Dummies' Guide to Steel Beasts
Knowing how to effectively employ the different weapons available on the Steel Beasts gamefield requires an understanding of what the different projectiles do to their targets and how they are delivered to their targets. In this section we discuss the various munitions, how they work and what they do.
Armor Piercing Rounds (AP)
Armor piercing rounds are basically just bullets made of extremely dense material that travel at high speeds and penetrate armor by passing through it. If an AP round penetrates the armor of a vehicle, then there is a chance that it will cause damage within the vehicle that results in setting the vehicle on fire or critically disabling components of the vehicle, such as the engine, gun, or crew. The amount of armor that an AP round can penetrate depends on the material that the round is made of, its speed, and the type of the armor. The speed of the round decreases as the distance it travels increases. Thus, at longer ranges, an AP round will penetrate less armor.
Some AP rounds are referred to as “sabot” rounds. Main battle tanks all shoot sabots. These rounds are like darts or crossbow bolts that are smaller than the diameter of the gun from which they are shot. They have a sheath or “boot” that wraps around them and keeps them traveling straight down the barrel of the gun. When the round leaves the muzzle of the gun, the boot or sheath falls away from the dart or “penetrator.” Because of their size and shape, these penetrators are extremely fast. That is where they get their punch.
The shape of an explosive charge can determine the direction in which it expends the majority of its energy when it is detonated. Shape charges, as the name implies, take advantage of this fact. They are also sometimes referred to as hollow charges. That’s because the optimal shape for directing an explosive’s energy is a hollow cone shape. Much the same way as the shape of parabolic microphone or a satellite dish focuses incoming sound or radio energy, the hollow cone of a shape charge focuses the energy of the explosive. The point at which the explosive energy is focused and at which it will be most concentrated is not directly at the edge of the cone, but it is some distance away from it. This distance is called the standoff of the charge. The standoff distance is determined by the size of the charge.
High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rounds are shape charges. Tanks can fire HEAT rounds and most missile, rocket, and rocket propelled grenade (RPG) warheads are types of HEAT rounds. What makes HEAT rounds special is the fact that they have a metal liner inside the hollow explosive charge. As the explosive force of the charge is focused, it forms the metal liner into a thin rod which is then driven forward at extremely fast speeds. Just as with AP rounds, if this rod penetrates armor, it is likely to cause damage inside the vehicle by starting fires or critically damaging important vehicle components.
High Explosive Rounds (HE)
High explosive munitions do their damage not by focusing the energy of the explosive, rather, their damage comes from the blast effect of the explosive itself and, usually, depending on the munition, from shrapnel. Most HE munitions are just explosive charges encased in a brittle metal. Generally, the charge is fused to explode on impact or at a certain time. When the charge explodes, it rips apart its metal casing, throwing fragments of metal (shrapnel) outward. HE munitions are not very effective against heavily armored tanks, but can cause serious damage to unprotected troops. The old World War II pineapple style hand grenade is an example of a time fused HE munition.
Rifles, pistols, and machine-guns, are generally referred to as small arms. Small arms munitions can be anything from unjacketed lead balls to Armor Piercing Incendiary Tracers (API-T). The damage that small arms munitions do is a function of their size, or caliber, the material that they are made of, and the weapon from which they are shot. Most armored fighting vehicles have COAX machine-guns. These are usually medium caliber machine-guns that are mounted alongside, or coaxially, to the vehicle’s main gun.
Delivery of Warheads
Unless you’re a Jedi Knight, strong with the Force, or just plain lucky, you must see a target before you can hit it. (Although you can call artillery on a location that you cannot see, you should still have a pretty good idea that there is a target there if you intend to hurt the other guy, otherwise you’re just temporarily denying him the use of that terrain.) There are three basic ways that armored fighting vehicle crews can see a target; with the naked eye, with an optical device such as a pair of binoculars that magnifies light, or with some sort of “night sight.”
For our purposes here, we will briefly consider two types of night sights; active and passive. Active night sights are the least sophisticated of the two. They “see” in the infra-red light spectrum which is not visible to the naked eye. In limited visibility conditions, these sights need a source of infra-red illumination, such as an infra-red spotlight, in order to see very far. And they are not particularly good at seeing through obscurants such as smoke. Passive night sights also rely on infra-red light, but rather than requiring a source of infra-red illumination, they detect the infra-red energy generated by the heat of objects. For this reason, they are also referred to as “thermal” sights.
Once a target is detected or acquired, how a warhead gets to the target depends on the system used to get it there. For the sake of this discussion, we’ve divided the delivery systems into three general categories: guns, missiles and rockets, and artillery.
In order to hit a target with a gun, the gunner aims or points the end of the barrel directly at the target, and slightly offsets the aim to take into account factors such as range, relative movement of the target, and wind or other environmental factors. Guns are normally rifled; they have spiral channels cut into the sides of the bores of their barrels. This “rifling” imparts a spin to the bullets or projectiles as the travel down the barrel. The spin stabilizes the flight of the projectiles, keeps them from wobbling as they travels down range.
