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Air Combat Theory 101

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  • Air Combat Theory 101

    TGU Requirement:
    *This module is require reading for entry into any flight training program. This goes for all flight modules and games branches. Once you request a training program, you must inform your instructor that you have a good understanding of this theory. If you have any questions of the details listed, Forword PM's to me, Eroak or your game's flight instructor.

    *These are some of the most fundamental tactics that are teached to all pilots in service. If you don't have a good understanding of these contents, You'll be rejected from the training program and will move into the basic program. You'll have to provide time to set aside with a 1 on 1 with your game's flight instructor or myself to learn these tactics.


    Air Combat
    Air combat requires split-second decision making, good instincts and, of course, skill. The first part of this covers the basics mechanics. - how to find, target and attack and enemy, how to defend yourself against attack, and how to handle your fighter during combat.

    Finding The Enemy
    Detecting the enemy before he finds you gives you the initiative during a flight. Allowing you to gain advantages in altitude, speed and relative position before he knows you're there. Good eyesight was the only reliable detection system in the early days of air warfare. WWII brought radio communications formation flying and the radar. With battlefield series you have the UAV and NetBat™ to help you locate enemy aircraft.
    • Eyesight
    • Radar
    • RWR (Radar warning receiver)
    • IR
    Target is simple and automated in the Battlefield series. Theres little you have to other then keeping them in your sights.

    Targeting ground units is a different story. Battlefield2 uses hand tracking of FLIR sensor to “paint” a target. Battlefield 2142 is TV guided by hand with .5 second delay.

    Aircraft Weapons
    Air-to-air weapons
    • Guns
    • Missiles
    Guns used to be the only weapon available during an air battle, and dogfighting used to be a test of a pilot's visual acuity. Although modern aircraft allow beyond visual range engagements the Battlefield series do not follow this rule. So back to basics of relying on your eyes.

    While guns remain useful at extremely close ranges, air-to-air missiles extend air combats by miles, long range, air-intercept missiles can effectively target threats as far as 80 miles in real life combat. In our gaming world of Battlefield, we are limited by boundaries and also limit our range of air-to-air missiles to less then a mile.

    Air-to-ground weapons
    • Missiles
    • Bombs
    • Rockets
    • Guns
    Air-to-ground weapons include missiles, bombs, rockets, mounted guns and turreted guns. They come in two varieties – guided and unguided. Unguided weapons (such as “iron” and “dumb” bombs) fall along a predictable trajectory. Guided weapons. Such as a Maverick missile and laser-guided bombs, use the aircraft's seeker or built in seeker to steer towards a target after launch.
    Some air-to-ground missiles, such as FLIR IR homing AGM-65 Maverick, are long range, “stand-off” weapons. They employ a built in “fire and forget” guidance system and don't require the systems to guild the missile.

    In some other realistic flight sims, Theres also passive tracking weapons. HARM (radar seeking) missile. These anti-radiation missiles lock onto radar emissions and track them into its target. HARM is a “fire and forget” weapon. If the radar is turned off HARM Missiles continue to track the last point of emission.

    Gaining Firing Position

    Before using guns or missiles(guided), you need to position your aircraft so the you can take the best shot possible. You want to keep the aspect angle so that you can take the best shop possible. You want to keep the aspect angle between you and your target small. In other words, you want to have a good, straight shot at the threat. In an ideal situation, you should be right behind your target – he can't fire on you when you're tailing him

    Although missiles are the best weapon of choice, guns remain an essential element of air combat. Before firing your guns, make sure that you can “lead your target.” You must take into account your enemy's speed and current position and guess how much “lead” is needed.

