MBX/CPX After Action Report
Submitted by Riki Tikki, 11/20/98
The following is a comprehensive summary of the U.S.-Malaysia MBX/CPX conducted during the summer of 1998. For details on the CPX itself, see the separate CPX AAR that was submitted in October of this year. You can also download a text-only PC version of this MBX AAR. (Zipped, for PC users).
This report will be presented in 5 parts:
II. The Scenario
III. What Happened
IV. Game Mechanics
V. Conclusions & Lessons Learned
A Short (okay, not so short) History of the 1998 MBX/CPX.
In April of this year, I asked a group of wargamers from the TacOps mailing list to take part in a rather ambitious experiment -- a mail battle excercise (MBX) that featured combined arms combat in a theater-level campaign game. Its main purpose was to test a new kind of wargaming system that allowed players to coordinate all three branches of service (army, navy and air force) using two different game engines -- Harpoon and TacOps. The game was also designed to capture aspects of war which are often overlooked in CPX and MBX games, such as the effect of politics, climate, morale, training, fatigue, maintenance, and other factors. In other words, if it could happen in real life, I attempted to reflect it in the game.
Amphibious warfare is a subject that I have long wanted to explore in a CPX or MBX. The demands of a Marine landing -- in particular the coordination of air, sea and land forces -- seemed very different from those found in standard meeting-engagement scenarios. I was also eager to see how players would handle other complex aspects of amphibious assaults, such as naval bombardments, paratrooper deployments, ASW, intel-gathering and insertions of special forces, just to name a few. Likewise, the defender would have an equally numerous list of challenges, since it would be their job to foil as many of these operations as possible and perhaps develop some counterstrike operations of their own.
Unlike most CPX and MBXs of the past, the focus of this game was on operations, not tactics. Outgoing orders were generally kept at the brigade commander, naval theater commander, and wing commander level, unless they involved recon/special ops units. Tactics were assumed to be handled by battalion commanders, ship captains, squadron leaders and so forth (all played by me), leaving the players to focus on overall strategy and setting up a series of missions to accomplish that strategy.
Throughout the game, players received a constant flow of information in the form of status reports, situation maps, radar sightings, sonar reports, weather, radio intercepts, intel reports, AARs and other data which would inform them on the changing developments in the region. The idea was to replicate the feeling of a theater-level headquarters or the combat information center of an amphibious flagship (LHD) where all kinds of reports and intel must be sorted and processed in order to see a situation clearly and take action -- as opposed to a command post located at or near the actual battle. Successful operations would therefore depend more on a player's forsight and experience in the form of SOPs, contingency plans and on overall mission planning than on orders during an actual engagement, since in many cases by the time the player received word of any combat the conflict would already be over.
Partly by accident and partly by intent, I eventually expanded the game to include strategic and even political decision-making, with one player on each side actually playing their country's head-of-state. This was something of a controversial decision, as it turned out, because the extra layer of responsibility increased the workload dramatically for both the players and the umpire (me), and diffused the focus of the scenario somewhat. On the upside, however, the intertwining of politics and warfare brought a great deal of complexity and depth to the game, and seemed to foster a number of lively, heated debates that I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed. (Heated debates, in fact, became almost a trademark of this particular MBX!)
The original plan was to play in the e-mail (MBX) mode during the month of June as the two sides jockeyed to get the upper hand before the actual Marine landing, then have the landing itself played as a CPX on the last weekend in June. This timetable turned out to be incredibly unrealistic, however, and when it became clear we could not make the deadline the players voted unanimously to let the game "run at its own pace" until such time as we could set a new date. I took this to mean that everyone was enjoying the game so I did not mind extending my commitment to the project. As it turned out, that comfortable date wouldn't come until September 26! This led to an end date of October 1 for the MBX, which comes to a total game duration of 152 days -- exactly five months! (Just out of curiousity, anyone know what the current record is on the longest completed MBX? Maybe we should call Guiness! )
After the first three weeks of the game I began to recruit people from outside the TacOps community, including people from the Harpoon list and other wargaming circles such as the strategic games newsgroups. This infusion of new blood helped fill a much-needed gap on the U.S. side with specialized naval and air force expertise, but also seemed to contribute greatly to the diversity of tactics and opinions expressed during game play. Somehow, I found this intermingling of backgrounds very exciting; it made me feel we were all taking part in something big, a new milestone in internet wargaming. If nothing else, it proved that people from all different military interests and disciplines could find enjoyment in a single interactive game; which, given the sometimes chauvinistic loyalty wargamers can have to one game over all others, was somewhat remarkable, I thought.
We also had a large gallery of lurkers -- basically an audience -- who watched the action unfold without necessarily participating. Shortly after STARTEX, however, I actually gave the lurkers a role to play in the scenario. The Dual Lurkers portrayed U.N. ambassadors from countries of their choosing and helped resolve a number of political debates in the form of resolutions and mandates. The U.S.-only lurkers, meanwhile, played the part of the U.S. voters while the OPFOR-only lurkers played Malaysia's Council of Regents. These lurkers influenced, to some degree, the actions of each team's head-of-state. The results of the lurker's influence in this game can be reviewed in the Conclusion segment of this report.
In the end, the game attracted some 39 players and lurkers
from four continents over a period of five months. I easily had
an average of 200 e-mails a week with as many as 100 e-mails day
at one point(!) A few stalwart souls on both sides managed to
hang in there on almost a daily basis for the entire war, a feat
that should probably be deserving of some sort of medal all by
The Players --
James Sterrett, Commander-in-Chief* (July-September)
Steve Althouse, President, Operations Staff
Jim Gager, Naval Commander
Jorge Arraya, Air Force Commander
Barry Summers, Rangers, Force Recon, Special Forces*
Deven Combs, Intelligence Officer*
Ned Keneeder, SEALs (also C-in-C during June)
U.S. Reserves (U.S. Voters):
Joseph Hsie, Naval cmdr.,(during July)
Basil Burgess, Special Forces
OPFOR Team (Malaysia):
Gary Wollbach, Prime Minister*
Nick "Manic" Moran, Naval Commander*
Scott Mortimer, Army Commander, Cmdr., 2nd Brigade*
Sim Hock Seng ("Singapore Steve"), Air Force Commander*
Scott Gainer, Cmdr., 1st Brigade*
OPFOR Lurkers (Council of Regents):
* Recipients of the "Great MBX/CPX" Veterans Shoulder
Patch, for taking part in the game from beginning to end.
Area of Operations
The scenario was based on a story in Tom Clancy's book, Marine, involving a hypothetical conflict between the U.S. and Malaysia in the year 2008. The story opens as follows:
On May 12, 2008, the Sultan of Brunei is assassinated, and the tiny kingdom is in turmoil. The Crown Prince Omar is accused of the deed by his half-brother Jefri, and has gone into hiding to escape arrest. Brunei's modest military force, the Royal Guard, has sided with Omar, while the citizens look on, bewildered. Jefri calls upon Brunei's powerful neighbor, Malaysia, to step in and help crush the "rebellion." Two brigades of well-equipped Malaysian troops -- which, just cooincidentally, are already at the border, begin pouring into Brunei as they prepare to retake the capital from the Royal Guard and capture the Crown Prince. Jefri is hastily coronated on his yacht (Nipples), and immediately proposes annexation of Brunei into the Federation of Malaysian States "to prevent future plots from China or other meddling outsiders." It is becoming increasingly obvious that Jefri is actually a Malaysian puppet and that the whole affair is just one big hoax planned by Malaysia from the start. Once the Royal Guard resistance is broken in the capital, parliament can convene to approve the annexation (a rubber stamp affair). The U.S., along with other Pacific Rim countries, suspect foul play, however, and demands Malaysia's troops cease and desist their mauling of the Royal Guard until the conflict can be resolved in some sort of world court. A Marine expeditionary unit is despatched to the area to show that the U.S. means business. Thus, on June 2 (both game time and real time), the MBX began, with both sides headed toward a confrontation but without there being as of yet a state of war. Sooner or later, of course, the war would start, and the victory conditions for each side would go into effect.
For the U.S. team, those victory conditions were:
1. Secure a beachhead in or near Brunei. This would allow the main Army forces (MSPRON 3) to land and begin their drive to liberate the capital. This was the minimum condition for U.S. victory.
2. Secure a port. This would increase the margin of victory by accelerating the unloading of the follow-on troops. Ports closer to the capital were considered more valuable than those farther away.
3. Route or destroy Malaysian defenses. Reducing defenses in Brunei to a single brigade or less would satisfy this condition.
4. Breakout. The ultimate objective for the Marines. Once a beachhead is secure, move forces off the map in the direction of the capital. (Seizing the capital would win the war.)
5. Secure the Seria oil fields. This was militarily unimportant, but would prevent any economic or environmental extortion on the part of Malaysia.
6. Protect the former leadership of Brunei. Without a legitimate heir or Royal Guard to protect him, Brunei would be left highly unstable, which would make the U.S. intervention somewhat less purposeful, politically.
7. Protect the diplomats and Marines at the U.S. Embassy.
The President, who had a slightly different agenda, had only one victory condition -- to get re-elected. This required 51% of the "vote," which was determined by the following factors:
1) Winning the war (decided by the umpire)(60%)
2) The "Undecided" Vote (decided by U.S. lurkers)(30%)
3) International relations (decided by the UN) (10%)
OPFOR's goal, of course, was generally to oppose the U.S. and defeat the landings. The OPFOR military objectives were as follows:
1. Prevent the U.S. from gaining a beachhead in Brunei. This would suffice as a minimum victory condition.
2. Inflict heavy casualites on U.S. landing forces (65% or more). This would also suffice as a minimum victory condition, and nullify any U.S. victory. This condition was added as a way to help balance the scenario, giving the Malays two ways of winning.
3. Control the coastline highway. This was a fallback objective. If the landings could not be repulsed, controlling these roads would at least help prevent a breakout and allow fast mobilization of Malaysian reinforcements which could possibly turn things around, depending on circumstances.
4. Secure the Seria oil fields. Another fallback objective. If things go badly and the U.S. succeeds in its invasion, it would be good to control this area as a final bargaining chip.
5. Crush the rebellion. This involved -- 1) Eliminate the Royal Guard, 2) Find and arrest the Crown Prince, who would quickly be tried for treason. (The jury was to be hand-picked by the new Sultan to ensure his conviction), and 3) Suppress any uprisings of the Brunei people.
The Prime Minister's objectives were (in descending order):
1) Increase Malaysia's prestige as a military power.
2) Increase Malaysia's economic wealth (Brunei's oil).
3) Remain strong enough to protect Malaysia's current borders.
4) Convince the UN that Malaysia is Brunei's protector, not its invader.
5) Try to win alliances from other Pacific rim countries, or at least prevent them from going to the U.S. side.
6) Maintain support from the Council of Regents (OPFOR lurkers).
As you can see, objectives were loosely defined to include a wide number of interpretations. The second objective, increasing Malaysia's wealth, was directly affected by whether SeriaÍs oilfields were under Malaysian control, and by how much oil revenue was given away during the game in exchange for help from other countries. It was also affected by loss of shipping, which I kept track of during the game. The requirement to protect current borders was to prevent the use of forces from all around Malaysia to reinforce Brunei. The last two objectives defined the Prime Minister's role as the team's propaganda minister.
Using the book as a starting point, along with Kyle Mizokami's invaluable Unofficial TacOps OOB Guide, and with much help from Captain Jerry Hall, I gave the U.S a core Marine unit of mainly AAV7s, LAVs, and hummers of various types, along with organic airlift capability (CH-46s, CH-53s), attack helos (Cobras) and close air support (AV-8 Harriers, gamed as TacOps air strikes during the CPX). I also gave the U.S. a choice of one extra Marine attachment from a fairly lengthy list of choices, including mech infantry, combat helo support, airlift support, recon, or various combinations of those unit types. After quickly running some sandbox tests as ordered by their first CinC, the U.S. team chose the mech infantry attachment -- basically a company of AAV7s, LAVs and infantry. To this force I also added a battalion of Rangers and various special forces units (SEALs, Force Recon, etc.)
The Marines were ferried by 3 amphibious ships -- an LHD (Wasp-class light carrier, task force flagship), an LSD and an LPD, which together carried the MEU along with 6 LCAC hovercraft and 2 LCU landing craft. The LHD also carried six Harriers, two Osprey transports, two Osprey sub hunters, and 6 SH-60 ASW helos. This amphibious group was protected by an escort of 2 Ticonderoga-class cruisers, 2 Arleigh Burke destroyers, 2 modern Spruance destroyers, 1 Kidd destroyer and 3 OH Perry frigates, all of which carried at least one ASW helo.
The U.S. was also given 4 LA class subs and 2 San Juan (improved LA) subs, which operated independently during the game.
A carrier group followed the amphibious group but was only gamed conceptually. This was mainly because I did not want to take on the added workload, but also because I felt that an aggressive use of carrier power in the scenario would disupt the balance of the game and would not be very interesting or creative. The CVBG's main purpose was to protect and support the main invasion force (also conceptual) and to serve as a source for backup air power (such as when the U.S. needed replacement aircraft after its costly attack on Kota Kinabalu).
For air muscle, I gave the U.S. a squadron of F-16s, a squadron of F/A-18s, six F-117s and six B-1s. The fighters would have just barely enough fuel to make it to targets inside Brunei, but I later gave in to the U.S. team's request for air tankers, which extended the range of the F-18s and F-16s almost as far as Singapore.
The Brunei occupation force consisted of the Malaysian 4th Division, which was made up of two brigades of troops. Each brigade was designed to be a fairly self-contained combat force, consisting of three battalions of mechanized infantry, one tank battalion, a recon company, two anti-tank batteries and three batteries of 122mm artillery. 4th Division HQ controlled two additional batteries of 155mm artillery, engineers, supplies plus a detachment of four Rooivalk (Havoc) attack helos. At STARTEX, the 1st Brigade was lined up along the Brunei/Malaysia border in the south and west while the 2nd Brigade had already invaded the northeastern portion of Brunei and was about to engage the Royal Guard in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan (also known as BSB). All 4th Division elements ran a small risk of becoming disorganized and/or demoralized during combat, due to their inferior training in comparison to the U.S. Marines. (See Game Mechanics Section). A separate, elite brigade, known as the Royal Grenadiers, or 9th Brigade, was stationed in Kuala Lumpur, the Malay capital, and was available for duty in Brunei -- assuming they could make the transit to Borneo safely. This brigade was immune to the die-roll.
The Malaysian navy -- which consisted mainly of 8 oldish guided missile frigates and 16 torpedo boats of various classes -- was no match for the U.S. fleet, but was still capable of providing modest escort cover and being a nuisance to specwar insertions. There was also the slim possibility of sinking an amphibious ship if they were to stay hidden and launch a mass attack under just the right circumstances. The one ace in the hole for Malaysia's navy, however, was its four "Rangoon" (Sjoormen) class subs which they secretly bought from Iran. (The Malays were given a choice of several weapons purchases from the Middle East, they chose subs). These were old subs and not very reliable . One of them, in fact, acquired engine problems early on and was drydocked for the entire game. (The first of many unlucky die rolls for Malaysia :-<). the fact that these subs were acquired in secret was a big advantage, however. if the u.s. did not focus on hunting them, they might slip through the task force and wreak untold havoc on the landing ships, perhaps even winning the battle single-handedly.
The most formidable branch of service for Malaysia, however, was its airforce, which consisted of Hornets and AMRAAM-capable MiG-29s. These were as maneuverable as any U.S. aircraft, though not necessarily as well piloted. (To see how pilot caliber was gamed, see Game Mechanics section). The Malaysians also had a squadron of F-5s, MiG-23s, Hawks, and a squadron of MiG-21s (Shenyangs) on order from China. These squadrons were spread out fairly evenly among Malaysia's three main airbases: Kota Kinabalu and Kuching on Borneo, and Kuantan on the Malay Peninsula.
A Question of Balance
As with any modern scenario involving modern U.S. forces -- the toughest problem in designing the scenario was making it seem balanced while still feeling realistic. The U.S., as we all know, does not enter a conflict with only 50/50 odds, and the larger the scenario the more unrealistic a 50-50 situation becomes. The fact that the story took place in the future helped, since I could invent my own version of world history, but this only went so far. The U.S. players, particularly the top commanders, based their plans on knowledge of present-day tactics which in turn are based on superior weapons and intel. I learned -- the hard way -- that I could not simply change the rules without a loud outcry from the players "in the know." Forced to concede to many of the U.S. demands for extra equipment and intel under the banner of realism, I soon found myself running a game that, despite anxieties on the U.S. side about amphibious assaults, I felt would clearly be nothing less than a cakewalk for the U.S. team. This disturbed me, as I had no interest in restaging the Gulf War blowout, however realistic it might have been.
Levelling the playing field
I came up with a number of minor solutions to this. First, I added an optional victory condition for the Malaysian team which allowed Malaysia to win by achieving a high U.S. casualty rate, which would nullify an otherwise successful landing. (I figured a U.S. bloodbath in some godforsaken jungle would have the American public screaming to pull their boys out of the region, pronto.) I also gave the Malays a climate advantage, figuring that the Malays would be much better adapted to the godawful humidity of Borneo (which I have heard is unbearable) than the Marines, who were used to their air conditioned amphib ships. This would not have affected the CPX in most cases since the landing began at dawn, but there were a number of situations which might have forced the battle to be delayed until later in the day. The Malays were also given a terrain advantage once a unit occupied a sector of the map for more than a week. (They could navigate their tanks through the swamps, for example). I also provided a good deal of intelligence on U.S. weapons and satellite surveillance capabilities, allowing the Malay team to work around them to some degree. Finally, I was fairly liberal in granting Malay requests for various tools and equipment that were not specifically listed in their original assets, which helped provide such combat multipliers as homemade sea mines, fougazies, SAM traps, and shore-based Exocet launchers, all of which were a product of Malay resourcefulness; I suggested none of these ideas myself.
Still, I felt the game was still far short of a 50/50 proposition, and the Malays certainly seemed to share this view. Unless they were willing to gamble and commit large numbers of troops to a few key beaches and hope they made the right choice, a U.S. victory seemed like a foregone conclusion. This is one of the reasons why I decided to throw in the nukes. (The other reason was that, well... what can I say, I have a sick streak!)
