Will Maneuverability Become Obsolete?

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Kryptid

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Unread post15 May 2009, 03:42

I wasn't exactly sure where to put this. This discusses technology, but also the doctrine behind the design points on future aircraft. I have so many topics in the technology forum already that I felt that I might as well put it here just to break the trend.

The title of this topic doesn't quite describe this adequately. I know that maneuverability will always be an important aspect of air combat to more or less of a degree. However, there have been technological developments that make me question whether we will keep needing to make new fighters more and more agile than their predecessors.

When I speak of maneuverability, I'm speaking mostly in terms of turn rate, turn radius and nose-pointing authority. I'm not considering acceleration and rate of climb in this. We can expect those two factors in particular to keep getting better with time since engine power will keep increasing as technology progresses.

Take a look at the EO DAS and HOBS on the F-35. This will reportedly allow it to fire a missile at any aircraft within visual range of the sensors, whether they are in front of, behind, or beside the Lightning. It doesn't have to point its nose at the target aircraft. Thus, it doesn't have to use maneuverability to target the enemy aircraft. In the future, we can only expect the descendents of EO DAS to be longer-ranged and more accurate.

I don't know if all-aspect HOBS has been demonstrated for BVR radar-guided missiles yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if such systems are developed and even become commonplace in the future. This will lessen the need for maneuverability as well.

Another thing to consider are Directed Energy Weapons. If the YAL-1 Airborne Laser is any indication, we could expect to see operational combat aircraft carrying lasers at some point in the future (sooner or later). Laser beams are made of light (and therefore travel at the speed of light), so you cannot possibly detect them before they strike you. You simply are not going to out-maneuver such a beam in an aircraft.

A cannon would still require maneuverability in order to line up a shot on an enemy aircraft. However, I suppose that it is not unreasonable to think that, perhaps some time in the future, turreted DEWs will be made small enough and efficient enough to replace the standard canon on fighter jets. I seem to recall that there was discussion of putting a maser turret on one of the F-35 models. An aircraft armed with a DEW turret (like the YAL-1) would not have to point the plane at the target in order to shoot it.

When it comes to out-maneuvering AAMs, the advent of stealth means that we can kill aircraft before they get within range to fire radar-guided AAMs. If two stealth aircraft are fighting each other, then maneuverability might be more important. However, you aren't going to use maneuverability to dodge a missile within the NEZ. Countermeasures will likely be more important than raw agility.

Although I don't know that much about SAMs, I do believe that a combination of stealth and high speed may be of more use than high maneuverability. That's one of the advantages of supercruise afterall, right?

Perhaps I'm jumping the gun (much as the gun was jumped back in Vietnam when guns themselves were thought to be obsolete). I'm not saying that we should be flying bricks, but that perhaps we simply won't need aircraft that can turn tighter than, say, an F-16.

Feel free to chime in.
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Mechanic

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Unread post15 May 2009, 05:49

HOBS shots have reduced range due energy lost in initial turn. Thus aircraft that maneuvers its nose towards target will have longer NEZ to its missiles and has advantage in engagement.

However, you aren't going to use maneuverability to dodge a missile within the NEZ.


Maneuvering considerably increases effect of countermeasures. No missile has 100%pk thus maneuvering increase one's changes of survival even if the missile is launched within NEZ. Also, if the target is maneuvering hard NEZ is smaller compared to non-maneuvering target.
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Unread post15 May 2009, 13:40

That's why Gen 5 fighters like the F-22 Raptor and upcoming PAK FA incorporate TVC, whether 2D or even 3D.

Currently, the Flanker family of air superiority fighters incorporate TVC, enhancing their maneuverability, and that is one thing that can help you outmaneuver a missile with your name written on it.
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Unread post15 May 2009, 14:51

Currently, the Flanker family of air superiority fighters incorporate TVC, enhancing their maneuverability, and that is one thing that can help you outmaneuver a missile with your name written on it.


Not if you're in said missile's No-Escape zone (NEZ). A missile can pull a heck of a lot more Gs than any human. Again, tech will only take you so far. Granted some IR seekers may be fooled by some decoys, but I doubt many will. With the pace of computer code, I wouldn't be surprised if the engineers at Hughes and Rockwell haven't already come up with code that can tell a decoy from a plane.
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Unread post15 May 2009, 17:35

Will Maneuverability Become Obsolete?


The problem with your question/statement is the relevance to the planform.

Is maneuverability that important to guy driving a transport aircraft? An ISR aircraft? Tanker?

Oh, and yes, they're a big part of "air combat".

For a fighter, I don't think you'll find many, if any pilots willing to give up maneuverability. The maneuver potential or capability of their aircraft is something one can rely upon. For example, the F-22 guy can use it's maneuverability to help solve a part of the tactical problem. As great and important as supercruise, advanced integrated avionics and stealth is, I'd be surprised if you can find a Raptor driver who says they're willing to give up it's incredible maneuverability.