    To put it simple, missiles are deadly. They are your best weapon. But you also have a limit to how many you can carry. Before firing, make sure you consider the following parameters.
    • Range
    • Launch parameters (simply finding your optimal launch parameters)
    • Missile maneuverability
    • G-load limit (launching in a turn. If there is to much G-load on your missile rail, it will fail to launch correctly, non-Battlefield games)
    • Aspect angle

    Bombs are short ranged weapons that rely on gravity for “propulsion.” Most are fitted with short fins to keep them on a straight path to its intended target. Dropping bombs is not easy. You must figure the correct drop point base on altitude, airspeed and pitch of the aircraft. The higher you are, the farther your bomb will travel. Accurately dropping bombs is a lot of guesswork and often dangerous because of the short ranges that bombs have. A general guild line is every 1000ft of airtime is 1 mile of range.

    Defenses And Countermeasures

    Attacking the enemy is half the job, surviving is the other half. Game aircraft have a number of countermeasures to protect you and the aircraft.
    • ECM (AKA: Jammers)
    • Flares
    • Chaff
    • Active-defense (Battlefield 2142 only)
    • Stealth
    There are also a number of maneuvers that increase your chances of surviving a heated battle. These all will be discussed later in your games specific module for your aircraft.

    Combat Tactics

    Air combat is a complex, dynamic environment that changes every second. This is true since day one of air combat. To survive today's air combat, you must be prepared before engaging the enemy. This part will detail maneuvers and concepts. The following theoretical principals have realistic applications, and also apply to most games. Study, practice and understand them, and you'll be well on your way to becoming a ace.

    Situational awareness
    Even during the thick of it, you must constantly remain aware of what's going on in your environment. Not only must you know where your aircraft is, how high it is, and how fast it's going; you also have to know where your targets and wingman are, and how to respond to attacks. In the meantime, you have to assist your wingmen by alerting them to potential threats.

    Headings and “clock-face” communications are common between pilots. Headings on the leading type are measured in degrees (from 0” to 360”), and target positions are given as positions on a analog clock. The clock positions are often accompanied by “high or “low” to denote altitude advantages.

          11  12  1
      10             2
     9        ^        3
       8             4
          7   6   5
    Combat Geometry

    Geometry plays a large role in air combat. To develop a complete understanding of air combat, you need to know a few geometrical concepts: Angle-off-tail, aspect angle, closure rate, turn rate/radius and corner speed.

    Angle-off-tail (AoT) measures the angle between your flight path and that of the target. It may be either low (your flight path is nearly parallel to the targets), or high (your flight path is nearly perpendicular to the target's).

    At low AoT, you are either headed directly at a targets 6 o'clock as it flies away from you, or it's 12' o'clock as it moves toward you. In either case, your weapons have a near direct line of travel. Almost all weapons preform better when fired at a low AoT.

    As AoT increases, the target moves away from your flight path (flies more perpendicular to your flight path then parallel). This means that missiles have to turn more to track the target, and bullets must must “lead” the target.

    During a sustained engagement, your goal is to reduce AoT as much as possible before firing. This usually involves turning so that you align your flight path with that of your targets.

    Cone of Vulnerability
    When you're within range of an enemy's weapons, you're in the cone of vulnerability. What this means is that your attacker has closed to about 1500 meters(about 300m in BF scale), your vulnerable to his gunfire at any AoT less then 45. As he moves closer in range, you fa;; within his lethal cone of fire(any AoT less then 30). You can use break turns to keep an offensive threat out of your lethal cone of fire.

    Aspect angle
    Aspect angle indicates which aspect of the target is facing you, and is measured in degrees. Think of it as a numerical way of expressing what part of the target you're looking at. A 90R aspect angle means you see the target's right wing, which is at a right angle to you. At 45L, you see your targets left wing as it crosses your flight path at a 45 angle. A “0” aspect angle is looking at your targets tail.

    Awareness of your targets aspect angles is vital when using you're missiles, which must travel at an angle to hit the target. Angles of 0 or 180 are better suited since your missiles don't have to turn to track its target, making it more likely to hit.

    Closure Rate
    Closure describes your aircraft's speed relative to the speed of a moving target. Although it doesn't measure speed directly, it does give you an indication of how quickly your aircraft is moving compared to the target.

    The positive closure means the target is approaching you; a negative closure means it is moving away. The closure rate simply tells you whether you're getting closer of farther away from the target.

