Cleaning up Red Flag Alaska F-22 vs Typhoon debate

Since Eurofighter Typhoons defeated F-22s at Red Flag Alaska in June 2012, discussion has produced many claims. I will address some of them here:

1) WVR combat is only small spectrum of air combat.

Yes, and no – it mainly depends on numbers, and who you are shooting at. As enemy numbers, as well as quality of each pilot and aircraft, increase relative to BVR-oriented force, effectiveness of BVR missiles drops – while qualitatively and quantitatively superior air force might achieve per-missile probability of kill as high as 50% for BVR missiles (against non-maneuvering enemies with no jammers), BVR missiles have never achieved more than 10% per-missile Pk against force that has been comparable in all stated factors – and it must be kept in mind that BVR-oriented aircraft are always more complex (and thus both more expensive, and flying less often) than WVR-oriented ones.

In short, BVR combat is excellent when facing enemies you don’t need it against, but doesn’t work when needed most.

2) German Typhoons had helmet-mounted sights and this allowed them to dominate more maneuverable F-22

Incorrect. Exercise was held in June 2012, and only from July on did German Typhoons start getting HMD. As such, Typhoons at Red Flag had to point their nose at the F-22s to get a lock.

That can easily be confirmed by comparing helmets of Typhoon pilots at exercise:

http://cencio4.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/closeup1.jpg

http://cencio4.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/df_3029_neuburg_18-07-12.jpg

with HMD one:

http://www.defenceweb.co.za/images/stories/AIR/Air_new/Eurofighter_typhoon_helmet.jpg

which can be seen to be less round.

3) Typhoon’s IRST can detect F-22 from 50 kilometers

While that claim might not be incorrect – and indeed most likely isn’t – it has no relation to exercise itself, as Luftwaffe Typhoons had no IRST.

(Photo is of Typhoon from exercise, same one which “bagged” three F-22 “kills”).

4) Typhoons were slicked-off

While Typhoons did not carry any missiles or tanks in exercise, Typhoon does have a number of hard points that are permanently attacked to an airframe. In any case, heaviest – BVR – missiles would be ejected, and even some WVR missiles expended, well before Typhoons got in the merge. Neither F-22 or Typhoon had missiles.

Grune’s exact words are:

“We pulled off all the tanks to get most Alpha on it (Typhoon), and it is an animal with no tanks”.

5) F-22s were performance-limited

One of claims I have found was that F-22’s maneuver envelope has been limited due to oxygen problems. However, performance limitations to F-22 have only been enforced some time after the exercise, and pilots also had their oxygen vests, which have only been removed a week after exercise itself.

6) F-22s BVR capabilities were “overwhelming”

That claim, while not incorrect, was not about Typhoon vs F-22 exercise, but was a comment on earlier exercises where F-22s and Typhoons worked together against agressor F-16s simulating threat aircraft – most likely Cold War era Su-27 and MiG-29, as USAF has no reliable data on newest Russian types. As such, effectiveness of simulated BVR missiles in such exercises is far overstated even beyond unrealistic Pk assigned (Pk in question is around 90%, as Typhoons in that exercise got 16 kills from 18 simulated missile shots).

7) Typhoon was unable to get within 20 miles of F-22 without being targeted

That claim is result of Grumbercht’s quote that has been taken out of context:

“If I get everything right BVR, I’m not going to get closer than 20 miles.”

That quote seems to be referring to the Red Flag exercises, and not earlier Typhoon/F-22 WVR dogfight, and should probably be interpreted as “I’m not going to have to get closer than 20 miles”.

EDIT 7. 4. 2013.

This is excerpt from Jane Defense Weekly, found on Internet:

TYPHOON ‘HOLDS ITS OWN’ AGAINST RAPTOR
Immediately before Red Flag JG74 took part in Exercise ‘Distant Frontier’, which included eight one-on-one basic flying manoeuvre (BFM) sorties against US Air Force F-22A Raptor air superiority fighters. The aim was to help pilots of both types gain a fuller understanding of the capabilities, strengths and weaknesses of each other’s aircraft in order to allow them to operate together more effectively during Red Flag (where both types were assigned to the ‘Blue’ force) and during any subsequent ‘real world’ coalition operations.

During the process the pilots of JG74 gained a real boost to their confidence, said Col Grüne. “There were two mornings where we flew against them 1v1. We pulled off all the tanks to get the most alpha [angle of attack]; the Eurofighter really is an animal with no tanks.

