A2A Weapons Delivery In Strike Fighters Page 3

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Radar Guided Missile Employment

What makes the use of the AIM-7 different from the AIM-4 and AIM-9 is that a radar lock-on is needed from trigger squeeze to missile impact. While the earlier models of the AIM-7 have about the same probability of success as the early AIM-9s…and the later models have an improved performance similar to the late model AIM-9… you will find that the requirement for a radar lock-on will likely double the difficulty of the acquisition and firing problem. Heat seekers tend to be point and shoot “fire and forget” weapons…not so for the AIM-7. It’s a “lock and shoot” and “fire and follow” weapon…meaning the pilot has to keep his nose in the general direction of the target during the flight of the missile in order to maintain the necessary radar lock-on.

When it comes to getting the lock-on, your selected level of difficulty will play an important role. In Easy mode, you should not encounter any problems in getting a lock-on unless the target exceeds the lock-on range limit. But things get more difficult as you move into the Normal and Hard modes.

In these modes, you not only lose the 360 degree coverage, but you also have to deal with elevation (previously discussed), target signal strength, and ground clutter. Signal strength is a function of range and target size…fighter-sized targets are tougher to lock-on to than bombers! This will result in delayed lock-ons, particularly if in a head-on set up, and this delay may put the target inside of minimum range before you can target it. When engaging enemy fighters head-on, be prepared to “blow through” the merge and extend out before turning back into the fight. Here’s a tip! Never reverse at the merge without total situational awareness (SA). A good radar picture is a major part of your SA…without it, you are literally turning in the blind!

Ground clutter is also present in Normal and Hard modes…and is a particular problem in the latter. These radars are older “pulse only” systems and therefore do not screen out ground returns that may hide or obscure the target. Not only does clutter make seeing the target return more difficult, but in Hard mode, it also adds a delay to the lock-on process. Lock-ons in Hard mode may well take several seconds longer to occur…or may not happen at all. You can reduce this problem by descending below target altitude to achieve a “look-up” perspective that tends to minimize clutter.

Ground Clutter

Note: Lock-on times are increased when in Hard mode. After initiating the lock-on, you will see the B sweep collapse to a single line that covers the target return. You will then see a “blip” that moves up the B sweep towards the target. This “blip” is the range gate. The radar will not lock-on until the range gate touches the target return. The lock-on does not always occur…sometimes the range gate will move up and down without ever “locking” on to the target return. This is typical of real life when clutter and signal strength are problems…you may see this happen in the game as well. Solutions include reducing range and reducing clutter by descending below target altitude to gain more of a look-up perspective of the target.

Look Up Perspective

AIM-7D and E Acquisition and Lock-On. Begin the engagement by making sure you are in A2A mode on your sight with AIM-7 selected. Here is my suggested game plan for employing these two models of the Sparrow. Maneuver your plane until you have a one G shot. To do this, you have two options.

Option One. You can shoot the bandit “in the lips” as you initially approach him. Do this by using Red Crown (the Tactical Air Control Center) to give you “bogey dope”. If bandits are in your area, Red Crown will give you a bearing, distance, and altitude. Turn to that approximate heading. Check that your radar scope is in the proper range (usually 25 or 50nm for intercepts).

Now use the target’s reported altitude to position your nose to get the radar beam pointed at the proper elevation. Note the difference between your altitude and the bandit’s. If the bandit is above you and range permits, begin a climb using afterburner to his reported altitude. Make a steep climb and do not worry about the radar at this time. Once level at the bandit’s altitude, then recheck Red Crown for a corrected bandit position. Correct your intercept heading as needed, stabilize at your trimmed speed (400KIAS) and then put the gunsight on the horizon. Now, check your radar scope for target returns while you make sure you keep the gunsight on the horizon. If no returns are seen, let the radar sweep a couple of times before you change anything. As long as your heading was pointed at the bandit’s reported position, you should not have to worry about azimuth errors. After waiting a few sweeps, raise or lower the nose by one to two gunsight reticle diameters to move the radar beam to a new search elevation.

Adjusted Radar Coverage

Be deliberate with your elevation discipline. Do not frantically or erratically bob your nose around looking for target returns. Use this technique…point, pause, check the scope, repoint. Let the radar make a minimum of two sweeps before you change elevation.

Option Two. When engaged with the bandit, avoid a turning fight when using the AIM-7D and E. Instead, use an extension maneuver to gain lateral separation. Note the bandit’s position and heading, and turn away from that position by at least 90 degrees. Then select afterburner, unload (relax G), and accelerate away from the fight. Extend away at least 3-5nm and then make an aggressive turn back to the bandit’s last position or heading. If the bandit or his smoke trail is visible, point your gunsight at it. Check your scope for a target return and lock it. If you have lost visual or radar contact, call Red Crown immediately. Energy permitting, you may consider making this separation in the vertical.

