3.0 Manual Tactics Section - Introduction to the BVR Fight
Edited by Ed "Skater" Lynch
For those of you that are "old
salts" when it comes to flight sims, and for those of
you that are new to flight sims, this article should be of
some value to you. This
is largely a reprint from the manual of one of the best combat flight sims ever released. Spectrum
Holobyte's Falcon 3.0 was indeed the father of all modern,
"realistic" combat flight sims. The F3 manual was
one hell of a paper weight. Weighing in at something like
seven pounds, the F3 manual was jam packed with information
on flying the sim, and the usage of tactics, and the deployment
of weapons and the employment of the aircraft. Here is a little
jewel from the tactics section. Enjoy!
Credit goes to Microprose / Hasbro Interactive, Spectrum Holobyte,
and the Falcon 3.0 team.
Introduction To The BVR Fight
The chapters so far have addressed
the basic building blocks of air combat. All air combat is
built on 1v1 BFM maneuvering within visual range. BFM is the
first subject taught to all fighter pilots. Once a fighter
pilot learns how to maneuver against targets he can see, it
is time to learn to maneuver against targets that are beyond
visual range (BVR). The only objective in this section of
the book is to peel back the cover slightly on BVR air combat
and expose you to the next subject area taught to fighter
pilots after basic fighter maneuvers.
Modern fighters are equipped with
sensors that can be used to detect targets out beyond visual
range. The most common sensor used to find the enemy is the
radar. When a target is found on radar, a series of tactical
reactions are set in motion. These reactions to the enemy
are called tactical intercepts. Tactical intercepts consist
of a specific set of procedures using the radar taken by a
fighter to gain an advantage on the enemy. There are six basic
steps or phases to a tactical intercept. They are:
A fighter pilot must understand and
execute each phase. Failure to successfully execute any one
of these phases will cause the breakdown of your tactical
game plan. Before you fly a mission with your wingman, you
should address each one of these tactical intercept phases
and figure out how the flight will accomplish them.
You can't do anything until
you find the enemy on your radar. At first glance, this seems
straightforward. You just get pointed at the bandit, and he
should appear on the scope. Not so fast. Radars have specific
search volumes that are limited in elevation and azimuth.
Modern fighter radars move a radar beam across 120° of
azimuth, as shown in the figure below. This sweep is called
a bar. The pilot can usually select the number of bars, up
to the radar's maximum capability (usually 4 to 6 bars). In
the top part of the image below, the pilot has selected a
1-bar scan, while the bottom half shows a 4-bar scan.
Each bar takes a specific amount
of time for the radar to search, so it is not always advisable
to select the maximum bar sweep. For example, if you know
the bandits altitude as you approached, you do not need a
4-bar scan. You can put more radar energy out there and increase
your probability of detection if you scan with fewer bars.
Along with selecting the bar scan, the pilot can also crank
the entire search volume up or down. If the bandits are running
in on the deck, you can select a 1-Bar scan and crank down
to search the deck for the targets. In a 1-bar scan, you are
searching the area of interest faster because you are not
wasting radar sweeps searching empty air space.
As you go into combat with your
wingman, you should have a radar search plan. Normally, you
don't want to have all the radars in the flight searching
the same piece of sky. In many cases, GCI will call out targets
and get you pointed at the enemy. if you know the target's
altitude, then you can select a smaller elevation scan pattern
(fewer bars). Most of the time, however, you will want to
search the greatest volume of airspace, selecting the maximum
number of bars.
Once you have detected the bandits, you must sort them. Sorting
is the process of determining the following information about
- How many are out there?
- What formation are they in?
- What are they doing?
As soon as each fighter in the flight
completes his sort, he must pass the information to the rest
of the flight. This communication serves several purposes.
First, you are passing along your radar situational awareness
(SA) to the other flight members, which will build their SA.
Second, you are comparing radar pictures of the air battle,
which helps you confirm that you are seeing what you think
you are seeing. Here is an example of the radio calls during
"Falcon One has a two ship,
line-abreast, high-aspect. South target is at angels 22. N
orth target is at angels 20."
