Nerf Wars: On downgrading Russian systems & units in Command

October 3, 2022 · Posted in Command, Command PE · Comment 

So, ever since it became clear that Russian combat performance in Ukraine has been “less than stellar”, there has been a persistent request in many corners of the web towards the Command dev team. The request can be summed up as:

“So, when are you guys going to nerf Russian equipment in Command’s database, to match what we are seeing in Ukraine? It seems it is performing well below official specs.”

(Oxford Dictionary: “to nerf”: (of a video game developer) reduce the power of (a character, weapon, etc.) in a new instalment or update of a video game.)

A naval-oriented variant of this comment is: “I tried simulating the attack on the cruiser Moskva, and I just couldn’t sink it as happened it real life. So CMO is probably talking up Russian hardware.”

Now, there is a short and direct answer to both these claims, but we have been advised not to print it here. So let’s go into the more elaborate and slightly more polite version instead.

Command, by default (ie. stock DB values) represents Russian systems (and all other nation’s systems) as they are meant to be used, by trained crews employing them according to their design doctrine. Shortly after the Ukraine conflict got going for real, a US general remarked that “Russian hardware works pretty well… when used by Ukrainians”.

(As a quick example of this, Carlo Kopp had written an unusually insightful analysis on what happens when Russian SAMs get used correctly, and also what happens when they are not. Favorite quote: “The Syrians used mobile missiles in a fixed configuration; they put the radars in the valley instead of the hills because they didn’t want to dig latrines — seriously.”)

At the same time, Command also recognizes that combat is not a sterile hardware contest, and provides a lot of “soft factor” options (crew proficiency settings, reaction times, doctrine settings, EMCON, ROE etc.) to offer the ability to represent sub-optimal usage of said hardware. You can have two different units use exactly the same hardware with vastly different effectiveness and survivability (our favorite reference example is Iraqi 1991 SA-6 battery vs. Serbian 1999 SA-6 battery).

An example list of the factors you can edit:

  • Proficiency levels, both side-wide and per-unit
  • Reaction times (OODA loop values)
  • Doctrine settings
  • Rules of Engagement
  • EMCON settings
  • WRA settings (ie. firing doctrine)
  • Per-component equipment failure

That very last aspect is particularly important in light of what has been recently learned WRT the system readiness on the Moskva. According to the leaked readiness report (standard caveat for CYA-shaped leaks), both the central SA-N-6 fire control radar and the short-range SA-N-4 systems were effectively disabled due to equipment malfunction and were waiting for replacements. In addition both the main guns as well as the main air-search radar were also inoperative. In other words, the Moskva was sent to an active warzone almost naked against air/missile attack.

Can this be faithfully reproduced in Command? Absolutely.

Can other factors, such as apparently poor crew proficiency which led to both poor reaction times and also abysmal damage control, also be modelled? Also yes, very easily so.

So why then do some CMO users out there find it so hard to reproduce results like the Moskva sinking? (Or the Saki airbase strike, or S-300/400 batteries not being omnipotent, or UAVs apparently roaming at will, or…)

TOUGH LOVE WARNING: Because some people’s idea of “testing something in the scenario editor” is to quickly plop down a few units here and there, in their stock-DB setups, give them free fire reign against each other, and call it a day. No customization for soft factors, component status or any of the other real-world aspects that directly impact the end result.

Thankfully, some players are disciplined enough to do it right. Here is an example, soon after the actual sinking itself when info was still scarce. (This of course is far from “the last word” on the subject. SMEs are still debating e.g. how the Sheffield went down after a single Exocet hit while the Stark survived two of them. Hell, even WW2 events are still up for analysis. It’s a safe bet that the Moskva sinking will be endlessly discussed by our grandchildren.)

It is tempting indeed, to embed the soft-factor issues directly into the DB entries themselves, so that when you spawn a Russian unit on the virtual battlefield, it’s in a sorry condition out-of-the-box, ready to be clobbered. The price you pay for this expedient approach becomes obvious only later, when you realize that not only you lost the ability to clearly separate man (and context/circumstances) from machine, but you also railroaded yourself intellectually into believing that this Russian unit will always behave like this.

Does this matter? Let us consider, for instance, an Israeli staff sergeant nerfing Egyptian tanks in a wargame just prior to Yom Kippur in 1973 “because they were such pushovers just a few years back”. Did this specific example happen? Maybe, maybe not; but we know for a fact that the Israeli military establishment grossly underestimated Egyptian & Syrian forces because of their lightning successes in 1967 (they essentially nerfed them in their mental “databases”), and that plenty of Israeli soldiers paid for that intellectual myopia with their lives. Is this a mistake we want (or can afford) to repeat?

