by Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson
Article Type: Feature
Article Date: May 29, 2001
Game Title: 688(I): Hunter / Killer
Category: Submarine Combat Simulation
Two weeks ago I reinstalled Jane’s 688I Hunter/Killer and spent many hours running the single missions. In the course of that time I rediscovered both the genius of the game, as well as its faults.
The genius of 688I was the recreation of the combat environment with which real nukes have to deal. With a high degree of authenticity, 688I allows one to play with most of the weapon systems and all the tension of the actual environment.
The weaknesses of 688I also stood out. The main ones are as follows:
- The inability to really command the sub. One is always changing screens to do a number of other duties. Doing it all raises the learning curve beyond what most players will want to do. Having the choice to do it all or merely command will be a huge improvement.
- Not enough keyboard shortcuts, and no voice command means that one is constantly accessing other stations. Again, the player is forced to do too much work.
- Not enough detail in some systems. The addition of new control panels, as for countermeasures, will increase the fun so long as we aren’t forced to do more.
- An unrealistic three-dimensional world (graphical representation of ships is almost an afterthought). While there is some debate among naval fans as to whether a realistic three-dimensional world is necessary, I think it’s an absolute necessity. It broadens the appeal of the game and really helps immersion.
- The campaign is too predictable. This was a weakness that eventually bothered almost every serious player. Broadening the scope of the game and expanding the dynamic elements, even to the point of surface ships engaging each other, will bring the combat environment to life.
- The inability to go head-to-head with a dissimilar platform. Choice of the Akula or Seawolf in addition to new weapon systems is another huge addition to the scope of the game. Having the ability to go head-to-head with other platforms manned by human players will be a blast.
|Seawolf on the Prowl. |
In spite of the weaknesses, I’ve had great fun with 688I, and it has made me all the more excited about the upcoming Sub Command. After the first interview with Kim Castro, I sent a batch of additional questions to Sub Command's Lead Designer, Mike Kolar. Before I share his answers with you, let me whet your appetite by sharing one of my recent missions in 688I. I have modified the mission slightly to allow for the few changes I know we will be experiencing in Sub Command.
SITREPA state of war exists between the US and the Soviet Union. Intelligence has reported a Kuznetsov class carrier, escorted by two Slava class missile boats, have been detected in US waters. My task is to sink the carrier before it comes within range of CONUS-based tactical air assets.
Naturally, this CV is also escorted by two Akula class submarines. My mission is anything but simple.
|Mission Briefing |
|Mission Briefing |
I detected the carrier group at 18:40. A play-by-play follows . . .
“Officer of the deck, come to periscope depth. Make your speed 4 knots, turn starboard heading 270.”
“Periscope depth, aye, sir. Make my speed 4 knots, make my course 270.”
“Raise the ESM mast as soon as we reach the surface.” A minute later the OOD reported mast raised.
|The engagement begins. |
“Conn, ESM, I have three contacts bearing 280 degrees. A Kuznetsov, Designate Master 1, and two Slava class, sir, designate Masters 2 and 3. All ships are making 15 knots. I have two airborne contacts bearing 300, approximately 15,000 yards. Airborne contacts are both Helix ASW choppers, sir.”
“ESM, Conn, what is the bearing and range to the surface contacts?”
“Conn, ESM, range is 60,000 yards to Master 1 and 35,000 yards to Masters 2 and 3, sir.”
|ESM Station in 688I |
“Sonar, Conn, any contacts?”
“Sonar, Conn, no contacts sir. If there’s anything out there they are mighty quiet.”
“Fire Control, make tubes one through four ready in all respects, including opening the outer doors.”
“Conn, Fire Control, make tubes one through four ready in all respects, including opening the outer doors, aye sir.”
One disadvantage of the 688I class is the necessity of launching HARPOONS vertically in the torpedo tubes. This limited my tactical responsiveness in three ways. First, it meant that I could fire only four missiles at a time. Second, it meant that I would have to waste time diving and then reloading and then returning to 60 feet to fire. The enemy would be better prepared for me on the second launch.
|Tubes Assigned |
Third, it meant that I had no ADCAPs ready for quick response. All my tubes were currently occupied by missiles, and if there were any Akulas lurking nearby . . . well, I had my fingers crossed on that point. The Seawolf class to be modeled in Sub Command includes VLS tubes for the HARPOON, so that torpedo tubes are not tied up with these weapons.)