"Falcon Two has a single high-aspect
target at angels 22."
From this call, you can tell that
number 2 has not detected one of the bandits. He knows that
there is another guy out there, and he should look for him.
The call by lead that the targets are at high aspect answers
the "what they are doing?" question. A high aspect
means that the enemy has his nose on you.
In the targeting phase, the
flight takes a specific target of responsibility. A targeting
plan must be briefed before the mission and executed after
the flight has sorted the enemy.
This is the phase where you
actually close on the bandit. The intercept profile is designed
to get the flight into weapons parameters. Once you have targeted
the bandits, it is time to drive the flight into a position
to shoot. If you have BVR missiles, such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM,
then you fly an intercept profile that would place you in
the weapons envelope of the missile. If you only have AIM-9M
Sidewinders, you fly a profile that will put you in the best
position to fire these shorter range missiles. There is one
other goal of the intercept profile: in addition to driving
you into weapons parameters on the bandit, your profile should
keep the bandit from getting into weapons parameters on you.
In the engagement phase, the
element (your flight) enters a visual fight with the bandits.
Hopefully, this will result in a brutal ambush of the enemy.
Most of the time, you are not so lucky. At the same time as
you find the bandits on radar, they find you. As you merge
together, your element enters a maneuvering fight against
the enemy formation. Element maneuvering, or ACM, is another
subject, but the bottom line is fight your best 1v1 BFM. Never
do anything in a two-versus-many environment that you wouldn't
do in the 1v1 environment.
Along with fighting your best
BFM, you should keep in mind the position of your element
in relation to your escape window. Even if you turn all the
targeted bandits into scrap metal, you still need to get away
from the fireball. Big bright lights in the sky have a way
of attracting attention.
Putting It All Together
The best way to show you how to perform
a tactical intercept is to go through an example BVR fight
from start to finish. This example will be a single F-16 (since
we haven't covered two-ship tactics yet) against a two-ship
of MiG-29s. The fight will start from 30 miles out at 160°
of left aspect from the Fulcrums. We will assume for the sake
of this discussion that no BVR missiles will be fired and
the targets must be visually identified (VID).
We are out there, a single ship
trying to find the bad guys. Obviously the farther out we
see them, the better. AWACS or GCI (ground-based radar) can
help us get pointed in the right direction, but eventually
we must find the bandits with our own radar in order to get
a missile off the rail as soon as the bandits get within visual
range. Once we get the targets on our radar, we need to analyze
the intercept geometry to make sure we are running on the
correct target. There is no need, for example, to try to run
an intercept on a zero aspect target at 30 miles, we would
never catch them. AWACS calls a target, and we get turned
and point our radar in the right direction. Looking at the
scope, we find targets at 160° left aspect at 30 miles.
The Sort/Targeting Phase
The next thing we have to do
is sort the bandits. During the sort phase, we should try
to determine how many bandits are out there and what formation
they are flying. From the radar picture shown below, we determine
that we have a two ship in line abreast formation.
We have sorted the bandits, so now
it is time to go to the targeting phase. In the targeting
phase, we pick a single target and lock on to him. Since these
guys are flying a visual formation, we can lock on to either
guy as long as we keep in mind which one we have targeted.
Now we have to complete the
intercept, get a VID and shoot this guy. Since we need to
get a VID to shoot these bandits, the best intercept to fly
is a stern conversion. By rolling out the bandit's 6 o'clock,
we will have time to pick up a tally on the bandit and get
a shot. If we go in at high aspect, we may not see the bandit
until we are inside Rmin for a missile shot.
What is a stern conversion, you ask?
A stern conversion is shown in the next image.
There are several steps to flying
a stern conversion intercept.
- Switch to SAM (Situation Awareness Mode)
or STT (Single Target Track) radar mode to get the aspect
angle of the bandit formation. The next image shows a
radar display with the aspect angle of the target marked.
