Command School: A Guide to Air Strikes in CMANO

Command Modern Air/Naval operations (CMANO) is a complex game, but it is one that rewards study and a bit of trial and error. I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing the game, but I still learn new things every single time I have a look on the forums. A big part of the infamous learning curve is finding the best way to use the mission planner to launch air strikes, so I will be looking at different parts of the overall strike plane through-out this guide.

CMANO has a fair amount of DLC, a lot of it standalone. Check out our full guide for more.

To start with we’re going to look at something simple: delivering the weapons to a target. It’s much easier to demonstrate this than just talk about it, and so I’ve set up a simple scenario in the game editor.

Part One: Air Strikes 101

In the scenario a flight of four Tornadoes from RAF Lossiemouth are making a simulated attack on RAF Leuchars. The primary targets for the strike are the eight aircraft hangars at the airfield (six on the west of the base and two on the north-east corner) and each Tornado is loaded with 8xM18 retarded bombs (these have airbrakes to let the aeroplane get away from the blast circle and so can be dropped from low altitude).

Now, it is possible to micro-manage strikes by manually setting courses, altitudes, speeds and weapon allocations, but this is pain in big scenarios and I kind of feel that it’s cheating a bit. I prefer to use the mission editor, spend a bit of time planning the strike and then letting it run its course. To set up the strike on the base I’ve selected the base and then chosen ‘Add a new mission’ from the ‘Missions and Ref Points’ menu. I’ve called the mission ‘Strike’, assigned all four Tornadoes to it and deleted all the targets I don’t want (everything other than the hangars) from the target list. The mission planner screen now looks like this:

As the strike approaches the target all four of the Tornadoes head for the same hangar (the first one in the target list). The lead two aeroplanes reach the launch point nearly at the same time and launch sixteen bombs at the first hangar:

The hangar is obliterated, and the third plane targets and destroys the other nearby hangar. The fourth aircraft, which has been trailing the others now has no target on its flight path as the other hangars are on the opposite side of the airbase. This aircraft now turns around the airbase on a big arc and then targets one of the hangars on the opposite side of the base.

Once again, the targeted hangar is destroyed, and the last Tornado joins the others on their way home. The total kills on the strike are three of the eight targets. Also, if the airbase had air defence it is virtually certain that the last aircraft would have been killed while making its second pass. This strike really hasn’t been well planned – let’s see if we can do better.

The first problem we have is in weapon allocation. The default setting is for ALL the planes to drop ALL their bombs on a single target – if the aircraft in the attack had been closer together then all 32 bombs would have been dropped on the first hangar.  This is obviously a bit of overkill. The target hangers have 600 damage points, and each bomb can deal 270 DPs. Not every bomb is going to hit, but in a low level attack the scatter isn’t going to be too large – four bombs per target should do the trick. We can fix this by setting the ‘Weapon Release Authorization’ for the 1000lb bombs in the mission doctrine. It’s also possible to set the authorization globally, but for strike planning it makes sense to adjust things to suit the targets. In this case I’ve set the ‘Weapons per Salvo’ for both soft and hardened land structures to 4 rounds:

The next thing we need to do is make sure that the aircraft have a flight path and target list that will allow them to hit things on a single pass. The six hangars on the western side of the base make a good target group and are in a line. The other two hangars are north-east, but should be reachable from a strike line that runs west to east. There is a problem with adding the two eastern hangars immediately after the mission is created however. If we do this the medium hangars are placed at the top of the target list and become the primary targets of the mission. This will cause the aircraft to head for those two hangars first and then double back to hit the western targets. There is, unfortunately, no way to reorder the targets on the list.

However, there is a ‘fix’ for this that seems to work. You need to set up a strike with only the western hangars as a target. The strike line is adjusted by moving the initial point (IP) and exit point to give a line over the western targets, and the mission is ‘fixed’ by running the simulation for a few seconds. You can see the strike fixing when the exit point moves onto the last target. The other two hangars can then be added as targets without affecting the bombing paths.

