SEAD: How To Make Airpower Work For Me

SEAD: How To Make Airpower Work For Me

SEAD: How To Make Airpower Work For Me 
with Garry Wait

Many players seem hesitant about the inclusion of air into their list or are concerned that when they bring air assets, they don’t deliver the expected results. This can be dispiriting and cause a player to be overly concerned about the vulnerability of their precious flights of combat assets.

As someone who has had to do what we used to call in the military an “Emu Parade” I am only too aware of how vulnerable those fancy Tornados or Harriers or Mirages are in reality. One carelessly discarded bolt, one incorrectly tensioned nut or an abandoned rivet sucked into a jet engine intake can have catastrophic results. Air Forces the world over call this FOD or Foreign Object Damage Walk. Even an unlucky bird strike can be more fatal than a torrent of 23mm gunfire. All the more reason why those aircraft get a 5+ save when impacted by serious ground fire.

So what’s the solution, I hear you ask?  If air is so easily interdicted, does this mean all fixed-wing aviation is a waste of time in WWIII: Team Yankee? The great air pioneers Mitchell, Douhet, and especially Rudel would disagree.   

Rather, as you’d expect in reality, some forward planning and forethought make a world of difference to the delivery of your airpower.

In particular, think about what you want to do with air support. Is it a tank killer? Clearing infantry hordes? A precision tool or a bludgeon club?

Different armies have different options available for air cover, but one thing they all have in common is that they all need planning to maximise their results. 

SEAD: How To Make Airpower Work For Me

I’ve given five points and some practical examples below to improve your gaming with air.

Firstly, think carefully about where you need the airpower to make the most effort. I know this sounds obvious but you’d be amazed how often people bring aircraft to a game and have no idea where they plan to deliver the planes once the dice approve their request for support. This is something you should have in mind well in advance, particularly if using a salvo template that requires you to maintain a “danger close” distance.  In reality, if a leader was this indecisive, they’d face the real prospect of having air support denied on the grounds that it could well be wasted or worse, lives endangered through foolish misuse.

Secondly, don’t assume that flying low and fast is the ideal defence against everything the ground forces of the enemy will throw against you. It didn’t guarantee survival for Tornado pilots in Desert Storm and it won’t guarantee your air support will make it through. Sometimes delaying the arrival until you’ve thinned down enemy defences is worth the patience too. So you have decided to make life easier for the flyboys and have planned your list to have force multipliers for the flying stuff. How does this work?

Thirdly, and this is where the title comes in, consider your plan for Suppression of Enemy Air Defences. Such a plan can take many forms. In its simplest, it can mean placing your aircraft out of range of enemy fire, but there are many more active solutions available to the clever player.

Here are some examples I’ve seen and even faced from players in Australia that have worked in games. These aren’t theoretical answers, they are solutions from individual games that have been seen to work:

SEAD: How To Make Airpower Work For Me

An Afgantsy player I know likes to run two units of artillery and one of T72s. He spearheads the T72s as close as he can and their priority target is always enemy AA units. But before a single shot has been fired, he plans carefully (and quickly in his head) where his preplanned artillery templates will be. It can surprise his opponent because sometimes those “ranged in markers” are out of sight of ground units. But what he does is use a Hind (which he has plenty of) to stay stationary to spot. This eliminates issues with Line of Sight and as he is already ranged in, can neutralise enemy AA quickly. No AA in game is better than Top armour 1 and Carnations can easily make a mess of such units. Being pushed to deploy AA in less-than-optimal places is a win also!

This player also runs a combination of Su25 Frogfoot and Mi24 Hind for aviation assets. It’s pricey but there simply is never enough AA to combat it all. After two turns of firing, most armies are denuded of flak and the remaining air tends to have what we used to call a “yippee shoot” with little to no opposition.

Another player I’ve had the pleasure of facing runs US Mech. Much like the US doctrine of Airland Battle, the A10s used will never take the battlefield without Cobra gunships to light up enemy AA forces with TOW missiles. It’s telling that return fire at the Cobras is always a 6, whereas AA is often hit on as little as a 3+ or 4+. Sure you might get lucky and nail a Cobra, but the A10s will clean up the rest of the AA that turn. What happens after the AA evaporates? Not to mention, the primary target for ground-launched TOW is always AA assets (which fits perfectly the doctrine of the time).

SEAD: How To Make Airpower Work For Me

SEAD: How To Make Airpower Work For Me

A worthwhile variant of British forces I have seen uses the airmobile infantry as they were intended but in conjunction with a large Medium Recon formation and Harriers. The Medium Recon pushes forward and uses Scimitars to go AA hunting while at the same time, the Highland Light Infantry in Lynx rush forward to seize important firing positions for Milan and, hopefully, the Harriers lock down enemy forces with cluster bombs.

Key to this is to put in ranged in markers for the Harriers to vary your opponent’s deployment to your liking and maximise spearheads.

French have the purpose-built Gazelle 20mm hunting flights that with the use of the excellent Gunslinger rule, can truly prepare the battlefield for the “Armee De la Air” and their Mirages. Having tried this locally, it’s nerve-wracking to see the Gazelles hunting in a hostile and high-risk environment but as they trained hard for this, it is not without rewards.

The key is to plan your helicopter arrivals carefully and don’t use one flight of air if you can fit in three. French (and NATO) doctrine in this period was to work closely between Rotary and Fixed-wing assets, not as heroic lone flights of one or the other.

SEAD: How To Make Airpower Work For Me

Fourthly, consider the overall way your forces can support each other. As noted in the examples above, no single tool is ideal alone. If you think that a screwdriver is going to do the job of a chisel, the day will come when you will realise that all tools have their purpose. Air support works best when integrated into an overall plan. I recall AT training from the 80s that listed priorities for missile shots.

Top of the list were command teams and observers for artillery then air defence vehicles. Main Battle tanks were after these high-priority targets. There is no reason your ground forces can’t follow similar preferences. Think about your shooting and how it will improve the efficiency of those fragile but hard-hitting aircraft you’re looking forward to using. Sometimes even just the order of choosing units to fire will make a big difference to the game.

Fifthly, remember that a soft shutdown of AA is as good as a kill—for that turn. This means that if you can bail an air defence vehicle, pin a ground-launched SAM (such as Gremlin or Redeye) or at worst, put up some smoke to get an additional +1 for tall terrain concealment, then go for that. A turn without shooting could be crucial and turn the tide in game. Anything to get the strike package through!

Air support is not a silver bullet that guarantees success alone, but a wise commander can make use of the whole toolbox and tailor their tactics and planning accordingly.