Warfaresims have just released their epic modern Air/Naval wargame, called Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations, or as its being shortened to CMANO in the wargaming communities. The game went under the working title of “Red Pill” for much of its development cycle, and if I remember there was a competition for the release name of the game. Oddly the more than a mouthful CMANO won. I suppose it does what it says on the tin. Some just shorten it to Command, but nowadays there are enough wargames with Command in their title somewhere.
Anyway, if you have any interest in modern warfare past World War II, or the command of naval and air forces previous, present or in the future this could be the game for you. CMANO neatly slots into a niche where only the likes of the ancient mariner Harpoon once sailed. But more importantly it attempts to bring that niche up to date with modern PC’s, and a Windows based UI that should simplify the process of managing the complexity beneath this epic simulation.
Since release, I’ve been mesmerised by the title. Harpoon was always a title I wanted to sink deep into its murky depths and come up excited, but the arcane UI’s and confusing and often broken versions of the game from years past, just left me grounded in a mire of frustration and exasperation. CMANO manages to crack open shell of a complex simulation, and give you the tools from a Google Earth style Geosat map to organise large scale or intimate modern warfare. Coupled with an extensive database of hardware, launch platforms, missiles, sensors, electronic counter measures and more across the eras – it really is a Military Porn lovers wet dream.
I’ve been playing through the tutorial missions and the first one, the Air Tutorial is quite a layered affair that can draw you in, and almost forces you to play it several times to perfect your art of managing air patrols and strikes from 1983. Since I spent so much of my initial time with the game, I felt I owed it an AAR of sorts. I went from a clueless clicker throwing all his jets into a cacophony of chaos, to a planner of missions and a commander of strike waves and target acquisition and take down. It was an evolution of sorts, growing with each attempt, and learning the quirky mechanisms for planning proper sorties and trying to synch them in real time to strike at the most opportune moment.
I want to share that knowledge, from a hopeful enthusiast, to any new players out there.
Loading the scenario, you are presented with quite an in depth briefing. You are commanding Carrier Wing 15 stationed at the Naval Air Station “Fallon” in the Nevada desert. The year is 1983, and you have to take down the “Red Forces”.
Whoever wrote the briefing put a lot of effort in to it, to describe the situation, and a lot of stages you need to go through to make a successful strike on the Red base. As the tutorial plays out, each phase of your attack prompts you with chunks of the info presented in the briefing to help guide you. You pick your side and jump in.
Theres an initial Bombing Range setup for you, between three reference points (RP) – shown as yellow diamonds on the map when active. This the first indication as to the location of the enemy. CMANO uses RP’s to define areas of action for the Mission editor. You can turn these RP’s on or off, just my selecting them. You can see NAS Fallon with its runway, and you can also see another base much closer to the range. This other base is the actual location of NAS Fallon, but the tutorial has been tweaked based on community feedback and the training location gives the new player more time to assemble his air wing before the enemy shows up.
This is a prime example of how Warfaresims devs are out in the various wargame communities (Matrix, Grogheads, Wargamer), listening to feedback, and then making updates accordingly. This is VERY encouraging for the future evolution of the game.
So, selecting the NAS Fallon training location, and opening up the Air Ops list (by clicking the Aircraft button) you can see the array of aircraft you have in the Hangars waiting instruction – Tomcat’s Corsairs, Intruders in both combat and support loadouts, Hawkeyes and Prowlers. Even though this is a tutorial, you have a formidable arsenal of airborne kick-ass at your disposal.
To start things off, I set the time going, at 1 sec intervals – just to let our sensors kick in and get a first glimpse of the enemy. Even our training base is still quite close to the enemy setup, so our land based sensors will show them up and flag them red on the map. As expected they’re all clustered within the Bombing range RP area. I switch on the relief map, which gives you a higher resolution high contrast view of the landscape between you and the target. Very useful for planning low altitude stealth strikes covered by mountainous regions. If you’re working in close, it’s worth going to the relief map for better definition.
For information, I quickly flick on the Datablock info for all units, which paints the map with the identifying information available. As you can see the enemy base is a Runway, surrounded by hangars (presumably stacked with enemy aircraft), Aviation fuel bunkers, Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) and Runway access points. At this early stage, I know that taking out the Runway and the access points will virtually ground all enemy aircraft, without even attempting the rough task of destroying HAS’s. It’s not practical to have all this info on the map at once, during normal play – but it is very useful in gathering intel on map, before you plan your strike missions.
Also spotted are the Surface to Air Missile (SAM) sites, the bain of incoming aircraft. These puppies are going to have to be high priority targets, along with any Radar station.
Most units in the game have an extensive database record that you can peruse by clicking the “Type” button. Here’s the page for that SAM site. The amount of detailed information on display is sometimes overwhelming, but once you begin your journey into the world of modern warfare, these pages become fascinating insights into the systems and sub-systems attached to weapons of war. Sensor arrays, and mounted weapons, with numeric and additional helpful notes for use within the gameplay. Targets, speed, range, quatity all important in making decisions about how to plan a successful strike.
