Sunday, November 18, 2018

Soviet Anti-Aircraft Options

I was in the middle of assembling a platoon of Gaskins, feeling disappointed that I only had 16 wheels to clean up, and started wondering about the relative effectiveness of the different anti-aircraft options available to the Soviets in Team Yankee. In the past I've typically run two Shilkas and two Gophers. Is this the best way to spend four points, or is there another combination that would be more effective? To answer this, I did what any normal person would do and built a spreadsheet.

Which Soviet AA option is the most effective?
The spreadsheet looks at ROF, To Hit, Save, and Firepower ratings, and allows a comparison between  the chance different weapons have of shooting down aircraft. It does not factor in range at this stage. The results are presented as the probability of shooting down 0, 1, or 2 of the attacking aircraft.

The first thing I looked at was the effectiveness of full-sized platoons of four flavours of anti-aircraft vehicles in Red Thunder: 2pts of Gaskins, 4pts of Gophers, 8pts of Geckos, and 4pts Shilkas. The target in all cases was a typical NATO jet flight of two aircraft with a To Hit of 4+ and a 5+ save.

For the SAMs, it comes as no real surprise that the effectiveness is strongly related to price: Geckos are better than Gophers, which are better than Gaskins. The standout is the Shilka, which is as effective as a Gecko at half the price, albeit with a much shorter range. The key lesson here is that there is no point trying to bomb a target that is protected by four Shilkas, as you only have a 6% chance of getting through unscathed, and a 75% chance of losing both aircraft.

The next thing to consider is cost-effectiveness. Two points can get you two Gremlins, four Gaskins, two Gophers, (hypothetically) one Gecko, or two Shilkas.

Once again, the stand-out performer is the Shilka, being far and away the most effective weapon for the points. Those Tornados will only get past two Shilkas unscathed 25% of the time. Do you feel lucky?

It surprised me that the Gaskin is the next best option. All of the SAMs have a similar chance of bringing down one of the attacking aircraft, but the Gaskin has a higher chance of killing two, with the eight shots you get from the platoon making up for its lower firepower. The other three weapons all have equivalent cost-effectiveness.

SA-9 Gaskin: Punching above its weight
A four point platoon gives similar results, with the Gecko and Gopher being equally cost-effective, but both are left in the weeds by the performance of the Shilka. What is interesting here is that for four points my initial combination of Shilkas and Gophers is not that much worse than straight Shilkas, but replacing the Gophers with Gaskins would give it a slight bump in effectiveness, at the cost of kicking myself every time I roll a 4 for Firepower.

Given other factors not included here such as range and the advantage of having two AA platoons instead of one, I would argue that if you only have four points to spend on air defence, the best option is the Shilka/Gaskin combination.

Having settled which weapons are the most effective, I decided to answer another question that I've had: is it best to shoot at Hunter Killer helicopters in their turn or your turn? In their turn, they are Concealed and Gone to Ground, but you have a chance to kill them before they smoke a couple of your tanks. In your turn, the damage is done, but they only count as being Concealed. I have looked at a pair of Cobras being shot at by four Shilkas.

With the most effective air defence unit the Soviets can field, if you try and shoot at the Cobras while they are still Gone to Ground, you have a 60% chance of bagging at least one. Those odds jump dramatically to 84% if you are prepared to wait until after they have fired. When shooting at them with four Gaskins you have a 25% chance of killing at least one while they're Gone to Ground, vs a 50/50 chance if they're only Concealed.

In future I will try to be patient and let the Cobras shoot first. It's far better to lose two tanks and then take them down in your turn, than to shoot in the enemy turn and probably still lose two tanks.

How will this affect my future list builds? For a given number of points to be spent on air defence, I would look at the following:
  • 1pt: Go back and try to find another point from somewhere
  • 2pts: Two Shilkas, the bare minimum
  • 4pts: Two Shilkas and four Gaskins to give a mix of power and table coverage
  • 6pts: Four Shilkas and four Gaskins
  • 8pts: Four Shilkas and four Gophers, although I'm not sure what size game would justify spending this many points
I would probably only use Geckos in large multi-formation games on a table larger than 8x6, where their range can come into play, in addition to each formation having its own anti-aircraft units. I will have to rething this for the Czechoslovaks as they did not have Shilkas, instead using the M53/59, an armoured six-wheeled vehicle with twin 30mm cannon.

Next Time: Hopefully one more practice game before Remember December, and a few more units being painted.

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