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Beyond Visual Range Combat Tactics
Let’s start with some terminology.
DR or D-RNG (Decision Range): Minimum range at which a flight member can execute a briefed notch to beam, assess spike status and execute an abort (extend) while remaining outside the threats stern weapons employment zone (WEZ). This will be some distance greater then E-Pole to allow time for the notch and assess status.
FBR (Factor Bandit Range): FBR is the minimum range between threat groups that allows the offensive fighter to achieve F-Pole on the closest group and still maintain first launch opportunity on all groups outside this range.
ALL groups inside the FBR must be targeted. Groups outside the FBR can be engaged or avoided as necessary. Groups outside the FBR should not be targeted to maximise firepower on the groups inside FBR.
FBR is determined by threat weapons capability, your own weapons capability, closure speeds and of course, proficiency in execution of the tactics to follow.
Notch: All-aspect missile defensive maneuver to place threat radar/missile near the beam.
Shackle: maneuver to adjust/regain formation parameters.
Press: Directive to continue the attack, mutual support will be maintained.
Another term we'll need is MELD. This is the pre briefed range where radars come out of their primary search responsibility in order to find their primary target/sort responsibility. When you do this, you'll loose coverage and are vulnerable. This is why defining the FBR is important.
In order to defeat a threat and survive, we're aiming to get to Pitbull (A-Pole) while still outside the E-Pole. The problem is that both these distances change radically with course variations by yourself and the bandit. They are not static. A-Pole is at its greatest distance when you are fast and nose on (dot shot) and the target is hot to you. E-Pole is at it's greatest under exactly the same circumstances.
This is why we sprint, shoot, decelerate and crank. Sprint and shoot maximises your A-Pole. Decelerate and crank minimises your E-Pole.
Against many threat aircraft, the F16 has a much greater A-Pole and as long as you sort, target and fire, you will win under most circumstances. Sprint, shoot, decelerate and crank is always a smart thing to do and against Mig 21's and Mig 23's will usually be sufficient to defeat the bandits at no risk. You easily remain outside D-RNG when your missile goes active. Practise this tactic until its routine.
The Su 27 / AA 12 combo has a greater A-Pole potential than you do in a straight head to head shoot out. You'll never get to pitbull before you enter D-RNG. Charging straight in will never work in these circumstances. Even if you crank after launch to minimise E-Pole, if the Su does the same, he has a larger radar gimbal limit than you. The geometry means he can therefore reduce the E-Pole more than you can and you'll never reach him.
However, D-RNG and E-Pole (Rmax2) is somewhat shorter than Rmax1 firing distance. The object of the BVR joust, BVR manoeuvring and brackets/drags is to get to pitbull while remaining outside D-RNG or at worst E-Pole. It can be done, but you have to be much smarter.
The analogy here is very similar to two boxers pawing at each other at the limits of their reach (A-Pole). The boxer with the longest reach has a clear advantage. The boxer with the shortest arms sees he has an opening and goes for the biggy, a knockout punch. But to get to this distance, he exposes himself to the counter punch. He has effectively stepped inside the E-Pole! He might get away with it, but then again he may not. In BVR we're using our jab while avoiding the uppercut!
Things happen very fast in BVR when the missiles start to fly. Flying together with regular wingmen allows you to develop a sense of what they will be doing at any given time. However, with a good game plan and a thorough briefing, much of this understanding (but certainly not all) can be imparted to your flight by pre briefing the BVR moves you will make.
Individual initiative is necessary because very often lead will not be able to keep up with events in his directive calls. This is covered by some simple "rule of thumb" actions that should be performed even without directive from lead.
Inside the bandits Rmax, if you have a missile in the air, your flight has sorted the bandits (ie, you know they are all targeted and that there's no sneaky leaker floating around) and you are not spiked, you are winning and should press nose on ready to take a follow on shot.
