Home Forums Air and Sea Naval Eleventh Harpoon PBEM AAR: A Question of Sovereignty

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    (Full-size images at my blog post.)

    The latest Harpoon PBEM game used a scenario from the Harpoon Naval Review 2009, written by Gorka L. Martínez Mezo: Moroccan fundamentalists attack the Spanish outposts at Ceuta and Melilla, and the Spanish try to get convoys across the western Mediterranean to evacuate civilians and bring in troops.

    There’s significant neutral fishing and merchant traffic present (I wrote a generator to give them plausible movements through the day), and given the huge force disparity it’s suggested that the Moroccan forces hide among them. The Spanish forces could set up anywhere in the blue circles (with the convoys at Málaga and Melilla, or near the radar station at Isla de Alborán); the Moroccans could set up anywhere outside the red ones.

    The Spaniards split their naval forces between the two convoys, putting none near the island. The Moroccans put some warships in with the northern freighter traffic, some near Melilla, and their martyrdom boats mixed with the fishing fleet. They immediately picked up airborne radar from the Spanish P3-M Orion to the north.

    Spanish fighters patrolled over the convoys. One of them spotted the southern Moroccan warships, and helicopters were launched from the southern escort force.

    They engaged and sank the Moroccans with Penguin missiles; they were able to get close enough for visual identification without being spotted themselves, and the Moroccans weren’t using air search radar so as to be mistaken for civilian ships.

    The northern force put up a Panther helicopter, which was spotted comprehensively when it turned on its radar.

    Helicopters from the northern convoy similarly inspected the “merchant” ships, then called target locations to a Harpoon-equipped F/A-18 nearby, which was able to sink them with a single salvo.

    That left the Moroccans with their Mirage force, inbound for some time, and the martyrdom boats.

    The Mirages were thoroughly radar-painted, but having only RWRs themselves couldn’t locate the enemy aircraft except visually.

    They were knocked out of the sky by AMRAAM fire, at which point the Moroccans quite reasonably conceded.

    Thanks to Rory and Renny for playing. Full charts as presented to the players are here[/url].

    Things I’ve learned from this game:

    Well, that wasn’t a lot of fun for team red. The idea of hiding among merchant traffic seemed like a good one, but when the helicopters could spot the ships at a minimum of 7 miles, and the ships could only spot the helos at around 3, the Spanish could identify the enemy and pin down their locations without exposing themselves, so the first warning the Moroccans had was sighting of incoming missiles. The only thing they could have done about this beforehand was to light up their air-search radars, which would have identified them as hostiles anyway; and even once they’d done that, their best anti-air weaponry could only reach out to 8.5 miles, rather less than enemy missile range. So while they might have shot down more of the incoming missiles, they couldn’t have stopped the helicopters.

    The visual sighting rules don’t say anything about identification. I think I need to modify the target classification rules that are already used for sonar so that they can be used with other sighting methods: a gradual increase in confidence from “a small ship” to “a Moroccan warship” to “a Descubierta-class corvette” seems more interesting than simply spotting or not spotting. (The rules also say nothing about altitude: should you really be able to classify a target you’ve spotted from 40,000 feet up? I assumed not.)

    The scenario seems pretty unbalanced, even omitting the fixed-wing aircraft which are an optional complication. Yes, obviously the Moroccan force is inferior, but when both sides are free to fire on identified targets they’re not even going to get to shoot back. The northern convoy barely got out of harbour, and the southern wasn’t even ready to leave: all the fighting had already happened by the time it might have been in danger. If the goal of the scenario was hide-and-seek across the western Med, it failed. If I do something like this again, I think I might give the Spanish more restrictive rules of engagement, and definitely omit the fixed-wing aircraft.

    The only way I can see for the Moroccans to do well in this game is to hug the coast to hide from enemy surface radar, and sprint for the targets right from the start. They probably can’t get a good shot with radar-homing missiles (as the convoys are also close to the coast), but they may be able to get into effective gun range before the helos find and kill them.

    Big complex games like this are hard for the GM to keep track of, never mind the players. Even with auto-generated map excerpts centred on each group of units, it was hard to work out what was going on at times. And working out radar detection, bearing in mind air units’ radar arcs and coastal terrain masking, was more work than I want to do again in a hurry. I’ll probably go for games with a smaller unit count for a while, or at least fewer civilians getting in the way; the tables of unit ranges and bearings became hard to manage with an extra 48 entries that were rarely used.

    More players always welcome!

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