NOTE: Usual spoilers follow. Play the scenario yourself before reading further.
In 2015 the Chinese Government decides that American resolve regarding Taiwan is weakening. The crash of 2012 has reduced US defence spending radically, and a timid and isolationist administration in Washington will likely be poorly prepared. Japan and Korea, having ejected all American forces, will not be a factor. To eliminate the need for an invasion, it has been decided that a preemptive strike on Andersen AFB is necessary. We are certain that we will achieve surprise. ...
It has been decided that an invasion of Taiwan will not be necessary if we can eliminate the last US outpost in the Western Pacific. With the removal of US forces from Korea and Japan the base in Guam, and the ships in the vicinity, are all that remain of US force projection in the this area. There have been reports of US military activity in the lawless areas in northern Luzon.
At game start the 'new' Chinese aircraft carrier Shi Lang was exiting the East China Sea. Her escorts comprised four destroyers, a frigate and a replenishment oiler. More importantly, her air wing comprised about two squadrons of Su-33 'Flanker' multi-role fighters.
The phibgru ZTS was nearly 200 nm behind, still deep in the East China Sea but following in the path of the new carrier battle group. It comprised five amphibious ships and four escorts (three destroyers and a frigate).
Further out in the Pacific, four submarines would lead the way: three diesel-electrics (two Project 636 'Kilo' and a Yuan) and one nuclear powered Shang class attack boat.
A serious problem was readily apparent. My mission was to neutralize Guam: an objective laying some 1,200 nm distant from the Shi Lang and over 1,600 nm from my nearest airfield.
The Americans had the reach and the firepower to decimate my task forces long before they threatened Guam. This distant enemy outpost was too far away to bombard with ballistic missiles, and it was well out of reach of the vast majority of my land based airpower. The exception was cruise missiles delivered from elderly H-6 'Badger' bombers, and only then with in-flight refueling support. Still, these would have to range far out into the Pacific, and I had no idea where the US Navy's Stennis might be lurking.
It would be a mistake to think only of the objective, and the offensive, however. I would have to conserve and protect my own limited firepower if I were to have any hope of bringing it to bear.
Local air defenses ashore were limited in large part to point defense, and my airborne early warning & control assets comprised a pair of 'Mainring' AWACS type aircraft and a handful of much less capable aircraft based on the Y-8 'Cub'. Fortunately there seemed to be plenty of fighter aircraft at my disposal, many of them based on the excellent Russian Su-27 and Su-30 types, as well as the promising J-10. Even a few of the brand new, stealthy J-20!
Long range reconnaissance would have to be exploited by a handful of Soar Dragon UAVs. Their excellent range and endurance would let me snoop around Philippines and even Guam, as long as I stayed out of harm's way.
It was the classic 'assassin's mace' scenario for China. Eliminate any threat that the USA might pose to an invasion of Taiwan. Except this felt more like the 'assassin's pepper spray'. Could I be any more than an annoyance?
The Shi Lang and the phibgru were looking pretty naked as they plotted a course out of the relative safety of the East China Sea. Fortunately the Japanese did not appear to be interested in getting involved, and while I was wary of potential tattle tales around the Ryuku Islands, my biggest concern was enemy submarines. Chinese anti-submarine capability remained rudimentary at best. The nearest friendly submarine, the Shang SSN, was 250 nm to the east and unable to assist. I therefore put a thin faith in the Shang's efforts at clearing the area of potential threats during her egress, and put up a couple of helicopters on formation patrol. I had virtually no chance of early detection, and not wanting to attract attention by starting a vigorous sanitization of the area, I rolled the dice and hoped for a good dose of luck.
The carrier and phibgru would set out for Guam under complete secrecy, much like the Japanese First Carrier Strike Force had done nearly 75 years before. There would be no radar emissions, no reconnaissance, no air defense patrols. And it was night time, so I began moving the task forces southeast at a good pace, hoping to take advantage of the cover of darkness and make as much progress as possible before discovery.
