ICBM – An Introduction to Thermonuclear War

An overview of the game as well as an introduction to 3 different strategies for playing the game.

Basic Guide to Strategies

World State

The world’s powers have merged and consolidated into 8, roughly equally sized, super-nations. Tensions are high and we expect alliances between these 8 factions to form in short order.

We also consider the likelihood of betrayal to be fairly high, though by now means guaranteed. When the survival of your very nation is at risk, honor, and honesty tend to fall by the wayside.

Thanks to the merging of technologies and industrial bases, all 8 powers are on basically the same footing and have the same inherent capabilities as of this moment. That said, over time different nations will focus on different military areas, and thus capabilities and assets will quickly diversify and specializations emerge.

As of this morning, intelligence believes all nations to be capable of producing the following assets:

  • Submarines (best vs cruisers and carriers, can, with silent engine upgrades, outrange DD sonar range).
  • Destroyers (best escort, best Anti-Sub, good Anti-Air and can get ABM capability once researched).
  • Cruisers (best strike platform vs surface and coastal targets).
  • Aircraft Carriers (mobile airport; vulnerable to naval vessels and missile strikes).
  • Fighters (air-superiority craft; can auto-intercept detected enemy aircraft).
  • Bombers (air-to-surface strike capability; initially very weak vs anti-air; the only way to deliver bombs).
  • Airport (stationary airport; can be inland and thus save from enemy navy and less likely to be spotted).
  • Radar Sites (provide radar coverage and thus intel on an area around them; can’t spot missiles but can spot all other assets and thus allow interception and strike missions against them)
  • Nuclear Bombs (10kt, 1 Mt) (10kt bombs are tactical asset killers; 1+ MT bombs are population killers; use appropriately to save production time).

Note: use of any nuclear weapon will trigger all-out thermonuclear war by all nations following the advice of their supercomputers (aka AI players).

The Future

With present capabilities covered, we will now move on to the capabilities our scientists and engineering experts predict to become available within the next decade or two.

There are two developments that will shape the face of warfare that are expected:

  • Missiles
  • SAM sites

Missiles

Missiles will allow one to strike at distant targets without exposing the asset used for that strike to return fire (though the missile launch can and will likely be traced back if the missile was detected early enough).

We expect that missiles will be able to be equipped with nuclear warheads, though the maximum size of the warhead on a nuclear missile is projected to be slightly less than that of a nuclear bomb.

SAM sites

SAM sites or surface-to-air-missile sites are stationary installations that can target and shoot down enemy aircraft. Some scientists even predict that they might become able to shoot down enemy missiles, though whether or not that holds true remains to be seen.

Even without that capability though, having a network of SAM sites around major population centers combined with radar coverage for early detection of hostile aircraft will likely be vital to protecting our nation. Though should the eggheads, ehm, scientists are right about ABM capabilities becoming available, then we will likely also need a radar capable of detecting missiles early, so SAM sites can intercept them reliably. (aka over-the-horizon radar)

That said, not all nations are in a position where SAM sites are likely to intercept enemy strikes, especially carrier and missile-based ones. They might have too many of their cities at or near coastlines and thus very little if any, time to intercept threats before they are already at their target.

In those cases we expect Destroyers to be used to screen the area at a good distance to the coast, thus providing a significant increase in the time available to intercept threats.

AWACS

Aside from the two major innovations we expect to become available in the very near future, we also expect our aircraft to become vastly more capable. Some scientists predict that it might even be possible to strap an entire radar site to an aircraft fuselage, thus providing us a mobile recon capability with extreme sensor range.

Whether or not they are right remains to be seen, but we will definitely need better aircraft in order to even consider this capability. (aka advanced aircraft and aerial refueling)

Should this hold true, we would be able to spot enemy assets quickly and easily and thus have a chance of neutralizing them before an all-out thermonuclear war becomes reality.

Other Advances

Aside from these, we expect the rest of our scientific and engineering breakthroughs to be along the lines of “more of the same, just better” instead of groundbreaking innovations that change the face of war.

Our ships will get faster, our planes better and possibly even harder to detect, our submarines quieter, our radars get more range and accuracy, etc. I’m sure you’ll get the idea.

Strategies

With that, we have covered a basic overview of the current and predicted capabilities of the world’s major players and it is time to get started on formulating our own response to these realities.

Unfortunately, our time and resources are limited, thus we will have to focus. Should we fail to do so, we will likely end up with a few advances all over the place, yet not enough advances where we need them to secure our nation’s future.

