Desert Shield Simulations Part 2

Part one

For the first set of naval trials, I put the USN in an awkward position. The Iraqis used a “tethered intercept” from an airbase near Basra, while the American F-14s launched from a carrier on the other side of the Strait of Hormuz. This situation was far from ideal, and reflected the highly justified reluctance to move the carriers into the closed Gulf itself. I used lighter loadouts for the F-14s, signifying a decision to trade maximum firepower for on-station time (after all, only two AIM-54s and three AIM-7 missiles are better than zero of each because your CAP had to run back to the carrier and the attack occurred in that off-guard moment)

A series of engagements occurred. I varied them in technical violation of proper “science”, because air combat is unpredictable, and I didn’t want to see two fleets of robotic random number generators fighting to complete attrition. The engagements using my handicapped settings (high proficiency for Iraq, and no manual designation of hostile for USN) ranged from a 2.1-1 kill/loss ratio in favor of the USN to a 1.6/1 ratio in favor of the Iraqis. The average was a 1.2/1 in favor of the US. Running a “generous case” (lower Iraqi proficiency and being more generous with BVR shots), gave me a 1.9-1 ratio in favor of the Americans.

The tactics used for the USN were poor too. No jammers, no forward-deployed “red crown” ships to lend their powerful sensors, and they did a too-close patrol with reinforcements from the carrier far away. With full hindsight, keeping the Tomcats back but using a prosecution area to perform their mission of fleet defense while minimizing the danger of just such a surprise bounce would be a far better strategy.

Running the sim, compared with the experiment over Saudi Arabia, shows the comparative advantage the USAF had at long-distance identification at the time over the US Navy. Yet even in the worst-case scenarios, the USN could withstand its losses far better than the Iraqis.

Next I moved on to anti-ship scenarios. For gameplay ease, ships patrolled off the coast of Kuwait, around fifty nautical miles out. Even against low-end vessels like the Perrys, iron bomb attacks were fruitless-six MiG-21s were sent out, and all six were shot down. An Exocet attack showed the hit on the USS Stark was no fluke, as the missiles could overwhelm even a ready Perry (which the Stark was not).

The first attempt to use land-based HY-2s to attack a Perry were unsuccessful, given their size and clunkiness compared to the lower-flying, stealthier, Exocet, but it was still a close and terrifying call. The second attempt was successful.

Those cases involved “historical” levels of Iraqi anti-shipping capability-even during the Tanker War, the Iraqi air strikes were frequently small and ill-conducted, and the only strike effort in the Gulf War involved two Mirages. I did use ahistorical coordination for repeated plane vs ship encounters. For attacking a Spruance destroyer, a hit was scored with Exocets with a four-Mirage unit, but two-Mirage ones were difficult.

Against a baseline Ticonderoga, I threw twenty-four Exocets from twelve Mirages at it. The missiles overwhelmed it from a short range. The same cruiser-with the benefit of an F-14 CAP and E-2 support-, suffered only one near-miss (that still damaged it). This showed that even against a prepared opponent, the Exocet threat was still dangerous-but it also showed the attrition factor-the F-14’s shot down five of the twelve participating in the attack, doing irreparable damage to one of Iraq’s few capable platforms. Furthermore, had there been another ship with the Ticonderoga or the CAP been slightly bigger, even the single leaker would not have made it.


-The worst-case fears of coalition naval planners were justified. Although requiring ahistorically good coordination, the anti-shipping assets of Iraq did allow for a battle that would be more than a turkey shoot.

-However, General Horner’s worst-case prediction of the air war-that they could do some damage before being ground down, but would be crushed nonetheless, holds true as well for any encounter at sea.

-This is especially true considering that only the missile-carrying aircraft have any practical capability to attack at all.

-The USN’s comparative lack of target recognition compared to the Air Force at the time (which led to it only obtaining three claimed kills in the actual war) is apparent.

-Interdiction of sea lines by Iraq was not directly attempted in the experiment, but seems difficult if the Coalition puts a substantial barrier/blockade of ships and naval aircraft near Kuwait and is willing to risk them for the sake of defending its logistical assets unloading farther away (as they probably would in the event of a serious war).