The ‘fix’ works, but isn’t ideal. It would be nice if the target order could be adjusted, but this isn’t possible at the moment. Another solution would be to create two missions: one for the group of hangars in the west and one (with a single aircraft) for the group in the north east.

This time the strike goes brilliantly. All eight hangars are destroyed and all of the aircraft make only a single pass over the target.

There might seem to be a lot of work involved in setting up a strike in the mission editor, but for me this is where a lot of the fun in the game lies. There is nothing better than watching a well-planned strike dealing simulated death and destruction!

Part Two: Picking the right weapons

I was originally going write an article giving general guidance on what weapons should be used against what targets in CMNAO. As I started to pull things together, however, I realised that all of the interacting factors that can affect this decision make it impossible to generalise in any way that would be useful. So instead, I’ve put together an article that passes most of the work onto you, but gives you a bit of help!

I’ve put together a LUA script that allows you to select an aircraft, a loadout and a target, and which then generates a large number of units (planes and targets) in the scenario editor – the idea is to use a large number is to try to get reasonably repeatable results. The aircraft can attack in a selectable number of waves (to give a good chance of destroying rather than just damaging the targets) with an adjustable number of aircraft in each wave.

Editor’s Note:  Download the script at your own discretion – it’s safe, but we take no responsibility if it causes conflicts on your end as it could interact with mods, or other native software/settings. Also Bruce if this is a trick I will find you.

The script can be downloaded here.

The last line of the script (‘strike_test(863,4464,41,10,10)’) is the bit that executes the function. The first number (863) is the database ID of a Marine Corps F/A-18C.

The second number (4464) is the database ID for Mk83 bomb loadout on the F/A-18.

The third number (41) is the target database ID and should give use a large aircraft hangar.

The last two numbers in the function call (10,10) are the number of waves of strikers and the number of planes in each wave. I’ve used multiple waves to make sure that targets are mostly destroyed rather than damaged as it’s easier to see the results in the ‘Losses and Expenditures’ screen.

To use the script you need to start the game in editing mode.

Once the game starts, open the LUA script console.

Copy and paste the script into the lower portion of the console display.

Now press the ‘Run’ button on the console. You should find that a base and a bunch (well, a hundred!) aircraft have appeared on the east edge of Libya. I put things here as the terrain is relatively flat. Press the scenario start button and then pause the scenario when the targets appear.

You should now assign the WRA for the strike weapons (from the Game/Side Doctrine menu). I’ve set the WRA for a bomb salvo size of ‘2’, so the aircraft will drop two bombs at a time on a target. At this stage you can also adjust things like side proficiency.

The next step is to assign aircraft to the strike mission. To do this it is easier if you first gather the aircraft in each wave into a group – I tried to do this in the script, but had no success. To do this by hand, zoom into the aircraft and drag select around each wave (there are ten of them each with ten aircraft on top of each other). Once you’ve selected a wave press ‘G’ to group them. Do this for all ten waves.

Now go into the mission editor and assign the first wave to the strike mission (which has already been created by the script).

Start the game again and accelerate time. You should see the first wave approach the target. As the first wave gets near the target you can assign the second wave. The goal is to avoid having a follow-on wave launch weapons while the preceding wave still has weapons in the air. With bombs you can have the waves quite close together, but with long range weapons you are better to wait until the preceding wave’s weapons have struck before assigning a follow up wave. Run the simulation until all the bombs have struck their targets.

At the end of the strike the number of targets destroyed can be seen in the ‘losses and expenditures’ window.

In this test 49 hangars were destroyed. Each aircraft was carrying 4 bombs, so all 400 bombs were dropped. Just be careful with this – when I reduced the bombs per salvo to 1 I was finding that aircraft were returning home with unexpended bombs. To repeat the test, or to carry out a new one you need to delete both sides (strikers and targets) from ‘editor’ menu. I tried to do this for you in the script (using ScenEdit_RemoveSide) but didn’t succeed.

