Coming back with some stressed pilots from the previous Close Air Support mission, I was hoping that the next day would feature a nice milk run, but it was not to be.
I managed to pull three target cards that were all secondaries, so I was left with pulling one primary card and I got…a weapons factory in northern Iraq. It was a nasty-looking mission right out the gate with multiple AA sites and SAMs surrounding it, not to mention a nearby airfield with lots of enemy air cover. I would need every single pilot available to finish this mission successfully and even then some of the pilots were almost certainly not coming back.
Since the target was located far to the north, this meant that I had to sacrifice weapons for fuel. To make matters worse, the previous mission featured a “Fleet Supply” card, which meant that I would have even fewer weapons to load onto my planes. I settled mostly on AGM-88s to take out the huge number of SAM sites near the site. Since the target was heavily reinforced, I packed on more bombs in favor of air-to-air missiles and this would be the fatal mistake.
The flight made it to the target without incident but once having arrived, several extremely dangerous enemy aircraft were present at the site. SU-27s and Mig-29s immediately engaged my bombing aircraft, which managed to evade their shots but the cost in evading their missiles piled on the stress. “Cracken”, the A-6 pilot with the biggest load of bombs, was near the breaking point by turn 2.
|The fighters (grey counters) are over the target. The red counters are enemy AAA and SAMs.|
By the beginning of turn 3, the AAA, SAMs and missiles had taken their toll on everyone. The fighter escorts managed to shoot down most of the deadlier MiGs and the SU-27 fighter but they were left with no missiles left for the MiG-23s directly over the site. The one silver lining is that the newbie, “Banzai”, managed to land a kill on a MiG that had somehow evaded the missiles fired by my more experienced pilots.
Turn 4 and it was evident that we were in trouble. The pilots had been evading ground fire. “Cracken”, having had his share of stress, was about to go on his bombing run when Banzai took two hits from AAA fire and was shot down. Suppression attempts on the ground-to-air defenses seemed to do very little. An SA-10 near the target site shot at “Cracken” and suddenly, it was all too much. He jettisoned his weapons and made a run for home. Although my other pilots could have remained and taken a run at the target, there simply wasn’t enough bombing power to take out the factory. With stress levels at their maximum and one pilot shot down, I decided to end the campaign on day 2. The final rating was a measly 4 victory points, which ranked as “Poor”.
Lessons Learned: When loading ordnance onto aircraft, never let one aircraft be the “main” carrier of all the weapons. If it’s shot down by chance, your mission is completely hooped. Always load enough air-to-air missiles on your fighters. Refuse a mission if you think your pilots need rest and won’t be able to handle it. Your VPs may suffer but it’s better than having to end the campaign altogether.