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Philosophy Of BVR Combat

Discussion in 'Indian Air Force' started by DrSomnath999, Jul 28, 2011.

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  1. DrSomnath999

    DrSomnath999 Major RESEARCHER

    Jun 11, 2011
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    In modern warfare technological edge, mostly, determines the outcome of the war. Technological advancement in warfare made a rapid progress from the beginning of the 20th century. Having a technological edge over the adversary mostly has resulted in victory in many battles and wars.
    What it means to have an edge in technology in a battle?
    Having an edge in technology means that you are faster than your enemy, more accurate, you have a better and early situational awareness that gives you a long reaction time compared to your enemy. It gives you a lot of flexibility in operation and it gives you a number of opportunities to surprise your enemy and strike first. Having technological superiority is one thing and applying it effectively and innovatively is another aspect. For that a good doctrine is very much vital.
    Technology has also made rapid progress in air combat. We are just a couple of decades away from taking out the pilot from the cockpit of fighter aircrafts making the G-force factor irrelevant. But at the present time the human factor makes the difference in air combat. It depends on how well the pilot applies the technology at his disposal to overwhelm the enemy. The pilot should have a complete understanding of the physics involved in air combat to make quick decisions because in air combat ‘your first mistake will be your last mistake’. The pilots understanding of the systems, the physics involved and application will decide whether he continues to be in the fight and win or out of the fight.
    As defence technology is evolving, the frontier of air-to-air combat is shifting from close air combat i.e. dogfight to ‘Beyond visual Range’ air combat. Dogfight no longer seems to be relevant in modern air war, with it becomes obsolete the importance of the manoeuvrability of an aircraft and the use of cannons to achieve a kill. The main reason for this is the advancement in radar technology. Modern radars can acquire targets at a longer range which is a lot longer than what the human eye can normally see. It has extended to more than a 100 km at the present day.
    As in the past BVR combat is all about ‘who see first and who fires the first shot’. For this there are two requirements. One, a powerful radar which can scan for targets at a longer range and can spot the enemy aircraft before he spots the host aircraft and two, a missile with better on board sensor and with a longer range.
    Modern BVR combat technology
    Looking at the radar first, the radar should have a higher power aperture performance to scan for targets at a longer range. It should be able to perform multiple functions simultaneously that is what the latest technological development in radar, the AESA technology can do. It can perform all the modes of operation of a last generation radar simultaneously and also a little more like data relay and reception to and from friendly aircrafts respectively. This technology enables better coordination among a group of aircrafts, gives the pilot better situational awareness which helps him to make a better decision.

    source: Google
    Coming to the missile, the early detection of an enemy aircraft will be useful only when the pilot has a missile with a range that can engage the enemy aircraft. Other requirements of a missile is that it should have better on board electronics i.e. better guidance kit and a good software that can convert the kinetic energy of the missile into range, better onboard sensors that can defeat enemy countermeasures and better manoeuvrability to maintain the lock it had acquired until it comes within detonating range. The onboard sensor or seeker head is an important factor in the missile. There are two kinds of seeker heads – (1) Radar and (2) optical. While optical is passive, radar guidance is of two types – (i) active and (ii) passive. Both have their own advantage and short comings by design.

    source: Google
    An active seeker head will make the missile bigger and heavier. There are disadvantages with this, in the first place a heavier missile will limit an aircraft’s capacity to carry more weapons and also can limit the aircraft’s operational range (as less fuel has to be taken to increase the weapons payload), secondly, to make the missile lighter its range has to be decreased by reducing the amount of its fuel capacity. But the onboard active guidance gives an important advantage – it is of the ‘fire and forget’ type. This aspect gives the pilot freedom to manoeuvre or move his nose away from the targeted aircraft and engage other aircrafts. But with the growing miniaturisation of electronic devices this handicap could soon be addressed by designing a lighter and smaller active radar seeker head.
    Missiles with passive seeker heads require continuous painting of the enemy plane by the host aircraft which puts a limit on the pilot freedom to engage another target simultaneously.
    While IR seeker heads are always passive and so it is always fire and forget which gives the pilot complete freedom to switch over to the next target. One serious disadvantage with this type of missile is its short range. Since the sensors can only lock on to the IR radiation from the enemy aircraft at a close distance (comparatively to radar guided missile), the pilot has to get close enough to fire the missile. However recent IR homing air-to-air missiles have an addition Inertial Navigation Guidance kit for mid-course guidance. The missile initially gets target information data feed from the host aircraft’s radar and then flies to a particular distance guided by the ING kit and then switches over to optional homing head. This technological advancement has increased the range of IR guided missile to some extent.