    The larger the rate the faster the range is changing. A closure of -700 knots means the target is moving away from you. While a closure of +70 means your are gaining on your target slowly. (many flight sims have closure displayed on your HUD. Not Battlefield.)

    Closure also impacts weapon performance. At high closure rates, the range of the target is decreasing. A missile doesn't have to travel as far. Conversely, a negative rate means the missile will have to travel farther since the target is traveling away from you.

    Turn rate/Radius
    An aircraft's ability to turn quickly is called it's turn rate, and is measured in degrees per second. A related statistic is a aircraft's turn radius, or how tightly it can turn. Note that an aircraft can have a fast turn rate, but require a large turn radius, The opposite is also true. These two characteristics are not dependent on one another.

    Both turn rate and radius play a vital role in pursuing an enemy aircraft. The addition of thrust-vectoring (X-35, YF-22, UD-6, UD-12, Type 4, BTR-20) capabilities to modern aircraft has both decreased the turn radii and increased the turn rate.

    Corner Speed
    Corner speed is similar to turn rate, but it is a value that describes that best combination of speed and turn radius for a particular air craft. In other words, an aircraft's corner speed is a measure of how fast is can take a turn while still maintaining optimal lift and maneuverability.

    Maintaining corner speed is important in a turning fight with a opponent. Keep in mind, however, that every aircraft has a different turning capabilities. If your opponent's aircraft has a better turn performance then your's you may want to avoid a turning fight altogether. In some instances, climbing may prove better then turning.

    Pursuit Curves

    Today's air combat begins before two aircraft ever come within visual range of one another. Long-range air-intercept missiles, electronic countermeasures and radar compose the usual suite of weaponry and defense. But even the best technology in the world can't detect and destroy all threats. Some still slip within visual range. When this happens, pilots must use a repertoire of basic combat tactics and skillful maneuvers.

    In close combat fighting, your primary aim is to gain a better aspect angle then your opponent. Once you have this advantage, you can tail the enemy using three types of pursuit – Lead, Lag, and Pure. Depending on the situation, you may find all three necessary.

    Lead Pursuit
    As the name implies, lea pursuit refers to predicting the flight path of a target. You guess where the threat will be in the immediate future and then point your nose at that predicted position. By redirecting your flight path so that it crosses the target's flight path, you stand a better chance of striking the enemy with your your weapons.

    One disadvantage of lead pursuit is that it can cause the target to momentarily disappear beneath your aircraft's nose. If the target makes an erratic maneuver, you may not see it. Therefore, you should make small, persistent lead-pursuit turns that keep the target in sight. To initiate a lead pursuit, bank your aircraft so that you aim your nose at a point just ahead of your target's nose. Keep in mind that a tighter turn bleeds off kinetic energy.

    Lag Pursuit
    Lag pursuit is the exact opposite of lead pursuit; it refers to pointing your nose behind the target. Instead of making a tight turn to cut across the enemy's flight, you rely on a faster turn rate to keep up with the enemy throughout the turn. Lag pursuit is mostly used when you don't want to overshoot your target and keep a higher speed advantage. To execute a lag pursuit, pull back on your stick until the target aircraft is positioned just above the fight path. Then ease up slightly on the stick to maintain the enemy's position on your HUD.

    Pure Pursuit
    Unlike the two previous examples, pure pursuit is a direct chase. Using pure pursuit is easy. Simply point your aircraft directly at your target and follow its maneuvers. Pure pursuit is most useful when firing weapons at close range. At long ranges, both missiles and guns require some leading, but at close range, you can place your sight directly over the target and fire.

    Speed vs. Altitude
    The energy elements of a speed and altitude are two core elements of aerial combat. Maneuvering in the air can reduce one or both of these, or result on a tradeoff between the two. Altitude (potential energy) can be converted to speed by diving, and speed (kinetic energy) can be converted to altitude by climbing. Think of kinetic energy as energy in motion, and potential energy as energy in reserve.

