The Assault series (including Reinforcements) provides players a wide variety of Soviet infantry formations. While the Soviet Army tended to use a phrase that translated as “motorized rifle” to describe most of its vehicle-equipped infantry units, there is actually a very diverse mix of equipment, each of which requires its own style of play in Assault. There are “mechanized” units, equipped with BMP-A and BMP-B infantry fighting vehicles (4th, 14th, 13th BNs), there are “motorized” units equipped with BTR-70s and BTR-60s (6th, 7th, 8th, 25th BNs), “Airmobile” light infantry (16th, 17th BNs), and “Desant” mechanized airborne units (26th, 27th, 28th BNs). As is the case with Soviet armor formations, the key to best use of infantry units requires a detailed look at the fire tables, along with an appreciation for how the conventional fire system works.
The BMP battalions in Assault provide the most capable infantry units for the Soviet player. These battalions feature BMPs with excellent mobility (4mp + amphibious), good morale (they all start at 12 due to their size), anti-vehicle firepower, including both missiles and cannons, and decent conventional firepower. The BMP-A features a slightly less capable missile with an 18 penetration factor, vs. 19 for the BMP-B missile. Both missiles are highly lethal against all NATO vehicles with the exception of the front of NATO heavy tanks, where they have low to kill numbers: 2 or 3 on an M1/Leopard 2; a 1 or 2 on British Chieftain/Challengers. However, like a lot of Soviet systems, if used in mass, you can still get kills on NATO tanks with enough shots/rolls. A company of BMPs can fire off 6 missile shots in one fire phase, giving you a decent chance at a kill or two. The guns on the two BMPs are very different. The BMP-A gun features a good supply of HEAT (18 penetration w/ 6 rounds) and HE (8 rounds), but with a low rate of fire (1). The BMP-B chain gun provides a high rate of fire (3), but with limited penetration. A BMP-B needs to be w/ in 4 hexes of an M2 Bradley to penetrate the front armor, and the BMP-B can’t touch the front armor of a German Marder at all. The British and Dutch APCs can be killed at 8 hexes though. In terms of conventional fire performance, massing fires is the key, and here is where a company of BMP-Bs shines. A full BMP-B company can put 108 SCHE points on a single target within 4 hexes, which nets a 9:1 against an AFV in woods/cover (even a heavy tank), and a still-respectable 7:1 if the AFV is in town/cover. If going up against infantry, that same company’s 108 points results in a 7:1 on an infantry/woods/cover target and a 5:1 on an infantry/town/cover target. In these examples a BMP-A company does much less damage, with only 18 points of HE possible from an entire company. In terms of protection, the BMPs provide decent protection against heavy machine guns, but don’t do well against any of the NATO IFVs. What about the infantry? Here the BMP units are a tad light. The smaller platoons they carry only have 2 HEAT shots and 6 SA shots each. The HEAT (RPG) does go out to 2 hexes though. Still, Soviet infantry is really only useful at a range of 1 or 0 hexes. However, if the Soviet player can manage to mass the BMP-B fire (108 out to 4 hexes) and the dismounted infantry (96 points for a full company) he can generate some solid conventional fire shots. Getting in that close is the trick, which I’ll discuss under the tactics section at the end.
Of note for BMP battalions, however, is the very powerful mortar company. With two platoons of M-43 120mm mortars and an OP, the mortar company can be a key element in any Soviet attack. They come with a generous ammunition load of 12 HE and 8 IS, and they can put down that IS at a high rate (each platoon can fire 2 hexes in one mission, so the company can place a 4-hex screen). They also have a decent range (22 hexes), so if you can get them into position they can use direct spotting for missions with no delays. If the OP is spotting, the delay is still only 1 turn, making them the most responsive Soviet indirect fire systems in the game.
I am using the term “motorized” infantry for BTR battalions to denote a very big difference in operational technique and vehicle capability between these battalions and the boys in the BMPs. First, the BTR-60 and BTR-70 should be thought of as “battle taxis” on the highly lethal battlefield of the 1980s; meaning they should be used to rapidly get the infantry into position for a dismounted assault or bypass the enemy entirely, instead of trying to use the BTR as the battalion’s primary weapon system. For starters, the lack of a missile greatly reduces the anti-armor capability of BTR battalions. One caveat is the AT-4 platoon each BTR battalion provides, which gives at least some missile capability, although greatly limited by the skimpy 2 shots of missile ammo it carries. However, if you can get within 4 hexes, the BTRs SCAP round (with a decent ROF of 3) can penetrate the front of an M2 (US), Warrior (British), or AIFV (Dutch) vehicle, although it can’t touch a German Marder. In terms of conventional fire, a full company of BTRs can generate only 48 points of SA at 4 hexes, which won’t do much to a vehicle in cover, or infantry in woods/cover (3:1) or town/cover (2:1). If combined with its large infantry units though (Infantry “A”), a BTR company can crank out 120 points total at 1 hex range. The problem with getting that close is that BTRs are vulnerable to just about any anti-tank weapon system, to include .50 Cal machine guns (the SCAP rounds from a lowly M113 will kill a BTR on a roll of 4 or less @ 4 hexes). If going up against any IFV in the NATO inventory, BTRs will meet quick and violent deaths (out to 10-14 hexes) long before they are in range to fire back. One thing BTRs do have is good mobility, especially on primary roads where they can move 9 hexes per movement phase using the 1/3rd rate. They are also amphibious and fast swimmers. The Infantry A platoons carried by BTRs do have more SA firepower (10 at range 0 and 8 at a range of 1) than the BMP units, which can be handy in a close assault situation.
