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Posts Tagged ‘BVR combat’

AMRAAM jammed by Su-30MKI – further questions on radar BVR combat

Posted by picard578 on March 7, 2019

In a recent clash between Indian Su-30MKIs and Pakistani F-16s, latter had fired “four to five American AMRAAMs (AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile) from a distance of 40-50 km at the Indian aircraft including the Su-30 and the MiG-21 Bison.” IAF had negated Pakistani claims of having shot down a Su-30MKI in the engagement. Even if true, that claim would give Pk of 20-25%, nowhere close to 50-90% often claimed. Historically the attacker’s claims were typically significantly overstated, so there is no reason to believe Pakistani claims.

In February, Pakistani F-16 had been shot down by Indian MiG-21, confirmed by both sides.

EDIT: Missile used was AIM-120-C5. Multiple launches were “conclusively observed“. Su-30 had spoofed a number of AMRAAM missiles.

EDIT2: Further analysis of the F-16 shootdown.

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Why Gulf Wars cannot be used as a basis for estimating effectiveness of beyond visual range combat

Posted by picard578 on July 20, 2013

Introduction

Gulf wars are used as a proof that BVR combat has finally become effective. But they have been unique in many aspects, and unrepresentative of combat conditions that will be in effect against competent opponent. Thus they are not assurance than radar-guided BVR missiles will really perform as well as Western – particularly US – doctrine requires them to if there is ever a war where they will be needed to perform well.

Gulf War I

State of Iraqi military

Operation Desert Storm, which may have as many as 16 possible BVR victories, is seen as BVR turning point. But there are some issues.

Firstly, Iraqi’s armed forces, like armed forces of most – if not all – Arab states were not meant to fight a war. Arab monarchs and dictators treat armed forces as a status symbol. As a result, Arab militaries are often in possession of large quantities of modern hardware – Saudi Arabia for example recently bought 72 Eurofighter Typhoons – but do not have leadership, personnel, and logistical capabilities to keep these weapons combat-effective. As Michael Knight has noted about Saudi armed forces, they suffer from a “massive overemphasis on procurement of high technology and serious underemphasis on manpower issues, personnel selection, training, and maintenance.” Gulf militaries are regularly short on noncommissioned officers, who are actually more important for making modern militaries run than general-rank officers they have in abundance (this top-heavy nature is also characteristic of US armed forces, but unlike Arab countries US military does have enough NCOs and low-level CO-s to make military run, and these are competent and independent enough to compensate for mistakes of mostly-incompetent high-level officers during the war). They are heavily dependant on foreign support to make militaries run, with 30% of UAEs military personnell being expatriates. Like all Arab forces, Iraqi armed forces – and especially air force – suffered from poor tactical leadership, poor information management, poor weapons handling, and poor maintenance. Arab forces also have a heavily centralized system, making them inept in responding to rapidly changing battlefield conditions, and leaders are promoted not on basis of competence but on basis of family, tribal and political affiliations. Even Iran has problems in maintaining an effective military – especially an effective air force – due to lack of spares and trained technicians.

This has shown in all wars Arab conventional militaries have fought. Read the rest of this entry »

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F-35 and its troubles

Posted by picard578 on May 11, 2013

While people term F-35 a “multirole” aircraft, and Lockheed Martin stated that it is second-best air superiority fighter in the world, F-35 is primarly a dedicated ground attack aircraft. This can be seen relatively easily, as there are different requirements for fighters and for ground attack aircraft.

Primary requirement for ground attack aircraft is ability to fly low and fast. This means that gust sensitivity should be minimal, which is done by high wing loading; only exception are close air support aircraft, which have to be able to fly low and slow, and be agile at low speeds. Air superiority aircraft, on the other hand, has to be able to turn while maintaining energy, which is achieved through having low wing loading, low drag and high thrust to weight ratio.

F-35s EOTS IR sensor (not to be confused with EO DAS which is defense system) can only detect targets right in front of, and below, aircraft.

Eots-Angles

Wavelengths used by it are also optimised for detecting ground targets.