    At any given instant, an aircraft possesses both a given amount of kinetic energy and some quantity of potential energy. Energy translates directly into maneuverability. Air Combat Maneuvering, or ACM, is a game of managing energy to maximize maneuverability and defeat the enemy.

    Finding the balance between speed and altitude requires skill and timing. You don't want to be closing too quickly on an enemy going into a turn, you'll overshoot and move into a disadvantaged position on front of him. Likewise, you don't want to lose so much speed executing a shake-off maneuver that you lose whatever velocity advantage you had to start with.

    A cardinal rule of air combat is that an aircraft with energy has maneuvering options; an aircraft without energy becomes a target. Maneuvering uses energy, and every unnecessary maneuver you make “burns” Kinetic energy. When it's gone, you can't easily get it back.

    You can take one of two approaches when you find yourself in a combat situation. You can choose the energy flight or the turn fight. Which one you choose depends on your skill and your aircraft's capabilities.

    Energy Fight
    In an energy fight, you take advantage of your aircraft's superior speed and avoid unnecessary turning. Ideally, you want to start the fight in an advantageous position, such as directly behind the bandit in his 6 o'clock low blind spot. Most of the time, however, that's not an option. You must rely on your energy advantage and skills to overcome your adversary.

    Initiating the Energy Fight
    When you choose the energy fight, you basically concede turn performance to the enemy and rely on instead on speed. You must keep your airspeed extremely high, minimizing the distance between you and your enemy's aircraft as you make a series of head-on attacks. The idea is to strike, then outrun your opponent's weapons weapon range. As you zoom by from a initial strike, you execute a wide turn and make another offensive pass. You choose when and where to engage, always bringing the fight on your terms, thanks to your speed surplus. The energy fight requires discipline, though. One speed-bleeding turn and your lost your energy advantage.

    Turning Fight
    Your second choice in combat is to enter a maneuvering fight and rely on your turn performance to win the day. The idea behind a turning fight is to reduce the amount of room in which the enemy can make a turn. You accomplish this during the merge by minimizing lateral separation, or the horizontal distance that separates your aircraft from your enemy's.

    The merge, or meeting the bandit head on, generally leads to one of two types of turning fights: one-circle or two-circle. You should choose a two-circle fight when you're flying a more maneuverable aircraft then your enemy. Use one-circle if you have all-aspect missiles.

    Two-circle Fights
    Two-circle fights, also called nose-to-tail fights, commence when you and your enemy meet head-on. After you pass each other (merge), you both loop around in opposite directions, trying to get on each other's tail. The distance between your flight paths is turning room that you both of you use. In other words, the turn radii of your aircraft overlap.

    Two-circle fights rely more on turn rate then turn radius. Always attempt to minimize lateral separation. If the enemy aircraft has worse turn performance then you, don't give him a inch of extra room. Keep lateral separation to the bare minimum you require for your turn.

    Conversely, if the bandit has better turn performance then your aircraft, deny him the chance to use it by closing in at maximum speed with as little lateral separation as possible.

    One-circle Fights
    One-circle fights commence when both you and your opponent happen to loop the same direction. One of you sacrifices lateral separation, relying instead on turn radius to out-maneuver the enemy. In general, only use the one-circle fight when you have a significant turn radius advantage over the bandit.

    The Initial Turn
    Timing the initial turn in a head-on approach is critical to maintaining the advantage during a fight. Turning too soon pulls you across the bandit's nose, which not only gives him a snapshot opportunity, but also puts you on the defensive. Turning to late, on the other hand, puts you out of position and allows the bandit to gain a better target aspect angle on you.

    A perfectly timed turn will deny the bandit any advantage while maximizing your own performance. However, while the initial turn is important, you may soon find yourself in a twisting, turning fight. When this happens, you need to apply additional air combat skills and maneuvers.

    Air Combat Maneuvers

    In the world of combat, getting into position for a good shot is often called “achieving a firing solution.” It can happen in half a second, or it may take several minutes. The manner in which you attain this position differs from conflict to conflict, so it's imperative that you develop a good reserve of combat maneuvers.