    Philosophy of BVR combat
    Traditionally the Ground control radar feeds information about the intruder aircraft to the friendly aircrafts. This enables the pilot to position his aircraft to achieve an effective kill. But when a pilot has to fly mission beyond the range of the Ground Control Radar (GCR) he has to totally depend on the aircraft’s onboard radar. Present generation aircrafts have powerful onboard radars which can help the pilot with long range detection but he does not have continuous 360o coverage as the scanning angle of the onboard radar is limited. To address this limitation and to overcome the earth’s ground curvature (line of sight) problem the AWACS was introduced. This gives the pilot 360o situational awareness, longer range detection of enemy aircrafts and a good opportunity to fire the first short. Thus the developments in radar technology are enhancing the pilot’s ability to engage any hostile aircrafts.
    Though these advancements give a very good advantage in BVR combat there are certain negatives which could be addressed by innovatively applying the available technology to derive the maximum out i.e. the pilots should have a proper philosophy for BVR combat. Modern air forces employ various techniques for attaining first shot, first kill.
    1) The host aircraft has to have an advantage in altitude over the enemy aircraft; this will increase the range of the missile. When a projectile is fired from a higher altitude it suffers less air frame drag as the air above is thinner compared to a projectile fired at a lower altitude. Also, the missile aimed at a target at a lower altitude will gain more kinetic energy (from the earth’s gravitational pull), as it dives down towards the target. This will further increase its range. The missile avoids sharp low angle turns, which puts a drag on the missile which reduces the velocity and the kinetic energy of the missile.
    2) A missiles range can be increased by giving it more kinematic performance. To give this the aircraft should be in full after burner and the missile should have better on board guidance electronics and good software that can use the kinetic energy to increase the range.
    Both these techniques can increase the range of the missile and enable to achieve the first kill.
    There is another short come in BVR missile, which is the kill probability of the missile. The kill probability of the missile is based on the overall performance of the missile. In the Russian BVR combat philosophy, the Russian pilots fire two missiles at a target to increase the probability of kill[1]. If the aircraft could carry more payloads, like the SU-30, then more missiles could be fired to increase the kill probability[2].
    The radar helps in long range detection but is suffers from a serious disadvantage. As soon as the host aircraft’s radar waves start to paint the hostile aircraft, the Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) in that aircraft will reveal the position of the host aircraft. When this happens there are three options for the enemy pilot: one, he can disengage provided he has a higher Mach advantage; two, he can manoeuvre his aircraft to gain a positional advantage to engage the host aircraft; three, he can jam the host aircraft’s radar; and four, he can fire an anti-radiation missile. But present day onboard radars can hop frequency and also has other counter jamming capability. Frequency hopping is being countered with ‘memory storage of the frequency range’ technique. So to successfully use radar, the radar should be jamming resistant; the pilot should fire missiles first to put the enemy on the defensive. In the event of the anti-radiation missile launch the pilot can switch off his radar and continue to approach towards the last known target position.
    To overcome these difficulties another tactics is followed. The onboard radar is switched off and the pilot totally depends on this Infra Red Search and Track (IRST) and RWR to detect intruding aircrafts. In this tactics if he is inside the envelope of his GCR he will be at a better informed position over his enemy. IRST is limited by its range because IRST sensors are not powerful enough to detect aircraft’s IR radiation beyond a distance. However, recent improvements in semiconductor technology have enabled detection of IR sources at a longer distance. The F-35, which is under development, uses Electro-Optical Distributed Aperture System. This system will provide pilots with a unique protective sphere around the aircraft for enhanced situational awareness, missile warning, aircraft warning, day/night pilot vision, and fire control capability. Designated the AN/AAQ-37, and comprising six electro-optical sensors, the full EO DAS will enhance the F-35′s survivability and operational effectiveness by warning the pilot of incoming aircraft and missile threats, providing day/night vision and supporting the navigation function of the F-35′s forward-looking infrared sensor[3]. The internally mounted Electro Optical Targeting System (EOTS) will provide extended range detection and precision targeting against ground targets, plus long range detection of air-to-air threats[4]. Recent report says that it has, in a recent test flight, detected a SAM launch over hundreds of kilo metres. This has opened up a new era in BVR combat.
    From the points discussed below it is clear that the pilot should have a complete understanding on the Physics and the equipments involved in BVR combat and should use them innovatively to achieve his objectives. What is more important is, the air force has to develop or adopt a proper air combat doctrine by taking into consideration various aspects from the their side and enemy side.
    [1] The Russian Philosophy of BVR Air Combat
    [2] The Russian Philosophy of BVR Air Combat
    [3] F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II
    [4] F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II
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