by Andy Bush
This article will cover weapons delivery procedures and techniques for employing radar guided missiles, infrared guided missiles, and the gun in the Strike Fighters, Project One (SFP1) simulation. The idea for this article came from questions that were posted on our SFP1 forum. As such, the tips and techniques here are intended for application with that sim only…however, you may find some of the info has applicability to other sims. Like in any simulation that attempts to model real life to some degree, you will find that operating the radar and firing the weapons in the sim is only partially “realistic”. In the article, I’ll point out where the sim “reality” departs from the real world. SFP1 is not intended to be as “hardcore” as some other sims…but the game can be played as a pretty good simulation of what it was like to work with the relatively simple avionics and weapons of this era of air combat.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the subject, let’s cover a couple of things that will set the stage for your understanding of A2A avionics and weapons in the game. First, we are dealing with aircraft, avionics, and weapons that span a considerable period of rapid growth and development of air combat systems. In the basic game, you have two late 1950s jets, the A-4 and the F-100, that have very limited A2A systems. Rounding this out are two 1960s era fighters, the F-104 and the F-4, that have systems that increase the complexity of target acquisition and targeting. Because of this, you will find that certain weapons are available only in certain aircraft and only in the time period that is consistent with the aircraft’s usage during the years covered by the sim.
Second, SFP1 is a game that is enjoying a wide range of player modification in aircraft and weapons. While this certainly enhances gameplay, it also presents the problem of avionics and weapons delivery realism with regard to these add-on systems. Not every add-on aircraft will have correct avionics, nor will every add-on weapon be true to life. In most cases, these add-on features will draw heavily upon systems and characteristics programmed into the original. When this is the case, do not be surprised if you are not able to operate the add-on aircraft or weapon exactly as may have been the case in real life.
In this first article, I’m going to deal only with what it takes to make the game “work”. I may mention real world info from time to time, but if I do, it will only be to make the point of what to do in the game…not what to do in reality. My point in saying this is that there are many techniques, tips, rules of thumb, etc that were used in real life to improve weapons performance, reliability, and accuracy. I have no reason to believe that any these can be credibly used in SFP1…some may have applicability, others may not. The end result is that all techniques and tips in this article are based on what I have observed to be effective in the game.
I’ll begin by discussing how to operate the radar and then will move on to explaining the radar scope, HUD, and monitor screen displays. Following that, I’ll discuss the operational limitations, strengths, and weaknesses of the individual missile systems (the AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-9 Sidewinder and the AIM-4D Falcon). I’ll finish with a discussion of the gunsights in SFP1…both the fixed sight in the A-4 and F-4C and the LCOS systems in the F-100, F-104, and F-4D and E.
SFP1 Radar Operating Concepts, HUD Displays, and Targeting Symbology
Using the radar does two things for you in this game. One is to provide range information to you. The other is to provide targeting info to the missile and gun weapons computers. One thing that the radar in the game does not do well is provide steering information. In real life, both the F-104 and F-4 radars provided visual cues that allowed the pilot to fly a pursuit course to the target. In the F-4, running the attack radar was one of the primary duties of the F-4 Weapon System Operator (WSO), the “backseater’ or “GIB” (Guy In Back”). For the most part, these steering cues are absent from the game in all levels of play. While the radar does provide an indication of target bearing, this is only in the general sense and is not adequate for flying a precise intercept.
Lock-on procedures and radar scope presentations vary with the level of difficulty selected. Use the Options page to select one of three levels of difficulty…Easy, Normal, or Hard. In addition, you may affect radar operation by individually selecting levels of difficulty using the customization feature.
Note: Unless specifically mentioned, assume that you are in the Search Mode. Boresight procedures and techniques will be discussed separately.
General Radar Operating Features
Unless specifically mentioned, all references in this section refer to the F-4E. F-4C and D and F-104 differences will be discussed as necessary.
Your radar scope display will depend on the selected level of difficulty. In Easy mode, you are provided a 360-degree coverage around your aircraft. In Normal and Hard modes, the radar is limited to a “pie” shaped area centered off the jet’s nose. The radar “scans” two ways. One is in the horizontal plane (called “azimuth”) …this is the typical side-to-side sweep as seen on the scope…and the other is the search pattern in the vertical plane (called “elevation”). In this game, regardless of level of difficulty, the elevation search pattern is approximated by the position of the gunsight reticle.