Even F-35s name says it all: “strike fighter”. Unlike multirole fighters, which are designed to operate primarly in air superiority role but can also carry out ground and (sometimes) maritime strike missions, strike fighter is designed to operate primarly in strike role, with air-to-air capability being secondary and usually limited to self-defense (even A-10 can carry Sidewinders for self-protection purposes).

At 50% fuel, thrust-to-weight ratio of all three fighters is below that of modern fighter aircraft at air-to-air configuration takeoff weight, with exception of Saab Gripen. For both F-35A and F-35B, wing loading at 50% fuel is above 400 kg per square meter, with F-35C achieving barely acceptable 340 kilos per square meter. While there is a degree of wing-body blending, amound of body lift is not comparable to air superiority aircraft like F-16, Gripen or Rafale. STOVL requirement also resulted in stubby, fat body, making F-35 a drag queen, especially when compared to clean F-16 – and for all three aircraft listed, clean configuration includes 2 AAM, either BVR or WVR, whereas Typhoon carries 4 BVR AAM in clean configuration. Result is that F-35 has rather sluggish acceleration, and looses energy quickly.

Its cockpit visibility is also good only to front, sides and above aircraft – and in these areas, it is still limited by bow canopy frame. Rearward visibility is nonexistent, thanks to STOVL requirements of B variant – and when pilot brought up that flaw, general Bogdan stated that he can always “put pilot in cargo aircraft where he won’t have to worry about getting gunned down”. Its high-tech HMD, counted at to adress problems of limited cockpit view, also experienced problems, making it possible that information to F-35s pilots will be limited to only what they can see directly through canopy – which is not much – and what can de displayed from sensors on screens within cockpit. This means that problems with canopy bow and ejection seat headrest impeding visibility might get F-35 gunned down in visual combat.

F-35 is also seriously flammable – fuel literally surrounds the engine, and fire protection measures have long since been deleted from the design in order to make it lighter. As result, hits from any kind of weapon which can penetrate its skin – basically anything from 20 mm cannon and above – will turn it into fireball.

Due to everything described above, it has to rely on stealth to survive. But stealth aircraft since SR-71 have been routinely detected by radars and IR sensors during and after Cold War; USSR luckily never chose to shoot any US aircraft, while Iraq did not have capability to do so, even if indications exist that Iraqis did detect F-117. But Serbs easily solved the VHF radar’s problem with low resolution, using it to guide IR SAM close enough to F-117 for missile to acquire and engage the target. Result are two F-117s taken out of action during Kosovo war, one shot down and one mission-killed.

Radar-based BVR combat has never been reliable either. Radar-guided missiles never achieved Pk of over 8% against capable opponent, and this is unlikely to improve, despite all USAFs self-deluding exercises where F-22s BVR missiles are assigned probabilities of kill of 90%. Even this “capable” should be taken with bit of salt, as it refers to North Vietnamese – but at very least, and unlike Iraqis, they did try to evade the missiles.

In fact, by using Air Power Australia report and fixing it with calculable data, it is possible to calculate likely BVR missile Pk against modern, 12-g capable fighter. As g forces pulled in tracking turn are square of speed difference, it can be calculated how much of forces required can modern missiles achieve. AIM-120 travels at Mach 4, and can pull 30 g within its NEZ, yet it would need 768 Gs to reliably hit a modern fighter which is maneuvering at corner speed of Mach 0,5, or 237 Gs if target is still at standard cruise speed of Mach 0,9. This results in Pk between 3 and 13% against fighter aircraft with no ECM, which fits perfectly with 8% Pk demonstrated against (mostly) maneuvering aircraft without ECM to date. If fighter is maneuvering at corner speed, but is still limited to 9 g by FCS (is not in override), BVR missile Pk is 5,2%. Thus, we have following kill-chain against modern fighter aircraft in g override (12 g capable) at M 0,5 (most likely scenario, as RWR will have warned pilot of radar lock):

Action – likelyhood of failure – hit probability

  1. Active missile confirmed on launch rail — 0.1% — 0,999

  2. Search and track radar jammed – 5% — 0,949

  3. Launch or missile failure – 5% — 0,902

  4. Guidance link jammed – 3% — 0,875

  5. Seeker head jammed or diverted — 30% — 0,612

  6. Chaff or decoys seduce the seeker — 5% — 0,581

  7. Seeker chooses towed decoy — 50% — 0,29

  8. Aircraft out-maneuvers missile — 97% — 0,00873

  9. Fuse or warhead failure — 2% — 0,00856

Total: 0,86%

Against 9 g capable fighter aircraft, it goes this way:

  1. Active missile confirmed on launch rail — 0.1%
  2. Search and track radar jammed – 5%
  3. Launch or missile failure – 5%
  4. Guidance link jammed – 3%
  5. Seeker head jammed or diverted — 30%
  6. Chaff or decoys seduce the seeker — 5%
  7. Seeker chooses towed decoy — 50% — 0,291
  8. Aircraft out-maneuvers missile — 94,8% — 0,015
  9. Fuse or warhead failure — 2% — 0,0146

Total: 1,46%

This can be compared to 0,36% probability of kill shown by modern SAMs against capable opponent (with 2 hits being a non-maneuvering VLO light bombers at low altitude and with no ECM; if only actual fighters are counted, probability of kill is 0,12%, as 1 F-16 was shot down out of 842 launches).

In WVR combat, if missile travels at Mach 3 and fighter aircraft travels at Mach 0,5 (corner speed of many modern fighters) and can pull 12 g maneuvers, missile needs to pull 432 g to hit fighter aircraft. This gives a Pk of 14% for WVR missiles, as even IRIS-T can “only” pull 60 gs. Against targets limited to 9 g, it has to pull 324 g, for Pk of 18,5%.

As such, for visual-range missiles, against aircraft maneuvering at corner speed, calculation goes this way:

  1. Active missile confirmed or on launch rail – 0,001 – 0,999
  2. Launch or missile failure – 0,03 – 0,969
  3. DIRCM effective – 0,00 (rarely fitted to fighters)
  4. Flare or decoys seduce the seeker – 0,05 – 0,921
  5. Aircraft out-maneuvers the missile – 0,86 – 0,13
  6. Fuse or warhead failure – 0,1 – 0,12

Total Pk: 12%

Against fighter aircraft limited to 9 g it goes this way:

  1. Active missile confirmed or on launch rail – 0,001 – 0,999
  2. Launch or missile failure – 0,03 – 0,969
  3. DIRCM effective – 0,00 (rarely fitted to fighters)
  4. Flare or decoys seduce the seeker – 0,05 – 0,92
  5. Aircraft out-maneuvers the missile – 0,81 – 0,17
  6. Fuse or warhead failure – 0,1 – 0,157

Total Pk: 15,7%

As such, BVR missiles will have Pk of 0,86% – 1,46%, and WVR missiles will have Pk of 12% – 15,7%. As F-35 can carry 4 missiles, combined Pk will be 3,44% – 5,84% for BVR missiles, or 48% – 62,8% for WVR missiles. Because F-35 is very expensive and maintenance-intensive, it will find itself outnumbered, and forced to engage opponents with gun. This will mean F-35s loss against most fighter aircraft, as it is performance-limited: only one version can regularly pull 9 g maneuvers, and other two are limited to 7 and 7,5 g, respectively – which also means that opponent’s IR missiles will have higher Pk against them (~20%) than other way around. They can’t run either, as maximum speed when clean is Mach 1,6 – theoretically, as current aircraft are unable to go past Mach 0,9. While all three versions likely have ultimate load limit of 13,5 g, it is unknown wether F-35B and C will be allowed to go into g override to same limit as F-35A.

F-35s technology, once thought to be best of the best, is now outdated. Its IRST is no better than European counterparts, and is actually worse for air-to-air work as it is designed – and uses wavelengths suited for – air-to-ground work; and by the time F-35 enters service, Eurocanards will have AESA radars.

As a ground attack aircraft, it is only somewhat better. It can carry only two 900-kg bombs in its bomb bays, making it a rather average bomber. It is unable to carry out close air support, as it is too vulnerable to get low enough to engage tactical targets, too fast to put weapons precisely on target even if it does come low, and too fuel-thirsty to loiter over ground troops in need of air cover.