Removing a side will delete the units and missions too. Once you’ve cleaned the slate just run the script again.

I repeated the test above five times and got 49,48,53,67 and 64 hangars destroyed – there’s quite a bit of scatter, but that’s to be expected when randomness is involved. The thing that did surprise me is that targeting seemed more random that I thought it would be. I had expected targets to be hit in the order they were presented in the target list, but this didn’t seem to be the case (at least for unguided weapons).

I switched the WRA to the default (all weapons launched) and the hangars destroyed dropped to 19 – default WRAs are a bad idea! I also tried boosting the side proficiency from regular to ace (keeping the WRA at 2 bombs/salvo). In a single test 398 bombs were dropped (no idea why the last two didn’t go) and 127 hangars were destroyed – I had no idea that proficiency had such an effect on accuracy!

For a bit more fun I’ve tested a number of loadouts against different targets and the results are summarised in the table. All the results are single trials, so you may get slightly different results if you try them.

It’s a small test, but there are a couple of surprises (at least for me). The first is how good iron bombs (mk83) are – they got reasonable results on everything and better results than cluster bombs when attacking artillery (although on looking up the Mk20, it’s meant for attacking armoured vehicles – the vehicle in the database picture looks like a tank, but apparently has no armour!). The incendiary bombs (Mk87) are pretty useless – I had thought that Aviation Gas tanks would be a prime target for them but they weren’t (maybe there was no fuel in them?)

I think I’ll be using the script before I start a new scenario (where the aircraft, loadouts and targets are known) to give me some idea of the optimal choice of weapons for target destruction. Target defences also play a big part in what weapons can be used and these need to be considered before making the final choice.

Part Three: The Secrets of In-Air Refuelling

Now we’re going to tackle that most frustrating of foes – Tanker AI. Using tankers in strike missions used to be something that drove me nuts. I’d get the tankers up in a support mission and then send the strike. Then I’d find that a CAP mission had decided that they needed a quick refuel and used some of the tankers. Not to worry, I’d think, there should still be enough for the strike planes (maybe?). The strike would pass the tankers on their way to the target and halfway there would decide that maybe they needed some fuel after all and turn around and head back to the tankers. Once the strike refuelled the tankers were empty and headed home, and the strike aircraft would decide that the target was too far away without tankers and head home too! In this article I’m going to explain how I conquered my tanker fury.

I’m going to use an example to demonstrate how to set things up. This time I’m using a heavily modified version of a scenario called ‘Canary’s Cage’. It’s one of the standard scenarios that comes with the main game and if you haven’t tried it yet I can really recommend it. The position in the example represents the end game for the Spanish player.

The two airbases in Morocco have been put out of action and the various surface and sub-surface threats have been dealt with. The landing task force (Task force B) needs to approach the landing zone on Tenerife but before it does the airbase on the island needs to be put out of action. The lead task force (Task force A) has some Harriers, but they are needed for CAP protection. Instead the strike is to be carried out by F/A-18s flying from the ‘Strike Base’ in southern Spain.

Now the distance from the Strike Base to the target (using the CNTRL-D distance tool) is about 756nm. This is a problem as the land attack loadouts for the F/A-18s have strike radius’ of 400-500nm. For the strike let’s choose the GBU-16 loadout (I cheated and added these weapons to the base in the editor!) This gives each aircraft two guided 1000lb bombs which should cause some damage!

You can see that the strike radius for this package is 500nm. If we refuel the aircraft once we should be able to extend the radius to 1000nm (ignoring the effect that dropping the bombs has on fuel economy). The target is 756nm away, so we should be able to reach it, drop the bombs and then fly to a refuelling point no further than 244nm away from the target. Task force A is currently sitting this distance from the target and the task force CAP and AA missiles can provide protection for the tankers we’ll have to send.

We now need to estimate how many strike aircraft we’ll be able to refuel from the tankers. The fuel loading of the strike aircraft (ignore drop tanks that will have been dropped when empty) is 4925kg.