“We expected to perform less with the Eurofighter but we didn’t … they were as impressed by us as we were impressed by them.”

Col Pfeiffer went into a little more detail. “In the dogfight the Eurofighter is at least as capable as the F-22, with some advantages in some aspects,” he said. “This is without the helmet. The Raptor’s unique capabilities are overwhelming, but as soon as you get to the merge, which is [admittedly] only a very small spectrum of air combat, the Typhoon doesn’t necessarily have to fear the F-22 in all aspects. We gain energy better than the F-22 when we are slow, for example.”

Red Flag demonstrated that the Typhoon had other advantages – being able to stay on station longer than the F-22, for example – but could not compete with the Raptor’s dominance in the beyond-visual-range (BVR) arena.

Both sides were coy about the relative kill:loss ratio gained during the Typhoon/F-22 BFM sorties, but Col Grüne was upbeat. “The only thing I can say is that I agreed to put out some whisky if they came back with some good performances … and I paid for quite a lot of whisky,” he said.

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78 replies

  1. Picard,

    It’s a been a great reading all the way 🙂 thnx

    It is a fact that eurofighter typhoon is more maneuverable than the f22 , i had one question which was irritating me .
    Are the German pilots who operated in this red flag were aces?

    • I don’t think there are any aces in Luftwaffe. Ace is, by definition, a pilot with 5 or more air-to-air kills, and German pilots didn’t really have much opportunity to become aces since the Korean war. That being said, both F-22 and Typhoon pilots are likely to be better than average in their respective air forces.

  2. I think that it should be made known, is the the Euro Fighter is like a tailored suit. It is tailored to each air force’s specs. Each European country has their specialties, Germany specialises in Electronic Warfare, France in Reconnaissance and the UK in Combat Systems. With that said, Luftwaffe Typhoons are not as capable as Royal Air Force Typhoons. This was also the case for the older Panavia Tornadoes. If you compare all of the Combat Systems of Europe, the UK always uses the most capable systems.

  3. Love the F22, and love the Typhoon. The two working side-by-side represents total superiority in the air.

  4. Is Colonel Grune German or American? I doubt an American last name would have the two dots above the U.

  5. This website was… how do you say it? Relevant!!
    Finally I have found something that helped me. Thanks!

  6. That a clean, slick Typhoon is evenly matched with the F-22 in close-in dogfighting is not surprising.

  7. excellent points altogether, you just won a logo new reader.
    What would you suggest about your post that you
    just made some days ago? Any certain?

  8. Is dogfight really relevant for the F22 who is supposed to be a stealth 5th gen fighter ? I thought that a plane that would deal with a F22 would not even know that their is an F22 in the region, he would simply be shot down without knowing where it came from. ??

    • Dogfight is always relevant, especially for the F-22 as it has no visual/IR sensors. Electronic identification is not reliable, IFF can be hacked or off, and NCTR is only some 30% reliable. AWACS is vulnerable to being shot down, and in any case data links can be jammed. No AWACS means no (semi-)reliable electronic ID, which means either visual sensors – which have ID range of some 40 km (PIRATE, OSF IR channel) to 55 km (OSF TV channel) – or good old Mk.I eyeball.

      And against opponent with a proper EW/ECM suite, what you described won’t work anyway, even ignoring ID problems. Radar is an active sensor, so it will be detected by a competent RWR, which automatically negates F-22s stealth and gives away its position, preventing surprise. It can also be jammed, significantly reducing engagement range and making F-22 vulnerable to comparably short-range attacks.

      Even if F-22s own radar is not detected or jammed, AMRAAM is an active-radar missile whose radar will get detected and jammed during the endgame. Which again results in a miss and rough position of the launch platform (F-22) being revealed as either RWR, MAWS or both will have detected the missile and noted the direction it came from. And remember that BVR missiles are not one-shot-one-kill weapons (nothing is), in fact at long ranges that would be necessary for the F-22 to stay hidden, it is unlikely that any missiles will hit (unless F-22 gets equipped with Meteor, and even then most would still miss).

  9. F22’s are much superior to typhoons in a beyond visual range setting. A f22 would be able to shoot down a typhoon before the typhoon even knew that the f22 was there. In dogfight, f22’s thrust vectoring system evens the playing field bewtween the two.

    • “A f22 would be able to shoot down a typhoon before the typhoon even knew that the f22 was there.”

      No, it would not. F-22 has no IRST, and radar BVR missiles are too unreliable anyway. You’d have to have two or three F-22s emptying their standard BVRAAM payload to shoot down a single target.