Inside the bandits Rmax, if you have a missile in the air, but you are still being spiked, you should crank to gimbal, support your missile until timeout. If the spike is dropped during this time, press and be ready to take a follow on shot. If you remain spiked during this time notch to the beam and be prepared to turn defensive drag.
If you are winning and spiked, notch to the beam as singles. Don't notch as a pair or you present two targets instead of one to the spiking bandit.
If you do not have a missile in the air or a contact bugged/locked and you are spiked, you are loosing. Crank to gimbal. If you drop the spike, press. If you remain spiked, notch to the beam and be prepared to go defensive drag.
Notching to the beam when defensive should be done with chaff. Element should "lean" into the defensive fighter to minimise separation and maintain SA of the whole flight. Notching fighter should call the notch direction.
If I'm in a multiship BVR engagement and lead is sorting targets, what do I do if I can't sort mine?
First of all, communicate this fact.
Cowboy 1-1 Contact, 11 o'clock, 40 miles, angels 15.
Cowboy 1-2 Confirmed.
Cowboy 1-1 two contacts, 11 o clock, now 30 miles, one lead, one trail 4 miles behind, both angels 15, sorting the lead bandit.
Cowboy 1-2 not sorted, negative on the trailer, sorting the lead bandit, 11 o clock, now at 25 miles, angles 15.
Cowboy 1-1, roger your sort, targeting the trailer, 28 miles, angels 15.
Depending upon the targets range, there's a window when targets can still be sorted and bugged/locked around someone else’s contact prior to firing. You still have time to do something about the failed sort in this situation.
The contacts will have been called out and you should know where to look. Check your HSD in the right MFD to see bugged targets that the rest of your flight has sorted. If you see nothing on radar, the only thing you can do is to turn your radar in that direction and try to get a contact. Support your lead while you attempt to do this.
If you have a radar contact but cannot sort, then bug a target and inform lead. The rest of the flight can attempt to sort around your lock.
You should establish a minimum range at which any fighter who remains unsorted will simply lock into the bandit group and fire. This will be prebriefed, but 20 miles is a good number. Do not wait to be told to do this. If you are weapons free, FIRE.
Here's is an example of what I mean by expanding and contracting A-Poles and E-Poles. They are not static. Your cranks, notches and pumps change the geometry and the size of the envelopes. If you do this well, you'll get a killing shot while the bandit can't reach you.
Let's say you go head to head with the Flanker/AA12 combo. He's going to have an A-Pole advantage. He'll get first shot and first missile autonomous. If you fire and do nothing, you'll rapidly enter the E-Pole and you will get shot. He may or may not be able to avoid your missile, but that doesn't help you very much.
Now, if instead we go head to head and get off a dot shot, and then we crank to gimbals and reduce speed, we have maximised our A-Pole at the time of firing (which also maximises the E-Pole distance too), but once the missile is off, A-Pole for that missile shot and geometry is now fixed. The only thing that will change it is a course change from the bandit.
By cranking to gimbals ourselves, we can make the E-Pole much smaller. Any missile he has fired or fires now has further to go to intercept than when we were head to head with him. Our missile now stands a good chance of intercepting him or forcing a defensive reaction before we enter the now much shrunken E-Pole and got shot by his missile.
1 vs. 1
This is a "simple" 1 vs. 1 scenario (if there is such a thing) and what you describe it is a standard sprint, shoot, brake and crank tactic. There are many variations to what happens in these encounters and to some extent you control the bandit by your own actions. The AI will usually be quite predictable and more easily controlled than a human adversary.
I don't go radar off at 60 miles since I want to know where he is as soon as possible and you'll actually have a hard time detecting an F16 at this range anyway unless he's jamming. If you go LRS, you'll get a contact at 40-50 miles, RWS you'll get a contact at 40 miles. If he's in an F16, he'll see you at about the same time. I won't lock him or even bug him at this point, because he might not yet have a good idea of where I am. I might go for an offset right now (take him out to gimbals) to work out his course without bugging him. I'll hold 450-500 knots and use AB as necessary depending on how radical my jinks get.
