Long term readers will know that I have two forces for Team Yankee, a West German force and a Soviet/East German force. With a new edition finally here, I thought it was worth looking at what the new edition means for the beast from the east.
The biggest direct impact on the Warsaw Pact armour is the change in morale rules. At one time, MSU ruled the roost, especially with T-55AM2 units being very points effective in “companies” of three. However, with platoons understrength requiring a test each turn, these platoons become a liability. Instead, Warsaw Pact armour is going to have to go back to its roots and go big, especially those Pact members with a lower morale rating (looking at you, Czechslovakia), as well as keep the CO nearby so he can grant a re-roll. There is going to be a balancing act between a unit big enough to be able to survive an incoming salvo of fire and one small enough to be able to keep a couple of such platoons in sight and range of the command tank.
An indirect aspect of v2 to consider is the increasing growth in numbers of heavy, 3rd generation NATO armour. AT21/22 was fine in the early days of FA18, especially with relatively weak side armour 8 to allow some cheeky 30mm autocannon flanking courtesy of the BMP-2. However, we will likely increasingly see front armour increase to FA20 and side armour climb towards SA10, as with the unarmoured Challenger 1. This armour is going to be costly, but largely invalidates the Warsaw Pact missile advantage and vulnerability to autocannon fire.
Whilst 125mm fin is going to struggle from the front, it will still have its place turning a flank and putting a shot through the thinner side armour. This makes the stabilized T-72 and, especially, advanced stabiliser T-64 have their role in the force. Send a large company up each flank, with smoke for cover, and force the enemy to react and turn to face, opening the risk of a side shot from another angle.
The increased effectiveness of artillery is going to make the infantry man’s life harder for both sides, but in some ways, the Warsaw Pact is better served to survive the changes. Large unit sizes not only improve morale but also allow a larger unit coherency, offsetting the effectiveness of “artillery” weapons, if not “salvo” ones. The majority of Warsaw Pact forces are also going to battle in an armoured box which vastly negates a lot of the killing power of artillery – APC are tanks teams and so don’t re-roll saves for repeat fire! That said, the top armour 1 IFV is probably a safer home than the wheeled APC, and the best armour versus artillery is due to the mobility to not need to be under a template at all! As such, I think Warsaw Pact players are still going to want infantry. It will just be mounted up a lot more often!
Much has been written about the death of the BMP-2 but I believe a lot of it is overstated. Yes, the upcoming Challenger 1 suggests a trend of increasing armour that puts the BMP’s main weapons out of contention, but it also points to an increasing trend of expensive tanks that are going to see the armour either supporting cheaper elements (medium armour or infantry) or constrained to an HQ and two small platoons with weak, and very killable, supporting assets. A BMP-2 will still be a deadly threat for a Bradley or Warrior!
That said, it seems to me that the BMP-1 hits the sweet spot of protecting the communist infantryman. It’s cheaper than the BMP-2 with no loss in armour protection, with a gun and missile system that can defeat other light and medium armour and is, realistically, no more ineffectual versus FA20+! The only real downside is that it has a lower rate of fire on the move with its cannon, and gives up the potential for side armour shots versus Chobam equipped tanks, but the Air Assets can worry about armour.
Probably the biggest loser is the Afghansty. Air assaults are still too risky to pull off reliably in a game so the infantry will spend most of its time on foot, putting it right in the worse place to be in the WWIII battlefield. If NATO does increase its light and medium artillery presence, as well as take more anti-air to counter the increased threat from Hinds and SU-25, then the VDV will not be having a fun time.
Airpower is one of the big winners for the Red Army; handy given they also bring the hardest hitting anti-tank the Warsaw Pact has!
Soviet aircraft (and Warsaw Pact helicopters) have always had to contend with relatively short-ranged weapon systems, especially on the Hind whose missiles required the aircraft to enter the threat envelope of defensive 0.50 cal AA MG. Having downed a Hind with 7.62mm defensive fire on my Leopard 2, it did make the crocodiles somewhat less scary than they should have been (to be fair, the Geppards got the other three!).
