Helicopters - intervening high ground/terrain and visibility

Started by Superscribe, 22 July 2022, 10:55:30 PM

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Helicopter visibility rules seem to be a bit confusing....

Terrain rules on P10/11 state that High ground/terrain can block LOS/LOF to airborne units.
Visibility rules on P14 state LOS is blocked if low-flying helicopters are screened by high terrain/ground, but aircraft are always visible.

The Attack Helicopters rule on p61 state that they can use high terrain to move up on enemy armoured formations undetected, move into a designated firing position, strike and then depart immediately. Pop Up Attacks on P61 state that helicopters in General Attack Mode may hide behind high area terrain and use pop up attack, which gives them the benefit of improved cover when targeted by ATGW/AA/SAM fire, as they can only be hit on 6s, instead of 5s and 6s.

OK so far; I agree with all the above

The note on P58 about AA fire states that intervening terrain should be ignored as aircraft and helicopters are deemed to be at a height at which they can be targeted at some point during their attack run.

I agree this for high flying aircraft but not for low-flying helicopters, which would maximise the use of cover to screen their approach. With careful planning of their route using high terrain as cover they should be able to reach a pop up attack position without being detected.  Of course, if they appeared in the LOS of an enemy AA unit while moving between two areas of high terrain then they could be engaged with Opportunity Fire.

The rule on p58 also states that intervening high ground/terrain that is closer to the AA unit blocks LOS to the airborne target. However, this suggests that such terrain which is closer to the helicopter does not block LOS!

An example .... An Attack helicopter in General Attack Mode is moving to a pop-up attack firing position 100cm away. It plans to use contiguous cover of a nearby hill and wood, to move undetected to its firing position.   There is an enemy AA unit 100cm away on the opposite side of the wood. The helicopter stays within 15cm of the wood and hill while moving to its attack position.

The enemy AA unit is much further away from the intervening terrain than the helicopter on the opposite side and shouldn't be able to engage the helicopter while its moving close to the wood to reach its chosen attack position.  When the helicopter carries out its pop-up attack the AA unit can attempt to hit it on 6s.   

If you go by the rule on p58 which states that intervening terrain nearer to the firer blocks LOS, the fact that the terrain is closer to the helicopter suggest that it does not block LOS so can be engaged while moving to its pop-up position.

I think this rule confuses the position and needs to be clarified

Big Insect

I'll pick this up in a longer reply Chris, as it is a complex problem.

However, one way to replicate this is to use the 'air-strike' method of deploying your attack helicopters. That was specifically created to allow for such 'sneak/surprise' attacks.

But I'll expand further on this in a longer post - when I have a bit more time  :)

PS: Ukraine is showing us that the idea that woods offer good cover for low-flying helicopters is turning out not to be the case in actual combat.
'He could have lived a risk-free, moneyed life, but he preferred to whittle away his fortune on warfare.' Xenophon, The Anabasis

This communication has been written by a dyslexic person. If you have any trouble with the meaning of any of the sentences or words, please do not be afraid to ask for clarification. Remember that dyslexics are often high-level conceptualisers who provide "out of the box" thinking.

Big Insect

Helicopters and Terrain.

There are a number of challenges in attempting to depict helicopters on-table - not least of which is the various types of enemy AA and the fact that some have very good (sophisticated) radar systems that allow them to spot low-flying helicopters at quite some distance. Admittedly, most AA/radars wont spot them behind 'dense' high terrain, such as Mountains, Hills or large high-rise urban skyscapes, but this is also where we end up with another table-top challenge, which is 'how high is that hill/mountain or how dense is that wood?'.

The challenge of defining all the different types of various AA weapons (& their radars etc) and combining that with their ability/in-ability to spot, then combining that with the various terrain types, and then trying to create a realistic hit table for a low-flying helicopter is beyond the level at which the game is designed to be played. 

