In previous TAW Tactical briefings we covered the use of the main War Room and AWACS interfaces to track flights and determine the best use of your resources. This time we'll discuss more general tactical principles from the perspective of the Theatre Commander. (Keep in mind that this briefing is based on a six week old beta and there may be changes before the release of TAW).
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Total Air War is evolutionary compared to F22: ADF, but revolutionary compared to virtually anything else available. Frankly, I've been greatly enjoying the Theatre Command mode via the AWACS interface. If DiD could have given us multi monitor support and a little more command flexibility, I'm not sure I would have played anything else this fall!
The genius of Total Air War is the sum of four factors: 1) a relatively light learning curve, 2) a fully dynamic campaign system; 3) the integration of the Theatre Command and AWACS modes; 4) real time gods-eye view of the action. TAW is a great deal of fun, but there is a great deal here and my intention is to save you some time by sharing a few general tips.
Operation Highland. Click for larger image.
For those of you familiar with F22 ADF the learning curve will be especially light. However, you are probably accustomed by ADF to taking the Theatre Command role quite lightly. If you are an especially capable pilot, you can get away with this, particularly in the less difficult campaign scenarios. But if you want to win the level TWO and higher campaigns or if you are not a very hot pilot, you are going to be spending some time directing traffic and flying from the AWACS module.
Notice that there has been some evolution in the AWACS command interface, notably the loss of the SCALE button and the addition of a TARGETS button. Using this button brings up all the current Allied targets as prioritized by the Theatre Commander (WARGEN system) as well as current estimated enemy priorities on your own turf.
Using this information will help you to make tactical decisions as to which strike flights you will support. Other intel will assist you in deciding when you will abandon your own efforts to impact enemy targets and throw all your weight against defending your own resources so that you can continue to prosecute the war.
As Theatre Commander you cannot call up new flights, you can only choose to fly or to direct traffic. Where the Theatre Commanders job becomes most difficult is when the enemy is throwing all their weight against you at the same time as you have committed a high percentage of your own assets to strike forces. You must then make a number of tactical assessments based on the information you have. You must decide:
1. What are the current enemy goals; 2. Which current missions you can afford to support while defending your critical stations; 3. Which enemy flights you will engage and which you will risk ignoring (in truth they are not totally ignored since you also have ground defenses).
For example, I recently faced a situation where I had five incoming flights numbering approximately 20 aircraft. These included Su 25s, MiG27s, MiG 29s, MiG 31s and Su 27s. I had only three CAP flights in near vicinity, and one outgoing strike force of sixteen aircraft including eight F16s and four F15Es. I also had a single F22 at approximately 200 miles.
Based on current intel these aircraft would be primarily destined for C4 targets, critical command and communication sites on my soil. These targets are almost as crucial as my AWACS and required defense.
I knew that I could count on a couple of flights to scramble from near air bases, but I still had to make the best with what I had. Unfortunately, a pair of MiG 21s were included in my CAP tally. Although I had hoped to support the first major strike force that Theatre Command had fielded, I was now faced with vectoring the F15E escort after the first incoming MiG 29s. The escort was currently toward the back of the force, and
I vectored them to Intercept so that they would increase their speed and engage.
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In the meantime one of my CAP flights engaged, and I vectored the MiG 21 CAP north while ordering the other to Intercept and engage. I would hold the MiG 21s in reserve since they were the least effective of my four immediate choices.
I also had IRON7, an F22 flight, 200 miles south. This happened to be a scramble flight that was sent up to deal with two Su27s. One of the flight had been destroyed but the other was still airborn. At the moment TAW does not allow one to vector a SCRAMBLE flight to intercept or assign a new patrol area as you can a CAP, but you can vector to ESCORT. I selected IRON7 and dragged to order an ESCORT on a flight a bit south where the engagement would occur. (My other option was to jump in and fly to the northwest myself).
I watched as the engagement unfolded. My flights were doing better than the enemy on the whole, not quite a 2/1 kill ratio. All but one of my F16 SEAD aircraft stayed completely out of the engagement and en route to their designated targets at Kassala.
However, as the engagement neared its ending the ratio began to change and another two Su27s joined the fray for the enemy. However, a SCRAMBLE flight of EF2000s also joined the battle and my lone F22 was now at about sixty miles. Unfortunately, knife fights can drag on for some time (a weakness in CCP AI) so I jumped in to assist at maximum range. At 35,000 feet and thirty miles I loosed four AIM120 Rs and took out both Su27s. This finally freed up the remaining two F15Es to continue to escort the F16s on their mission.
With their escort far behind them, my F16 strike flight pressed their attack. Of the eight aircraft that reached Kassala, one was killed by SAMs before the target and six engaged ground targets. Three were killed in air to air engagements within a few minutes of hitting the target, and two more were killed as they attempted to egress. The F15s turned at the border and so weren't much use in the end. Only one F16 returned to
About the time my F16s hit their targets I had a new threat to deal with and very limited air resources in the vicinity. Not far south of where the first incursion had been I had at least ten enemy aircraft incoming. At my disposal I had my lone F22, now with six AIM120s and two AIM 9x mounted. I also had the EF2000 flight a bit to the north where they were in the process of recovery.
Total Air War does not allow you to order a flight in the process of landing to Intercept. However, you can order an ESCORT, so I ordered the EF2s, who were at 65% fuel and still had some A2A stores, to escort my lone F22. The F22 had already been vectored by AWACS to engage the incoming bandits, and the EF2s obediently left their landing pattern to follow.
When this engagement was finished IRON7 was winchester and I called for recovery, then jumped out of the cockpit and ordered the depleted EF2 flight to land at their designated base. Back in my Theatre Command chair I decided to deal with a hostile incursion on my eastern border.
While doing this I noticed that IRON7 was turning toward the border to engage another enemy flight, despite having exhausted air to air stores. Hmmm. I didn't want to lose this valuable asset so I jumped in and turned for home plate, again calling for Recovery and receiving the vector. I also asked for a Direct Approach and my ILS came on line, pointing me to the correct base 70 miles to the north.
When I jumped out IRON7 stubbornly turned to engage the hostiles. Detecting what I believed to be a weakness in CPP AI, I selected IRON7 and dragged to the airbase to order a LANDING. The green triangle appeared and the acknowledged order and turning F22 told me that this is the only way you will be able to control the destination of a SCRAMBLE flight once you jump out. If you have mounted an F22 via the mission selection screen you won't face this problem.
As you gain experience as Theatre Commander you will see that your own tactical assessment and control is generally more effective than leaving the management to WARGEN. This means that you will win a campaign more quickly if you spend time directing flights personally. Once the enemy is on the defensive your personal time in the Theatre Command chair will become less critical. On the other hand, if you are a very skilled F22 pilot you may find that your personal involvement as Theatre Commander is not as necessary, except perhaps in the later, more challenging campaigns.
Whichever way you approach Total Air War, you will find it involving, unpredictable, and a great deal of fun. Expect to see it on the shelves in late September. For more on TAW and screen shots go to TAW Index.