June 12, 2024

First Impressions Command: Modern Operations – Icebreakers Showcase DLC

Peter Robbins, 7 February 2024

SPOILER ALERT: Get this DLC is my overall summary. This is a no-brainer. Its less than a cup of coffee and its well done content for what you know already is an absolutely wonderful wargame. To date, all of the SHOWCASE content for Command: MO is well thought out content that more often than not illuminates the worth of a new platform or new functionality in the wargame. If you don’t want to be spoiled in any way on its content, avoid reading this article, as this first impression will be showing all of its setup information for the NATO side. I will however, NOT start the game clock, as to at the least keep enemy immediate intel to only what is provided by commander guidance in the scenario briefing.

Icebreakers 000000001

click images to enlarge

 

Scenario Description

  • Scenario By: Jake “Kommissar” Keyes
  • Date: August 18th 2025
  • Location: Chukchi Sea
  • Playable Sides: NATO
  • Duration: 3 Days

For 80 years, the U.S. and Russia have faced off over the familiar future battlefields of Western Europe. Popular imagination has been captivated by visions of violence on the fields of Fulda or in the GIUK gap. But as the Cold War has thawed, so too has the Arctic ice. Today, American and Russian troops face off not between Berlins but over maritime boundaries in the Arctic Ocean, battle lines drawn not by a wall but by the nebulous declarations of international law.

Yet too many politicians remain fixated on Europe, aging minds drawn as if by inertia to yesterday’s war. U.S. troops in West Berlin were backed by the might of NATO, but the men in the Arctic are often left to make do with a few decrepit platforms, all the worse for a harsh environment that demands the best of those who brave it. As of 2023, the United States had only three icebreakers, the newest over twenty years old; two are nearly fifty and threaten soon to break themselves. Mechanical issues run rampant throughout the fleet. Their replacement – hardly enough to plug the growing gap – is mired in delays and cost overruns. Congress is itself frozen; the Navy seems uninterested in what it calls a “Coast Guard problem.”

Russia, by contrast, has been investing in a large and capable icebreaking fleet, and can call on land-based air to help enforce its maritime claims. China has broken icy ground on its own Arctic vessels. Joint Sino-Russian patrols have become increasingly common: the prospect of freezing the U.S. out of a crucial region is tempting to a Russia ruined in Ukraine and a China chafing under American pressure.

In 2025, long grown numb to this dangerous discrepancy, the aging U.S. icebreakers rendezvous with their Canadian counterpart and embark on an audacious, first-of-its-kind FONOP in the Northern Sea Route. U.S.-Russian relations remain bottomed out, and America hopes to remind the Russians that international law applies as surely in the Arctic as it does in Ukraine.

Tempers are hot. But it is a cold and snowy day…

Description by Ethan Hermanson

So begins our trip to the Arctic north, in Command : Modern Operation’s newest SHOWCASE scenario, Icebreakers. As we click on [Load Selected], we are immediately provided a full Mission Detail / Situation Breifing, roughly in an OPORD format.

 

Situation

Despite being the most favorable time of year for a crossing, several ice flows have blocked the Northern Sea Route (NSR). These zones are marked as Icebreaking Zone 1 and Icebreaking Zone 2. The bulk of the Russian naval forces are concentrated in the western reaches of the East Siberian Sea with reinforcements thought to be entering the Laptev Sea now. The Siberian coastline and many of the Arctic islands have been dotted with SAM and SSM sites supported by “anti-stealth” radar. Expect civilian fishing and merchant traffic to be operating in the unobstructed areas of the NSR.

Enemy Forces

Russia

The Russian government has devoted considerable resources to the area for the past decade. The Northern Fleet Joint Strategic Command emerged from the crisis of the early 2020’s with its reputation largely intact compared to other districts. Russian leadership has come to largely view the Arctic as its primary avenue of regaining much needed national pride and standing. The Russian Northern Fleet is headed by the battlecruiser Petr Velikiy armed with Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles. Air cover for the fleet is provided by land-based MiG-29 and MiG-31BM, with MiG-31K “Kinzal Carriers” and Russia’s extensive bomber fleet expected to act in an anti-shipping role in combination with land based A2/AD assets like the Bastion and Bal SSM systems. The Russians have made it clear they intend to stop our passage through the NSR, however we do not expect they will make a move until we enter into the East Siberian Sea at the edge of our aircover from Alaska.

