In this article I will be looking at all of the SSU Attack Helicopters. I will be looking at the four options which are different weapon loadouts or combinations of these weapons. Overall aircraft in Dust Battlefield are extremely fast with higher Move and March Moves of ground based forces hobbled somewhat with their shorter range weapon systems. They tend to hover around 20 points in cost. This article will cover specifically SSU helicopters, but I also want to take some time on my opinions of aircraft in Dust Battlefield in general as well.
I want to start by saying that most of the main reasons I took interest in Dust was because of the inclusion of aircraft. Normally, I am fairly immersive player who wants game play to make some sort of sense to the real world. However, I want flyers to be included in may game so badly I will gladly ignore how crazy the idea is of even having models for a 1:48 scale war game on a table that is only 4’x6′. That is far too small for aircraft to be utilized in any tactical fashion (even more so than Battlefield 1942). I like idea of pushing an airplane, helicopter, or jet around the table just too much to care in this one instance to care how they would actually function at the scale of Dust.
I wanted say that because I think the rules for Aircraft are just horrible. It looks to be me that this part of the rules just weren’t tested nearly as much as the rest of the game. I also think the game designers feared aircraft could easily overpower what is effectively an infantry platoon-level game. I think they went too far in ensuring aircraft would dominate that they are almost always lost points in put into an army list.
My issues with aircraft are many. I want to start by saying just how easy they are to shoot down. In Dust Battlefield, outside the SSU, most infantry have enough firepower to really put the hurt on any aircraft. They can’t quite destroy one it a single attack but might be able to with a second if the squad includes a machine gun. Most Vehicle 4 (V4) and up units are equipped with a machine gun capable of putting a little damage on aircraft. Which is fair enough, that’s why tanks had pintle-mounted machine guns. It is the anti-aircraft that is crazy in Dust Battlefield. They almost always have the abilty to one shot aircraft (which unlike other units almost never get a save, Cover or otherwise). They almost always have Advanced Reactive Fire which extends their range well past the range of most aircraft weapons. Even if their opponent doesn’t take an aircraft they usually are prime anti-infantry units as well and are often taken just for their infantry fighting ability with aircraft use being secondary.
I also want to point out that there are many times an Aircraft 1 (A1) is actually harder to shoot down than an Aircraft 2 (A2). A1 units have 8 Damage Capacity opposed to A2 units 6 Damage Capacity. There are more than a few weapons that cause the same amount of damage to both effectively making A1 units more hardy. Strangely Aircraft 3 units look like they would be the Soldier 4 units of Dust Warfare as their just aren’t that many units that can damage them and will almost certainly take a couple of shots with the ones that can.
Another issue I have is Aircraft units can’t be affected by the Officer skill at all. Now I can sort of understand why Aircraft can’t re-arm (though Dust Warfare had mechanics in place to allow such). What I don’t get is why Aircraft can’t be Recovered (and thereby using that options for ground Vehicles as well forcing the choice of Vehicle or Aircraft). The fluff reason for this can be as simple as the aircraft wasn’t destroyed but couldn’t effectively fight anymore and returned behind the line for quick maintenance and repairs or even it is a new aircraft from the same squadron that was pulled into this part of the fight. After all, military fighter aircraft rarely go into battle by themselves.
I also go get why Aircraft can’t be reactivated. It makes as much sense for an airplane or helicopter to double their effectiveness as it does anything else (overall the this mechanic just doesn’t make much sense in a fluff way). It hard for me to believe that an Infantry squad (with At The Double) can cover as much distance as a helicopter if you factor in the Reactivation. However, if the game designers just wanted Aircraft to feel different, I would have been fine with Aircraft getting three action per activation where the first activation in a Move (with limited options like Dust Warfare if you like). Ace Pilot would have to be altered but that only affects one hero which doesn’t see much use because Aircraft aren’t worth taking. But at the same time, I don’t see any issue with Aircraft getting a reactivation like any other unit.
