Air Combat Simulator Tactics and Maneuvers
by Richard G. Sheffield
Learn what weapons your F-15 carries, their capabilities, and what decisions you need to make when flying and fighting.
The F-15 is, as is any fighter plane, nothing more than a flying weapons-delivery system. Great flying and maneuvering skills are important, but they won't destroy the enemy. These skills must be used to bring the weapons system close enough to the enemy to be effective. The pilot then must decide on the appropriate weapon for that particular situation.
To make a correct decision, all of the operational requirements for the available weapons must be understood. These include the position and range of the enemy, and the speed of your aircraft and of the target.
The F-15 Strike Eagle simulation employs three air-to-air weapons systems which provide excellent close- to medium-range coverage—guns, short-range Sidewinder missiles, and medium-range Sparrow missiles.
Air-to-air guns were thought to be obsolete after the invention of the guided missile. In fact, the first fighter planes sent to Vietnam were equipped only with missiles. It was quickly realized, though, that many fights took place at very close quarters—too close, in fact, for air-to-air missiles. Guns have been standard equipment on all fighters ever since.
The F-15 is equipped with a six-barrel Gatling-style cannon which fires 20mm exploding shells at a rate of 6000 rounds per minute. Your Eagle is only equipped with 1000 rounds, so care must be taken not to use your ammunition too quickly. Short, controlled bursts are recommended.
Gun combat takes place at close range, so it is the most exciting combat and requires the greatest skill on the pilot's part. Keep these things in mind when you try to down an opponent using your aircraft's guns.
The enemy must be plainly visible to be within range of your guns. You should be able to see clearly the wings and tail of the enemy plane.
Range can best be determined by using your radar screen in the short-range mode. Any time an enemy aircraft is within one grid of you on the radar screen, you should be able to hit it with your guns. The farther away it is, however, the closer to the center of your gun sight it must be for you to score a hit.
When using the radar in the close-range mode, check it frequently—surface-to-air or air-to-air missiles close very quickly, and you'll have little time to react. If possible, switch the radar view occasionally to medium or long range to spot incoming missiles.
To score a gun kill, you must get close to the enemy. If you're behind your target, this means you must be the one moving faster. Don't close in too quickly, though, or you might overshoot the enemy aircraft and find yourself in front of your opponent. The computer doesn't miss.
To avoid this, close in slowly. Once you're in proper position behind the enemy aircraft, you can close in slowly by diving slightly. This will increase your speed without your having to increase power. When you're within good gun range, pull up slightly to put the enemy in the gun sight. This usually slows you down enough to prevent an overshoot. If the other aircraft starts to pass underneath you, react quickly and extend your speedbrake or execute a break turn.
To keep the other aircraft in the gun sight once you've got it there, you'll need to make the same maneuvers that it does. This is best done by watching the enemy, not the radar screen. Try to keep the wings of your aircraft in the same plane (geometrically speaking) as that of your opponent (Figure 4-1). Do this and you'll remain directly behind your opponent. From that position you'll be able to score several hits and possibly destroy the other aircraft before the opponent can lose you. This attack is called a tracking shot.Figure 4-1. Banking at the Same Angle
Both aircraft's wings are in the same geometric plane. The pursuing aircraft (2) banks at the same angle to remain in a good gun position.
When you're not directly behind your enemy and he's moving across your screen, you'll need to fire early so that he is in the gunsight when the shells arrive at his position. You can't wait until he's in your gunsight to fire.
Proper lead-angle timing can only be acquired with practice. This type of quick passing attack is called a snapshot.Figure 4-2. Lead Angle
The greater the angle of the two aircraft's paths, the more you must lead the enemy.
The advent of the air-to-air missile has greatly changed the nature of air combat. No longer is it necessary to get close to an enemy to score a kill. The medium-range Sparrow missile carried by your F-15 can hit an enemy aircraft while it's still well beyond visual range.
The short-range Sidewinder missile is an excellent alternative to guns when you're in a fairly close-range fight.
Both of the missiles carried on your F-15 are all aspect missiles. This means that they can track and destroy an enemy coming toward you, going away from you, or flying across your path. They can also be fired when your opponent is at any angle to you. They'll lock onto the target and attempt to follow and hit it. You can even fire at an enemy directly behind you.
The most efficient method, however, is to fire directly at or slightly ahead of your target. This provides the shortest path to the target and allows more time for the missile to maneuver and follow a turning enemy.
