Renovation! Watch for falling links! Renovation!

Contents:

  1. Helo Tactics and Survivability
    1. Bringing the Point Home
  2. Smoke and Helos
  3. Attack Helecopter AI
  4. OH-58 Mast
  5. Air Attacks against Helecopters
  6. Elevations and Helecopters
  7. Detailed Helo Tactics
  8. Standoff Attacks with ATGMs beyond 4000m Visibility Limit
  9. Resupplying Helos
  10. Helo Lines of Sight (LOS)

1. Helo Tactics and Survivability

The AI remembers where it recently saw US units. If a helo is observed as it moved to its pop up firing position or if it tries to use the same pop up position twice in a short period then the AI is gonna be primed to fire on it. A helo flying at NOE (nap of the earth) altitude has the same line of sight as a unit on the ground. A helo flying at medium altitude (the highest altitude in TacOps) can spot (and be spotted by) just about everything within 4000 meters. Try giving helo orders that cause the helo to do the following: move at NOE altitude to a firing position that has a line of sight block between the helo and the suspected target area, order the helo to go to medium altitude (helo up orders button), stay there for 15 seconds (delay orders button), go back to NOE altitude (helo down orders button), and move away immediately to another pop up firing position. If you do this you should usually be able to get a "free" 15 second pulse for spotting and firing. If the helo spots a target when it pops up it has a very good chance of nailing it and getting away. If a helo stays visible to OPFOR SAM gunners or a ZSU for more than 15 seconds, it is in trouble --- more than 30 seconds and you can kiss it goodbye. You should try to use your helos at the maximum range of their weapons. The closer your helos get to OPFOR the more things he has that can shoot them down, especially if the helos are hovering. For example, the 30mm automatic cannon on a BMP starts to be quite useful against hovering helos at around 2000 meters.

The ground to air tables are much more conceptual and much less specific than the ground to ground tables. RPKs are lumped in with all other light machine guns and AK74s are lumped in with all other auto rifles for ground to air shooting. I spent an hour or so running Apaches and Cobras by a dismounted OPFOR rifle platoon in rough terrain. The weapons that were fired at the helos were RPK light machine guns and AK74 rifles. At ranges from 0 up to about 500 meters, the RPKs in each squad in the platoon were getting a 4% probability of kill vs moving Apaches and a 6% probability of kill vs moving Cobras, the AK74s in each squad were getting a 2% chance vs Apaches and a 3% chance vs Cobras. Unless I hovered the helo almost directly over the enemy platoon, the OPFOR platoon only got one round of fire before the helo flew out of range. These percentages are based on one squad firing machine gun and auto rifle volleys for some indefinite period of up to 15 seconds - they don't mean one bullet. The more squads in range of a helo, the higher the accumulated percentages will be.

In dozens of runs, I did not see the squads engage with AK74s beyond 400 or so meters and I did not see the squads engage with RPKs beyond 600 meters or so. In my book, if a user puts an Apache and especially a Cobra that close to an enemy rifle platoon or company then he deserves to see it shot down <grin>. TacOps does not allow "damage" to helos --- they either continue to be available or else they are killed. Many of the helo kills in the game would actually be damage sufficient to make the pilot immediately either go home or else look for a safe place nearby to set down. That level of helo play is not currently gamed so I just turn them into flaming wrecks and move on.

I am more than a little concerned that if I reduce the effectiveness of small arms against helos, that I will immediately start to see users sending Apaches into Wild West, point blank range, hovering shootouts with dismounted infantry. This might happen by accident in real life, but I suspect that any real world pilot who intentionally risked his multi million dollar long range killer platform in such an endeavor would be quickly grounded by his boss if not by the target.

They may be a bit, but I think it is more because the current simplified approach to elevation and altitude keeps them from getting their proper advantage from popup and terrain masking. Also, TacOps does not currently differentiate between a helo being destroyed outright and a helo immediately leaving the battle area due to damage. Many (perhaps most) of the helos that TacOps turns into flaming wrecks would in real life not be actually destroyed. Rather they would sustain a hit of some sort and they would immediately pull out of combat and move to a remote site to sit down for at least a pilot inspection. Pilots tend to put a priority on investigating loud bangs associated with their machinery <grin>.

1.1 Bringing the Point Home

Q: I have sources (unknown if true) that state the Apache and the Hinds have a fair amount of armour. In one article, it states the main rotor of the Apache has sustained direct hits by 23mm shells in testing.

A: Yes, but in real life an Apache that recognized that its rotor had just been hit by a 23mm shell would still usually immediately leave the battle area. Apaches, Hinds, and Cobras do have armor of a sort but it is not equally thick everywhere. The thickest armor tends to be limited to a sort of bathtub built around the pilots from the shoulders down. There are also small plates here and there in front of super critical engine and power train components. The Apache's and the HIND's primary protection lies in systems redundancy and the ability to sustain damage without immediately crashing. There is a big difference between being survivable and being invulnerable. In real life when these helos get hit by just about anything they get damaged and they immediately leave the battle area. TacOps currently does not game helos being damaged and then leaving the map, they are simply assessed as being destroyed.

