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Old 01-02-2009, 06:38 PM   #1
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Aerial doctrines

Forseeing the almost unlimited expansion of such a theme I've started a thread about combat aircraft, which may be useful in developing starfighter and airspeeder combat scenes.

Aerial combat has essentially evolved to form the general mission sorties of air superiority, intercept, force interdiction, tactical attack and strategic bombing. Different types of aircraft, equipment and loadouts are often used for each, with different performance specifications and emphasis.

Air Superiority is the fight for dominance in the skies above a battlefield. By the end of WW2 it was universally observed that air superiority was essential to successful land and sea operations (recorded thusly in the 1943 edition of the US field manual following experience in North Africa). Air superiority allows for unhindered ground attack and close army support missions, which can increase the offensive capabilities of any surface action manyfold, as well as provide defensive cover for troops on the ground (against armour, for example). Air superiority also offers increased survivability for aircrews involved in strategic bombing operations, by clearing the skies of enemy interceptors.

Modern air superiority aircraft typically have excellent BVR capabilities and supersonic cruise performance for quick response and wide ranging deployment. They require good range, effective countermeasures and a well organised battlefield control. They also require some equivalence in transonic and dogfight performance for aerial engagements at close range. With such a wide array of maximum specifications they are the most expensive fighter aircraft, and many are adapted to perform multiple roles as a means of cost recovery.

Interception describes taking out enemy bombers and attack aircraft and their escorts and is essentially a defensive response. Interceptors need to climb quickly and have powerful offensive capabilities. They require good dash speeds and must be capable of penetrating enemy countermeasures or escorts, either by sheer power or avionics in order to remove the primary threat, typically nuclear, quickly. These are often the highest performing aircraft on paper, though their performance is rarely sustainable. Range is not a requirement as mission endurance rarely exceeds an hour.

The Spitfire and Hurricane fighter equip of the RAF during the Battle of Britain is a classical example of a short range interceptor force. The heavily armed Me-109G variants of Reich Defence is another, it should be noted that whilst straightline speed was marginal for the Messerschmitt under the circumstances (additional fuel and armament), its climb performance was extremely difficult for even the most advanced and powerful Allied fighters to match (less than 6min to 6000 metres from a runway start).

Similarly the second-generation MiG-25 Foxbat is a great example of the epitomised strategic interceptor. Capable of reaching near space altitudes within about four minutes from a runway start, it can intercept and shoot down a nuclear cruise missile travelling at 90,000 feet or at lower altitudes at close to 3 Mach. It still holds the current world altitude record for an airbreathing craft at over 120,000 feet (defined by NASA in the 'fifties as spaceflight).

Force Interdiction describes the interception of surface actions, such as anti-shipping operations. Sinking enemy transports, strafing and bombing transport columns on roads, putting warships out of action and attacking troop concentrations are all functions of force interdiction.
Aircraft are typically penetration bombers or fast attack aircraft, designed to foil enemy defences in order to address the primary threat, just like aerial interception. They require good countermeasures, good dash speeds at low altitude and a wide range of offensive weaponry, that is, a broad weapons loadout. They need to be able to use anti-shipping, anti-armour and general ground attack specialised weaponry, so modern aircraft of this type are often multi-crew with extensive avionics programming, or otherwise highly specialised designs.

The F/A-18 Hornet is a good example of a modern warplane designed to be capable of performing the force interdiction sortie. The Soviet Tu-22M is a medium bomber specialised for the task. Weapon types include the tactical nuke and stand-off missile.

Tactical Attack encompasses the close support and independent fighter-bomber (fast tactical bomber) roles. From taking out bridges to enemy strongpoints these aircraft are designed for fast turnaround, forward deployment and a wide range of weapons options, typically with some degree of defensive capability. Rather than force interdiction per se, they directly assist land operations by defeating enemy armour say, and would be more a close support function. Unlike force interdiction this mission does not require long range cruise capabilities, whilst fast dash speeds are optional.
The F-16 and A-10 are good examples, or the Su-24 penetration bomber.

