AIRBURST: Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Fulda Gap

By Matthew W. Forster


[Note: the preamble at the start of this article has been omitted]


Modern Threat tactical doctrine calls for the great concentration of an attacking division’s forces at the point of breakthrough. Such massed formations are hard for a strained and thinned defensive line to turn, but they make nice targets for tactical nuclear strikes. Any grand offensive movement by Threat forces, especially against a desperate NATO, runs the risk of being nukes into little greasy spots. Not even the heaviest counter-battery can silence every gun within support range – besides it only takes one nuclear ‘stick’ to do the job.


The only problem is that ‘conventional’ nuclear battlefield systems may not be able to do the job. NATO has about 7000 nuclear warheads deployed in Europe; most of these are in the ten to 50 kiloton range of yield.


These medium-yield systems rely on blast and heat to do their dirty work. Collateral damage is likely to be considerable, and certainly a hell of a lot of fallout will be kicked-up by tacnuke strikes. Countryside, urban areas and lingering civilians are going to be wasted just as well as enemy forces. Fulda Gap fails to take this into account.


The whole question of whether or not tacnukes will even be used is debateable. Will the warring powers want to risk escalation into a full-scale nuclear war? Fulda Gap pretends that they won’t escalate, and so will I, but clearly the nuclear warfare rules and the victory system could use some fiddling in this regard.


Roll a die to see when tacnukes can come into play. Political decisions have to be made, and this die roll is your ‘politicians’.


Die Roll

Turn Available










Only one die roll is needed, because when one side uses nukes, the other side will too.


Give the nuking player’s opponent victory points for each warhead detonated according to terrain. The rationale here is simple. The Threat governments don’t want to capture piles of nuclear slag instead of cities. It’s also hard to imagine an abashed NATO spokesman saying ‘We had to destroy Wurzburg to save it’. VPs in clear terrain are simple too. There is no purely clear terrain in Europe; there are houses farms and villages everywhere. No one would appreciate an unsolicited airburst over his property. The following is an additional VP schedule.



VPs to Opponent per Warhead





All other



Ignore fractional VPs. [Note: presumably in the final victory determination]


Two ERW systems have been developed as of the present. The W70-3 is a warhead designed for the Lance missile, and the W79 is an eight-inch artillery fired atomic projectile. ERWs will be deployed with all artillery and Lance task forces (such as the artillery units in Fulda Gap) and also with DivArty’s general support 155s. So all US units in Fulda Gap, except SDUs and STUs, have an ERW capability.


ERWs become available on Game Turn Four regardless of the tacnuke availability. Only US combat units may use ERW strikes. Each division of three brigades is deployed with one ERW ‘stick’ available. Artillery units carry two sticks. One additional stick becomes available for resupply to the artillery units on Game Turn Seven.


ERWs may only be used initially in defensive situations. Before any Soviet attacks are made, but after Soviet movement is completed, the US player announces he is making initial ERW commitment. Any artillery units within range of Soviet units may fire an ERW strike. This is in place of FPF from the unit, and the Soviet-occupied hex must be in range, not the defending US units.


Combat brigades may expend their division’s stick at the instant of combat, prior to resolution. If only one brigade strikes, the division’s stick is expended just the same as if all brigades had fired. All brigades may attack one adjacent hex. This is in addition to artillery ERW strikes.


Artillery unit ERW strikes attack the hex on the ‘4’ column of Table 19.24 and contaminate on the ‘5’ column of table 19.33. Unlike conventional contamination, affected units are contaminated, not the hex itself. Place an appropriate contamination marker on top of every unit in the hex, regardless of whether or not the unit took casualties. Units that incur at least a one-step loss are retreated one hex and disrupted until the end of the next Game Turn. This simulates the total disorganisation that a neutron strike would cause. Contamination attacks occur in the Contamination Removal Phase prior to contamination degradation. Neutron contamination is reduced one level each Removal Phase automatically.


After initial firing, artillery units may expend their remaining sticks either in the nuke phase or defensively as outlined above. Supply units are still only affected by an ‘x’ result, but are considered ineffective as long as they are contaminated.


Divisional ERWs attack on the ‘3’ column of Table 19.24 and contaminate on the ‘4’ column of Table 19.33. Otherwise their effects are as outlined above, with the exception that they may be used only once per division and only in defensive situations.


In the phase of initial defensive use, all units that may make an ERW strike must make an ERW strike. This simulates a ‘shock’ doctrine for initial deployment.

No collateral damage is sustained by units adjacent to the target hex, ERWs may be safely employed close to US troops because of the larger buffer zone and smaller kill zone than conventional nukes. Only hexes adjacent to US units may be offensively attacked by artillery units in the nuke phase. Consequently, Electronic Warfare has no effect.


A final note concerning all nuclear strikes: I suggest that no air strikes can be made within one hex of any nuclear strike. I don’t think that NATO command would risk flying a squadron of A-10s into one of their own airbursts.


Using ERWs may be realistic (providing…) but it may also tip play balance slightly in NATO’s favour. I suggest that at least half of the divisions recommended for the Main Effort variant be used in conjunction with ERW rules. I think it’s reasonable to assume that the Gap would be a Soviet main objective anyway. The addenda for conventional strikes, however, are applicable in either case.


These changes are strongly based on fact and doctrine. Using them may require just a little more book-keeping, but only a microscopic amount when compared to the added dimension in game terms.


MOVES nr 40, published August/September 1978