In Normal mode, you will have a data read-out of target range to help you in your extension. You will not have this in Hard mode. I suggest you extend for a minimum of 30 seconds in this case. At typical engagement speed (.8 to .9 mach) this will give you the needed 3-5nm of separation distance.

Typical Extension Maneuver

In either Option One or Two, you should be able to get a lock-on and point at the bandit while maintaining around one G. This is your objective with the AIM-7D and E. Lock-on and fire with one G. Trying to fire when turning with either of these two missiles is a low percentage proposition. In a multi-bogey environment, if you cannot remain at one G while tracking the target, a separation is advisable regardless of missile model.

Note: If you are flying the F-4C or D, the gunsight will not display the analog range arc that you see on the F-4E gunsight. Use the min/max range markings on the radar scope to determine your relative firing range.

Note: Do not confuse angle off with G. The AIM-7 is an all-aspect missile…angle off is not a serious consideration as long as you are firing at about one G AND the target is non-maneuvering. But when using the D and E models, if the target is turning, your hit probability goes way down…and if you shoot when pulling G, it is nearly zero.

AIM-7E-2 Acquisition and Lock-On. The only difference between this missile and the two earlier versions is that you may use it with more reliability in a turning fight. Because of the E-2’s reduced minimum range, its increased max launch G, and its improved maneuvering capability (max turn and seeker track rates) you can expect a successful launch when tracking a turning target with moderate G on your plane (3-5 G’s). Reliance on G estimation is tricky in this sim…and since launch G is a factor in this sim’s modeling…here’s a technique to help minimize launch G errors. As I’m getting ready to take my shot in a turning engagement, I’ll pull the pipper out in front of the target’s flight path…I’ll “over-lead” the target by 3-5 reticle diameters. Then I relax G and fire. Not only does this reduce launch G but it gives the missile a little less “corner” to have to make and may improve guidance reliability a little.

Otherwise, use the same acquisition techniques as for the D and E Sparrows. “Face” shots and extensions are a good way to stay alive in a target-rich environment. Extend out, pitchback to a nose-on lock and let ‘er rip!

“Face Shot”

Boresight Procedures and Techniques. The Boresight radar mode replaces the usual manual lock-on procedure with an automatic lock-on. This feature is most useful in a visual turning engagement, and Boresight is sometimes referred to as the “dogfight” mode of the radar. Boresight is a valuable mode to use when returning to the fight after using an extension to get separation. One note…boresight does not function in Easy mode.

In Boresight, the radar beam no longer sweeps and is caged to look straight forward. In the forward view, you may use the gunsight to approximate the position of the radar beam. When selecting Boresight with the Page Up key, the radar will automatically lock a target out to 5nm or more. Any air target within that range and close to the gunsight reticle will be automatically locked with no further action required by you.

Boresight Lock On External View

Use the Page Up key to break the Boresight lock. In a furball, be ready to break lock quickly. If you shoot down a bandit, the radar will remain locked to it until it either crashes or flys out of the scan pattern boundary for the level of difficulty that you have selected. In a multi-bogey environment, once you have killed a bandit, use the Page Up key to break lock so that you can immediately lock a new target.

Boresight will function for all three types of weapons (radar, heat, and gun). Be sure to check your weapons panel to know what armament you have selected. A range analog bar will be displayed on the F-4E gunsight. It is not a launch cue…it is only a range readout. The range that is associated with the position of the analog bar depends on whether missile or gun is selected. For example, in gun mode, a 1:00 bar equals 6000’, and in missile mode, it equals 18000’.

The F-104 gunsight analog bar functions in a similar manner, but does not read out range. Instead, it is a true launch cue. 3:00 is max range for the weapon selected, 6:00 is optimum range, and 9:00 is minimum range.

 

Infrared (IR) Guided Missile Employment

Two types of IR missiles are available in the original game…the AIM-4D Falcon and the AIM-9 series consisting of the B, E, E-2, and J models. As you can see from the missile chart above, these missiles have a rather wide range of in-game performance capabilities. The availability of specific Sidewinders will vary with what fighter type you fly. If you fly the A-4 or F-100, count on using the AIM-9B. For the F-4C and D, expect to see the B and E models. In later campaign missions in the F-4E, you will be able to carry the E-2 and J models of the AIM-9. The AIM-4 Falcon is only carried on the F-4C, D, and E.

