Category Air Warfare

Aces at Kursk should be out in early July

According to Pen & Sword, the printers should be delivering Aces at Kursk next Friday (the 5th of July) to their warehouse, and so the stock should be booked in the week commencing 8th July, all being well.

Right now, Amazon UK is showing its release date as 30 Jan. 2024.  Amazon US is showing the release date as 25 July 2024. Waiting for this to be updated but I gather the UK release date is on or shortly after 8 July 2024. U.S. release date will be later (don’t know how much later). 

Hunting Falcon is also in process and will be released this summer.

Sorry for the delays, these are things not under my control.

Also see:

Aces at Kursk – Chapter Listing – The Dupuy Institute

Aces at Kursk – Summation – The Dupuy Institute



Two missing reports – #26 and #27

As I was going through our early reports, it again came to my attention that we were missing two early reports. See: TDI – The Dupuy Institute Publications. They are:

26. Target/Range Experience for Tank & Antitank Weapons (1969) (Batelle) – Pages: NA

27. Historical Data on Tactical Air Operations: The Rome Campaign, 11 May-17 June 1944 (1970) (AFS&A) – Pages: NA

They have been missing for a while. Our report list comes from the 1980s, and even then their pages were listed as “N/A.” I gather that means we were missing them at that time. They may have been classified. When DMSi/HERO was shut down in the early 1990s, any classified reports had to be burned.

Anyhow, the customers for those reports were Batelle and AFS&A. If anyone has access to these reports, we would love to get a copy for our files.

Current book release schedule

I have four books in process or about to be released. They are:

The Battle for Kyiv:
– UK release date: 28 November
– U.S. release date: 18 January 2024

Aces at Kursk:
– UK release date: 30 January 2024
– U.S. release date: posted as 18 January 2024, but suspect release date will be in March 2024.

Hunting Falcon:
– UK release date: 28 February 2024
– U.S. release date: posted as 29 February 2024, but suspect released date will be in April 2024.

The Siege of Mariupol:
– UK release date: sometime in 2024
– U.S. release date: sometime in 2024

Books under consideration for 2024/2025:
The Battle for the Donbas
The Battle of Tolstoye Woods (from the Battle of Kursk)
More War by Numbers

F-16s for Ukraine: Game Changer or Resource Waster?

Another posting from William (Chip) Sayers, who started his career in the air force:

F-16s for Ukraine: Game Changer or Resource Waster? 

Now that the Biden Administration has finally decided to allow the Ukrainian Air Force to receive F-16 Falcons (or as they are known by their pilots, “Vipers”), a lot of pushback has shown up in the media claiming this is not a good decision. This pushback mainly comes in the form of two objections: The Ukrainians won’t be able to operate them until it is too late, and that once they do, the F-16 won’t prove to be a game changer.

Let’s discuss how long it will take the UAF to learn how to employ the F-16. Some of the pushback is coming from people with expertise in this field, including Viper instructor pilots, so we can’t just dismiss their opinions out of hand. However, we can evaluate what they have to say against the situation as it stands.

The experts usually claim that it will be years before the UAF can “fully exploit” the F-16, or something along those lines. And they are undoubtedly correct. You show me a really good Viper jock, and I’ll show you an experienced Major, someone with hundreds, or even thousands of hours in the F-16’s cockpit. However, this is undoubtedly irrelevant. If the UAF can exploit even half the capability of the F-16’s potential, they will be way ahead of where they were at the beginning of the war with their Russian-produced fighters. The real question is, how long will it take for the UAF to be able to operate the F-16s in a way that positively contributes to their war effort. And that will take substantially less time. According to a US Air Force report based on the training of two UAF fighter pilots, it should take three to four months.[i] How can this be?

First off, the UAF has a sizable cadre of trained MiG-29 and Su-27 pilots — aircraft comparable to the F-16, if a bit less capable. As it happens, it is significantly easier to fly and fight the F-16 compared to the Russian aircraft. Anyone who can fly the MiG-29 can learn to fly the Viper very rapidly. Two vignettes: In my somewhat abbreviated flying career, I flew the T-37, a sweet little trainer that was well suited to its job. However, having been designed in the 1950’s, its instrument layout was, shall we say, suboptimal. It was often said that if you could fly instruments in the T-37, you could do it in anything. This analogy fits well with the comparison between the MiG-29 and the F-16.