Earlier I had ordered all four tubes loaded with HARPOONS. I had neglected, however, to stream the TB-23 slim line towed array.
|Weapons Screen in 688I |
The HARPOON is a fire and forget weapon, ideal for a hit and run requirement. I would be able to clear datum immediately after launching, retreating below the thermocline at 270 feet where I could listen for any hostile submarines.
The thermocline is a boundary between layers of water where changes in density and temperature cause sound waves to bend. In water sound bends toward areas of decreased density and away from areas with increased density. As sound moves deeper, water density increases and the sound bends upwards.
A submarine skipper takes advantage of these characteristics to maintain stealth. Thermal layers act as screens against sonar, reflecting sound waves and creating what are essentially sound channels. Taking advantage of thermal layers to avoid detection is a standard tactical practice.
“Captain, VLS tubes one through four are ready in all respects, including outer doors open,” reported the OOD.
Order by order and step by step the bearings were matched and then the missiles launched.
“Tubes one through four fired electrically, Captain.”
After being ejected from the tubes the HARPOON canisters floated to the surface. As the buoyant capsules reached the surface they jettisoned their nose caps and aft bodies. The missiles boosters ignited, sending the missiles out of the water and streaking toward the targets. The booster rockets continued to burn for three more seconds, then the main turbojets fired and the HARPOONS skimmed over the wave tops.
|Harpoon on its way. |
|Harpoon in Sub Command |
As the missiles closed to within two miles the defensive systems on the Slava responded. Their rapid fire guns knocked out the first missile. The second continued toward the Slava, and three and four continued toward the Kuznetsov.
The second Slava knocked out missile number three. A moment later the second missile slammed into the Slava, knocking our her steering and one turbine. The other missile impacted the carrier and started fires and some flooding.
Before the missiles impacted, I had already given the orders to dive. The USS Columbus was passing 200 feet when the first missile reached its target.
At this point I remembered to stream the towed array.
The towed array is another of the powerful passive detection systems on board the 688I class Hunter/Killer, the TB-23 being a recent improvement. Streaming out behind the boat, the many hydrophones are not affected by the noise generated by the propulsion systems on board the submarine. The array is so long that it will pick up faint signals even when the boat is running at 22 knots. The TB-23, unlike the B-16, is housed in the main ballast tank.
“Stream the port array to 600 yards. Sonar, report any contacts.”
“Stream the port array to 600 yards, aye, sir. No contacts to report.”
“Fire control, reload tubes one and two with ADCAPS. Load tubes three and four with HARPOONS. Officer of the Deck, make your speed eight knots, heading 200.”
“Conn, Fire Control, reload tubes one and two with ADCAPS, load tubes three and four with HARPOONS aye, sir.”
“Make my speed eight knots, heading two zero zero, aye, sir. We have reached 300 feet, sir.”
I could tell by the angle of the boat that the diving planes were now level. It was difficult to tell how many explosions there had been, however, since after the first one the water was filled with noise. I hoped that all four missiles had reached their targets, but I couldn’t count on it.
Prudence advised loading only two tubes with ADCAPS on the second round. I couldn’t take the chance of being caught with all tubes loaded with missiles and an Akula to face.
|Akula II in Sub Command |
“Conn, Sonar, torpedo in the water! Bearing 340.”
“Sonar, Conn, any other contacts?”
“Conn, Sonar, negative sir, I think this was an air dropped torpedo, sir. Torpedo is searching, sir.”
At about this same time the undamaged Slava began pinging, hoping to locate my sub. Since I was below the thermocline, I figured I had a pretty good chance to avoid detection. But the situation wasn’t making it easy for me to launch my additional missiles.
Since I still had not picked up any contacts on sonar I decided to change direction and go deeper. We reached 650 feet a minute later, on heading 180. A few moments later the sea went quiet. After two more minutes on course I ordered depth to 300, heading 270 at four knots.
Sonar was still negative. I ordered the ship above the thermocline at 250 feet. Immediately we had a sonar contact.
“Conn, Sonar, new sonar contact bearing 300. I think it’s an Akula, sir. Designate Master 4. Speed 12 knots and heading 080.”
The TMA operators went to work quickly and came up with a range of 30,000 yards. With that range and bearing I figured it was time to launch my set of missiles.
|TMA Station in 688I |
“Fire control, make VLS tubes three and four ready in all respects, including opening the outer doors.”