I realize that IRBMs were not a scenario equalizer, per se,
since using them would raise the scope of the conflict to a much
higher level than that of a small regional disturbance. In fact,
I was not even sure Gary would allow their use, for his own moral
reasons. (No problem on that score, as it turned out!
The Role of Politics
The fact that Malaysia's takeover scheme was somewhat transparent was intentional. I needed to give the U.S. a reason to challenge Malaysia and feel that they were morally correct to do so. Yet, I was careful to write the news stories in such a way that the evidence against Malaysia would only be through innuendo and suspicion, nothing concrete. This gave the Malaysians some maneuvering room so that with some skillful speechmaking they could worm their way out of condemnation by the UN, and perhaps even block the U.S. from gaining UN support for military action. This would force the U.S. to weigh the politics of attacking a smaller country without just cause, and perhaps buy some time for the Malays to prepare against the impending Marine assault. Another important reason for both teams to work the political angle was to keep the non-aligned Pac Rim countries from joining with the opposing side, either secretly or actively. The Malaysian team seemed to understand all of this almost instinctively, using the soapbox at almost every opportunity to control spin. Perhaps it was because propaganda was one of the few weapons they had where they were on somewhat equal footing with the U.S. (even though their arguments were obviously riddled with holes!). In truth, only Gary, the Malaysian Prime Minister, knew the full details of the plot and so the rest of the team could go ahead and proclaim their right to protect Brunei with a clear conscience (although I'm sure most of the Malay team knew something was rotten in Denmark the same way the U.S. did.)
While I may have given the Malaysian team a political hammer
to play with, I also put some political obstacles in their path
that the U.S. did not have. For example, throughout the game I
infected their military-political infrastructure with a heavy
dose of Machievellian backstabbing at the highest levels of government,
most notably with the Intelligence branch known as the Dragon
Eye. Like the Gestapo of WW2 Germany or the KGB of Russia, this
branch of service often competed with the regular armed forces
instead of working in cooperation with them. (Quite often, the
head of Dragon Eye, General Sulu, would send private e-mail to
the Prime Minister -- sometimes copied to the rest of the team,
and sometimes not -- using my inside knowledge as GM to slander
the Malaysian commanders and attempt to break up the team's morale
and comeraderie! Mean, huh?
The U.S., meanwhile, had a totally different set of concerns. They had military superiority, but they had also been caught offguard to some degree. I had presupposed that Malaysia had built up much of its arms secretly, evading CIA detection in much the same way Pakistan built up its nuclear capability. Suddenly the Marines are finding themselves thrown into a global hot spot in a rapidly changing political environment with only scanty information on enemy troops and deployments. So besides organizing their vast array of forces into an orderly, purposeful series of operations, the U.S. was also tasked with gathering intel -- as much as possible, and as quickly as possible -- to insure a safe landing.
U.S. Intel-gathering -- a game within a game
The biggest job the U.S. had to face in the first weeks was figuring out what kind of forces they were up against and where they were located. Much of this information came freely through FMFPAC (Forward Marine Fleet PACific) Intelligence, but only a small amount of information could be sent at any one time. It was therefore up to the U.S. team, or specifically, their intelligence officer, Deven Combs, to determine where FMFPAC should focus its energies. In general, I would give Deven several options as to which area of intelligence he would like to pursue (enemy weapons purchases, enemy base defenses, counterintelligence, etc.). There was no guarantee if the search would result in useful intel, and there was no telling how long each search might take. For some of the more sensitive types of information, such as Malaysia's secret weapons program (the missiles), I intensified the difficulty of the puzzlee.
For example, I sent the U.S. team a copy of a weapons purchase order that showed a transaction between Malaysia and Iran for a certain sum. This was the only lead that the U.S. had which tied Malaysia to the purchase of submarines. No information was given about the nature of the purchase, however the word 'Kockums' appeared discreetly on the order. Deven noticed this and did some research. He soon reported to his team that Kockums was the name of a Swedish shipbuilder specializing in submarines. This information was rewarded with more intel from FMFPAC in the form of a poor quality nighttime infrared photo (which I blurred on purpose) of an unidentified surfaced sub taken off the coast of Malaysia by an ROC spy trawler. Even though Kockums made dozens of subs and those black conning towers look very similar, Deven soon ID'd the sub as one of two classes, one of them being a Sjoormen. I assessed a relatively short, 8-hour (game time) penalty for splitting his guess, but soon FMFPAC confirmed that the sub was indeed a Sjoormen. I had fully expected that this intel chase might take the whole game to figure out, but Deven nailed it in the first two weeks. Both Admirals Hsie and Gager responded to this intel with very aggressive and ultimately very successful ASW operations, something that might not have happened had Deven not picked up on the word 'Kockums.'
One of the most common sources of intel -- for both sides -- was through the newspaper articles which I issued each new game day. The main purpose of these stories was simply to chronicle the main events of the war, and to help players sort out the facts from fiction. In general, if a story appeared in the newspaper, it was true. (I also felt that writing about military events through the news was also added more sizzle to the game than just military-style reports alone.)
By dangling certain phrases, innuendos and certain suspicious details here and there, however, I was able to use these news stories to create a kind of suspense thriller in which clues leading to important intel could be found. The team that picked up on these clues first and correctly anticipated events early on would theoretically have the jump on the opposing team. (The U.S. team, in fact, even created the full-time position of Intelligence Officer just for this purpose.)
Steve Gill, a lurker (who actually works for CNN), volunteered to put the news clippings into a mock CNN website that he called "ENN" (for legal reasons). This ENN site could now carry pictures to support the text and added a lot of splash to the news stories. I think all of us found his work to lend an air of realism to the game as well as being heaps of fun!
TRUE STORY: Steve told me that a CNN coworker was coming on
duty to take over Steve's shift one night and saw the headline
"Malaysia shoots down U.S. military rescue flight,"
along with a photo doctored to look like a V-22 that just had
its wing shot off. His response: "Holy shit!!!"
One of the first examples of such intel-laden news stories involved the Ghurkas. This was a series of news stories that appeared a week or so before STARTEX which hinted at a bit of political sleight-of-hand by the British to remove a regiment of die-hard Nepalese mercenaries from the Seria oilfields. The upshot was that the U.S. had used its influence with its British ally to have part of Malaysia's defense removed from the area of conflict. The news itself was really just a sideshow; neither team had influence over this situation. The real purpose of this story within the MBX was simply to demonstrate the importance of the news clippings in providing intel for both sides and to show the degree to which alliances and diplomacy could play a part in the outcome of the game. Both sides appeared to pick up on this, and used the news clippings as intel regularly.
Starting the war
I think the fact that none of us knew how the war would start or who would start it created an exciting air of tension during the early weeks of the game, but, as I expected, it also created a problem. I knew from past experience (Chimera's MBX, two years back) that getting a war to start by itself can be tricky business, as neither side wants to be viewed as the aggressor or give the other team an excuse for retribution. If need be I could always simply order someone to start shooting, but I thought it would be far more fun if the order came from a player. This meant I had to constantly increase the pressure on both sides until someone cracked. I did this by introducing events that directly affected each side's victory conditions, beginning with the lowest order ones, which touched on the safety of the embassy staff (U.S.) and the attempted escape of the Crown Prince (Malaysia). Had the "embassy incident" failed to produce a war, I would either have commanded one side or the other to start shooting (for fear of falling behind our timeable) or created another conflict that affected the next higher level of victory conditions -- namely, securing the Seria oilfields.
The average pace of the MBX was roughly 6 real days for every 1 game day. While some players felt the game could have moved a little faster, many seemed to feel they could just barely keep up (a few even thought it moved too fast!) This, to me, meant I had the pace about right. I intended for the game to be moving at a slightly pressured pace for several reasons. First, because that was the premise of the scenario -- a rapid response situation with less than ideal intel going in. This conjures up an image of a lot of frenzied, sleepless commanders and headquarters staffers working around the clock to meet a lot of stressful deadlines. Second, the focus of the scenario was operations -- broad strokes stuff. A simple paragraph outlining the goals of a mission or a smartly drafted SOP or two could still suffice quite nicely, as long as the plan is sound and the intentions are clear and concise. There was certainly always time to do at least that much. Finally, and speaking just for myself here, I realize, when I am playing any kind of wargame, whether it's a computer game, a CPX or an MBX, I feel it is the pressure of NOT having enough time that's half the fun!
Much of what occurred in the game was attributable to the way the two teams organized themselves. The U.S. team went with an overall commander-in-chief and three branch commanders taking over ground, naval and air force, respectively. Interestingly, the rest of the team was given jobs that were task-oriented as opposed to command-oriented. Barry Summers, for example, handled all of the special operations and insertions, while Steve Althouse took care of operations planning and Deven Combs handled intelligence. After a few weeks, when it became clear that politics was becoming an important element in the game, Steve Althouse volunteered to take on the job of U.S. President in addition to his operations responsibilities. This seemed to divvie up the workload smartly, and with Steve Althouse working closely with the CinC from both above and below (in Prez and Operations roles) the team was never without strong central leadership. The only drawback to this structure as far as I could see was the somewhat slow planning and approval cycles, which became amplified whenever one of the branch commanders was offline for awhile.
The Malaysian team, on the other hand, went with an overall commander-in-chief (Gary) as well, but the subordinate commanders were divided up by region instead of by branch of service, with each commander having full control of all land, sea and air assets within their respective areas (Peninsular Malaysia, Western Borneo, Brunei & Eastern Borneo). This insured a cohesive and coordinated operation at any given time regionally, but created difficulties when handing off between different regions. This seemed to be effective, though to an outside observer it almost looked like there were three different armies in Malaysia, each with a different methodology for ASW patrol, air search, convoy escorting, etc.
About two weeks into the war, Gary realized he could not meet the rather vast responsibilities of CinC due to his unavailability on weekends. He decided to overhaul the entire command structure, first by kicking himself upstairs to the role of Prime Minister (at my suggestion) so he could take on the political battles, while splitting the military up into three commands -- Army, Navy and Airforce -- which were assigned to Scott Mortimer, Nick Moran and "Singapore" Steve (Steve Sim), respectively. Each branch commander was supreme in his own domain and generally needed no approval from Gary. Gary still supervised from on high, but could not provide constant direction due to his "weekend retreats", as we called them. This lack of central command often hurt the team's ability to coordinate their forces in combined-arms operations, as we will see.
It should be noted that the U.S. team was overseen by no less
than three CinCs, which no doubt caused some disruptions in continuity.
The first CinC agreed to leave the game after a short stint due
to 'philosophical differences' between he and myself about wargaming.
Ned Keneeder, his XO, took over, but had to leave after six weeks
or so to attend a real-life wargame (NTC).
Rules of Engagement
One of the issues that first sparked the demand for political leaders in this game was the need to establish proper Rules of Engagement (ROE). In most scenarios the war has already started so the rules are simple -- you see the enemy and you shoot. In peacetime, it's equally simple -- you don't shoot unless you are being shot at. But what happens when a showdown is obviously in the making yet both sides are refraining from firing the first shot. That was the situation as the game commenced, and it led to some interesting learning -- that ROEs are very important and should be proscribed by people who know a little something about them in real life. Otherwise a situation could easily arise that could either leave a lot of people dead by accident or leave your country fighting a war it didn't want -- simply because someone pulled the trigger when they weren't supposed to. Having players who knew something about real life ROEs (like Steve Althouse and Gary Wollbach) helped clarify the situation for the rest of the team who just needed to know when and when not to shoot. Both teams went with somewhat standard peacetime ROEs, but I recall Gary's had a bit more of a "hair trigger" to them, as though he was looking for an excuse to open fire. (They gave permission to open fire on any ship or plane entering territorial space, while the U.S. provided for warning shots, as I recall). In any case both CinCs were very adamant about everyone following ROEs. Obviously both teams were concerned about being "in the right" politically, and no one wanted to start a war by accident.
Map of Brunei, showing the key towns and ports.
The Game Begins
On June 2 (1998) all STARTEX orders were implemented and the excercise began, with the U.S. amphibious fleet departing Pearl Harbor for the South China Sea and the Malaysian air and naval forces conducting search missions both to the north and south of Borneo. The U.S. fleet was a good 10 days away but the Malays did not know this. In fact, they had no idea when or where the U.S. force would be starting from. The Malaysian 1st Brigade marched on Seria and later fanned out across the western half of Brunei, while the 2nd Brigade focused on defeating the Royal Guard, which still held on to the capital. The 9th Brigade began its march from Kuala Lumpur to the port of Johor Baharu at the tip of the peninsula where they would board the ships that would eventually take them to Borneo.
The U.S., meanwhile, was scrambling to learn all they could about Malaysian TO&E; as they began to formulate a strategy for the invasion. Their first real glimpse of the Malays in action came from reports about a military buildup in the capital, BSB. The U.S. looked for ways to get one of their staff into the capital to act as a "military advisor" (Barry Summers) and supervise the Royal Guard up-close. Until then, however, they had to be content with the occasional news clippings and the sketchy reports received from the U.S. embassy (which would soon find itself in the eye of the storm.)
US amphibious task force route to Borneo
The actual route of the U.S. amphibious force was as follows: beginning at Pearl Harbor, the fleet headed west by southwest until toward the south of the Philippines. There it turned northwest and headed through the Sulu Sea, then west through the Balabic Straits into the South China Sea. It then headed southwest toward a point 35 or so miles due north of Brunei.
The carrier group Constellation, which was called to duty from the east coast of Australia, headed to the Celebes Sea and followed the amphib group about 200 miles behind it. Soon after it was learned that the Malays had nuclear missiles, however, the amphib group slowed down and allowed the carrier group to catch up to within 50 miles so that the one cruiser in the group that was outfitted with a Lower Tier missile defense (basically a seaborne Patriot) could protect the amphib group.
UN Debate -- Minor Malay Victory
The first major conflict in the game was not with bullets, but with words. The Malaysian Prime Minister, not at all affected by suspicions about their illegal takeover of Brunei, boldly claimed a 200-mile territorial limit (or maybe it was just a 200-mile commercial exclusivity zone, I don't recall now) around all Malaysian territory and islands. I assume this was meant as a means of showing a protective posture of its people and the Bruneians. This was an audacious move which sparked a heated protest from the U.S. The President slammed Malaysia as a "dangerous, expansionist regime" and called for a UN mandate to oust them from Brunei. But Gary countered by calling for peace talks in a very reasonable tone, while Nick Moran and others on the team offered their own political commentary. Apparently Malaysia's campaign of rhetoric, combined with Gary's feigned overtures for peace were pretty convincing. The UN, which was by this point being represented by the dual-lurkers, voted for economic sanctions but held off on passing any military mandates in the hope that the two countries could work things out peacefully. I must say, that in a game where everyone presumably wants the war to start (we are playing a wargame, after all!) it is surprising to me that the UN had such a strong desire to 'do the right thing' and push for peace whenever possible. As we can see, the players weren't the only ones getting into their roles.
Without a mandate, the U.S. was now on their own, and was pretty bitter about the setback. I later learned why: the countries that were normally U.S. allies were not behaving as such, making the scenario frustrating and unrealistic for them. [NOTE: This was my fault -- I should have either given the lurkers a brief mission statement reflecting their countries of origin or simply told the U.S. that the choice of countries by the lurkers was completey arbitrary, which was true, and that they should not expect real life similarities in the voting. A lesson for later games, I guess.]
As umpire, I considered the delay of a mandate a minor political victory for the Malays, and awarded points to Gary accordingly (as per his victory conditions). I also decided, based on the effectiveness of Malaysia's propaganda, to give the Brunei people a similar let's-wait-and-see attitude, which meant a much lower chance of riots. (The UN poll was for me a barometer of how well the Malaysians propaganda was working.) This, coupled with a long series of favorable die-rolls, kept the Brunei people at bay for almost the entire game. Had the UN blasted Malaysia right away, or had their luck been less than outstanding with the dice, the Maylays might have been faced with incessant rioting which would have drained their military strength and their team's concentration considerably.
June 2, 09:50. Malaysians engage Royal Guard in Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB).
The Battle for BSB
The first problem that Malaysia had to resolve was crushing the Royal Guard and securing the capital. The Guard, an attritted motorized rifle regiment, was controlled soley by me at first, though later the U.S. was able to get some orders to it by way of their embassy. Scott Mortimer, the newly named Malaysian Army Commander, was forced to decide how many troops he should tie up in the capital region for the destruction of the Royal Guard, as opposed to sending them to the coast where they could get a head start on building shore defenses. (He could have also called upon Scott Gainer's 1st Brigade if he wanted to.) He decided to attack the Royal Guard with two battalions of mech infantry and a company of tanks, with another tank company held in reserve. The rest of the 2nd Brigade was sent to Muara and Tutong.
In the center of the city (represented by Map 503) the Guard had formed an inverted "J" that ran up the east side of the city and around the north side of the Palace (where Prince Omar was suspected to be). The battle began with a successful three-pronged attack in the north, east and southeast section of the city which was conducted under a constant barrage of smoke. His troops punched through the outer ring of sentries in all three places and the Guard shrunk back, forming a smaller defensive semi-circle which encompassed the south side of the Palace in the north and the river road in the south. The attack had inadvertently pushed the southern flank of the Royal Guard back against the U.S. embassy, which is when I determined by die-roll that the stray bullets struck a few of the staff members inside. As the Malay spearhead pushed into the more concentrated defense, it began to bog down and Scott began losing a lot of APCs. Normally, such a concentration of defenders would be a perfect target for artillery, but Scott could not use any fire support for fear of political repercussions of destroying the capital's monuments and historic buildings. (The Malays were under pressure to make the conflict seem like a police action, not a full-scale military one). Scott now realized had not committed enough troops to wiping out the Guard, and was forced to recall two mech companies from the coast (about 15-20 km. away) to return east and assist in the attack. Meanwhile, he dismounted his troops in the capital and used more cautious tactics as he pushed through the city.The northern Malay companies had been reduced to just a couple of platoons, which had begun to search the Palace for the Crown Prince. He was not to be found, however, as he had already took refuge in the U.S. embassy in hopes of escaping the country under U.S. protection. Scott regrouped and refocused his attack and after another push toward the central monument area (Taman Haji Sir) his troops approached the command post, causing injuries to some top officers. At this point, after two hours of fighting (4 days, real time) Scott called for a cease-fire to ask for the Guard's surrender. He gave a 90 minute deadline for their decision, which was to allow time for his reinforcements to arrive from the coast. It was during this cease-fire that the first Osprey incident occurred.