Vignette #2: In the early 1990s I took a class of new analysts to Langley Air Force Base for an orientation with the US Air Force. The highlight of the visit was a chance for everyone to fly the full-motion F-15 weapons simulator. At this point, I had been out of the cockpit for around 10 years and my only updated experience was flying the PC game, Falcon 3.0 — which actually simulated radar and weapons employment quite well. I went last, and did so well, the instructors started playing cat & mouse with me to keep me humble. The point is, I was able to do well on the experience of a $40 commercial flight simulator because US 4th generation jets were purposely designed to be easy to use. So again, UAF MiG-29 pilots should be able to fly the Viper well with a minimum of training, compared to their clunky former mounts. They should be able to fly the jet successfully in air-to-air missions using their MiG tactics in a matter of weeks. 

Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) missions will take longer, and effective air-to-ground missions will come sometime after that. Will this make UAF Viper pilots masters of the air? No, that really does take time, but they will be effective and will rapidly improve with experience. One thing the experts seem to miss is that they were working during peacetime. The UAF is in an existential war, and that is a powerful motivator.

So, if the UAF can get the F-16 into the war relatively rapidly, will it make any difference? At first blush, it seems highly doubtful. Both sides’ air forces have contributed little of consequence to the war thus far. The deadly air defenses fielded by both sides have largely kept airpower away from the front lines and, in the case of the Russians, relegated to launching long-range missiles from the safety of their home airspace. However, things may be quietly changing.

Recently, Ukraine has demonstrated the ability to successfully plan, coordinate and execute SEAD missions against the most advanced Russian SAM systems in existence. Undoubtedly, some credit is due to the incompetence of Russian air defenders and some to the somewhat less than advertised performance of their “best in the world” equipment. However, the great majority of the credit belongs to the Ukrainian planners, particularly given the somewhat low-tech (slow, prop-driven drones, among other things) they used to accomplish the missions. 

The Viper comes in a variety of flavors as do the weapons they carry. The capabilities the UAF will have depends upon the particular combination they field. For example, the F-16CJ Block 50D is specifically designed to hunt and kill air defenses. When teamed with the AGM-88 High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), the combination is extremely effective. During Operation DESERT STORM, Iraqi troops were so intimidated by the HARM that they refused to use their field radios (which were never targeted, and probably couldn’t be, regardless) and for the next 12 years through Operations SOUTHERN and NORTHERN WATCH and IRAQI FREEDOM, no Iraqi air defense unit turned on its targeting radars — ALL of their shots were fired unguided. Likewise, in Operation ALLIED FORCE over Kosovo and Serbia in 1999, it was rare to see the air defenses turn on their targeting radars. If the UAF can successfully integrate such aircraft and weapons into their SEAD schemes, it could prove as effective with the Russians as it was with the Iraqis and Serbs.

While no amount of SEAD can ever get rid of the threat from air defense guns and IR-guided SAMs, suppression/destruction of the Russian S-300/400, Tor, Pantsir and Buk radar-guided SAMs opens up the UAF’s ability to use altitude to take them out of the range of the short-range threat that will always be present. 

At this point, the F-16’s AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) will move to the fore. The combat histories of the various aircraft and weapons involved would suggest that even a relatively small number of F-16s should be able to secure air superiority over Ukraine. This will be complicated by the fact that the UAF pilots will likely fight using Russian tactics, at least initially. The F-16 was designed to support the use of more dynamic Western tactics, and while it would be difficult for pilots flying MiG-29s to discard their traditional Ground-Controlled Intercept (GCI) doctrine, this will come if the UAF embraces the change. In the mid-1990s, the Kuwaiti Air Force acquired US F-18 Hornets and were trained by the very best the US Navy had to offer. Within three years, they went from being essentially dead in the water to putting the whoop to the Royal Navy’s Harrier pilots and being voted the “Best in the Gulf” by their peer air forces. Changing tactics mid-conflict is far from ideal, but combat can do much to focus the mind. It all depends on the commitment of the UAF leadership and if they buy into the change.

Russian air-to-air missiles are formidable on paper, but have come up short under operational circumstances and their GCI-driven tactics fail to take advantage of what capability they have. However, the superior situational awareness afforded the pilot by the Viper’s easy to use radar and the AMRAAM’s status as a virtual one-shot, one-kill weapon when fired within its parameters make the F-16 capable of high kill:loss ratios. If Ukraine’s F-16s come equipped with the latest models of the AIM-9 Sidewinder Infrared-homing missile, it will be all the more deadly when fighting obsolescent Russian fighters using reliability-challenged weapons and outdated tactics. The sooner UAF Viper pilots can adjust to Western tactics, the more dominant they will be in the skies of their homeland.

