LOMAC and BVR: Beyond Visual Range Combat
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Lets take a look at the mechanics
of a BVR engagement. As we know you have to have an operating
radar and the weapons to effect an engagement outside of visual
range. A lot will depend on the ROE as I stated, but let us
assume we have a hot shooting war, and well defined battle
lines and airspace. For simplicity's sake we will only go
1V1 against a third or fourth generation fighter. It has to
be assumed that the opponent has full weapons capability and
we must treat him as lethal. A lot of things can be surmised
by who we fight and where we do it. You will likely know what
type weapons and how good (or not good) your opponent
is in the real world. Intel is not always correct, so assume
first part of a BVR engagement involves detection. Once detected,
we resolve the targets ID. With a positive ID we employ weapons
in such a manner as to kill without getting killed. Our goal
is to utilize our BVR capabilities to kill the enemy before
we have to enter the classic "furball" once inside
the visual arena. If we manage to screw up bad enough and
have the enemy in close, we have done something very wrong.
Your last ditch engagement is one with IR missiles and guns.
You really do not want to be in this position. Fighting in
a phone booth is a good way to get you and your wingman killed.
If you get into a high G turning fight, historically you don't
last very long. You highlight yourself with afterburners and
missile shots. The life expectancy in a knife fight in hostile
airspace is something like 30 - 40 seconds. It's a big waste
of taxpayer dollars too! We want to take advantage of our
technological superiority and kill bandits at long range.
We don't want the bad guy to even know what hit him. We have
this capability, but it takes training and discipline to make
it work. There are things to consider during each phase of
the process. Success will depend on the ability to understand
some basics about geometry, radar, and missile capability.
For ease of explanation we will look at three phases of a
successful BVR air-to-air engagement.
Depending on the mission, there are
many ways to detect a potential target. It could be as simple
as a dot on your scope, or as complicated as a data linked
target on youre situation displays provided by ground
or airborne assets hundreds of miles away. Utilizing the radar
to find and track a target routinely is only done with a lot
of practice. A pilot has to be extremely proficient in the
expert use of the radar and all its capabilities. Proper employment
of the radar will yield a picture of the enemy threat. Targeting
is done by the individual flight, based on threat assessment
or by AWACS or ground controlled radar. First and foremost
is how do we go about employing a weapon to kill this target
without getting killed ourselves. There are a lot of unknowns
in air combat. Many times a pilot must give his best guess
using experience and the assets available to make decisions
about how its going. No matter how its done, at some
point you have to use your radar to get some info on the potential
target. Doing this may alert the enemy and it may not, but
its a chance you must take. Radar warning gear will
tell you if you are being probed or locked. The bad guy may
have this information also. Once we use our radar to get this
information we must assume the foe is alerted. Initial detection
should build a picture of what is going on. IFF and communication
with AWACS or data link will confirm whether or not our "bogey"
is hostile. Once we determine an intercept is desired, we
set up geometry to enable our weapons to be employed as fast
Once the decision has been made to
destroy the target, we move into the prosecution phase. A
lot will depend on the range at detection and the target actions.
What kind of aircraft is it? What type weapons is he carrying?
All good questions and the fighter must assume the worst and
plan on it. Two things we can do to improve our odds are climbing
and accelerating. Climbing to a higher altitude will allow
our missile to fly farther. Utilizing kinetic energy (missile
flying downhill) and thinner colder atmosphere will allow
our missile its maximum range capability. Range will vary
dramatically as we change altitudes. A missile capable of
a 40-mile kill at high altitudes may be hard pressed to make
it to 20 miles at lower altitudes. Accelerating
gives our missile that much more kinetic energy at the start
of its flight enhancing its range. Its not a lot, but
you want everything you can get. At some point it will become
evident to the opponent that they are being prosecuted. There
are three possible scenarios. First (and most desirable) our
foe continues on with no apparent action to counter our moves.
Second, he turns and runs away! This may be just fine, as
we will have denied the enemy the use of that airspace at
that time. This may even be our mission and doing so without
firing a shot is optimum. Third, he points his nose at us
and turns on his high powered radar to lock us up! Lets take
a look at each one and how we might handle it.
If the target runs away, we prosecute
until we have successfully denied enemy use of the airspace
for however long we need to. Mission accomplished. We remain
on station until we need to do it again or we get relieved.
In the situation where no response is noted, we press into
a shot, or make him run prior to that. If you get to weapon
release without a response, you will likely win the engagement
barring any unfortunate failures. Unless your opponent is
really lucky, he will die before he can get a missile in the
air at you. Most kills even in the visual arena occur in this
fashion with the foe not knowing what hit them. Our third
choice becomes a much stickier wicket. If you cant get
away with surprise and you have the SA (situational awareness)
to continue to a missile shot, expect that your opponent will
too. Your radar warning gear should be turned on and jamming
used as conditions and equipment permit. You will likely expect
the same thing to be used against you. For
most of our scenarios (especially with LOMAC) you can expect
the Russian aircraft will get a shot off first. Most of the
ranges for these weapons are greater than western types and
an experienced opponent will use this advantage. At this point
our prosecution phase has usually wound up with the two fighters
nose on to each other and accelerating. Having an idea about
when a foe can fire will help determine what you do in the
final phases of an engagement. While the miles count down
we monitor our displays and shoot our first missile at maximum
range. At this point we then do a very high G turn to the
left or right to put the radar target at the edge of our scope.
We call this a crank, or check turn. This immediately causes
the opponents missile to have to fly farther while our
missile heads straight at him. This is also called an "F-pole"
maneuver. If youre lucky, and there is no missile headed
at you, you have a big advantage. He most likely now knows
a missile is headed his way and must do something to avoid
taking it in the face. He will have to jink hard and employ
countermeasures to shake your missile. Its likely he will
be successful as at maximum range your missile won't have
a lot of maneuvering capability left to stay with him. Its
important to understand how missiles work at this point. Just
because you get a "shoot" cue at max range, doesn't
mean your going to kill your opponent. All a shoot cue means
is the missile can make the range to hit the target if NOTHING changes. If the target jinks or maneuvers the missile has
to also make the intercept.
maneuvering uses energy and reduces its available G at intercept
and reduces its range at the same time. The aircraft getting
the first shot has a big advantage for obvious reasons. A
missile has a motor that burns very quickly and then stops
very soon after launch. Once the acceleration phase ends the
missile is coasting to the target. The farther out it is,
the slower it will be when it reaches the target. There is
nothing wrong with using two missiles to kill an opponent.
Its a good technique to use against an opponent that
has a longer-range weapon. Disciplined pilots will hold a
missile inside of max range as the closer you get the higher
the odds of a kill go up. Its called P sub K or probability
of kill. Closer shots yield higher energy/available G at intercept.
Throwing a missile out at max range will cause an opponent
to take his nose off of you and destroy his energy state trying
to defeat your incoming missile. He may even lose radar contact
with you. We term this "wasted" missile a "spoiler"
meaning it is likely not going to hit, but it forces the bogey
to react and defend against it as I mentioned above. It "spoils"
his game plan.
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