The Osprey Incident
Meanwhile, Steve Althouse, James Sterrett and Barry Summers were putting together a plan to evac the injured embassy personnel, called Operation Lightning Hand. The mission also had a covert purpose, however, which was to insert a special forces team into the city, and another team into the countryside. Barry, who would be with the city team, would either stay and advise (command) the Royal Guard or evac with the others, based on his judgement of the situation upon arrival. At the very least, it was hoped that the U.S. could start getting reports firsthand from the scene of the action instead of just the sketchy reports from the embassy. (NOTE: Barry would be allowed to control the Royal Guard, and receive the sitreps, spotreps, etc. but his communication to the rest of his team would be restricted to messages passed back and forth through the embassy.)
Two Ospreys had been flown to Cubi Point from the amphib group for this mission. One Osprey was for the evac and for inserting the city team and the other was for inserting a guerilla-raising force among the locals (country team). Shortly after they crossed the 12-mile limit, however, they were intercepted by a pair of MiG-29s which instructed the Ospreys to change course and head for the park, a section of the city that was controlled by the northern prong of Scott Mortimer's troops. When the Ospreys tried to bluff through, a MiG fired a warning burst alongside the lead Osprey. The Osprey with the country team turned back toward the coast in hopes that it could insert its troops once it was out of sight. One of the two MiGs followed it, however, so it could not insert, and instead continued back to Cubi Point. Here my memory gets a little hazy (I am missing my notes for this part) but I believe the other Osprey tried to bluster its way through to the embassy under the assumption, as I recall, that the Malays would not shoot down a plane whose stated mission was for medical evacuation.
What happened next was the basis for a lot of discussion, but whether intentional or not the order came through to shoot down the Osprey. I have since learned that the order may have been intended for the MiGs flying overhead and not the ZSU, but somehow this was not made clear, and the ZSU responded. The intent was only to "disable it," but controlling damage was not really possible. It blew off one wing, and at a height of 50 feet above the embassy roof, in my estimation that meant a pretty nasty crash. I worked out a die roll chart to determine injuries and fatalities -- several of the medical crew and troops were killed and the rest, including Barry, were critically injured.
While no one knew it yet, the shootdown of the Osprey was the incident that started the war. Steve, as U.S. President, ordered his staff to begin planning a massive air strike against the number-one military target at that time, the air base at Kota Kinabalu. The planning would take at least a week (real time) so for awhile Malaysia probably thought it got away with something. Little did they know, the trigger had been pulled, and the war was on.
Osprey shot down over U.S. Embassy in BSB.
Royal Guard is Crushed
Less than half an hour after the Osprey incident, the Malay reinforcements had returned from the coast and the attack soon re-commenced. (The Royal Guard was sworn to protect the young sultan and did not surrender. Nor did they try to evacuate since they received no orders from the now critically injured Major Summers.) The two companies of Malay troops approached from the north by way of the park and a reserve of tanks pushed in from the east. The Guard still had a fair number LAAWs but were suppressed by Scott concentrating both tanks and troops at the point of attack. In another hour the Royal Guard, attacked from three sides, was routed and now were on the run. The Maylays now had firm control of the capital.
The hunt for the Crown Prince
The U.S. now made getting evacuating embassy personnel their top priority and for the first time began to treat the safety of the Crown Prince with some urgency, too. Perhaps they forsaw the complications that lied ahead after the war if the legitimate heir was not alive. (What choice would there be but Jefri, the Malaysian puppet?) They devised a plan to sneak him out by bandaging his face as though he were one of the injured. A good plan, except the Malays suspected this immediately.
The U.S., having recalled its one surviving Osprey transport to Cubi Point, had it hastily repainted with a red cross on it, to make it absolutely clear that the intent of the mission was for medical purposes, and for the safety of the embassy personnel. As they entered Malaysian (Bruneian) airspace once again, they were once again instructed by the Malaysians to land in the park. There they would be boarded by a Malaysian officer and a Brunei customs inspector. The Malaysian officer was actually an intelligence officer flown in from Kuala Lumpur who was very familiar with the Crown Prince. The offer to provide a customs inspector was to appease the U.S., as I recall, since Brunei was not recognized by the U.S. as being Malaysian territory.
Shortly before the evac, I received orders from Scott Gainer (according to Scott's AAR, Scott Mortimer, his commanding officer, handed off the command to him before leaving for the weekend)I cannot recall the exact wording of Scott's orders, but I was struck by an unmistakable steel-willed intent. To me, it was this strong will that overpowered the more "let's try-to-get-away-with-it tone of the U.S. orders. While this may make me sound like a wuss of a gamemaster, rolling over for whichever team screams the loudest, it should be pointed out that this commitment came at a price. By causing delays and detours to what would be looked upon by the world as a straight rescue operation -- let alone the ruthlessness of ripping bandages off of a wounded person's face -- might have undermined the PM's efforts at the UN to portray his country as humane and peaceloving. Since the U.S. was caught in a covert act, however, these infractions would have presumably cancelled each other out. Captain Madhi, the intelligence officer, was in many ways a personification of those intense orders that I received. Precise, thorough, hard to fool, with steadfast determination. He also served to portray the kind of spook I imagined Dragon Eye fostering -- cold blooded and relentless in his pursuits. In any case, the jig was up, and the Prince was caught. The Prince made a run for it, but Captain Madhi, who refused to fail in his mission, shot him as he attempted to escape. The Brunei customs official, who turned out to be an Omar sympathizer, turned on Madhi and shot him. He then made a rush for the Prince, but two Marines, mistaking this for some kind of wild rampage, fired and laid him out. (For a detailed analysis of what happened at the embassy and how the dice influenced this bizzarre event, see the Game Mechanics section).
Tough choice for Nick
Shortly before the Osprey incident, Steve Althouse had hatched a deception plan aimed at making the Maylays think the Prince had escaped. The plan involved a small bit of radio chatter intentionally staged to sound like a secret redezvous was happening at sea. In order to make the intercept less obvious, I gave the Malaysian team a choice of three pieces of intel -- only one of which was the deceptive message, the other two choices were real intel. Besides the "intercepted message at sea," the other two choices were "a Malaysian guard at the embassy noticed something alarming" (he recognized the Col. Summers' bandage as being made from the silk of the royal turban, proving that the Prince was on embassy premises), and "magnification of photos taken of the crashed Osprey on the roof of the embassy revealed the nature of the suspicious-looking items being taken inside." (This referred to a satcom radio and specwar equipment that indicated the personnel were not just a run of the mill medical team). Either of these pieces of intel could have fueled a political attack at the UN, or provided justification for storming the embassy. Nick Moran, who was the only member of the Malay team online at the time, actually ended up choosing the intercepted message but called me up (from Ireland!) and cussed me out for getting his curiosity all worked up over the other two choices. :-) Due to a variety of circumstances, however, Nick did not receive this message until after the Prince had been killed, so the deception served no purpose.
Political landscape changes
It appeared that the shooting down of the Osprey, combined with what appeared to be the assassination of the Crown Prince, convinced the UN that Malaysia is up to no good, and that force must be used to evict Malaysian troops. On June 6, a (game) week after the first vote, they passed a mandate to that effect. The mandate, however, was worded in a way that limited U.S. action to just the immediate vicinity around Brunei. This wording became a major point of contention later on.
[SIDENOTE: According to Steve Althouse this entire facet of the game regarding the mandate was unrealistic and even counterproductive to achieving the stated goals of the UN. He's probably right. Being as ignorant about the UN as I am about the military, I did not know any better. I was just going by what sounded plausible. Not a good idea when players who know their stuff are expecting things to behave like real life. I also think I misunderstood the process of U.S. intervention, and how closely linked it is to the UN's actions. (See Lesson One in the Lessons Learned section, later in this report!)
While the U.S. did not need UN backing to conduct its war on Malaysia, the UN blessing came with certain benefits, such as the assurance that no other country would aid or abet Malaysia (with the one possible exception of Indonesia.) It also meant the U.S. would receive more cooperation with intelligence services from around the world (the UK began giving Deven some leads, as I recall). None of these "rules" were ever discussed and perhaps ideally they should have been, but there is also the argument that listing too many rules can make the experience seem a bit "gamey," whereas an invisible system of consequences might be more like real life.
U.S. Attacks Kota Kinabalu
Even if the prince had not been killed, the Osprey incident alone was enough to be considered an act of war. And it was. While the war did not ignite the very next minute, the incident is what gave the President "permission" to retaliate with its first major air strike on Kota Kinabalu air force base in northeastern Borneo (codenamed COKE), in a mission called Operation Firestorm. It was to be the first of 13 Firestorm missions aimed at eliminating ports, air bases, bridges and other targets in Malaysian Borneo and in Brunei.
Unfortunately, the strike did not go as well as the U.S. had hoped -- to put it mildly! The attack was planned in great detail but there were no contingencies for strong enemy air defense, and no clearly defined intent to help the mission leader (me) weigh the clear and present dangers with the importance of the mission objective. (Alas, a simple SOP or two might have sufficed!) The result was that when planes started getting shot down I decided, as squadron leader, not to pull out of the attack and return home but rather kept pressing onward to release the missles and destroy the base, so that the lost planes would not be for naught. I actually considered the mission a moderate success since the air base was, after all, shut down, but when I heard the reaction of Ned, Steve and James, I felt like I should have been court-martialled! I'm sure this is partly attributable to the fact that being a civvie I am often unaware of certain principles of warfare that is common knowledge among military professionals. This lack of knowledge on my part was a frequent problem for the hardcore players in this game.
Perhaps the biggest factor in the loss of aircraft at Kota Kinabalu, however, was not the fault of the U.S., but rather the alert response by the Maylay Air Force Commander, General Sim Hock Seng (a.k.a. "Singapore Steve"). Steve happened to be online when the first report of radar blips appeared. Without hesitation he somehow knew a major strike was coming and proceeded to give orders that anticipated the attack quite accurately. This was surprising, because sighting a handful of U.S. fighters near Kota Kinabalu had become an almost daily occurrence even before the Osprey incident with no major consequences thus far, and at this point in time the U.S. had been maintaining a restrained peace. His response however led to nearly all aircraft lifting off quickly and in such a way that it drew the U.S. fighters into combat and into the path of the SAM battery, which did not become active until the attack wave was very close. General Seng also gave precise instructions on deploying the SAMs well north of the bases, which effectively increased their range. (Steve Sim's positioning (he used the typography of his e-mail to show the deployment pattern :-)) was highly effective, with launch sites placed well to the north and seaward of each base. This effectively extended the SAM coverage to equal that of the Patriot system.) The U.S. finally did destroy the base along with most of its aircraft, but at the cost of 12 of their own aircraft. These were replaced by another squadron of F-18s from the carrier Constellation, but this cost the U.S. some points in the final victory evaluation.
The attack on Kota Kinabalu, codenamed Firestorm One, was the first of a long series of Firestorm missions launched against tactical targets in Borneo. In addition to these missions, the U.S. also began to intiate a sweep of the waters north of Brunei, to clear the way for the amphibious task force. Each of these "Sea Sweep" missions met with a marginal amount of success, beginning with the sinking of several PTGs and later with the destruction of the larger guided missile frigates while they were returning from an escort mission to the port of Miri, near western Brunei. Upon losing these torpedo boats, the remaining five patrol boats tucked themselves into coves and were covered with IR netting to avoid being seen by the satellites. They escaped detection alright, but they were now utterly useless in scouting for signs of an approaching amphibious fleet or U.S. specwar detachments.
As I recall, the Fletcher was detached from the main task force and sent ahead at flank speed to deliver a Tomahawk strike at Kota Kinabalu while the Benfold went along to provide it with air cover. A short time after the Fletcher launched its missiles, however, the ships were picked up by Malaysian ESM (the ships' radars were active at this time in the war) and a massive air strike was launched out of Kuching with a refueling stop at BSB airport. The planes found the Benfold and while she was able to withstand the attack the Fletcher was obliterated by a number of Harpoon missiles, sinking quickly in stormy seas. Later that same night, a second Malaysian air strike was launched but the Benfold had changed course and the Malays didn't find it again until the day they made their suicide lunge for the AWACs. Still, the sinking of the Fletcher was a stinging defeat occurring just two game days after the Kota Kinabalu disaster. At this point U.S. morale was starting to plummet.
The "Onion Strategy"
As intel was being collected and the U.S. amphibious fleet approached, the U.S. high command was busy forming an overall strategy for the landing operations. As it turned out, this was a huge job which was shared by Ned, Steve and James but was mostly shouldered by James, since Ned had to leave after the first four weeks to attend NTC, as I recall.
The first phase of the plan was to continue the "Onion Strategy" of peeling back the Malay air threat, base by base, as James said, 'like the layers of an onion,' in an east to west progression. As this objective neared completion, the focus would shift to eliminating the Maylay navy with a series of Sea Sweep missions and attacks on Maylay ports. With Malaysia's air and naval threats removed, the landings could proceed safely.
Special supply requisition for Malaysian Army
Scott Mortimer, the Army Commander, was given a choice of several types of weapons and equipment to add to their OOB, including silent booby traps, extra smoke and HE arty rounds, bulldozers, concrete and engineers to create hardened gun emplacements, demolition crews, bridge building engineers, etc. Scott chose only two bulldozers, barbed wire and some booby traps, allocating most of his credits for a few boxes of thermal goggles -- in spite of their comparitively high black-market price. He allocated most of these assets evenly to the two brigades, retaining the smoke rounds for his 2nd Brigade to make up for depleted rounds used in the BSB battle. (Barbed wire (and I think mines, if I recall correctly, were ordered to be deplyed in Muara and Tutong. ) His choice to sacrifice other weapons and supplies for a few boxes of thermal goggles paid off, though, as we shall see.
Royal Grenadiers begin transit to Borneo
The Royal Grenadier Brigade had moved from the capital to Johor Baharu and was loading onto the troopships as early as June 4 (game time). The Malays had a choice of a piecemeal departure, or a departure that would mean a faster transit of the whole brigade overall. They went with a hybrid of the two, sending a single battalion across fairly early but would have to wait almost a week (game time) for the remainder of the brigade to be ready to sail. On the evening of June 9, the 9th's 1st Battalion arrived safely in Kuching, without incident.
Little did Nick know, but this convoy had timed its voyage to make port in the "nick" of time, before an approaching AWACS, which was moving southwest to support a Sea Sweep mission, would have picked them up. Nick's frigates, however, which did not remain in the Kuching area but instead turned back to Johor Baharu for future escort duties, was not so lucky. Another AWACS picked them up the next day, and soon they were under attack by F-18s. Four frigates were blown out of the water by Harpoons and quickly sunk, reducing their total number by half.
James and Steve assessed their landing options and very early on they spotted some features of Brunei's geography and infrastructure that favored Muara as the landing site -- features that neither myself nor OPFOR (apparently) saw until after the landing had begun (see summary of Landing at Muara, below). Muara was already the top prize in terms of the U.S. victory conditions, since it was close to the capital and it was a major port. Satellite intel revealed that OPFOR was spread out fairly evenly along the coastline, but that there was a rather heavy concentration of troops in Seria. This information may have been what gave rise to the idea of deceiving the Malays into believing the landing would indeed be in Seria.
U.S. deception Plan
The deception was to be carried out in three phases. First, with frequent carpet bombing. These bombings were to occur at very high altitude to avoid SAMs, which led to poor results, but the destruction of troops was secondary to convincing the Malays that this was where the U.S. was headed, and to disrupt the Malay decision cycle (Steve Althouse gave me a very interesting mini-course on this subject). The second part of the deception was to send a special forces unit to the area (the same team that was to insert earlier during the Osprey affair) where they would create a guerilla movement among the locals and hopefully draw even more focus to the area. Finally, they would air drop a message that would be intentionally intercepted by OPFOR that again would indicate Seria as the intended landing site. To what degree this deception plan convinced OPFOR to concentrate on Seria is hard to say since the Malays were already occupying Seria in force anyway, but it certainly didn't hurt to keep the attention focused on this area.
All the while, the U.S. would be eliminating artillery, bridges and other important tactical targets while F-117s would conduct photo-recon missions to supplement their satellite intel. Two days before the actual landing, SEAL units and Force Recon units would insert into the Muara area and open a channel through the sea mines (which had been detected by F-117s) and scout the area for other OPFOR defenses. Ranger paratroopers would HALO in some hours before the landing to guard/block reinforcements from approaching the sector from the east and south, while the SEALS and the recon units would position snipers near the port for the purpose of taking out spotters and infantry positions there. With the Muara defenses thus contained, the landing should arrive relatively unharmed.
Early on, Gary realized that Malaysia would have to achieve its victory conditions one at a time, in reverse order of their priority. This was due to the fact that the bigger goals could not be achieved until the U.S. forces were sighted. The Malay team began making good on this plan right away by first securing the Seria oilfields, then by securing the capital and eliminating the Crown Prince and the Royal Guard. Soon, the annexation of Brunei was complete, and with minimal rebellion from the local population. Now it was up to the Malay navy and air force to locate the U.S. fleet so that a massed naval and/or air strike could be launched, and subs could be deployed in its path as well as minefields. They of course realized that if they could sink even one troopship, they would increase their odds of winning dramatically.
Due to the lack of central command, however, it seemed to me that no overarching defensive strategy or series of operations were ever planned for the OPFOR team. Rather, Gary simply created a list of missions to be accomplished for each branch of service, in no particular order, leaving the branch commanders on their own to achieve these missions as they saw fit. (One mission, for example, was the safe transiting of the 9th Brigade to Borneo). The commanders continued to come up with relatively small operations and tactics within their own branch of command -- some did so magnificently -- but rarely coordinated their efforts with the other commanders.