To the southwest and northeast, skirting around the edges of a still active Taiwanese radar network, Soar Dragon UAVs would probe the emptiness, looking for the tell tale signs of the enemy.
It wasn't long before I needed to start scrambling fighters in self-defense. The first warning was a flight of incoming AARGM anti-radation missiles, diving on the SAM batteries arrayed around my airfield at Xiamen, just across the Taiwan Strait. The elderly J-8 'Finbacks' and the brand new J-10s at Xiamen were hard pressed to turn back the raid, and most of the friendly ground based radars were immediately put out of action.
Not long after, Xiamen itself came under a concerted attack, mostly from a barrage of Small Diameter Bombs that pasted the remaining SAM batteries and the airfield. Finally I was getting a look (or at least a sniff) of my attackers: F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (the STOVL F-35B model) and F-22 Raptors. The Americans were sending their best, and the J-8s and J-10s were no match.
It was apparent that these aircraft were coming out of the Philippines. Since I was not aware of any airfield known to be in use, I suspected a secret airfield was in use.
To try and deal with this immediate threat in a piecemeal fashion would be pointless. Chinese aircraft would be seriously outmatched if I tried to go toe to toe with the Americans. Instead, I would have to launch a massed attack, one that would seek to both find and destroy the secret airfield in one fell swoop. Losses would be inevitable and probably high.
Since my ballistic missile launchers were too far away to threaten Guam, I would use them here. Find the enemy base and then hammer it with a mixture of ballistic and cruise missiles. The latter would make an excellent test case for the eventual assault on Guam. But first I had to locate the target.
A fighter sweep would lead the charge, with mostly J-8 and J-10 types at the front, followed up by J-11 (Su-27SK) and Su-30s right behind them. With limited endurance, the J-8 and J-10 fighters would try and soak up the American defense, goading the defending F-35s and F-22s into expending most of their deadly AMRAAMs early on, firing their own missiles if they could and then running back to base (if they managed to survive).
Behind this fighter curtain, a 'Mainring' AEW&C aircraft, and on the flanks, Soar Dragon UAVs and J-20 'Black Silk' stealth fighters, which would scan the airspace ahead and try and triangulate upon any targets that were discovered. Still further back, a flight of eight H-6 'Badger' bombers armed with Dong Hai 10 and Kong Di 63 cruise missiles. The idea was that once the enemy base was fixed, ballistic missiles would slice through its defenses while cruise missiles arrived later to clean up.
It worked. But it was costly. Most of the J-8s and J-10s sent into the Philippines never returned. In many cases, they found themselves well inside the lethal envelope of the F-35 and F-22 before the Americans were even detected. Even with the 'Mainring' following behind and throwing out a long range radar scan. But where they could, they made their own shots, and more often than not, they scored hits (on the F-35s especially) before themselves falling from the skies.
The skies cleared, the reconnaissance assets found the target. As suspected, it was a secret airbase about 500 nm south of the Chinese mainland. Ballistic and cruise missiles hammered it into dust. There was a surprise, though. A forward arming and refueling point (FARP) that appeared to be in use by the F-35B STOVL jets. I would have to return to eliminate it.
On the return leg, J-20s clashed with pursuing F-22 Raptors, and it wasn't pretty. The J-20 proved completely inferior to the Raptor, and thereafter I resolved to use the J-20 only in a supporting or defensive role.
Enemy Carrier Strike Group
While all of this was going on, a Soar Eagle flying at very high altitude and far to the northeast, searching the Pacific Ocean south of Japan, finally found the enemy carrier. Or, at least, what were tell tale signs of its presence. E-2C Hawkeye and Super Hornets actively radiating. The US Navy appeared to be patrolling northwest of Guam. It seemed that my plan to move friendly task groups on a southerly course toward Guam had been a good idea after all.