Without going into various offshoots, there are two types of air superiority: local air superiority and general air superiority. Local air superiority refers to the seizure of air superiority at a specific time and place in order to conduct a particular operation for a limited time without undue interference by the opponent’s air force. Within the Soviet/Russian doctrinal system, it is gained by strong groupings of long-range SAMs, augmented by Combat Air Patrols (CAP) of fighters to plug gaps and back up the SAM defenses. Obviously, local air superiority cannot be established very far from the front lines on the ground, but this is not a concern since within this scheme, air and air defense forces are used in support of ground forces. While the Russians have always talked a big game, this is essentially the only scheme of air superiority the Russians recognize.  

General, or Persistent air superiority is established over an entire combat zone, region or even country. Of necessity, it must be done utilizing strong fighter forces — often with bomber units as a supplement — and lasts until the enemy can wrest it away by attriting the other side’s fighters to the point that they can no longer present a serious threat. This can best be illustrated by the USAAF’s victory over the Luftwaffe in the European strategic bombing campaign in WWII. 

General air superiority buys the side that has it several advantages. First, it keeps the enemy from meaningfully intervening in the operations of one’s air, ground and naval forces. Secondly, it blinds the enemy to what is going on in one’s own territory, while simultaneously opening up the enemy’s territory to comprehensive reconnaissance. The phenomenon of blinding the enemy while gaining omniscience over him is a war winning, though often overlooked, circumstance. This had as much to do with the victories in Patton’s 1944 operations in France, Operation DESERT STORM and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM as anything else.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of air superiority is the freedom of operations it allows the winner’s forces, including the ability for his air forces to strike when and where they choose. During the summer and fall of 1943, USAAF bombers damaged many targets in Germany while air superiority was being contested, but to nothing like the extent desired. After the USAAF won air superiority over Germany late that winter, their strikes became vastly more effective to the point that, once released from Eisenhower’s direct command in support of the D-Day landings and subsequent ground operations, it took just six months to collapse the German war economy. Clearly, the UAF’s F-16s won’t be collapsing the Russian war economy, but the ability to strike railheads, bridges, fuel and ammunition dumps, Command, Control and Communications (C3) nodes, headquarters and artillery units with such precision can be a decisive factor and force multiplier for Ukrainian ground forces.

The F-16 in every form is an extremely accurate bomber at low altitude, even while using non-guided “dumb” bombs. In a 1980s edition of the USAF’s official publication Fighter Weapons Review, an F-16 pilot detailed a new way to attack runways without specialized munitions. His technique called for aiming 3 feet short of the lip of the runway so that the bombs, burrowing in a predictable manner, go under the concrete to detonate under the center of the runway.  3 feet. That’s some precision bombing.

Typically, putting bombs on target accurately is one of the most challenging tasks a fighter pilot can undertake, particularly in the face of challenging air defenses. However, the Viper makes air-to-ground attacks much easier than with the Russian legacy aircraft. The F-16’s fire control system projects a “Continuously Computed Impact Point (CCIP)” indicator on the heads-up display, which indicates exactly where the bombs will land if punched off at that moment. In earlier jets, the pilot had to fly a precise pre-planned approach to the release point, hitting exact parameters of altitude, airspeed, and dive angle — even the slightest deviation would throw the bombs off target. The first aircraft in a flight might get away with flying a predictable flight path, but the enemy will know with certainty where number four will be at release and can adjust their aim accordingly. The CCIP allows the pilot to take any path to the target, randomly changing airspeed and altitude as necessary for survivability. At the last second, the Viper pilot can pop-up, place the CCIP on the target and deliver his bombs with great precision. It is not for no reason that CCIP’s nickname is the “death dot.” The death dot is featured on most Western fighters today, but Ukraine’s fighter fleet lacks this tool, and therefore the F-16 should give the UAF a major leap forward in effectiveness on ground attack missions.

One thing we shouldn’t expect is a major overnight upgrade in Close Air Support (CAS). The Soviet/Russian Air Force — and by extension, the Ukrainian Air Force — have never really done fixed-wing CAS, at least as we define it. Any air support requiring detailed integration with troops in contact is generally left to attack helicopters, while fixed-wing aircraft do what we used to call Battlefield Air Interdiction (BAI), which doesn’t require close integration and is less likely to inflict friendly fire casualties. (It’s a dirty little secret that about 95% of air forces world-wide do the same.) Doing CAS according to US doctrine is probably the most difficult mission pilots can undertake, requiring a great deal of training and practice. Even if the UAF decides that they like our CAS concept better, it will take some time for them to be able to do it effectively.