In March 2013, F-35A was forbidden from doing following things:

  • descent rates of more than 30 meters per second
  • airspeed above Mach 0,9 (compare to advertised Mach 1,6)
  • angle of attack beyond -5 and +18 degrees (compare to advertised +50 degrees)
  • maneuvers beyond -1 and +5 g (compare to advertised 9 g for A version)
  • takeoffs or landings in formation
  • flying at night or in bad weather
  • using real or simulated weapons
  • rapid stick or rudder movements
  • air-to-air or air-to-ground tracking maneuvers
  • refuelling in the air
  • flying within 40 kilometers from lightning
  • use of electronic countermeasures
  • use of anti-jamming, secure communications or datalinks
  • electro-optical targeting
  • using DAS to detect targets or threats
  • using IFF interrogator
  • using HMD as “primary reference”
  • use of air-to-air or air-to-ground radar modes for electronic attack, sea search, ground-moving targets or close-in air combat modes.

It also had quite a list of other problems:

  • liable to explode if struck with lightning
  • F-135 jet engine exceeds weight capacity of traditional replenishment systems and generates more heat than previous engines
  • extensive damage will require returning aircraft to factory for repairs
  • fuel dump subsystem poses fire hazard
  • survivability issues (rumored to be about stealth)
  • airframe unlikely to last through required lifespan
  • using the afterburner damages the aircraft
  • poor radar performance

But this is hardly end of F-35s troubles list. Performance shortfalls are compounded by development problems: at one point, Lockheed Martin had to cannibalize LRIP production line for spares so prototypes can continue with testing.

F-35s costs are understated. Sometimes-heard 59 and 79 million USD values are those of early days of the programme, specifically from 2002. But even without inflation, costs have doubled by 2012, with flyaway cost being 197 million USD for F-35A, 237,7 million USD for F-35B and 236,8 million USD for F-35C. And these are unlikely to get any lower than they are for very simple reason: modern fighter aircraft are complex, and for them learning curve barely exists. And what of learning curve does exist has already been largely absorbed by reduction in cost which lowered F-35As unit flyaway cost from 207 to 197 million USD. One of reasons is that fighter aircraft get continuous upgrades which do not allow production to stabilize and invest in truly effective cost reduction measures. F-22s unit flyaway costs went backwards late in production: whereas flyaway cost mid-production was 200 million USD, last aircraft produced cost 250 million USD flyaway. Same happened with F-14, F-15 and F-16, due to increased complexity of new technology put in to make them “more capable”; F-16A would, today, cost 30 million USD, but F-16C costs 70 million USD.

F-35 is also very unreliable, which means that pilots won’t be able to fly it as often as required, and it is not meeting reliability growth targets. One in seven training sorties in late 2012 resulted in mission aborts. By late 2012, F-35 was barely achieving one sortie every 3 days. It had 4 flight hours between critical failures, and by 2013 mean elapsed time for engine removal and installation was 52 hours (system treshold being 120 minutes). Flights were also aborted due to battery problems whenever temperature dropped below 15 degrees Celzius, making F-35 utterly unsuitable to Canada, Great Britain or Scandinavian countries.

I have already mentioned HMD problems. These include misaligned horizons; inoperative or flickering displays; double, unfocused, jittery, washed-out and/or latent images. Due to all that confusion, HMD more hurts situational awareness than it helps – and F-35, due to STOVL requirement for Marine version, has nil rearward visibility.

While F-35 has met 7 out of 10 objectives, several objectives – like “begun lab testing” – were impossible to fail. But these do not show how well – or bad – programme is progressing. And in the end, it cannot be expected that dedicated strike aircraft can perform well in air superiority role; role which, despite wishful thinking by weapons designers, is still visual-range unless enemy is outmatched in every way imaginable. But if it is, F-15A and Tornado ADV are perfectly capable of handling him; there is no need for stealth fighters; and if it isn’t, F-35, with its disastrous visual-range performance, cannot be anything more than cannon fodder, soaking up enemy missiles so more capable fighters – be it F-22, F-15 or F-16 – can take out enemy aircraft without heavy losses. But F-35 is too expensive for that, which means that USAF will be in trouble as soon as F-16 is replaced by F-35.

Pig-that-ate-the-Pentagon.Lockheed-Martin flying-pig-325x275

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