As the range closes from 40 miles or so, you're trying to deny a lock and first shot against a similar adversary, so jammer on at this point. He knows you're there. You can try notching to the beam and rapid changes in altitude while turning jammer off to try and make life difficult for him to keep track of you. You don't want him to get a good geometrical solution to the forthcoming shoot out by being predictable. Notch to the beam in alternate directions and patiently "worm" your way to burn through distance. Once you get to burn through, which will happen at around 18 miles for an F16 against an F16 and then you need to go jammer off to deny the HOJ shot. No point in giving him a homing beacon at this point. You can also try unpredictable use of the jammer. Use it or not, blink it or keep it on. You may want to invite him to shoot early by allowing him a TWS lock, knowing that you can defeat his early missile. If you stay fast, say 450 knots, it gives any incoming missiles a greater lead pursuit offset when you notch one way and then notch back the other. This alone is often enough to defeat a missile fired at longer ranges.
Unfortunately, you're still outside of E-Pole at burn through distance. A missile fired at 18 miles is easily defeated kinematically (running away or dragging). What you're trying to do now is get inside his E-Pole and fire at a distance you can't miss. Anything inside of 10 miles is getting pretty tough for him to beat. Pretty tough for you to beat as well if he fires on you. It's now that you need that altitude and airspeed. If you were low and slow, you'll not make up the difference now, so try and arrive at shooting distance high and fast. Go full afterburner for shooting to extend your A-Pole.
2 vs. 2
It describes some problems associated with "dragging" as a defence. The scenario I'm looking at here is a 2 vs. 2 BVR against Su 27's with AA12's. Your flight has detected and engaged the Su's at 40 + miles and has initiated a bracket. We're now observing the Su's response and rapidly getting inside firing parameters for their AA12's. We're not quite in parameters for a slammer shot yet, but one side of your bracket is going for a shot, while the other arm is about to be forced defensive.
Depending on the geometry of the bracket and the reactive tactics of the Su’s, a defensive drag may actually give the offensive arm of the bracket a tougher time to get within range for his own shot. To fire as early as possible, he needs the Su’s to be inside the bracket so he can close the range as quickly as possible. He does not really want the Su’s to be chasing down the dragging F16 in the opposite direction. It’s important for him to recognize that he’s the offensive fighter and to get into missile range as soon as he can. This means full burner, CATA intercept (collision antenna train angle - the course you need to fly to intercept in the minimum distance - calculated for you by the fire control computer and displayed as a little circle or dot in the HUD towards which you must fly). Any delay in firing will give the Su’s that bit more time and room to “switch”.
If the Su’s are given enough space to “switch” with an inside out move after their missiles are autonomous (they start inside the bracket of the F16’s, but having forced one arm defensive, they can turn "inside to out" and engage the other arm from inside the bracket which will carry them ultimately outside the bracket), the dragging F16 may not be in a position to reengage and get a missile off before the Su’s can engage his wingman, especially if the Su’s themselves attempt a split. Whilst it is possible to maintain SA while dragging, it won’t always help if you end up 25 miles away from the fight and your wingman is on his own against some angry Su’s he’s been trying to close the range on.
When the dragging F16 turns to reengage, the worst-case scenario is that he is faced with 3 contacts at 25 miles, one of which he knows is his wingman. Having said that, there are many variations on the theme and every situation is slightly different. With practice and co-ordination, various tactics are effective and I don’t suggest it isn’t useful or effective, just that my experience is that reengaging after the drag requires a quick rebuild of the SA and a rapid closure of the range before you become effective in support again. It’s a real bummer when you watch your wingman go down just before you get in range to fire.