In the game, IR missiles are used as visually aimed weapons only…unlike real life, you do not have the ability to fire the IR missiles using the radar to aim the missile. In fact, in the game, there is no requirement to have or use a radar to employ these missiles. You may fire these missiles without having an IR lock-on as well (they are like the gun…select and fire without having to meet any other parameters).

These missiles are aimed by using the HUD gunsight reticle. The IR seeker “looks” through the reticle pipper, and its field of view is centered on the reticle. This field of view is fairly large in Easy mode but shrinks considerably as you go from Easy to Hard levels of difficulty.

When “in range” and with the target in the field of view of the reticle, you should hear a tone indication that the IR seeker detects the “heat” source. The missile seeker head does not move, so you must keep the reticle aimed at the target for the missile to “lock-on” to the IR source. When the seeker head is “locked on”, you will hear the tone become louder. Other than the increase in volume, the tone does not change.

The modeling of IR tone is confusing at times. Ideally, there should be a low background tone with the AIM-4 or 9 selected. In real life, you should hear this tone anytime the missile is selected. When the gunsight pipper is pointed at the target, you should get an increase in the tone…but for only as long as you hold the pipper on the target. Once you move the pipper, the tone should decrease again to the initial background level.

In the game, this tone behavior is inconsistent. Often, the tone starts off at the lower level, but once the tone changes to the higher level, it tends to remain there regardless of the pipper position. To return to the initial tone, you need to cycle out of the IR missile mode or turn away from the target for a prolonged period of time. I found this situation to be unpredictable and as a result I am unable to suggest a “fix”. All I can say is you should listen for a definite tone before you shoot. It may be difficult to determine which of the two tones you are hearing if you have not heard the shift in volume.

Another “wrinkle” to the tone that I have found is that sometimes I do not get an increase in tone with the pipper on the target. But, if I move the pipper around a little, I may find the “hot spot”. For example, on a F-104 mission when chasing MiGs at low altitude, I had to raise the pipper up a good 3 reticle diameters before the tone changed. I was inside of “optimum range” at the time. When I fired with the pipper on the tail of the MiG (and without the tone increase), the missile fell short. But then I raised the nose until I heard the tone increase…I then fired and splashed the MiG! Go figure!!

There are several ways of determining when you are “in range”…these include visual estimation, radar scope min/max markers, and gunsight analog range bars. Since neither the A-4 nor F-100 have an attack radar, you will need to visually estimate range. In the F-4, the radar scope will display min/max range markings for IR missiles as well as an AIM-7. In the F-104 and F-4E, the gunsight reticle will display a range analog bar similar in concept to the F-4E AIM-7 display. Let me emphasize again that the F-104 range arc is a launch cue display (3:00 = max range, 6:00 = optimum range, and 9:00 = min range). In the F-4E, the range analog bar is a range to targetindication only and is the same in both IR mode and radar mode. Use the radar scope min/max range markers for launch cues in the F-4E.

Also note that the radar scope presentation of min/max range for the AIM-4 differs from the AIM-9. The Falcon presentation is similar to the AIM-7s…it has both a min and a max range marker. The AIM-9, however, only has a max range marker on the F-4E radar scope, and there are no range markers on the F-104 scope.

AIM-4D Scope Min/Max Range Markers F-4E AIM-9 Scope Max Range Marker
F-104 Gunsight Launch Cue Analog Bar F-104 AIM-9 Scope With No Range Markers

Targets can use flare countermeasures at times, particularly the bombers. If you see your missile appear to explode just before it gets to the target, this is probably what happened. Continue on your attack, recheck for a good tone, and fire a second missile. The way the game is modeled, targets do not continually use flares, so a follow-up shot has a good chance of hitting provided you are still within launch parameters.

IR Missile Acquisition and Lock-on. When time permits, I recommend getting a radar lock-on in order to benefit from the range info. Make sure you have the IR missile selected and not some other weapon. Depending on the missile type, you may find that you are able to gain a visual contact and a tone but still be outside of missile launch parameters. This is particularly true when employing the AIM-9B at low altitudes.

Setting aside range as a consideration, acquiring the target with either the Falcon or the Sidewinder is relatively easy. The seeker head is aligned with the gunsight reticle. Regardless of difficulty level, if you get the reticle close to the target, you should be able to hear the change in tone from background low volume to “lock-on” high volume.

IR Missile Firing Parameters. You will find that getting in range and acquiring a lock-on tone are the easy parts…now comes the hard part. All of the IR missiles in this game are affected by launch G, target angle off, and target G. The AIM-9J is least affected and performs fairly well under relatively high G conditions, but the others lose most of their guidance reliability when fired under G. Except for the J model, you can expect that firing in a turn against a turning target is likely to produce a miss.

