Friday, October 07, 2005

SCOTUS Weaponeering

Major Mike

I guess MOOSEMUSS didn’t still the waters as much as I had hoped, so I’ll try a little fighter tactics analysis for those who prefer the tactical over the strategic. Let’s don’t forget…W is a former fighter jock. Carp all you want, but stoooopid people don’t fly jets…and live.

In today’s Air-to-Air engagement (unclassified version) there are basically four ways to achieve a kill. Guns, Aim-9 Sidewinder (heater), Aim-7 Sparrow (full radar guidance), and Aim-120 AMRAAM (Rammer). Each weapon has its place in the fight, but choosing the right weapon at the right time can make all the difference between living and dying.

Your typical engagement will begin far outside visual range. Ground, sea-based, or airborne radar will play a huge role in setting the opposing forces towards one another. Somewhere inside 80 miles, the aircraft will begin to make contact with the opposing a/c, and each flight will begin jockeying for an offensive advantage. Each flight will also begin to implement their defensive tactics to ensure that, regardless of the missiles launched by the opposition, they will still be alive at the merge…the critical point where the intercept is transformed into a knife fight. Along the way both flights are using a combination of tactics, weapons, and counter-measures to …stay alive, kill the opponent and stay offensive.

Guns. A guns kill is the most dramatic kill to claim. The feat will certainly be captured on tape and the airplane will come apart a mere thousand feet in front of you. It is the finest exhibition of aerial skill…as long as your opponent wasn’t a complete hamburger, and you’ll get to brag for a very long time about it.

BUT, a guns kill has its drawbacks. It is attention centric. It requires the pilot to focus almost exclusively on the target in front of him, and to anyone observing, makes him predictable for significant period of time…in other words, it makes him vulnerable to other threats that he is not immediately aware of. Often, in simulation, the guns killer, soon becomes the missile victim. A guns kill has its advantages, but it has its disadvantages as well…possible death being on of them.

Aim-9 a.k.a. Winder, Heater. Heat seeking missiles also have their place in the fight. Designed to go after an opponent’s heat sources they are a fire and forget weapon. The seeker head guides the missile onto the target after launch. This allows the pilot to assess, fire, and maneuver in a relatively short period of time, and thus reducing his vulnerability to others who may be in the flight a.k.a. interlopers.

BUT, the Winder is a relatively short-range missile, which necessitates getting in close to your bogey…not always a wise choice. Plus, some of the newer models have an off-boresight capability, allowing for shots greater than 90 degrees off wingline. While this can enhance your offensive capability, the bad guy still has the same advantage…so what looks like a good shot to you, may also look like a good shot to him…meaning, while you may appear to be winning, you may still take an off-boresight shot up the pipes. Also, the intensity of this close range fight can degrade airspeed, situational awareness, and lookout doctrine…all things that make the pilot vulnerable to …you guessed it …interlopers.

Aim-7 Sparrow a.k.a. Fox-1. Radar missile from launch to impact. The advantage here is that the target can be acquired, tracked and engaged from and extended distance…at least as far from here to Grandmothers house. So a kill can be achieved well outside the lethal ranges of Guns and Winders.

BUT, the target must be acquired, locked and tracked for the entire flight of the missile. Although the kinematics of the missile can support some defensive maneuvering out of the host airplane, it cannot allow for very aggressive maneuvering…translation…vulnerability. Additionally, while supporting the missile, it cannot scan for other threats…yes…interlopers.

Aim-120 AMRAAM a.k.a. Rammer. The Rammer has at least as long a range as the AIM-7, plus numerous other tactical advantages. It only has to be supported by the a/c radar for a short portion of its flight after launch. After that it goes active on its own, and the launching a/c can go about its business of finding other bogeys to kill. Additionally, inside certain ranges it can be launched on its own without requiring radar support, and it can be surprisingly maneuverable in tight quarters. There are numerous other tactical advantages that I shouldn’t go into, but suffice it to say, it is a great all-around weapon with a host of tactical applications.

So, when weaponeering for SCOTUS, which weapons do you choose…the ones that may get the job done, but make you vulnerable, or the one that makes you the most offensive and allows you to maintain your situational awareness throughout the engagement?

Fighter jocks make these decisions in halves of seconds…I think a former fighter pilot, with a little time on his hands, could make the right choice for SCOTUS. Wait for the debrief to critique the choice of weapon…don’t do it in the ready room…its all theory at that point.

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