      “In dogfight, f22’s thrust vectoring system evens the playing field bewtween the two.”

      All it does is fix certain F-22s aerodynamic shortcomings as well as improve supercruise performance. But TVC alone is not enough, Typhoon still has advantage due to (slightly) lower wing loading and smaller size and weight.

  10. Even after after a very detailed (where sensitivity allows) article about the 2 very different weapon systems, it amazes me that there are still armchair experts out there throwing ill informed statements around as if they are being paid to do so. You did read the article, right?

  11. Stealth in and of itself requires certain limitations on the airframe and the capabilities of such. As such it is not entirely surprising that a gen 4.5 aircraft could surpass the capability of a gen 5 stealth aircraft after the merge. One thing that helps a stealthy aircraft is that it is difficult to lock up on radar even at closer ranges that would be a definite lock on for a non-stealthy aircraft. Stealth applies not only to radar but to IR as well. Design aspects limit the ability of weapon systems to lock on to IR as well. Depending on the 22’s configuration relative to the opposing AC the IR signature is reduced as well.

    Both aircraft are very capable in their own right. Both are multirole aircraft as the f22 has proven recently. I think that perhaps the f22 and the Eurofighter will be the last of their kind. Future fighters will be drones as they can build more capability into a drone than a manned fighter. Airframe can endure more G without worry of a manned pilot, no environmental requirements – air, cockpit, ejection systems, etc. I think that we are so close to having fully self-contained drones that within 10-20 years will be the standard for fighter aircraft. Perhaps we are closer to the “Rise of the Machines” than we realize, lol.

    • “Stealth in and of itself requires certain limitations on the airframe and the capabilities of such. As such it is not entirely surprising that a gen 4.5 aircraft could surpass the capability of a gen 5 stealth aircraft after the merge. One thing that helps a stealthy aircraft is that it is difficult to lock up on radar even at closer ranges that would be a definite lock on for a non-stealthy aircraft. Stealth applies not only to radar but to IR as well. Design aspects limit the ability of weapon systems to lock on to IR as well. Depending on the 22’s configuration relative to the opposing AC the IR signature is reduced as well. ”

      That is true… to an extent. IR signature is indeed reduced, relative to an aircraft of the same size, configuration and engine power. However, radar stealth requirements (internal bays, faceting, flat nozzles) result in aircraft requiring larger dimensions, higher weight and higher engine power for the same payload, and even more so if you want to have the same kinematic performance as a non-stealth aircraft. End result is higher visual and IR signature, meaning that radar VLO aircraft may well have higher IR signature than limited-LO aircraft of conventional configuration and similar overall capability.

      “Both aircraft are very capable in their own right. Both are multirole aircraft as the f22 has proven recently.”

      “Proven” is kinda optimistic. I mean, there was never any doubt that the F-22 will be able to drop bombs, eventually. What there was doubt about is wether it is cost effective… and in low-intensity conflicts, where A-10 can do as it pleases and F-15E, F-16 can also be used against fixed targets (the only type of targets F-22 can attack), the answer is decidedly negative. In high-intensity conflicts, UCAVs might well be more stealthy against high-value fixed targets, as well as more expendable.

      “I think that perhaps the f22 and the Eurofighter will be the last of their kind. Future fighters will be drones as they can build more capability into a drone than a manned fighter. Airframe can endure more G without worry of a manned pilot, no environmental requirements – air, cockpit, ejection systems, etc.”

      I am not so sure. Air combat and close air support both require good situational awareness, quick response and ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. Drones will take over some missions soon – SEAD/DEAD, they are already used for recon, and other similar missions – but it will be some time before they are able to undertake more complex ones.

      Ability to endure Gs is hardly the only measure of capability. Besides, there are many significant structural limits – engine and wings being most significant. So it is unlikely UCAVs will go much beyond 12 g, which is still within human pilot’s limit (Rafale C has only soft stick limit at 9 g, it can go up to 11 g if pilot wants it to).

      “I think that we are so close to having fully self-contained drones that within 10-20 years will be the standard for fighter aircraft. Perhaps we are closer to the “Rise of the Machines” than we realize, lol.”

      We’ll see. UAVs have been around as long as fixed-wing aircraft, and UCAVs have only appeared relatively recently. I’d guess that it will take at least few more decades before viable air superiority UCAVs appear, even if modern UCAVs are fully capable of strikes against fixed ground targets (as new designs should be).

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