Generally, the AI will attempt to stay together (at least in pairs), but a four ship may split into two elements. Here again, the tactics differ online and off. The more sophisticated BVR tactics can generally be expected only from human opponents. In SP3 you will meet a variety of AI tactics with variations in initial formations, beaming, dragging, brackets and splits and various use of the jammer. Sometimes they have it on and switch it off. Sometimes they keep it on or off throughout. I’ve even seen them get use of the jammer about face and start with it off and switch it on as they close to missile range. You can sometimes get them to put their jammer on by going STT on them. This might help your wingman get a freebee HOJ shot if he's closer than you. It's also quite distracting for the bandit who's being locked and your supporting wingman lost in the reaction the bandit makes, thus allowing him to close unobserved. I'll call this technique "baiting".
Use of the jammer is interesting and can make or break success like said earlier.
If the Su’s continue to jam inside 20 miles and you have survived to this point, you should now have a decided advantage. You can burn through, lock ‘em up, fire and disengage, which makes this the tactic of choice under these circumstances. Your missile goes autonomous immediately, leaving you free to beam, drag or do whatever you need to do, while the Su must still support his missile (always assuming that you have remembered to turn your jammer off).
If you start a bracket early (say 40 miles, or even further out on jamming contacts) you'll rapidly get a big separation between you and your wingman or element. Let it go to 10 miles or so (use the HSD to keep tabs on each other), but anything over this and you can't really support with a slammer shot at any bandits closing on him. At this point, if you're making little nibbles into the Su 27's A pole advantage by notching to the beam and then closing a little more, you should try and notch to the beam in the direction of your wingman to close down the separation on a bracket that gets too wide.
If the Su's initiate a bracket of their own or split their formation when you bracket, try a shackle, where you and your wingman notch to the beam by turning into each other and then continue towards one other and cross over. This sometime collapses the bandit’s bracket or at the very least confuses them. You never want to be inside the arms of an opposing bracket when the shooting starts and should always attempt to avoid this. If their bracket collapses when you shackle, simply keep going and start another bracket having swapped sides.
If you are beaten off the mark by an opposing bracket, try a single side offset. Check turn away from the most distant arm of the bracket and attempt to get outside the nearest arm of the opposing bracket. Take your wing and element with you. You should be aiming to get all your flight into firing parameters against half of theirs before the farthest arm of their bracket can intervene. Go defensive individually or as elements as necessary, but you should outnumber their split formation and some of your flight will arrive in parameters untargeted. Keep tabs on the other arm of the bracket and either bug out or pump and re-engage as prudent.
Flight leads and element leads, don't forget to assign high and low scan responsibilities to your wingmen. At these ranges, it's easy for an opposing flight, particularly that singleton with snoozed radar, to get above or below the radar scan unless you split responsibilities. Once a bandit is through the cone at the end of your radar scan, as he gets closer, it's easier to stay above or below the radar cone.
Watch out for the baiting tactics described where a distant contact either locks you up or uses ECM to attract your attention, while all the while his mates are sneaking up on you. The AI won't do this but humans will. The AI also won't "blink", but humans will. Alternate aircraft switch their jammer on and off and radar lock you on and off from different directions.
Altitude splits make it difficult for an enemy flight to target all of your flight unless they are good at sorting, but make sure your altitude separation is sufficient or it won't be effective. You're aiming ideally for a vertical bracket. Don't leave your element too low to the fight as they will be the most vulnerable if the Su's are coming in at mach 2 and 40,000 ft. The low flight's slammers won't reach and they're already outranged by the Su's radar and missiles.
When going for a slammer shot, get high and fast to impart as much energy to your slammer as possible, but once fired, slow down and crank to slow the relative closure. Let your missile close the gap, not you. If you go defensive get low. You're more manoeuvrable lower down due to the denser air and the enemy missile has more drag and shorter range down low. Beaming low and forcing the missile to come down after you and then climbing back to altitude can beat a long range shot.
BVR vs. multiple groups
Tactical Range = 35 miles. Let’s call this FBR in our examples although it might vary. Anything hostile inside 35 miles becomes a target vs. monitor. Assume we’re a 2 ship and the threats may be equivalent in capability.
