With the escalation of tensions between the Caribbean island nations of San Paradiso and Culo Raton, both nations have placed their respective Air Forces on high states of alert.
The Fuerza Ariale de Republico Paradiso is small and poorly equipped by western military standards, however compared to other Caribbean nations it represents a significant force to be reckoned with. For its primary air-superiority fighter, Paradiso operates a dozen or so of the venerable Northrop F5E Tiger II, a 50 year old design which thanks to a series of avionics upgrades and modernisation refits remains a capable and credible threat well into the 21st century. Although normally utilised as an interceptor/air superiority fighter, the Tiger II can be equipped with Paveway II and Mk82 bombs for a ground attack role.
Regular ground attack, counter insurgency and border patrol duties normally fall upon the Embraer EMB314 Super Tucanos. The Brazilian turboprop trainer/light attack aircraft excels at close ground support, with it's acrobatic agility and long loiter times compared to jet fighters. They may be no match for jet fighters in air-to-air combat, but since they are mostly employed against local insurgents and narco-traffickers.
Bringing up the rear of the formation are four A4 Skyhawks, recently purchased from Israel and not yeat operational. Another veteran airframe that's still effective on today's battlefield, the A4s will represent a significant improvement in Paradiso's surface attack capabilities (including anti-shipping strikes) in an aircraft that can actually hold its own in a dogfight.
As a whole, the Paradiso air forces are in dire need of modernisation. Countermeasures like chaff and flares are not universally fitted, and the standard air-to-air missile is the older, less capable AIM-9P model. Ground attack weapons are mostly unguideded bombs and rockets, with a handful of laser-guided Paveway bombs available for the F5Es. And of course, the small size of the air force means that any aircraft losses are felt keenly. The loss of two airframes might represent 10% or more of the available fleet.
Meanwhile the forces of the Culo Raton Ariale Patrole are equally ready to repel their Imperialist neighbours.
Like any good Communist dictatorship, Culo Raton operates mostly ex-Warsaw Pact or Chinese built equipment, often buying third or fourth-hand hand-me-downs from former Soviet client states. Their fleet of MiG-21s have been extensively modernised and brought up to the MiG-21bis standard. Primarily used as interceptors and air-superiority fighters, they can be equipped with an austere ground-attack capability.
The air force also has a handful of ancient Sukhoi SU-7 Fitter fighter/bombers. Considered hopelessly obsolete everywhere else in the world, they still offer Culo Raton a significant ground-strike capability.
The Chinese built Shenyang F6, extensively modernised copies of the MiG-19, make up Culo Raton's primary ground attack capabilities. Munitions are limited to unguided rockets and bombs, but a nation under as many arms embargos as Culu Raton has to make do with what it can acquire. In a pinch, the F6 can be equipped for air-to-air combat, but would most likely be outclassed in that role.
So those are the aerial forces I've assembled for the modern Imagi-Nation action between San Paradiso and Culo Raton. I've deliberately gone in most cases for out of date kit nearing the end of its operational lifetime (apart from the Super Tucanos, which are modern but inexpensive) but apart from the SU-7s I believe all these aircraft are still in active service with at least one nation in the real world. Mig21 workhorses are still everywhere, Argentina is getting its fleet of A4s a brand new refit from Lockheed with avionics lifted from the F16, while the F5E remains the primary aircraft of the Swiss air force.
After looking at some of the options available, the rules I'm leaning towards are Air War C21 by Wessex Games (available as PDF from Wargame Vault). I've had a couple of solitaire games and the rules look very good, doing a good job of abstracting the third dimension. In a dogfight, you have the choice between moving normally, which is a simple half-move/turn/half move/turn based on your aircraft's manoeuvrability rating. Alternatively you can attempt a Special Manoeuvre, pushing the flight envelope and theoretically involving the third dimension and either a loss or gain in speed. For example an Immelman manoeuvre, which in real life resolves a half loop upwards followed by a roll to bring the aircraft upright again, in AW:C21 this allows you to make a half move then turn to face any direction, with a drop in speed. The downside is that these manoeuvres require a roll to complete successfully and a failure can result in unexpected movement, greater than normal speed gains/losses and place you at a disadvantage against incoming fire. If the results of a manoeuvre, success or fail, takes you over your airframe's maximum speed you take damage as the plane tears itself apart. If you drop below the minimum speed, you go into a stall and are no longer flying, but fighting to recover control of your aircraft as you plummet towards the ground. At best this makes you easy prey to enemy aircraft, at worst you run the risk of fireballing into the ground.
The Special Manoeuvres are definitely the game winners/losers. You can fly around doing normal moves in perfect safety and will probably find it quite difficult to get into firing position against your enemy. Or you can take a chance on a Special Manoeuvre which might put you on your enemy's six, or if you fail leave you hanging in his gunsights. Energy Management, a key feature of Air Combat Manoeuvering (or "dogfighting" to you and me) is also represented as you need to carefully manage the speed gains and losses from manoeuvring in order to keep within the flight envelope. Too many fancy manoeuvres might leave you slow and energy-deficient just at the time you need to manoeuvre to avoid incoming fire.
In summary of all the air combat games I've played over the years, this one comes the closest to feeling like real flight, without tracking the third dimension. I'm looking forward to trying out the rules on a live human opponent .
Meanwhile work on the air forces' 1/72 counterparts continues apace. While I just about managed to hand-paint roundels and flags on the 1/300th aircraft, I think I'm going to try making some decals for the 1/72 aircraft. I've also settled on a flight stand design that I'm very happy with, and as I'd expected, the 1/72 aircraft look absolutely fine flying over 28mm troops on the ground. Pictures and more reports to follow.