Monday, December 20, 2010

Some very preliminary impressions of Persian Incursion

I've been spending a lot of time studying this game over the last week. It covers an intriguing and important topic and is probably the best unclassified source available for analyzing the potential conduct and consequences of an Israeli attempt to derail Iran's nuclear program through military means. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if it's a better analysis than any classified material available to decision makers.

Last night I ran through a few turns of solitaire play in order to get a handle on how the game system would work, how long it will take to play and some preliminary impressions of the game.

One thing is clear -- this is not a 'light' wargame. While considerable efforts have been made to 'streamline' the game, that term is very relative. It's streamlined compared to a full-blown Harpoon 4 game, but by just about any other standard this is still an intricate game that requires a lot of what I call 'staff work.' Each player is tracking the maintenance and mission status of a hundred or more aircraft, every single missile and bomb expended and various events/missions spread over mulitple turns. The designers recommend some sort of mission log to keep track of things and this is not optional in my opinion. You will have to write a lot of stuff down in such a way as to be able to find it later. I started off by making a target/mission worksheet to track each Israeli aircraft and its bombload and while this was helpful, it was also not enough. For my first game I think I'm going to try using a composition book to keep a running record of game information -- a sort of staff journal. The good news is that this should make it easier to write up a good session report afterward. The bad news is that this will necessarily be a game that takes quite a while to play.

I have some initial thoughts on the challenges facing each side.

For the Israelis the biggest challenge will be deciding on a strategy and carrying it out. Mission planning will be critical and it will save a lot of game time if the Israeli player draws up his initial strikes before the game. Indeed, I think the Israeli player should decide on his target strategy before the game and work out all of his planned strikes in at least draft form before the game. This is both realistic and will go a long way to making the game playable in one sitting. The fact of the matter is that the Iranians will not be able to interfere very much operationally with the Israeli strikes and it should be possible for the Israelis to plan all their targeting beforehand, making adjustments as required by events. The largest source of Israeli losses will be through maintenance problems which should be possble to plan for. The Israeli forces are very powerful and capable and can pretty much do as they please -- but they'll have more they want to do than they have airframes available to carry it out. It's not too much to say that the entire Israeli effort depends on just 32 aircraft -- 24 F-15I and 8 tankers.

The Iranian player will have to come to terms with the general ineffectiveness of his military means and it may very well be that his best chance to win will come from the political game's card play.

Offensively, the Iranians have just three options. The easiest is ordering and conducting terror attacks, but these are unlikely to have much effect. Launching ballistic missiles at Israel will be tempting, but the chances of getting through are very low and the chances of having an effect even lower. I haven't had a chance to try out closing the Strait of Hormuz, but I see little reason to think this is much of a strategy either.

Defensively the Iranians have few effective options either, unless the political situation gives them some extra help from Chinese or Russian sources. The long-range and medium-range SAMs are easily countered and it wil be good luck for Iran if the Israelis lose more than a plane or two from those. The mobile, short-rang SAMs are more useful, but they won't have have a chance to shoot down any planes due to the Israeli stand-off range. Their main effect will be to complicate the Isareli mission planning by occasionally shooting down enough precision-guided munitions to potentially screw up an Isareli strike. Their mobility may also give the Iranian player some ability to at least complicate the Isareli task by making a raid less effective than expected.

The Iranian air force, while large, is completely outclassed by the Israeli aircraft and will rarely have a chance to get a shot off. All the Iranian radar-homing missiles are semi-active guided, which means that the Iranian shooter has to spend a turn guiding the missile to the target. Few are likely to live long enough to do that in the face of the accurate and long-ranged AIM-120s carried by all the Israeli fighters. The best chance the Iranians will have will be on the rare occasion when the ground controllers are able to set them up at "dogfight" range where the Iranian heat-seekers will at least have a chance to reach a target regardless of the fate of the Iranian plane that fired it. The Iranians can expect heavy losses.
I'll probably have to play the Israelis the first time because of the requirement to do so much pre-game work, but I think the Iranian side is the more intriguing to play and I hope I get a chance to see what their options are.

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