Launch G is not the only problem to be solved. Target angle off and target G are equally as important. Unlike the AIM-7 that guides on the reflected radar return of the entire target, the heat seeker only guides on the IR energy that it “sees”. In this sense, what the seeker sees depends on the orientation of the target exhaust to the missile. Tail-on is best, head-on is worst, and side look angles are somewhere in the middle.

Excessive angle off can happen due to two situations. One is simply that the target is crossing your nose on a different heading than yours. You both may be in one G flight, but the fact still remains that as the heading difference (angle off) increases, the seeker head sees less and less IR return. How much angle off is too much? Think of it this way…if you are looking at the side of the target’s fuselage or the top of its wing, then you probably have too much angle off for all but the J model. Except for the J model, do not fire with more than 30 degrees angle off.

Excessive Angle Off

The second situation results from your attempt to track a turning target. In aiming the reticle at the turning target, you find that you end up looking at the upper part of the target and not his tailpipe. This perspective of seeing the top of the target is also angle off as far as the missile is concerned. The end result is a reduced heat signature.

High G Target

Angle off and target G are very bad! These IR missiles tend to fly a pursuit flight path that results in an end game corner that the missile simply can’t make…it doesn’t have enough turn capability. You may be in range and have a good tone, but the missile will likely go ballistic shortly after launch because it’s max turn rate and seeker track rate are too low. Refer again to the missile comparison chart to see how these values match up.

Missile Accuracy Max
Turn
Rate
Max
Launch
G
Launch
Reliability
Seeker
Track
Rate
Min/Max
Launch
ECM
AIM-4D 60 14 2 60 11 1.5/9.6 40
AIM-9B 60 10 2 75 11 0/4.8 10
AIM-9E/E-2 75 11 2.5 80 16.5 0/8.0 20
AIM-9J 85 22 7 90 16.5 0/14.0 40

OK…so what is the answer? What can you do about excessive angle off and launch G?

One suggestion is to do what we tried to do in the Vietnam War…which was to emphasize to the pilots to not “jump the gun” by firing at the first opportunity. Now, this is much easier said than done. We all want to get the kill. But firing out of parameters…especially when we know we are out of parameters…is not too smart.

Maybe it might be better to take a quick second to analyze our firing conditions. In doing so, we might see that we should reposition to gain a better shot. Sounds good to me. So how do we do that?

There are two situations here…one is excessive angle off at low G, and the other is excessive angle off at Gs that are above the maximum permissible. Let’s look at each.

There are situations in the game where you pick up a long-range contact on the target…a flight of bombers, for example. These bombers are flying on a heading that crosses your future flight path. As you near them, you can see their contrails or smoke trails. These give you an idea of your angle off.

Target Contrails

If you continue to a firing position without changing your angle off, you will probably get a firing tone. But if you shoot, you may find that the missile simply won’t make the corner. You end up with something like this.

Missile Overshoot

The solution is simple. Maneuver to the target’s six o’clock. Turn behind the target to point at its trail. As you near the target, roll back towards it and pull into its six. Remember min range restrictions…so plan this conversion to roll out at a fair distance back. If you can, descend slightly as you approach the turn point to give yourself a look-up firing angle.

Now, the excessive launch G situation is much harder to solve. One solution is to break off the attack and extend away to a point from which you can turn around and re-enter the fight on better terms.

The other is to BFM the situation to reduce angle off and aspect angle. Let’s assume you are in a hard turn, pipper on the target, and have a good tone. But, deep in your heart, you know what will happen if you fire…this missile may well go stupid. You have at least two choices of maneuvers that can fix the problem…a High Yo-Yo and a Lag (or Vector) Roll. Note: for info on how to fly these maneuvers, see my “It’s All A Matter Of Perspective” series of BFM articles.

In my opinion, the High Yo-Yo is the less effective of the two. By yo-yoing off, you tend to give the target a chance to separate. The yo-yo will also put you into a high-to-low conversion position…you do not want a look-down IR shot because of the reduced probability of target acquisition and guidance.

A Lag Roll or Vector Roll may allow you to keep the target from extending away and it will also tend to keep you pretty much in his plane of motion. This roll will help reduce angle off and aspect angle…but at the completion of the roll, you will still have to deal with launch G if the target continues to turn. To address this, plan your Lag Roll to end up on the outside of the target’s turn radius. From that position, pull your gunsight to the target, check for a good tone, relax G, and fire. Shooting from outside the turn is called a “belly shot”. In the next screenshot, the F-104 is about to fire from a position that is below and slightly outside the target’s turn.