    Break turn
    • Use the break turn to evade enemy fire. Follow with a turn in the opposite direction.
      Initiate a break turn by banking (left, right, up or down).

    The break turn is the most basic combat maneuver, for it rapidly increases the angle-off-tail when a bandit is preparing to shoot you. This maneuver quickly increases your AoT but bleeds airspeed just as fast. You can also make a wider, sustained break turn, but forfeit several degrees of AoT. The closer your enemy is, the harder you should turn. Once you finish your break turn, Immediately follow it with another maneuver. Sustaining a break turn is dangerous. It make you wide open and predictable. As a rule, your next maneuver should further remove you from the enemy's weapon envelope.

    Barrel Roll
    • Offensively, use the barrel roll if you're overtaking an enemy too quickly
    • Defensively, use the barrel roll to force your attacker to overshoot and pass you.

    It is a energy management maneuver thats both used offensively and defensively. Initiate a barrel roll by rolling slightly and applying pitch, keep the nose pitched and spiral around the axis of your flight path.

    • Scissoring occurs when an attacker overshoots, and the target reacts by making a reverse turn too early.
    • Never purposefully enter a scissors fight. It bleeds off speed and altitude.

    Scissoring refers to a series of reversing break turns in which two aircraft turn back and forth toward each other., each trying to force the other out in front. This usually begins when the attacker starts a late high speed yo-yo or barrel roll and realizes he's going to overshoot his target. The defender, predicting the overshoot, reverses his turn. Although this is the right solution, he turns toward the attacker too soon, resulting in a fairly neutral pass and initiating scissors.

    Scissoring reduce the forward velocity vector, or the fighter's speed along the axis of its flight path. The aircraft turns across the flight path at varying speeds, reducing its average forward speed with every turn.

    If you're an attacker, The only way you can get into a scissors duel is by starting a maneuver too late and overshooting. If you're on the defensive, you correctly predicted his overshooting. But reacted too quickly and compounded the attacker's error.

    The “winner” if a scissors duel is usually whoever can conserve enough energy to force his opponent out front and bring the aircraft's nose around for a shot. More often then not. Scissoring ends when one aircraft loses so much speed that it stalls out and plummets. If the other aircraft has any energy left, it can roll, dive and take a shot before the falling aircraft can recover.

    Spiral Dive
    • Use spiral dive as a last resort, and only if your aircraft has the superior turn radius.
    • Fall into a steep dive, then make a hard-G turn. Throttle back midway through the turn and invert. Pull the nose up hard to maneuver onto the enemy's tail.

    If you use every maneuver imaginable and still can't shake an opponent despite a better turn radius, try a spiral dive. You carry out this maneuver by leading your opponent into a steep dive soon as he moves to one side of your tail and falls into an overshoot position. He won't have a direct line of fire at you at this moment, but you can't dive for long without him re-achieving a firing solution. End the dive quickly by taking advantage of your aircraft's better turning radius and pulling hard pitch. As you come out of the turn, reduce throttle, invert with 180 roll, and pull up sharply again. Your attacker probably won't notice that you've slowed down and will be forced out in front of you.

    High-Speed Yo-Yo
    • Use the high-speed yo-yo to reduce AoT and bring a target into your firing cone.
      This maneuver increases distance between you and the target.
    • Perform by relaxing a turn, then pulling up into a sharp climb. Invert, then apply pitch to slide back down onto the threat's tail at a smaller AoT.

    The high-speed yo-yo is a basic component of offensive air combat and reduces AoT at the cost of increasing the distance between you and your target. The yo-yo begins during a turning fight when you have assumed an aggressive position behind the bandit, but are stuck in lag pursuit and unable to bring your nose to bear. In this case, you can use gravity to your advantage.

    Roll out slightly when your enemy initiates a break turn, Then pull the nose up. At the apex of the climb, invert and roll back down onto your target's six o'clock position. You'll be further away from him, but in a better firing position.