Having determined that the UAF could bring the F-16 on line fairly quickly (albeit, without mastery of all its capabilities), that it represents a significant upgrade in SEAD, air superiority and ground attack capabilities, what will its impact be overall? Game changer or not? Most likely, not. It’s really just a matter of numbers. With a sufficiently sized fleet, the F-16 could dominate the skies to the point that Russian troops that moved would be inviting death by interdiction, while those that hunkered down in defensive positions would starve, be blasted to atoms or surrounded and captured by Ukrainian ground forces. However, that would take closer to 200 aircraft than the few dozen they’re likely to get. And, of course, they’ll need attrition replacements for their inevitable combat losses.

One thing we can do right now to significantly improve the survivability of the F-16 fleet is to put their entire logistics support package on wheels. If the UAF’s Viper fleet proves to be effective, the Russians will undoubtedly put their Main Operating Bases (MOBs) at the top of their priority strike list. While putting MOBs out of action is not nearly as easy as some assume, the loss of a hangar-queen here and an unlucky jet there will add up, and with a fleet as small as they are likely to have, they can ill-afford such losses on the ground. The best way to avoid that is to simply not be home when the cruise missiles arrive. The MiG-29 was specifically designed for such operations with the sturdy landing gear and air intake Foreign Object Damage (FOD) screens necessary to operate from unpaved fields. While the Viper will never be capable of operating from a sod field, it can easily operate from highway strips and better so than larger, heavier and less powerful jets. By making the F-16 fleet’s logistics mobile, they could quickly move from highway strip to highway strip to thwart Russian efforts to find them. Coupled with Ukrainian air superiority over their own territory — thereby making Russian reconnaissance vastly more difficult — UAF F-16 attrition could be kept to manageable levels multiplying their impact on the war.

The F-16 probably won’t be a game changer, but it may very well be a decisive factor.



[i]  Accessed 26Oct23.


Soviet Propaganda Leaflet, July 1943

Daniel Horvath, the author, has passed to me a copy of a Soviet propaganda leaflet from July 1943. He said it came from a crashed plane in Orel province.

It is the same thing on both sides of the two-sided printed leaflet. Translation: Russian Propaganda Leaflet (2)


A New
Adventure by Hitler

German soldiers!

On the morning of July 5, Hitler again threw you into a senseless offensive. In two days, this adventure in the Kursk-Belgorod-Orel region cost the German troops 314 aircraft, 1019 tanks and several tens of thousands of soldiers, and

brought no success to the Germans.

Soldiers! With the example of your dead comrades you should be convinced:

The offensive means inevitable death!

Yesterday your comrades fell, tomorrow will be your turn for a reckoning. In the two years of war in the East, Hitler has already destroyed 6,400,000 soldiers and officers in this way.

Soldiers! Think of your families! Refuse to attack!

Go into Russian captivity!

The offensive means death!

Captivity is your salvation!

This leaflet is valid as a pass for German soldiers and officers who surrender to the Red Army.

,<The same in Russian>

Three books to be published this year

I have been quiet about the books that I am working on and publishing because some of them have been slower to release than expected.

I have three books coming out this year. The UK hardcover release dates are:

Aces at Kursk: 30 July 2023
The Battle of Kyiv: 30 August 2023
The Hunting Falcon: 30 September 2023

The U.S. hardcover release dates according to are:

Aces at Kursk: 30 September 2023
The Battle of Kyiv: 30 October 2023
The Hunting Falcon: 31 October 2023

So for a brief moment in time I will be pumping out a book a month. I am currently working on two other books (they might be released in 2023) and I have one other listed on (UK) called “The Other Battle of Kursk” with a release date of 16 July 2024. This is the book “The Battle of Tolstoye Woods.” This has been discussed with the publisher and I may get it published in 2024.

Of course, the only way one gets a book done is to ignore everything else. If some people feel I should be responding in a timely manner to their emails or requests, there is a reason I have not been. Sorry. Three books coming out in one year is evidence that there is some validity to that.

Some relevant links related to Aces at Kursk:

Aces at Kursk – Chapter Listing | Mystics & Statistics (

Aces at Kursk | Mystics & Statistics (

Is this my last Kursk book? | Mystics & Statistics ( The answer is no. I will be working on (and maybe completing) The Battle of Tolstoye Woods in 2024.

