I have seen more than one post berating the Cobra and even suggesting this deadly (yes, I said deadly) unit needs to be “buffed-up” because it’s “useless”. They say, “the gun is a joke”, “the unit is worthless as-is”, “I never use the AH-1”, and it goes on and on…
What I think is being overlooked is that the true effectiveness of the unit is not realized until it is grouped into a squad. Not only do I use the Cobra, I may even make my own extra Cobra and Cobra Pilot cards just so I can use more than 2 or 3 at a time. The following discussion of the Cobra Squad as a unit is NOT a rule variant. This tactic is perfectly allowable within the base rules.
The Power of the AH-1 Squad
To appreciate the Cobra you must view it in the proper light: “The Cobra is weak if used as a single unit; but deadly as a squad!” The fact that the Cobra is exactly half the cost of the AH-64A should immediately make us wonder; “What if I used 2 Cobras flying in formation instead of a single Apache?” In fact, if you compare the AH-1 Squad as a unit to a single Apache, you might notice something cool; the AH-1 Squad is more powerful than the Apache!
Some would try to dismiss the AH-1 Squad concept with, “Well, that’s true of any aircraft in the game.” …but this really only applies to the AH-1 due to its SO cost of 2. You can either buy 1 Apache, or 2 Cobras; period. The question is, “Which would you rather have?”
In my mind’s eye, I see Apaches spread out across the battlefield as lone rangers taking on enemy units at will, unleashing 1 or 2 rocket volleys on critical enemy positions and winning! But then… an enemy unit leader spots something popping up over a distant ridgeline. He observes a small dot growing larger… “Inbound helo! …ready weapon!” The AA gun crew scrambles to align crosshairs on the target; but the gunner pauses for a moment as his target surprisingly splits in two and dodges toward a nearby ridge. The unit leader yells fire, FIRE! …and the shots finally ring out.
Cobra squad continues their approach; veteran pilots who have seen more than one conflict together. Adept as a team; the pair of boldly painted tigershark jaws sweep low across the desert floor. Cobra Leader “Grandpa” sees the threat and rolls left to the cover of a ridgeline. Without hesitation Cobra 2 “Freak” perfectly matches the movement as rounds from the AA gun narrowly miss their mark. Hooking right now Cobra Team follows the terrain and brings the AA unit position back into forward view. Cobra Leader radios: “They’re dug into the hillside” … “forget the hellfires” … “we need to get in close” … Cobra 2 confirms: “Roger that Gramps” … “cannon is hot” …
Compounding Cobra Hit Probability
I know, I know... Really? Attacking an AA unit with a gun that has a 9 “To Hit” requirement. I must be crazy, but let’s consider the actual math in this situation.
A gun attack in a single Apache carries a 40% “To Hit” probability, while the Cobra Squad “To Hit” probability using a 2d10 is 36%. OK, so Cobra Squad is a tad short of the “To Hit” roll of the Apache gunship; but not as underpowered as you thought! …am I right?
Here’s the math:
Kill Probability “KP” = 1-((ToHit-1)/DieSides)^Rolls
The Apache gun attack is a 1d10 roll with a 7 or better “To Hit” requirement:
1-((7-1)/10)^1 = 40% KP
The Cobra Squad gun attack is a 2d10 roll with a 9 or better “To Hit” requirement:
1-((9-1)/10)^2 = 36% KP
I believe we can also add to the formula to take into consideration the total gun attack modifier points adjusted for the number of pilots on board. ...might be over simplifying a bit here, but should be close enough to prove the point.
1-((ToHit-(Mod/Rolls)-1)/DieSides)^Rolls = KP
Where “Mod” is the total modifier points for all pilots in a squad divided by “Rolls” to properly adjust for the number of pilots in the squad. So a Cobra Squad with 2 pilots that have +2 and +1 gun modifiers would be counted as +3 for “Mod” in the formula.
