Tactics 101 – Offensive & Defensive Maneuvers

by Ed “Skater” Lynch

For those who’ve made it this far, welcome to Tactics 101 Part 3. Here’s where we talk about some more complicated maneuvers. This course will now concentrate on specific offensive and defensive maneuvers against specific threats, both from the air and from the ground. Get a frosty beverage now, this is gonna be a long one.

First, here are a few more F-driver words and acronyms to add to paste to your O-mask…

ASL: Above Sea Level. Any altitude level that is above the mean sea level, which is a constant.

AGL: Above Ground Level. Any altitude above the current elevation of the ground level below you. This is not a constant.

Wizzo: WSO, Weapons System Officer. Also known as GIB (Guy In Back). In the Navy, they are known as B/N’s (Bombardier/Navigator) and RIO’s (Radar Intercept Officer).

HARM: AGM-88 High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM). Missile used into persecuting radar guided surface to air missile sites and radar installations.

SMOKER: Jet engine. Generally a reference to the smoky J-79 engines that power the American versions of the F-4, but can be used in reference to any jet engine.


Lesson Three – 13 JUL 98 – Defensive Maneuvers versus Ground Threats or “How to Move Mud Without Getting Dirty”

We are gonna break from the offensive for a bit and talk a little about how to survive when a dirt-eating non-pilot is trying to kill you. Defending against the ground threat can get quite hairy at times, particularily because ground-based weapons systems are big, powerful, highly capable, and in many cases (like the SA-10 and SA-12), very, very, deadly.

Let’s start with the most common of all ground threats… Guns. Trip-A comes in all shapes and sizes, and every one of them, down to the 82-year old farmer with a flintlock, can be the beginning of a very bad day.

The easiest way to defeat gun systems is to fly above their effective altitude. In most cases this is an altitude between 8,000 and 13,000 feet AGL. Integrated Trip-A defensive systems have rings of guns that are of varying calibre and guidance. The most elaborate of these have multiple targeting systems (laser, optical, radar, etc.) and multiple altitude levels can be blanketed with fire from varying calibre gun systems. These are the most dangerous, as they are more effective, and tightly directed and concentrated. For these systems, flying above their effective altitude is probably not an option except for the most sophisticated and modern aircraft and weapons, because their effective altitude may reach as high as 20,000 feet AGL or higher. Few targeting systems can accurately place iron on target from that altitude. An F-117 can place the pickles in the barrel from Angels 20, so can an expert Mudhen Wizzo do it with an LGB from that alt, but an F-4 can’t, and an AV-8B, no way. For less sophisticated aircraft and weapons systems, we’re gonna havta get doity! (I’m a Noo Yawka and proud of it!)

Target approach to a heavily defended integrated air-defense system should be made at a relatively high altitude. I like to ingress at about Angels 08. This allows me to get a good view of the target and surrounding area, as well as staying above much of the smaller calibre trip-a, and at the extreme altitude range of the man-portable SAM’s. Take this time to jink port and starboard for a few seconds each to get a good view of just what is out there. Your best visuals are gonna come from the port and starboard Plexiglas. Keep one eye on the threat display. Look out for any SAM radar’s just lighting up for a look-see. If you see any Gladiator’s (SA-12/S-300) or Grumble’s (SA-10), hit the deck fast! Get as low as possible, and rush at them. They WILL kill you. Hope for good Weasel support, or get your HARM off ASAP. If you don’t have a HARM, then start praying. Chances are better than good that these systems are either going to get you, or they are gonna cause you to get light in a hurry, and either way, they win. If there are tracers coming up around you, the trip-a has your altitude, and it’s time to start jinking. Make your flight path erratic, and unpredictable. If you fly at a constant altitude or on a continuous heading, you will get got. Move the nose around the horizon, roll around a bit, change altitude in the positive and negative, go faster. All of these things are effective countermeasures against guided and unguided anti-aircraft weapons.