Such a radical shift in combat effectiveness with identical/similar hardware does not happen just between conflicts, but also within the span of a conflict itself. Returning to Ukraine for an example, in the early days of the “rush for Kiev” we observed a lot of Russian SHORADS batteries getting bombed by aircraft while completely inoperative. As it turns out, apparently the rapid speed at which these elements were forced to move (to screen the assault forces) prevented them from properly screening/leap-frogging each other and thus actually operating as they are designed and supposed to do. When later these very same systems were properly echeloned with the forces they covered during the Russian withdrawal to Donbass (and also undeniably as the hard lessons of the first weeks were distilled to the surviving operators), their effectiveness and survivability were restored to expected levels. (And then the Ukrainians introduced HARMs in the theater… but that’s another story)

How can you represent such drastic differences in effectiveness in the very same unit, if the soft-factors are embedded in the database entry? Short answer: You can’t.
(Longer answer: You can cheat/hack your way into it by having multiple entries in the DB, each representing different competence levels and equipment maintenance. It’s a very hacky solution, a maintenance nightmare, and again you are mixing up man, machine and context. We sometimes were forced to do something like this back in the computer-Harpoon days, simply because Harpoon had absolutely no soft factors. Nowadays we can and must do better.)

So, to recap: We would be doing a grave disservice to both our commercial players and especially pro customers by directly embedding soft factors into the DB just so that Joe Player can get a realistically-degraded Moskva out of the box. Platforms and systems in the DB are spawned in pristine condition and (by default) are assumed to be crewed competently: This is not a design oversight, but a conscious and carefully-considered decision. Players can then modify the platforms themselves, turning them into anything from decrepit spank-targets all the way to invincible fortresses, and shape the context of the virtual environment in their favor or against them, in order to either recreate historical situations or explore hypotheticals of past, present or future. But in every case, it’s something that they will have to roll up their sleeves and do themselves. To quote Norm Koger from two decades ago: “Word processors ask a lot of those who would use them to create stories”.

Thanks, and carry on.

Command: Falklands announced

September 26, 2022 · Posted in Command · Comment 

Coming soon to Matrix Games Store & Steam.

Community Scenario Pack #46: 18 new, 8 updated, 568 total!

August 29, 2022 · Posted in Command · Comment 

Following the release of the Showcase: Queen Elizabeth DLC, the Community Scenario Pack (CSP) is due for another refresh. Brandon Johnson (Kushan) has updated the pack to version #46, with updates & refreshes to 8 existing scenarios, as well as 18 brand-new creations. Let’s take a look:


Arctic Tsunami, 2019: Hypothetical engagement between NATO and Russia in the Nord Kapp, Norway and Norwegian Sea area. NATO is slightly out of position with Russia having the advantage of concentration of force.

Baltic Fury 4 – Ride of the Valkyries, 1994: You are the commander the Soviet 15th Air Army. Your formation has deployed forward into advanced bases in Poland and has been resting for the past four days. With reinforcements you are tasked to conduct offensive strikes into Denmark in order to gain air and sea superiority over Jutland.

Baltic Fury 5 – Ivan’s March Across the Belts, 1994: This is the fifth and last scenario of the Baltic Fury campaign, and critical to the Northern Fury operations. You are the commander the Soviet 38th Guards Airborne Corps. Your light brigades and the Polish forces are to secure a corridor to Jutland. In a move similar to King Charles Gustav’s March across the Belts in 1658, you will rapidly seize a series of key points across the Great and Little Belts of the Danish Archipelago, allowing your two Airborne Divisions to concentrate on seizing the neck of Jutland while ensuring safe passage of your MRD to offloading ports on the mainland. Your deputy handed you a pirated copy of the film A Bridge Too Far as he departed your HQ for the final time. His protests had apparently attracted too much attention from the Zampolit.

Bear Island, 2022: BeirutDude’s final scenario for CMO. Your mission is simple, using your amphibious forces, take back Bear Island. Everything else is there to support that goal.

France Goes to Conakry, 1984: This scenario assumes that, shortly before the 1984 coup that took place in Guinea, both France and the Soviet Union moved forces into the area. Soviet intentions are unclear, but France is determined to protect the interests of its former colony.

Giving Some Hell to Harry, 2022: NATO responded with significant support to the Ukraine after massive Russian forces struck into the Donbass region. In response Putin launched attacks into the Baltic States and NATO honored its Article Five responsibilities. Carrier Strike Group Eight is in the Central Gulf of Mexico and was ordered to move west to neutralize the Russian bases and Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) in Syria. All that sits between them, and the eastern Med is the brand-new Russian Project 885M Yasen-M Class nuclear submarine Kazan (K-561).

