US tactics are based on an understanding of the raid forces and how they all fit together in the tactical 'jigsaw'. The US player controls many different kinds of aircraft, each type with a specialist job to do. The first step to understanding tactics is to look at the order of battle tables and see how a raid is broken down into forces and missions.
The job of the pre-raid force is to enter the map first and provide electronic protection for the main raid force.
The job of the jamming mission is to use standoff jamming to impair SAM acquisition and the effect of Fire Can units. Don't underestimate the value of the electrons these birds broadcast. The rule is "all 'trons are good 'trons" and even small standoff modifiers can tip the balance in a SAM or Fire Can engagement.
Standoff jamming strength is greatest when the SAM or Fire Can is looking in the direction of the jamming aircraft. So the best place to position standoff jammers is along the axis of the raid's flightpath.
Off-map jammers are safe from enemy MiG attacks, but the enemy radars will be at long range where jamming strength is weakest. On-map jammers can creep closer to the radars, but are vulnerable to enemy attack.
Chaff-laying missions advance ahead of the main raid. Their task is to lay a chaff corridor for the main raid forces to funnel through. Because of the time it takes for the corridor to bloom, it needs to be laid 10-15 turns prior to the arrival of the main raid force.
Chaff corridors can be laid by flying the chaff layers out ahead of the main raid force, laying chaff as they go. An alternative method is to send the chaff flights to the target and then begin to lay chaff from the target back toward the main raid force. Properly planned and executed this method will compress the time between the chaff flights and main raid.
Main Raid Forces
The heart of the raid is the strike mission. This should enter with all the flights close together, so they can be on and off the target in the same game turn. USAF flights with noise jamming have the option of creating a jamming cell for additional SAM protection.
The sole task of the CAP flights is to keep MiGs at bay. They can stay with the Strike mission, peeling off to engage approaching MiGs, or they can sweep ahead of the bombers.
Iron Hand missions have the job of keeping enemy AAA and radars (SAM and Fire Can) quiet. Bombs are the most lethal method of silencing the enemy -- this is the reason why F-4E bombers were added to the SEAD force in Linebacker -- but ARMs are very good at forcing radars to shut down briefly.
SEAD flights should enter one to five turns ahead of the Strike mission, clearing a path for the bombers. They should hang around until the strike has gone before they leave. Navy Armed Escort flights are great for suppressing AAA concentrations around the target and have a secondary role as CAP.
Getting the recon flight through is vital, to get battle damage assessment of the target. Recon flights fly fast (and sometimes low) using speed to avoid trouble. It may be worth leaving some of the main raid CAP behind to cover the recon mission.
The US should concentrate force where possible. Hitting targets in a localized area in the morning will attrite the defenses and offer better odds for attacks in the afternoon. (Targets near the RP6a and RP6b border are good for this.)
The DRV does not have the firepower or numbers to destroy a raiding force. But they can stop the raiders completing their mission. If the DRV player can get the "Yankee Air Pirates" to go home empty-handed, target unharmed, then they've won. Shootdowns are not necessary to achieve this goal. Instead, the DRV should box clever and use guile.
The DRV player should remember that a ‘mission kill' is any kind of result that stops the US flights from doing their jobs. For example, a bombing flight that jettisons its bombs before it attacks is a mission kill for the DRV.
The DRV's defensive trident is their AAA, SAM and MiG force.
AAA can be used in three ways: to defend targets, to ambush raids and to shepherd the raid force where you want them to go. Defending a target with flak barrage not only threatens losses to the raiders, but protects against bombing by applying modifiers to air-to-ground attacks.
Setting up hidden AAA along suspected flightpaths can make for some nifty ambush tactics. Lighting up barrage and Fire Can as a raid passes overhead can ruin the US player's day.
Setting up non-hidden flak can keep the raiders away from places they shouldn't go. Even Light flak barrage will cause the US player to think twice about trying to fly through it. Use AAA in this fashion to funnel the raid into 'kill zones' where SAMs or MiGs are set up.
SAMs are more fearsome-looking than they actually are. Shootdowns are infrequent, but a bombing flight forced to jettison because of a SAM avoidance maneuver is a mission kill and a good day's work for the SAM crew.
SAMs are best used en masse. One or two SAMs on their own are easy pickings for a raid's Iron Hand force. Four or more SAMs are needed near a target to make life hard for the US player. Another consideration is the need to give the MiGs space to operate in. A common rookie error is to spread the SAMs evenly across the defended area. This leaves SAM battalions unsupported against the attacking Iron Hand, while the presence of MiGs prevents the SAMs from firing. Careful planning is needed to deconflict the MiGs and SAMs.
Better practice is to concentrate SAMs in clusters around Hanoi, Haiphong and one or two critical targets, leaving the rest of the airspace to the MiGs. The exception to this would the coast, where a picket line of SAMs is advisable. Both the USAF and USN can use the Gulf of Tonkin as an exit. A picket line can pick off stragglers and aborting flights.
When the enemy launch ARMs at SAM units, don't hestitate: shut the radars down. The SAMs will probably be back on line in two or three game turns. Unless the defender is desperate, it's just not worth the risk of losing them.
The decision about what MiG flights to purchase will depend on the raid. In Rolling Thunder the USAF raids are generally easier to handle than the USN's Top Gunners. If the Navy 'Fates' (F-8 Crusaders) are flying it might be cheaper to hold off the MiGs and let the ground defenses handle it.
The DRV player won't have many MiGs, so he must use the threat of them to keep the raiders off-balance. Playing shell games with dummy flights is an essential tactic. If the American looks like they've seen through a dummy, take it off the map and regenerate it.
MiGs will usually start at low altitude or on the deck, in the ground clutter where they are difficult to detect. Increasing altitude risks exposure to US detection and will get the attention of the American CAP. Use MiG-17s to bait the Americans to low altitude if possible. Only climb them if there is a clear shot at the strike mission, otherwise the Yankees will chew them to pieces. MiG-21s are excellent for high-altitude combat, but sharp timing is required to zoom them to the medium or high band for an intercept and slash attack.
Always remember that air combat automatically causes bombing flights to jettison. If the USAF are running a jamming cell formation the multiple attack and MiG Panic rules can be useful allies.
The DRV should manage their MAP pool carefully. It's easy to waste it fighting every raid on the first day or two, only to find there are no more MiGs for the rest of the week. Keep a reserve for the later battles.
If a flight is damaged or its Aggression depleted by morale, try to preserve the aircraft rather than waste MAPs in futile combat. Prudence is the watchword.
Downtown copyright Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, 2001-2016. All rights reserved.