A single Apache pilot:
Gun Mod+0: 1-((7-(0/1)-1)/10)^1 = 40% KP
Gun Mod+1: 1-((7-(1/1)-1)/10)^1 = 50% KP
Gun Mod+2: 1-((7-(2/1)-1)/10)^1 = 60% KP
A two-pilot Cobra Squad:
Gun Mod+0: 1-((9-(0/2)-1)/10)^2 = 36% KP
Gun Mod+1: 1-((9-(1/2)-1)/10)^2 = 44% KP
Gun Mod+2: 1-((9-(2/2)-1)/10)^2 = 51% KP
Gun Mod+3: 1-((9-(3/2)-1)/10)^2 = 58% KP
Three Cobras flying as a squad? 3d10 with a 9 To Hit requirement is a 49% KP with a +0 gun modifier. You know the formula; I’ll let you do the math.
We now rejoin Cobra Squad as Grandpa and Freak press the attack! Our veteran duo shares a combined gun modifier of +3 giving them a 58% kill probability on this run, not bad! Ammo spent, the AA unit gunner watches helplessly as the two helos rapidly approach… his eyes widen as he finally makes out a third set of hungry teeth emerging from behind the flight leader! In a hail of gunfire, the trio of Cobras dispatch the AA unit with a combined 3d10 9 "To Hit" attack roll and a +4 gun modifier. The 70.4% Kill Probability once again favors our team of heroes! “Glad you could join us Gator!” … “No sweat Gramps, where’s the next target?” “You’re pretty skilled kid, but don’t get cocky!”
The Cobra Squad Weapons Platform
“OK, so cool story bro, but your squad of 3 Cobras will cost me 6 SO points! AND, I need 3 Cobra pilots with +1, +1, and +2 gun modifiers. I’m sticking with the Apache that only costs me 4 SO points!”
Granted, the narrative was my “Hollywood” version intended to paint a fun picture of how I see my Cobra Squad in the game while introducing the Kill Probability math. Let’s go back now to my original suggestion that: “Two Cobras are greater than one Apache”
Consider the Cobra Squad as a single weapons platform…
Apache: 1d10 Gun 7 KP: 40%, Cost: 4, Weapon Points: 8, Structure: 2
Cobra Squad: 2d10 Gun 9 KP: 36%, Cost: 4, Weapon Points: 12, Structure 2
So by giving up a minuscule 4% KP on the gun attack roll, Cobra Squad has 4 extra weapon points to spend! Yes, this unit costs 4 SO points, has a 12 weapon capacity, and has a gun KP score that is still very close to the formidable Apache. This alone should be enough to sway poor opinions of the Cobra, but there’s more…
Efficient Munitions Usage Bonus
An Apache targets a tank with a hefty -2V armor bonus. I really need it dead on this turn; so it gets 2 hellfire’s assigned. A volley of two hellfire’s is normally a 2d10 attack roll with a 4 “To Hit” requirement; but against a tank with a -2V armor bonus it becomes a 6 “To Hit” requirement. So my hellfire’s now have a 2d10 attack roll with a 6 “To Hit” for a 75% KP. Not great, but good enough; weapons away! YES, the first hellfire scores a hit and the unit is dead! My second hellfire screams past the flaming wreckage and slams into a vacant plot of desert creating an impressive “poof!”
Glad the unit is dead but would’ve been nice if my Apache could have fired just one of those hellfire’s and waited to see if it scored the hit before wasting the second one.
Cobra Squad, same scenario… Cobra 1 launches hellfire 1 and HIT! Cobra 2 sees no point in firing hellfire 2 in the direction of flaming wreckage. So on to the next target with an extra hellfire. Cobra Squad can carry 4 more hellfire's than an Apache and it also gets this extra “Efficient Munitions” bonus when it spreads a volley attack over two airframes.
Loadout Optionality – Economic Apache or Max Carnage?
