“And if you screw up just this much, you’ll be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog [crap] out of Hong Kong!”
James Tolkan, “Captain Stinger” to Tom Cruise, “Maverick” in Top Gun (1986)
Effective Use of CAP
Don’t worry. While Maverick’s captain may have threatened him with cargo plane duty, no such penalty awaits you if you make a mistake while using CAP and by the time you’ve finished this essay you should be well on your way to using CAP as one of the tools for victory in AAPacific.
Combat Air Patrol (CAP) is a special feature of AAPacific that is not present in any of the other versions of Axis & Allies. As such, for new players of AAPacific, CAP can cause some anxiety due to uncertainty with how to properly implement CAP for maximum advantage.
Let me start by saying that you can very easily play an entire AAPacific game and never use CAP. In fact, you could probably play several games and never have occasion to use CAP. In most cases, you won’t suffer any adverse consequences from not taking advantage for the CAP rules, but there are circumstances where carefully planned use of CAP can help either Japan or the Allies hold an advance position on the game board that would be a dead zone without the extra fighters that can be put in the air by the use of CAP.
Basic Rules of CAP
First, let’s talk about some of the basic features of CAP. In order to effectively use CAP, it is important to know how it works.
– CAP is launched during the Non-Combat Movement Phase using fighters from land territories. CAP fighters cannot have moved or attacked during the Combat Movement phase.
– CAP cannot be launched from Aircraft Carriers.
– CAP cannot be launched into a sea zone where the presence of enemy units would result in combat (note: submerged submarines don’t count)
– CAP fighters prevent enemy surface vessels from passing through the sea zone that they occupy.
– CAP fighters must land during Phase 2 of your next turn. They can land on any land territory adjacent to or within the sea zone they are occupying or on an Aircraft Carrier in the same sea zone. Once the fighter lands, it can move as normal.
– Airbases do not extend the range of CAP fighters. The can only be launched into a sea zone that is adjacent to or surrounding the territory from which they start. For example, a fighter on Formosa cannot fly CAP in sz38. It can only fly CAP in sz45.
Sea Zones where CAP is most effective
Now that you understand how CAP works, we can discuss where CAP can be most effective.
For Japan, CAP will be most useful in sz45 or 46 early in the game and in sz38 late in the game.
For the Allies, CAP is most effective in szs29, 32, and sometimes 28.
Use of CAP by Japan
In a VP game, by J2, Japan is usually busy capturing the last of the Pacific Islands and moving as many ground units as possible to reinforce French IndoChina. At the same time, it is important for Japan to have a strong presence in sz28 to discourage the Allies from advancing too quickly into the Central Pacific and taking away the IPCs Japan needs to maintain 4 VPs per turn until at least J4. This means that Japan will often have to split its forces, with most of the fighting ships needed in sz28 and most of the transports needed to ferry ground units to FIC. While the sz28 force is usually strong enough to withstand any Allied attack, how can you protect those lonely transports in sz45 or sz46. The answer is CAP.
On J2 (and J3) combat movement phases, make sure that you have at least one fighter on J2 and preferably two fighters on J3 in FIC that you will not use during Combat. During J2 or J3 NCM, move all of your transports that are ferrying troops to FIC into either sz45 or sz46 and launch the fighter(s) from FIC into that sea zone. On J2, the US can attack with, at most 1 Ftr and 2 Bmrs. With 5 or 6 transports, 1 DD and 1 Ftr, the odds of the US killing all your transports is not good. Likewise, on J3, with 2 ftrs in the sea zone, the US would likely use up all of its air force killing transports and leave the Japanese fighters untouched while greatly reducing its own offensive punch. In most cases, the US player will not take the risk. CAP fighters have permitted you to accomplish two things at once, namely, have a strong presence in sz28 while still effectively transferring ground units to FIC without exposing your transports to excessive risk.
Later in the game, Japan will be forced back to sz38 and must hold there as long as possible to ensure that it maintains 3 and then 2 VPs for as many turns as it can. With only 4 ACs at its disposal, a maximum of 8 fighters can defend in the sea zone without using CAP. To hold off the Allies (and the US in particular), CAP launched from the Philippines can be a particularly effective tactic.
By J4 and J5, Japan is running out of targets that it can safely attack with its air force. By this time a direct assault on the combined Allied fleet is usually not favourable to Japan. Often, Japan is left with picking off single allied ships (usually transports or subs) that are floating around in front of the main body of the Allied fleet. As such, there are plenty of fighters that can be held back from combat in the Philippines. On NCM, Japan can launch these fighters into sz38 and greatly enhance the defensive power of the sz38 fleet. I once had 5 CAP fighters in sz38 along with 8 on ACs for a total of 13 defending fighters, along with 4 ACs, 3 BBs, a few transports, a DD and a couple of subs. The Allies couldn’t touch that fleet all because the defensive strength was enhanced with CAP fighters.
Use of CAP by Allies
The Allies can also make good use of CAP to push their fleet forward in the face of what would otherwise be overwhelming Japanese strength. As the game starts, the US has 2 ACs and 7 fighters on the east side of the map. The UK adds a further three fighters and no ACs. Usually, the Midway fighter will die in the J1 assault leaving the Allies with 9 fighters and only 2 ACs. Sometimes the UK will purchase an AC but not always. With this relative abundance of fighters and a shortage of flattops, how are the Allies supposed to accumulate sufficient defensive strength to discourage a Japanese attack on the Allied fleet early in the game?
Essentially, there are two options. First, the Allies can hang back and build up enough strength in ACs and Destroyers to counter the Japanese force. Unfortunately, this is a losing strategy because all Japan needs to do to win is buy time. If the Allies don’t press forward as soon as possible, Japan wins be default. Second, (and not surprisingly, given the topic of this essay), the Allies can use CAP fighters.
At the end of Allies 1, if all has gone well, the US and UK will have a fleet in sz14 that includes most of the starting naval units from the east half of the board. In addition, the Allies will have dumped at least 3 UK and probably 2 US fighters into Queensland. This defends against a Japanese attack of Australia and positions the Allied forces for early movement into the Central Pacific. Here’s where the CAP comes in.
If the Japanese fleet can be forced out of sz28 for fear of an attack by the US on US2, the combined Allied fleet can be moved to sz32 or sz29 and the five fighters from Queensland can be launched into that sea zone as CAP. In conjunction with 4 US fighters on the 2 US ACs and with blocking units to prevent a direct assault by the mass of the IJN, the Allied fleet is able to push forward where it could not go if the CAP fighters were not available.
Another possible location for CAP is in sz28. If Japan has not positioned itself to take Papua with sufficient strength on J2 (sometimes because of a failure to take Midway or New Britain), the Allies can move fighter reinforcements to Papua on Allies 1. Combined with a 9 Sub buy on US1, the Allies can make sz28 an impregnable maritime fortress on Allies 2 by moving its entire fleet, including the 9 new US subs to sz28 and by launching up to five CAP fighters from Papua. This will result in a defensive force that either cannot be safely attacked by Japan or will cause so much damage to the IJN that Japan will not be able to recover for the rest of the game.
In summary, CAP is not a game breaking strategy but it can be an effective part of a player’s arsenal in AAPacific.