It's important to remember that once you've fired a missile, you can't fire another until the first has completed its flight. You can, though, use your guns. An enemy trying to evade a missile shot will sometimes maneuver into gun range, so keep pressing the attack while your missile is in the air.
Your F-15 is equipped with four AIM-9L Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles. The effective range of the missiles is one-half mile to ten miles. It's important to note the half-mile minimum range. These missiles accelerate very quickly, so unless you're directly behind your opponent, a shot fired at a range closer than one-half mile will shoot right past your opponent before it has a chance to maneuver.
The exception to the maximum range of ten miles is when your opponent is flying directly toward you. Since he's coming to meet the missile, it can be fired at a range of 15 miles or so. Head-on missile attacks, however, are the easiest to avoid, so make an effort to get behind your opponent.
Two methods of leading an enemy aircraft when firing an air-to-air missile: Firing directly at the opponent (
When firing your Sidewinders, take note of the sun's position. The sun provides a more intense target than a jet engine. (Remember, the Sidewinder locks onto a heat source.) So if your target is right in front of the sun, then turns quickly, the missile will lock onto the sun and not follow the target.
Your F-15 is equipped with four AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles. The effective range of these missiles is 10–60 miles. Again, note and satisfy the minimum range requirement before firing—the Sparrow needs several seconds to home in on the target and will fly past a close target.
Like the Sidewinders, these medium-range missiles can be fired at a target farther than their maximum range if the target is coming head-on.
If an aircraft-indicator square appears on the HUD (Heads Up Display), but is not yet on the radar when you're in long-range mode, go ahead and fire. Assume that the enemy is flying towards you and will be within missile range when it appears on the radar screen.
Sparrows can also be very effective against targets which are some distance behind you. You can fire at this kind of target without turning, even though the most efficient method is to turn a quick circle and fire directly at the enemy.
Once you understand how to best use the weapons you have, you should realize that your enemy is equipped with similar weapons. And the computer is a good shot.
These are also the types of maneuvers and tactics the computer will use to defeat your attacks, so learn to use them and be prepared to see them used against you.
Defense Against Gun Attacks
For a gun attack to be successful, all the parameters of the system—such as range and tracking—must be met.
The best defense against a gun attack is to stay out of range.
Sometimes this isn't possible, however, as when you've fired a missile at one target and wish to attack a second while the missile is in flight. Here your only choice is to move in close for a gun attack; this, of course, places you within gun range of your opponent.
If you can't stay out of range, the next best defense is to prevent your opponent from getting a good shot. The best way to do this is to keep the enemy from getting behind you.Figure 4-4. Firing at a Target Behind You
Though you can fire a Sparrow medium-range missile at a target behind you, you'll score a surer and quicker kill by rapidly turning to meet the enemy before releasing the Sparrow.
Assume these methods haven't worked and there's an enemy plane on your tail within gun range. Time is critical. It doesn't matter so much what you do, as long as you do something and do it quickly. Your best bet is to turn toward the attack, as this forces the attacker to make a sharp turn to follow you.Figure 4-5. Turning Toward an Attacker
Turn toward your attacker. This maneuver forces your opponent to make an even sharper turn to follow.
If the enemy continues to track you, a series of quick turns, or jinks, may be used with maximum power to put some distance between you and the attacker. Once you're out of range, an unloaded straight-line acceleration away from the enemy should give you enough space to turn back toward him and attack, or escape and return to base.
Other escape tactics involve various maneuvers combined with reducing speed to make the attacker overshoot. This is always a problem for the attacker due to the close ranges involved.
If you manage to make your opponent overshoot, you can easily get into a firing position of your own.
Missiles, like guns, have certain parameters which must be satisfied. If any of these parameters can be eliminated, then the missile attack is defeated.
The first thing to do once a missile launch has been detected is to determine what type of homing device it has—radar or heat-seeking. In F-15 Strike Eagle, simply check the warning indicator lights located directly above the radar screen. The first light on the left flashes if you're being tracked by a radar-guided missile. The second light from the left flashes if you're being tracked by an infrared (heat-seeking) missile. The type of threat is important to know for several reasons.
First, you'll know what kind of countermeasures to employ. Your F-15 is equipped with decoy flares that can be used to fool a heat-seeking missile. These flares only burn for five to ten seconds, so wait until the missile is relatively close before you release them.
Electronic countermeasures—radar jamming and foil chaff—can mislead a radar-guided missile.
