Link to mission file: HERE!
Today we'll take a look at one of the most challenging and rewarding mission-types that any air force will fly: SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses). Our mission today is to fly from our carrier to a practice area defined by a lake just east of Ramat David airfield. On three sides of the lake are various enemy anti-aircraft units that we will attempt to defeat. On the north side of the lake is an SA-2E surface-to-air missile site with a central radar and eight launchers. On the east side of the lake is an ZSU-23 gun emplacement. And finally, on the south side of the lake we've placed an SA-8 "Gecko" air defense vehicle.
The mission is set to be an armed recon, so the mission goal will be accomplished simply by passing the initial point on the run in toward the target - so no worries on mission performance. I've placed the waypoints such that you overfly the now familiar enemy cargo ship moored just off the coast while flying due east toward the target area/lake.
Our two-ship flight consists of the TA-4J Skyhawk loaded for SEAD with a pair of AGM-45B Shrikes as well as CBU-24 cluster munitions. I don't know if the Rockeye would be a better choice for this mission or not?
On the catapults we get ready to launch...
The SA-2E "Fan Song" radar vehicle. You can tell when the battery is tracking you because the antenna and individual missiles start to elevate and rotate to track your flight across the sky. As far as I can tell (read: Wiki) the SA-2E has a maximum range of approximately 43km and a minimum range of 6km. The minimum limit is a definite weakness in that if you can get inside that 6km range you can have your way with them. Obviously in an integrated defense system the "inner" ring of the SA-2E coverage would include low level IR SAMS, anti-aircraft artillery, and other weapons that would make hanging around close to an SA-2 site unpleasant.
After departing the carrier I climb to about 5,000' and order my wingman into the "High Cover" formation. Thanks to PureBlue and SixGun for the modified commands that include the "High Cover" formations. That file is available HERE!
... In the High Cover formation the wingman takes up a position about 5,000' above you and slightly behind you. This is nice to keep him out of the low level threat area while you are working down lower.
As we approach the coastline our radar shows the two bright blips of the tanker and cargo ship sitting offshore.
Crossing the coast the Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) starts showing a spike from the SA-2 site ahead. The ground radar also picks up the site as a bright blip next to the lake. The ZSU and SA-8 returns are also faintly visible on the east and south sides of the lake.
A minute or so after crossing the coastline we get the first launch from the SA-2 site. The "flying telephone pole" comes off the launcher in a huge explosion of dust and our RWR tone starts oscillating and the SAM warning light illuminates on the canopy bow.
At mid to low altitudes a Split-S is a good maneuver to drive the missile down into the ground as its predictive flight path tries to plot an intercept point where it thinks you WILL be in the future.
I've seen various launch characteristics from the SA-2 site. Sometimes you can see nearly all the missiles launch over the period of a few seconds while other times they will launch singly or in a pairs. After the initial launch the booster segment falls away after several seconds.
Pulling out of the Split-S on the deck the Fan Song goes quiet as rising terrain obscures our view from the launch site.
Popping back up the Fan Song reacquires and I take the opportunity to fire of a Shrike in the general direction of the radar. I do notice that beaming the site does seem to cause the radar signal to break lock.
Oddly enough, my Shrike homes in on one of the launchers instead of the radar (?)...
My second Shrike does worse and falls just short of the site, exploding harmlessly on the terrain..
Out of missiles I drop back down to low altitude and press in toward the target close enough to get a visual ID on the Fan Song radar. I get a padlock on the Fan Song and order my wingman to engage my target.
To my wingman's credit, he presses on toward the site even in the face of multiple launches. He fires his Shrike before starting his evasive maneuvers. I've seen other AI planes just dump all of their ordnance when they are engaged, so I was happy to see my wingman hold on to his stores.
His missile bridges the short gap to the target and through my HUD I can see the explosion as the Fan Song gets taken out.
Pressing in I decide to take a quick run on the launchers with a CBU but my release is late and I end up wasting a bomb.
Keep in mind when pulling off the target to stay to the north side of the lake since the other anti-aircraft units are lurking to the south.
Coming back around I set up for a steeper CBU run and set my release for two bombs at 400 ms.
Somehow I manage to just miss with my second run and pull up and away in frustration at my inability to put the bombs on the target.
I order my wingman to engage and he has some success but he uses four bombs per pass, quickly using up his remaining ordnance.
I make another pass and finally get some hits on a couple SA-2 launchers.
Saving my remaining CBUs we make a couple strafing runs on the remaining SA-2 launchers and we kill a few more (but not all of them) before moving on to the other target areas.
Leaving the target area I can see the smoke rising from the SA-2 site in our rear view mirrors on the canopy bow...
Heading over to the east side of the lake I quickly padlock on the ZSU-23 emplacement and do a few passes near it to judge the firing rate and accuracy.
The ZSU-23 fire is easy to avoid as long as you constantly maneuver your aircraft and keep up high bearing rate changes. Flying directly to or from the ZSU is a recipe for disaster. Even with all my jinking a few rounds get uncomfortably close - zipping past the canopy.
I have to make two passes, but eventually get a CBU to land on top of the ZSU emplacement.
While I work on the ZSU my wingman, in the high cover position, wanders too close to the south end of the lake and gets a few launches against him by the SA-8 Gecko there.
Even though I have a CBU left, I order my wingman to engage and am surprised to see him get off a successful strafing run against the SA-8.
I order him to rejoin and we head back to the west and pass south of the cargo ships on the way back to our carrier.
A successful trap ends the mission.
The mission is a success - in that we managed to get some air defenses to shoot at us and we shot back (and survived!)...
It was nice to see the SA-2 site didn't get target fixation and could divide its attention between me and my wingman...
That's 11 training mission down (how many to go??)..