracted SAMs and made it easier for the later waves. The Orions released their Mavericks one at a time and made repeated turns around and over the target at 10,000'. Nothing I could do would amend this behaviour and attempts to fire manually were repeatedly met with messages saying that the target was outside the Maverick's boresight limits. This might have been Double Dutch for 'your sensors are jammed', but it wasn't clear.
Near the Soviet TF was a Whiskey Long Bin sub, which might have fired some of the Shaddocks. It was using surface search radar, which made it a sitting duck for an Orion though, oddly, it scored me no victory points.
The Su-17s returned and finished-off the Stoddart at a cost of two of their number. The US retaliated with a follow-up strike which sank the Vladivostok, the Kotlin and the Sverdlov.
A third Su-17 strike eventually materialised and damaged the TF 70.04 destroyer Bausell at a cost of four planes. Enemy recon aircraft continued to fall to the Phantoms.
In typical AI fashion, the surviving Soviet ship, the Kynda-class cruiser Varyag, pressed the attack despite only having 76mm guns, but was sunk by Phantoms and Orions (which continued to make heavy weather of attacking, as described above).
A second Zulu IV was sighted near the Varyag and didn't last long. With the convoy approaching Manila, the Foxtrot was detected far away to the SW and given the treatment by an Orion.
With the Tarawa and the transports making it to Manila (scoring victory points), the scenario ended as a Triumph, with a score of 940. Not bloodless, but absolute carnage for the Soviets. Given the resources at their disposal, I'm surprised it went as well as it did.