Another issue I have with aircraft is their incredibly short range. Now I understand that given the speed of Aircraft you don’t want them becoming flying snipers and mechanically you are going for a sort of dive bomb attack. However, the machine guns on all bloc’s flyers is well within Reaction range and more than half the reaction range of units with Advanced Reaction Fire which tend to be anti-air. I don’t think is necessary for balance. As mentioned, most infantry can shoot at aircraft and they get to keep cover if they are in area terrain. Heck, they can completely hide in buildings and larger pieces. As the rules stand you only need to have your troops spaced enough that an opponent can lay down a template and you can easily shoot down an aircraft with 3 squads which is only a bit more expensive in points and it will likely only cost you part of one of those squads.
I would complain amount the high point cost of Aircraft, but I think it is a good range for these units. As much as like aircraft, I don’t want them so cheap that the table is full of them. I just want the 1 or 2 flyers I bring to be worth the points they do cost me.
That is enough complaining about aircraft in general. Let’s talk about the SSU helicopters this article is supposed to be about.
This might just be one of my favorite attack choppers. The Blaster is armed with the usually quad DSHk 12.7mm machine guns found on all SSU choppers. This weapons does a pretty good job on infantry and aircraft if it weren’t for its incredibly short range.
It is also equipped with 2 Limited Use RS-70 Rocket Pods which have a little more range than most Aircraft weapons (we’re talking SMG range). They’re not quite as good as the Allies Pelican rockets, but they are good on infantry and fairly good on light armor. Even using Volley won’t do much against the heavier armor they can damage.
For vehicles, you’ll want to use the Blaster’s two 250Kg bombs with are also Limited Use and Volley. They give the helicopter enough punching power that when combined with the rocket pods make the unit effective against medium armor (Vehicle 4/ Vehicle 5) if you Volley everything. Which I suggest since more often than not you aren’t getting a second attack anyways.
I like this helicopter because it is a little cheaper than the other Limited Use payload choppers. Yet, it is just as effective against infantry and often more effective than the other SSU attack helicopters.
This helicopter is similarly equipped to the Blaster except for instead of the 250kg bombs, it has two Napalm Bombs which also have Limited Use and Volley. They roll the same amount of dice as the 250kg bombs, but also have Flame which should allow them to cause for damage. I don’t think I want to pay an extra point for that since the Burner doesn’t have nearly the same damage potential as the Blaster against heavy armor even it can damage even Vehicle 7 (V7) units. One could argue that being a Flame weapon, Suppression is worth considering. I find that just to be far too luck dependent to factor in.
This is my favorite SSU attack helicopter in Dust Warfare, but it doesn’t hold up as well in Dust Battlefield even grading on the curve that aircraft aren’t that great. As mentioned, both the 250kg bombs and Napalm Bombs are limited Use and Volley weapons. I suggest firing them both as quick as possible before your chopper is gunned down. The problem I have with this payload is that is no more effective against infantry than the Burner and the 250kg Bombs aren’t that much more effective than the Rocket pods which shooting at anything beyond Vehicle 3 (V3). If you could reasonably expect this chopper to remain in sky for a while to target multiple units, it might be an okay choice. I don’t think that is realistic though.
I like the look of this helicopter. It is also the only attack helicopter to feature a pay load that isn’t a Limited Use weapon. I like the idea of that, but at the same time, I know given the life cycle of aircraft it doesn’t matter much usually. This anti-tank chopper is armed with Dual SHVAK 50mm Guns which are okay up to Vehicle 4. I wouldn’t count on doing much after that. These guns also have a little more range (as in not sharing the range of shotguns).
I haven’t fielded helicopters nearly as much as I have the aircraft of the other blocs. This is mostly because I haven’t played the SSU as much as the other blocs in Dust Battlefield. I also just find aircraft to be a waste of points. That said, I think the choppers might be the most useful of the bad lot that is aircraft. The only thing to be concerned about is their slower speed (compared to the jets of the Allies and Axis) which means they can’t zoom across the table and shoot. I think attack helicopters work best like other aircraft quickly engaging high importance, easy to destroy targets, such as Command Squads, early in the game. I have less of an expectation of any aircraft surviving the round it is placed on the table more than any other unit. Which is saying something when nearly everything in Dust Battlefield seems to be destroyed in 1 or 2 attacks.