A couple of weeks ago someone asked on a Discord or a forum how to practice as RIO. Most of the people answered by saying that the best way is simply going online and trying. Well.. no. Flying with other players without knowing even how to IFF a target may ends into a blue and blue and personally I don’t like ruining other people’s fun (probably because I haven’t hit a friendly yet but I have been killed way too many times in GAW).
So, how do you practice in Single Player? The answer is simple and older than DCS itself: the Mission Editor. It takes no more than a couple of minutes to create a mission, populate it and start practicing. This allows you to test every almost aspect of a BVR fight, from the AWG-9 WCS modes to the Antenna, the IFF and the Datalink, and the geometry of the attack itself (although controlling the geometry is a bit of an “unwieldy” operation).
Once the basic functions of the radar and the IFF are acquired, then flying with a fellow human pilot and with human wingmen becomes incredibly more rewarding.
And it doesn’t take long, just a few minutes.
The video I made two months ago about the antenna elevation, countering notching and MLC, featured a simple test of the TWS radar mode of the F-14B. As a RIO, I was alone vs 3xMiG-23. I had no pilot either.
The scenario starts at 18’45”:
In this article we start by creating a mission similar to the one of the videos, then add some additional features, useful to create an ad hoc testing environment.
As I said, the whole process doesn’t take longer than a minute or two. Let’s see how it is done.
In primis, launch DCS. From the main menu, open the Mission Editor and then create a new mission. The Coalitions page will be shows. Set it according to your needs and press Ok.
Adding the F-14 to the mission
Left column, select the first button under the “OBJ” label. Its icon resembles the shape of an airplane, its label says “Add or modify airplane group”. Click anywhere you want on the map to create an airplane in that position. You can move it later if you want.
The details of such Airplane Group are located in the column on the right. Here the attributes of the Group such as the name of the country, the spawning probability and so on, can be changed. Since this Airplane Group will be our F-14B we need to change:
- Type: from the combo-box, select F-14B. It is highlighted in yellow since you own the module. If it’s not in yellow, buy the F-14B now (I’m not joking, but it);
- Skill: by default a new Airplane Group is controlled by the AI. Select Client in the SKILL combo-box.
Now jump to the bottom part of the column, where a number of tabs represented by icons are displayed.
The first tab, ROUTE, allows to edit the details of the waypoints created. Let’s set ALTITUDE to 20,000ft and the speed to 600kts. Now click on the map to create the first waypoint of the flightplan. If you have created the waypoint after having set altitude and speed, it will retain such values. Otherwise they will have the original default values.
Finally, let’s select the payload. Click on the second icon (“PAYLOAD“, resembles a sketch of an AIM-54 seen from the front) and choose your loadout. You can also create a new preset if you want.
Skill: Client vs Player
The SKILL combo-box offers two options for selecting which aircraft is controlled by the player. The main difference between Player and Client is that the former can be used only once per mission. By using Client instead you can add multiple flyable aircraft to the mission and quickly test different ranges, altitudes and aspects without leaving the mission. Moreover, since there is only one Player, you would have to edit the SKILL combo-box every time you want to fly a different aircraft.
In multiplayer instead, each flyable aircraft must be set as Client.
Here come the bad guys
Click again on the Airplane Group button we used before to spawn the F-14. Click on the map in a location suitable for the hostile.
The new Airplane Group should be a copy of the F-14, if such Airplane Group was selected, so we have to change a few more attributes now:
- Country: you can use friendlies as targets for specific tests but now we want to engage 3xMiG-23s, so select any country sporting such airplanes (such as Russia);
- Unit: here you can define how many MiG-23s you want to face;
- Type: select the MiG-23MLD;
- Skill: you can leave them as High. I avoid Excellent usually because otherwise the AI becomes even more unrealistic than what it normally is;
Now we have to change the parameters of the MiGs’ flightplan. This is a simple test, so we can set the same altitude as the F-14 and slower speed. For instance 20,000ft and 300kts. Finally, click on the destination of the MiG-23s so they will spawn facing that direction. Depending on where the second waypoint is, you can have the MiGs fly hot, or cold or flanking. You can also create multiple waypoints to test how the AWG-9 reacts to targets presenting different aspects.
You can also change the MiGs payload but since we are testing our ability with the radar we are more interested in locking and countering their defensive manoeuvres rather than their missiles (please note that ECM pods, additional Countermeasures, and so on must be assigned manually in the PAYLOAD tab).
Testing the mission
Click on the green button on the right, “Fly mission“, to launch.
You can either fly towards the targets or, in case you prefer to keep the distance, you can use the Active Pause. Active Pause differs from the standard Pause because it allows you to interact with the avionics: you can slew the AWG-9 Antenna, change radar mode, lock and fire AIM-54. On the other hand, the Active Pause interacts oddly with the INS at the moment, as I discovered whilst doing some tests. Therefore, until this issue is fixed, I suggest you to avoid spending too long in this mode because the INS drifts very, very fast.
On the other hand, Active Pause is a great tool to test avionics and weapons. Despite being “frozen” in the air, the missiles fired still benefit from the speed of the launching aircraft.
Next step: Orbiting, AI behaviour and SA
The Mission Editor allows more advanced settings to be used. These options are incredibly useful to our testing efforts.
If a target has its TASK set as CAS, it will engage either as soon as it spots you on its radar or when it gets locked by the AWG-9. You can prevent this by deleting the CAP -a -ref entry in the ADVANCED (WAYPOINTS ACTION) list (press the button to show the list).
You can also change, exempli gratia, how the aircraft handles its ECM and what type of defensive manoeuvres it is allowed to perform. Feel free to play with the settings available in the ADVANCED (WAYPOINTS ACTION) list.
Orbiting and Race-Track
Any aircraft can be set to orbit around a specific waypoint at a specific altitude. This is an amazing testing environment for the RIO because the target constantly changes its aspect and, by doing so, it enters repeatedly into the two main Pulse Doppler blind zones.
If more than a waypoint is set, the target instead follows a race-track pattern. This is useful if you also fly as pilot in order to set up a Tanker and practice your AAR or if by following the orbit pattern the target changes its aspect too quickly.
Increasing your SA: AWACS
You can add an AWACS to your mission and have it follow a race-track or orbiting on a waypoint. It can be used to practice the acquisition of a target with the AWG-9 by starting from a datalinked target. You can use my Antenna Elevation model to calculate the AWG-9 Antenna angle depending on the distance and the altitude difference.
It is also useful to have a complete view of the area while you test the AWG-9 radar.
As usual, I hope you found this article helpful. Feel free to share comments and feedback!