How Games Misrepresent Tanks – Part 1: Logistics
As gamers, while operating tanks or other armored vehicles, we tend to exist in a little bubble. Depending on the game, depends on the size of this bubble, but they are all pretty limited. Aside from the virtual simulation of being physically separated from the external environment of the game, you also exist in a bit of a separate battle space. Your focus and how you move are all different, when you’re in an armored vehicle, a paradoxical combination of invulnerability and an acute awareness of every enemy being keenly interested in your imminent demise. What isn’t conveyed in a game, though, is many of the systems utilized to support a tank in its operation.
That’s what we’re going to discuss today: Logistics!
Alright, so you may be asking yourself, “What’s so great about logistics? Is this guy crazy?”
Well, ok. I admit that logistics can be kinda boring. Trying to inventory out how many shovels you need or the unusually high levels of toilet paper that FOB Bravo uses, are not generally what we think of when it comes to warfare and combat, and definitely has little to do with what we see as interesting in a game. I’m not going to focus on aspects of logistics that, while needed in the real world, aren’t a requisite or needed in a gaming sense.
What I will focus on is how there is a whole economy involved in warfare and a system and structure that exists to support any military activity. We can break these down, at least for this conversation, into three segments:
Supplies, Transportation, and Maintenance.
Supplies covers everything from the uniforms you wear to the parts you need to keep your tank running, down to food and water. Armies (and tanks by extension) march at the mercy of their supplies. With lots of supplies, you have a better chance of fighting your war successfully. When it comes to tanks, having lots of ammo and the supplies to feed your crew and replace things that break (and they will, absolutely, break) is important to being able to operate your vehicle. Most games do an acceptable job with showing supplies and limits, within a few constraints. Most do not deal with fuel, at all, which is interesting in that in the real world, armored vehicles are some of the largest consumers of your fuel supply in your logistics system. It doesn’t matter which military, which tank, which war you’re fighting, if you don’t have the juice to get your tanks moving, you’ve already lost your war. Germany, in World War II was an excellent example of this. Their supply situation started (from a military readiness perspective) relatively well, and then steadily, steadily worsened, reaching the point that effective or extended resistance or fighting was simply not possible. Where most games do well is showing the limitations on the quantity of ammo a tank can carry. Tanks and other armored fighting vehicles can only carry so much ammo, and once it is expended, it must be replenished. So let’s take a look at a few common games and look at how they handle supplies.
Battlefield 3 and 4
Battlefield in general handles tank combat in some horrible, horrible ways. Tanks dash around madly from one end of the field to another, have no fuel concerns and no ammo concerns to speak of, and generally just exist in a state of perpetual disregard for the laws of physics and supply. Logistically, the series has always ignored the more troublesome aspects of warfare to focus on those it considers fun, which does show with the series extreme popularity. This accessibility and simplification, however, can give many gamers an extremely inaccurate view on how tanks operate or at very least a limited one.
World of Tanks, Armored Warfare, War Thunder
Each of these games does a significantly better job demonstrating some of the supply concerns tanks face. Of them, I’d say Armored Warfare takes the lead, though all three implement a monetary or virtual monetary cost associated with the process of supplying tanks with ammo and equipment, so thumbs up for that! The area it falls apart is with fuel and refueling, which are not part of the games, but this is to be expected within the context of the games. Extended, long-term engagements are not features of any of these games, nor do they try to be anything more than what they are.
Red Orchestra Series
Before I played ArmA or World War II Online, I’d have said that the RO series had the best demonstration outside of a full on military simulator for supplies. Your tank has finite ammo and what is more, must find set resupply locations should it run out of rounds. It doesn’t really simulate fuel consumption of various types of vehicle breakdowns, to the extent of World of Tanks, but still does a decent job in other ways.
World War II Online – Battleground Europe
While (very) dated, it offers a rather stunning array of variety when it comes to the supply end of vehicle combat logistics, and I believe that at higher levels, supplies and research during the course of the war play into how well a given army can operate in the offensive and defensive roles. Fuel and ammo are both finite resources on armored vehicles, though there aren’t really any special purpose fuel trucks or ammo carriers to cater to tanks in the field and that can limit some gameplay options, which I mention later. Both this game and the ArmA Series are very close to actual Military Simulation than the previously listed games, in that they aim far more towards accuracy and demonstrating aspects often glossed over by others.