Tank cannons are essentially just big guns. They are aimed more or less directly at their targets. The tank cannons modeled in Steel Beasts, however, are all smoothbore cannons; they are not rifled. The projectiles they shoot are stabilized, like darts or arrows, with fins. In order to get them on target, the gunner must take into account those factors mentioned earlier. Tank gunners are assisted greatly in doing this by fire control computers. However, if the fire control computer is damaged, they gunner will have to rely on training and experience to make the required offset of aim. There is another factor that a tank gunner must take into account when offsetting aim. That is the type of ammunition being fired. The tanks in Steel Beasts generally fire two different types of ammunition, sabots and HEAT rounds. (The T-72 and T-80 are both capable of firing anti-tank guided missiles, but we will talk about those separately.) These rounds vary significantly in their size, shape, and weight. Sabot penetrators are very streamlined and cut through the air at extreme speeds with little resistance. Thus they have very flat trajectories. HEAT rounds, on the other hand, are about as aerodynamic as coffee cans. They do not rely on speed for their punch, they just need enough speed to get to the target. Because of their aerodynamics, they travel much slower and have an arched trajectory. You have no doubt noticed this if you have spent any time going through the Steel Beats gunnery tutorials and gunnery range.
Missiles and Rockets
While projectiles shot from a gun get their energy to fly down range from the pretty much instantaneous burning of the propellant, or “gun powder”, in a cartridge; missiles and rockets have “motors” that are attached to the warhead and cause the warhead to fly by burning over a period of time. For the sake of this discussion, we are calling these types of delivery systems missiles if they are guided by some mechanism during their flight, and are calling them rockets if they are not guided during flight, but are merely aimed when they are launched.
Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs) are missiles that are armed with HEAT warheads. There are basically two different ways that they are guided. The first way requires the gunner to have a sight or device that compares the position of the missile during its flight to where the target is. Typically there is some sort of beacon on the rear end of the sight. If the missile remains in the sight picture during its flight to the target, the device can compare the position of the beacon in the sight picture to where the gunner’s point of aim is. The device computes flight correction information for the missile and this information is sent to the missile through some sort of link, wire that is spooled out from the missile during its flight, for instance. The other way of guiding missiles is to have them home in on a target. One way of doing this is to “paint” a target with a laser beam. The missile has a device within its nose that can “see” the laser and corrects its flight by guiding in on the laser spot. Both of these methods allow the gunner to track a moving target and allow the missile to hit the target so long as it remains in the gunner’s line of sight for the duration of the missile’s flight.
The only rockets modeled in Steel Beasts are the “bazookas” that infantry squads carry. Anti-tank rockets are generally lighter and smaller than missiles. They are aimed when they are launched, not guided during their flight. Thus, they do not require sophisticated sighting and tracking equipment. They also have smaller warheads and shorter ranges. Nevertheless, they can be quite lethal if they hit the sides or rear of a tank.
Artillery weapons, such as howitzers and mortars, are similar to guns, but for the most part, they lob their rounds into their targets rather than being aimed directly at them. For this reason, artillery is sometimes referred to as “indirect fire.” Projectiles travel farther when they are lobbed at high arched trajectories rather than being pointed straight at a target. So artillery pieces have a greater range than tanks and for the sake of simplicity are assumed to be positioned off of the Steel Beasts game field. In order for artillery gunners to hit a target they must know certain things: where the target is, how much propellant the rounds need to get to the target, and how high to lob the rounds. Typically, a forward observer (FO) in the area where in the action is happening will send requests for artillery fire over the radio after having identified a target. The forward observer can be anyone with a radio, however, specially trained FOs are generally more successful in making accurate calls for indirect fire. Once the artillery unit knows the location of a target, someone must compute how much propellant to use and how high to elevate the artillery tubes in order to hit the target. This takes a little bit of time. It also takes a bit of time for the artillery rounds to reach their targets after they have been fired. This amount of time is called, not surprisingly, the time of flight (TOF).
In Steel Beasts, four types of artillery rounds are modeled: high explosive (HE), improved conventional munitions (ICM), scatterable mines (FASCAM), and smoke. HE rounds are similar to hand grenades, they rely on blast and shrapnel to damage their targets. They are not very effective against heavy armored targets such as tanks. In Steel Beasts, HE artillery may damage tanks, but will rarely kill them. HE is more effective against lightly and un-armored vehicles, such as armored personnel carriers and HMMWVs. HE is very effective against dismounted infantry. ICM rounds are essentially cluster bombs. ICM projectiles are filled with small sub-munitions, or bomblets, that are scattered over the target area. The projectiles contain a bursting charge that scatters the sub-munitions while the projectile is still in flight over the target area. If several of these bomblets land on the roof of a tank, where its armor is thin, and then detonate, there is a greater likelihood of killing the tank than if it was hit with HE shrapnel. FASCAM works much the same way as ICM, the main difference is that FASCAM sub-munitions are mines rather than bomblets. Thus a FASCAM strike will result in a minefield. And finally, smoke rounds are used to create smoke screens.
Steel Beasts models artillery in a simplified and abstract manner. The amount of artillery support available is determined by whoever designed the scenario that is being played. If a certain type of support is available, then the amount of that support will determine how long it takes for the artillery rounds to splash down on their targets. The amount of time is an abstraction of the fact that if only limited artillery assets are available, then the supply of artillery assets will be less than the demand (you will be sharing artillery with adjacent units that are not on the map), and requests for indirect fire will get backlogged. When a call for artillery fire is made in Steel Beasts, a box with dashed red lines will appear on the map screen. Artillery units fire in groups, so more than one artillery tube will be firing a single indirect fire mission. Thus the impact zone will be a small area rather than a point on the map. The shape of the box can be manipulated by clicking on it with your mouse and dragging the edges of the box. The box can also be moved or deleted up until the time the dashed lines become solid. You can move the box by clicking on one of the corners and dragging it across the map. A call for fire cannot be adjusted or cancelled once the rounds are in the air. This is why the artillery impact box cannot be moved after the dashed lines have become solid. Artillery time of flight in Steel Beasts is about a minute and a half, and this is when the box becomes solid.