One exception to this was the AWACs attack, a plan that was joinly agreed to by the Malay commanders as a necessary step in reducing the U.S. air threat. The plan was first proposed by Nick Moran but required Steve Sim, the Air Commander, to approve it. Steve ultimately did agree to the idea, adding his own detailed instructions on how it should be pulled off. But I would still call this a jointly planned operation, not a strategy.
Perhaps the one overall strategy that did exist was the constant, engergetic propaganda campaign at the UN. Nick Moran had very quickly begun supplementing Gary's speechmaking with some filibusters of his own in an effort to keep his country from being branded an outlaw nation. He even began doing his own research on international law, which paid off bigtime toward the latter part of the war when Larry Bond, the Harpoon author, responded to Nick's queries saying that the U.S. did not have veto power in the UN in all situations like we were once led to believe. It looked like another UN vote was in order, and Malaysia might get a restraining order of some sort put on the U.S. Whether this campaign of rhetoric was premeditated, or just happened, it seemed like a carefully planned strategy, and a somewhat effective one.
2nd Brigade deployments, as shown late in the game after the arrival of the main body of the 9th Brigade.
After scouring the capital to root out any Royal Guard stragglers, the main body of the 2nd Brigade remained in BSB and began recovering men and vehicles from the fighting. The two reinforcing companies of mech infantry returned to Muara and Tutong and once again prepared to dig entrenchments. They were each supported by a tank platoon and an anti-tank battery, which were deployed along the egress routes from each of the two ports. One company was detached from the main body in BSB to secure BSB airport. A patrol base was set up between Muara and Tutong (Patrol Base 4) from which recon patrols would cover the beach road on a 24 hour basis, in search for specwar insertions, and to police the Brunei populace and suppress any sign of rebellion.
Meanwhile, Scott Gainer's 1st Brigade had secured the Seria/Badas area and had now fanned out along the coast. He also formed three company-sized patrol bases (Patrol Bases 1, 2 and 3) between Kuala Belait and Tutong. The 1st BN of the 9th Brigade, which had just arrived in Kuching from its early transit, had arrived and deployed to Seria.
1st Brigade deployments, shown after arrival of the 9th Brigade.
Malay supply requisition
Scott Mortimer, the Army Commander, was given a choice of several types of weapons and equipment to add to their OOB, including silent booby traps, extra smoke and HE arty rounds, bulldozers, concrete and engineers to create hardened gun emplacements, demolition crews, bridge building engineers, etc. Scott chose two bulldozers, barbed wire and some booby traps, allocating most of his credits for a few boxes of thermal goggles, in spite of their comparitively high black-market price. He allocated most of these assets evenly to the two brigades, retaining the smoke rounds for his 2nd Brigade to make up for depleted rounds used in the BSB battle. (Barbed wire (and I think mines, if I recall correctly, were ordered to be deployed in Muara and Tutong. ) His choice to sacrifice other weapons and supplies for a few boxes of thermal goggles paid off, though, as we shall see.
Almost from the beginning of the war, Nick Moran began proposing various plans for eliminating the U.S. AWACS in order to give their navy and air force the ability to maneuver without always being detected. The ease with which the U.S. could see everything and go anywhere -- even though their base in the Philippines was well out of range of Malaysian aircraft -- must have begun to aggravate the other team members, too, because after a couple of weeks the whole team began talking about ways to get at those AWACS. (The attack on BSB airport upped the frustration a notch further, no doubt.) The Malaysians knew the air tankers were probably operating in close proximity to the AWACS, which no doubt increased the temptation to try a deep-lunge air-to-air strike against these units. In fact, according to other AARs it was the tankers that were the top priority, not the AWACS. In any event, the fact that the Malays were willing to send two squadrons of aircraft to their death just to down these units says something about how frustrated they were by their presence.
The "suicide attack" (suicide, because the aircraft had barely enough fuel to reach the AWACS/tanker group, much less return home) was first proposed by Nick but then outlined in detail by Steve Sim. Using fuel bladders to extend their range (requested during the pre-game segment), the mission was to commence shortly after one of the now-daily U.S. airstrikes to hit the support aircraft at a time when their fuel reserves were low, making their homeward course very predictable. The attack began as a massive air armada heading northeast toward Paladan Island shortly after a U.S. air strike on Malaysian coastal targets in Brunei and other areas. Then a squadron of F-5s broke off from the main group early and headed north to the 15th parallel, then turned abruptly east toward Manila. THen a squadron of MiG-29s broke off from the group and also headed due north, also toward Manila. The perpendicular vectors of these two squadrons was aimed at a point well to the northeast of the AWACS group in an attempt to head it off as it tried to return to base. Both squadrons used ESM readings to track the position of the AWACS. The pilots were to expend all of their fuel to get as close as possible to the AWACS/tanker group, launch their missiles, then ditch their aircraft and with luck, be rescued by Malaysian or possibly Chinese fishing (spy) boats.
The Maylays make a lunge for U.S. AWACS and tankers.
I am not sure whether or not the Malaysian team did their homework, however, because when I calculated the fuel costs for the attack it appeared almost impossible. Even with the added fuel bladders the F-5s seemed doomed to run out of fuel before even getting in range of the AWACS group, though they might have served as a good decoy. The attack commenced as planned, however. The F-16s protecting the AWACs engaged and shot down two of the F-5s with AMRAAMs, then turned southeast to intercept the more threatening AMRAAM-carrying MiGs coming from the south. Several MiGs were shot down, and most of the remaining aircraft ran out of fuel before even getting into range of the AWACS group. One surviving MiG just barely came within range of the AWACS (10 miles), however, and managed to launch its missiles before ditching. Unfortunately, they all missed.
In just a few minutes, more than half of Malaysia's aircraft had dropped into the sea, and not a single tanker or AWACS was brought down.
Meanwhile, the northeast-bound group of F-18s (the remaining element of the original armada) eventually found the Benfold and fired their Harpoon missiles. But the Benfold, being AEGIS-equipped, was once again able to fend off the attack. The entire operation was a complete failure, and marked a turning point in the war. The U.S. now had almost complete air supremacy.
"Singapore Steve" moved most of his now decimated air force to Kuching, while Nick paced back and forth scheming up new hairbrained tactics, including SAMs launched from surfaced subs, shore-launched Exocet missiles... you name it! (Both of these were implemented, but not near Muara).
The two Scotts, meanwhile, were busy preparing for the Marine assault. Having finished mopping up in BSB, units from Scott Mortimer's 2nd Brigade began deploying again for Muara and Tutong. The 2nd Brigade had been reduced to 65% of its original strength in the fight for the capital, but they were slowly beginning to regain their "slightly wounded" (sprained fingers, mild concussions, etc.) as well as reclaim and repair many of their damaged tanks and APCs. In this respect, time was on Malaysia's side. The longer the U.S. took to land their troops, the stronger the brigade would be. By landing day, the 2nd Brigade had worked itself back to around 85% of its original strength. (The highest possible strength would have been around 90%.) The shore garrisons in Muara and Tutong consisted of two companies of troops in each town, supported by a platoon of tanks and an anti-tank battery, while another company or so of mech units and recon vehicles formed a patrol base in between the Muara and Tutong where pairs of recon units would form a patrol circuit along the coastal road.
Scott Gainer's dastardly tactics
It's a good thing for the U.S. that they weren't landing in Seria. Scott Gainer, commander of the 1st Brigade in the Seria/Badas area, was constantly concocting inventive -- and lethal -- ways to bolster his defense. Fougazies (firebomb booby traps made with oil drums -- easy to come by in Seria), sea mines created with simple parts and a machine shop such as one would find in a refinery (my favorite order of the MBX -- and the sickest -- the minefield was to be chummed periodically to encourage shark activity and thus help guard against SEAL units!). Scott was also quick to initiate the idea of decoy radio antennas in remote locations which spewed phony radio traffic while establishing land lines for actual comms. This took several game days to implement, but proved effective a number of times in fooling the ELINT satellite and decoying U.S. air strikes. Scott Mortimer, his superior, later adopted many of these techniques for the 2nd Brigade as well.
Learning where the Malaysian forces were was critical to the U.S. landing, and three spy satellites were provided to them for this purpose. One provided full-spectrum photographic surveillance, another provided radar imaging (ROSAT), and an ELINT satellite picked up all types of radar and radio comms. (Thanks to Steve Althouse for his instruction on the capabilities of modern satellites).
Satellites were gamed conceptually in the form of reports on Malaysian troop positions, shipping activity, radio comms, radar emissions and any other noteworthy data that a real satellite might pick up, taking into account weather conditions, terrain and other factors. While this was certainly a tremendous advantage for the U.S. side, satellite intel was not always 100% reliable. To begin with, the satellites only covered one-third of the South China Sea region on any given day, which allowed the Malays to work around them to some extent. At one point, the entire Malaysian occupation force had standing orders to continually relocate some 2 kms. or so immediately following each satellite pass. This saved a great many troops from destruction by air strikes. Visible spectrum photography was often obscured by clouds, camouflage or the thick jungle terrain, making confirmed sightings difficult, if not impossible. Thermal photography could be decoyed by any number of heat sources, and would not pick up vehicles if they had been stationary for any length of time (which was often). And an ELINT satellite could be fooled as well, as proven by the Maylay's ELINT deception plan.
One recon asset that could not be detected or fooled was the group of F-117s which the U.S. used increasingly for photo-recon missions as the game went on. These recon missions often caught the Malays in the process of one of their satellite-dodging deployments, or at the very least provided intel that directly contradicted the satellite info and therefore raised doubts as to its reliability. A battery of artillery in Muara, for example, successfully dodged an air strike whose targetting information came from a satellite pass the day before, but was detected by an F-117 in its new position a short while later. The artillery battery was wiped out on the following night by a second strike. Removal of this artillery should have been considered a definite source of relief for the U.S during the CPX landing.
After Kota Kinabalu and BSB airport were destroyed, the next target was Kuching. By this point, the U.S. figured out how to approach an air base and deliver its ordnances without coming into range of the SAMs. Answer: use standoff munitions (ASM-135) for the bombing and release at maximum range. Everyone else, stay above the 25,000 feet ceiling of the KS-1s. This allowed HARM-carrying F-18s to destroy any radar sites from a safe distance. The Maylays avoided the HARMs by not going active with their SAM radars. This was arguably smart and futile at the same time -- the SAMs remained intact, but they were blind during the attack, and the base was obliterated. Now, the only serviceable airstrip in Brunei was the airport in Seria, which at this point was still abandoned.
Indonesia allies with Malaysia
Before the game had started, the Malay side was given the chance to bring Indonesia to their side as a secret ally by decisively winning the first engagement with the U.S. This was actually meant to be a form of pressure to get OPFOR to start the war with some form of surprise attack that would make an early victory more probable. As it turned out, no single large engagement occurred but rather three small ones did, all favoring Malaysia. Malaysia's aggressive reponse to a "meddling" U.S. (the Osprey incident), their impressive defense of Kota Kinabalu (which could be viewed as a marginal victory by Malaysia, even though they did not initiate the action) and the sinking of the Fletcher, taken altogether, was enough to impress Indonesia that Malaysia was fully capable of standing up to the U.S. (Rationale: by secretly allying with Malaysia, Indonesia hoped to have a share of Brunei's oil revenues without having to be an actual combatant.) Indonesia was extremely opportunist however, and nothing from them was ever free. They offered a deal -- use of any of Indonesia's islands in return for agreeing to forever give up any claim on them when the war is over. (Ceding territory to Indonesia actually cost the PM some points in terms of his 'fear and respect' victory condition, but if it helped win the war then it would more than balance out). Malaysia was also obligated to send Indonesia the first shipment of crude oil from the newly acquired Seria oilfields. (This also cost Gary a few points, since that shipment couldn't be used to increase Malaysia's wealth, and they might lose possession of the oilfields later on).
After some negotiation with Indonesia by Gary, with advise from his team, Indonesia was to pass on any reports of approaching aircraft from the radar station at Great Natuna, a large island between Borneo and the peninsula. With this newly acquired early warning system, Nick devised a plan whereby MiG-29s would fly over Great Natuna's airspace (under the temporary treaty) which would probably be ID'd as Indonesian by the U.S. I misunderstood the plan, however, and went and had the wings of the planes painted with Indonesian insignia. Satellites spotted the planes travelling from Malaysia to Great Natuna with Indonesian insignia and the U.S. President quickly summoned the Indonesian ambassador and threatened to freeze Indonesia's assets if they were caught helping the Malays. Two-faced Indonesia of course caved, then called the Malaysian PM hours later and threatened to break the deal. It was then that I was told the planes were never meant to be repainted. (I reviewed the orders, and sure enough, I misunderstood). Since it was my error and not the Malays, I left the radar deal intact, but I did not allow any planes to overfly the island. Unfortunately, the brief period of time in which the deal had been suspended was exactly when the Malays needed it most -- during the U.S. interception of the missile ship. (See below)
Surprisingly, despite the highly advanced design of U.S. subs,
submarine operations is the one area of warfare that went miserably
for the U.S. In fact, other than missile attacks, virtually every
engagement involving a sub went against them. The first of these
engagements occurred some 60 miles north of Brunei when, by sheer
luck, the USS Dallas and a Malay sub were patrolling at slow speed
and came to rest within a mile of each other! The Dallas was later
ordered to move to a new location at cruising speed, which was
heard by the Malay sub, and it fired two torpedos. The LA counterfired,
and both ended up sunk. Malaysia did not get a 100% confirmation
that the U.S. sub sunk, however (which bothered Nick, the Naval
Later, the U.S.S. Jefferson City (San Juan class) was detected
by a second Malay sub which had been sitting in a staionary position.
The Malay sub refrained from attacking to preserve its secrecy
but reported the contact. The U.S. sub was soon attacked by a
Malay Helix ASW helo. The Helix dropped 4 torpedos but they all
missed (Hey! That's what the Harpoon sim showed!) then went back
to shore to reload. On the second attempt an hour or so later
it reacquired the U.S. sub and scored two hits, but these particular
torpedos are apparently pretty puny and it only damaged the sub.
The helos went back to reload for yet a third attempt, but by
then U.S. aircraft had responded to the threat and they shot down
the helo. (The helo pilot had become a kind of Captain Ahab --
obsessed with sinking that sub!) The Jefferson City was ordered
to withdraw for repairs. (A mission kill, but once again, no confirmed
kill for Admiral Moran, which evidently increased his aggravation
as he became something of an obsessed Ahab himself. He wanted
a chunk of the U.S. sub's hull presented on his desk.
The third incident happened when the USS Philadelphia was ordered to to sink a merchant ship off the coast of Singapore. Even as someone who is not very knowledgable about subs, I would venture to say this action was highly questionable. Despite the impressive quietness and sophistication of the LA class sub, a torpedo attack in shallow water, in a major traffic lane, in daylight, about 50 miles from the main Malaysian naval base was, as far as I could see, a very risky thing to do to say the least. Immediately two choppers deployed from the base and conducted a sweep, with Admiral Moran making good use of sonobuoys as well as the information regarding the merchant vessel that was sunk (provided by a nearby friendly ship that saw it happen) to help him localize the search. Nick also ordered the land-based Haze helo to be fitted with depth charges rather than the dinky torps, knowing the sub couldn't go very deep and thus increasing the odds of a hit. Sure enough, the depth charge hit the sub and the sub went down with all hands. (You should have heard Nick's maniacal cackle when he finally got a confirmed kill!)
From my GM's chair, I would venture to say that orders pertaining to the U.S. subs did not seem very well thought out, usually as a simple deployment order (e.g., move to Singapore area), almost as an afterthought when compared to other U.S. operations. I also thought here was also very little concern about ocean depth. This was surprising, given the shallow water that makes up most of the South China Sea and the peculiar topography of the ocean floor around northern Borneo. Nick's orders, by comparison, seemed to take advantage of the underwater topography at every opportunity, which in at least one case, made the difference between detecting and being detected.
Special Forces Operations in Central Brunei
About five or six days before the landing the U.S. began its insertion of special forces, beginning with an SF team which HALO'd into a clearing about 10 km south of Seria. Their primary mission was to create a disturbance in the Seria-Badas vicinity and thus draw suspicion to the area as the intended landing site. The team was specially chosen to be fluent in the local dialect and well-trained in guerilla tactics. The U.S. command intended for the team to conduct three types of missions: 1) to organize a resistance movement among the locals, thus draining Malaysian resources away from Muara; 2) To disrupt and sabotage key targets on their own; and 3) To provide intel on enemy positions for air and missile strikes.
For some reason, Basil never really pushed for conducting guerrilla-raising tactics once his team landed, but even if he had it would most likely not have been very successful. While there was a great deal of potential for uprising earlier in the game, the angered locals had already been largely suppressed by Scott Gainer's deployment of occupation forces to all of the interior villages (the upside of bleeding his troop strength), combined with the fact that the UN (now played by the lurkers) had voted against a mandate for a U.S. attack. (If the UN wasn't convinced that the country had been taken over illegally, why should the locals?)
The second objective was not fulfilled only because there were very few targets of opportunity that the team could handle on its own, due to the large number of enemy forces in the Seria-Badas vicinity. At one point they were ordered to sabotage the petroleum train that was picked up by satellite surveillance, but the team could not get in place before the train departed for Indonesia (The oil was payment for the use of the Indonesian radar station on Great Natuna, as I recall).
Basil's SF team did provide highly useful targeting information, however, such as a battalion headquarters in Badas. Scott Gainer, the Malaysian 2nd BDE commander, was quick to pick up on the accuracy of these air strikes and assumed that Specwar forces were operating in his sector. He proceeded to give highly detailed instructions on conducting a careful and methodical sweep of the area. (As usual, Scott was a font of information on this and many other topics, and once again I learned a great deal.) Unfortunately for Scott, the SF team had already left the sector and moved east in search of the brigade HQ. The SF team spotted a concentration of tents and a fair amount of vehicle traffic in the next sector (represented by Map 8). This was in fact the brigade HQ but due to Scott's radio deception sheme, the team ignored it and kept moving east to the source of the signals in Bukit Suwat (Map 3). I do not know what Barry made of the troop activity on Map 8 but as far as I can recall no orders ever came through for an air strike on this location.