Air

  • Ka-27M Helix A
  • MiG-29K Fulcrum D
  • MiG-31BM Foxhound
  • MiG-31K Foxhound
  • Searcher II [Forpost-R]
  • Tu-22M-3 Backfire C
  • Tu-95MSM Bear H
  • Tu-142MK Bear F Mod 3

Surface

  • BPK Udaloy I [Pr.1155 Fregat]
  • LDK Arktika
  • MPK Grisha III [Pr.1124M Albatros]
  • RKR Petr Velikiy [Pr.1144.2M Orlan]
  • SSV Yury Ivanov [Pr.18280]
  • SSV Yug [Pr.862.1/2]
  • VTR Boris Chilikin [Pr.1559V]

Submarine

  • PLA-671RTMK Victor III [Shchuka]
  • PLA-885M Severodvinsk [Yasen-M]
  • PLA-971M Akula II [Shchuka-B]

Ground

  • Radar (12A6 SOPKA-2)
  • Radar (Rezonans-N OTH)
  • Radar (Tall Rack [55Zh6UME Nebo UME])
  • SAM Bn (SA-21a/b Growler [S-400 Triumf])
  • SAM Bn (SA-28 [S-350 Vityaz])
  • SAM Plt (SA-22 Greyhound [Pantsir-S1])
  • SAM Plt (SA-27 Grizzly [9K317M Buk-M3])
  • SSM Plt (SSC-5 Stooge [K-300P Bastion-P])
  • SSM Plt (SSC-6 Sennight [3K60 Bal])

Space

  • Kondor 1 (Kondor)
  • Kosmos 2455 (Lotos-S)
  • Kosmos 2502 (Lotos-S)
  • Kosmos 2503 (Lotos-S)

 

Friendly Forces

Due to the threat posed by Russian shore based A2/AD assets, no carriers have been assigned to the task force. Air support will be provided by USAF assets in Alaska along with long range maritime patrol aircraft from NAS Whidbey Island in Washington state. The presence of Russian SAM and SSM batteries at the entrances to the NSR means we will have to roll back their defenses to maintain aircover over the task force in the event hostilities commence. In such a case, casualties are expected to be high. To help break the Russian kill chain, USCYBERCOM has prepared a cyberattack package code named “Widowmaker.” When triggered, Widowmaker will disable Russia’s reconnaissance satellite network by attacking their satellite downlinks forcing them to manually debug and restart the connection with each satellite, a process USCYBERCOM expects to take between 24 and 48 hours.

Air

Eielson AFB

  • 18th Aggressor Squadron (18 x F-16CG Blk 30 Falcon) (On Request)
  • 168th Air Refueling Squadron (8 x KC-135R Stratotanker)
  • 356th Fighter Squadron (16 x F-35A Lightning II, 8 x F-35A Lightning II Block 4 Lot 17)

Elmendorf AFB

  • 210th Rescue Squadron (8 x HH-60W Jolly Green II)
  • 211th Rescue Squadron (4 x HC-130J Combat King II)
  • 517th Airlift Squadron (12 x C-17A Globemaster III SOLL)
  • 525th Fighter Squadron (24 x F-22A Raptor)
  • 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron (4 x E-3G Sentry)
  • 45th Reconnaissance Squadron (2 x RC-135W Rivet Joint)

NAS Whidbey Island

  • VUP-11 (2 x MQ-4C Triton UAV)
  • VP-40 (6 x P-8A Poseidon)

Ground

  • Cape Lisburne/A-13 Radar (AN/FPS-117(V)4)
  • Clear Space Force Station (AN/FPS-132 EWR)
    • Clear Space Force Station (Long Range Discrimination Radar)
  • Indian Mountain/Utopia/A-03 Radar (AN/FPS-117(V)4)
  • Kotzebue/Grid Iron/A-12 Radar (AN/FPS-117(V)4)
    • Oliktok/A-19 Radar (AN/FPS-117(V)4)
    • D Bty, 5th BN, 3rd FAR (SSM Bty Typhon) (NAS Whidbey Island)
  • Point Barrow/A-17r Radar (AN/FPS-117(V)4)
    • Thule Space Force Station (AN/FPS-132 EWR)
    • Tin City/Dragnet/A-11 Radar (AN/FPS-117(V)4)

