US Amored Combat Teams were always a much maligned beast in the original Team Yankee book, the Mech Combat Team being the ‘go-to’ competitive choice if US were selected at all, so they are very much in need of a boost with Stripes.
Stripes retains the M1 based Combat Team and introduces the M60 Armoured Combat Team equipped with the A3 version of the mid-cold war workhorse. Both share a similar structure of a HQ, two mandatory tank platoons, a third optional platoon, then Mortars, Scouts, ITV and Mechanised Infantry to add in-formation support.
Stay in Formation
The addition of the pair of scout sections is the first big change. These first appeared during the “Red Thunder” on-line campaign and remain unchanged here as a paired up M113 and M901 ITV with Scout and Spearhead for 2pts. Whilst not the most imposing of units in its own right, it gives the US Armor a badly needed cheap Spearhead unit that can be easily included to allow the mobility focused US Armour to get the most out of the missions that let Spearhead have an impact (Counter Attack, Dust-Up and Bridgehead). The M1 in particular really thrives as a flanking tank with high speed and a stabilised gun that really needs a flank shot to maximise its power so adding a scout platoon can put it in that position.
Winning the Air War – anti-aircraft options
The other benefit that Stripes brings is an improved anti-air capability. Previously the US Armor has had to rely on its own 7.62mm and .50 AA MG and a quartet of VADS. Generally that will suffice against a single platoon of Hinds but massed air from the Afghansty can really hurt.
Stripes adds three options:
The Sergeant York – basically a poor man’s Gepard and occupying the same slot as the VADS. It’s a pricier option but its higher firepower and anti-tank can give it a handy anti-BMP capability whilst its front armour of 4 give it a marginal save versus the BMP’s own autocannon.
The Chaparral – a true SAM capability for the US. Its range easily covers a whole table whilst packing a high firepower punch. It has a relatively low rate of fire so works better as part of a multi-system package. Like the Sergeant York, it’s a premium system when it comes to points.
Humvee mounted Stinger MANPAD – A low end SAM. It has the same rate of fire as Chaparral but a lower range. A good compliment for one of the premier systems or pair it up with VADS for a cheap but cheerful coverage option.
One could easily dump 20pts on an all-encompassing anti-air package. But unless the local meta favours Russian “leaf-blower” Afghansty lists I would recommend choosing one premium system (Chapperel/Sgt York) and pairing it with either VADS or Stinger. In my area air is a rare sight, so I’m more likely to go low end and pair up VADS and Stinger for a half-cost insurance option.
Best of the 80’s – the M1 Abrams
Looking at the tanks themselves, the M1 always felt a little over-priced for its effectiveness. It had very good armour, but massed Spandrel fire would inevitably find a chink and aircraft were a serious threat. Its gun was okay versus the armour 16 T-72 but certainly losing its edge versus the armour 17 T-64 – though any M1 commander worth his salt would be using that gas guzzling turbine to turn the flank.
The introduction of the IPM1 upgrade for a mere 1pt per tank gives the M1 a solid shot in the arm.
Flank fire from 30mm autocannons is no longer a concern and only hubris prevents me from saying that it is invulnerable to Spandrel and 125mm fire from the front (in a pre-battle report test game, our local US player Tom lost a platoon to Spandrels as he couldn’t roll anything but a 1 – probably because I helpfully kept saying “just don’t roll a one!). The gun and mobility is unchanged but the latter helps overcome the former. You could take a whole platoon of them for a mere 4pts extra but another (somewhat gamey) option is to mimic the ‘Stillbrew Shuffle’ British tactic of upgrading only one tank in the platoon and use ‘mistaken target’ to offload a shot onto the up-armoured tank.
The cost does add up though. A pair of 3 tank IPM1 platoons and a single HQ IPM1 burns two thirds of an 85pt force but we do still have enough to round out the formation with a full strength Mech platoon, a pair of Scout sections and add some force support anti-aircraft cover with 4 VADS and 4 Humvee mounted Stinger MANPADS.
Old Dog, New Tricks – M60A3 Abrams
The M60A3 goes to the other end of the scale. Rather than making an expensive but nigh-unkillable tank, the M60A3 is very killable but has friends!
For the cost of a single 4 tank IPM1 platoon we can get a Formation HQ and two four tank platoons, more than doubling the number of rounds we can send down range.
The M60A3 packs the same punch as the Abrams as it has the same long-rod DU firing 105mm equipped with range finders, thermal imaging and a standard stabiliser (so two shots on the move at 10” tactical, or at 14” tactical with a +1 to hit). It pays for that with reduced frontal protection, vastly reduced side protection and a major hit to mobility which will really limit the ability to turn a flank.
However, with meta still favouring the BMP horde, the M60A3 may be more useful to the US player. It can still move and fire its gun sufficiently well to stay out of sight on the defence until the enemy enters its kill zone. It can then make a tactical move to a concealed firing position and rattle off 8 AT20 shots per platoon that will easily turn a BMP-2 inside out, whilst having numbers to lose tanks to the return fire next turn before shooting and scooting the survivors the following turn. It’s going to be a very different game to the one the M1 plays, but it’s certainly one that the M60 can win.
The lower cost gives us some additional options. Rather than use one maxed out formation, I decided to opt for combing a Mech Combat Team with the M60 Combat Team to give a solid infantry base to support the armour.
Whilst I would have preferred to go with a Huey formation in place of the Mech – the bigger infantry component being more useful for assaulting big soviet infantry blobs off of an objective – the mech combat team works better at this points break, plus its better at shredding BMP with its four M47 Dragon ATGW. The M60 Combat Team brings a baker’s dozen of M60 tanks (26 AT20 shots!) plus three heavy mortars, with a FIST as I had a point to spare, for some smoke coverage should I need to cover open ground whilst trying to fight an active defence. The infantry have two full strength platoons to guard the flanks of the tank, plus a scout section to help position them. The force is then supported by a quartet of Sergeant Yorks for further BMP shredding backed up by a quartet of Stingers to help mitigate against a Leafblower list. The force can’t afford to be too static as its low armour is going to see casualty mount up quickly if left in the open. But what it can do is put a lot of shots down range and hopefully neutralise the BMP-2 before it can get its own shots off.
In the face of the BMP Horde or the Afghansty Leafblower, US Armour needed a counter and the new AA options, near invulnerable IPM1 or massed M60A3 may well provide it. Both tanks options will still need competent leadership to maximise their potential but can at least be considered viable options.