I’ll bet you don’t give much thought to using those munitions that cost zero Ordinance Points as primary weapons? I mean the “To Hit” chance on those is horrible; pretty much filler munitions if I have some extra Weight Points to spare and can’t afford to spend another Ordinance Point. Right?
Now that you know how the KP formula works, take a look at a pair of TOW rockets compared to a single hellfire. The TOW volley is a 2d10 7 roll for a 64% KP compared to the hellfire’s 1d10 4 roll for a 70% KP. Not too far off!
Using the 12 weapon points of a Cobra Squad, and outfitting them with an array of cheaper munitions, I can match or exceed the firepower of an Apache at 2/3 the Ordinance Point cost.
The KP of a pair of LAU-68’s beats the 70% KP of a single LAU-61 with zero Ordinance Point cost. An Apache armed with 2 LAU-61’s and 4 Hellfire’s has an OP cost of 6. The Cobra Squad armed with 4 LAU-68’s and 4 Hellfire’s cost 4. It's 2/3 cheaper and the LAU-68’s fired in pairs have a better KP at 75% vs. the LAU-61’s at 70%. The recovery probability of a pair of 68’s fired from separate platforms also gets the “Efficient Munitions Usage Bonus” putting it on par or better than the 61’s recovery chance in the Apache.
The Max Carnage option is pretty self-explanatory… You can match the best loadout of any Apache, and then add on 4 more Weight Points worth of extra weapons!
Enemy Attack Dispersion
Since an enemy unit can only target one aircraft per turn, a Squad of Cobras cannot be shot down in one turn by a single unit. At worst, the firepower of the Squad is reduced by one half per turn. There’s a tradeoff here in how the structure hits impact the Apache vs the Cobra Squad. Cobra Squad can take 2 or even 3 structure hits in a turn and still have at least half of its firepower. An Apache can take 2 hits and maintain 100% firepower, but on the third hit… it’s 100% dead. It’s possible for Cobra Squad to take 2 structure hits (one on each airframe) and still be at 100% firepower. So...
Cobra Squad: 2 hits ‘may’ reduce unit by 50%, 3 hits ‘will’ reduce unit by 50%, 4 hits to kill the unit
Apache: No unit reduction for 2 hits, but 3 hits kills the unit
Is there an advantage here to the Cobra Squad? Eh maybe, but I see it more as a tradeoff. It is true that regardless of how bad a pair of Cobras might be damaged, a single unit cannot destroy the entire squad in one turn. You can’t say the same for a wounded Apache. But there is a cost...
So what’s the risk?
The Cobra Squad sounds cool but shouldn’t there be some balance here? I mean, now I want all Cobra Squads and I only have 3 of those aircraft in the game. Why don’t we have more? Well here’s the thing… we’ve cut the production back on the Cobras significantly and it costs a lot of taxpayer dollars nowadays to train pilots. So yeah, we don’t have as many Cobras and pilots to deploy. You’ll just have to make do with your Apaches! Hehehe... “make do with the Apaches” LOL!!
Remember when you said you’d never use a Cobra!
Kidding aside, let’s not take too lightly the cost in Victory Points to Uncle Sam if we should lose a Cobra Squad. Losing one Cobra is still equal to losing one Apache. Lose a whole squad of Cobras? …ouch! So there's the risk you take bringing a Cobra Squad into the mix.
So why disregard the Cobra?
More weapons, hits harder, fun tandem flying role play, cool weapons mix and compounding bonuses, better paint job, throw in a little math maybe, all for some extra WP cost risk. Did I mention that in an emergency related to a poor scout roll, as a counter to the lack of time, you can still split up the squad to launch hellfires and work toward reforming the team as you move? I like to use em!
...and on a side note, I think the KP formula easily proves why you really shouldn't consider "buffing" up the "pathetic" Cobra gun. Any improvement in the numbers and you'll see Cobra Squad now wields a weapon more powerful than the gunship!