Surface

Michael Monsoor SAG

  • DDG 1001 Michael Monsoor [Zumwalt Class]
    • HSC-21 Blackjack UCAV (1 x MQ-8C Fire-X UCAV)
    • HSM-49 Scorpions (1 x MH-60R Seahawk)
  • LCS 18 Charleston [LCS-2 Independence Class]
    • HSC-21 Blackjack UCAV (1 x MQ-8C Fire-X UCAV)
    • HSM-49 Scorpions (1 x MH-60R Seahawk)
  • LCS 28 Savannah [LCS-2 Independence Class]
    • HSM-49 Scorpions (2 x MH-60R Seahawk)

Cape St. George SAG

  • CG 71 Cape St. George [Ticonderoga Class, Baseline 4]
    • HSC-22 Seaknights (2 x MH-60S Knighthawk)
  • DDG 101 Gridley [Arleigh Burke Class, Flight IIA]
    • HSM-35 Magicians (2 x MH-60R Seahawk)
  • DDG 125 Jack H. Lucas [Arleigh Burke Class, Flight III]
    • HSM-35 Magicians (2 x MH-60R Seahawk)
  • WMSL 752 Stratton [Legend Class, NSC Cutter]
    • 6269 Kodiak (1 x MH-65E Dolphin)
    • 2 x ScanEagle UAV

Winnipeg SAG

  • FFH 338 Winnipeg [City Class]
    • 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron (2 x CH-148 Cyclone)
  • AOPV 430 Harry DeWolf
    • 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron (1 x CH-146 Griffon)
    • 2 x CU-176 Gargoyle (Skeldar V-200 UAV)
  • AOR 520 Protecteur
    • 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron (2 x CH-148 Cyclone)
  • WAGB 10 Polar Star
  • Terry Fox

Submarine

  • SSN 771 Columbia [Improved Los Angeles Class]
  • SSN 802 Oklahoma [Virginia Class, Flight V]
  • 878 Corner Brook [Upholder Class]

Space

  • USA 259 (Trumpet II)
  • USA 290 (KH-12 Improved Crystal)
  • USA 314 (KH-11 Crystal)

Cyber

  • USCYBERCOM Package “Widowmaker”

 

Mission

The task force will transit the NSR to the objective zone in the western Laptev Sea, arriving no later than 12:00:00 Zulu, August 21st, 2025.

Execution

  1. Gain air superiority over the NSR.
  2. Clear Icebreaking Zone 1 and if necessary, Zone 2 of sea ice.
  3. Reach the western Laptev Sea on schedule.
  4. Avoid sustained contact with Russian forces if possible.

 

Logistics

A combination of enemy A2/AD, the climate of the NSR, and the ranges involved makes resupply at sea extremely difficult. Stocks of newer generation weapon systems like the Rapid Dragon and AIM-260 JATM are limited. The political fallout of America/Canadian Sailors and airmen being captured by the Russians is considered unacceptable. If necessary, Combat Search and Rescue missions are a high priority.

 

Designer Notes

  1. To begin icebreaking operations, bring an icebreaker to the edge of an icebreaking zone and while selected play the relevant special action. If unexpected behavior occurs while icebreaking, select the special action “cancel Icebreaking Operation” while the icebreaker is selected to end the process. Icebreaking operations can be restarted as many times as needed until the zone is cleared.
  2. The loss of both ships and aircraft will spawn life rafts, recover theses with the Attempt Search and Rescue special action to regain some of the points lost when the ship/aircraft was initially destroyed.
  3. When the scenario loads you will be prompted to input a difficulty. Hard difficulty has no changes made to the scenario and can be treated as IRL accurate. Medium difficulty cuts the number of Russian hypersonic missiles in half and lowers the proficiency of the Russian navy to Cadet. Easy difficulty removes all hypersonics from the Russian surface fleet and lowers the whole side proficiency of Russia to Cadet.

We’ll take a quick meander around the Order Of Battle, and then set up a general Course Of Action based upon the information provided. I tend to treat scenario descriptions in wargames as an HHQ (Higher Headquarters) Commander’s Guidance; as many are not written in a complete OPORD fashion. You still need to pick it apart as a player and re-word it as individual orders.

What is usually provided in computer wargame scenarios is more of a very rough (and often lacking) JIPOE or Joint Intelligence Preparation Of The Operational Environment. For this particular DLC offering, that is not the case, as the scenario authors for the SHOWCASE scenarios for Command: Modern Operations tend to follow a common format that provides you with a goodly amount of information, but minus the MLECOA (Most Likely Enemy Course Of Action) included.