145 or 10? | Mystics & Statistics (

So did Kozhedub shoot down 62, 64 or 66 planes? | Mystics & Statistics (

5th Guards Fighter Regiment, 7 July 1943 | Mystics & Statistics (

The 728th Fighter Regiment on 16 July 1943 | Mystics & Statistics (

Soviet versus German kill claims at Kursk | Mystics & Statistics (

So What Was Driving the Soviet Kill Claims? | Mystics & Statistics (

Aces at Kursk – Chapters | Mystics & Statistics (

And related to The Battle for Kyiv: most of this blog from December 2021 through April 2022:

December | 2021 | Mystics & Statistics (

January | 2022 | Mystics & Statistics (

February | 2022 | Mystics & Statistics (

March | 2022 | Mystics & Statistics (

April | 2022 | Mystics & Statistics (

And related to Hunting Falcon:

Award Dates for the Blue Max (1916) | Mystics & Statistics (


Wargaming 101 – In the Bowels of the Pentagon with J-8

Another great William “Chip” Sayers article on wargaming. 


Wargaming 101 – In the Bowels of the Pentagon with J-8

I had been a Soviet Military Aviation analyst for DIA for only a few weeks when a friend from my previous life in the Air Force Reserve Intelligence program invited me to accompany him to the Pentagon to observe a wargame being conducted by J-8, the Joint Staff’s Force Requirements directorate.  The J-8 was basically “wargame central” for the Pentagon, using this tool in various forms to evaluate the impact of various proposed force structure changes on the warfighting abilities of the US military.  In this case, the wargame “command post” was dominated by a floor to ceiling map of NATO’s Central Front with small cardboard chits representing units stuck to the clear acetate covering.  One glance was sufficient to tell me all I needed to know:  the units were in a solid line one-deep stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Alps.  It was 1915 all over again.  Not the most auspicious beginning to 10-years of playing Red Cell in J-8 wargames, but I have to admit it got a lot more interesting from there.

One of my more interesting encounters with J-8 was with regard to an exercise known as “Competitive Strategies.”  The brainchild of Senator — and later Vice-President — Dan Quayle, Competitive Strategies was designed identify and implement ideas that would pit enduring US strengths against enduring Soviet weaknesses.  Senator Quayle, at that time considered a true wunderkind  and the smartest person in the Senate, believed that too often the US was pitting strength against strength — a contest the US could not win — and wanted to engage in what would today be referred to as “asymmetric warfare” that the USSR could not match.  For example, pushing technological warfare beyond what the Soviet industrial base could compete with.

J-8 scoured the Pentagon for ideas, then sent them to the intelligence community to be vetted.  I had missed out on Competitive Strategies I, which took place shortly before I arrived at DIA, but was there for Competitive Strategies II and III.  In the first round, a number of ideas were kicked around, but apparently none were found suitable.  In CS II, I was chosen to be on a board that considered a proposal to counter Soviet air operations (lower case).  The Soviet Air Operation (upper case) was a stratagem the Soviet General Staff came up with when they realized that upwards of half of NATO’s combat power resided in their air forces.  The Air Operation was a preplanned series of strikes intended to deny NATO its airpower advantage by destroying NATO’s air assets on the ground before they could be employed.  This meant that the Air Operation, and the initial ground operations as well, would fire the first shots of WWIII.  I was known to be well versed in the Soviet Air Operation — thus my invitation as a relatively junior analyst to serve on the board — and was not pleased with the proposal.  It seemed inordinately expensive, technologically doubtful, and unlikely to yield the desired impact.  The proposal involved creating a force of ground-launched tactical cruise missiles targeted on virtually every Hardened Aircraft Shelter (HAS) on every Soviet and Warsaw Pact airfield in the East Bloc countries.  These missiles would be fired at the outset of hostilities to catch the enemy aircraft on the ground and destroy them before they could take to the air.

The gentleman who served as our chairman was a good and knowledgeable analyst, but I felt at the time was too prone to “go along and get along.”  We met on a Friday and he proposed to rubber-stamp the proposal and let it go because, “It’s what they want.”  We agreed to meet again on Monday to decide the matter.  As I said, I was young and fairly inexperienced in the way of bureaucracy and chaffed at approving an idea I believed was fatally flawed.  First, the idea proposed creating a sizable force above and beyond the existing force structure, clearly a very expensive proposition.  There were probably an average of 36 to 45 HAS on each of 20-30 airfields on NATO’s Central Front, alone.  That’s 720-1,350 missiles on 180-340 launch vehicles, if they piggy-backed on the similar Ground-Launched Cruise-Missile deployment under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces scheme.  The GLCM force as deployed reached a total of 120 GLCM Transporter Erector Launcher vehicles — each with four missiles — in 22 flights of about 69 airmen, each.  This proposed anti-HAS force would have been potentially three times larger — a very significant investment in force structure above and beyond that already fielded.