2. Smoke and Helos

If you camp out your helecopters in smoke, zsu-23's and ground-based (not BMP- based) SAM's will not shoot at you. Laying smoke aroud an LZ is a great way to protect the troop carries like the CH-47. They can land relatively unmolested, unload their troops and exit the area before the smoke disappears and OPFOR might not even know that they were there until it sees a mass of troops rushing its position.

3. Attack Helecopter AI

Unless the priority buttons have been used, all units generally fire at the nearest target that offers the best chance of a kill. However, units that have long range anti armor weapons will generally look first for an armored target rather than infantry. I think Cobras and Apache's are only allowed to engage one target per fire pulse so if given a choice they will generally not shoot at infantry. If you want to force helos to engage infantry rather than an armored target then use the priority targeting buttons to focus the helo on the infantry.

Everyone ought to really study the part of the manual that talks about the priority targeting buttons. You can do some really subtle things with them. Remember that more than one kind of priority can be set at the same time. If there are multiple priorities then the unit will check them in the same left to right order as the buttons are positioned in the window.

Here is an example of a possible way to use the priority buttons to solve the request that was in the first paragraph. Say you have a Cobra and 500 or so meters to its front is an infantry unit and 2000 meters farther away is a tank platoon. The first priority button on the left is "Target Unit". Press that button and give the Cobra a soft priority order to fire on the spotted infantry unit. The rightmost priority button is "Target Type". Press that button and give the Cobra a soft priority order to fire on T80 tanks. If the Mars is properly aligned with Jupiter <grin> you might see the following then happen. The Cobra would fire rockets or guns at the infantry unit since "Target Unit" is a higher priority than "Target Type". If the infantry was suppressed as a result of this attack it would automatically go defilade and thus in the next fire pulse would probably become unspotted/invisible. With the infantry now invisible, the Cobra will be unable to engage its first priority and it will proceed to its next priority, T80 tanks, and would then shoot up the distant tank platoon.

4. OH-58 Mast

I can't yet add a protected observation mode or laser designation mode for the OH58 that gives it the benefit that it should have from using the MAST. There isn't enough elevation and altitude differentation in the game engine to be able to assess the OH-58 as being at lets call it "NOE plus" altitude. If I just bumped it up to the next existing altitude it would be immediately spotted and shot down. I had to simplify the handling of elevation and altitude in order to not slow the combat phase to a number crunching crawl (its not just the trig, its also the increased amount of terrain data base info that must go with more elevation and altitude variety). I am working on finding a limited way to better simulate this as an update, but the right way to do it is to make elevation and altitude mathematically accurate and that is too big a memory and processing time challenge right now. I don't think anything less than a Quadra 605 could handle what I want to do without the game player getting restless. I can't afford to limit decent game performance to just "this year's" Mac models.

5. Air Attacks against Helecopters

OPFOR airpower plays and arrives by the same coded logic rules as the human player. I have scratched my head trying to figure out how it could appear to you to be so much better at it. The only advantage I could figure out that the computer has is that it is able to calculate a better future position for a legally observed, moving target than most humans can. I consider this to be perfectly legal as a very observant and wily human can do the same thing. Here is what I mean by that. Say the computer legally spots a moving helo during the combat turn and that it still legally knows its position at the end of that combat phase. The computer will examine its enroute air strikes and it may assign one or more to the observed helo. The computer will compare the arrival time of the air strike to the speed and direction of movement of the helo and it will "lead" the target some. When an air strike is less than a minute from arrival, this calculation could be pretty accurate. At the instant of arrival, any airstrike - US or OPFOR - will first look for any helo within 1000 meters and if it finds one it will instantly shift to that helo - this "free shift" seems reasonable to me since an aircraft is self guided all the way to its target and the human player gets to do it to. You add the 1000 meter "free shift" to the computers ability to legally predict future positions and you have a high threat environment for helos if they move long distances in straight lines and if they don't move several kilometers between firings or spottings.

6. Elevations and Helecopters

Helos have three levels of altitude --- sort of.

"Elevation 0" means low terrain but the "0" does not mean zero meters of real altitude. Both ground units and helos can be at elevation 0. If a helo is "landed" on terrain that is at elevation 0 then that helo is at elevation 0. If a helo is flying at nap of the earth (NOE) altitude over terrain that is at elevation 0 then that helo is also at elevation 0. If a helo is flying at NOE altitude over terrain that is at elevation 0 and the helo flys directly over a town or woods, then the helo will be at elevation 1 while over the town or woods .

"Elevation 1" mean high ground. Both ground units and helos can be at elevation 1. If a helo is "landed" on terrain that is at elevation 1 then that helo is at elevation 1. If a helo is flying at NOE altitude over terrain that is at elevation 1 then that helo is also at elevation 1. If a helo is flying at NOE altitude over terrain that is at elevation 1 and the helo flys directly over a town or woods then the helo will be at elevation 2 but it will actually be treated as being at medium altitude for targeting purposes.

