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Well, they are finally here, Modern Spearhead rules, written by Alex Macris and John Moher. Published in America, it costs £14.50 here (UK) from various outlets. Published in US Letter format, unbound, but pre-punched for use in ring binders, you get 39 pages of rules, 3 pages of scenarios, 4 pages of designer notes, and 41 pages of TOE. More on the latter later. A bit expensive considering the lack of binding. Obviously designed to accept amendments and updates.
I had hoped that these were the set that St Helens Wargames Club had developed, which uses a D10 system rather than D6 to cope with the greater variety of kit and training qualities evident post-WW2. This is not the case, and these are straight development of the WW2 Spearhead rules, with all its strengths and weaknesses.
This article originally appeared in the SOTCW's Journal No.38 (Christmas 2000) shortly after Modern Spearhead was published.
Designed for Brigade and Division actions based around 1 model = 4 AFV or 1 infantry platoon, these use a D6 system for combat. The same command rules as in the W2 set are here, but with a better Order Change table, and the battle group formation system is the same. I think the command and order is system is elegant and effective. Units have a fire priority based on their role which is well defined, which is fine.
They seem to have got into a muddle with MICV transported infantry – in effect they act similar to sub-atomic particles (which an be particles or waves apparently when they feel like it), choosing to be one thing (vehicles) or the other (dismounted infantry) when it suits. They have combined the infantry and vehicle on one stand and introduced baffling rules to cope with it. We have abolished this and simply added a rule that APC & MICV transported infantry DON’T remove the vehicle when the infantry dismount, but the two appear together, able to occupy the same space if desired. Each counts as half towards morale count for the battalion when the infantry are dismounted. Much simpler.
The rules deal with most aspects of modern combat – ATGW, Chobham/special armours, helicopters, ground attack, EW, chemical and nuclear attacks, ICM, CLGP, RAP type artillery rounds, SRBMs, engineering ops. Rather surprisingly, its what they have left out, especially for post 1990 warfare. There is nothing on “pre-battle recce” such as AWACs, JSTARS, ground surveillance radars, stealth aircraft, RPVs and drones. Also air-air combat rules have been deliberately left out! So aircraft cannot intercept helicopters wandering about the battlefield… The non-inclusion of RPVs is unforgivable given the level of command of the rules, and their reliance on spotting for order changes. Real-time recce from RPVs has been proven to help in the 1982 and 1990 Middle East wars, and could even be used as Ops for artillery. I shall work on this. JSTARS is a bit more problematic, and may be above the level of the rules, but future developments may not be, for example the one mounted on the French Puma helicopter recently used in the Bosnia & Kosovo operations, can’t remember what it is called just now.
Helicopters are dealt with very well, and even have pop-up attack rules and ‘hand-over’ from scout helos working with gunships. Rules are included for off-table refuelling and return to the battlefield. Aircraft are purely ground attack and a variety of missions and loads are catered for, including iron bombs, cluster bombs, napalm, FAE, ARMs, cannon, and guided missiles. AA is interesting in that in addition to actually being able to shoot down plane occasionally, its presence reduces the air attackers accuracy, even if no hits are scored. Another good rule.
Calling in artillery and aircraft, counter-battery fire, EW, and order changes are all based on the training quality of the armies, all being in 5 classifications – NATO 1, NATO 2, WARPAC 1, WARPAC 2, and Third World. This seems to work well. Artillery fire is well dealt with, and is unusual in that it is sequential by opposing batteries in each phase, and not simultaneous. In other words, if you want to hold batteries back for counter-battery fire, you can. All the high-tech artillery ammo is allowed for, apart from expendable jammers, which I think is a fair omission, and is covered de-facto by the EW rules. Guided AT Mortar Bombs are not specifically mentioned, but you just apply the PGM rules (8.5.3 page 23) to the mortar factors.
Alongside these good points ae some obvious weaknesses inherited from the WW2 rules. The rules are not specific enough on movement when on defend orders. It says you can move towards a spotted enemy, after a maximum 45º turn. What about retiring from an enemy briefly? Typically many battalions have integral recce platoons which are usually deployed right forward to trigger warning of enemy advance. For example British Tank Regiments and Mech Bttns have 8 x Scimitar and Scorpion (2 actual models not even noted in the army lists)! There is no way these would have stayed put to engage hordes of advancing Soviet T-80s, but would have retired sharpish under a puff of smoke and ha of inaccurate BMP-R 125mm rounds, having warned of the enemy advance by radio. In these rules you cannot do this, it taking 4 moves to turn 180º (1-2 hours!!) by which time a full Tank Regiment could have driven past! So I suggest the break-off rule 3.11.2 be applied to integral Recce platoons, allowing them to retire to the BC position or a full move away from spotted enemy into cover.
The major defect of Spearhead rules is that difference in training is not reflected where it counts most – in combat! i.e. in direct fire. In the WW2 rules an Ethiopian firing a captured Italian AT Rifle shoots as well as a SS Panzer Commander that has survived Kursk! Once tanks get into fire fight mutually halted, it is usually numbers that win, a superior trained army cannot outshoot poorly trained hordes. This is one of the reasons I stopped playing WW2 Spearhead. When you read German accounts of Russian tank handling in WW2, you know that equal ability is just plain wrong. In the post 1945 world this difference is even more noted, as the Arab-Israeli wars have proved. It an be said that the better training is reflected in the order change rules, but as you can only change one battalion per brigade per turn, this is not helpful at the sharp end. So I suggest the following. In any scenario or game, one side is designated as Better Trained than the other, if relevant. Usually this is obvious from historical precedents – Paras are better trained than local militia, but also NATO are better trained than WARPAC, Israelis are better trained than Arabs (except perhaps Jordanians), Australians are better trained than most Asian Regulars, which are better trained than Chinese, and so on. You will get situations where training is roughly equal, e.g. Iraqis and Iranians, Bosnians and Serbs, and other occasions where different troops within a force may be better, e.g. Kosovo mixed Brigades may have Americans, Germans, and Swedes, where the Germans are better trained than their allies, but all are better trained that the Serbs or KLA.
The result is that within each segment of rule 7.1 (page 14) Order of Fire Attacks, in section 3b, 3c, and 3d, the Better Trained army is allowed to fire first, all other things being equal.
Also you could allow better trained armies one extra order change per move, regardless of how many brigades are being used.