CMANO : Barents Sea Boomers
Command Modern Air Naval Operations is a unique wargame unlike anything else out there. Instead of fighting an arcane interface or poorly designed structure we have a fairly simple interface overlaid on top of a deep and vibrant simulation. CMANO is agnostic to a theater or area. In fact it is very friendly to scenarios from 1946 all the way to 2030+. But for now we’ll be looking at the Northern Inferno campaign, specially Barents Sea Boomers.
The most interesting thing to me has been learning how a real, modern, military fights. It’s so refreshing to have a game where the chief antagonist isn’t the interface.
Northern Inferno opens up with a Soviet invasion of Norway and the North sea. I’m not going to spoil too much of the story, as it really is pretty good and something you could absolutely imagine happening in 1975. The first few scenarios are a great opener to what is CMANO. First you learn how to use ships, planes, and helicopters to hunt Subs. Then you learn how to escort your own sub into the open, again using ASW forces. The next scenario is missile boats and your first foray with some basic aircraft.
Then is Barents Sea Boomers.
The first time I played it I kind of chuckled. Only two units? Hah. This’d be a piece of cake. Wrong. Dead wrong. Five times.
You see, now you have to evade Soviet ASW forces. It’s like the scenarios you did before except you’re on the receiving end. Not only that but you have to hunt a pair of Soviet Nuclear Missile Subs. Subs that are almost as good at hiding as you are.
To lay this out I don’t know shit about submarine warfare. The extent of my knowledge comes from The Hunt for Red October, Red Storm Rising, and some retired subarminer engineering professors. This to me all is fresh and fascinating. Suddenly I’m in the midst of thermoclines, layers, convergence zones, and MAD systems.
So, let’s walk through this and see how it plays out.
First goal is to get into the AO and set up a search area. From the mission brief I know I’ll be hiding from surface ships, helicopters, and aircraft. So now we have to learn to love the layer. The layer is a barrier to sound propagation and both our greatest friend and second biggest enemy. (Torpedo’s are enemy number one.)
Two ways to see the layer. One, we select a unit and press F2.
On our visual display we see the layer ceiling and layer floor. If we click a radio box on the left it’ll keep our boat on either above it, below it, or with shallow in the middle of it.
Or we can just hover our mouse over the sea and get some info there.
In this case it’s at 131 feet to 213 feet. On some scenarios the water is too shallow and you’ve got no layer. Since we have a shitload of surface stuff to deal with I’m going to try and stay either in, or under, the layer for the most part. We might pop up above it on occasion and take a look around.
The other thing this does is lets us move quicker. If we go super deep we can really move fast without cavitating. This is really, really, important. Stick your hand in the sink and move it back and forth really fast. See those bubbles? Bad. Now move your hand slowly. No bubbles. This, in a nutshell, is cavitation in your sink. Amplify it over the surface of a propeller and you have hundreds of thousands of microscopic bubbles that are exploding.
Orders time! We can set this two ways. One, is define a patrol area and assign our subs to each or we can path everything manually. First we’ll see how each looks then we’ll work with a combination of the two.
By setting a patrol area we define an area, and rules, that our units will follow to prosecute the mission. First we need to set our boundary. I used the keystroke CTRL-INS and split the patrol area.
Now we have fancy yellow icons in each corner. Oh, to keep the scenario info from screwing with you just hit CTRL-END. It’ll deselect all of the reference points on the map. Reselect your corners and either select Add New Mission in the Missions+Ref. Points menu or hit CTRL-F11.
We’ll name it ASWSouth and change it to a Patrol. Then we select ASW Patrol. I also checked Open Mission Editor window. Now click OK.
Don’t worry about this error. Just click OK. Basically it has the order wrong and will show us a bowtie instead of a square.
Click one of the reference points in the Edit Patrol Area window and use the arrow to adjust it. Now you’ll see a fancy square.
Ignore most everything on this for now. In the Unassigned Units window select the USS Whale and then click the arrows to move it to assigned units.
Let’s set a few rules.
