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A second consideration in our development of the data cards that merits mentioning was our examination of specific features of tank technology and tactical doctrine. A close look at the Data Cards will reveal that weapons systems often identified as identical (or nearly identical) in other rule sets are not necessarily so in MSH. This is most noticeable when Soviet Tank platoons are compared with the equivalent Western Platoon. Many other rules systems have categorized these with identical (or nearly identical) performance and abilities. Our research, however, showed us otherwise.
Most western tank analysts over 20 of the last 30 years consistently considered Soviet Tanks as technologically equal or superior to their Western equivalents, at least until the early ‘80s, in firepower, defense, and mobility. Although this view made for exciting wargaming, the poor performance of Soviet-equipped Arab units in the various Arab-Israeli wars cast doubt on whether Soviet tanks were as good as those of the West. A closer examination of the inferior performance of Soviet tanks shows that in all significant engagements, Soviet-trained units performed worse than their Western-trained opponents did, even when the Soviet equipment had technological advantages in firepower or mobility. This inferior performance of Soviet tanks is partly a result of the tactical doctrine used to deploy them, and partly a result of technological advantages enjoyed by Western tanks that are often not considered in tank analyses.
Soviet tank doctrine does not emphasize "first fire," and Soviet tankers rely on a system that takes longer to sight and fire their weapon. This gives Western tankers, who do emphasize first fire, a tremendous advantage in a tank battle. Moreover, the Soviet automatic loaders provide only half the ROF of most Western tanks, and Soviet tanks carry considerably smaller amounts of ammunition than their Western counterparts. This gives the Western tanks an advantage in the drawn-out, operational tank battles MSH is concerned with. Soviet tanks are often lauded for their small silhouette, but their smaller size actually makes them much more likely to "brew up" when hit and makes it harder for them to achieve hull down. The Soviets use smaller tanks only because they are cheaper and because their doctrine does not allow them good use of terrain advantages.
When these factors are considered in the context of MSH, the result is less effective Soviet units (platoons). The drop-off in performance becomes less noticeable in the 1980’s with the advent of upgrades to the weaponry and armour of the earlier T-64 and T-72, the T-80, and ultimately the T-90 (although with the collapse of the Soviet Union very few of the latter seem to have entered service).
The ‘90s have seen a new generation of Western tanks and a new benchmark in armored excellence. But the capabilities of Western tanks, including the often-cited example of the Gulf War, are sometimes overrated, or in many cases unconfirmed. Most of the engagements in the Gulf were fought at long range at night in open desert, optimizing the US advantage of thermal sights. In Western Europe the average engagement range is less than 1000 meters. In the Gulf the Iraqi armor was T72s (export versions of the cheapest modern Soviet tank) and Type 69s (Chinese copies of the T-54 with upgrades), both using home-brewed ammunition, not advanced Soviet rounds. The question of whether a Soviet 125mm gun using the proper ammunition could kill an M1A1 has not been answered on the battlefield… yet!
In our view, the greatest flaw inherent in most modern warfare games is that they attempt to be too technically precise. Technical precision leads to two extremes: the invincible chobham-plated M1 or Challenger tank, invulnerable to all foes; and the "if it moves it dies" syndrome where theoretical accuracy and effectiveness become the rule and play stagnates into an exchange of fire at 4000 meters. The worst games combine the two. Technical precision is an illusion — for many modern weapon systems, it is not known what their true effects would be under combat conditions.
We believe we have managed to find the right balance for the various weapons and systems, and more importantly, created new rules mechanics that successfully mesh with and expand upon the core rules of SPEARHEAD. We hope you will agree with us and we wish you many victories.
© 2000 Alex Macris & John Moher