If the bandits are a single group, meld into the group. If the bandits are a heavy group (more than 2), we’ll meld into the group and fire if possible but abort our targeting/sort and out at D-RNG on the group. We can only target 2 of the group so it’s better to retire when outnumbered.
In the following cases, we have 2 groups of 2 bandit aircraft. In one they are split in range, in the other split in azimuth. Note that when one of the groups is outside the FBR, we have two separate BVR engagements and can flow group to group. If both groups are inside the FBR, we can only engage one group and will make no attempt to engage the far group. Minimum range criteria must be observed to deny the second group a shot from inside E-Pole. It therefore follows the flow of a BVR engagement against a single group but with much more stringent minimum range criteria. You must extend at these minimum ranges or the far group will shoot you even if you defeat the near group.
-Split range formations
2 Groups range greater than FBR, flow from group to group and target the near group, GCI/AWAC’s monitor the far group.
2 Groups range less than FBR +/- 25 miles apart; we’re not in immediate danger of being killed by the second group, but we will not have first shot opportunity on the second group. We can afford to be somewhat aggressive on the first group. Target the first group, aggressively crank (with respect to the second group as well if it can be managed). Monitor target status and RWR “spike” status. Press on the first group if necessary, but minimum range criteria out at E-Pole to the FAR group.
2 Groups range less than FBR +/- 10 miles apart. This one is difficult. We can still engage the first group, but must be much more conservative. Not only will we not have first shot opportunity on the second group, if we press the first group, we’re inside E-Pole on the second group. Do not press.
-Split azimuth formations
2 groups +/- 25 miles apart = 25 degree spread at 60 miles = 50 degree spread at 30 miles, less than 30 miles and we’re gimballed on one group. Offset at 30-40 miles (choose one side or the other and don’t get bracketed), 45 to 55 degrees offset, target the near group, shoot and crank. Monitor target status and RWR “spike” status. Press on the first group if necessary. Unlike the first example of +/- 25 miles, you should not be in danger of entering the E-Pole on the second group. There is a possible option of flowing from group to group.
2 groups +/- 10 miles apart = E-Pole on the second group. Do not press.
How can an enemy break a radar lock?
There are many reasons why a radar lock will be broken. Firstly an STT lock is the hardest to break since the radar is focused on purely on the specified target. TWS focuses less energy on a single contact because it has to keep tabs on any other contacts. It's the radar mode of choice in BVR however because unlike STT, it doesn't give a hard spike on the bandits RWR, keeps track of multiple bandits who may all be trying to kill you and works well with the TMS hat right press to lock next target.
If you have a bugged target and it suddenly breaks the bug, it's more than likely he's notched to the beam and entered the Doppler gate. He may disappear completely for a time, but you should pick him up again if you also make a course change. Watch out for him making a radical altitude change when he enters the Doppler gate. If he gets outside your bar scan window, you'll loose track of him completely. Use your RWR to check for him painting you after he's disappeared. It's not nice being painted by a bandit you don't see on radar. Search for him by tilting your radar cone up or down. Change altitude yourself.
Sometimes a bugged target at say 30 miles will use ECM and break the bug/lock that way, but then the engagement will play out something like the scenario outlined above. You just wait until burn through, bug him again and fire a slammer that will go HOJ if he keeps his jammer on. "Flashing" your jammer may do the same thing to break a bug/lock. A jamming target will not disappear from radar. You'll still be able to see a contact, but might not be able to bug or lock it. If he's dropped off your scope altogether, even though he was bugged, then he's beaming. If you didn't have him bugged, he'll also drop off if he goes above or below your scan pattern. If he is bugged, your radar will follow his altitude change in this situation.
One thing that isn't causing him to disappear from your radar is him turning his radar off. This will have no bearing on whether you still see him on your radar. It will make the paint on your RWR disappear, but you'll still be able to track him on your radar.
Credits go to Marlin and Mirv for allowing me to use their posts as reference for writing this.
Section: Falcon 4
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