Strategic Bombing is for transcending surface action and tactical warfare to some degree by attacking enemy deployment capabilities. These days this means nukes though in conventional terms it is described by level bombing (area or precision doctrines).
Modern strategic bombers require intercontinental range and effective countermeasures against enemy defences, both surface based and interception. Multiple crews, powerful ECM suites and stand-off missiles are the trademark of most types. The Soviets emphasised airframe performance for penetration ability, whilst the USA evolved "stealth" high survivability technologies.
Generally speaking, Soviet penetration bombers have performance equivalent to most western interceptors in service, whilst US strategic bombers rely upon existing tactical or technological superiority.

Last edited by vanir; 01-02-2009 at 06:54 PM.
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Old 01-02-2009, 08:00 PM   #2
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How is a modern fighter piloted?

These days avionics takes care of just about everything, the pilot is a combination flight commander, engineer, ECM operator and gunnery officer, the cockpit is his systems interface.

Somewhere in the rear fuselage is a big engine. It doesn't power the aircraft, it is required to start the monster engines which do and it needs to be connected to a large, external power supply. This external power supply also allows the aircraft vital systems to function whilst the engines are shut down, for preflight checks and so on.

For a multi-engine type, the starter engine starts the port turbofan and then this engine is used to start the starboard turbofan. It also powers an internal generator which supplies the avionics with inflight power, everything from the immensely powerful radar system to the digital fly-by-wire controls. Naturally there are up to three or four redundant (emergency) backups in case one or two are shot out by enemy fire.

First thing to keep in mind is the lightness of aircraft structures, even military aircraft. They pack about a hundred tons worth of offensive capabilities in about a ten ton package, using honeycomb, titanium alloy and composite fibrous materials to do it. We're talking about something as powerful as a coastal warship weighing about as much as a civilian removals van. The idea of armoured sections has no relationship with the concept of land based armoured fighting vehicles, it is really more like a slight resistance to shrapnel and small calibre arms, often by leaving large empty spaces in the airframe that don't matter if they get penetrated. Fuel cells that don't flame easily and reseal themselves, that sort of thing.

The pilot sits on a large calibre cannon that shoots his seat out through the canopy if there's a problem, then rockets fire under the seat to clear the airframe and allow the rest of the survival system to function. There is a very good chance the shock alone will kill the pilot, but it is a better chance than sitting inside an aircraft receiving direct hits from modern missile or cannon fire, or riding a plummeting jet into the ground or water.

Most of the important flight information these days has been transferred to the HUD (heads up display), which is a projection in front of the windscreen. It still displays the primary flight instruments by which all aircraft are piloted.
There is the artificial horizon, turn/bank indicator, vertical and horizontal attitude indicators, airspeed indicator, directional indicator or compass, and altimeter. All of these are usually displayed in navigational mode for the radar/avionics flight system. In addition there is an ILS (instrument landing system) mode used when approaching airfields in bad weather or night flying conditions.
Older (second and third generation) jet fighter types have these instruments as additional guages on the cockpit instrument panel, along with common radio altimeters (height above ground instead of sea level), fuel supply (in kilograms or pounds), thrust indicators (in percentage), Mach meters and exhaust temperature. Hydraulic flight control systems will have pressure guages, some aircraft include brake pressure. There will also be an indicator for flaps, landing carriage and airbrake settings and inlet/wing geometry if variable.

There are a number of CRT screens (cathode-ray tubes or little computer monitors) in modern aircraft which display course information, radar information and any aircraft systems information the pilot selects by means of an input interface. Sometimes part of this interface is by HOTAS (hands on throttle and stick), whereby navigational and various combat modes for the radar set and weapons systems may be selected in the middle of complex manoeuvres requiring maximum pilot commitment, by means of switches and buttons mounted on the flight controls.

Russian close combat flight modes pioneered the helmet designated targeting system for fighters (in the MiG-29 Fulcrum), which allows off-axis targeting for wide aspect seeker heads like the Russian Archer missile, celebrated as superior to the American AIM-9 Sidewinder. In numerous wargames it has proven highly effective against US-piloted F-16s in close combat (unbeatable is the term used to describe this scenario I believe).