The good news is that that AA MG now have to re-roll firepower tests to destroy aircraft, making them less of a reliable deterrent to pressing the attack. That’s going to make their AT23 AT-6 Spiral missiles all the more of a threat to NATO heavy armour.
Soviet airpower, like the rest of the Red Army, also tends to come in large numbers. This makes the change to the morale rules (aircraft basically won’t run away now) less useful to them than it is for NATO, but it will still keep a battered flight in the game as I expect NATO will be scrambling to add as much anti-aircraft to their forces as possible! The Warsaw Pact junior members will definitely benefit from keeping their four-Hind flights in the fight for longer – especially the Czechs!
Hinds were also benefiting from an increase to 8” coherency since it was introduced in the last LFTF FAQ, but the 6 ship SU-25 flight will also be able to better spread out as it makes its run in.
Soviet doctrine has always been artillery heavy but artillery in most TY armies was seldom seen, with maybe the odd unit of Hails or Carnations.
It’s fair to say that artillery is something of a double-edged sword for the pact. On the positives, they get access to a lot of it (a selection of Carnations, Arcadia, Hails, RM-70, Dana – almost all of them if you are Czechs) and all of them will benefit from the harder hitting nature of prolonged bombardments. The fact that one spotter can call in the repeated fire for one, then range in another on the same spot means that artillery can be focused on the threat areas and sustained, even if the OP gets whacked.
On the other hand, whilst every unit leader can still range, the +1 penalty for ranging with terrain under the template will make calling in adhoc fire support difficult for the non-Soviet Pact, and all but impossible for the Soviet Union with its skill of 5+. Thankfully observers still get their +1 ranging ability to offset that a little.
The impact of that is to place greater emphasis on the observer in the Warsaw Pact force, plus pre-ranged markers – not an unfair reflection of doctrine. The latter get a boon in that an observer doesn’t need to see them in order to use them, albeit at the cost of an extra +1 to hit. Pre-planned artillery markers can therefore be used somewhat aggressively to drive the opponent’s deployment by rendering ideal ambush spots for ATGW “No-go” areas. Anything that forces the enemy to move its missile teams is no bad thing.
Going forward, a couple 3-gun batteries of carnations, supported by an OP, is a relatively cheap investment for the Pact to exploit the artillery boon. The guns can place their markers on commanding terrain to influence the enemy set-up whilst the OP can be placed, ideally in cover, in a position to oversee any remaining “hot spots” on the advance to the objective so he can redirect fire as threats emerge.
The observer will be high up the enemy threat list, especially for Soviets who are so reliant on him, so a covered position will be essential. He just needs to survive long enough to get the pre-planned markers moved to a new position, then someone else can take over the role to maintain the fire.
Putting it to the test…
So, what could the optimum Soviet and Warsaw Pact force look like?
The Czechoslovakian force definitely looks impressive on paper – 16 x T-72M, eight anti-aircraft platforms, plus a MANPAD, 10 x BMP-1 and a 16 man infantry unit, three skill 4+ artillery units (one a salvo, all with smoke bombardment capability), plus two aircraft units. The low morale of 4+ and remount of 5+ are concerns, especially on the artillery units, but the fighting units have a large size to try and mitigate either stat having a massive impact. The air support and smaller T-72M unit make for an obvious 40pt reserve, still putting 9 x T-72, all the infantry and all the artillery on the board.
The Soviet equivalent trades some quantity for a bit of extra quality in the tank force, though arguably its losing quality in the artillery and anti-air department too.
We get nine T-64A on the table, combining the DU fin round with an advanced stabilizer chassis to really get that side shot in, the fearless Soviet infantry in BMP-1 artillery bunkers, the one-two punch of a quartet each of Hinds and Frogfoots but we have only two artillery units, both skill 5+ Carnation batteries, plus the anti-air missile is the so-so but cheap SA-9 Gaskin.
There is a temptation to drop to one artillery unit and buy either an extra T-64, a pair of Hinds, or a battery of STORM anti-tank vehicles plus upgrading the SA-9 to SA-13. All of the options increase the anti-tank punch at the cost of a smoke bombardment and some anti-infantry punch.
All in all, I look forward to putting the theory to the test. I certainly think v2 isn’t all NATOs way.