Oh, and don't forget about the 11,400 extra credit points, there for the taking!
The mission is laid out in seven phases:
Phase 1: The MiGs.
Phase 2: The Northern Boats.
Phase 3: The Canyon SAMs.
Phase 4. The Tanks.
Phase 5: The Coastal SAM Complex.
Phase 6: The Southern Boats.
Phase 7: The Bridge.**
This is the order I usually fly this mission. Each time is different though...a hit from a SAM or AAA might alter your approach to something less lofty than the initial plan to sterilize the entire eastern end of the island.
NOTE: If you rearrange the order of these phases to 5, 6, 4, 3, 1, 2, you may have an appreciable point total to end with in the event a MiG-precipitated death becomes imminent. (You get the ribbon when all the tanks die, regardless of the status of the bridge.)
** There are no points for blowing the bridge so it must be considered the dessert at the end of the multi-course feast. It may no longer be laser painted by the time you get to it though.
A few minutes after the mission begins, two MiG 29s will appear out of nowhere, about four or five nm E of Baracoa airport. If you wish to have any hope of completing Phase II, you must defeat these MiGs.
1. Shut off TACAN on the other two A-10s.
2. Depart Maisi, loaded with 6 HARMs and 4 Sidewinders.
3. Fly heading of 45° or so, until you are well clear of the range of the MiGs' radar. (This is about 8 nm.) Then fly north, then west, then south (say, a minute in each direction) so you may turn and approach the MiGs from the north or NE. Turn toward the MiGs and when you get within HARM range (7 nm if you're nose to nose, 5 nm if they're flying away from you) and launch. If, through some stroke of luck--or insight, or bravado--you just know you'll get a hit, you may want to launch in pairs, as 2 HARMs will toast a MiG in its tracks. Once the HARMs are enroute, switch immediately to AIMs. If you hear a strong growling from the AIMs and you know the MiGs are still heading straight for you, go ahead and launch just in case the HARMs don't hit well, or miss. Or, if you're more confident of your dogfighting skills, save the AIMs for then.
4. Land at Maisi, reload with 7 HARMs and an ECM pod, or 8 HARMs. Add some fuel if necessary.
There are six, and they are very aggressive but cannot track you if you are on or near their six o'clock.
1. Take off and bear left. Activate ECM. Arm HARMs: RMS (Release Mode Single)
2. Fly along the coast, but stay lower than 500' unless necessary. (There is a SAM site not far inland, and you'll occasionally see the spike as you work on the boats. This site has never fired upon me while I was at any altitude below 1000'. I think you're below line of sight if you stay low.)
3. Fly toward the nearest boat, keeping it on your nose and keep speed under 300, slower if necessary to keep distance when the thing spikes you. When it spikes you HARM it instantly, break hard to either side, and go to full power. (If you're like me, pop 7 to watch the hit--this is half the fun--but BE CAREFUL. I've flown more than one hog into the water admiring my handiwork at low altitude.)
4. ONCE A GUNBOAT HAS EATEN ONE HARM, IT WILL NO LONGER FIRE UPON YOU. If you do get a hit, throttle to zero, quickly reverse your turn and line up on the crippled boat, IAS under 250 kts. A couple short blasts of 30mm will do him.
5. REPEAT for the other boats.
NOTE: While focusing on a boat, beware the boats on the horizon. They have spiked on occasion while I was busy with another.
IF YOU ARE APPROACHING TWO BOATS CLOSE TO EACH OTHER, chances are they will be going in opposite directions, with all three of you moving parallel to the coast. My strategy in these situations is to key on the guy coming toward me, drilling him with a HARM when he spikes me. (If I go after the guy who is moving away, but don't kill him on the first pass, I will not only get shot at by the guy moving toward me, but unless he has previously been softened by a HARM, the guy moving away will pour hot lead into my tailpipe.)
6. Land at Maisi, reload 7-8 HARMs. Refuel.
There are five radar trucks along the rim of the canyon, each with two Rapier missile launchers. Each launcher has four missiles. (5 x 2 x 4 = quite a few missiles to dodge.)
1. Take off, climb to 6000' or 7000' MSL at heading 345.
2. Turn left and look for spikes. As the spikes reach the second ring of the RWR, HARM and turn to put the spike on your wingtip. (Even if they launch on you, the SAM is almost guaranteed to miss you if you have turned so the missile is moving perpendicular to your heading. I use this fact to get BDA, watching the HARM go in. DO NOT pop 7 to watch the HARM unless you have a) the target on your wingtip, and b) are moving at least 200kts. You may also want to engage the autopilot to avoid surprises when you "come back inside" the cockpit after watching the missiles hit.
3. Repeat this as necessary. (Usually when you hit a radar truck, one of the launchers will go with it. But that still leaves another launcher at the site, and you will need to deal with it later if you don't tend to it now.)
4. The surviving launcher will be spiking you, but it may be weak. Move toward it until its spike reaches the second RWR ring (or it locks onto you) and let 'er rip, again turning 90° to put the target on your 3 or 9 o'clock.