BVR (beyond visual range) warfare is as much a function of radar and countermeasures abilities as it is other avionics and weapons, in this field it is often celebrated the United States rules supreme. Pulse-doppler digital radar sets with true lookdown/shootdown, multiple tracking and multiple target designation turn a modest sensor system into a high level tactical intelligence network. Pilot interface is equally important, one of the great complaints by West German Luftwaffe pilots of the MiG-29 is a very poor radar information translation to the pilot, although the set itself isn't too bad. Some radar sets, like that of the MiG-31 Foxhound are so powerful they allow rear hemisphere targeting by sheer signal strength and are impossible to countermeasure by electronic means. A Rockwell B-1B penetration strategic bomber would stand no chance.

Actual control input goes through a flight computer to the control surfaces. The aircraft controls are literally joysticks which provide digital information to the avionics. Only aircraft with hydraulic controls directly affect control surfaces by pilot input.
This is partly because many modern fighters are designed to be unstable in flight, which provides amazing dogfight manoeuvrability and performance. The more unstable a design is, the more manoeuvrable, but the harder it is to control. So digital input and computer interpretation is used.
The exception to this rule for modern fighters is the MiG-29, which puts F-15 Eagle sized twin engines in an F-16 tactical fighter sized package for unbelievable, yet unbelievably stable dogfight performance (early series are hydraulic controls). Another benefit is extreme interception performance at relatively low cost and imperviousness to tactical nuclear environments.
The Sukhoi Flanker is also hyraulic controlled but is not nearly as stable in order to get similar dogfight performance out of something which weighs roughly twice as much. The trade off is a proportionately high accident rate for the type, although demonstrator prototypes offer digitial fly-by-wire alternatives and toss in variable thrust geometry for even better manoeuvrability.
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Old 10-12-2009, 12:53 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by vanir View Post
Russian close combat flight modes pioneered the helmet designated targeting system for fighters (in the MiG-29 Fulcrum), which allows off-axis targeting for wide aspect seeker heads like the Russian Archer missile, celebrated as superior to the American AIM-9 Sidewinder. In numerous wargames it has proven highly effective against US-piloted F-16s in close combat (unbeatable is the term used to describe this scenario I believe).
Actually the first nation that created such a system was South Africa.

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Old 10-12-2009, 08:49 AM   #4
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I assume you mean in the CSH-2 Rooivalk combat helicopter, which is a ground attack application which developed the system from 1981, first flew a prototype in 1985 and was due to start filling orders in the mid-90's. Not sure if it was ever actually equipped or if they wound up just using upgraded Pumas which would've also used the system.
The American Apache also uses the system, which had already been a popular feature in military-fiction for some time. Combat helicopters have a highly developed optical/IR/laser sighting system for targeting antitank weapons, which is usually mounted on a gimbal and it was a natural evolution to have this slave rigged to a helmet designator rather than a traditional HUD.

The South Africans are noteworthy because they developed the system themselves to be used in the Cheetah locally made hybrid of the Mirage III.

But the MiG-29A entered production in 1982 and became operational in 1985 using this system for air-to-air dogfighting with the high off-boresight Archer missiles, where the Cheetah wasn't even unveiled until 1986, although was quickly operational in 1987 and I can't speak for the level of development in SA missile seekers, the locally made V3B and V3C are used but I highly doubt they are better than the AIM-9L of the 1990's which is at least two generations behind the Archer.

In any case the Russians were the first to have it in a fighter jet for A2A application with the Fulcrum which first flew in 1977 with this system as its primary weapon (its BVR capability is secondary and at least one generation behind contemporary US a/c until the Fulcrum-C anyway).
Right behind the Russians, the South Africans were the first in the West to come up with this idea, as actually nobody knew about the Russian use of this system until after the Cold War, it was one of the biggest and best kept secrets about the MiG Fulcrum until the East German ones were finally examined after the Wall came down.

So you could say the South Africans developed the idea completely independently, and with amazing coincidence it entered operational service almost two years to the day following the Russians, and it was revolutionary any way you cut it.
Bravo to the South Africans yes, but I do believe the Russians did it first, just.
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