Regardless of level of difficulty, you will operate the F-104 and F-4 radars by use of the Page Up, Page Down, Home, and Insert keys. Note: I realize many of you may have reprogrammed your keyboard functions to a HOTAS. In this article, I’ll stick with the default settings for ease of discussion.
The Page Up key allows you to select the radar mode. There are four modes, but only the Search and Boresight modes apply to A2A employment. Begin your intercept or attack by selecting either Search or Boresight. Search mode is basically a BVR (Beyond Visual Range) mode, while Boresight is primarily intended for WVR (Within Visual Range) operations. For techniques for using these modes, see the later sections of this article.
The Page Down key selects the radar range. You have four choices of search ranges in the F-4…200nm, 100nm, 50nm, 25nm, and 10nm…but the maximum lock-on range is 50nm. In the F-104, you may search out to 40nm, but lock-ons are limited to a maximum of 20nm. Radar range selection is not automatic. You must manually select a lower range if desired. When you select a new range, a message will appear on the bottom of your monitor screen…but it fades out in a second or two. Once that happens, you have no indication of what range you are in other than the relative size of the min/max range markers (F-4 only).
The Home key initiates the lock-on procedure when in Search mode. You must have a target on the scope and it must be at a range of 50nm or less in the F-4 (20nm in the F-104). Once the Home key is pressed, the acquisition symbol will move to “bracket” the target return. If you want to acquire a different target and if using the Default keyboard settings, use the Shift-Home combination to command the acquisition symbol to move to another target.
The Insert key completes the lock-on. Once locked on, the scope display will change to the attack presentation, and this will vary with difficulty settings. When multiple targets are present, you may find that the radar will attempt to lock a target other than your visual target. When this is the case, use the Shift-Insert combination to command the radar to change its lock to your visual target. Do this before you command the initial lock-on.
Scope Display. In Search mode, the radar scans a 360-degree view around your plane. Your position is at the center of this circle. Targets will be displayed all the time regardless of the position of the revolving sweep of the radar beam. This radar display is relatively unaffected by the position of your nose in the vertical plane…you should not have any difficulty with radar elevation affecting the production of target returns.
Lock-on Procedure. Any target regardless of position may be locked, but the max lock range must be observed. Use the Home and Insert keys to command a lock-on. After the lock-on, the beam will continue rotating and a second strobe line will be placed over the target return. To cycle between multiple targets, press the Home key to break your original lock, and then press the Insert key to lock another target. Use this cycling technique to move your lock-on to the target that you are visually locked on to.
HUD/Screen Display. After lock-on, a yellow diamond will surround the target. A red square will surround your selected visual target. If your visual target is the same as the locked target, it will have both the yellow and red symbols around it. These symbols will be present in both internal and external views. A red “pointing cone” will be displayed in the direction of the target anytime that the target is not in your forward view. A secondary radar scope is displayed in the top right of your screen.
Data boxes will be displayed in the lower corners of your monitor. The left box contains flight data for your plane, and the right box contains data on your currently selected target. Note: the target data is for your visual target. Make sure you transfer your visual lock to your radar lock-on target (or vice versa), otherwise you may think you are seeing the correct data when you aren’t.
Scope Display. In Search mode, the scope displays a pie shaped sector of airspace around your plane. This area covers approximately +/- 120 degrees off your nose. Targets are only visible when the radar trace (called the “B sweep”) passes over them and the radar beam is directed at the correct target elevation. An “el strobe” (elevation marker) is present on the right side of the scope showing the elevation of the search pattern. The gunsight position on the HUD is an approximation of this scan pattern in elevation. This elevation pattern is fixed, so to raise or lower the search pattern, you must raise or lower the nose of the jet.
You may notice the el strobe shifting up and down. This up-down movement is called a “raster scan”…in our case, since the el strobe moves twice, the elevation search pattern is called a “two bar raster scan”. In game play, this feature adds realism to the appearance of the display, but adds little to gameplay.