"Elevation 3" means medium altitude. Only helos can be at elevation 3. Elevation 3 is some undefined altitude at which a helo has a clear line of sight to every ground unit within 4000 meters and every ground unit has a clear line of sight to the helo. A helo that is flying at medium altitude is always at elevation 3 regardless of what the elevation is of the terrain that it is flying over. Woods and towns are irrelevant at elevation 3.

I should have used "Elevations A, B, and C" in the game. In trying to explain this, I found the zero, 1, and 3 to be confusing.

7. Detailed Helo Tactics

There's been a lot of talk about Apaches vs. small arms for months really, on how Apaches seem so vulnerable to infantry weapons. We've all had Apaches shot down by a seeming fluke.

What we have to keep in mind here is that the Apache is by far the most mobile and deadly weapon system the US player has: the Apache can fulfill a wide spectrum of roles: anti-tank, anti-personnel, air defense suppression, air defense, scouting, and forward observation. The Apache is that versatile, and yet it is also one of the most delicate weapon systems, exposed to the deadliest of threats. To get maximum use of our Apaches we've got to use its strengths to deny the enemy the chance to exploit its weaknesses.

Firepower and mobility are the Apache's two greatest strenghts, equally important, because without one, the other is pretty much useless. The long range and destructive capability of its missiles enables the Apache to strike targets out of range of most of the OPFOR's weapons; if employed properly at a stand-off range, the Apache's only threats are ZSU-23-4s, SA16s, and the occasional pesky MiG27. The unparalleled mobility of the Apache allows us to deploy it along the enemy's axis of attack, maintain it far ahead of OPFOR columns and out of reach of his secondary AA weapons, and if necessary, reposition the Apache quickly to counter another threat axis. If mobility and firepower are used to their full extent we can keep destruction of the enemy to a maximum, anti-Apache threats to a minimum, and devise tactics to counter the remaining ones. If we get fixated on one of the two and neglect the other, at best our Apaches will have little impact on the ground battle, and at worst, our Apaches are gonna die...

Use the Apache's firepower to destroy the enemy at long range.

Use the Apache's mobility to keep ahead of his secondary AAA, so that you can concentrate on the main AA threat. Apaches have no business within the threat envelope of 30mm cannon, 12.7 machine guns, and RPK-74s. Maneuver them to keep out of range of these threats. If this is done, you don't have to worry about whether or not 7.62mm rifle rounds can kill Apaches.

Don't use your 30mm chain gun for anything but self-defense. Using in the offensive role invites trouble. If you're in range to use the gun, he's in range to use his, and he has more guns than you. Get away!

Once you are out of Hellfires, the alternative to going hunting with the gun is to provide air defense for your ground force (if you have any Stingers left), and forward observation for your artillery. In a pinch Apaches could use their guns to stop a ground attack, but if you're that desperate, you're not gonna stop the attack.

The moral of this story: keep the enemy at arm's length, and kill him with your long arms. His (shorter) arms are powerful too, and you have a glass stomach.

8. Standoff Attacks with ATGMs beyond 4000m Visibility Limit

The Hellfire ATGMs and a few others do have ranges greater than 4000 meters but TacOps does not currently model the extreme part of their range. The real life problem is that the shooters either can't generally see targets that far away or else can not accurately guide their weapons onto the target at such extreme range. To get more than 4000 meters out of these weapons a stand off attack using a laser designator closer to the target is needed (the closer unit paints the target for the more distant shooter) and TacOps does not currently model that kind of laser designator. It is on the wish list though.

9. Resupplying Helos

There is no resupplying of helecopters in the game. The "instant" resupply option in TacOps would be too unrealistic if used by attack helicopters. In real life it usually takes several hours for an attack helo to travel back to a logistic base, refuel, rearm, and return to the battle area. The average TacOps scenario does not last long enough for that.

10. Helo Lines of Sight (LOS)

In general a helo at the highest elevation allowed in TacOps is given perfect line of sight to everything within 4000 meters. Other visiblilty limits of the target still apply though (i.e. a motionless infantry unit, in woods might only be spotted at 50 meters even with a perfect 4000 meter line of sight).

The Line of Sight tool in the Map menu gives ground to ground line of sight -- - this is usually also accurate to and from a helo flying at NOE (nap of the earth altitude). IMPORTANT NOTE: when a helo flying at NOE goes "through" woods or towns the helo is actually going "over" them, therefore its elevation/altitude automatically goes up one level while "over" woods or town terrain.

I know this is not perfectly realistic but it is one of the compromises I made in order to keep the number crunching involved in computing elevation from slowing the game down to a crawl. Once all the Macs earlier than the LC are in the closet, I can make elevation and altitude more realistic.


Netscape HTML Checked! January 22, 1995 - Robert Lentz (ralentz@ralentz.com)

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