Right, onto the “plan”. The NAS Fallon runway, only has a limited number of slots to get aircraft up, and we currently house like 60+ – so timing is going to be everything. We need a way of getting birds in the sky, but in a safe zone, where they can circle and loiter until we assign them onto a mission. So I create a single reference point (RP-274), in the valley just in front of NAS Fallon base, this will be my form up area. I will cycle planes up and out and then once airborne will co-ordinate them into appropriate mission objectives.
I open up the Mission Editor. One of the most useful and important bits of kit you have in the game. A fairly flexible mechanic for assigning units to particular tasks.
A lot of players like to micro-manage their units, down to speed and altitude, flight paths and when to attack. However, I prefer the more macro-managament level of play – where I set up the grander missions and let the AI subordinates take control of the vast majority of play. If anything needs fine tweaking at the front end, then I will attempt to take control – but I much prefer to be the one co-ordinating things, rather than having to individually worry about every planes altitude.
I create a new mission, name it FORMUP, and set it as a support type. Really I just want any aircraft I assign to it, to just launch and loiter. Since RP-274 was active, as I create the mission it auto-assigns it to the course setting. I want all my F14A Tomcats in the air, both the Screaming Eagles and the Sundowners. So I select them from the unassigned list and swap them into the assigned column. I set the 1/3rd rule off (which holds 1/3rd of your craft at the station as reserve) – I want them all up in the air. Et voila! I close the mission editor, and the FORMUP mission is now active.
If there are any enemy aircraft in the vicinity I need to know about it, and then knobble them with my F14A Tomcats, sporting air to air missiles. So in anticipation, I create an inactive Anti Air Warfare Patrol mission and center it in a triangular region just in front of the real NAS Fallon base, close to the enemy action. You can see the white crosses on the map that denote the deactivated RP region of the Bombing Range.
Having played this scenario several times, I have found that creating an active FORMUP mission, and slotting aircraft into it when necessary, gives me a holding area for ready to go pilots. Then I create a whole range of inactive empty Patrols, Support and Strike missions, that can be filled and activated according to my schedule. Any other way seemed to lead to absolute chaos. This methodology just feels right, and gives me a level of control over the missions.
I check the Doctrine and Rules of Engagement (RoE) settings for the mission – just to make sure, they’ll Return To Base (RTB) when ‘Winchester’ empty, they’ll take it easy on ambiguous targets, they’ll automatically try to evade potential dangers and will if possible maintain a standoff position towards the enemy – keeping out of their range, whilst engaging. You can also change the default settings for Emissions Control (EMCON) – active/passive Radar, Sonar and OECM (offensive Electronic Counter Measures).
Since I’ve already seen some of the primary targets highlighted – I roll up some inactive empty Strike missions to hit the Runway, SAM & RADAR sites and the Missile Assembly factories.
Finally I set up my support mission to send out the Jammers, the Early Warning craft and the Refuelling tanker. This RP area is in a similar triangular shape just behind the main AAW patrol, hopefully being screened from enemy bogeys.
I assign the appropriate aircraft to the Support mission.
Lastly, I check on my F14A Tomcats and their situation with forming up. From NAS Fallon’s Air Ops list, you can see that the Screaming Eagles are taxiing to take off, and the Sundowners are waiting for available taxi slots. It will take over 3 minutes of game time to get the Eagles airborne.
As time ticks over and the first of my Eagles gets in the air, all hell breaks loose on the sensor front. We have air contacts a-plenty. With the enemy range rings settings on it can get quite visually busy.
With bogey’s in the air, its time to assign the Eagles to my AAW Patrol mission, and activate it. Because I’ve had them form up in relative safety, they should be ready to rock and roll once this mission goes “live”. Topgun time.
My F14A Tomcats go in for the kill. We can see red “Vampire” missile contacts, from enemy aircraft and SAM sites incoming. Along with blue anti-air Sparrow missiles from my planes intercepting and splashing one lizard! The yellow contacts are unconfirmed radar traces at the moment.
As the Eagles scream in towards their Patrol area, their sensors pick up a possible mobile SAM platform, shown as an elongated yellow diamond on the map. The SAM could be anywhere in the yellow area at the moment.
Amidst the rather exciting action, we quickly look back to the Air Facilities of NAS Fallon, to check on the status of the Runways – and we can see my Sundowner Tomcats are just getting airborne, along with the support craft (Prowler, Hawkeye, Intruder Tanker).
Just for a bit of flavour I thought I’d show you a database entry for the F14A Tomcat, with an image in the database panel it really brings the dry information to life. Because of copyright issues the game doesn’t come with images embedded in the database, but on day one there was a community patch to apply that pushed a lot of images into the system – and they are essential for making the NTDS symbols spring to life in your imagination. You can customise your own images database if you want.
With the support craft up in the air, I make the mission active – which will hopefully bring them up in a wave just behind all the Tomcats doing their air to air “dogfighting” (I suppose that word is inappropriate in these modern fire and forget times).
Finally, I move the airborne Sundowners into the active AAW Patrol, so that they can join their Eagle brothers in the sky. Phasing them in this way, I was hoping I could provide a level of Air cover in depth, when the Eagles start to run out of ammunition, the Sundowners might still have some fight left in them.
Join me for part 2, and we’ll see if I can get a decent strike package together for those nasty “Reds”.