Once you’ve got the target in sight and everything is greened up, then choose a direct route to the target, taking into effect any threats you’ve managed to eyeball from the IP. Put the nose on that vector and go fast! The only thing that will get you out of a bad area faster is more speed on the nose and more fire on the tail. Keep your eyes peeled for bandits; don’t get fixated on the ground threat. When you’ve got a good target picture, put the nose in a shallow dive at the target, place the dot on the baddies, and pickle away! Your very next motion should be to slam the throttle all the way forward pull the nose up about 10 degrees (or head for the deck if you have heavy duty SAM’s in the area) pick a vector, and get outta Dodge at the speed-o-heat! Remember the less you have to think about over the TA, the better. Get everything for getting bombs off and the target destroyed done BEFORE the ingress. You don’t wanna be looking for the Master Arm switch 2 Mikes from the target with AAA and SAM’s flying all around you.

Ok, now we know what to do while over a defended target, but you say you are running into individual or groups of air-defenses en route to the TA. What do you do then? Well, in those cases, it is best to dissect the threat, and defeat the actual threat with a proven effect defensive measure. So, let’s talk about the behavior of certain threats…

SAM’s: Surface to Air Missiles are usually large, and fairly easy to spot. If they hit you, you will usually go down in flames. Few aircraft outside of the A-10 and Su-25 can survive even a single hit by a SAM. They move very fast, and carry with them a significant amount of kinetic energy. They also contain a highly explosive fuel, and usually, a very large warhead. Suffice it to say, a direct hit by a SAM is usually a lose-lose situation, and even a peripheral hit or concussion hit can kill your aircraft, and you. A concussion hit will do the least damage, but it can still down you. To successfully defeat a missile, you first have to SEE it. Next, employ countermeasures, and last MOVE. When employing countermeasures remember two things. One, too much is better than not enough, and Two, you have just enough time to react, no time to think. SAM’s almost always fly PURE PURSUIT to you, and at a very high rate of speed (most fly at speeds beyond Mach 3). Only the most sophisticated SAM systems (Gladiator, Grumble and Patriot PAC-II and PAC-III) can fly LEAD PURSUIT and course correct in flight to achieve a high PK. You should place a SAM on your beam, drop chaff and flares, and make a hard turn into the missile as it gets near to you. This is a judgement call, but don’t wait too long. At Mach 4 or 5, that golf ball sized missile will be telephone pole sized in a few seconds flat! Turning hard into the missile causes the missile’s guidance system to turn hard to correct its flight path so that it achieves a direct hit. While you may only be pulling 8 or 9 g’s, the missile may be pulling 40-60 g’s. In most cases, you will out turn the missile. In others, your parents will be burying a sponge in Arlington. I have put together a little anti-SAM checklist. If you follow it, you should be alright.

  1. Eyeball the missile.
  2. Put the missile on your beam (90 degrees off the nose. i.e. off the port or starboard wing).
  3. Deploy countermeasures (chaff AND flares, don’t worry about if the missile is IR or RADAR guided, just dump both).
  4. Turn on the music.
  5. Turn hard INTO the missile.
  6. Pray.

Trip-A: The best way to avoid AAA is to stay above it. If that is not possible, the best way to survive it is to not get hit. 🙂 To do that, you need to jink wildly, and generally make your flight path as unpredictable as possible. As I stated before, move the nose up, down, left, and right. Roll all over. Climb and dive. Just be generally as ornery as you can be. It just may save your life, and your airframe, and in most cases both, because if you bring your bird home with holes in it, that Crew Chief with his name plastered on the starboard side of your aircraft will kill you. Again, you need to eyeball the threat. This is easy, cause when guns fire on you, they usually miss before they hit, and the tracers look real purty too. Place the gun on your beam, turn on the music if you have a threat radar indication on the TEWS, and pump up the volume on the smoker. No where does the credo “Speed is Life” count more than it does here. Keep jinking until you are out of range. Let’s go to the Trip-A checklist…

  1. Eyeball the threat gun.
  2. Turn on the music if you have to.
  3. Place the gun on your beam.
  4. Put fire on the tail.
  6. Jink some more Kemosabe!

DLO: The DLO for this lesson is basically that there is no substitute for practice and good old fashioned hard maneuvering. If you have a missile on you, follow the checklist, and move. If you have a gun firing on you, follow the checklist and move. There is no substitute. Practice the checklist’s against simulated threats in instant action or against designer missions that you have set up. When flying in a campaign, a competition, online against a friend, or with a group of buds over the LAN, you get only one chance. No do-overs. It’s do or die at that point. Practice, practice, practice, and maybe you won’t die. The checklists should soon become second nature, and you should live a bit longer. At least until you fly against me. 🙂

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