Worse, it was highly unlikely that the anti-HAS force would accomplish its intended mission.  The Soviets were all about preempting NATO in order to limit the damage to their own forces and infrastructure, while it was almost inconceivable that NATO would fire the first shot in any credible scenario.  NATO was greatly outnumbered in virtually every category of military equipment and personnel, and starting on the offensive was fairly universally recognized as a death-wish, given the advantages of the defender.  More to the point, getting unanimous consent from all of NATO’s member countries to start a war — regardless of the provocation — was laughable.  Even if one could conceive of a scenario where all the members would agree, the time expended in reaching a decision and promulgating it through the system would ensure that the Soviets — who had thoroughly penetrated NATO’s command structure — would have seized the initiative and launched a preemptive strike long before NATO was ready to move.  This being the case, the Soviets would have gotten the first shot in by launching the Air Operation before the anti-HAS force was ready to go into action.  When the cruise missiles arrived at their targets, they would find the HAS either empty or filled with second-line jets to replace the first-line units which would have recovered at dispersal locations away from their main bases.

Being young and inexperienced, I decided to spend my weekend writing my own substitute proposal, which emphasized doctrinal changes designed specifically to answer the Air Operation.  I had spent a reserve tour working on recreating the AO using individual aircraft on a time schedule, so I believed I had some insight on what the strengths and weaknesses were in the operation.  My proposal was more about where and how to fight, vice buying a whole new category of weapon and the infrastructure to support it.  On Monday morning, I handed out my counter-proposal — Countering the Soviet Air Operation — to the other board members.  After reading it, they voted to adopt it in place of the original proposal and send it forward as our recommendation.

A year or so later, I had the opportunity to host and chair an interagency panel to vet proposals for CSIII.  Over 30 years later, the only proposal I remember was one that proposed to raise several divisions of Marines who would invade the Crimean and Kamchatka peninsulas and cause the fall of the Soviet empire because, as everyone knew, the post-WWII Soviets could not abide by the loss of even a single square centimeter of Soviet territory.  Needless to say, that proposal failed to make the cut.  In fact, such was the disconnect between “Blue” strategists and “Red” doctrine that we could not in good conscience give a thumbs up to any submitted proposal.  Nevertheless, it was a fun, if fruitless, endeavor.  Was Competitive Strategies a completely dry hole?  Had the Soviet Union survived longer, I’m sure it would have proven its worth.  As it was, I was later told that there was at least one proposal adopted through the process.  However, modesty forbids me to talk about it further…

Another interesting J-8 wargame I participated in was a NATO exercise in the late 1980s.  My office was directed to supply a “Red Air” commander and I was selected mainly because the game was scheduled to run over the Thanksgiving holiday that year and I was still fairly junior in the office.  In order to save time, it was decided that we would piggy-back on another wargame that was run every year by another organization.  The did the preliminaries and the first three days of combat, and we would take over from there, starting our game on D+3.

Unfortunately, the folks that had run Red Air had no concept of the Soviet Air Operation, what they would target, or how they would fight.  Their model claimed the Soviet side had lost 800 aircraft in three days and accomplished nothing while doing so.  The losses were excessive, but had they been sacrificed achieving some important goal, that would be one thing.  To simply throw them away like so many target drones was ludicrous.  Red Ground had not fared much better.  They were held to an advance of less than ten kilometers across the length of the front — an inconceivably small movement.  The Soviets could practically have tripped and fallen that far forward.  Any model that could produce such results should have automatically been suspect.

Our overall Red commander was an expert at NATO bureaucracy, but knew very little about how the Soviets would fight.  Despite the team’s protests, he insisted on fighting the Red side according to  MC 161 NATO’s Strategic Intelligence Estimate.[1]  MC 161 was supposed to be NATO’s assessment of the threat, but each NATO country insisted on having the final say on how the threat to them would look.  After the document was compiled and approved, it was used to by the various Ministries of Defence to justify their military budgets.  The upshot was that each country had to have a goodly slice of the threat, whether or not it made sense within the scope of Soviet doctrine.  For instance, during this game, I was instructed to come up with a Soviet Air Force threat to Portugal so that the Portuguese military could play.  I dutifully came up with a scheme to send Tu-95/BEAR bombers along a circuitous route across North Africa to hit a NATO target in Portugal only to be told they had been spotted a thousand nautical miles out and swatted down like flies.  I’m pretty sure those weren’t Portuguese Air Force A-7P attack jets that did in the Bears.  The upshot was that NATO had the Soviets attacking everywhere and concentrating nowhere, thus dissipating their forces and chances for success — precisely the opposite of Soviet doctrine.