- Turn opposite the aspect angle
to get turning room on the targets. In other words, if the
aspect is 160° left aspect, then you need to turn right
to move the targets to the left side of the scope. Do not
turn so far that you take them off the scope. Just turn
far enough to put them about 40° on the scope. The below
image shows how you make this turn. Notice the figure has
a god's-eye view and a radar view. All you are going to
get in the jet is a radar view. It is up to you to use your
gray matter to convert a radar display to a god's-eye view
of the intercept.
Now is a good time to show what happens if you don't analyze
the aspect properly and turn the wrong way for offset. Let's
say the aspect was 160° left and you turned left for
offset. Would this work? The answer is no, and below shows
why. If you turn the wrong way, you will actually be taking
away your turning room rather than increasing it. This will
not be obvious by just looking at the target's position
on the radar scope.
- The next step is to hold the targets
at 40° on the scope and drive in. In order to hold the
targets at 40°, you may have to check turn into them
occasionally. The explanation for this is a little outside
the scope of this book, but put simply, a target that is
not on a collision course will always drift away from you.
Think about this statement in driving terms. If you are
driving on a two lane highway, you will notice that the
oncoming traffic moves across your windshield and then suddenly
flashes by. The oncoming traffic never just stays in the
exact same spot on the windshield unless you are about to
end up with chrome between your teeth. The same thing applies
in air combat. During an intercept, you are driving the
target away from a collision angle in order to get turning
room. That means that the target will keep drifting farther
away from you unless you turn to hold it at a particular
In order to perform an intercept, all you have to do is
follow the procedures. It's just like baking a cake. You
don't have to understand the chemical process, you just
have to follow the steps.
- When you get to 10 miles from the
bandits, go to STT and turn to put the target you are locked
to in the HUD. This is the part of the intercept where things
get serious. There are two reasons that we put the target
on the nose at 10 miles. The first reason is so we can get
a tally on the target. In the HUD, we have a Target Designator
box with a target in it. The next image shows a HUD with
the TD box labeled.
The other reason we turn to put the
target on the nose at 10 miles is to get small. It is much
harder to see a jet that is pointing at you because there
is less surface area to look at.
When we get a tally on the target,
the intercept is over and it is time to use BFM. Remember
in this fight that we only have a TD box on one of the two
targets. As soon as we get a tally on the bandit in the HUD,
we need to look for the other guy. Don't make the mistake
of putting your eyes into the "random flail" mode.
If the bandits have stayed in a visual formation (which is
about 90% of the time), then the other bandit will be just
outside the HUD when you get a tally on the guy in the TD
The Engagement Phase
Now that we have two MiG-29s
in sight, we must kill the one in the TD box fast and then
go 1V1 with the other Fulcrum. If you can't smoke the bandit
in the TD box fast, then you have to beat it. For this reason,
be ready to shoot as soon as you can VID the target. Shoot
and kill and, if you miss, do the "Jane Fonda routine"
and give peace a chance. While you're giving peace a chance,
be at high speed and high angle-off from the Fulcrums. Again,
you must resist the temptation to enter a turning fight.
Let's say we do kill one of the Fulcrums
at the merge-now what?
When entering a dynamic turning fight
against a very maneuverable aircraft in an F-16, you need
to remember one concept, lead turn. My game plan if I'm committed
to stay and fight is to use a nose low slice at the pass and
lead turn at every opportunity. Once you turn 180°, how-ever,
your escape window is shut and unless something strange happens
(like the MiG is hit by a meteor), you must kill the bandit
in order to survive the fight. In a lead turning fight, you
must initiate your turn on the Fulcrum prior to passing his
3/9 line. In addition, strive to be at corner airspeed on
the initial turn at the merge.
While you are in this lead turning
fight with the Fulcrum, think weapons. A Sidewinder can fly
better BFM than you can, so put one in the air if you get
a chance. Keep in mind, however, that at high aspect when
you are in missile parameters on the MiG-29, he may also have
you in parameters for his missile. Again, you must fight hard
because it is him or you once you enter a turning fight.
And as always practice makes perfect.
If you want to be the best, you must practice like the best.
Part One: The Geometry
of Air Combat
Part Two: Introduction
to Offensive BFM
Part Three: Introduction
to Defensive BFM
Part Four: Introduction
to Head-On BFM
to go to top of this page.