The headquarters garrison, who had just received a small supply of thermal goggles, were now equipped to spot the SF team (who generally only moved at night) but with only a small number of men to form patrols they ended up only making one distant sighting that was obscured by dense jungle, which might just as well have been mistaken for monkeys or other tropical wildlife. A vague, almost useless sighting was reported, phrased something like, "One scout thought he saw something suspicious in the south woods, but was not sure." In any case, the report did not trigger an all-out search effort in that sector, and soon the SF team had moved on to and area west of Bukit Sawat. As an interesting sidenote, the SF team spotted boxes labelled with words that they translated to mean "heat sensitive," which was relayed to US HQ but no one guessed that they might be thermal goggles. Had the U.S. pondered this possibility, it might have affected the landing operations in Muara knowing that their landing force might be seen several miles out to sea.
The SF team received an air drop of food rations and anti-tank weapons around dawn of the fourth day at the easternmost edge of the sector (Map 3) with the intention of doing some armor-busting later once they returned to the Seria-Badas sector. But first, the team got a fix on the source of radio signals which had by this time moved north of the town. The U.S. hit it in their next Firestorm mission (though of course this was useless since it was a phony HQ.) On the fifth day, the team circled around and entered the Seria-Badas region again (Map 504), this time from the north.
It was at this point that the U.S. SF team tripped on one of Scott Gainer's dastardly fougazi traps, turning the team member into a human fireball. Given the massive size of the forces in the area (almost two battalions), it wasn't long before the SF team was encircled and mowed down. Barry himself was hit by APC machine gun fire as he tried to make a break for a nearby riverbank. (This was the second time Barry died in this game, the first being in BSB from his wounds acquired from the shootdown of the Osprey.)
While the SF team was destroyed and never did raise a guerilla force or destroy any key targets on its own, it did draw attention to Seria as a possible landing site. How much this tied down troops to the area is hard to say, since I believe the Maylays were already predisposed to think of Seria as a landing site from the start. But I think it is safe to say that whatever suspicions the Malays had about Seria being a likely landing spot were confirmed by the presence of the SF team, and so in that regard the mission was probably a success.
U.S. Air Strikes Take their Toll
By the second week of the war, the relentless Firestorm and Sea Sweep missions had all but eliminated the Malay navy from the Borneo area. Half of Nick's frigates had been wiped out while returning from escort duties, and all three naval bases in Borneo --Kuching, Kota Kinabalu and Miri (Miri was built up to be a military port during the pregame segment) were destroyed. The Perdana patrol boats had been forced into hiding inside limestone formations along the coast or alongside thick mangroves where they were covered with camouflaged, IR netting. This would keep them safe, but utterly useless. The only remaining naval threats were the two remaining subs, which sat quietly north of Brunei, and four remaining frigates which were on their way back to Johor Baharu to escort the 9th Brigade to Borneo.
The Malay air force was in even worse shape. The only advanced fighter squadron that remained after the suicide attack on the AWACS, a group of F/A-18s, had been shot down or destroyed on the ground by the massive air strike on Kuching. By the tenth day of the war only one squadron of second-rate fighters remained (MiG-23s), which were no match for the F-16s or F/A-18s. All air bases on Borneo were destroyed (with the exception of a small, abandoned airport in Seria, mainly used before the war by private planes owned by oil companies). This left Kuantan, on Peninsular Malaysia, as the only remaining Malay air base which was well out of range of Brunei. There was one ray of hope, however: eight Chinese-made Shenyang fighters (MiG-21s) were on order and due to arrive on June 15. But these would have to be deployed in secret if they were to have any chance of surprising the U.S. Also, the Maylay pilots were not yet trained to use them.
The Malaysian army, particularly the troops in the Seria vicinity, was getting pummeled by frequent bombing. The 1st Battalion of the 9th Brigade, which had the good fortune of having a safe transit to Borneo early in the war, had the bad fortune of being targetted by the U.S. by relentless carpet bombing attacks by B-1 bombers. The battalion was a crack unit with high morale and the bombing wasn't very accurate due to the high altitude, but day after day of continuous bombing had begun to work on the nerves of the troops and by the beginning of the third week the battalion was on the brink of desertion. U.S. air strikes also successfully eliminated a 1st Brigade's 1st battalion HQ and an artillery battery in Badas, destroyed a naval-helo FARP in Kuala Baram, took out several bridges which would delay supplies and reinforcements and wiped out several recon patrols. What was probably most distressing to the Malaysian team was that there was no forseeable way to prevent these attacks -- they simply had to sit and take it. Now it was the Malaysian team who was beginning to experience morale problems.
The Neutral Shipping Incident
Frustrated by what must have been a feeling of helplessness, Nick Moran continued to search for ways to hamper U.S. operations, even if it was by unorthodox, or unscrupulous means. He came up with a tactic that was clearly intended to suck the U.S. into an unwanted political turmoil in order to accomplish a political goal -- to have the UN restrict the U.S. to just the Brunei theater of operations. To do this, Nick would try to lure the U.S. into sinking neutral ships.
As a naval policy this plan may have been reprehensible, but as a tactic I have to admit it was rather brilliant. Knowing that the guidance system in Harpoon missiles tend to seek the largest object when fired at a cluster of ships, Nick ordered his four remaining frigates, which he knew were probably dead meat any minute since the U.S. had already sighted and destroyed half the task force a few hours earlier, to sidle up to any large freighters flying neutral colors. When missiles were launched, the ships were to go to flank speed to the far side of the freighter, literally using the freighter as a shield. A Helix ASW helo was used to scout for ships that were headed in a southerly or easterly direction (toward Johor, the task force's destination). Two such freighters were found -- one Venezuelan and one Austrailian. The frigates split into pairs, with each pair finding and rendezvousing with one of the freighters less than 30 minutes before the follow-up Sea Sweep attack appeared.
The captains of the freighters had different reactions to being "escorted" by Malaysian warships (all determined by die rolls). The Venezuelan was mostly puzzled, expecting to be boarded in a contraband search but then going along with the friendly hails and waves from the bridge of the Malaysian vessels (all determined by die rolls -- see Game Mechanics section). The Austrailian knew something was up right away but was intimidated by the sight of a Bofor gun pointed straight at his bridge from only 300 feet away. He figured heÍd better just play along with whatever these guys wanted, then report it after the Malays had left the scene. Neither captain figured out they were going to be a missile shield for the Malays until it was too late. Just as Nick predicted, the Harpoon missiles went for the freighters first, thus tricking the U.S. into committing an act of war on neutrals, one of them a U.S. ally! What Nick didn't predict, however, was that the U.S. would send an entire squadron of F/A-18s, which carried more than enough Harpoons to wipe out Nick's ships once the freighters were sunk. A few minutes after the freighters went down, Nick's frigates followed.
Nick lost the last of his large surface ships, but the real battle had just begun. Immediately Nick intiated a rampage of propaganda, expunging all guilt by sticking to his "escort" story and accusing the U.S. of the most heinous crime imaginable -- wonton destruction of innocent ships on the high seas. Gary followed up with an impassioned speech that listed all of the U.S. transgressions to date, which, without the benefit of a U.S. retort, seemed to provide pretty convincing evidence that the U.S. was at least to some degree guilty of an irresponsible use of force.
Steve Althouse, who felt the whole incident was not relevant to the scenario, did not have time to deal with the UN in his role as President. This was his perogative, of course, and since the UN only represented 10% of his Presidential votership he probably did not feel the need to make long speeches or fight fire with fire. Still, Steve said almost nothing at all, not even a simple statement stating his country's position or why he did not want to dignify the debate with an answer. (At one point an apology was apparently made by either Steve or James along with a brief mention about paying reparations for the lost ships, but several people, including myself, could not recall this for some odd reason). Steve's point was valid, that it was extra baggage tacked on to a scenario that was supposed to be about a straightforward landing operation in Borneo. But the scenario was transforming almost without my control, and one might argue that the rules that defined it were changing, too. Unfortunately for Steve and his team, while he may have been right, he ended up having to bear the slings and arrows that were now flying by the hundreds under these new rules.
From the Malay point of view, the nonstop fillibustering from the Malay side must have done its job. The UN soon began to call for various types of punishment and restraining orders to be put on the U.S., including a proposal to have the U.S. commanders stand trial for war crimes -- even though the Malaysians purposely tricked the U.S. into sinking the neutral ships! At this point in time, however, our understanding of UN proceedure was that the U.S. could veto any action taken against them, so there wasn't much the UN could do other than issue a scathing reprimand, which it did. While the entire affair had little impact on either team's mission, the Malaysian team was no doubt enjoying the fact that they were influencing UN opinion while the U.S. high command became frustrated and angered by the public chastising and by what they felt was an unrealistic and unfair lack of support from their allies.
If I may venture an opinion here, I think the long silence on the U.S. side may have done as much to cause their political harrassment as the Malaysian propaganda did. However, I myself was amazed that the UN did not see through the Malay plot -- after all, they were lurkers, they had to know that the "escort" story was a cover for nothing more than a cowardly act of a warship hiding behind an innocent vessel. The fact that the UN equivocated at all seems to indicate that there was some selective memory at work, and that the Malaysian propaganda machine could turn and twist the facts enough to actually turn fiction into fact. In a way, I felt we were all witnessing a horrible injustice but at the same time I had to laugh at what was happening -- I felt we were witnessing a true model of how public opinion can be manipulated through the media with a careful choice of words! Kind of scary and funny at the same time, when you think about it! =:>
Homemade sea mines
Scott Gainer, drawing upon his seemingly endless knowledge about little known tricks of the trade in warcraft, proposed a method of producing sea mines cheaply and without much expertise from the troops. It involved a simple explosive device made from oil drums and a simple fusing mechanism that could be put together by any torpedoman in the Malay navy. This process produced some 40 mines a day, which were then dropped some 3 km. or so from the shore of Seria by police boats, forming a mine barrier 100 meters wide that extended lengthwise about 2 kms. or so with each passing day. A second barrier was also formed close to the beach. Both minefields were supplemented by a number of dummy mines, which were simply empty oil drums. The idea was to confuse the U.S. specwar units and delay any mineclearling operations with many extra mines. A U.S. air strike at one point was ordered to bomb the inshore waters off the beaches using delayed fuses, which resulted in setting off most of the real underwater mines. (I do not recall the type of fuse Scott Gainer had ordered, but it seemed likely that due to its primitive nature it would be too sensitive not to go off. Once again, Scott Mortimer seized upon this idea and implemented the laying of dummy mines near Muara, as well. The U.S. of course spotted the oil drums being placed in the water near Muara and knew they needed a SEAL unit to clear the area.
Operation Monkey Mountain
Still needled by the anywhere-anytime bombing capability of the U.S. and being forced to resort to unorthodox means as a result of losing most of their air force in the suicide AWACS attack, the Malaysians continued to hatch plans to shoot down the fuel tankers, which had now been elevated to the number 1 priority, followed by the AWACS, or perhaps F-117s, if the opportunity arose. Scott Gainer, who had actually been to Cubi Point and knew the surrounding area quite well, described a mountain on a golf course near the base inhabited by wild monkeys (that would sometimes steal your golf ball!) This seemed like a perfect place for a hit team, like the one that assassinated the Sultan, to position themselves as planes took off from the base. The question was how to get them there. It was decided that two teams would be sent. The first team was nabbed when due to a combination of factors, the main one being when Deven was presented with a choice of three different counterespionage options, he chose to tighten security at Cubi Point. This led to a low-probability die roll that, predictably, led to the capture of the terrorists (one of them was recognized by Philippine agents at customs). The second team met with a stalemate situation -- they managed to sneak their way into the Philippines and get to the air base without being detected, but with the recent capture of the first team the security was too tight to penetrate. This situation remained during the remainder of the MBX.
Force Recon in Muara
About 3 days before the Marine landing another specwar unit -- the force recon attachment to the MEU, once again commanded by Barry -- was inserted into the vicinity of Muara (Map 502). Their mission was to report on troop positions throughout the area and eventually get snipers into position on the southern hook of the harbor where they could pick off the Malaysian garrison there. This mission was run the same way as the SF team, where Barry would receive detailed reports from his men (me) but would communicate only intermittently and briefly with the rest of his team. Combining their on-site view with that of the F-117 photorecon efforts, the U.S. would certainly have a clear idea of what to expect in the Muara area.
The team HALO'd into the clearing north of the river town and first covered the northern jungle areas to make sure those areas were clear. They then worked their way south and west and soon split into two teams. Two nights before the landing the A team had covered the north and central parts of the map and were now working their way southeast reconning the mangroves as they went. The B team got into trouble, however. Thanks to the thermal goggles, Malay troops spotted them moving through a clearing south of the harbor. Scott Mortimer ordered mech units to close in on them and in less than an hour they were all spotted and mowed down with machine gun fire. No force recon snipers would ever make it to the harbor area.
The Missile Crisis
Ironically, while the Malays were scrambling for the moral
high ground at the UN, they were in the process of procuring 24
ballistic missiles from China, 8 of which had nuclear warheads.
Only Gary was aware of this plan at first, however. What happened
was, a couple of weeks into the war, I had sent Gary a "flashback
quiz" allowing him the chance to go back in time and choose
whether to purchase one of two items from China's aging arsenal
-- a complex, land-based nuclear ballistic missile system or a
supply of tactical nukes which could be launched by the MiGs.
Gary went with the land-based system. The deal went down as early
as mid-June (real time), but -- interestingly -- Gary chose to
keep it secret from his commanders for several weeks until the
missiles were already en route to Malaysia. I'm not sure why he
chose not to tell them, but it seemed to fit the secretive Kremlin-like
intrigue that I was going for.
Shortly before Gary told his team about the nuke purchase, I began feeding Steve Althouse, as President, and Deven, as intelligence officer, bits of information leading the U.S. team to the Chinese missile purchase. The maze worked something like this:
1. In a one-on-one phone conversation between President Baldwin and the President of the Republic of China (conducted in private on IRC) a secret alliance was formed in which the ROC would turn over any intel it learned through its numerous trawlers and spies inside the Malay government. The motivation for the ROC was that there were strong connections going on between Malaysia and mainland China, ROC's sworn enemy, and any defeat of Malaysia would therefore be in the ROC's best interest. President Baldwin promised to be discreet about the fact that the ROC was helping the U.S.
2. A week or so later (game time) the ROC prez alerted Baldwin about a very unusual high tech facility being built by Chinese engineers in an underground bunker in Kuala Lumpur. (This would turn out to be the Prime Minister's war bunker, where he had a direct link to the missile mobile command center.)
3. Satellite recon turned up photos of more Chinese technicians surveying a suspicious looking clearing near Kuantan. More high tech equipment was detected. (This was to be the missile storage and launch site).
4. At some point Deven redirected FMFPAC's intel to finding out more about the secret Chinese project. This accelerated the information flow, and that same day the U.S. received a photo taken by an ROC spy showing the same Chinese technicians seen earlier, this time in a lab in China. A chemical compound was written on the blackboard of the lab. Someone on the U.S. team knew it was the formula for nitroglycerin, which is used in the production of solid rocket fuel. "Rocket fuel" not only alerted the U.S. as to what type of weapon system the Chinese were working on, but was also the codeword that would unlock a new webpage with more photos. Okay, so the Chinese were rocket specialists, but what type of rocket?
5. The next photo showed several high-ranking Malaysian generals at a top-secret facility in China. If anyone clicked on the photo it would become magnified, showing a Civil Defense nuke symbol. (Probably would not look like that in China, but...) While the nuke symbol was not proof-positive, it certainly pointed strongly to the notion that rocketry and nukes were involved -- hence the rocket was quite likely a ballistic missile.
6. The next password that was needed was the Chinese phrase for "east wind," which, the ROC learned, was the codename of the operation. (This clue I sort of screwed up so it came a little too easily for the U.S.) Deven came close to solving this on his own (by asking someone at a local Chinese restaurant -- how resourceful!) but not quite. James found it easily because of my error and revealed it to the team: Dong Feng. This allowed access to the final web page, and simultaneously told the U.S. which class of missile was being discussed -- namely the Dong Feng, or DF series. A simple web search would lead them to all the information they needed to know about this missile.
7. The final photo was of a map showing a sea export route from China southward with scribbled Chinese handwriting, that, when translated, indicated a date -- June 14. But was that the embarkation date, or the arrival date? That was for the U.S. to figure out. (It was the arrival date).
The U.S. now knew with reasonable certainty that China was shipping ballistic missiles to Malaysia on or around June 14, and that at least some of them had nuclear warheads. The U.S. worked their way through the intel maze in the nick of time -- the game date at this point was June 13, and there were a hell of a lot of cargo ships in the western part of the South China Sea to investigate. Fortunately, the satellites were making a new pass over that region on that date, so at least their intel on shipping would be up to date.
Now the ROC fishing boats came in handy, moving to likely interception points and providing intel about different ships they spotted, the names of the ships, and any unusual remarks. All three freighters, after leaving the Chinese port, painted new names on their sterns and hoisted the Panamanian flag (Panama, like Libya, is not a maritime trade signatory which aids in the smuggling of contraband). The Spanish names of the ships, which the ROC vessels had sighted, if translated, should have provoked suspicion. (One of the names, Bogata, was the capital of Columbia, not Panama, and another bore a name that meant 'east wind.') The first ship that the U.S. team suspected and boarded, a Libyan ship, turned out to be a real freighter, which meant a costly delay. The next ship they pounced on was one of the missile ships. In fact, it was the last of the three ships -- the other two, including the nukes, had already made port in Kuantan. President Baldwin ordered a special operations SEAL mission to intercept the third ship and bring it back to Manila, if possible. (This was all gamed conceptually, not with the Harpoon game.) The SEAL team had to fight their way on board via helicopter, and took a couple of casualties in the process. But with two F/A-18s raking the deck with cannon fire and firing missiles overhead, the Chinese crew quickly succumbed to the SEALS.