So, for game purposes I have simply opted to limit the effect of AA (by stating that the intervening terrain must be closer to the target than the shooting AA) as this limits things in a reasonable manner.
The rules also generally limit the numbers of AA available (c.1 per 1,000pts) and even if you are using an OOB, the numbers of AA across a typical table-top battlefield would be relatively few indeed. The proliferation of MANPAD SAMs later on during the Cold War may have changed this, but that creates further complications as whilst technically SAMs don't need a LoS or LOF to hit aerial targets, they were not fired off speculatively and generally most units had very limited numbers of rounds (unless they were specific AA units e.g. classified as 'Dedicated' in the lists).

The other challenge that occurred during play-testing, is that if you allow helicopters complete freedom to hug terrain, and so achieve almost complete impunity from enemy AA fire, they start to become 'super-weapons' and will dominate games in a way that it is unlikely they ever would have done in real combat situations (as we are seeing in Ukraine).
It also stops the situation where an AA unit is on one side of a 'wood' and the helicopter on the other - when the reality is that often the AA unit will be able to see/hear the helicopter or will have spotters out that can see/detect the helicopter.

In FWC (where flying gunships are common) they can and will/do dominate a game, if their numbers are not seriously limited and vulnerabilities not highlighted/accentuated.

I think that if you wanted to play the rules that helicopters can 'hug' terrain, that is fine Chris, but I think you might need to be a lot more specific about your terrain definitions. I would be careful to avoid them becoming dominant weapons - which they are not. I'd be interested to hear how you get on?

With regard to pop-up attacks - (warning, this is going to be a potentially contentious conversation :) ) my research indicates quite clearly that 'pop-up' attacks by helicopters are wargames mythology and hypothetical military planning theory. The 1970-80s tactical theory was that this was what helicopters 'should' be able to do, but the battlefield reality appears to be quite different in real life.

The idea that a flight of attack helicopters will 'sneak' around a battlefield, and know exactly where the enemy formations are (& their AA are), whilst also knowing which lines of sight are blocked to an enemy by the terrain, is just not practical in reality. We come back to the challenge of the gamers omniscience over the playing table, as opposed to the cockpit eye view of a very nervous helicopter pilot in a combat situation.

I've had extensive conversations with contacts of mine who flew armed helicopters (one for the RAF and one for the Army and the army flyer commanded UK choppers in the last Gulf war). Both were very doubting that 'pop-up' attacks as we envisage them on-table will actually work. Admittedly, this is based on UK helicopters where the weaponry is primarily long-range heavy ATGW missiles - rather than conventional rocket-pods or chain-guns like some US (Apache) and Soviet (Hind) attack helicopters. But the idea that 'packs' of attack helicopters would roam the battlefield hunting down tank formations was treated with implausibility by both my flyers.

In fact, in the late '80s US tactical doctrine was altered with regards to Apache flights, envisages them fighting/hunting primarily behind enemy lines, well away from the AA heavy main fighting line.

In the Gulf most of the helicopter 'kills' against armour were with long-range (often 'fire & forget' type) ATGW weapons, where the local enemy AA had been destroyed or heavily suppressed ahead of the helicopters being deployed. The nature of the attacks appears to have been delivered from relatively high (not ground hugging) altitude and at optimum ATGW missile range, mostly against stationary targets (often dug-in).

If we look at the experience in Vietnam, the terrain was such that mostly the US helicopters were on-top of the Vietcong almost before they knew they were there, and then they were gone again.

In Afghanistan, Soviet Hind pilots became very adept at flying high over the potential battlefield, but on a straight-to-target approach, dropping down on the final run, to minimise low-level AA fire and give the Mujahedeen Stinger (& RPG-7) teams minimal time to acquire them.

But if I'd not included 'pop-up' attacks (as that was what 1980's tac.doc. stated was going to be the approach) into the rules I suspect there would have been a general outcry.

Hope that helps (a bit) Chris?
'He could have lived a risk-free, moneyed life, but he preferred to whittle away his fortune on warfare.' Xenophon, The Anabasis

This communication has been written by a dyslexic person. If you have any trouble with the meaning of any of the sentences or words, please do not be afraid to ask for clarification. Remember that dyslexics are often high-level conceptualisers who provide "out of the box" thinking.