When you spot a missile, check your radar screen to see how far away it is, how long you have to react, and the direction from which the missile is approaching. If the threat is immediate, a good rule is to make an immediate break toward the ground and release the appropriate countermeasure (provided you have enough altitude).
If you have several seconds, you have the time to use the best defensive maneuver. Timing is important when evading a missile—if you make your defensive break too soon, the missile will have time to recover and will still hit you. If you wait too long before maneuvering, the missile will outmaneuver you. The best distance from which to begin your defensive maneuver is when the missile is approximately one mile away.
From the front. If the missile is approaching directly from your front, break toward the ground.
From an angle. If the missile is approaching from an angle, the general rule is to break toward it if it's in front of you; break away from it if it's behind you.
From behind. Missiles fired from behind you can occasionally be outrun if they're fired from a distance. You'll usually need to use afterburners for this.
Heat-seekers and the sun. If the missile is a heat-seeker and you're out of flares, an alternative is to break toward the sun, then break to one side once you're aimed at the sun. Heat-seekers can sometimes be fooled into locking onto the sun.
Take some care when you use your antimissile defensive measures. You have a limited number of flares and your electronic countermeasures are less effective each time they're used.
The McDonnell Douglas F-15 Weapons Capability
The McDonnell Douglas F-15 is arguably the most versatile fighter aircraft operating today. Although originally designed as an air superiority fighter, its excellent performance characteristics made it an obvious candidate when the armed forces were searching for a replacement for the aging multipurpose F-4 Phantom.
With only slight modifications the F-15 can deliver an extraordinary range of weapons:
- AIM-7M Sparrow medium-range, semiactive radar air-to-air missiles
- AIM-9L Sidewinder infrared-homing air-to-air missiles
- AIM-120 Advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles
- M61 20mm six-barrel gun
- AGM-88A Harm antiradar missiles
- AGM-65A Maverick TV-guided air-to-ground missiles
- AGM-65 IIR infrared imagery missiles
- AGM-65C laser-guided air-to-ground missiles
- AGM-84A Harpoon antiship missiles
- MK20 Rockeye bombs on multiple ejection racks
- Matra Durandal runway denial weapons
- MK82 500-lb. bombs in Slick (low drag) and Snakeye (retarded flight) configurations
- MK84 2000-lb. bombs in Slick, laser-guided, infrared-homing, and electro-optical versions
- GE 30mm gun pods
- Tactical nuclear weapons
- ASAT antisatellite missiles
The F-15 configured for its usual air-to-air role of tactical intercept or Combat Air Patrol is equipped with four AIM-7 Sparrows, four AIM-9 Sidewinders, and the 20mm gun. When configured like this, the aircraft usually carries a drop tank with 600 gallons of fuel to extend the operating range and time in the air.
The AIM-9L Sidewinder and the AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missiles have been the weapons of choice for most of the air combat in the last decade.
Weapons in Recent Combat
- In 1981, two Libyan SU-22 Soviet-made fighters were downed by Sidewinders fired from U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcats.
- In 1982, in a series of massive dogfights over Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, the Israeli Air Force—flying F-15s and F-16s—shot down 85 Syrian jets, plus a number of helicopters. Again, Sidewinders and Sparrows were used extensively.
- Later in 1982, 16 Argentine fighters were shot down by British Harriers using Sidewinders.
Clearly, these weapons work and are effective. Of the two, the Sidewinder was credited with many more kills than the Sparrow. The reasons for this are twofold. First is the problem of identification of targets beyond visible range (where the Sparrow is most effective). Visual identification of enemy aircraft is the current order of the day in air combat (to prevent shooting down an aircraft from your own air force). Consequently, most jets are too close for Sparrows by the time they're identified.
The second problem lies in the fact that Sparrows rely on semiactive radar detection for homing in on the enemy. This means that once the missile is fired, the F-15 must continue to fly toward the target to bounce radar signals off it for the missile to follow. In combat with multiple opponents, it's not always possible to concentrate on just one target for any length of time. The Sidewinder, on the other hand, is a fire and forget kind of weapon. Once it's launched, the pilot is free to evade or attack.
The good news is that neither of these problems will plague you when flying in F-15 Strike Eagle. Identification is never a problem. You're by yourself over enemy territory most of the time—you can safely assume that any other aircraft is unfriendly.
The Sparrow missiles used in the simulator don't require attention once they're launched. (Remember that you can't fire another missile until the previous one completes its flight.)
When the F-15 is used for attack or ground support missions, all the components of the basic air-to-air configuration are carried, along with whatever additional weapon systems called for by the particular mission.
