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Janes AH64D Longbow 2: Second Look
by Leonard (Viking1) Hjalmarson

LB2 A10 LB2 EXPLOSION

This second go round with Longbow 2 will cover some general info and then focus on the new Mission Planner: the heart of campaign play. First, a quick look at the manual.

I don't remember much about the original Longbow manual, but I have taken careful note of this one. It really is a comprehensive piece of work. In addition to the necessary coverage of avionics you'll find sections on ground school, flight training, and specifications.

One of the distinguishing features of the original Longbow were ground breaking tutorials using an AI instructor in the CP/G seat. The tutorials enabled a newcomer to the simulation to dive in and begin learning in a simulated and interactive environment. It worked very well and it involved the player in a way that eased the pain. In Longbow 2 both the Blackhawk and the Kiowa Warrior have their own tutorials.

KIOWA COCKPIT
Kiowa Warrior Cockpit

Action and atmosphere define Longbow 2. The glaring blast lighting of an explosion at night.. the drift of smoke from a destroyed vehicle as it is carried in the wind... the varied sound of tanks, trucks, bmps etc as they pass too close to your machine.. even the varied sound of your own rotor as it strains in accord with your demands, wind and turbulence effects, etc. Its a defining moment for military simulations.

IRANIAN TROOP

Yes, you will see individual soldiers with rifles, shoulder mounted SAMS, and other weapons. Tank turrets rotate, tanks use main guns and machine guns, explosions have multiple effects... You will even see the commander unbuttoned position, or your own CP/Gs head if you swivel around far enough in the virtual cockpit. Its the chopper lovers dream sim.

Thankfully, you don't even need 3d hardware to enjoy it, but the more hardware you have, the better! Software only mode gives me an excellent frame rate with almost full detail options on my AMD 233. The terrain doesn't look quite as nice, but it looks FAR better than the original Longbow and you have the special effects and ALL the other additions to boot! Lets move on to talk about mission generation, the campaign, and the Mission Planner.

Single Missions and Mission Types

Once you establish your reputation as a pilot, you can move into the new missions. There is a batch of handcrafted single missions that are available in addition to those you can generate dynamically. From the MMPC interface the player clicks on the lower-left side of the screen to access these pre-builts. These are particularly clever and grueling missions that will kick the butt of most players when set on max difficulty.

But the heart of this new simulation is the DMG, or dynamic mission generator. The beauty of the system for single missions is ENDLESS variety with little effort. When you want to fly a single mission you specify some particular parameters and the generator creates one for you on the fly! Very cool.

The parameters you will choose from for single mission generation include location, time of day (day, night or random), weather (good, fair, poor or random), weapons availability (no stingers, no Hellfires, rockets only, random) and force advantage (Enemy, Friend, Neutral or Random).

As for the mission type you can choose from CAP, CAS, Strike, Escort, Recon or Random. The inclusion of the random option was another touch of genius. By choosing random for every category, for example, you can set yourself up for a completely unpredictable situation, much like a real pilot might face on any given day.

Enemy ability is set just as in Longbow original, on a sliding scale from TOP GUN CAT I to low end CAT III. The next set of choices apply separately to yourself and your opponents. You're left to select Ground Force Concentration, Air Defence Capability, Helicopter Concentration, Air Support and Artillery Support. The choices here are heavy, medium, light or random.

PIECES OF COMBAT
Notice the smoking pieces flying around...

But most likely your main interest will quickly shift to the campaign. With its new DMG this is the heart of Longbow 2 and what will give it maximum replayability. After all, entry into the campaign means there is a flow and direction to your fighting. Your choices and performance will influence the movement of the battle lines and the eventual outcome of the war.

The Campaign portion of the simulation gives you three choices: Fallen Crescent (the Azerbaijan campaign), and Fort Irwin NTC which is broken into two different scenarios. The first allows you to fight with US hardware against US hardware; the second simulates the enemy using Russian equipment. Then it gets interesting, because the choices you make in the mission planner are critical to the campaign.