The ArmA series has done a very good job touching on the field end of supply and if you want to get an idea of the sort of vehicles needed to service an AFV or tank in combat, the ArmA series can certainly do so. ArmA III has recovery vehicles, fuel tankers, ammo carriers, and repair vehicles all available for players in its combat simulation, but is still more accessible than Steel Beasts or other armor or combat simulators. The larger logistical supply involved in supporting tanks isn’t really accounted for, but the game focuses on more limited scopes of combat and tries to balance these with game play concerns. Running out of fuel in the middle of a field, with enemy contacts all around and combat going on makes the mundane act of refueling or resupplying a tank significantly more exciting than what many would expect. However, despite not being a full blown simulator, the skill slope can be steep and daunting if one is coming directly from a game like Battlefield or Call of Duty.
Transportation in this case, is what I mean by how supplies and materials get to and from the theater of operation, bases, staging points, what have you, and how they are distributed. When it comes to the real world, tanks don’t drive around usually, until they are in a position where combat is more or less imminent or they need to retreat. Rail cars, ships, and large vehicle trailers are required to move them in areas secure enough for their transportation to the front lines of combat. In World War II, rail especially was the preferred means as any military force could move lots of armor fairly quickly by rail. One of the key attributes in disrupting the German’s ability to move their armor assets around was the use of tactical and strategic aircraft to bomb and destroy tanks was by destroying the rail-yards, rail bridges, and trains that transported the tanks to and from combat, not to mention interfere with the fast movement of men, supplies, and materials otherwise needed to maintain the fight. On the other hand, the US especially, was noted for its advanced logistical abilities, able to coordinate and transport extremely large quantities of supplies, men, and other needed things over vast distances and quickly, to keep the pressure up on the enemy. However, even in the modern age, it has been noted that capable and rapid armored advances can quickly outrun their supply lines unless care is taken. Patton made the mistake of outrunning his fuel lines, and then had them strangled briefly in Europe, slowing his advance towards Germany. In Desert Storm, there were points where US armored cavalry units also risked outrunning their own supply train (the flow of vehicles to and from the front line rather than an actual train) and consuming huge quantities of fuel. Transportation is one of the major pillars in the logistics chain that keeps a military able to move and fight quickly and tanks are an excellent example of how important effective transportation is to fighting a war. You really, really, do not wish to drive a tank from one end of your theater to the other, by itself. Tanks and other AFVs will wear out parts at a very high rate even from a short engagement and long road marches (as the Germans discovered) are absolute hell on these vehicles. Not even the Russian T-34 crossed all the distance from Moscow to Berlin without effective transportation and distribution for their deployment. In modern terms, this aspect of logistics is generally referred to as Strategic Mobility in NATO and specifically, the US military.
So how do games demonstrate this aspect of logistical need? Well, let’s see!
Battlefield, during the singleplayer missions has occasionally alluded to how AFVs have been transported, namely in Battlefield 4 when there is a mission with an Abrams in a beach landing assault. However, in general, these vehicles do not enter into multiplayer or singleplayer at all, and are hardly noticeable or involved with actual gameplay. No use of transportation is involved in tank combat at all. I have not played the whole series, nor have I played 1942, so I am not sure if amphibious landing craft play into fielding tanks at all or not.
World of Tanks, War Thunder, Armored Warfare
All three games tend to ignore how tanks might be transported to the battlefield prior to going into combat, though once again, it is sometimes alluded to in how the maps are laid out, often with roads, bases, or rail yards being nearby. Of course, we do not really see player vehicles involved in transport, but in World of Tanks, on a few maps, you can see tanks limbered up for transportation via train. General supply logistical vehicles make practically no appearance in any of these games and very few references abound to the need for these exist, so it can be somewhat misleading, though not horribly so.
Red Orchestra Series
Similar to the previous games, there are no playable vehicle transports and nothing that really involves moving supplies to or from the battlefield, though there might be tanks on trains or train-yards near where a player starts with a vehicle. Oftentimes, there’s very little indication of how the vehicles got to their location.
World War II Online – Battleground Europe
Oddly enough, there’s not much indication, on the player side, how vehicles get transported to their FOBs or how resupplying them operates, though I’m lead to believe that there are implied mechanics related to transportation networks and the like. Given that the game is fairly old, this is not entirely surprising, though with the scale of the maps and such (you can literally fly or drive across a huge section of Europe that is nearly to real life scale) I always thought it’d be interesting to include player operated convoys and transportation to create ambush scenarios for both sides. Sadly, I doubt this will be integrated in to the game, despite being a characteristic vulnerability that both sides took advantage of when they had the opportunity.