Air-to-ground weapons could be television-guided, laser-guided, infrared-guided, or unguided. Your F-15 Strike Eagle is equipped with reliable MK82 500-pound bombs in the slick (low drag) configuration. These normally would be dropped in groups of three, with two groups loaded under each wing and two more groups carried on the belly of the aircraft.
The F-15 Strike Eagle is equipped with electronic counter-measures systems (ECM) to confuse and avoid air-to-air and surface-to-air missile attacks. These systems are designed to fool the two main guidance systems used to track your aircraft—radar and infrared.
Your radar-warning indicator tells you when you're being scanned by radar. To defeat a radar-guided missile, you must defeat the radar. Three methods are used to do this.
Chaff consists of aluminum-foil strips, wire, and fiber-glass which are cut to varying lengths to counter various radar frequencies. This chaff is ejected by the pilot into the slip-stream of the aircraft, which disperses the material into a large cloud. This cloud can also cause radar-guided missiles with proximity fuses (fuses that explode when near an aircraft) to attack the cloud instead of the aircraft.
Active jamming consists of transmitting a very strong signal—on the same frequency—back to the enemy radar. This powerful signal overwhelms the radar and prevents it from determining the exact location of the source.
Deception signals receive the radar signal, store it in memory for a few second, and then transmit it back to the receiver. This gives the receiver incorrect range and altitude data and is extremely effective against surface-to-air missile systems.
Once you know you have a radar-guided missile coming at you, you can begin to take evasive action and prepare to use your ECM. Remember that ECM uses a lot of power, so chaff clouds become smaller and jamming becomes weaker each time it's used.
In comparison to the radar countermeasures, the infrared countermeasures system is very simple. High-temperature flares are used to decoy the heat-seeking system away from your aircraft. This system should be used as described earlier.
Currently, almost no published information is available on Soviet ECM systems.
The Enemy Threat
When flying a mission in your F-15 Strike Eagle, you'll be operating over enemy lines. The enemy threat comes in three forms—jet fighters, air-to-air missiles, and surface-to-air missiles. Understanding the operation and specifications of the weapons systems will let you exploit their limitations.
The enemy jets which you'll be flying against are based on the SU-22, the MiG-21, and the MiG-23. All are of Soviet design.
Unfortunately, these three aircraft look the same on the screen. Some are more maneuverable than others, but the only real way to tell is to try them one time in a tight turn. If you can turn tighter than an enemy aircraft, pull behind it and use a gun attack. Save your missiles for the more maneuverable opponents. If you cannot out-turn your opponent, you can certainly outrun him in unloaded (zero G) acceleration. Your best bet here is to disengage by accelerating, diving, or climbing. Move away to a comfortable distance and maneuver for a missile shot.
All of the enemy planes carry a 30mm or 23mm gun system which has similar operating characteristics to those of your own 20mm gun. In other words, don't let them use their guns.
Enemy Air-to-Air Missiles
As you might guess, information regarding Soviet weapons is limited. This simulator uses three Soviet air-to-air missiles:
- AA-2 Atoll. The Atoll is a heat-seeking missile with operating characteristics similar to those of the AIM-9 Sidewinder. The Atoll, however, is not a true all-aspect missile, and it functions best when fired at close range from behind an opponent.
- AA-7 Apex. The medium-range Apex comes in heat-seeking and radar-homing versions. It is an all-aspect missile in the radar-homing version.
- AA-8 Aphid. The Aphid is a smaller, more maneuverable heat-seeking missile when compared to the AA-2 Atoll. Due to its smaller size, it has a very short range.
When you're attacked by an air-to-air missile, determine which type of homing system is being used. Radar homing missiles are always medium-range and very dangerous. Infared-homing missiles could be one of several types—your best bet is to drop a flare, or flares, when the missile is closing on you, and not worry about the missile's range.
Enemy Surface-to-Air Missiles
The capabilities of the Soviet-made surface-to-air missiles used in this simulator are described in detail in its manual. There are a few things to add, though.
When you're in an area defended by radar-homing surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), flying below 1500 feet will put you below the guiding radar and in a safe zone. If they lock onto you, the green radar-signal indicator will activate.
Flying low will not keep you safe from heat-seeking SAMs. High speeds at low altitudes make you a more difficult target and also make it easier to jink an incoming missile. Heat-seeking SAMs have a shorter range, lower speed, and lower operational ceiling. They can be outrun or climbed over.