This incident occurred within 50 miles or so of Kuantan. As soon as the Malays received word that the ship had been pirated, Steve Sim sent a pair of MiG-23s and ordered them to damage the ship in order to incapacitate it. Then some of their own Army specwar personnel would take it back, and a tug boat from Johor would tow it back to the Peninsula. The MiGs did just that but did not damage it enough to stop it completely (those ro-ro ships take a lot of pounding, it turns out!). The ship could still make 10 knots, and the weather was bad so the next pair of aircraft was not able to find it. A sea search was under way as well using fishing trawlers and the tug boat, but to no avail. The ship had disappeared. What had happened, actually, is that the U.S., afraid that the Malays might get a hold of the ship again, ordered the SEAL team to scuttle it. The SEAL team was picked up by an Osprey and returned to Manila, where President Baldwin was heading to make his first "public appearance" in many weeks. The missiles only had conventional warheads and they were now gone, but photos were taken before the ship was scuttled to show that the Malays were certainly involved in something that was anything but peaceloving.
The President speaks out
"President Baldwin," speaking from the same table in Manila that the peace talks were held earlier (but this time, symbolically, with an empty chair next to him) now countered the neutral shipping incident with a dramatic replay of a videotape of the radar blips during the attack, plainly proving that the Malay ships hid behind the freighters. He then put the burden of blame for civilian damage by the air strikes on the Malaysian shoulders, pointing out that they were using civilian locations for military purposes. As an example, he showed aerial photography of artillery stationed in the middle of a town (Badas). Finally, he sprung the big story -- the fact that U.S. intelligence has found evidence that the Malays possess a ballistic missile system with nuclear capability. Once again, the UN reaction to the nukes was, amazingly, one of skepticism, and many members asked the U.S. for more concrete proof. I thought this was amazing, because as lurkers they were certainly aware that the nukes were real. I suppose they were simply playing their role honestly, knowing that the knowledge they had as lurkers should not influence their judgement of the evidence as presented by the U.S. I was also amazed that the evidence about the neutral sinkings was not more persuasive than it appeared to be; in a later UN vote toward the end of the conflict, the U.S. team was still tainted with allegations of wreckless conduct.
Even if the speech made only a minor dent in world opinion,
I personally believe it was the beginning of an upturn in morale
on the U.S. side. The allegations had been answered, the U.S.
was being firmly led by a President who knew what he was doing,
and the team seemed to be unified, even if it meant the rest of
the world be damned. The U.S. high command no doubt may have been
frustrated by the lack of allied support, but the speech seemed
to take the wind out of the Malay sails for a bit. (My files show
a precipitous drop in Malay fillibustering after that speech was
Malaysia launches missiles
With the suspected missiles now in mainland Malaysia, the President
enlisted top-level NRA, CIA and NSA operations to hunt them down,
while Deven processed information regarding radioactivity levels
detected from Singapore Airline flights equipped with special
equipment for the job (something that one lurker contested as
being unrealistic, but what the hell, it's 2008
With only 8 missiles, the odds of any major destruction were pretty poor. Eight missiles was only three missiles more than the Patriot system could comfortably handle, and three missiles would not do much more damage than three Tomahawks. But the U.S. had two other curtains of defense -- one was a Star Wars satellite named after its Presidential benefactor, "Ronnie." This was able to knock out one missile using a solar-powered laser beam but could not recharge fast enough to destroy any other missiles. (This explains why the Malay tracking system did not pick up any incoming missile when they lost contact with one of their missiles at the apogee of its flight). A second missile was taken out by the Upper Tier defense of the newly equipped Port Royal, which had just arrived in theater from the Sea of Japan, as ordered. One missile did get through, however, destroying an AWACS (finally!) and 3 fighters. Nick's long-nurtured dream of destroying an AWACS came true, albeit a bit late.
The Prez "goes ballistic"
As it happened, the President was still in nearby Manila and
understandably thought the attack was a decapitation strike. He
assumed the missiles had nuclear warheads and initiated a plan
called "CARTHAGE" calling for a World War 3 type retaliatory
strike that would turn Malaysia into a "sheet of glass."
As it turned out, the whole thing was one collossal hoax by Steve, who got us all on the edge of our seats (yes, me included) when in fact he planned to call it off at the last minute all along. But he made his point -- the U.S. will take a ballistic missile launch verrrry seriously! The tactic worked in spades. The Malaysian team seemed to lose much of their enthusiasm for launching the nukes, and focused instead on more conventional ways of defeating the U.S. landing.
Covert flights of Singapore Airlines from which radioactive data was detected.
The U.S. had their finger on the button, but the most preferable situation was to locate and destroy Malaysia's missile system once and for all. This was now the top priority for the U.S. (though because this was outside the scope of the basic scenario, this was gamed fairly conceptually, as you will see). Invoking the "2008 rule," I ruled that there was a "super geiger counter" which could detect minute traces of radiation from the air. (This was thought to be a bit too far-fetched by one of the lurkers, however, who happens to work in the nuclear energy field). Anyway, I allowed the U.S. to secretly hook up these devices onto Singapore Airline flights, which overflew mainland Malaysia. (Upon hearing possible evidence of nukes, Singapore entered a secret alliance with the U.S.). I then created trigonometry puzzle for Deven, giving him the field strength of two different radiation levels taken from two different flights. Deven had to figure out the tangents, and use the inverse-square rule (radiation decreases as the square of the distance) to determine the length of the vectory and pinpoint the missile location by triangulation. Whatever point Deven chose would be the insertion point for ROC spies equipped with sensitive land geiger counters. These teams would be able to verify the existence of nuclear missiles. Steve Althouse missed the first guess, sending the team too far to the south. But Deven figured out the next trig problem and nailed the missile location within 10 miles of the actual site. Unfortunately, this was shortly after the attack on Cubi Point, and the Maylays took the precaution of moving them again, this time to another location farther north. Had the launching not taken place, the missiles would most likely have stayed put and Deven's accurate instructions would have likely led to a UN SWAT team mission which would have caught the Malays red-handed with nuclear missiles. The UN had later voted for the formation of such a team to enter a country and dismantle or remove nuclear weapons without the host country's permission, if such evidence could be produced.
Maylays hunt for the U.S. fleet
Due to a combination of factors, the Malaysians had great difficulty locating the U.S. fleet during this game. This was partly by design in the beginning, because the Malays were given no information about the likely paths of approach. This meant they were forced to cover all possible routes, including the Java Straits and the Andalan Sea, which stretched their already modest resources pretty thin. These forces only became thinner once the U.S. Firestorm and Sea Sweep missions began eliminating their air force and navy. Later, as the U.S. got closer, other factors interceded -- cloudy skies, bad timing, the darkness of night, rough seas -- all of these factors played a hand in robbing the Maylays of a confirmed sighting, and whenever a fishing trawler happened to be lucky enough to be in the path of the amphib group, it was forced to move away by U.S. choppers before the U.S. force appeared on the horizon. Toward the third week of the war Nick finally gave up on covering the southern approaches and pulled his Handalan PT boats from there in order to make sure he had as many assets as possible near Brunei.
At one point, the fishing trawlers and helos (the only remaining search platforms available) were drawn away from the correct path of approach by a misconstrued piece of information on the part of Scott Gainer. Somehow a sighting of AV-8 Harriers -- a definite tip-off that the amphib fleet was near -- was somehow wrongfully attributed to an incident north of Brunei. This led him to theorize that the amphib fleet was somewhere north of Borneo in the South China Sea, not northwest of Borneo as was actually the case. I believe Nick followed up on Scott's theory without checking how he arrived at this conclusion and for a full day or two (game time), during a critical period of time when the fleet was passing through the choke point at Balabic Strait, the Malays were searching empty water.
Some time previously, however, Nick had come up with some inventive ways of detecting the U.S. fleet, such as creating a poor man's radar station with a laser rangefinder on the island of Banggi on the southern end of the Balabic Strait. (Another idea was to created a mini-SOSUS network with a series of submerged sonobuoys. Unfortunately due to an already enormous workload, I declined to implement any more ideas that weren't already included in the game. (As an excuse I told him there were problems with the generator powering the system, or some such thing). The laser device was constructed just in time and sure enough, it detected the passing of ships, but because the Malays thought the task force was north of Brunei they did not seem to pay a lot of attention to this. (Perhaps they thought it was a follow-on force, which would have been plausible). Nick's confusion no doubt grew a day or so later, when the U.S. CVBG was detected by the same method twelve hours later.
Shenyang fighters from China
On June 15 (game time) the Malaysians received a squadron of 8 fighters from China, Chinese copies of MiG-21s ("Shenyangs"). The Malays still had pilots, but none of them were trained to fly these antiquated planes. Steve Sim was allowed to priorize the type of training (air-to-ground, air-to-air, etc.) knowing that they may be called upon at any time before all of the training excercises were finished. As I recall, Steve chose to make air-to-air combat a priority, followed by air-to-ground attacks. This training would lessen the effect of the die-roll which would affect the performance of these aircraft.
UN Resolutions Passed
At one point, Nick Moran, who had long ago begun supplementing Gary's speechmaking with some filibusters of his own in an effort to keep his country from being branded an outlaw nation, began doing his own research on international law. He received a letter from Harpoon designer and author Larry Bond, saying that it was his belief that the U.S. was not allowed to vote on a matter in which it was directly involved. constantly on the lookout for some slippery political angle to get his country out of hot water with the During the last two weeks of the game, the UN sat in judgement as the Malaysian and U.S. "politicians" (players) duked it out, each unleashing all of the grievances built up over the previous four months of game play (it was a loud argument!) The resolutions that were passed were as follows:
Resolution #1: U.S. cannot vote on matter in which it is involved. This meant that the U.S. could not veto a UN action if it electedlwas a security council member.
Resolution #5: Top U.S. commanders hauled off to war crimes trials for sinking neutral shipping.
Resolution #7: Form a multi-national team to hunt down any suspected nukes, should they be proven to be in Malaysia.
It is important to note that a resolution to restrict the area of operations (AO) to the immediate vicinity around Brunei was defeated. This indirectly condoned the U.S. Onion Plan) which I considered a vote of confidence for the U.S. (Though it didn't help the President's 'world opinion' score).
Two nights before the landing, the SEAL team was inserted by Osprey along with some rubber boats off the Brunei coast near Muara. They headed toward shore found a clear area to set up their base camp amidst the rocks north of the harbor. The Malay sentries in this area had been hit with airstrikes and had pulled out of the area a few days before. The SEALs mission was twofold: 1) Open a channel through the minefield in the waters sat the far southern edge of the sector, and 2) get snipers into position east of the harbor to pick off Malay sentries there. The SEALs were up against a tight timetable and did not finish defusing or rigging all of the mines. Not long after they landed they heard the machine gun chatter of the APCs south of the harbor, the sound of their fellow special ops buddies dying.
Main body of 9th Brigade arrives in Borneo
Due to the U.S. satellites passing overhead and the U.S. sub sighting outside Singapore earlier, the Malays were forced to wait quite some time before feeling they could send the 9th Brigade to Borneo safely. On midnight of June 14 (game time) the ships were finally ready. Because the port of Kuching was now destroyed, they embarked for the commercial port of Kabong, 60 miles further to the east. Nick, worried that a large convoy of troopships would immediately call attention to itself, scattered these ships along all sorts of indirect routes. It turned out to be unnecessary, though, because all the ships made it without being detected.
It took until the evening of June 16 for the last of the ships to arrive, and another 24 hours for the brigade (minus the 1st battalion) to unload and begin heading toward Brunei. (All supplies were left behind, however, to allow for an earlier deployment). They split up into two groups, one heading to the Badas vicinity and the other heading to BSB, presumably to act as a reaction force. As it turned out, the BSB task force (1 mech battalion, 2 tank coys) arrived in BSB less than 12 hours before the Marines landed in Muara.
The U.S. was aware of the imminent departure of these ships but for some reason the orders to sink them got lost in the sauce. I believe what happened was that the attack was to be executed by F-117s, but they did not have the range and there was no provision for tankers to support such a mission, as the only tankers were already busy with another mission in the Borneo area. Due to the missile crisis, which was of course a top priority, the U.S. may have been distracted and forgot to plan a mission to sink the troopships.
Maylay Sub makes contact with amphib fleet
The first confirmed sighting of the U.S. task force did not occur until June 17, one day before the landing at Muara. The sighting was sent by the last remaining Malay sub, which happened to be exactly in the path of the task force. It listed the exact bearing and size of each contact, the number of screws heard, and the distance from the sub that each contact was detected. Its transmission was abruptly cut off when it was sunk by an Osprey-launched torpedo, but it did get off one vital clue related to the fleet's heading. "Fleet course has changed to 1..." was the message, and since the sighting occurred due north of Muara, I would argue that any heading below 200 degrees meant it was going in the direction of that port. This clue was missed, along with a chance for the Malaysian troops to relocate to the intended landing area.
The formation of PHIBRON 11 as it approached Muara.
Admiral Nick vs. Admiral Jimmy
Nick's sub was in perfect position as the U.S. task force approached. Unfortunately, Admiral Gager had done two things to lessen the sub threat. First, he planned a very aggressive, full-csourt-press ASW sweep augmented by his two SV-22 Ospreys that extended well ahead of the task force's path. I believe this level of vigilance would have resulted in a fatigue penalty of some sort after a few days, but given that the order was only put into place a day or two before the sub made contact, I did not factor this in. The second tactic was to spread out the fleet whereby ships were no closer than 7 miles apart. This meant that a sub could not attain many targets from a single firing position. This also detracted from the sub's ability to sight the entire fleet, to some degree.
Even with the intensive ASW search, however, I figured the odds of an Osprey dropping an active sonobuoy within the required 2 miles of the sub (as quoted from H4 rules by Nick) was about 1 in 3. Well, the dice rolled in Jimmy's favor, and the Osprey found the sub. Just before the sub was destroyed, however, it launched two torpedos toward the nearest contact, which resulted in the sinking of an OH Perry frigate. This was the first and only U.S. warship sunk by the Malay navy.
Malay sub makes contact with PHIBRON 11.
In the closing hours before the landing, Nick left orders for a suicide attack on the amphib fleet by his Handalan torpedo boats, which until this time had been holing up on the southern side of some islands near the Bay of Brunei. The Handalans could make something like 35 knots, and it was thought that if the U.S. fleet had not yet gone active with their radar, they might be able to get within range of an Excocet launch. The ships were not active, but an AWACS (or was it a Hawkeye?) was patrolling some 100 miles away and alerted the fleet. The Handalans got within range, but the Exocets were intercepted by the U.S. cruisers' AEGIS system. The Handalans died a quick death by Harpoon missiles moments after the Exocets launched. This was the last confrontation before the amphibious assault some 12 hours later.
Torpedo boat attack on PHIBRON 11 during final approach.
Landing at Muara
The following is a summary of the landing which was played by CPX on September 26. For details of this battle, please refer to the separate CPX AAR that was submitted in early October of this year.
Having failed to track the direction of the U.S. amphibious fleet during the MBX, the Malays could not commit forces to Muara and meet the landing in strength. This left only one possibility for a victory: if the shore garrison could detect and somehow delay the U.S. advance a bit, the rest of the 2nd Brigade might be able to get to Muara and build up a defense quickly enough to contain the U.S. and perhaps even cause some major damage. This, in turn, would allow time for Scott Gainer's 1st Brigade, which was over 2 hours away in western Brunei, to arrive and finish them off. Unfortunately for the Malay team, James and Steve had planned a series of air strikes to prevent just such an occurence. First they hit two key bridges in central Brunei which cut off all Malaysian forces west of the Sungai Tutong river in central Brunei, at least for quite a few hours. Another airstrike targeted the 2nd Brigade HQ and its 1st Battalion command post in BSB, causing delays to artillery and helo deployment.
After landing, the three companies of AAV7s steamrolled past the shore defense along the beach then fanned out to secure a larger area and begin their push inland. Two of these companies took heavy losses from a combination of tanks, helo, and anti-tank gun fire, but the rest of the game was all-U.S. Malaysian reinforcements were decimated as they entered the map from the south by Rangers and the southern blocking force (just south of the map). Even more damaging was U.S. air interdiction, which caught many Malay mech companies in column both on and off-map. (To see how off-map airstrikes were gamed, see game mechanics section). Of the mech and tank units that leaked through, many were killed by another two companies of Rangers in each of the two towns along the east-west road. Only a single tank platoon broke through, which unluckily was spotted by a passing M1 platoon in the mangroves just before it could open fire on the newly landed company of LAVs.
The CPX ended in a major U.S. victory, with the U.S. poised
to capture the port of Muara and secure the entire sector (502-S),
while destroying roughly half of the 2nd Brigade in the process.
The 1st Brigade was a no-show, thanks to the brigdes that were
hit the day before. Gary ordered a general retreat (uh, excuse
me Gary, I mean a "withdrawal"
Incidentally, Gary, who had switched hats for the CPX and was now playing Scott's role as Army Commander, wanted to launch a nuclear missile strike (presumably at invasion force arriving in Muara) I but this was prevented by the loss of communication with the mainland due to U.S. air strikes on all radio, microwave and telephone exchanges the night before. Had the U.S. not taken out these targets the game would have ended very differently. Gary would have been taking a huge risk and would have lost because the U.S. had a full-scale, launch on warning in effect, which meant that a few minutes after the Marines would have been wiped out, so would all of Malaysia! (Amazing, how history can so easily take such drastically different courses!)
After the CPX was over I realized I made a number of errors in my calculations that were very unfair to both the U.S team and the Malaysian team. For instance, after further thought I now think that the first sighting of the approaching AAV7s probably should have occurred 15 minutes before the landing, not 45 minutes before as I had gamed it. I also should have added 30-45 minute delays to all of the Malaysian 2nd Brigade units, not just those attached to Brigade HQ. I also did not factor in the traffic problems that would occur on a jungle road when a column of armored units are hit by airstrikes. All of these mistakes no doubt hurt the U.S. team a great deal.
On the other hand, I feel these mistakes were more or less offset by other factors which were just as damaging to the Malaysian side. To begin with, Steve Althouse was late in sending the final orders for the Marine landings, and even these left out details that I had to figure out on my own. This put me in a death-race to make the CPX start time and I was forced to skip an entire status report for the Malaysian side. I felt this was unfair to the Malaysian team, who had no chance to assess the intel gathered in the last 12 hours of the MBX and make adjustments prior to the landings. I also made some errors on the Malaysian side, such as forgetting to game the land mines and barbed wire, and the recon units that patrolled between Patrol Base 4 and Muara. Also, had I remembered the AEGIS capabilities of the U.S. cruisers, I probably would have given the Malays some other weapons, for game balance. On the whole, I would say my errors pretty much cancel each other out.