An initial brainstorming session has brought up 3-4 strategies that seem promising, though I am sure that we’ll find at least a couple more once the planning workshop starts after the Q&A at the end of this briefing.

I’m saying 3-4, because two of these are basically variations of each other and could thus be considered the same thing. Here is the overview:

  • Turtling + Missiles
  • Turtling… with Naval assistance
  • Turtling… with Airforce assistance
  • Combined Arms (Navy + Airforce)

Strategies – Turtling

The probably most conservative and least proactive strategy is this one.

Focusing on defense first and foremost.

Then adding missile-based long-distance strike capabilities later on.

This will require our scientists to get ABM capabilities asap, as well as a radar capable of detecting hostile missiles early enough for our ABMs to actually have a decent chance of intercepting those missiles.

Simulations indicate that we’d need to place SAM sites in groups of at least 3 overlapping sites per area to have a chance to resist naval missile barrages with said ABM capability. Groups of 4 are recommended for major population centers.

Should the enemy get their hands on MIRV or False Warhead technologies, then even groups of 4 SAM sites won’t be sufficient and we’d need some means of intercepting those missiles before they split. This means either having a first line of SAM sites further out, or Destroyers patrolling our coasts and thus intercepting said missiles before they even get to our land.

Build:

  • ABM
  • Over-the-Horizon Radar (build 2-4 of these so that you don’t lose this capability if something gets through your defenses and strikes these)
  • improving ABM (advanced ABM, improving SW radar, Early-Warning-System)
  • ICBMs (3 silos will do if you don’t lose any, but 5+ are a good idea)
  • ICBM stockpile (build a reserve of ICBMs and, if you think you got the time, research better ones after you got a basic stockpile secured)

Note: Should an area be threatened by enemy (naval) missile strikes, it might be a good idea to deploy multiple SAM sites simultaneously. Deploying them one at a time is likely to result in all of them being destroyed.

Strategies – Turtling … with Assistance

The primary downside of the first strategy, Turtling, is that we have no assets to strike at threats to our nation below the level of nuclear missiles.

This in turn would allow enemy nations to pressure our coastlines with their navy, eventually overwhelming our SAM’s ABM capabilities and taking out our defenses.

Or similarly for their airforce, especially if they got air-launched missiles (ASM).

Thus following the same basic concept, but forgoing some static defense in order to add some mobile assets with the capability to strike enemy units is likely a good idea, even if the overall focus is still primarily on defense.

Thus we have the option of either adding some naval units or some aerial ones.
Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

… with Naval assistance

Naval units are slow. That means we will need multiple assets in multiple locations to provide good coverage.

A lone ship is also very vulnerable. Hence we’d need to deploy small task forces of 3-4 ships each to ensure they won’t die immediately should they encounter an enemy task force.

Their major benefit however is that they also allow us to strike at enemy coastal installations very easily, thus forcing them into a reactive state instead of being in one ourselves.

In order to make our navy truly work well, improving their long-range radar (LW Radar) capability is a good idea since it likely allows them to spot and strike at the enemy before they can do so in return. Improving their speed is likely also highly beneficial.

Lastly, if we were to manage to add tactical nuclear missiles to our ships (cruisers; Tactical Nuclear Weapons) we could even add a fairly devastating strike option to our already dangerous navy, one with enough range to potentially threaten even inland installations.

… with Aerial assistance

Aerial units are very fast. That means even just 1-2 air bases will provide us with good coverage of a large area, thus we can use a very low number of assets to protect our entire nation.

Aerial units are very fragile. If the enemy has any AA capability at all, don’t expect our planes to return to base after a strike mission. Heck, they might even fail the strike mission altogether.

In addition, aircraft have limited fuel and thus limited operational range. While they can be sent out up to twice as far as their operational range, this forces them to go beyond the point of no return, aka they will run out of fuel and crash before they can return to their air base and will thus be lost.

Thus we’d need to upgrade our planes (Advanced Planes) first, so they can get in and out without being more or less guaranteed to be shot down.

Should we also manage to get air-to-surface missiles (ASM), then we would even have the capability of striking at enemy installations with near impunity.

Unfortunately, while the initial investment is lower than that of the Naval approach, we’d need to replenish our airforce time and time again, thus spending a good amount of our production capability on maintaining our ability, rather than increasing it.