The following figures show the +/- 120-degree coverage of the radar scan relative to your nose. The radar beam sweeps back and forth from your 8 o’clock to your 4 o’clock position.
Lock-on Procedure. Same as for the Easy mode. As long as the target is within the lock-on limit, it may be locked-on in any position on the scope (the target does not have to be at your 12 o’clock). Lock-on constraints are relatively relaxed, so you can expect to achieve a lock-on with minimal difficulty. Once locked, the B sweep will stop over the target return and the max/min range markers will be displayed as small dashes, one or two, depending on the type of missile selected. If you change scope range, these max/min markers will remain displayed in their correct relationship to target range.
Locking targets that are near the sides of the scope can be misleading. Remember that the azimuth scan in Normal mode is 120 degrees…as a result, a lock-on that is close to the maximum azimuth may well be a target that is on your beam or behind you!
Once the target is locked, the B sweep will move sideways on the scope if the target moves away from it original lock-on azimuth. Unlike Easy Mode, there are azimuth limits in this mode. If the target moves more than 120 degrees away from your 12 o’clock, the radar will break lock.
To cycle targets after locking one up, first press the Shift-Page Up keys to break the original lock. The scope will remain in the Search Mode, and the acquisition symbol (bracket) should remain close to the target grouping. Press the Home key to move the acquisition bracket to a different target. Then press the Insert key to initiate a lock-on of that target. You may also use this technique to align your locked target with your visual target.
The lock-on scope display was changed by the first patch. The game manual refers to a lock-on display that includes a relative velocity circle on the scope. After applying the patch, this circle is no longer displayed.
HUD/Screen Display. Same as for Easy mode, but if the target goes behind your 4 or 8 o’clock position, the radar will break lock, and the yellow lock-on symbol will disappear. A red “pointing cone” will be displayed in the direction of the target anytime that the target is not in your forward view. Flight data boxes will be displayed as in Easy Mode. A secondary radar scope is displayed in the upper right corner of the screen for use when you are not using the forward view. In the next screenshot, it appears that the F-4E is locked on to the MiG…but this is not the case. The target data in the red box is for the MiG near the pipper…but look at the analog bar on the sight. It’s showing max range…that doesn’t make sense. The MiG is too close. Now look left to the weapon selection light. It shows that the AIM-7 is the selected weapon. The radar is locked on all right…but not on that MiG! Now we see the problem…if the MiG had been the radar target as well as the visual target, it would have a yellow diamond around it.
The F-4E gunsight will show a range analog bar that at maximum range extends from the 12:30 o’clock position around clockwise to 6 o’clock. The movement of this bar is a function of the weapon selected (radar/IR missile or gun), target range, and the rate of closure. This analog bar shows actual range only…it does not say anything about being “in range”. It is not a firing cue…it only is a readout of range in feet. Here are the reticle display markings:
In missile mode, either radar or heat, the range value is three times that of when gun is selected. In missile mode, 1:00 equals 18,000’ (3nm), 3:00 equals 12,000’ (2nm), and 5:00 equals 6000’ (1nm). In gun mode, 1:00 equals 6000’, 3:00 equals 4000’, and 6:00 equals 1000’, as is shown in this figure:
Scope Display. This mode is the most realistic mode. The search sector is reduced to +/- 60 degrees, otherwise the display functions the same as in Normal Mode.
Lock-On Procedure. Lock-on difficulty is increased in this mode, and you can expect that the lock-on may take up to six seconds or more to occur. Target size, range, and ground clutter interference are programmed factors that will cause your lock-on attempt to fail at times. You may reasonably expect to acquire and lock bomber-sized targets out to 50nm, but fighter-sized targets may well not detected until they are considerably closer. Because of the narrowing of the scope azimuth limits, maintaining the lock-on will require you to keep the target between your 2 and 10 o’clock positions. This in turn may require you to maneuver more aggressively to keep the target inside of your azimuth limits.
To cycle targets, you will have to repeat the full lock procedure…Shift-Page Up to break lock, Home to move the acquisition brackets, and Insert to lock the new target.
HUD/Screen Display. In Hard Mode, many of the previously described target and data cues are no longer displayed. The red “pointing” cone, the target data box, the secondary radar scope, and the yellow diamond and red square targeting symbols are all removed.