The war ends
I asked Gary to tell me what his plans were for his team following the results of the CPX. (The U.S. plans were already set by the scenario brief -- to liberate Brunei.) Gary ordered his remaining troops to withdraw southwest to Belait province, which includes the Seria oil fields. He offered to turn over Tutong province (where the capital was) and eastern Brunei to UN peacekeeping forces, and to continue to fight it out in the UN in hopes of keeping the oil fields. The UN did not support Malaysia, however, and with vastly superior U.S. forces arriving in Muara the Malays would eventually be forced to leave Brunei, one way or another.
Summary -- Umpire's Conclusion
As a pure military operation, the MBX/CPX has to be considered
a major victory for the U.S. team. A beachhead south of Muara
was secure, and the port itself -- the port closest to the capital
-- was soon to be captured. The capital would therefore have been
liberated within 48 hours of the Marine landing, or within three
weeks of the start of the conflict -- quite a respectable military
achievement, imho. Their victory was tainted, however, by a number
of political incidents, some of which were brought on by the Malays,
some of which were brought on by themselves. The U.S. failed to
preserve either the Royal Guard or the Crown Prince, which means
Brunei would be left with the weak and decadent Jefri (who would
probably be tried for treason by his own people once the truth
got out about his complicity with the Malays). This means the
U.S. would be obliged to leave troops in Brunei for an indefinite
period while a new heir is named and coronated (probably not a
problem, given the progeny of the Sultan's harem
The biggest embarrassment for the U.S., however, was the accusation of war crimes by the top U.S. commanders (James, Steve, maybe Ned?) by the UN. While these guys might have been heros to the American public for their military prowess, I would think being hauled into court as alleged war criminals would have to be considered a horrifying humiliation both domestically and abroad, regardless of the Court's ruling. Personally, I was shocked at this action, though I must admit, between the sinking of the neutral ships and the blase attitude about bombing urban areas the U.S. didn't come off looking as much like the "good guys" in this war as they did in Desert Storm. To be fair, however, the U.S. team probably had no idea they were under this kind of scrutiny as the rules were never clear on this point. In fact, it's fair to say that many of these rules kind of formed as we went along, which will always affect somebody unfairly. (See next section on Lessons Learned about running future MBX games).
As for President Baldwin (Steve's alter-ego), he was re-elected handily with 74% of the vote. This was calculated from the 50 (out of a possible 60) points in winning the war, plus 22 points from the US-lurker "swing votes" (out of a possible 30) and 2 points (out of a possible 10) from world opinion, as represented by the UN. (The UN vote was polled on a scale of 1-to-5, with 1-condemn, 2-reprimand, 3-no change, 4-support, 5-strongly support).
The Malaysian team suffered a major defeat, as they had lost Brunei as well as their navy and most of their air force. They had also lost a major portion of their communications and transportation infrastructure, though this would be repaired in time. Yet, they still managed to eke out a few small victories, both military and political. Militarily, they sunk two U.S. escort ships along with a significant portion of the U.S. submarine fleet. Two U.S. special ops teams were caught and butchered, dispelling the myth of the much-vaunted U.S. covert ops training. The Malays also succeeded in eliminating the Crown Prince, making the issue of leadership Brunei a murky one and robbing the U.S. of a total victory.
But these were isolated achievements which did little to strengthen their defense of Brunei or increase the odds of meeting their victory conditions. In terms of operations-level planning, which is what this MBX was mainly about, I would have to say the U.S. out-performed OPFOR by a wide margin. In my opinion, I believe this is directly attributable to the U.S. team's stronger central command, which allowed overall coordination of team efforts on a day-to-day basis. Because the Malays lacked this central control, forces were deployed -- and ultimately destroyed -- piecemeal, rather than working together for a unified goal. Of course, with three separate commanders on the Malay side and something of a vaccuum between them and the Prime Minister, there was only so much this team could do short of holding IRC meetings now and then to maintain coordination efforts. (I believe this was attempted once or twice but never came off due to time zone differences.)
Politically, however, I felt the Malaysian team showed remarkable diplomacy skills and proved to be a more slippery target than Saddam Hussein! Their efforts to reshape public opinion with constant filibusters, feigned peace offerings, and creative interpretations of international law kept a constant haze around the truth, and while it may not have gotten them off the hook for invading Brunei or achieved any victory conditions per se, it did help dampen the rebellion of the Brunei people and forced the U.S. team to take time out from their mission planning and respond to the issues. This, in turn, may have caused the U.S. to drop the ball a couple of times. (For example: an intended bombing mission aimed at sinking the troopships in Johor Baharu somehow fell through the cracks, and orders to deploy the SEAL team were fumbled, causing them to insert a day late. Both of these faux pas happened during times of heated diplomacy wars.) While it's hard to say how much the politics affected U.S. military operations, it's clear that the U.S. was at least partially hampered by this aspect of warfare. (Though U.S. morale improved dramatically once their finger caressed "the button" for a day or so, forcing the Malays to squirm. Totally sadistic, but fun to watch.:->)
As for Gary's personal victory conditions, he won 41 out of a possible 100 points (10 points shy of a personal victory) but was not ousted by the Council of Regents. Not bad, considering his country lost the war. Because of his team's respectable tactical victories (defense of Kota Kinabalu, sinking of two ships and 3 subs) and his decision to acquire ballistic missiles and launch them, I deemed that he indeed increased Malaysia's prestige as a military power (21 out of a possible 30). I also judged that even though Malaysia had almost no navy or air force and its communications were shattered temporarily, I judged that it could still defend itself to some degree (13 out of 20). Gary also brought Indonesia aboard as a passive ally (5 out of 10), though the real credit should go to his military staff for that, since their actions is what won them over. Gary did not boost the Malaysian economy by seizing the lucrative oil fields, however (though I gave 2 points for the last-minute looting of Seria's oil before withdrawing from the area -- based on the assumption that, given Gary's final orders to "fight it out in the UN," the Maylays could stall for a week or two before being forced to vacate the area). He did not convince anyone at the UN that his country had a right to seize Brunei in the first place, so a big goose egg there, but that was clearly the toughest of his challenges.
U.S. Team -- Major victory, shadowed by alleged war crimes.
U.S. President -- Re-elected.
Malaysian Team -- Major defeat.
Malaysian Prime Minister -- Minor defeat, still in power.
The most important information during the course of the game was the position of the forces, which was plotted on a realistic map of Borneo and the South China Sea (a big hearty thanks to Nick Moran for sending me a screen shot of his Harpoon 2 map!). This was the Operations Map, (or OPSMAP), of which there were always two versions at any one time -- one for the U.S. and one for the Malaysians. These were hand-drawn maps which I created using icons of my own design for fairly detailed recognition (frigates, carriers and patrol boats all had different icons). Sometimes, when I needed to see all of the forces at once, I would merge the markers on both maps and create a third map -- the Umpire's Map, which only I could see. This helped in tracking forces which were operating in close proximity to one another, so I would be sure to report any sightings.
Once I determined that two units were close enough to possibly detect one another other (or open fire on each other) I would switch to the Harpoon game and let its engine determine whether they saw each other or not. First, however, I would have to recreate the situation using the Harpoon Scenario Editor, measuring distances between units to make sure the distance between game units in the Harpoon game matched up with the OPSMAP. Generally this didn't take too long, because the units involved during any single skirmish were usually very few.
Most of the naval and air combat was generally handled by Harpoon, while the tactical ground combat was resolved using TacOps. Unfortunately, computer Harpoon has many holes and inaccuracies which I did not know about when I proposed this game but which I found are greatly disturbing to players who actually know a thing or two about naval operations. My version of Harpoon (for the Mac) was even worse in this regard, since it predated the somewhat more accurate Harpoon 2. Because of this lack of realism, I ended up gaming many encounters with a die roll, using Harpoon 4 miniatures rules (H4), which Nick Moran quoted from frequently, or a probability chart that I would create simply on judgment to help supply the missing factors not included in the computer game. (For examples of this, see Die Roll section, below).
While this MBX certainly saw a fair share of naval and air
engagements, I would say 80% of the Harpoon simulations that I
ran were never reported!!! That's because I constantly had to
simulate ship and aircraft movements and sensor activity in order
to check and see if anyone was spotting anyone else. This was
one of those "invisible chores" that added hours upon
hours of work each week, but were never seen or appreciated by
the players (sniff, sniff -- enter sad-sounding violin here
Something else that may not have been immediately apparent to the players was that most Harpoon engagements had to be played at least twice; once from each side. That's because the AI in Harpoon cannot be edited or adjusted once a scenario is in play the way it can in TacOps. This tended to cheat the side represented by the AI. To get around this, I would often run the sim twice and take the average of the two results.
But many times, even this was not enough. I often found myself breaking the engagement down to dozens of tiny segments, switching back and forth between red and blue. (Blue = U.S., Red = Malaysia). That's because in order to get in orders to one side or the other at the appropriate time, I would have to stop the simulation and switch sides. Usually I would deem whatever happened up to that point as official action (which I would note and report later). Upon switching, I would continue the simulation from the other side until the original team's units needed to be given new orders, at which point I would stop the game again. A single engagement, such as the air strike on Kota Kinabalu, for example, where different planes are firing at different targets every few seconds, might entail switching sides as many as 12 to 15 times. This was made even more complicated by the need to break out the Scenario Editor and edit the scenario in stages as the battle went on.
For example, let's say 4 F-18s are closing in on a pair of MiGs near an air base, and the SAM defense shoots down two of the F-18s before they launch their AMRAAMs. Let's also say the MiGs have SOPs that say to go to afterburner and outrun the AMRAAMs, if possible. Once the SAMs take out the two F-18s, I would have to stop the sim, go into the scenario editor, remove two F-18s from the scenario, save it, then start the scenario again at that point, this time from the other side. I am now playing on the Malay side and once the F-18s fire I can now give orders to the MiGs to go to afterburner, piloting them manually as best I can to dodge the missiles. Suppose one of the two MiGs gets away, and the F-18s do something stupid and keep chasing the MiG, even though they now know there are SAMs down there and it is dangerous to do so (typical in computer Harpoon -- AI is rather Terminator-like, once ordered to attack a unit). I would have to stop the battle again, edit out one of the MiGs, then continue on the U.S. side so I could order the F-18s away from the SAMs. And so on, and so on.
Other complications of Harpoon
Getting around the many limitations of Harpoon required a lot of improvisation, knowledge and attention to detail. For example, if a sub is supposed to be in shallow water it can't use its towed array sonar. But in Harpoon this shallow water rule does not seem to be in effect, and quite often there was no shallow water in the area of the map where I was conducting the simulation. So if Harpoon says the sub that's supposed to be in shallow water detects an enemy vessel I had to make sure and look at the method it used. If it used towed array I would discount the sighting and not report it. If the sub was being played by the AI, however, this presented other complications, because once the AI detects a target it usually fires at it. Since I cannot turn off towed array (passive sensors are always on) the only solution is to switch sides with the AI, ignore all towed array sightings, then, once some other form of detection has revealed a contact (e.g., visual, active sonar, etc.), I would switch sides again and continue as before. (Are you guys following this?)
Faking the Geography
Many people asked me what battleset of Harpoon was I using, and how I was able to model naval operations in the South China Sea since the mac version of Harpoon has no such battleset. I actually used the GIUK battleset (even though Iceland is much smaller than Borneo), but the real answer is that I could have used any map. In an MBX, engagements occur sequentially, in tiny bite sized pieces, so there is little relevance between the forces and the land, other than the need to steer clear of it. When a base or port is involved, usually only one is of concern at any one time. Replicating this was simple; just make sure there is a base or a port at about the same distance and heading as the port in the game. So if a sub launches TLAM missiles toward a base that is supposed to be 90 miles to the south, it makes little difference if that base is on Borneo or Iceland. Assuming the base in Harpoon is outfitted with the correct number of planes and helos as in the MBX, the number of aircraft destroyed would still be the same.
Steve Sim had sent me a diagram showing me the pattern that the SAM launchers should be deployed in for all bases and ports. He was using Chinese-made KS-1 SAMs for his long-range AD which are somewhat shorter ranged than Patriots, but because he positioned them several miles forward and seaward of the base or port they were protecting, the range between these two missiles were effectively the same. So I was able to use the Patriot-equipped bases and ports in the Harpoon simulations as long as the U.S. air strikes approached the bases and ports from the direction of Cubi Point (which they did). The bases and ports were also equipped with SA-9s, but these were rarely used after the first major attack because the U.S. would always be well out of range of these units.
Virtually all game activity other than combat and sensor detection was resolved by dice. The dice in fact guided everything from morale, to leadership qualities, to the part of a vessel being struck by a torpedo. Believe me, anything that could be the least bit variable was controlled by those little plastic cubes.
The Malaysian team, quite understandably, became quite hateful of those dice, because they caused some spectacularly bad luck to befall them at critical moments. One of their four subs developed engine early on, and ended up being drydocked for the entire game. (Having their last sub picked up by Jimmy Gager's Osprey was quite unfortunate as well, and the lack of alertness on the part of 1st Brigade sentries in spotting the U.S. specwar units was another in a long list of bad rolls.) In point of fact, however, they probably had almost as many lucky rolls as they had bad ones. It's just that the good rolls were not very attention-getting. For example, there were no less than 15 incidents that could have caused widespread rioting in Brunei, a situation that would have drained Malaysian resources dearly if it had gotten out of hand. But after as many die rolls, only one of them turned into an actual riot and the next die roll, combined with Scott Gainer's strong, affirmative response to the situation, suppressed it. The U.S., on the other hand, had its share of bad luck too, especially with regard to its subs being unable to detect Malaysian subs on two different occasions.
Personality traits of key subordinates
Another use of the dice was to help determine the type of officers and subordinates in charge of various missions. One of the best examples of this was the character makeup of Captain Madhi, the intelligence officer who shot the Crown Prince. This killing was not preordained; it was the result of a long series of die rolls that decided many human variables and traits (fear, suspicion, fatigue, etc.) which factored into the battle of wills between Captain Madhi and the U.S. ambassador and the Marines at the embassy.
Given Scott's determination to prevent the Prince's escape, and the Malaysian team's strong suspicion that an escape was indeed in the making, I created a die-roll chart that gave the U.S. a slim (but not hopeless) 1-in-6 chance of dissuading Captain Madhi from removing the bandages from the "victim." Failing this, which they did, the U.S. had two more chances to save the Prince. 1) The U.S. could have ordered the Marines to shoot Madhi if he attempted to remove the bandages. They did not give this order (which is understandable, as it may have been farther than they wanted to take it) so that left one last chance: the Marine sargeant gets upset over the maltreatment of the victim (not realizing it is the Prince) and threatens Madhi at gunpoint on his own initiative. This was a 1-in-6 chance, too, but as I recall this actually happened. I then rolled again to see if Madhi would back down. I rolled a bravery factor of 5 out of a possible 6, which to me suggested he would call the Marine's bluff. So he ripped off the bandages, and instantly recognized the Prince.
Now things get interesting, because at this point another character comes to the fore -- the Brunei customs officer. Due to time constraints, there had not been time for the Maylays to properly screen this official to make sure he was loyal to the new Brunei government. Against 6:1 odds again, he turned out to be a Crown Prince sympathizer! So now I had to roll to determine his level of action, with1=nothing, and 6=take the bullet for the Prince. I rolled a 4 -- which was enough for him to pull his gun from his holster and warn the Captain not to shoot, but with a fearlessness factor of 5 for the Captain, I judged he would go ahead and shoot the Prince even though his own life would be forfeit. He only had a chance to fire one shot, but I rolled again to determine the Captain's markmanship and got a 6. This translated to a lethal shot right in the back of the head. The customs inspector fired point blank and killed the Captain (chances were only 1 in 3 of wounding or missing). I then rolled to see if any of the Marines was jittery and/or spooked. Two of them were, and they shot the customs inspector.
Of course I could have just written whatever I wanted to happen without all of the die rolls, but generally rolling dice takes very little time and I feel the scenario is more true to life because it is following the laws of probability (even though I am the one making up the probability, most of the time). As in life, any number of possibilities can occur, but the one that does occur is in fate's hands, not in ours. The dice are a great way to represent fate, imho.
Tactical (TacOps) maps
Even before reading Clancy's story I had created a map with beaches and a port (Map 502, also available at the MBX website) just for this purpose. Since Brunei was pretty much a long, unvarying stretch of beach dotted with half a dozen ports or so, I decided this map could be used to represent virtually the entire stretch of Brunei's shoreline, thereby avoiding the need to create lots of different coastal maps. It also happened to have swamps and mountains in the interior areas which, as it turned out, is somewhat typical of the terrain in northern Borneo. [NOTE: swamps would have swallowed up M1s, but allowed the lighter Malaysian Scorpion tanks to pass.] One area that did not fit the beach-port profile was the town of Seria, which was supposed to have a lot of oilfields and refineries. I decided to use the Major's "test map" that he sent to some of us Mac users for testing his mapmaking application (which was a horizontally inverted Map 15 that had its low ground flooded) since its terrain was flatter and I could place lots of oil storage tanks on it. Non-coastal areas were represented by other standard TacOps maps, and any battles involving islands were to be represented by TacOps Map 16 (the island map).
The BSB map was taken from an actual street map of Bandar Seri Begawan, which I simply pasted and encoded using the Major's Mapmaker application. One of the hidden tricks of this map was the fact that the western side of the river was all high ground. This was considered to be a valuable piece of tactical information that the U.S. would not know unless they experimented with the map, or unless Barry arrived there. while the Maylays would be well familiar with the elevation since they are there, on the spot and can look out across at it.
This was one of the trickiest part of the project: the transition between the operational movement of troops and equipment to the landing phase, where the TacOps units are approaching the beaches in landing craft. The U.S. had given specific instructions for allocating its troops to these craft, so all I had to do was list them and tack the list on my wall for easy reference in case something happened.
The most complicated part of running this CPX was figuring out the various off-map activity that eventually would affect the on-map battle, one way or another. Reinforcement arrival times, off-map air interdiction, artillery shelling the transports... these were just a few of the many interactions that would impinge on the upcoming CPX, either just prior, or during, the actual battle.