I want transit throttle to be Cruise. This is the speed to get to the patrol area. Station throttle is creep, or 5 knots. Transit depth is -1000 and Station Depth is -250. We’ll go super deep to get there then move just beneath the layer.
One last thing to set for this ship is the mission doctrine. Click Mission Doctrine in the lower left corner.
We have a pair of British subs working this area too so we need to change our WCS to TIGHT – fire only at contacts positively identified. Otherwise we could get an unknown contact and pop an ally. Not good! Not to mention we could shoot a torpedo at a whale and reveal our position to a Soviet attack sub.
At this point we can unpause the game and the USS Whale will prosecute the patrol and follow our instructions. We could sit back and let it run and it might find something to kill. I tried this a few times and lemme tell you, it’s not all that successful.
Using this method we press F3 and set out a path of waypoints. At each waypoint we can manually set every variable you see above in the Mission Editor. So now we can adjust depth, speed, path, doctrine, everything at each waypoint. Pro-tip, press CTRL and click-drag a waypoint to add one in the middle of a line of waypoints.
Click a waypoint and then press F2. Now you can manually set the speed for each section. In the case above I use this to move quicker, then slow way down for a bit, then repeat. On top of that you’ll “Clear your baffles”. You can’t hear directly behind you because of the mechanical noise, so this allows me to turn and get a better look.
At any point you can click on your sub and manually adjust. I like to do this to pop above the layer as we can sneak a peak really quicklike. Remember, you’ve got ships, sonobuoys, helicopters, and planes all above. The deep is our friend.
So here’s the plan. We move into position near the datum points using manual movement points then we engage the patrol AI. At that point we’ll just tweak our depth and pop up-down-all around. We may, and this is a big may, sneak a peak with our sonar. In a perfect world we’d just listen all sneaky like. But our sonar on these subs is good, much better than the Soviet sonar. We just don’t want to leave it on!
Once I heard sub warfare described as two men in a dark room both trying to fight. They each both a revolver and a flashlight. On one hand you can listen and stumble about while the other guy does too. If you turn on your flashlight (sonar) and he’s not where you think he is then you just gave yourself away. But it’s more complex. With the layer it’s like the same game but in a two story house with an angry mob on the roof who keeps poking holes through the shingles!
There’s our path. We move in a Full speed until the first waypoint where we slow down to a Creep. At that point I bounce between just below the layer and shallow, or in the middle of the layer. Once we get into position near the datum we’ll setup a mission and manually adjust the depth and sonar as we creep around.
If you notice the spacing above it’s about the range of our active sonar. So each time I change layer depth I can give a quick ping with my sonar and look around. Right! Party time, lets run it and see how it looks. I’ll go with 15 second compression as this is a long scenario and time is on our side.
First off I keep my time compression at real time so I can monitor the units and make sure I didn’t fat finger a digit and they surfaced or something else dumb.
To pop on our sonar we’ll use the menu on the right. Select one of the subs and then un-check the Inherit from Parent box.
We can just click the sonar ACTIVE button as needed.
Convergence and the Surface Duct
Sound in water is funny. It behaves incredibly different from what normally think of as sound. Both water temperature and pressure impact it. In our case we can get echoes and bounces that transmit soundwaves an incredible distance. Remember when we hovered our mouse around the sea? Try it again and look for the CZ’s bit. These reflections can give us information about the enemy or even give us away if we’re not careful.
That link above has a ton of information and is an exceptional read. It was at this point I realized that CMANO is a totally different animal from any other game I’ve played. It models this.
Lemme state that again. CMANO models the surface duct, the layer, convergence zones, and the deep shadow zone. Of all the systems in CMANO this one is the one that amazes me the most. This is the direct application of science and war.
For our purpose we can use the convergence zones to learn more about what is way off and, if I understand this correctly, amplify the effective distance of our sonar. Or, if totally passive, get information far outside of our normal area. Awesome stuff!
The surface duct can be useful for a quick peek but its noisy there and you might find yourself the target of the nasty people really quick! So beware.
