Modern BVR Air Combat - Part 2

Modern BVR Air Combat - Part 2
Modern BVR air combat has evolved from just trying to engage your enemy from a far-away distance to a more sophisticated doctrine involving not only disabling your enemy but also as area-denial, posturing, and active defense.

Although BVR Combat tactics and doctrine is a topic of immense content, we will try to keep it short by focusing only upon basics and a few important scenarios. Let’s start small, let’s look at basic BVR combat tactics and their reasons.

Information Disclaimer - The knowledge presented here is gathered from numerous online & offline sources over the year by the author, and hence citing them is not in scope. Authenticity, correctness or consistency of the information presented is not guaranteed, and readers may accept them upon their own discretion
Assumption:- Both attacking and defending parties know how to optimally attack and defend in BVR combat scenario

Part 2: BVR Combat Tactics
BVR Attack Tactics -

When attacking the enemy, keep these things in mind -
  1. Maximize the kinetic energy of the missile - Most important factor to keep in mind is to maximize the kinetic energy of the launching missile. This includes launching the missile from an optimally high altitude that maximizes missile velocity, adding your own kinetic energy (launch aircraft’s speed), and “lobbing” the missile like a stone thrown into the air for gaining additional distance (we will discuss this later).
    So, if you have time for preparation, which is ideally the case when you are the attacker, or expecting your enemy to attack, climb to an altitude of around ~10km (36,000 ft) and commence your launch at preferably high Mach number.

  2. Optimize the missile launch so that it has a clear line of sight with the enemy - One clear & effective way of defeating long-range missiles is to just hide behind natural obstacles like mountain terrain and ground clutter. If the missile loses seeker lock in the terminal chase, it is pretty much defeated.

    For example, if your enemy is hiding in mountain valleys, climb up to 12 km (40,000fts) and launch the missile, this way, the missile will have a top-down seeker lock on the missile, making it much more difficult for the enemy to evade.

  3. For long-range shots, keep the data link active as long as possible - If you are launching a BVR semi-active radar missile, you practically have to keep the radar lock till the missile hits. For an active radar-guided & IR guided missile, the longer you have data link active, higher the chances of the missile finding its target properly.

  4. More missiles, more probability of kill - In most cases, adding the second one for “double-confirmation” actually works in the BVR scenario (or any attack scenario TBH). Where it will not work is when the enemy is fast running away and you launch the missile pretty much in range greater than your missile can catch up before burning out & slowing down.
BVR Defence Tactics -

If a BVR missile has been launched at you, or you suspect a missile is being headed towards you, follow these tactics -
  1. Hide from threat radar’s line of sight if possible - If flying low in mountainous terrain, prefer to hide from the direct line-of-sight of threat radar signals. Pilots usually dive deep into the mountain valleys so that radar waves cannot reach the aircraft. This will break the radar lock of the aircraft, as well as of the missile, terminating homing to your aircraft in most cases.
    Although this is not always possible, because often missions are carried upon sea & plains where natural obstacles are not present.

  2. Try to bleed the missile of energy as much as possible- Primary objective is to slow down the missile as much as possible, to the point it does not have any energy to chase you anymore. Few ways of bleeding missile energy -
    • Dive into “thicker air” - Basically going low, where the air density is higher, and the missile loses more energy than in higher altitude, per unit distance covered.

    • Make zig-zag turns to give the missile a false-lead - Missile tries to “lead” the target, which means missile calculates the imaginary impact point, given the missile’s speed & the target aircraft’s speed. This will cause the missile to make sharp-turns multiple times, making it lose energy more quickly.

  3. If at a lower altitude, hug the ground as close as possible - The ground clutter will make you difficult to spot by enemy radar, and often going low and missile following you, the missile will crash straight to the ground, or hit some ground clutter.

  4. Run away from the missile ! (Smartly, Split - S maneuver) - If you are not feeling particularly enthusiastic facing the enemy head-on, or are unsure about the enemy missile's characteristics, the best option might be to run away from it ! Although it may not always work if you are too close, and the missile catches you anyway because of its superior kinematics.

    Split - S maneuver to dodge missile - The basic idea is, to make a shallow dive and go 180 deg straight back. This will do two things -
    • Drag the missile into thicker air, and slow it down further, at the same time, you will gain additional kinetic energy from losing altitude.

    • Missiles will require more kinetic energy to catch you since you are running away from it.