In Summary: You should still commence with the Naval Planning Process, the US Navy’s equivalent of MDMP/MCPP in US Army/USMC terms, or you will only be playing it by ear (a.k.a. reactionary), which is not the best way to approach naval/air operations.  Yes, you need to gather more intel in the form of detections, but you need to Plan out how to get those detections efficiently, and timely; all while taking careful consideration into what the Enemy is thinking in kind! A noble cause to say the least, and a difficult one at that for both sides.

Let’s Orient Ourselves

Icebreakers 000000002

In case the above pic is difficult to read, this is the text of the pop-up:

Difficulty Options:

  • 3 – Hard – Real life standard, no reduction in Russian armament or proficiency
  • 2 – Medium – Amount of Zircon missiles on Russian surface ships are cut in half. Russian navy proficiency is reduced.
  • 1 – Easy- Russian side proficiency is reduced, and all Zircon missiles are removed from Russian surface ships.

Special Actions

By default, the LCS 28 Savannah has 2x MH-60R Seahawk with ASW loadouts. You have the option to replace the Seahawks and air facilities on the Savannah with the Mk70 PDS armed with SM-6 Blk 1B. The special action to do so will become inactive after 15 minutes.

To conduct CSAR missions, select the rescuing vehicle and a single survivor, then play the “Attempt search and rescue” special action.

News pop-ups can be disabled with the special action, they can be reenabled at anytime.

Icebreakers 000000003

 

A first thing to take note of is that Eilson AFB, where a majority of the USAF resources on hand for the scenario are based out of, is a solid 775 nm+ away from the nearest SAG (Surface Action Group) involved in the operation.

Icebreakers 000000004

 

As a reminder of what is available there at Eilsen AFB, here is its order of battle.

Icebreakers 000000005

 

Icebreakers 000000015

 

Elmendorf AFB is even further way, at roughly 900 nm+ from that nearest friendly task group.

Icebreakers 000000006

 

I’ve also shown its OOB for Air Operations above. And oh boy oh boy (a kid in toyland) this scenario also includes US Globemasters, with their Rapid Dragon, palette-bourne ASCM weapons. These are awesome. One thing the scenario designer does mention is they are limited in quantity, so use on what needs it most.

Icebreakers 000000007

 

Then we go way on down to NAS Whidbey Island, which is nearly 2000 nm away from the action!

Icebreakers 000000011

 

This NAS has the two UAVs, and the P-8 Poseidons, so that is a LONG HAUL to get the ASW capable fixed wingers up there to start slinging ASW capabilities about quick style.

 

Special Actions

And below we see, low and behold, here are the Special Actions available as mentioned in the briefings and in the initial intel pop up on entering the scenario.

Icebreakers 000000008

This one in particular is nice, the cyber attack action. Any scenario that adds meaningful and practical Special Actions are incredible. They can’t just be thrown in and non-meaningful or appropriate, and in these cases, they are awesome, and useful. This makes these SHOWCASE scenarios special, as a lot of effort has gone into making the SHOWCASE DLCs truly customized experiences.

Speaking of custom experiences, this is one of the first commercial scenarios with icebreakers included and center piece of the action. I love the theater of operations involved in this DLC content, and its very much a potential hot spot in future near peer conflict.

What is the Enemy’s Most Likely Course Of Action? (EMLCOA)

Just as a very quick EMLCOA, the enemy has an air radar max range of around 325nm from its nearest airfield, which we do have knowledge of. We don’t know the exact makeup of its contingency of aircraft stationed at that AFB, but we can imagine it is chock full of fighters, if they have anyone worth a vodka shot glass and a salt shaker commanding it. They will push heavily, early, and quickly into the airborne operational region near the Alaskan shoreline, and attempt to down any of our aircraft that are performing CAP ahead of the re-fueling Highway In The Sky we are likely to setup. So, what do we do? Kick their butts at long range / BVR, Beyond Visual Range. Wish we had a squadron of F-15 Eagles honestly (really? Over the F-35A? Maybe not, but I’m nostalgic that way), but we’ll use what we have been given. You can yell at me in the comments.

