Thursday, May 3, 2012

More losses for Argentina in the Falklands War 30 years ago

The damage to the Alferez Sobral bridge area

 The first few days of serious fighting were costly for the Argentinian military, especially the Navy. Besides losing more than 300 men when the ARA general Belgrano went down on May 2, a small Argentinian warship called the Alferez Sobral suffered disproportionate casualties from some non-fatal hits from Sea Skua air-to0surface missiles fired by Btitsh helicopters when it was spotted while searching for downed aircrew from earlier fighting.

A total of four Sea Skua were fired and it appears three of the hit. One did not serious damage, as it hit the Sobral's lifeboat and blew it to bits. But two of the missiles hit near the bridge and killed 8 men, including the captain, and wounded at least 8 more -- for a loss rate of nearly 20%.

One thing this episode points out is the limitations of a wargame, even a very detailed one such as Harpoon4. According to the Harpoon4 rules, each Sea Skua should do 6 damage points so three hits should have left the 24-damage point Sobral nearly crippled with 75% damage before considering the effects of any critical hits.

In fact, though, one of the "hits" destroyed an accessory of the ship, its lifeboat, and did no structural damage at all. The effect of the two hits on the bridge also seems to be less than expected, as well. This reminds me of a discussion in a Harpoon Sitrep a few years back where Larry Bond discussed the surface-to-surface missile hit by Palestinian militants on the Israeli patrol boat INS Hanit in 2006. According to the Harpoon4 models the ship should have been devastated by a hit from the powerful missile used. While four crew were killed and there was a fire, the ship seemed to have escaped serious  structural damage.  Bond's analysis of open source photos led him to believe that the missile struck an exposed crane on the deck, which was missing in post-attack photos. He admitted that this sort of fluke hit  was hard to model in Harpoon4 and said that he basically just ignored that sort of thing in the game -- a not entirely satisfactory answer.

When I've run Harpoon4 scenarios I've experimented with various random reductions in effectiveness (While a better-than-expected result is also possible, I assume that is generally accounted for by the critical hit rules and in my opinion most weapons perform worse than expected and that's the bias I introduce into the game.)

Based on the photographic evidence and the lack of any apparent reduction in the ship;s speed, it appears that the actual damage done to the Sobral was less than 6 damage points in Harpoon4 terms. This implies that the Sea Skua's did less than half the expected amount of damage, even discounting entirely the lifeboat "hit" which might have been a "miss" in game terms.

In any case, a lesson worth bearing in mind when considering the likely effectiveness of any new weapons is that the most likely outcome is disappointment.

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