PART 1 - TRADING STRIKES
First order of business was recon. I had a Triton UAV off Pakistan and sent this towards Oman and Saudi to keep it safe, supporting it with a Hawkeye 2000 from the Bush. Meanwhile, I set-up tanker stations S of the fleet and brought-up a Poseidon ASW plane from Diego Garcia to supplement the America Group's limited ASW capability. Meanwhile, I altered the Zumwalt Group's pre-set course to bring it to a point just short of the Narrows, with radars off to make the most of stealth and at below cavitation speed to watch-out for subs. I took the view that they could speed-up later. Using ASW choppers had to be done carefully to allow a rapid retreat should Iranian fighters appear. I also kept the America Group 'dark', but switched-on the Bush Group's radars to make the most of their excellent SAMs (the RIM-174 is even better than the Gargoyle and more mobile to boot). The game pre-sets some 'sprint and drift' orders for your escorts and you may wish to cancel these, as I did, depending on your style. As usual, planes launch with radars off and auto-evasion set to Yes, so I had to religiously alter this throughout.
I'd not been impressed with the Triton in earlier games, but this one did me proud. I was able to get a good picture of the Iranian air defence system in the first hour or so without taking risks. It turned-out that I had more space to play with than I'd thought. While the Narrows were locked-down tight by Gargoyles, supporting fighters and missile boats, the approaches were SAM-free and I could operate aircraft without fear. Locating the anti-ship (SSM) batteries took longer and had to be done by noting the number of components on the various 'unknown' sites (SSMs have 5, as do a few other things). The enemy had three mobile jamming vehicles, one at Char Behar and two at Bandar Abbas. As always, it wasn't really clear how much effect these were having.
I opened hostilities by launching all of Zumwalt's 72 cruise missiles at Bandar Abbas. As I saw it, there were two ways to negate the Gargoyle. Using the F-35s was a huge risk and I much preferred to run the thing out of SAMs by overloading it with unmanned missiles. Texas weighed-in with six more. I scored no hits, but did use-up a lot of enemy missiles. Vigorous Dragons and Tomcats helped reduce this problem for the Iranians, though, and I only drained 24 Gargoyles (a third of the total, as I eventually found) and 72 Grumbles, along with some Gadflies and Gophers.
The DDG Benfold then used six of her Cruises to hit the Iranian Air Defence HQ at Jask, SE of the Straits. This was only covered by Gainful SAMs, which can't engage low-flying missiles, so the strike succeeded and scored me 250VP. While a message said that enemy air defence would be adversely affected, I saw no sign of this. Meanwhile, the DDG Momssen launched 20 Cruises at the Gargoyle, but fighters arrived and intercepted the lot. Still, the enemy still used-up more SAMs. Under cover of this, the DDG Farragut fired MMT cruise missiles at the Iranian missile boats in the Straits. I aimed at a Houbei stealth ship, but hit and sank a weaker Fath boat instead (350VP).
Aroused, Iran began launching airstrikes. Four MiG-29s and three MiG-21s went after my recon aircraft and were all shot down without loss, but it cost a quite unreasonable 24 RIM-174s due to bad luck, so I had to put Farragut on Weapons Hold to conserve her remaining supply. Iranian fighters score 100VP each, apart from MiG-21s, which only score 20.
The enemy then sent-in a huge wave of Su-24 Fencers with anti-ship missiles, escorted by Vigorous Dragons and five more MiG-21s and followed by a flight of four MiG-29s. With CAP backing-up my SAMs and making the most of the AMRAAM's superior range, it was a slaughter. Iran lost 2 Dragons, all the MiGs and 17 Fencers, which never got close enough to fire missiles. I didn't take a scratch, but SAM expenditure was still too high. At one point, a MiG-29 spoofed two AMRAAMs in succession on 5% chances.
Next, another quartet of MiG-29s swept-in, along with eight more MiG-21s, going after vulnerable aircraft, which I had time to pull back out of the way. All 12 bandits went down without loss, but one MiG-29 needed at least six AMRAAMs.
Farragut now had a clear track on two dangerous Houbei stealth frigates and put them both down with her long-ranged MMTs for another 700VP. I was now in Minor Victory territory at over 4,000, but feared a huge penalty if I didn't get through the Straits.
Momssen loosed another 20 Cruises at the Gargoyle, scoring no hits, but taking enemy SA-20 spend to 47. Judging from the database, I estimated that they had 48, but was to be proved wrong.
Four more MiG-29s made a run at the fleet, no doubt dreaming of the Houris of Paradise. They soon found-out the truth of that. I meanwhile began using older F-18C Hornets as auxiliary fighters and sent them against the Iranian Orion and May aircraft that were cruising off Char Behar, steadily whittling them away. Usefully, these scored 150VP each. I was now on 5,270 and a Major Victory - for now.
Eight more MiG-21s launched from Char Behar (near the Pakistan border) and were duly wiped-out. Their only purpose must have been to use-up my SAMs but, as they are still deadly to Sea Dragon choppers and the like, I couldn't ignore them. Undaunted, the Iranian base sent a second squadron after the first, with similar results. Notably, one fighter was missed successively on 44, 75, 86 and 86% chances before running out of luck. I do wonder whether the game algorithm tends to generate several scores in the same range with its 'random' rolls, as this kind of thing happens far too often.
Enemy strikes kept coming in. Two Tomcats suddenly left their station near Bandar Abbas and went for Sioux City's ASW chopper. She just got away despite the handicap of having her dipping sonar deployed (you can't cancel this or stop the chopper doing it). One F-14 got too close to Farragut, which shot her down. This was a bonus, as I didn't dare put my fighters up against their Phoenixes. They are easily the most dangerous Iranian fighters in the scenario.
Another flight of four MiG-29s joined the surviving F-14 in making a sweep across the fleet. All were shot-down, though one Fulcrum was again extraordinarily lucky.
While this was going on, I noticed that my Poseidon was critically low on fuel and trying to rendezvous with a tanker. Infuriatingly, the AI made a total mess of this and the patrol plane crashed!. Worse, this cost me a cruel 500VP, emphasising that you just can't afford losses in this scenario. I checked and the Stratotanker was capable of both boom and drogue refuelling, so this simply shouldn't have happened. Very annoying. I recovered 50VP by rescuing the pilot using one of the Bush's Knighthawk SAR choppers.
Two more Tomcats committed suicide by overflying the Zumwalt Group. This occasioned a lull in the frenetic air activity, so I'll break the post here, just in Major Victory territory.