Significantly, the BTR battalions do have the same very capable mortar company as the BMP battalions, thus providing a way to use IS smoke to cover movement and help get the infantry in close. Their companies are large (12 steps, like BMP companies), so they start with a high morale level of 12, giving them some ability to take losses and keep fighting.
Mechanized Airborne Infantry
There are three battalions (26th, 27th, 28th) of BMD-equipped airborne mechanized infantry (Soviet term “Desant”) included in Assault. The BMD vehicle is basically, in game terms, a BMP-A, albeit with the better missile carried by the BMP-B. So, once on the ground they share the same limitations and capability as BMP-A battalions, with two important exceptions. First, BMD battalions do not have a mortar company, so they have no inherent IS or indirect fire capability. Second, the infantry platoons they carry are only 1-step infantry “B” platoons, so they have much less firepower and staying power than regular infantry companies. However, if these battalions are up against rear area units, they bring a lot to the fight. And, BMDs may be transported in Mi-26 helicopters at a cost of 12 steps per full-strength platoon, allowing one Mi-26 to carry 2 platoons of BMDs.
The two battalions of airmobile infantry included in the Assault series present some interesting operational challenges. Once they are dropped off, the 9 platoons are no better than the BMP infantry (all airmobile platoons are Infantry “B”). However, if the helicopters can get them in the enemy rear, or they are positioned close to support elements or other enemy infantry, they can still be useful. Both battalions have an AT-4 platoon, which unfortunately has only 2 missile shots. The SPG-9 (a 73mm recoilless rifle) platoon, on the other hand, can be quite useful. It has a high rate of fire (2 HEAT rounds / step, so 4 total), and can fire them out to a decent range (2 to hit @ 6 hexes). Unlike the missile platoon, it carries a lot of ammo (16 HEAT rounds and 10 HE rounds). Like all infantry, however, these battalions, on the defense, are very difficult to dig out of good terrain. The 2 x HEAT rounds each platoon carries make them deadly in a close assault situation. Finally, the battalion elements match up well in the game with Mi-8 helicopters, 2 of which can carry a full company of infantry (6 steps), or the Battalion HQ + both fire support platoons.
Soviet Infantry Tactics
On the attack, even BMP-equipped units should make maximum use of terrain and smoke to close the range before even trying to engage NATO units. That usually means staying in march formation for as long as possible. Except for missiles on BMPs and BMDs, the Soviet infantry carriers need to get within 4 hexes to really do some damage to NATO units, unless one catches them on the move and in the open. On most of the boards, to get within 4 hexes you really need to try to use IS smoke from the Soviet mortar companies or the Regimental mortar platoon, if available. For all types of infantry in vehicles, once you get within one hex, it is usually worth it to dismount the grunts so they can get into close assault the next movement phase. Going into a close assault with the infantry still mounted is very risky, since you are sure to lose a lot of vehicles to just about any NATO units, which result in automatic kills on the carried infantry as well.
So, an “ideal” deliberate assault might look like this: place IS smoke on the NATO units in the arty phase, move up adjacent in the 1MP, then dismount the infantry and move both infantry and BMPs/BTRs/BMDs into close assault in the 2MP. If you don’t have smoke, you have to try to just overwhelm the NATO unit, get it to use up its opportunity fire chances, and duke it out in a close assault. One other technique that BMP/BMD units can use is moving into town or woods, dropping off the infantry, and then moving into missile range of a NATO position for a volley fire of missiles, in essence using the BMP/BMDs like light tanks. Dropping of the infantry first will save steps from any return fire.
Finally, don’t forget two key rules. First is the “closest vehicle target” (Rule 12(B)(5)) restriction on enemy units. If you can get an AFV unit adjacent, even if just a 1-step BTR, the NATO unit won’t be able to fire anti-armor ammo at a range of 2 or more, which might allow other elements of the battalion to move around the flank and bypass the enemy unit. Second is the dismounted infantry “death blossom” capability, where infantry units may fire ALL their weapons at max ROF at the same time, without having to choose which one to fire. That means a single Soviet infantry platoon, in a close assault, can generate 40 / 32 Small Arms points (Inf A / Inf B) AND fire 2 x HEAT shots at 8:17, which is enough in a close assault to probably take out any NATO vehicle unit (auto-kill on any IFV, a 9 to kill on an M1/Chieftain, 8 to kill on a Leo2, and 6 to kill on a Challenger).
I've muddled through playing maybe 1.5 games of Assault, long ago. I think it's a promising game, but really I'm writing to recognize your excellent "Guide to Playing the Soviets" posts.
Most of my job duties involve writing instructional material and training people. So I make a living by explaining stuff. And I have to say that your posts on how to deploy the various units in Assault are great examples of clear, well-informed, well-organized writing. One thing I find particularly informative is the way you summarize the information-dense main body with a section on how to use this advice, ie what employing your prescribed tactics "looks like".