    Don't make a yo-yo to extreme. Once you commit to a large one, you'll be unable to respond at any sudden changes the bandit might make. Patiently work small yo-yos by bringing the nose just above the horizon and chipping away at your AoT problem. This will move you into the target's cone of vulnerability without pulling high-G loads.

    Low-Speed Yo-Yo
    • Use the low-speed yo-yo when you have a good firing angle but need to bring the target in range.
      This maneuver decreases range at the cost of increasing AoT. (opposite of high-speed yo-yo)
    • Execute by diving inside of a target's turn and gaining airspeed. Then, pitch up and slide onto his tail once more.

    Use the low-speed yo-yo when you have a good shot but need to bring your weapons into range. Be careful not to dive too steeply during this maneuver. If you so, you may be unable to bring your nose to bear on the target. It will be too far above you.

    • Use this maneuver to increase altitude and reverse direction.

    The Immelman is neither an offensive or defensive procedure. Instead, it is a high-thrust maneuver that changes your bearing and increases your altitude. By pitching the nose up and climbing, you can execute one-half of a loop. To terminate the maneuver, invert and execute a roll. This leaves you flying in a different direction, but at a higher altitude. Once your wings are level, perform a half roll again to reassume a vertical position. The Immelman is most useful for aircraft that have low thrust capabilities.

    Thrust-Vectoring Turns

    Thrust-vectoring engines allow you to decrease your turn radius and make sharper turns then your opponent. Vanes in the exhaust port can be angled, redirecting thrust and decreasing the turn radius by mush as 50%. (near 90% in battlefield).

    To make this type of turn. Go into it just above your aircraft's corner speed. Then apply vectoring in the direction of the turn. The extra drag created when you start to vector will slow your aircraft down to below its corner speed and decrease the amount of G-load.

    Herbst Angle-of-Attack Maneuver (Post-Stall) [X-31 and F/X-35 only]
    • Use this maneuver to reverse heading when a bandit is on your tail.
    • Use this maneuver to fire on enemies above you.
    • Execute by going into a vertical climb and applying upward thrust vectoring. As the aircraft reaches its stall speed, vector the nose down and back.

    J-Turn [X-31, F/X-35, UD-6 and Type 4]
    • Use this maneuver to quickly change headings when a bandit's on your six
      this is similar to the Herbst maneuver, only you don't climb vertically.
    • Perform by pitching the nose 30 upward and applying speed brakes. Next, pull the stick back and vector sideways.

    You can only hover in lightly loaded aircraft. Fully armed loads will require short take off or full take off maneuvers. (Sims only) [X-32, F/X-35, AV-8B, Yak-38, Yak-141, Type 4, UD-6, UD-12, BTR-20, AH-1, AH-64, UH-1, UH-60, CH-53E, Mirage IIIV]
    To preform, Slow down and vector thrust 90 down. [non-helicopter]

    Engaging Ground Targets

    Since ground targets aren't very maneuverable, few actual “combat tactics” exist. The key to surviving ground-attack missions boils down to surprising and striking the enemy while avoiding AAA and SAM fire.

    Enemy Defenses
    Try and stay outside of enemy defense envelopes. If the target is heavily defended. Approach low and fast. AAA can't reach further then 2000 meters (300m in Battlefield). Stay high and out of AAA reach.

    Similarly, try using long range weapons. If the enemy defenses have a maximum range of 20nm (500m battlefield). This keeps you safely outside of the enemy's defenses.

    AAA Weaknesses
    AAA is deadly against low-altitude targets, but do have limitations. Whiles modern AAA uses radar to calculate lead, older AAA systems my “eyeball” you in their sights and therefore, must lead you on judgment. If you approach them from any direction other then head on, you're almost guaranteed they'll miss.
    The soldier formerly known as, Eroak.

    From the TG Primer: 2) Create an environment where there is
    mutual respect for your fellow gamers
    and where all members
    would be working together to advance the enjoyment of their hobby.
    Former TGU Dean, 3rd, 9th, & 56th IHS member.



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