We’ve got a total of 24 x F-35A Lightning IIs and 18 of the good old tried and true F-16C Block 30s Falcons. Honestly, this CAP air fight, which is likely to potentially break down into several dogfights if both sides go quick and dirty on each other, and likely the winner of this likely immediate air battle will have a strong upper hand throughout the entire scenario. We must win air superiority, nay, dominance to have a chance of pulling this transit mission off. I hope they really enjoy getting to that objective : ) and holding it? Because this is about to get hairy. Let’s not forget, we also have 24 x F-22 Raptors, the ADF itself (Air Dominance Fighter) stationed also just a little further away at US AFB

Course Of Action, Initial Thoughts Only

So, one of my immediate reactions to this entire operation is, wow, ok, this is going to be a major juggling match, even more so than in the previous DLC Desert Falcon (see previous First Impression on that DLC here). Similarly, as a portion of the overall Course Of Action, we need to establish a protected Highway In The Sky as I like to imagine it. We need refueling stations along the long route for the Poseidons, at least to a point where they may be able to bug out towards the more Northern air fields. I need to honestly check on that airfield operations capacity, and whether they could be temporarily re-housed in the Northern expanses for the duration of the operation.

And the additional thoughts around establishing any such Highway In The Sky is getting up protection in the form of CAP ahead of and surrounding any avenues of approach to those refueling high value targets. The enemy will be eyeing this as a very likely course of action on our part, so we need to establish air dominance, not just superiority in the optimal area for the tankers to operate IOT (in order to) extend our capabilities into the AO (area of operations).

And holy hades, not only is our line of communications very long, it will be potentially thwarted by what at least initial intel is saying is a wide variety of air assets on the part of the enemy. Near peer and then some.

Let’s review the Mission guidance from HHQ:

Mission

The task force will transit the NSR to the objective zone in the western Laptev Sea, arriving no later than 12:00:00 Zulu, August 21st, 2025.

Execution

  1. Gain air superiority over the NSR.
  2. Clear Icebreaking Zone 1 and if necessary, Zone 2 of sea ice.
  3. Reach the western Laptev Sea on schedule.
  4. Avoid sustained contact with Russian forces if possible.

And here is a view more centered upon the Objectives at hand in the commander guidance:

Icebreakers 000000009

The above in effect is our Operational Area, even though much of our resources have to transit 775nm or more to even get into the area! There really is only ONE avenue of approach through both Icebreaker zones 1 and 2 unless we are able to bypass Zone 2, which just from the description of the Special Actions, does seem to be available as a course of action. The assumption is that only the icebreakers can get up to the edge of the RED zone demarcated on the map and start chipping away at that area. I will have to experiment in game to determine if this is the case, but that is my assumption based upon the scenario description.

 

So, here is a little snippet from the Special Actions of note (which answers my assumption above):

Icebreakers 000000010

 

Below is an additional Operational Area map, with the Relief & Bathymtry layer turned on.

Icebreakers 000000012

 

And additionally without the background layer on at all, which honestly, sometimes is the cleanest way to view the OA. Also, it makes me feel like I’m playing a game against W.O.P.R. If you know the reference, you are as old as sin as I am.

Icebreakers 000000013

 

The three surface groups are right nearby one another, transiting as a larger task force for all intents and purposes. They have some reasonable Anti-Air Warfare capabilities, and a smidge of ASW, but they will likely be reliant upon the US Air Force to also help in Anti-Air, and the Poseidon MPAs (Maritime Patrol Aircraft) for ASW, primarily. I think they are best used for close- to mid-range support for the icebreakers breaking on through the NSR area IOT (in order to) transit to the objective zone in time.

Icebreakers 000000014

 

Main Effort for the COA will be the transiting and protection of the SAGs through Icebreaker Zone 1, then we will bypass Icebreaker Zone 2, and come around the area to the objective zone in due time. To support this main effort, all air forces will push strongly into the area, creating a highway in the air up to and approaching the OA (operational area), establishing air dominance in and surrounding both icebreaker zones. This is of course, easier said then done. SAM areas overlook the approach to the operational area, and must be consider HVT (high value targets) early in the operation to clear the way for air superiority to commence.

And that’s all for now in this First Impression report. This is an outstanding scenario. There is a LOT packaged up into this well priced SHOWCASE DLC scenario. I’d personally label this scenario DLC as a “must have.” Its really well done all around. You are juggling a lot of domains at once, over long distances, and really need to keep an eye on things throughout. This is not just a plan and go and forget to adjust scenario, which is the style of scenario I like. I like to feel like I’m at least “involved” in planning and updated intel gathering throughout, and this Icebreakers DLC offers that in spades. Good luck in your hunting players! Wargaming is life.

 

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