Strategies – Combined Arms

The combined arms strategy is the next natural evolution. After looking at the strengths and weakness of both aerial and naval units it quickly becomes obvious that combining these would allow for unprecedented flexibility and (non-nuclear) strike capability.

Thus, with this strategy, the focus is on keeping our enemies from amassing assets that could threaten us by culling them regularly and reliably from the very start.

In the near future, the focus is on cruiser task forces (one cruiser, and two destroyers as escorts). These will patrol enemy shores and take care of coastal installations as well as any assets they come across.

In order for them to perform this role reliably, the initial focus needs to be on maximizing our long-range radar (LW Radar) capability, followed by upgrading the range and speed of naval missiles (Maneuvering Missile).

Once we got good naval coverage of the nearest nations (3-4 cruiser TFs), the focus then shifts to ensuring air superiority and striking at targets too far inland for our naval assets to reach. Thus adding some air bases (2-3), improving our aircraft (Advanced Planes) as well as giving them stand-off strike capability by adding aerial missiles (ASM) we can get a good start on removing all remaining assets of our nearest neighbors.

Note: adding a strike plan for our airbases (and carriers should we decide to have any) to attack anything that isn’t a city, limited to a certain range so we don’t overextend and fly into unseen enemy AA, is a good way of reducing the micromanagement required. (just be sure to toggle this off if you notice your planes getting shot down).

None of this means that we should not build any static defenses though.

It does however mean that we will build significantly fewer of them and rely on having taken out the enemy’s strike capability to remain (reasonably) safe.

Build Order:

  • Space Radar (pts before match)
  • Improved LW Radar (pts before match)
  • SAM (pts before match)
  • ABM (pts before match; build a couple to protect key population centers)
  • Advanced LW Radar
  • Cruise Missile
  • Maneuvering Missile
  • Over-the-horizon Radar (builds 2-3 asap)
  • Advanced Aircraft
  • ASM

Adding an AWACS and Tactical Nuclear Weapons (aka medium-range nuclear missiles for our cruisers) is a priority after the initial advances have been secured.

After that improving our naval and aerial units (Powerful Engines, Stealth Aircraft, Aircraft Launched MRBM) would be the logical next step.

Unfortunately, this approach relies on a lot of technological advances in a short timeframe.

Hence securing a research alliance would be a priority when going for this strategy.

Having such an alliance might even allow us to gain access to basic ICBMs before the nuclear war starts. This would significantly increase the range and speed – and thus effectiveness – of our strike capabilities though has a lower (research) priority than the other advances.

Strategies – Alternatives

There are probably a lot of strategies we haven’t covered in this briefing yet. I’ll leave it to the workshop later to see if we can find more of them, though I doubt we’ll find them all.

There are however two alternatives to the options used in the above strategies that I’d like to point out.

Carriers

First, we have the option of building carriers instead of air bases.

The advantages of this are the following:

  • We can extend our aerial strike range by positioning the carrier close to the target region.
  • We can maneuver to avoid return fire (primarily missile fire).
  • We can attack with aircraft from unexpected directions, potentially exploiting gaps in their defenses.
  • The downsides however might make this less desirable. Carriers are very vulnerable. Submarines, missile strikes, naval forces, and even aircraft can all take out a carrier in quick order, especially once it has been stripped of its fighter complement.
  • It is also harder to reliably protect the carrier. Not only is it outside the range of our static defenses it is also closer to the enemy’s strike capabilities and harder to hide.
  • Together this means that carriers need a good escort (1 cruiser, 2-3 destroyers are a good target number) or they are likely to die before they can provide any benefit. This makes them a larger investment than the carrier’s own cost (aka production time) would imply.

SSBNs

Another option is to replace missile silos with SSBNs.

Unlike carriers, this is actually a fairly good option once warhead production efficiency reaches 100% (aka at the 2hr mark). They take significantly shorter to build and can fire 2 missiles per volley. They are also able to submerge and thus hide from most sensors.

Together this allows them to fire, reposition to avoid return fire, then repeat.

The downside is that they are basically defenseless besides their stealth.

Just about anything capable of striking them will be able to take them out, especially enemy destroyers.

They also have a fairly tight limit on the range of the (nuclear) missiles launched by them.

There are two ways of using these

  • You can keep them in your own waters and use them as a faster firing cheaper missile silo with less range or…
  • You can move them closer to the country you want to strike with them – in which case i suggest adding some means of recon ahead of them to ensure you don’t accidentally run into enemy destroyers (e.g. a few regular submarines to maintain stealth and thus surprise).

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