While ArmA tends to, like other games, ignore how exactly tanks and other AFVs have been transported to their locations before being unloaded, it does do a great job creating supply transportation, with the ability to move supplies to battlefield locations via ground vehicles, like the Tempest ammo truck or even via helicopter transportation. While I’ve not witnessed it, some mods and games will also simulate emergency air drops for supplies, though usually for infantry. In Arma, because of its sandbox nature, this creates the opportunity for a wily enemy team to disrupt and ambush supply transportation convoys, and fight tanks this way. To me, this is great and offers a lot of interesting potential scenarios that could be played out in the game. Is it a perfect representation of the real world? Not even close, but we are talking about games and the degree they might misrepresent logistics.
Maintenance refers to the activities and supplies one uses to keep their AFVs operating and repairing damaged ones. Maintenance doesn’t fall strictly into Logistics, I suppose, yet it relies so heavily upon effective logistics and general supply networks that it may as well, for the purposes of this article. During World War II, the importance of maintenance and keeping a large supply of replacement and repair parts became very apparent. The Germans in particular faced major and increasing problems keeping their vehicles maintained, which lead to field reliability issues that could have otherwise been avoided. It did not help that maintenance duties on the typically over-engineered later war German vehicles was labor and time intensive. Without effective training, parts, or time to keep vehicles maintained, Panthers, Tigers and even more reliable tank models faced frequent breakdowns, magnified by long road marches forced by a lack of effective and quick transportation, was responsible for many of the maladies that Germany faced in putting up a stronger resistance. On the other end of the spectrum, the US was practically swimming in parts and it could simply replace entire tanks if it felt it would take too much time to repair it on the front. Post-war analysis showed the importance of effective maintenance routines and keeping these vehicles working at peak condition when fighting was needed. What many games gloss over, heavily, is just how much work goes into maintaining a given tank or any other type of AFV. The strain and wear that any armored vehicle puts on its constituent parts, simply from the act of being started and moved, can be immense. When one has a high performance, modern weapon with electronics and complex parts, consideration is duly placed on how effective it is to repair or replace parts of the vehicle and is a crucial part of making a prototype into a reality. Yet, modern logistics still has hurdles with rapid deployment of vehicles, with aircraft able to carry only limited numbers compared to rail or ship. These limitations often play into how much a tank can practically weigh before it is no longer feasible for deployment or wears out its parts too quickly to be permissible.
So how do games do in handling the maintenance side of things?
Well, all truth be told, none really touch on these aspects of tanks, despite their importance, mostly due to the fact that such activities would have a negative impact on gameplay. Very few players would be interested in witnessing the swap-out of an engine during combat, even if it was being done in the field, and fewer would want to have to return to their base in order to replace a worn out barrel or final drive assembly. Likewise, fixing a thrown or damage track can take hours, which is why many games have mechanics that will automatically repair (even instantaneously) tracks or other damaged components to keep players in the action, without leaving them with a crippled vehicle. Three games really touch on the nature of vehicle maintenance in combat, and the hurdles they face, in a more realistic manner than clicking on a repair kit or letting a skill determine how many seconds it takes to repair. Those would be the Red Orchestra Series, World War II Online, and the ArmA series.
Red Orchestra Series
In this series, generally your tank is out of luck if its loses its tracks or is otherwise damaged in combat. Tracks busted? Tough, you’re stuck there and there’s no real way to repair the vehicle during the course of the mission. While this can suck, it also reflects that, realistically, a broken track was usually a death-sentence for the crew if there wasn’t an immediate recovery vehicle on hand. The vehicle, losing its mobility would become a prime target for enemy AT gunners and infantry, not to mention enemy AFVs. The one place that this fails is that the crew cannot simply abandon the tank and fight on foot or try to recover the vehicle in some other means, which is unfortunate, as such a mechanic could be pretty interesting to witness, especially in more organized gameplay with a gaming clan.
World War II Online – Battleground Europe
Pretty much the same as above, there is no real recovery process or field repairs for a damaged vehicle to speak of, leaving tanks sitting ducks should they lose their mobility or are otherwise crippled during combat.
While ArmA does not have you performing daily maintenance on your vehicle between fights, you can have someone equipped with the right tools to repair a damaged vehicle. While it doesn’t take a long period of time, it does take more than a few seconds, usually, and gives a bit more flexibility to gameplay. Furthermore, ArmA III has an actual armored recovery vehicle for the NATO faction, a nice addition, which allows for the practically automatic repair of a damaged AFV. I wish the ability to tow damaged vehicles might be implemented, though some of the lighter AFVs and MRAPs can be extracted from battle via heavy lift helicopters, for repair, another really nifty feature for those of you craving a more ‘authentic’ experience.