Once I’m in the patrol zone I drop the speed to 5 knots. A few hours in and we get reminded that we are being hunted.
The range in the Database Viewer claims 2 miles, but remember the convergence zone thing? So maybe they can find you closer…
And the Soviets go fishing! Imagine the embarrassment of that perfect torpedo run on a bunch of tuna.
This whole time I’m watching and bouncing into the layer, and below it, and near the bottom. By bouncing it’ll keep any passive sonobuoys (which you won’t see) from getting a good fix on you. Once an ASW search zeroes in they can detect you using a magnetic anomaly detector. (MAD) And you’ll die without ever seeing a buoy. It’s just a sudden torpedo.
If I do get dropped on I find it best to let the AI evade the torpedo. It’s go deep and go fast.
Our speed seems low, but from what I understand at 5 knots we’re basically a hole in the water. Only the barest mechanical noises of pumps and such are evident. In other words perfect hunting conditions.
It’s time like these that it’s tempting to pop up to periscope depth and look around. But remember, our mission is to kill those subs, not to peak upstairs.
It’s a passive contact and decently close. I find it once I pop above the layer for a look. It might be the British sub so I slow down a touch and adjust my course. Right now the sonar only knows that it’s in an area (the wedge). A few minutes later we learn that it’s an SSN, moving at 5 knots, and at a depth of 131 feet. Time to match depths and see how it looks. He’s in the middle of the layer, notice how we picked him up while we are above the layer.
I’ve got my time compression at one second now. Our depth slowly changes and the contact disappears as we match depth. Interesting. Did he go deep? I pop above the layer and there he is again. For whatever reason I lose him inside of the layer. Seconds pass. The wedge tightens up. I close in tighter. Still no determination.
I adjust depth again, this time beneath the layer. I still have him and I feel much safer staying here than in the surface duct.
An SSN (Ship, Submersible, Nuclear) is an attack sub so it might be the Brits. Or a Soviet hunter. If it was an SSBN (Ship, Submersible, Ballistic, Nuclear) instead we’d have already fired on it.
It’s the Brits! Bah. Oh well, at least we didn’t whap a friendly.
A torpedo drops in just behind USS Whale! She hammers the throttle and gets away. We do a 90 degree course change, stay deep, and speed way up. Sonobuoys rain down around us. Shit. I see a line of them and adjust my course to get the hell away. Luckily active buoys don’t last long.
As my manual moves are getting short I set up my ASW Patrol zones. I make a set of reference points for the north half and south half and then bring them in slightly. I don’t need my boats driving right to the edge of the search zone, the sonar range is doing that for us. Now they will pattern about and we’ll vary the depth.
There’s a ton of theory about the best way to search a grid for a sub. The US Navy has some really cool methods in order to get a high search efficiency. It’s some really cool math. For us we’ll let the AI mission handle the pathing. We’ll just vary it up and down.
Hours have passed. We’ve dodged torpedos, ran from buoys, and now another solid hit. We’ve had a few turn into tuna…
Woah! It’s right on top of us! A second later I see what I need to know. SSBN. At this point I know it’s hostile. I right click and mark it as such.
At this point I can let the AI do the attack or I could set it up manually. For now I’ll let the AI do it.
Torpedo in the water!
He’s gone deep! Speeding up too. A few seconds later and my torpedo does it work. The SSBN tried to use a decoy but no luck for him today.
Hunting subs is hard. It’s the toughest thing I’ve done yet in this game for two big reasons. One is the hiding. You need to be stealthy, smart, and patient. It’s not enough to just set a patrol zone. You have to be active. Two, these things are designed to be super stealthy and by god they are.
I’ve played this scenario at least two dozen times and a good percentage of the time I die. It’s a sudden torpedo as I traverse the column. Other times I encounter an SSN. Only about 25% of the time do I actually score a kill. But as frustrating as it can be it’s one hell of a challenge. I’m looking forward to learning more about convergence zones and proper search techniques to try it all again.
How did you handle it? Let me know in the comments!