The latest iteration of the Command, Modern Air/Naval Operations (CMANO) is out. The Commonwealth Collision DLC sets parts of the old empire, India and Pakistan, against each other. India has the help of the old master Britain and Pakistan has some aid from the new boss China.

The premise of this is a little politically flawed, as most CMANO scenarios are. The set-up for the scenario is that British soldiers were killed in a Pakistani attack on the Indian border, and Brit forces are out for revenge. Realistically, perhaps sadly, even if the actual Queen of England plus Meghan and Harry had been killed in that attack, Britain could not respond. It’s too small and too skint these days to get involved in this sort of caper. Thinking the UK is going to go to war against nuclear-armed Pakistan, a good buddy of Saudi, the Kingdom of which spends stupidly insane amounts buying UK arms is not really embracing any kind of political reality. The possibility of a Pak nuke strike on the fleet or the base at Bahrain or Saudi boycotting billions of UK weapons in the aftermath of such a war would effectively put the brakes on this one. There would be a rebuke in the sternest of terms and sanctions forever, a Pakistan frigate or two might mysteriously explode somewhere down the track, but that’s it.

God Save the Queen! French-built Sea Venom SAMs ironically protect the British flagship from incoming vampires, including a stray Exocet.

That said, in this alternative universe, playing as the UK/Indian side is easy. You are in command of the UK’s new Queen Elizabeth carrier and India’s two carriers – Vikramaditya and Vikrant. For a total of three battlegroups. The Indians field the Mig 29K and its useful, ship-killing anti-radiation missile.

Total triumph is possible in six or so hours with no losses from your side. There are eight F35s available, but only four ready for CAP duty, so they have to be used individually. They prove virtually invisible to the Pak/PRC F16s, AWACs and ground-based radar and their incredible sensor suite opens up the battlespace for easy inspection.

The British Astute-Class sub outclasses everything the Paks have. There are a bunch of Pakistan’s subs out there, but the Astute can find them without too much bother.
The Pakistani fleets are all radiating like Hiroshima in 1945. Painting a gigantic target on themselves. The F16s, despite the Y8W AWACs presumably providing them steers, are full-noise with the radar too. It’s a persistent problem with the AI, a little galling as the developers of the code claim it is possible to program intermittent and limited radar use, but there is no sign of this in most releases. Again, the AI fires anti-aircraft missiles at max range, making it easy to defeat them with the simple tactic of turning and running at full afterburner in the other direction as soon as they are detected, putting yourself back out of range. This cheat is easily fixable within the game set-up preferences – missile engagement distances can be set to a percentage of max range – and it is kind of disappointing it wasn’t.

Lockheed should sponsor this DLC, because the F35 comes off as a total game changer, operating the side with them against a side lacking them is the equivalent of having an air force when the other side has none. The Pak HQ16 SAM had a modern 100km range visual capability and can ping them if they get too close, but If they stay at a reasonable range they can motor around untouchable finding targets for everyone else. The Matrix crew are sticklers for their sensor mathematics and realism, so it’s a certainty they’re acting with all available knowledge, but this seems a bit much to me. If it’s true, she’s pretty much all over for the nation’s that don’t have the F35 or equivalent, unless you want to go full Taliban-in-the-hills style insurgency.

Playing as the Pak side is more challenging. Much of the opposition – the Brit’s F35s – are invisible. The Indian Mig 29s are only a little less capable than the Pak F16s and very much more numerous. Again, it can be gamed, the missiles the stealth planes fire aren’t stealthy and can be seen a long way out and outrun. The F35s are soon back on deck getting re-armed.

The Indian carrier Vikramaditya dies.

The trick becomes to find the Brit/Indian fleet and volley everything at it at the same time.

For this, there is a Shang SSN with Klub missiles featuring a useful 290 nautical mile range. There are also a half dozen JF17s with the useful CM400kg Wrecker ASM and its 135 NM reach. The Indian SAG has ineffective SAM coverage and the loss of the Vikramaditya means the loss of its complement of MIG 29s, the primary source, as only a few are left on the Vikrant. The Brit SAG is more resilient, under the umbrella of the excellent Sea Venom SAM, but I think the loss of an allied carrier and 2000-plus guys in the water would postpone any operation in anything short of a war of annihilation. Actually, it would probably trigger a nuclear exchange.

In the end, this is too easy to game. The AI, allegedly, has a lot of potential via the code and this just doesn’t seem to be taken advantage of. Where is the smart radar emissions discipline? Where are the realistic missile ranges, where, for that matter are the downed pilots and points for rescuing them that users of the game have written (free!) code for? Why are there no satellites when this is right there in the game editor for anyone to add to any scenario they make??? While we’re beating the game up, why do enemy ships disappear from the map when they are sinking but still afloat?

TLDR, it’s five bucks. It’s worth 50. It’s fun. But God, a lazy grand spent on buying improvements from the beta community, presuming they even wanted payment, and it could be f’ing amazing with about a week’s more work. Matrix are awesome, but so was Facebook once – it’s important they don’t get complacent, even with micro-DLCs like this.