Fighter agility [Oh NO! Another ACM thread <sighs> :-)

Unread postPosted: 13 Feb 2021, 13:38
by spazsinbad
Fighter agility [3 page PDF of article attached]
Aug 2019 Air Marshal (ret’d) Greg Bagwell CB CBE

"Undeniably popular, public air displays – where fighter pilots and manufacturers aim to out-stunt each other – have the effect of distorting what really matters in modern air combat. Air Power Association President, Air Marshal (ret’d) Greg Bagwell CB CBE sets the record straight…

Who can forget the immortal Top Gun quote: “I feel the need, the need for speed”? However, I’m sorry to tell you that this iconic movie grossly misrepresents the finer art of air combat, where employing Maverick’s questionable tactics would end up with you on the dreaded “alternates board” [what is this?]. And the high-agility airshow routines beloved of today’s fighter manufacturers are almost as misleading as Hollywood’s take on aerial combat.

Firstly, we should separate the two rather distinct phases of an air-to-air engagement. The first is the beyond-visual-range (BVR) portion, where aircraft engage in a supersonic game of 3D chess, and the second (which is the one that Top Gun and air displays try to emulate) is the close-in fight or the basic fighter manoeuvres (BFM) phase.

While I will touch on each in turn, for those who want a more academic schooling, I thoroughly recommend the book that was handed to me as I began my F/A-18 exchange tour: Fighter Combat: Tactics and Manoeuvring by Robert L Shaw. Here you will learn about turn rate versus radius, and two-circle and one-circle fights – no self-respecting TOPGUN instructor would be seen without a copy on their shelf.

Supersonic Top Trumps
Before I discuss the two phases, it’s important to recognise that fights are rarely fair or even. Indeed, knowledge of the relative performance characteristics of each aircraft and their weapon systems are vital if you want to exploit your advantages and avoid your weaknesses – more supersonic Top Trumps than chess. Knowing the optimal ranges, speeds, heights and missile fly-outs of your aircraft and those of your adversaries are key factors in deciding your tactics. Also, it is extremely rare for combat to be fought between single protagonists, and multiple aircraft tactics bring in additional factors. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s stick to a 1-v-1 scenario.

Theoretically, all engagements start some distance apart, that distance being governed by the detection ranges of each of the protagonists. As soon as an aircraft detects or is vectored on to another potentially hostile aircraft they will begin to try to gain a positional and energy advantage, while trying to establish the identity or intention of the other aircraft. Sometimes the rules of engagement will demand a visual identification, in which case the aircraft will close until the second phase of BFM begins. However, if the rules allow, and the other aircraft has been identified as a ‘bandit’, then the aim will be to engage in a way that maximises the probability of a kill, while minimising the chances of being killed. Real combat is all about gaining an advantage, where the simple aim is to achieve the optimal launch of your missile (which is affected by weapon performance, launch speed and altitude), at the same time as increasing your distance/immunity from your opponent.

The missile edge
Obviously, the advent of active missiles, which do not require the launch aircraft to continue illuminating the target with its onboard radar, has resulted in a ‘fire and forget’ tactic, where after launch you quickly change your direction to increase your distance from your foe. In modern air combat it is not unusual for aircraft to never close to visual combat. So, all those fancy moves you see at airshows really are just for show and the desperate end game of a BVR engagement gone wrong.

But, sometimes, and for a variety of reasons, aircraft do end up closing into visual range, and this is when your BFM skills are tested. Nevertheless, if one aircraft can close unseen by the other, this can become a rather one-sided fight.

The first thing to recognise is that the principles of BFM have diminished recently because of technology. The original ‘science’ of BFM manoeuvres was all about gaining a positional advantage to achieve a firing solution with your guns, and, more often than not, a gun fixed to the longitudinal axis of your aircraft. Here the use of best turn rates (instantaneous and sustained), preservation of energy and the use of gravity were all about gaining ‘nose authority’ (pointing at them rather than them pointing at you), because that was where your gun pointed too.

