I’m Lee, new Breakthrough Assault member but player of Team Yankee since it’s release.
Since then, I’ve been playing US Mech with Abrams support almost exclusively. Getting the most out of them has been a bit of a crusade for me, given the US’s reputation for performing poorly in competitive games. Crucial units and abilities have been conspicuous by their absence, such as a ‘Spearhead’ unit and a missile AA system. The former was addressed recently in the Firestorm campaign with the addition of the M113 Scout Section, and I was able to use Spearhead to appreciable effect in the recent Red Storm Descending weekend.
But that was then… and this is now!
It’s fair to say that when Stripes arrives, US players will be swimming in options on all fronts. But what about the humble Mech Formation that we’ve soldiered on with for so long? Surely it doesn’t deserve to be cast aside?
Step this way Soldier!
Tried and Tested
Until Stripes, I’ve been running a force with two Mech Combat Team Formations with four maximum sized Mech Platoons (i.e. extra Dragon per platoon). Attached to one formation is a Platoon of four Abrams. The rest of the formations are filled out with Mortars, ITVs, and lately, Scouts to push up platoon count, with the obligatory VADS tagged in.
It’s fair to say that of the above, the Abrams and Dragon Teams are pulling almost all of the workload in a typical game.
The Abrams are absolute superstars when used correctly and with a few lucky dice rolls, but they live on a knife’s edge due to BMP2 prevalence and recently the T64’s introduction.
The Mech platoon sits in a strange place given it’s 50% split between M-16/SAW/LAW teams and Dragon teams. At it’s best defending objectives with the Dragons on high ground, a few of these units can really punish approaching light armour. But the Platoon is virtually worthless on the offensive due to only having 4 move-and-fire teams with a reasonable assault value.
On defence, the combination of Dragons and Abrams can commonly break down a Soviet advance, but if the Abrams get into trouble it’s usually going to cost you the game.
On offence, it’s down to your Abrams – it’s that simple!
So how does Stripes address this?
Enter the IPM1
For a 1pt per tank upgrade, the IPM1 delivers an additional point of armour to the front and two points to all other faces. The Chobham armour stands unaffected at Armour 16 vs Heat, and we have the same 105mm AT20 gun. So why is this change so important?
The Abrams is a Predator on the Team Yankee battlefield, but some of it’s prey has a nasty habit of biting back. Firstly the weapon you will find fired mostly in your direction, the Spandrel missile.
Thrown out by BMP2s and Spandrel BDRMs, this move-or-fire AT21 attack CAN be avoided, but when your opponent isn’t fielding tanks these units are usually the next on the Abrams’ menu and right in the way of your objective. When attacking these units, I usually try and limit their field of fire so I can only see 5 or 6 of them. This is achieved through use of the terrain, or smoke if necessary. Also, flank them so they block their own liens of sight. If all goes well there will be little to no return fire next turn, but a bad dice roll can put you in a sticky situation with a normal M1.
Against HEAT AT21, the standard Abrams is needing a 4+ to fully save regardless of range, and is bailed on a 3. Assuming you’ve held cover you are getting hit 1/3 of the time, and suffering a penetrating hit 1/3 the time which converts to a kill 2/3 of the time. This means every incoming Spandrel has a roughly 7% chance, or 1 in 14 shots, to kill your Abrams. This increases to 11% if you’re in the open. Bails aren’t so much an issue as long as it doesn’t force a morale check or you are in assault range, as your remount is 2+ anyways.
With the IPM1, the odds change quite a bit. You’re now only outright failing a save 1/6 of the time. Apply the math-hammer, and that only translates to a kill 3.5% of the time – that’s 1 in 27 shots that will convert into a kill! This gives quite a bit more confidence if you have to deal with a BMP2 firing line, although I still recommend engaging with over-the-odds firepower wherever possible (for instance, overlapping fire with Dragons etc).
The other change, side armour moving from 8 to 10, might seem innocuous at first until you consider how you can put this to use. One way of negating BMP2 missile fire is simply to drive right up to them. On the attack, this is probably where you want to be anyway. However, this used to be a very risky proposition due to the BMP2’s AT10 main gun. They would move around to your side armour and have a chance of knocking you out. Even a bail usually means the Tank is lost as Infantry will normally be nearby. The IPM1 doesn’t have to deal with any of this nonsense though… it’s immune!
In terms of other missile threats… The IPM1 is immune to the AT19 Spigots, and it’s death chance vs the HIND or Storm tank destroyer’s Spiral missile goes from 22% to 16%. Against the Frogfoot, there is obviously no change; a hit auto-penetrates regardless.
There’s 4 WarPac tanks currently available. We can discount the East German T55 right away as the IPM1 changes nothing – you’re immune from shots to the front armour, and won’t get a save from the side. So that leaves the two flavours of the T-72 (Soviet ‘A’ and East German ‘M’) and the T-64.
The East German T-72M throws out an AT-21 round at FP 2+. So lets quickly run the numbers, assuming cover so being hit on 5+.
The T72M already struggles against the Abrams – against the IPM1, stick at range and you are only risking bails.
T-72 and T-64
Both Soviet MBTs mount the same AT22 gun…
On a tactical note, I would avoid engaging the T64 at long range with either Abrams – you’re simply not going to get the kills. And with the normal M1, you’re on the losing side of probabilities
All evidence says to me that the upgrade is well worth the points, and adds significantly to the survivability of the Abrams whilst removing some risks entirely.
Soviet Air remains the biggest threat to your tanks, but Stripes offers you no less than 3 new dedicated AA options to protect your assets.
Enter the Rifle Platoon
The other boon to your offensive capabilities is the ability to add a single Rifle platoon from your support choices.
Here you have the infantry numbers you need to assault an enemy position and/or support your M1s from counters / flanking attacks when they are deep in enemy territory. With 2 M60s and the amount of rifle teams, you can throw down withering amounts of fire and then have the strength to push the assault on a pinned unit; whilst the Dragon teams will cause consternation from side armour shots when deep in your opponent’s half.
Putting it all together
So pulling together our evolved list, at tournament level points I’ll be testing something like the following:
The preference will be to attack, with the Abrams and Huey team on the assault, and the Mech Platoons laying down supporting fire from advantageous positions afforded to them by the Scout sections. But on defence I would feel equally comfortable with the raw flexibility of the list.
With the AA, I’ve doubled up to give some protection against leafblower lists – the Abrams need as much protection as possible! The Harriers, with their 3+ deploy and cheap points value are almost an auto-add, but could easily be stood down for a heavy mortar platoon or artillery.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how this evolved list performs on the table!