With American forces still forward deployed in the Philippines, despite my successful raid on the secret airfield, I was in no position to confront a US Navy carrier. In fact, I wasn't sure if I ever would be.
But, with the American battle group patrolling off Guam, I had no way of reaching the latter without confronting the former.
Explosions at Home
The Americans had already made it clear that they were not prepared to sit back and wait for China to make the first move. Their pre-emptive strike on Xiamen - reducing the airfield by 17% - was evidence of that. Next came the follow up.
Heavy cruise missile attacks - ostensibly from B-52s shooting CALCMs at my airbases on the periphery and from B-2s deep inside friendly territory - sent me reeling. One of the northeastern airfields was heavily damaged, to the point of rendering it combat ineffective.
A recon patrol caught sight of (an actual visual!) on a B-2 package as it was egressing to the west, but they were too far out to intercept.
I set up rotating Mainring patrols to cover the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea approaches, in order to try and catch further bomber attacks early, and then turned to the next objective.
War at Sea
I finally made contact with the Stennis carrier strike group well west of Guam. The long range Soar Dragon UAVs and J-20s proved invaluable here, helping to pinpoint the CSG's Hawkeyes and patrolling Super Hornets before my Shi Lang came under enemy radar coverage.
Still, the Americans were first to draw blood. I had managed to steam the Chinese carrier force some 700 nm unmolested, but now the jig was up.
The Luyang class destroyer Guangzhou fell victim to HARM and Harpoon, and my Su-33s were seriously outclassed by Super Hornets and their AIM-120C5/7 AMRAAM. Even Harriers shooting Maverick joined the fray, though these were more easily taken out by friendly air.
The US Navy Burke destroyer Chung Hoon soon appeared on the horizon, seemingly acting as a picket for the Stennis. It was a tough nut to crack, but salvoes of AS-17 and YJ-83 (thankfully those are fast!) prevailed.
Good thing I used them, because my escorts began to disappear in counter-fire. Several were lost before marauding Hornets were turned back.
With the picket Burke gone, and my own carrier group in full view, the Stennis group now turned toward Shi Lang and began a full speed run. With the Chinese unwilling to face the CSG in another pitched battle of sheer muscle, the chase was on.
But, as Sun Tzu supposedly said, "For them to perceive the advantage of defeating the enemy, they must also have their rewards."
Having wrought havoc among my formation and now chasing down the prize, Shi Lang, the Americans were being drawn into a trap. By turning and running west, I sought to bring the Stennis under the envelope of my unused (and untouched) DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missiles.
Finally the enemy carrier had come into range and a salvo of DF-21 ballistic missiles leapt from their launchers and raced east at Mach 10. One made it through the thick armor of Aegis and homed true, striking the flight deck of Stennis. The damage was minimal, just 10%, but it was enough to disrupt flight ops and perhaps more importantly, breathed new life into the morale of the Chinese.
It would have been foolhardy for me (and for the Chinese, in real life, I think) to rely wholly on the DF-21 to push back the American carrier. It was just another tool in the kit bag.
So, while my Su-33 were dancing with the US Navy Super Hornets and US Marine Corps Harriers, keeping them occupied, two flights of H-6 Badger bombers were heading east, loaded down with anti-ship missiles.
By the efforts of these combined arms - and it was no easy task by any means - the Chinese were able to achieve the destruction of the carrier Stennis.
With the carrier and its air wing gone, Guam was fatally exposed. More flights of H-6 Badgers, this time with DH-10 land attack cruise missiles, acting in combination with the air wing of Shi Lang, degraded the outpost's defenses and hammered the airfield.
Here again, long range UAVs were especially useful in figuring out the dimensions of the local combat air patrol and then maneuvering to skirt it.
The prepositioning ships moored at Guam were easy kills after this.
Thanks to Patrick Howard (aka rainman) for his efforts in providing a scenario that is both entertaining and full of lessons for the future.