As it happened, our overall Red commander suffered a health issue and I moved into his position.  I immediately moved to reconfigure the Soviet attack into something much more akin to their actual doctrine.  After having run three practices according to MC 161, the “Blue” players were unprepared for what hit them — they undoubtedly felt sucker-punched.  To be fair, Blue’s big move had not been a part of the practice runs, either so both sides were confronted with surprises. 

The final plan with fixing attacks (screw-type arrows) to pin three NORTHAG Corps in place while the Northernmost corps was hit with overwhelming force.  The critical moment occurred whenSACEUR ordered a rearward passage of lines to save the corps sector.

The original plan had the Soviets attacking in proportionate attacks all along the front.  The big change I made for Red’s ground offensive was to concentrate forces against the weakest of the NATO corps, while making lower-odds attacks to fix the other forces in place.  Since NATO exercises always assumed a Soviet/Pact invasion, the tools used by white (control) cells developed in a way that were inherently biased to favor the defense.  This bias insinuated itself into the programing of computers that were eventually used to adjudicate results to the extent that the attacker had to overwhelm the defender to make any ground at all.  Witness the beginning of this exercise where in the first three days of fighting, Red forces made less than 10km in the advance.  Our final plan set up an attack so overwhelming that even the computer could not deny a Red victory.  Even that victory was limited such that the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) was able to order a corps-level rearward passage of lines to introduce a fresh defending force in that sector. 

A rearward passage of lines has an unengaged, fresh force set up defensive positions to the rear of the force to be relieved while it is still delaying the enemy.  When the relieved force is pushed back to the relieving force’s new defensive positions, the relieved force slips through the lines at prearranged points with the relieving force taking up responsibility for the sector.  It is one of the most complex and difficult of military maneuvers, and for a brief time, twice the normal amount of defenders are squeezed into the attacker’s line of fire.  To help minimize the risk, SACEUR ordered a fleet of reserve combat aircraft brought in from the UK and other rear bases to cover the maneuver.

One of the key factors in the Red victory came from an unlikely source.  Having failed to do the Soviet Air Operation in the first three days of war, the previous crew left a lot of tools lying around unused.  It so happens that Blue’s movement of aircraft was noted by Red intel and was particularly vulnerable to a belated Air Operation as the aircraft were being staged through auxiliary bases without aircraft shelters.  It would take a little explaining to the control cell, but fortunately, I was on good terms with their leader, having hosted him at my house for an evening of hobbyist wargaming before the exercise.  It turns out that he was one of my all-time favorite game designers, so we had a common language to use.  One of the interesting things I found out was that the program J-8 was using did not explicitly model airbase attacks, and in particular, runway attacks.  I explained to my friend how the Air Operation would work and some of the tricks involved, and he proposed work-arounds to give me realistic results.  Therefore, at the moment that NATO was at its most vulnerable, all of the air cover over the Schwerpunkt turned out to be Red, not the Blue that was intended.  Faced with a catastrophe, Blue’s moves were ludicrously out of touch, the perfect example of Col. John Boyd’s Observe, Orient, Decide, Act-loop going unrecoverably out of cycle.  Everything they did was increasingly out of synch with the reality on the ground and only made matters worse.  The exercise ended with a huge, smoking hole where NORTHAG used to be.

While SACEUR came to the Red Cell to shake our hands, thank and congratulate us on a successful exercise, I am doubtful he was much concerned about what happened on the map as the point was to stimulate conversation among the top NATO leadership.  However, the exercise was never repeated, so I might have gone a tad overboard in delivering a “realistic” enemy.



Presentations from HAAC – Air Combat Analysis on the Eastern Front in 1944-45

We did have two conference rooms operating and were running parallel briefings for part of the afternoon. The second briefing in the Einstein Conference room of the first day was given by the author Daniel Horvath. It is “Air Combat Analysis on the Eastern Front in 1944-45” (21 slides): Air Combat Analysis on the Eastern Front 1944 45_DH_2022.pptx


We had a total of 30 presentations given at the first Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC). We have the briefing slides from most of these presentations. Over the next few weeks, we are going to present the briefing slides on this blog, maybe twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursday). In all cases, this is done with the permission of the briefer. We may later also post the videos of the presentations, but these are clearly going to have to go to another medium ( We will announce when and if these are posted.

