We decide to upgrade the Merlin and Thunderbolt - the clan-spec PPCs will completely wreck their heat curve, but, in practice, you generally wind up firing the PPC separately from the other weapons anyway, and this will improve our long-range firepower for those mechs considerably.
Akalon comes sprinting back onto the Sparrow minutes before it departs. The mechwarrior doesn't say much, but we're happy to have him along for the ride. Mounting two clan-spec extended-range medium lasers on his Vulcan turns it into a mid-range sniper rather than a close-range brawler, and we wind up pulling the other two medium lasers in favor of heat sinks. This gives the Vulcan the ability to jump and fire twice before having to take a cooling break.
Saffel is where we're going. Only two jumps from Outreach. Things look relatively peaceful this far into the Inner Sphere.
With just one major continent, the planet is mostly water, and kind of cold.
March 16, 3051
Saffel, Draconis Combine
We get to the ground unchallenged - the local garrison does not appear to be inclined to give a hard time to a small dropship flotilla. We set up a landing zone out in the mountains and send out recon patrols. The good news - we are able to link up with elements of Densham's Dislocators, the merc company we're contracted to bail out. The bad news - the local militia and a lance of 36th Dieron Regulars are all over them. Alpha-Ranger lance counts a company of light mechs (including three heavies), as well as two lances of tanks.
Worse, the Dislocators' position is being shelled by artillery from a nearby firebase, and they've got aircraft closing in. Their screening force here consists of a pair of Vedettes, a Hetzer and a Condor, plus a Dervish - not exactly the cream of the crop.
Alpha-Ranger's goal here will be to take out the Bulldog tank hanging out in the back with all the antennae poking out of it, as that's what's coordinating the artillery bombardment. Delta-Recon is interrupting their patrol and moving in, and we've scrambled aerospace fighters of our own - hopefully we can wrap this up without a protracted fight and bust the Dislocator force out with a minimum amount of damage.
The militia fighters take a pass at us, scoring a couple of LRM hits while we fire back up. Mostly, the firing is ineffective other than taking some armor out.
"Break right!" our lance leader calls out. Artillery starts landing, but it's way behind us. Our target is that Bulldog right there. Of note is the Grand Dragon - this appears to be a souped-up version.
An allied Condor hovertank gets disabled right away by an SRM salvo from a militia Packrat, while our return fire is ineffective.
"Ugh, goddammit." comes a curse from our Griffin pilot as a Saladin zips up and lets rip with its AC/20 - the mech staggers as most of the center torso armor comes off, but our mechwarrior manages to keep to a knee drop rather than a flat out faceplant.
Delta-Recon has circled around the main hostile force and is in a good position to strike at the command Bulldog. Their Assassin spares a laser blast and a couple of SRMs for an AC/2 Carrier, followed up with a boot through the engine block, to clear the way, while the Firestarter and Spider concentrate fire on our target.
To the west, an allied merc Hetzer gets blown up by a Pegasus hovertank running circles around it.
As far as our main force goes, our Griffin 1S scores a hit on a nearby Locust, basically freezing its right MG actuator in place - the mechwarrior then follows up by hopping up and backhanding a nearby helicopter, knocking its rotor off and forcing the Warrior VTOL to make a crash-landing. Nimbly dodging a clumsy kick from said Locust, our mechwarrior watches with amusement as the bug mech falls over and finishes crushing its right weapons mount.
To the east, our Dervish and a 36th Regulars Enforcer tangle - the Enforcer's autocannon experiences its well-known ammo feed problems, letting our Dervish get in a few short-range attacks with lasers and SRMs. The two mechs circle each other, probing with kicks and both wind up taking a knee.
"Ranger Lance, fall back to the east. Maintain engagement for now."
The Dervish and Enforcer continue their duel as our mech pulls back - the Enforcer takes some more SRMs and lasers but its armor holds up, then it returns fire with its autocannon - this time the weapon functions just fine and the Dervish's left shoulder joint is shredded.
One piece of good news is that the allied Vedettes to the south manage to shoot down a Meteor strike fighter as it comes around for another pass, causing it to plow into the ground and disintegrate on impact.
"Recon lance, you've got maybe ten seconds before we have to disengage." Alpha-Ranger's lance leader informs his counterpart.
There's a burst of radio traffic from the Bulldog as a pair of artillery shells land amongst a formation of enemy tanks, disintegrating a small hovercraft and flipping over a Scorpion tank.
Luckily, Delta-Recon no longer has the problem of dealing with the Bulldog as our air support arrives and a Lightning rips the heavy tank to shreds with a burst from its nose-mounted autocannon. Our Eagle flies south, dropping five fuel-air bombs - the heroic Packrat from earlier disappears in the conflagration, while a Panther is caught in the blast as well, setting off a secondary detonation from its SRM ammo. Return fire from the Orion below hits the Eagle in the tail section, causing the aerospace fighter to vibrate as the aero jock fights to keep it level.
The Locust with the missing right-side machine gun pod takes a pair of laser blasts from our Ostroc, breaching its torso armor and brushing the internals - the bug mech staggers then falls over, its heat signature indicating critical engine shielding damage.
Our Griffin, however takes a second hit to the center torso from the Saladin - this time, the mech just can't take it and disintegrates. The allied Dervish's LRM ammo bin detonates as well after it takes fire from a Locust that gets on its tail.
Our aerospace fighters engage in a little bit of dogfighting as they leave, our Lightning taking out a Mechbuster in mid-air, while our Lucifer inflicts major damage on a Sparrow.
The rest of Alpha-Ranger lance clears the field, while Delta-Recon lance takes two casualties - the Javelin is destroyed by a deadly-accurate PPC blast from the Grand Dragon, while the Firestarter (the cool new toy) is legged by an SRM salvo from a Pegasus hovertank.
Not the most impressive first showing. We only managed to spring one Vedette, while losing three mechs (and getting three mechwarriors captured). So now we have to rescue *more* people. We did take out their command vehicle, though, and some basic trajectory analysis lets us figure out the location of the nearby artillery base.
With Freyland's Delta-Ranger lance running a diversionary attack to lure hostile forces out of there, Alpha-Command lance moves in to take the artillery base out. We've got a few choices to make.
First, where does Gamma-Strike go? This aerospace squadron (minus the Eagle, which is currently rattling back to base) can reinforce either Delta-Ranger's diversionary attack or Alpha-Command's facility attack. Their fuel-air bomb load will be highly useful in both situations.
 Air support for Delta-Ranger
 Air support for Alpha-Command
Since we're "on the attack", we can get some of our infantry to infiltrate into the artillery fire base a little bit to mess with the hostiles there. We can either have them plant some explosives or set up field guns for fire support ahead of time. The field guns would be pretty helpful in taking out any tanks as they come out of the base to engage our mechs, but if the artillery zeroes in on them, that's going to be a lot of dead dudes. On the other hand, planting bombs might get our people caught, or they may turn out to be duds.
 Plant "minefields" in artillery base
 Deploy field guns