As you begin a campaign you choose the time limit, up to four weeks or UNLIMITED. In another improvement on the originalthe player can begin and save multiple campaigns, so you can be playing at various levels of difficulty or realism and continue with whichever your mood dictates until the campaign is complete.

Campaign variables include Ordnance Replacement and Helicopter Replacement. These settings can be toggled for Fast, Slow or Average. Want maximum realism, choose Average or Slow. This setting determines supply intervals for both aircraft and ordnance during your campaign. Intel can be toggled as Limited to create a real "Fog Of War" and as a result not all the information you are given will be as accurate as it otherwise would.

BLACKHAWK

Realism settings for the machines themselves allow the player to limit Radar Longbows and limit Other helicopters. Limiting R Longbows will mean replacement may not always be as quick as you would like, and limiting Other choppers means that the Kiowas and Blackhawks will not be instantly replaced. Ditto with weapons supply.

The campaign flows like this: initially the missions you will fly are to ensure that you can safely transition to an offensive posture. Before you fly any CAS for example, you will cover supply missions for the front lines and do recon. The ground war is integrated seamlessly into the campaign engine, and you are only one part of that team effort. Here are the criteria for your sides advance:

  • Supply. Ground forces must have sufficient ammunition and/or fuel supplies. If the armor commander doesn't have enough resources to sustain an offensive move, the units will remain defensive and the battle line will not move. Supplies arrive in convoys, which you will occasionally be asked to escort. In the same way, whenever recon detects an enemy supply convoy you will be asked to destroy it to prevent the enemy from going offensive.
  • Armor. Ground forces must have ample armor. If armor resources are lacking, the unit will retain its defensive posture. Like resources, armor reinforcements arrive in convoys. (However, supply convoys ALWAYS take precedence over armor and you will protect them first).
  • Accessible Support. Ground forces must hae support in adjacent sectors. The armor commander on the ground (controlled by game AI) will not overextend his troops in the flank position. If the flank is left vulnerable, ground units will move into a defensive posture and wait for rear support.

In other words even fantastic performance on the part of the player in one sector will not guarantee victory. Its up to the player to monitor all sectors of the battlefield and ensure that front line units are well supplied and ready for an offensive push.

This in turn means that taking out SAM and AAA sites early on is a good idea. It will help in later efforts to support ground units. But timing comes into play also: ground forces can't sustain an offensive push for long. Once an advance is stopped it may take several days for the offensive to begin again. And if there is too much of a gap between your destruction of SAM and AAA emplacements they may be replaced by the time the next offensive begins. All this points to the importance of the Mission Planner, and thats the reason why so much care has been lavished on this component of Longbow 2.

ATO 12195

October 10, 1999 Lt. T. "Viking1" Armstrong

FLIGHT PLAN

I just received orders to fly my third mission across enemy lines since the start of this conflict four days ago. Our task: escort two Blackhawk Transports carrying Special Forces to a location 15 km across the FEBA. We leave at dawn, 0530.

Unfortunately, we expect heavy air activity in the area, and ZSU 23 emplacements are known in the area. The ZSU 23 is one of the most deadly A2A platforms in the enemies arsenal. As I'm checking my AH64D Longbow prior to the flight, I am all too aware that the pilot lost on a mission two days ago had encountered a ZSU 23.

Finally its time to go. After ensuring the weapons loadout I climb into the co-pilots chair and we start our final systems check. Its 0515. My wingman "Paco" checks in a moment later in his Texan drawl... He's all set, and so are we.

We spent a good deal of the morning poring over the intel and maps, ensuring as few high crossings as possible, but also avoiding the valley floors. The best place for this machine is halfway up a slope where it can blend against the background clutter. On top is too visible against the sky, and on the falley floor is too open to radar detection and attack from overhead fast movers.

At 0525 we start the turbines and a couple of minutes later "Jinks" the pilot engages the main rotor. Everything is good. "Weapons Hold" is declared for the benefit of Flash and we are away.

We rendezvous with the Blackhawks at 0540. This is the easy part. At 0545 we pause at the FEBA and I order Flash to pop up and scan the area. As his data comes across the link I see two AAA units and one unknown less than 1 km from our entry point. I shift our route slightly and we duck down and are on our way.