Indian Fury 6 – Into the Breach, 1994: You’re commanding CTF 154 centered on the USS Saratoga CVBG and other forces in the Persian Gulf region. Your primary task is to transit the Straits of Hormuz in an effort to impress Saudi Arabia to commit to the conflict on our side. However, a critical secondary task is to ensure the safety of a major oil convoy heading to Europe, and of course tie down Soviet and Soviet aligned forces (primarily Iran) so they cannot interfere in other theatres. Finally, you must do all of this, while preventing the spread of the war and remaining disengaged from the parallel India/Pakistan conflict that is now raging.

Indian Fury 7 – Deep Strike, 1994: You are commanding the 366th Expeditionary Fighter Wing which is a unique organization in the USAF. You flew into Cairo about ten days ago and have been conducting missions in the Eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea areas since then. Tonight, is something different. This morning you had a phone call from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon, not something you expected. Apparently, the Soviets have been helping the Iranians with their nuclear program and the Israelis are more than a little uptight. Since Washington wants to keep Israel from acting independently and causing all sorts of problems with our Arab allies, we have been given a new tasking.

Iran Strike, 2022: In May 2022 Iran announced it would not sign any international agreement that limits its nuclear program and that it would begin developing nuclear weapons. Across the middle east contingency plans for such an event were about to be put into action. This scenario is designed as a sandbox to see what an Israeli, US, or combined strike on Iran might look like

NFZ Baltic; NFZ Med; NFZ Nordkapp; NFZ Pacific, 2022: Four-part scenario series where the NAC (North Atlantic Council), or political arm of NATO is debating the implementation of a No-fly Zone (NFZ) over Ukraine. Despite advice from military leaders that this will likely initiate a world war, several impassioned pleas by the Ukrainian President and the support of some NATO leaders may sway the vote.

Sudan Strike, 2025: In 2022 after a change in leadership caused by the 2021 coup and its aftershocks, and after a long series of negotiations, Sudan and Russia finally signed an agreement for the establishment of a Russian naval base at Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast. In May 2025 a small incident on the Korean peninsula has spiraled out of control into a global conflict. It was decided to give the Sudanese government an ultimatum to expel all Russian personnel. The Sudanese government has chosen to not accept any of the terms of the ultimatum. It has been decided to use military force to destroy the Russian base and any Sudanese forces that interfere.

Taiwan Straits, 2022: The PLAAF and PLA(N)AF are ordered to initiate the largest test of the Taiwan Area ADIZ to date. Hundreds of aircraft will be launched to test the Taiwanese resolve, including PLA(N)AF H-6G’s circumnavigating the Island from both the north and south.

The Battle of Al Khor, 1995: In 1995, there was a bloodless coup in Qatar. This scenario assumes that the military in Qatar was divided in its loyalties and the two factions fought for supremacy in the air and on the sea. Saudi Arabia is offering assistance to the faction loyal to the government at the time of the coup.

The Convoy, Ukraine, 2022: What if NATO actually put together a rapidly developed operation only using NATO airbases and aircraft in the Ukraine?

Vlakke Hoek, 1962: The battle of Vlakke Hoek was a naval engagement that took place on January 15th, 1962 during the West New Guinea (or West Irian) crisis between the Netherlands and Indonesia.


The new community scenario pack is, as always, available for download at the Command Team site: http://command.matrixgames.com/?page_id=1876 , and also on the Steam workshop.

The CSP now proudly counts 568 scenarios in its stable!

Command Showcase: Queen Elizabeth is released

August 18, 2022 · Posted in Command · Comment 

Buy on Matrix Games

Buy on Steam

Command PE 2.1 has been released

March 10, 2022 · Posted in Command PE · Comment 

It’s finally here! Ever since the original release of v2.0, we have been putting together the next major update for Command PE, and the day has come: Command PE v2.1 is now available for download.

Phil Gatcomb has made a new series of tutorial videos detailing the most important new features, watch them HERE.

True to the spirit of every Command release, v2.1 is jam-packed with new features and enhancements straight from user feedback and requests. The full release notes are available HERE.

Some of the hottest new features include:

  • New feature: Lua Event-hooks. It is now possible to extend and even override built-in simulation events by using Lua scripts and hooking them up to these events. This brand-new feature was showcased at our most recent user conference and easily turned heads, with good reason: It makes implementing mechanics overrides easier than ever, and with absolutely no involvement needed by the CPE development team (particularly useful for sensitive or proprietary models/data).
  • New “Interactive Analysis Settings” window. Interactive analysis settings can now be configured on-the-fly, without having to restart the application for the changes to take effect. Big boon for analysts!
  • New simulation feature: Radar resolution cell. (See this page for background). If multiple units are located within the resolution cell, the radar will detect only one of them. This feature confers an extra advantage to higher-frequency radar systems, as they are better able to distinguish between closely-clustered targets.
  • New simulation feature: Radar vertical scan angle limits. Radars can only look up/down to a maximum of 30 degrees. This restriction severely curtails their ability to search for targets high above or well under them, and has indeed been used and exploited historically (example). There is an exception, however: Phased-array radars can scan upwards close to the vertical limit.
  • New simulation feature: Phased array off-boresight gain reduction. Phased-array radars (PESA/AESA) suffer from gain degradation (hence effective range reduction) when attempting to detect targets far off the antenna boresight, both on the horizontal and vertical plane. This schematic shows the coverage difference between a mechanical-scan set (APG-68(V)9) and two AESA radar options for the F-16:

    Note the severe drop on high off-boresight detection range on the two AESAs because of the gain reduction.This severe reduction in effective detection range can cause problems when cranking during BVR engagements, as the target is placed at the problematic “edge of scan envelope” area. To compensate for this, phased array-fitted aircraft now crank much more conservatively (less divergent from true bearing to target), in order to keep tracking the target.
  • New simulation feature: Daisy-chain weapon datalinks. Weapons can now directly connect to each other instead of always connecting to a firing/guiding platform. This behavior can be used by weapons to model comms extension, contact sharing etc.
  • New simulation feature: Loitering weapons. Two types of loitering weapons are modelled; aerodynamic and parachute. Loitering weapons can be fired either directly against a target (as standard non-loitering weapons) or BOL-fired (Ctrl+F1) into a set of coordinates and then hunt for a target either autonomously or under direct control, depending on their communication status.
  • Significant changes to sonar model. We have previously described these changes as part of the CMO v1.03 update, and they have now been absorbed into CPE as well.
  • Wholly-reworked ballistic missile trajectory model. The BM model now uses true Keplerian equations resulting in highly-accurate trajectory profiles for each range segment (minimum-energy trajectory is assumed). This is particularly visible in intermediate- and long-range ballistic shots.
  • New facility type: Surface (flat) & underground. This type represents facilities that reside primarily underground while still being partially surface-accessible (and thus attackable). Such facilities include ballistic missile silos (and old Nike-Hercules!), command / LCC bunkers and retractable forts & coastal defences (e.g. ERSTA). This type of facility can be damaged/destroyed in two ways: Direct hit on above-ground surface, or transmitted shock from underground detonation (e.g. MOP, B61-11, BLU-109/113 near-miss) or a VERY powerful surface burst (e.g. B53 laydown).
  • Ground units now have fuel records and can refuel & replenish. If they run out of fuel, they are immobilized until they can refuel. They can also request replenishment, for both fuel and ammo/stores from suitable providers (e.g. fuel-bowser trucks or ammo carriers). If they can move to the UNREP vehicles on their own they will do so; otherwise the UNREP vehicles will rendezvous with them.
  • Revised Mission Editor layout. The Mission Editor window layout has been revised, with the unassigned and per-mission assigned units windows now stacked vertically (on top of each other) instead of horizontally side-by-side. This makes it easier to read the full unit names (which may differ only towards their ends) as well as supplementary per-unit information (loadout, status etc.). In addition, the panels now include per-category filter buttons that allow displaying only the selected types of platforms:
  • Redesigned Message Log window. The Message Log window has been redesigned to be easier to interpret. Instead of grouping the displayed messages by type, messages to be displayed can now be filtered in/out by individual type, by toggling the buttons labelled with their respective type. In the example below, all message-type buttons are green, which means that all types are enabled for display:

 

  • New UI feature: Quick manual weapon allocation. While having an own-unit selected, shift + right-click on contact, and select “Engage with:”. This will present a submenu with all suitable weapons to engage with:

    The right-click menu has also been enriched with additional options, such as:

    • Drop Target
    • Investigate (ie. manouver to intercept & identify but do not engage)
    • Refuel To Tanker
    • Join Group As Escort (for aircraft only)
    • RTB
    • Assign New Home Base
  • In WEGO-MP mode, clients are automatically able to use custom databases regardless of their license tier. Furthermore, if the server uses a custom database, this is automatically distributed to new MP clients as they connect to the running session. This greatly simplifies the setup for starting up new MP sessions.
  • Load/save Doctrine & ROE templates. You can now load/save doctrine/ROE templates in XML format through the GUI (“Doctrine/ROE” window, “General” tab):
  • You can now change the side of any existing unit. This is supported both by the GUI and also through scripting.
  • Updated database releases (v492), with hundreds of additions and changes.
  • Dozens of other tweaks & additions big and small, based on the feedback that the development team receives from the professional user community on a daily basis.

With v2.1 out in the wild, the dev team is now free to merge several currently-in-development major new features into the main development branch, so you can update even more on the next update release. Stay tuned!

 

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