System: Iron Cow
Publisher: Wessex Games
Less Air Ops (Please!)
by Guy R Walker
With the style of previous debates in the pages of Ragnarok, I wish to add a couple more penn'orth to the Iron Cow annals (hopefully no typo!) so far. With a bit of luck I have also won the "Most ludicrous metallic species combo title and impossible to fit in as a vertical banner" award! I have always had a deep fondness for simple rules systems. My formative wargaming years started with Gavin and Bernard Lyall's Operation Warboard (WW2 20/25mm rules). It is only with the appearance of Iron Cow that I feel I have come home to a similarly simple system for SF.
Simple systems allow for tinkering and the various submissions from others (Kevlar Pigeon and Steel Sheep) showed a host of good ideas. If you want to fight the air battle then buy Fox Two!. Iron Cow is about the ground battle. Possibilities for the inclusion of Forward Air Controllers (ground or air mounted) is one thought that springs to mind. The problems of control, orders and visibility rear their ugly heads and what about the enemy? How do you hide the VTOL model that carries your FAC? Does the enemy dice to see if he can spot the mast mounted sight above that wood in the middle distance? etc etc.
Toby Barrett's Ceramic Turkey does merit a slight friendly dig (but admit it folks - at least he wrote in!). I found his article had some good points but fell into the trap of being rooted in the technology and tactics of today. This probably doesn't matter as all things come around eventually and it will be the gospel in 100 years!
The reasons the US go for big packages is that it works on the premise of maximum assets in the air for the minimum exposure time with air superiority. The RAF has long been strangled by lack of funds to go for the specialist SEAD unit idea. It was felt that low level penetration was the only way to achieve success in the face of the massive SAM threat of the cold war era. The RAF is now down on the same road as the US Wild Weasels, witness Tornado armed with ALARM (better than HARM - allegedly!). The casual observer of various recent Coalition Air Ops will have noted that the US tends to be the driving force and as such we all tend to slot into their methods. It is money not doctrine that drives the UK. If you consider the cost of modern aircraft and crew, some might say SEAD is a cost effective investment - aircrew certainly think so.
The TFR/TRN debate. TFR (like all radars) emit on a certain frequency. If you had a sufficient increase in technology (consider the RDF of WW2 to AWACS today - less than 50 years) on a "look down" platform, you could spot the incoming jets despite their limited emissions. TRN is favoured by present day cruise missiles and is only as good as the last time the nav database or memory map was updated. Even if we assume the technology to do this on a regular or daily basis (it almost exists today), low level attacks base their survival on not being detected from the ground due to terrain masking or from the air due to ground "clutter". All of these advantages are rapidly disappearing. There are SAMs that have limited look down capability now. On top of a hill they take away your use of the valleys. Radars today can sucessfully track vehicles and low level aircraft against the background clutter (eg JSTARS in the Gulf). The kit cannot quite fit into a fighter yet but it is getting there.
The Stealth debate. Stealth is not the panacea of invisibility. It was (and still is) bloody impressive but as with all new weapons, the countermeasure soon follows. Generally speaking, stealth is about reducing the electromagnetic signature. It creates radar problems because the radar pulse is deflected instead of being reflected - to counter this you place your radar receiver in a different location from your transmitter and data link both to a supercomputer to sort out the horrendous calculations. Expensive but possible now. Radar Absorbent Materials and careful design will greatly reduce the Radar Cross Section - from an albatross to a swallow (African or European? - it doesn't matter as the coconut it's carrying probably gives off a sodding great radar return anyway!). At what cost? Mask the exhausts and you reduce available thrust. Internal bomb bays reduce the amount of weapons. Always pros and cons. In a future war (as in the past) ideas such as stealth should only give one side the advantage on its first use. After this, necessity definitely becomes the mother of invention so the countermeasure follows. Perhaps for this the umpire could dice to allow first use etc.
Have you noticed the upsurge of passive detection systems over the last 3 years? Especially IR and Optics. SAMs are acutely aware that the smallest transmissions are rewarded with a HARM down their throat, so the AD "market" is actively investigating the abilities of passive systems. I bet the US also believed they would not lose a F16 over Bosnia. The valid point of aircraft being used to support grunts is a truism TODAY hence the decision by the British Army to purchase Apache. Once again it has been finances and not doctrine that has restricted the Army. VTOLs do it better!
As with all these things it depends on the tech levels of the opponents. If you are fighting an outlying colony in the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy with a similar tech level to todays Earth, or maybe an alternative history scenario a la Fatherland, then all of Toby's points are valid. I just feel that we have less secrets in the world today. There are still "black" programs but there is now a tech sharing that was undreamed of 10 years ago. It is as well to remember that there is usually a very low tech solution to all high tech threats. Need to defend against that pesky low level stealth penetrator? (fnarr, fnarr!). Just string sodding great big steel cables across all the approach valleys to your high value target. A flock of barrage balloons is even cheaper - what is the radar return off a large bubble of hot air with a thin nylon skin? (no, I hadn't forgotten the anchor cable!). Both of these methods either kill aircraft or force them up into the engagement envelopes of your AD systems. Overall I felt that David Manley's Kevlar Pigeon covered the subject with more than enough options.
Ed Note: Iron Cow is a 6mm (Epic) SF Armour rules system produced by Wessex Games and was reviewed in Ragnarok 19. A revised edition, Iron Cow 2103AD, was reviewed in Ragnaraok 39. For further details regarding price and availability, send an SSAE to Wessex Games, 4 Old Acre Road, Whitchurch, Bristol, BS14 0HN.
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