0552

The eastern sky is getting brighter as we head for our second waypoint in hostile territory. We're just slowing for a turn when a truck pops up at eleven oclock and one kilometre. Suddenly we are under fire from small arms! The single soldier appears on the FLIR and a quick cannon burst sets him straight. We dont' take on the truck, much as we would like to, though I wonder what its carrying.

0557

We're approaching the final point prior to target when we are jumped by a pair of Havocs. Shit! They must have popped over the ridge--we had no warning at all. Paco has locked up the first and is firing his cannon just as the second releases a missile with MY name on it. I see the flash of the release at my one oclock just as Jinks is letting go with the cannon. A second later we set down with a klunk and the missile hits the ground rather too close to us! We feel the force of it but don't take any damage.. someone must be praying...

Jinks got a piece of the Havoc and we see him spinning out of control at nine oclock, finally hitting the ground with a huge explosion. But now we've got tracers whizzing past us from our six oclock se we pick up and are on our way quick! Radar shows all clear overhead...

TO BE CONTINUED in Preview PART III...

The Mission Planner

During the campaign in Longbow 2 you serve as the Task Force Commander. The main vehicle of your authority is the Mission Planner. The Mission Planner is laid out quite intuitively and is a quick learn. Thats good, because its a powerful tool that once mastered will either ground your success or your failure.

MISSION PLANNER

Arrayed along the top are your main selections: System, Overlays, Map View and Waypoints. Most of the time you will access Map View and occasionally Waypoints; the other two selections are for you to set up the way the map appears and to exit the mission or the game itself. Once you set up the map the way you like to see it the settings are remembered so you won't use this that much.

The Waypoints selection is mostly to allow the player to declutter the map when necessary. From this menu you can choose to display any one or all of the four flights generated by the campaign engine, or you can restore waypoint defaults after any of your editting experiments to those suggested by the planner.

Clicking on Briefing brings up a text screen that is white on black like a chalkboard. It lists five items on the left: Friendly Situation, Enemy Situation, Mission Details, Weather, and Command and Signal. Normally you will start with the first section and then select each in turn, but its "Mission Details" that will give you the information that will help you make your most important decision: which mission you will personally fly.

BRIEFING

From here you will move on to Tasking. Tasking allows you to choose the choppers that will fly the mission as well as juggle pilot assignments. In single player mode this means you choose your position as pilot of one of four machines which range from the Longbow to the Kiowa Warrior to the Blackhawk Transport. For Longbow itself you can choose from the Radar Longbow (R) or the Non-Radar Longbow (NR..an updated Longbow Apache without the radar mast). If you feel the mission you like to fly warrants the change, you can even swap your Kiowa for a Longbow or vice versa.

The Tasking screen also brings up a weapons inventory. This isn't just a nice touch! Depending on how you set up the campaign parameters when you first generated the campaign will determine whether you have an unlimited supply of a given weapon or realism in both COUNT and RESUPPLY times. If you are flying in a realistically configured campaign you will quickly realize that you can't destory every target out there because you feel like it. And escorting resupply missions suddenly takes on a whole new meaning! The inventory list tells you what is remaining in supply: every weapon and chopper is listed here.

TASKING

From Tasking you move to the Map screen. This is where the vital decisions regarding route, target, and flight coordination are made. The map allows four levels of zoom as well as choice of display for icons, grid lines (at 5k), and will even display Time on Target on the map. It has two main modes: contour (like an engineering map, all in grey shades) and colored elevation as you see in these screens. Some of its more innovative features include a Profiler which allows you to get a side profile of elevation between any two points. The Profiler even overlays the effective range of the weapons you carry. VERY nice...

The other unique feature of the planner is a "Rehearse" button which allows you to actually see your flights travelling according to planned TOT along their routes. This assists in the planning of a coordinated strike. More basic features are those we are accustomed to: you can move, add or delete waypoints. YOu'll find some more detail on the planner in Part III.

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