“Conn, fire control, make VLS tubes three and four ready in all respects, including opening the outer doors, aye sir.”
“Officer of the deck, come to periscope depth.”
“Periscope depth, aye, sir.”
“Raise the ESM mast as soon as we reach the surface.”
A minute later the mast was raised and ESM reported in.
“Conn, ESM, I have three contacts bearing 300 degrees. A Kuznetsov, Designate Master 1, and two Slava class, sir, designate Masters 2 and 3. Masters 1 and 2 are making 15 knots. Master 3 is making 12 knots. I have two airborne contacts bearing 340, approximately 12,000 yards. Helix ASW choppers, sir.”
“Fire Control, Conn, Match ESM bearings and shoot, tubes three and four, Master 1.”
“Conn, Fire Control, match ESM bearings and shoot, tubes three and four, Master 1 aye, sir.”
“Tubes three and four fired electrically, Captain.”
|Map View showing Harpoon. |
“Sonar, report all contacts. Diving officer, twenty degrees down angle on the planes. Make your depth 300 feet, heading 210. Fire control, reload tubes three and four with ADCAPS.”
Before we reached 300 feet we had another torpedo in the water. This one, like the earlier one, failed to acquire. Just before reaching 300 feet we heard a single explosion. Another HARPOON had hit home . . . but which target?
When the noise had died down I changed course to 280 and came up to 250 feet. Our friend the Akula had cloned himself. This time we had two sonar contacts.
“Conn, Sonar, new sonar contact bearing 310, designate Master 4. Second contact bearing 320, designate Master 5. Both are Akulas, sir. Master 4 speed is 12 knots and heading 095. Master five speed is 10 knots and heading 090.”
The TMA operators went to work and came up with a range of 24,000 yards for Master 4 and 30,000 yards for Master 5.
It was time to rattle the cage.
“Diving officer, make your depth 350 feet.”
“Make my depth 350 feet, aye, sir.”
“Firing point procedures, tubes one and two, Master 4. Set pre-enable speed for 30 knots.”
“Firing point procedures, aye, sir. Set pre-enable for 30 knots.”
“Conn, Diving Control, we are at 350 feet.”
“Match sonar bearings and shoot, tubes one and two, Master 4.”
“Weapons are running hot, straight, and normal sir.”
|MK 48 ADCAP |
The MK 48 torpedo is a 3000 pound weapon, each unit costing more than 2.5 million dollars. Nearly twenty percent of its weight, or 650 pounds, consists of PBXN-103 high explosive. One advantage of the weapon is its flexibility: it can be employed against both surface and submerged targets.
Once fired, targeting data is fed back to the BSY-1 Fire Control System by a thin wire. During the terminal stage of the attack, the active seeker is designed to home-in on its target.
The pair of MK 48 torpedoes went winging in the direction of the Akula. I had ordered the depth change so that the initial closure of the weapons would be beneath the thermocline. Combined with the slower running speed, this greatly reduced the chance of the weapons being detected before they enabled and went active. But I had one more trick up my sleeve.
The long thin wire streaming from the rear of the MK 48 allows the fire control officer to take charge of the weapon if it should be blocked by countermeasures. But it also allows some tactical freedom.
“Fire control, Conn, prepare to steer the weapons. Steer both units off course 15 degrees right.”
|Weapons Launched |
|Steering the Torpedoes |
|Steering the Torpedoes |
|3D View |
|Almost there.. |
The fire control officer took control of the MK 48s. When they were within range for passive acquisition, they would be turned back on course.
“Fire control, time to turn the units?”
“Eighteen minutes, sir.” The weapons were turned on cue. A moment later the officer reported acquisition.
“Master 4 is making 28 knots and accelerating, Captain. She’s cavitating.”
“Cut the wires, shut the outer doors, and reload tubes one and two.”
“Conn, Sonar, we have two torpedoes in the water, bearing 315.” The Akula had launched a snapshot along the path of the incoming weapons . . . but my ship wasn’t there! It seemed like a good time to change course, and I was soon heading 180 and eight knots. A minute later there were two loud explosions in the water to the north.
The 650 pound warhead of the MK 48 detonated on impact, tearing a huge hole in the hull and sending the force of its explosion into the belly of the submarine. The thin hull burst apart, splitting the submarine into two halves. Both pieces quickly filled with water and sank down into the sea.
Check the Sub Command page for my upcoming interview with Sub Command's Lead Designer, Mike Kolar.
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