Split - S is a very common, yet equally effective maneuver in air combat.
  1. Using Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) - Countermeasures are used along with the above mentioned kinetic methods for a greater added chance of survival against air-to-air missiles.
    The basic idea of ECM against a radar tracking you, is to create false radar targets around you so that radar gets confused in clutter or accidentally locks up to one of the “false” radar targets.
    Basic countermeasures for spoofing radar are “chaffs”, which are thin hairs of aluminum dispersed into the air by the defending jet. The enemy radar waves will be reflected by the thin strands of aluminum hair floating through the air, creating a false radar target.

    Chaff rounds with thin aluminum hairs

  2. Jamming / Electronic Warfare- Although the topic of electronic warfare and jamming is humongous and well guarded, we will discuss some basic scenarios of how effective jamming can nullify radar-guided missiles, even when the missile is fired at lethal range (high kill probability).
    • Noise Jamming / Barrage Jamming - Involves sending radio waves with the same frequency towards the enemy radar/missile. This confuses the enemy radar receiver which cannot identify the “false” reflected signals from the actual reflected signals.
      This type of jamming is generally effective towards missile radars, as they are mostly primitive pulse-doppler radar seekers. With missiles tipped with AESA radars, the effectiveness of noise jamming will be significantly reduced.

    • Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) Jamming - A very sophisticated jamming method, which involves manipulating the incoming radar signals and sending back “false” reflections, such that radar will see “false” targets, rather than being blocked from detection like in the above case.
      DFRM jamming, although only a few countries have been successful in mastering this technology, is very effective if executed correctly. Missiles hit with DRFM jamming may completely lose radar lock-on target aircraft and fly towards some “false” created target.

Now that we know basic tactics, let’s dive more into some particular tactics employed using BVR missiles, these, if executed correctly, can change the outcome of the air battle.
  1. Launching a missile by “Lobbying” it for greater range- It involves climbing up to a thinner atmosphere (around ~10 km, 36,000ft), full-afterburners for achieving a significant amount of speed and launching the missile at around 30-40 deg. nose angle. This method utilizes two factors for increasing kill probability -
    1. Imparting higher kinetic energy to the missile increases its kill probability.

    2. Top-down seeker looking at target aircraft gives a clearer line-of-sight with a lesser probability of enemy jet highing behind natural obstacles.

  2. F-Pole Maneuver - This is an offensive as well as a defensive method rolled into one. The idea of F-Pole maneuver is to get as close as possible to enemy aircraft for launching a BVR missile, while at the same time maintaining a high probability of defending from an enemy BVR missile coming towards you.
    It consists of these series of steps -
    • Go head-on towards your enemy with full-afterburners on to achieve maximum speed.

    • When you think the enemy has launched a BVR missile towards you (by RWR warning or visual), move +45 deg. off your course towards the enemy jet. Continue to move on this trajectory for 2-4 seconds (depends upon missile type and distance from your target).

    • Make a sharp 90 deg. turn towards the enemy jet, such that you are at -45 deg. from your initial flight trajectory. At the same time, launch your own BVR missile at the enemy. This missile launched at a much closer range will have a much higher probability of kill.

      The enemy missile launch at you, at the last step, will have to make a much sharper turn of more than 90 deg. to reach you, which will make it lose a significant amount of energy and most probably will never be able to reach you.

  3. Split - S Cycle- This is also an offensive as well as a defensive maneuver, and one of the most common tactics used when you are with a not alone and against multiple enemies with BVR capability. This maneuver makes sure to push your enemy defensive, while at the same time keeping the situational awareness of the battlefield and also getting a viable kill solution against your enemy.
    This consist of these series of steps -
    • You approach the enemy head-on, with your wingman(s) behind you at a few kilometers of distance.

    • You lock upon your enemies and launch BVR missiles at them at a significant range, causing them to go evasive. You quickly make a split - S turn and go back to defend against any incoming BVR missile launched by the enemy.

    • Wingman behind you keeps going towards the enemy and launches its BVR missiles when the enemy jets are in range. Wingman too, makes a split - S turn after firing the missiles to defend.

    • If there exist more wingmen, it's now their turn as the previous step. If not, you will do an Immelmann turn (read gaining altitude and coming back), and repeat the previous steps.

      This maneuver is so effective, that given similar missile parameters & electronic warfare capability of both parties, the party executing this maneuver will always have an upper hand against the opposite party if they do not execute this similar maneuver.

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