“Belly” Launch

The point of this discussion about IR missiles is to emphasize that they are not all-aspect missiles…they have significant angle off and launch G restrictions. The secret to success is this: Take the time to assess your shot. If your firing angle off is greater than about 30 degrees…or you are turning with more than 2-3 Gs…then consider repositioning for a better shot. Finally, be ready to see that there may not be a solution to your situation…you may well have to extend away and look for a re-entry that is more advantageous. If so, do it! OK…let’s finish this article up by looking at the gun.

Gun Employment

I have covered the procedures and techniques of gun attacks in my A2A gunnery articles for the Air Combat Corner. I won’t be discussing the nuts and bolts of how to make these attacks in this section…instead, I’ll describe the gunnery systems available in the game and comment on how reliable they are. In this game, you will fly gunsights that use fixed and moving reticles. The A-4 and the F-4C are the only aircraft in the original series of fighters that use a fixed gunsight. The F-100 uses a Lead Computing Optical Sight (LCOS) that is not assisted by a radar lock-on. The F-104 and F-4D/E use more advanced types of LCOS that can take advantage of a radar lock-on if one is available. If no lock-on is available, these sights still function as a LCOS…however, they will not display range. Here are the gunsight displays for these aircraft.

A-4 Gunsight F-100 Gunsight
F-104 Gunsight F-4C, D, and E Gunsights

All of these sight systems may be used for both tracking and snapshots. See the A2A gunnery articles for tips and academic info on these two types of gun attacks..

A-4 and F-4C Fixed Gunsights. At one G and at ranges of approximately 2000’ or less, the guns of these fighters fire through the pipper at one G. As range and bullet time of flight increase, then gravity drop becomes more of a factor and the pipper is no longer a reliable indicator of bullet position.

Anytime you are pulling G in these two aircraft, you cannot use the pipper as an indication of where the bullets are. You must remember that the path of the bullets that you fire lies in your plane of motion. Consequently, to aim a fixed gunsight when pulling G, you fly the pipper out in front of the target and in its plane of motion. Fortunately, this sim uses tracers for all of its guns. You should pull lead and then use the tracer position relative to your target to adjust your aim. Remember, min range equates to smaller lead angles…so in these jets, get in close to minimize the sighting errors inherent in fixed gunsights.

F-4C Fixed Sight

F-100 LCOS. The F-100 uses a “circle of diamonds” as its reticle. While in real life, the F-100 used radar ranging as an input to its LCOS, in this game it does not. Instead, the gunsight is set for an assumed range…and this is unspecified as far as I know. In real life, it would typically be 1500’.

The LCOS responds to the G that you put on your aircraft. The LCOS does not have any input from the target. You should consider the LCOS pipper to be the position of your bullet stream. Under G, the LCOS will depress away from the caged position along your plane of motion. Please note that the F-100 LCOS is very sensitive to G…and it does not take much G for the sight to move off the HUD glass. This limits the use of the sight in hard turning fights. One technique when the LCOS becomes difficult to use because of its depression is to “cage” the sight by going to the A2A missile mode. In the caged mode, you will have to make your own lead estimation, but the sight will be a steady reference for maneuvering. Use the tracer path to adjust your aim.

F-100 LCOS

F-104 LCOS. The F-104 LCOS may be used with or without a radar lock-on …or you may choose to cage the sight and use it as a fixed sight. The F-104 LCOS is “stiffer” than the F-100 LCOS…this means the sight is not as responsive to G and therefore is easier to aim with.

The range analog arc in the F-104 sight extends from the 3 o’clock to the 9 o’clock position. You should think of 3:00 as max range, 6:00 as optimum range, and 9:00 as min range (same as for missiles). Do not rely completely on the range analog arc for your range info. Always back up radar-derived ranges with visual ranging.

F-104 LCOS

F-4D/E LCOS. These LCOS systems operate much in the same way as the F-104 LCOS system. Both can use a radar input, however, the F-4D LCOS does not have a range analog arc while the F-4E LCOS does.

F-4D LCOS F-4E LCOS

One gunnery technique that merits mentioning is the “Track – Shoot – Track” concept explained in the gunnery articles. Use this with all of the gunsights in this game…particularly the LCOS systems. Using this technique will help you stabilize the sight in the target’s plane of motion and will go a long way in helping you avoid over controlling the pipper as it responds to you G inputs. In the next two screenshots, you will see a high angle snap shot. In the first picture, I am leading the target and have the pipper in the plane of motion of the target and slightly high for gravity drop. I fire in this position, while holding G constant. The target continues to move forward and through the pipper. The second screenshot is the result.

Snapshot Snapshot Kill

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