The same for the future F-35 guy. Whatever maneuver capability he has, he'll be glad to have it. I guarantee it.
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Unread post17 May 2009, 16:11

Kriptid,

I have thought about this too, I like to imagine what the future may hold. I think when we get to 6th gen fighters, maneuverability will not be a primary concern for the reasons you stated. I think stealth will need to become true all aspect stealth and need to cover more of the EM and thermal spectrum. Maneuverability will still be needed to some extent, if you get a feint radar return and the other guy keeps on flying strait you will have a better opportunity to lock him and hit him with a beam weapon, if he turns and stays at the edge of your detection range, it will be much more difficult to get a solution. That would be interesting, two fighters a hundred miles apart "dogfighting". I also think it is too far in the future to really know what weapons, tactics and abilities will be. There may not be any fighters, just satellites fighting for air superiority and assisting with close air support.
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skyhigh

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Unread post18 May 2009, 00:08

Maneuverability won't become obsolete.

One case: The Rhino lacked the maneuverability of the MiG-17, -19 and -21 which was compensated for in the Eagle.

Another case: During the Battle of Britain, the RAF Spitfires used their superior maneuverability to good effect against early model Luftwaffe Bf 109s.

Third case: The IJNAS (Imperial Japanese Naval Air Service) A6M Zero easily outturned all Allied fighters in the first several months of the Pacific War.

Fourth case: The F-22 Raptor is the first U.S. fighter in active service to have TVC, closing the gap with the Flanker family.

Fifth case: The Ling-Temco-Vought F-8 Crusader was regarded as the "last gunfighter" and proved to be the USN's best threat to the VPAF MiG-17s, with its good maneuverability at fairly high speeds (being equipped with hydraulic controls).

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Unread post18 May 2009, 01:34

I think we're all aware that no matter what, the world will continue to build better mousetraps, planes, missiles, idiots, tanks, computers, cars, and hopefully banhammers.
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Unread post20 May 2009, 19:46

As missile tech improves, so will the defenses to it; I think pilots will always have to know how to dogfight - no electronic defense for a bullet...
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Kryptid

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Unread post22 May 2009, 00:34

Hmm, let me see if I can imagine a scenario where maneuverability isn't needed.

Imagine an aircraft the size of a 747 (in terms of weight and payload capacity). However, this aircraft is similar to the XB-70 in terms of speed and altitude performance. It is also built with planform alignment, radar-absorbing materials and other stealth considerations to produce an RCS similar to that of the Raptor (I don't think its larger size would make that impossible, if I understand stealth correctly). It is fitted with laser turret similar to that aboard the YAL-1 Airborne Laser. Maybe the aircraft can serve as its own AWACS as well (if its other design points don't rule this out).

Just for the sake of referring to the aircraft, let's call it DEWDROP (Directed Energy Weapon Digital Ranging and Observation Platform). It's something of a backronym.

Based on what I've read about the YAL-1, the design goal of its laser is to be able to destroy liquid-fueled ICBMs at a distance of 600 km and solid-fueled ICBMs at a distance of 300 km. A period of 3-5 seconds is required for the laser to destroy the missile. It can fire up to 20 full-powered shots and about 40 low-powered shots for more fragile targets. If DEWDROP carried a laser with this specifications, it would potentially be able to both detect and destroy Flankers far outside of their detection range and possibly even their missile range. I guess it depends on how tough they are when compared to ICBMs. If a Flanker manages to get a missile shot off, the laser could destroy the missile en route before it gets dangerously close. Plus, the DEWDROP's altitude and speed will help give it extra time to deal with missile shots at it.

When facing Raptors, DEWDROP will not enjoy the same kind of advanced warning that it would have against nonstealthy MiGs and Sukhois, due to the much shorter detection range against low RCS targets it would have. Depending on the number of Raptors, DEWDROP might able to multi-task between shooting down their missiles and shooting them down. I can't say that for sure, though. However, it might be possible to deal with them if several DEWDROPs were deployed in far removed corners of the combat arena. If one encounters a flight of Raptors, the information could be data-linked to the other DEWDROPs and they could pick off the F-22s from a distance.

DEWDROP would be VERY expensive, though. :shock:
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thegreekness

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Unread post22 May 2009, 02:02

thats assuming the beam weapon is completely reliable and 'DEWDROP' is able to power all of its shots. Also - no matter what position the turret is mounted, there will be a blind spot.
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Unread post22 May 2009, 05:01

'DEWDROP' (as in the YAL-1) has been cancelled, and even if it was possible, I doubt the USAF has someone with that few braincells as to suggest that--or for that matter to FLY that mission. Remember, the AWACS, JSTARS, and Tankers are always the most protected planes aloft. A plane like this would be too.

No matter what, the ability to move around the sky will always be handy...Even Jean-Luc Picard is a fan of maneuverability....
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Unread post22 May 2009, 16:02

Hmm, let me see if I can imagine a scenario where maneuverability isn't needed.


I can imagine one...get the Gunstar from "The Last Starfighter"!

Image

I've seen it take buttloads of laser fire so you know it's tuff. Then when all targets are in range, use the "Death Blossom" and poof, you're an ace multiple times over!

Nothing can match it, not even the much vaunted F-22 Raptor!
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