However, the advent of close-in missiles (radar and infrared-guided), and off-boresight targeting through helmet-mounted sights, has made these tactics increasingly obsolete, although still widely practised. Placing a crosshair in your visor on your opponent just by turning your head – rather than your aircraft – and launching a missile that immediately homes in on that aim or source is so much simpler than manoeuvring your nose/gun on to them.

So, the air combat moves that we see in the movies and at airshows are increasingly irrelevant today, although relative performance and energy are still key to optimising the employment of your weapons, while evading those of your enemy. So speed still has its place, but in Top Gun 2 it might be more appropriate for Maverick to say: “I feel the need, the need for a fused sensor, off-boresight, agile, energy efficient, long-range, high-probability-of-kill, hardened and secure weapon system with exceptional self-defence aids and low signature.” [F-35 anyone? Buehler?] His wingman would agree, provided he hadn’t been replaced by an AI chip. I am of course making the leaping assumption that even Maverick is needed, but that’s another article."

Source: AirForces Monthly Magazine August 2019 #377

Re: Fighter agility [Oh NO! Another ACM thread <sighs> :-)

Unread postPosted: 13 Feb 2021, 15:15
by spazsinbad
BVR Combat [3 page PDF of article attached]
Dec 2019 Air Marshal (ret’d) Greg Bagwell CB CBE

"As you might expect, beyondvisual- range, or BVR, combat is the term used to describe aerial engagements when neither aircraft is able to detect the other with the naked eye. Air Power Association President, Air Marshal (ret’d) Greg Bagwell CB CBE, examines what’s required to ‘reach out and touch’ an enemy aircraft.

In a previous article I discussed the finer arts of dogfighting, a situation in which two or more aircraft engage in visual combat – see Fighter agility, August, p84-86. Usually this state of affairs arrives either because the aircraft haven’t seen each other earlier or the rules of engagement have necessitated a visual identification. Of course, dogfighting was borne of an era when aircraft were only able to engage each other in combat using relatively short-range guns or cannon, normally in fixed installations. Now, we see combat aircraft carrying a much more varied and capable suite of missiles that are able to ‘reach out and touch’ another aircraft, dozens or even hundreds of miles away. Air combat today is a very different proposition than it was during the early days of air power. This includes the use of either third-party cueing (such as an airborne or ground-based radar) or onboard methods such as radar or infrared search systems.

The simple aim of BVR combat then is to engage and destroy a confirmed enemy aircraft before they do the same to you. This type of combat can be split into four simple phases, namely: detection, identification, engagement and disengagement. Let’s investigate each in turn.

This is all about the use of any means at your disposal to try to pinpoint a potential foe. Since the Battle of Britain and until very recently, long-range detection was almost exclusively through radar detection (the reflection of radio waves from an aircraft’s skin). However, while radars have become increasingly sophisticated, so has the design of aircraft to limit their reflectivity through stealth techniques that include optimal shaping of the airframe and the use of less reflective materials. More recently, new techniques have come to the fore, which include infrared, sound or electronic detection of emitted signals. All of these have become increasingly effective and some can even be exploited by space-based assets. Ideally, today a BVR fighter would want as early a detection range as possible, but typically this might be between 50 and 100 miles (80 and 161km) against a non-stealthy combat airframe, and double that for a large aircraft.

This can be quite a challenge in BVR conditions, for obvious reasons, but a combination of intelligence from multiple sources may enable an almost forensic-like gathering of information, such as origin, tracks, behaviour and signatures, all of which begin to build a picture of just who that blip or blips on the radar might be. Increasingly, modern aircraft will have a number of technologies on board that will aid early identification. Often referred to as nonco- operative target recognition or NCTR, these, as the name suggests, do not require the ‘target’ aircraft to assist in the process.

Of course, knowledge of exactly what that return is might still be insufficient and their ‘intent’ will also often be key in deciding if they can be engaged or not.

Assuming a hostile aircraft has been identified and it meets the criteria for engagement, the next phase is quite simply the act of shooting them down before they (or any other ‘hostiles’ in the area) can do the same to you.