[NOTE: Just because you have been locked onto does not mean a missile is incoming, but it might, so treat it that way. HOWEVER, if you see a spike that reaches the outside edge of your RWR, it is a missile and you better get that spike on your wingtip in a hurry. [Once I got tangled up by the two ZSUs perilously close to the SE SAM complex. For some reason I found myself heading vertically, and then a missile spike appeared. "Hey great." I thought. I was decelerating against my wishes (full throttle notwithstanding) and trying like mad to get the damn nose over so I could get some airspeed. I remember thinking something like "Well, it's been real." The plane disintegrated so suddenly I believe I actually jumped in my chair when I said "DAMMIT!" Should have punched out, thought I could get the nose over. Dumb. Oh well. Die and learn.]
5. Repeat this pattern of long, lazy 'S' turns while at a distance from all spikes, and eventually you'll weave a path down over the canyon with craters in your wake where SAM launchers once were.
6. As you get close to the bridge, you'll be picking up spikes from the SE SAM Complex, and you should be seeing the tank columns by now, on the road north of the complex. If you don't have at least two HARMs left, go reload, this time with six MAV E/Os and 2-4 HARMs.
I must confess, as fun as it is to "fire and forget" with the HARMs, attacking tanks is probably my favorite combat activity in the A-10 simulators. It is, after all, what the plane was intended for.
1. Take off, climb up and left, over the town of Maisi, and follow the road.
2. As you approach the columns, HARM the ZSUs when they spike you. There should only be two. (Keep an eye on the spikes from the SAM complex to the SE.)
3. ONCE THE ZSUs ARE DOWN, IT'S A TURKEY SHOOT. Use Mavs if you like, I prefer the cannon, but don't let any of the tanks reach the big v-shaped notch the road goes through just SW of Maisi. You will lose the "mission" ribbon if any get through, and what's worse, you'll cause civilian casualties blasting the tanks in the middle of town.
4. Land. Reload with HARMs. Refuel.
There are two radar trucks and nine TELs (Transport Erector Launcher,) five along the south edge of the cliff and four along the east. Each launcher has two missiles. Two big, nasty missiles. (And the Cubans have drawn pictures of your hog on them in magic marker!)
Similar strategy to the way you went after the canyon SAMs, but instead of slowly zig-zagging down the middle of the canyon area, now you're about 3-4 nm off the SE coast of the island, moving back and forth, teasing them into launching the kitchen sink at you.
1. Take off. Turn right and south and slowly get 3-4 nm off the coast and 5000' or 6000' altitude so the boats don't bother you too much.
2. Approach the SAM complex head-on. When they spike you, launch as many HARMs at as many different spikes as you can before a) that little voice in your head says: "You know, if I don't get perpendicular, I'll die in about three seconds," or if you're feeling bold, b) you see that light blue spot that lets you know a SAM is inbound.
3. Break left, away from the coast, pop chaff and flares. Watch the fan-shaped display on the RWR as the spikes go from your 3 o'clock to your 9 o'clock, the SAMs whizzing through your jetwash.
4. If you are perpendicular to the path of the missile, but are moving slower than 200, quickly invert and dive for the deck. 200kts, maybe a little slower, has proven to not be fast enough, even with the missile on your beam (3 or 9 o'clock.)
A note about chaff and flares. Careful with these. If you know you've gotten perpendicular to the path of the incoming missile, and you know you're faster than 200kts, you may want to lay off the flares. If one of the missiles detonates after "biting off" on a flare instead of your exhaust, it may frag your hog, though usually not fatally. Flares are good I've found if the missile is overtaking you from behind and, for whatever reason, you will not be able to take aggressive evasive maneuvers. The two situations in which I always use them are:
1. If a missile has been fired at me from close range (no matter the angle)
2. If I'm moving slowly (<200 kts.) and am fired upon.
Same strategy you used against the northern boats, but with one twist: the boat that is usually hiding in the small bay under the big bridge. (After entering the bay and pickling a HARM at it once, I was sure I could turn horizontally and exit the canyon the way I came in. Oh, how wrong I was! I'm sure it's possible, but merging with the canyon wall that one time has really spooked me about turning in confined spaces. It doesn't help that, unlike the grassy hills, you don't get much indication of just how close you may be to a canyon wall. You can look down while turning, to look where the water meets the wall, but maintaining your bearings during a tight turn at low altitude is extremely difficult while "turning your head" to look around.
And do make sure you've gotten all the SAMs before "relaxing" with these boats...
This is gravy after everything else is gone: you get no points for blowing the bridge. Two 84s should take care of it. I'd load up with Paveways in case the bridge is still painted, but with no one shooting at you, even if you have to CCIP them you shouldn't miss. And once it's gone, you can go after the 11,400 extra credit points!
Well there it is--hope it helps. Any suggestions or comments are encouraged!
Sept. 11, 1997