The tankers we have available are four KC-130H Hercules, which have a fuel capacity of 28540kg. Now the tankers are going to have to get to the refuelling point and back (about 1000nm in total) and will need some loiter and refuelling time. The tankers burn 29.37kg/minute at cruise speed (290kt) at optimum altitude.

The tankers will take 207minutes to cover the 1000nm at 290kt and so will burn 6080kg of fuel. If we allow a 30% excess for loitering, refuelling and take-off and landing, then about 7,900kg of fuel will be used by the tanker itself. This leaves 28540-7900=20640kg of fuel for the strike aircraft. This means that each tanker can refuel 4 F/A-18s. Since we have four tankers the maximum strike size is 16 aircraft.

We need to minimise the time the tankers spend loitering and wasting fuel. Ideally we want the tankers and strike aircraft to arrive at the refuelling point at exactly the same time. At 290kt cruise speed the tankers will take 103 minutes to fly the 500nm to the refuelling point. The strike aircraft will have to fly the 756nm to the target and then the 244nm to the refuelling point (a total of 1000nm – right on the edge of their range). At the F/A-18 optimal cruise speed of 480kts this will take a total of 125 minutes, so the strike will need to take off 22 minutes before the tankers.

We’ve now done all the planning and can set-up the refuelling and strike missions. The first thing to do is to set any other missions Refuel/UNREP to ‘Not allowed’ to prevent them stealing the strike’s fuel. Ideally, we’d set this at a side level and make the strike mission an exception. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to work – all aircraft refuse to refuel.

Now we can setup the refuelling mission. To do this I’ve placed a reference point at the refuelling position just south of Task Force A. I’ve made the reference point relative(fixed bearing) to Task Force A to make sure the tankers stayed under the protection of the task force. I’ve created a new support mission for the tankers using the reference point as the support course. I’ve also made sure that the ‘1/3 rule’ was unchecked (I want all of the tankers up in the air) and set the activation time to 22 minutes (the scenario time was 12:03) in the future (to allow time for the strike to do the job).

We’re now ready to set up the strike mission. I’ve selected the airbase as the target, created a new land strike mission and added 16 CBU-16 armed F/A-18s to the strike.

Before exiting the strike planner we need to configure the tanker support by clicking the ‘Configure’ button. This brings up the ‘Tanker Planner’. In this case the strike will launch before the tankers, so the ‘Launch mission without tankers in place’ needs to be checked. We need to assign the Strike Tankers to support this mission in the list on the left. I’ve set the maximum number of aircraft per tanker to 4 to make sure that tankers are used properly. Finally we want to cut down the ‘Receivers start looking for a tanker’ percentage down to 10 – this will ensure the strikers attack before looking to refuel (the target should be reached with about 30% fuel remaining).

Everything should now be set up – pour yourself a drink, press start and see what happens! The strike aircraft and tankers are on their way.

The strikers are ready for refuelling and are heading for the tankers which haven’t quite reached the refuelling point. The reason for this is that it has moved! It was tied to Task Force A which is moving at 19kts – I should have remembered this but nobody’s perfect! At this point the strikers have around 1500kg of fuel left.

The strikers are now refuelling. You need to keep an eye on your strike groups just before this point as the tanker queuing logic isn’t perfect and sometimes groups get ‘Called-off RTB’. If this happens select the group and then tell it to refuel if possible.

Almost all the strikers are down now and the tankers are approaching the base. At this point the tankers are down to around 3300kg of fuel.

The end result is that everyone made it home. I’ve set this mission up to operate right at the edge of the ranges of the strikers and tankers. If I had to worry about enemy defences I’d probably not cut things so finely (by reducing the number of strikers and perhaps by having two refuelling points). I hope you’ve found this a useful introduction to using tankers.

We decided to merge all three parts into one because we were having trouble promoting the later entries. There arn’t currently any plans to expand this guide any more, but we’re always happy to take suggestions if there’s something else you want covered!

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