The big secret in executing all of this was simple: I basically gamed out all possible off-map engagements, movements and interdictions the night before the CPX, then noted the effect of these engagements and the time that they took place. I then had crib notes taped all around my computer with a running time-line of each event. Then, at the appropriate time during the CPX, I would report them. The effect as far as the players are concerned was that these actions were happening in real time, when in fact they had been pre-ordained the night before. Examples of this pre-game process are as follows:
To represent the landing craft, I used 10 M113s joined together as one stack of units to represent one LCU (Landing Craft, Utility) and 4 M113s to represent an LCAC (air cushioned hovercraft). I may not be remembering the exact numbers here, but the idea is to give the landing craft some durability, allowing them to withstand mines and ATGMs to some degree before being completely destroyed. The last LCU, in fact, did hit a mine that had not been cleared by the SEALs and the U.S. lost a few LAVs in the process. (Most survived, however). LCACs ran a 1-in-6 chance of hitting a mine, while LCUs ran a 1-in-3 chance (bigger target). The Maylays, however, were not in a position to fire on the landing craft from the shore, so this did not come up during the landing.
Okay, now comes the mind-numbingly tedious part: The night before the CPX, I ran several simulations representing possible outcomes for the landing craft, beginning with a roll of the dice to determine their ability to navigate through the minefield. (Since SEALS inserted a day late they never finished removing all the mines). All of them made it through except for the last one, an LCU, which hit one mine. I noted the time that it struck the mine (about 7:40 or so, as I recall) with the intention of reporting the event at the appropriate time during the CPX.
I also had a plan for gaming the effect of artillery during the off-map approach of the landing craft. I never needed to implement this plan, however, because U.S. airstrikes had hit the brigade HQ, causing the artillery to be delayed.
Time of arrival for reinforcements
Most of my pre-game homework for the CPX had to do with figuring out the arrival times of various units which were coming from off-map locations. Using the Sector Map and the Response Time table which was posted at the MBX website, I calculated the time it would take for each company of the 2nd Brigade to arrive in Sector 502-S (Muara). For example, a company in the "reserve" mode (stationary, but not dug in) would need 30 minutes of preparation to begin moving in Travel formation (30 km/hr.). BSB was about 15 km., or 30 minutes, away from Sector S, which means the total arrival time for this company would be 1 hour. As another example, the 9th BDE/3rd battalion would move together as a unit, but being a full battalion it would need 45 minutes before it could begin its trek north (based on the chart), so the battalion would take an hour and 15 minutes to arrive.
Keep in mind that these arrival times were based on units being notified some 30-45 minutes before the Marine landing craft reached the beaches, which was timed for exactly 07:00. As I mentioned earlier, this early warning was probably far too generous, but this was made up for by my forgetfulness in gaming many Malaysian defense tactics which were in place (barbed wire, booby traps, mines, recon patrols from Patrol Base 4, to name a few).
Once I knew the arrival times in the Muara sector for each of the reinforcing units, it was pretty easy to guess when U.S. airstrikes would locate and hit them. Most of these air strikes occurred in Sector R just north of BSB airport, though a few occurred along the coast closer to Tutong and Lumut. Once I noted the times of each airstrike, I then used TacOps to simulate it and determine the amount of damage. Then I incorporated this into my reinforcement arrival chart to create a master script, showing the arrival times of each unit as well as any air interdiction results. Example:
7:20 - A Tank, B Tank
7:25 - 122mm arty
7:30 - Helo 2
7:40 - 1/B coy DESTROYED by a/s
7:45 - 1/A
7:50 - 9th/Tank A, B -- HIT by a/s, lost 10 tanks
7:50 - 9th/Tank C
7:55 - 2/A, C/1 -- HIT by a/s, lost 11 APCs
I usually remembered to report these events at the appropriate times, though sometimes I forgot until a few minutes after the attack was supposed to have occurred.
Each of these reinforcing units were set up at the extreme southern edge of the map, and given orders to move west along the map edge until reaching the highway. The time that they reached the highway matched up with the time of arrival as shown on the master script. Each of these units was already pre-attritted to reflect damage that had occurred from the airstrike. Unfortunately, I failed to make this gaming technique clear to the U.S. players, who at first thought the horde of enemy units clustered along the map edge was actually in the game. (I had forgotten that Barry's paratroopers were in the south on the high ground and could see everything.) This did not cause any major problems, since I disallowed any engagements with reinforcements until they neared the highway, reflecting the fact that they were supposed to be off-map.
The trick for me was to always keep one eyeball roving around the edge of my computer screen where all my crib notes were posted, so I wouldn't forget to report important off-map events. In general, though, the pre-scripted game events worked very well and was fairly easy to include in my CPX reports. I have not heard any feedback about this, but I would like to think it added a lot of realism to the game, and allowed everyone to feel as though a huge battle was raging all around them, not just on Map 502.
Special forces, Force Recon and SEALs were controlled differently than other units in the game. For example, let's look at the special forces unit that was inserted into the Seria vicinity. This unit was tasked with reconning the area, starting a guerrilla movement, and providing targeting information for sub-launched missiles and air strikes. Basil was sent in as the team leader, which in game terms meant that he would be allowed to receive detailed reports from his team members, but the rest of the U.S. team would not know what was going on until Barry reported in, about every 6 to 8 hours (game time). I threw in a risk of radio intercepts, too -- the greater the length of the message, the greater the risk of detection by the Malays. Thus, Barry almost always kept his reports to 50 words or less, the minimum amount that I deemed Malay radio operators to locate and home in on a signal. These rules allowed the U.S. to maintain brief, infrequent contact with Barry's team; which left Barry to guide the mission on his own initiative according his on-the-scene reports. This to me seemed realistic. Should Barry or his team have been extracted at any time or linked up with any U.S. fighting units, Barry could then have reported everything he learned in the team reports.
Throughout the game, the U.S. was receving reports on Malaysian troop positions and naval deployments throughout the South China Sea region through the use of three types of satellites -- photographic, ROSAT, and ELINT. The satellites were gamed conceptually, providing raw data that the U.S. team had to process into hard facts. (EXAMPLE: Battalion-level radio comms were detected in an area 4 km. due east of Badas. Photographic data does not show any sign of the supply, command, and support facilities normally associated with a command post of this size, however.) Occasionally, "close ups" would be sent to members of the U.S. team, such as the one showing troop positions around Muara and Seria. (These were actual screen shots of TacOps positions.)
Knowing that Malaysian pilots would probably not measure up to their U.S.-trained counterparts, I threw in a "pilot handicap" which curtailed Malaysian survival when up against any kind of air threat. Basically, I always ignored the first opportunity to fire a missile whenever it was granted by the Harpoon game engine. (This included dogfights, air-to-ground, or anti-shipping attacks.) This would subject the Maylay aircraft to any air defense threat for a longer period of time, and would perhaps allow the U.S. to get the jump on them in a dogfight. I levied no such penalty on U.S. pilots.
The one element in the pre-game setup that was not part of Clancy's story was the Royal Guard. I added this force simply to provide some tactical ground combat early in the MBX, since it was quite likely that there would be none until the day of the CPX. I also liked the idea of having the fight for the capital as a campaign element, where results of the battle with the RG would affect Malaysia's troop strength defending Brunei later on against the U.S. Also, had the U.S. managed to insert their specwar commander, the RG might have been withdrawn sooner in order to be used against the Malaysians at a later time. I allowed the U.S. to get in on the action in an indirect way by sending "advice" to the RG through their embassy, and later more directly by sending SF units and a military advisor (Barry Summers) to the battle. The embassy link gave the U.S. some influence over tactics from afar without being overtly involved, a rather new and different gaming situation, I thought, while the planned covert insertion would give at least one U.S. team member full command and control. Barry, as it turned out, was shot down in the Osprey and so he never did assume command of the RG (which could be viewed as a side-benefit of the shootdown.) Don't ask me where I came up with the vehicles and equipment of the Royal Guard. Since I was making it all up, I felt no need for any in-depth research.
Throughout the game, freighters of various types would be plotted as they moved along various shipping routes throughout the South China Sea and the Java Sea. Outbound ships represented Malaysian exports, while inbound ships represented imports. A few were Malaysian-owned, but most were from other nationalities. Destroyed imports would show up in the form of some sort of supply shortage, while sunken exports would slightly reduce Malaysia's wealth (which falls under the PM's victory conditions). A die roll would determine the type of material it was carrying -- ore, textiles, hi-tech goods/machinery, oil, food, and military supplies.
Throughout the MBX I had a large game calendar I drew up which allowed me to schedule in events that I would otherwise forget to excecute. On any given day, I could tell the position of the satellites, the date and time of departure of the Maylay troopships from Johor Baharu, the arrival date of the Shenyang fighters, or which equipment was scheduled to be repaired at the variouis Malaysian air bases and ports. Having this calendar handy also helped me answer questions from players about the progress of certain logistics or maintenance operations. Believe me, running this game would have been impossible without such a calendar.
For a scenario of this scale, both teams required a vast amount of information on enemy forces, terrain, weather, and political updates. The political updates mostly came by way of daily news stories which often carried bits and pieces of useful intel for both sides. The rest of the information -- such as weather reports, news updates, depth charts, intel on naval and air equipment and so forth -- was stored at a website specially devoted for this MBX. It took a great deal of work to get the operational, but once it was up and running it saved me a great deal of time because now players could retrieve information at their leisure and not have to go through me directly. A tremendous help in a project like this, and judging from the 1300 hits it received during the game it looks like I avoided a hell of a lot of e-mail requests. I was also blessed with the help of lurkers such as Jerry Hall, who provided me with some scenario notes of his own as well as Nick Moran, who supplied the naval intel pages and a secure website for Malaysian team infor. James Sterrett was equally helpful in providing a website for U.S.-only material.
General weapons intel
While TacOps comes with its own detailed database, most of the naval and air weapons and equipment in the game were listed at the MBX website. This allowed TacOps players who were not experts on naval equipment to familiarize themselves with the draft of the hull of a certain ship, let's say, or the degree of sensitivity of its sonar. (Thanks to Nick Moran for providing the naval intel links to this page.) I also created an intel chart for each of the aircraft in the game. Weapons were not found at this sight if they were supposed to be secret, however, but were later posted there once their existence was revealed.
Tables and maps
Besides the Time of Response Table that I mentioned earlier, I created a number of other tools located at the website to help players, and myself, determine the course and schedule of all travelling units in the game. One of the most important of these was the depth map, which was created by Scott Gainer, and showed the various ocean depths throughout the South China Sea region. I later used this map to created some other detailed charts showing the depth near the coast of Borneo. Another simple but useful graphic was a table showing the straight-line distances between each of the various cities in the game. This, in conjunction with the stats found in the aircraft area, was key in helping to plan missions.
My number one goal in this MBX was to provide a game that was fun for the players. According to most of the mail I've received, I think I accomplished that. When I think about how many people were involved in this venture, and for how long, I feel nothing but pride. Already I am hearing about other MBX projects in the works which appear to be based on the satisfying results of this one. To all those umpires who are working on such games, I wish you them great success.
As everyone involved in this project is no doubt aware, the work involved in running this MBX was simply collossal. Herculean. Life-crushing. Never ending. A self-created hell of my own creation that deprived me of sleep, companionship, meals and god knows what else. But when weighed against all the laughs, the excitement, the tension, the heated discussions, the sheer, frigging fun of it all -- man, it was all worth it. At least once, that is. It's an experience that is somehow unmatched by anything else I've done in my private or professional life, one I'll remember for years, I'm sure. Heck, how often do you get to say that about anything?
While I was able to bear the immense workload of this game,
there was, however, one haunting truth that I became aware of
which plagued me from day one and which plagues me still. While
it seems the concept of a combined arms MBX works quite nicely,
I was crushed to find that I was unqualified to run it! Being
a civvie with only a passing, surface interest in things military
I had nowhere near the expertise of the players, most of whom
were military professionals at one time or another, or people
who have made the study of warfare their life's work. While I
can get away with having only sketchy knowledge in a custom PBEM
game, running an operations-level MBX demands a profound breadth
and depth of knowledge that I doubt I will ever have. Time after
time, I would hear complaints (especially from the U.S. side,
where techonology and therefore knowledge is key) because I was
not up on my NSA surveillance methods, or the types of support
equipment and personnel that tags along in a typical military
operation. Fortunately, the players were up on those things and
for the most part were extremely helpful and patient in tutoring
me (especially when that new knowledge could be useful for adding
something to the game in their team's favor, like a "fugazi"
mine, or a ROSAT satellite.
Lesson 1. The scope of the scenario should not exceed the scope of knowledge of the umpire. In my case, this means I should probably go back to tactical, battalion level scenarios with limited mission objectives, at least until I do a hell of a lot more research. People like Steve Althouse, James Sterrett, on the other hand, would be superb candidates to run a scenario like the one we just played. (Steve was a one-man treasure drove of information for me the entire game -- he's an operations officer in real life), so if either of them decide to run an MBX such as mine, I'm sure they can show us all how it should be done.
Lesson 2. Keep your sense of humor. This was something James mentioned in his AAR, and I think this is hugely important. Running an MBX of this magnitude is enormously high pressured, and itÍs easy -- very easy -- too lose perpective and take things too seriously. Players complaining from both sides, players acting like GMs, lurkers acting like players, and the big one -- taking the heat when things don't go well for one side or another. No joke, I found myself close to tears some nights, and came that close to calling it quits right in the middle about 10 different times. At some point, you just gotta say, 'What am I doing? This is just a game! ' As soon as you can say that out loud, that's when you can blow it off and start having fun again.
Lesson 3. Any activity not directly related to either sideÍs main objective should be gamed conceptually, with as little player control as possible. My yearning to model anything and everything was out of control, and usually did more to blur the focus of each side's respective missions than it did to enhance the game.
Lesson 4. Give CinCs and/or the political leader (if there is one) the lowest rank possible within the context of the scenario. This is actually a corallary to Lesson 3. For example, in this game I should have made the CinC either the theater commander (as opposed to fleet or Pacific CinC) or the commander of the 31st MEU with naval and air elements attached to his command. The top politician, meanwhile, could have been played by the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. This allows the GM to take the top roles and keep everyone on track. In GaryÍs case the Prime Minister was probably okay, since he could still be controlled by the King (played by me). The GM needs to have this control to influence the pace, direction and focus of the scenario, so things do not spin out of control like they did in this game. Had I been President, I could have made up all kinds of reasons for not committing more forces to the Borneo conflict (thus keeping the scenario balanced).
Lesson 5. Define the rules and the scope of the scenario and make that definition clear to the players. Players cannot read the GM's mind. I was continually frustrated by players who were not 'getting it,' when the real truth was that I never fully explained what the rules were. For example, Deven, in his role as the MEU's S2, thinking he could have discussions with heads of state of various Pacific rim countries. His role was never defined in print, so I can't blame him for trying anything that popped into his head. This sort of thing happened often, and led to a lot of frustrating moments for both myself and the players.
Lesson 6. Use fictitious countries. Unless you are extremely knowledgable about real life military operations at every level, using a make-believe country like "Upsylvania" will free you from all the 'experts' on U.S., NATO or Soviet equipment and tactics, one of whom will always disagree with your choices.
Lesson 7. Insist on players sending in their orders on time, especially for STARTEX and the CPX. Missing deadlines for orders is inconsiderate and flat-out unfair to the umpire and especially to the other team. The game is several months long and if deadlines are posted at least two weeks in advance there is no excuse for tardiness. Make it clear that if players are late in sending in their orders their team will be penalized accordingly.
Lesson 8. Umpires should learn how to build their own website, for distribution of common materials during the MBX. (I learned to do it in less than a weekend, and I'm a certified idiot when it comes to the internet.) Having such a site saved me countless hours of data transfer time.
Lesson 9. Start with a fixed OOB and allow additions under two conditions: 1) Very low-tech, resourceful ideas should be added with little penalty, assuming the umpire can handle the workload, and 2) High-tech weapons should be added only if the scenario would be ridiculously unrealistic without them. 3) If advanced weapons or equipment is requested, tell the team requesting the equipment that their opponents will be given a choice of new equipment as well, to maintain game balance.
Lesson 10. If lurkers are to be used to represent UN members, give them a brief, simple set of victory conditions which reflect their country of origin. Also, give them a bit more control over the political leader's victory conditions than 10%. (Perhaps 25-30%). This will focus the political leader on his main job: politics, as opposed to becoming too much like another CinC, and perhaps create a bit more friction between him and his commanders which I think can be interesting.
Lesson 11. Research, research, research. I thought I had done my homework by reading Clancy's book, but it turned out that didnÍt even scratch the surface.
Lesson 12. Assuming you've done your research, do not let the players control you with comments like, 'if this were a real mission we'd have such-and-such units...' Stick to your guns and let people know you have researched the situation and you know what you are talking about. Once players get wind that you are putty in their hands, there's no end to the criticism and requests, which can be very draining after awhile.
While running a game of this magnitude is an insane amount
of work and should only be considered by those who have no families
or any hopes of seeing friends or loved ones in person for several
months at a stretch (a prison inmate would be a perfect umpire
Things I will miss:
Nick Moran's phone calls from Ireland.
Steve Althouse's superbly written portrayals of President Baldwin.
James Sterrett's great help and advise, as always.
Scott Gainer's mind-numbing, encyclopedaeic discourses on everything from fougazis, to satellite buoys to a Malay fan.
Deven, who played the MEU's Intelligence Officer, constantly pestering me to talk to the Peoples Republic of China.
Gary's constant carping for results from his staff.
The realistic formatting of Jimmy Gager's orders. (Scott Gainer's, too).
Steve Sim's insights on what it would be like in Singapore if this battle really happened!
Ned's reports on various sandbox tests under impossible deadlines!
Basil's command of special forces, and Barry's good humor and
gung-ho attitude. (Even though he died twice.
Joseph Hsie's tutoring on naval warfare.
Jerry Hall's invaluable scenario advice.
Carlton Hommel's unsolicited opinions.
Matt Ohlmer's earnest attempt to save the world from mass destruction.
Steve Gill's fabulous ENN pages.
And everyone else who contributed to this project.
Thank you, all.