But firing first and immediately isn’t the default action. Increasingly, fighter aircraft are equipped with active missiles that are capable of homing on to a target autonomously; on the other hand, the older semi-active missiles require the target to be constantly illuminated (usually by the radar of the aircraft firing the missile) throughout missile flight. The major disadvantage of semiactive missiles, therefore, is that the illuminating aircraft has to continue pointing at (and therefore getting closer to) the target throughout the missile flight time. In contrast, active missiles, more commonly known as ‘fire and forget’, allow the launching fighter to begin its escape manoeuvre long before the weapon has reached its target.

But even active missiles will have some limitations on the range at which they go active, plus their kinematic performance (energy) will degrade as distance increases. So, there will be some rules of thumb when employing such weapons that give the best possible probability (or even certainty – known as a no-escape zone) for a ‘kill’. Rather than firing first, it’s who fires with the best probability of kill that prevails.

This involves more than just heading off and looking for the next fight; it’s an integral part of the endgame of the one you have just left. If the enemy aircraft you have just engaged is also equipped with active missiles then escaping their shot is just as critical as trying to maximise the probability of a kill for yours. BVR can often resemble a game of cat and mouse, where each aircraft aborts an attack or several attacks while seeking to gain an advantage. And, of course, you must never discount the likelihood of other aircraft being in the area and the need to be constantly vigilant.

In this article I have dramatically shortened and simplified a skill which takes years to learn and refine, and relies on a complex fusion of sensors, where artificial intelligence can already aid the identification of the highest-priority targets. But no two engagements will be the same, and with the speed of closure typically being up to 20-30 miles (32-48km) a minute you have to think and act very quickly. The best and simplest way to describe BVR combat is that it’s like 3D, supersonic, long-range chess, where you first have to find the other side’s pieces, and where only the victor lives to fight another day."

Source: AirForces Monthly Magazine December 2019 #381

Re: Fighter agility [Oh NO! Another ACM thread <sighs> :-)

Unread postPosted: 14 Feb 2021, 03:12
by element1loop
The major disadvantage of semiactive missiles, therefore, is that the illuminating aircraft has to continue pointing at (and therefore getting closer to) the target throughout the missile flight time.

Only if the opponent aircraft knows a 5th gen is there and can track or get a warning and SA on the attack (and probably multi-axis, plus multiple follow-up missiles as needed).

There's no reason why flanking ambush VLO aircraft, with sufficient performance (and fuel), can't fire and maintain radial distance (i.e. speed, and acceleration will still matter) or even open the distance to flanking as they counter-move durign the fight while approximately maintaining advantageous radius and VLO advantages with it, while still holding a passive lock, with occasion active laser-ranging to vector missile when it is approaching terminal. If the passive sensors are long enoug range in a transonic or low supersonic fight, there's no need to use semi-active homing (unless F-22A maybe, bur lack of EOTS, but even that's doubtful at this point) so even semi-active homing would not the best use of the BVR potential available now. More likely a passive track, that's derived from off-board cues, possibly a BLOS radar with BLOS comms support, or multi-spectral satellite cuing to orient pilot(s) in a flight, and their networked passive sensor(s) of the whole widely dispersed flight (most of which can not and will not be seen ... if any of it is ...), of everything close to such a high-priority hostile BVR aircraft.

I'm going to hit the brakes and he'll fly right by... /// You're going to do WHAT?!

Re: Fighter agility [Oh NO! Another ACM thread <sighs> :-)

Unread postPosted: 23 Feb 2021, 01:06
by spazsinbad
Software-Defined, Unmanned Jets Pitched For USAF Training Role [just for the quote below]
16 Feb 2021 Steve Trimble

"...Brett Abbamonte, military advisor to Blue Force Technologies, previously flew Lockheed Martin F-35Bs for the U.S. Marine Corps. The majority of his F-35B training did not involve dogfighting, but he did practice beyond-visual-range (BVR) engagements with adversary aircraft carrying pods that emulate the signatures of Chinese or Russian electronic systems such as radars, electronic warfare and infrared search-and-track sensors.

“There would be weeks on end where I would fly multiple sorties and never visually see a Red aircraft because, if we’re doing our jobs correctly, we’re killing them all BVR,” Abbamonte says...."

Source: ... ining-role