The briefings will be posted in the order given at the conference. The conference schedule is here: Schedule for the Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC), 27-29 September 2022 – update 16 | Mystics & Statistics (

The conference opened with a brief set of introductory remarks by me. The seven supporting slides are here: Opening Presentation

It was then followed by a briefing by Dr. Shawn Woodford on Studying Combat; The “Base of Sand” Problem: 20220927 HAAC-Studying Combat

The second presentation of the first day was given by me. It is here (45 slides): Data for Wargames (Summary) – 2

The third presentation of the first day was given by Dr. Tom Lucas of the Naval Post-Graduate School (49 slides):  Fitting Lanchester equations to time-phased battle data

The fourth presentation of the first day was given by Dr. David Kirkpatrick of the University College of London (25 slides):  DKirkpatrick Presentation 19 Jan 22 v2

The fifth presentation of the first day was given by Dr. Niall MacKay, University of York (161 slides): HAAC2022MacKay 

The sixth presentation of the first day was given by Jim Storr (32 slides): HA Conference DC Sep 22 V1.2

The seventh and final presentation of the first day was given by Dr. Shawn Woodford (10 slides): 20220927 HAAC-Understanding Dupuy

The first briefing in the Einstein Conference room of the first day was given by Dr. Michael Johnson (CNA) (64 slides): Main brief

Cost of Iranian “Kamikaze” Drones

I was watching Sky News (UK) last night. In one program (I am not able to now find the link on Youtube) their defense analysis, Professor Michael Clarke, stated that the new Iranian low-tech delta wing “kamikaze” drones cost only $20,000 (see: HESA Shahed 136 – Wikipedia) while the Russian SS-21s cost $300,000 (see: OTR-21 Tochka – Wikipedia). I have no idea of the accuracy of those figures, but Wikipedia does state that the cost of an SS-21 is 0.3 million, based upon this article: Over the weekend, Russia fired missiles worth about $200 million at Ukraine. Forbes&nbsp score; — It gives the cost of the various Russian missiles as: “…the cost of the X-101 rocket was $13 million, the Caliber was $6.5 million, the Iskander was $3 million, the Onyx was $1.25 million, the Kh-22 was $1 million, and the Tochka-U was $0.3 million.” Wikipedia gives the price of each HESA Shahed 136 as $20,000 to €50,000. Its two referenced sources are: Iranian ‘suicide’ drones: Russia’s new favorite weapon in Ukraine war | International | EL PAÍS English Edition ( and Financial toll on Ukraine of downing drones ‘vastly exceeds Russian costs’ | Ukraine | The Guardian. The two articles also state that Russia has ordered 2,400 of these drones, based upon a statement made by Zelenskyy.

The obvious implication is that Russian can fill the skies with these inexpensive low-tech drones, and even if 80% or more are shot down, enough will get through to cause damage. Is this the driver in the new Russian bombardment strategy?

Hellfire R9X

Hellfire R9X. Source:

The missile used to kill Al-Zawahiri in Kabul was the Hellfire AGM-114 R9X. Don’t know the range of this missile, but the AGM-114R Hellfire II has a range of 11,000 meters. It was fired from a “Reaper Drone.” The General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper is a UAV with a range of 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) and a cruise speed of 194 mph (313 kph). 

Not sure where they operated this from, but there were a lot of options.


Wikipedia notes (bolding is mine):

The Hellfire R9X is a Hellfire variant with a kinetic warhead with pop-out blades instead of explosives, used against specific human targets. Its lethality is due to 45 kg (100 lb) of dense material with six blades flying at high speed, to crush and cut the targeted person — the R9X has also been referred to as the ‘Ninja Missile’ and ‘Flying Ginsu‘. It is intended to reduce collateral damage when targeting specific people. Deployed in secret in 2017, its existence has been public since 2019. This variant was used in the killings of Jamal Ahmad Mohammad Al Badawi, accused mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing, and Abu Khayr al-Masri, a member of Al-Qaeda‘s leadership. The weapon has also been used in Syria, and in Afghanistan against a Taliban commander. It was used twice in 2020 against senior al-Qaeda leaders in Syria; in September 2020 US officials estimated that it had been used in combat around six times. Hellfire missiles fired by a Reaper drone were used on 31 July 2022 to kill Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al-Qaeda, who had previously been involved in planning the 9/11 and other attacks on US targets. It was reported that the missile hit him on a balcony, causing minimal collateral damage.