02/04/2020 – added the Post Decide section with inputs and suggestions by 132nd.Gumidek.
31/03/2020 – added more details to the Targeting phase with inputs and corrections by 132nd.Gumidek.
22/03/2020 – original post.
Part II of the series provided a simplified, high-level view of the Timeline. This article goes into its details, covering the criteria and the comms related to the Timeline and closing with a Datasheet covering the flow and ranges in a specific scenario along with some tests.
As usual, this procedure is adapted to DCS whilst remaining close to its real life (unclassified) counterpart.
Each part of the timeline is separated into different colour-coded sections as was Part II: green for the flow relative to the Section and the Controller, blue for the organization and employment and red for the Decide flow.
Intercept geometry criteria (not covered in this article);
Range from the target (Minimum Recommit Range – MRR): NLT expected Employment + 15nm).
When the Section Commits, it leaves the assigned CAP route and proceeds to intercept the target. Fighters Commit to a Picture, not an individual group. The Section should commit to any hostile approaching the limit of the timeline with aspect Flank/Hot.
The formation usually changes to Combat Spread.
Spectre 1-1 [Aft] ► Spectre, Commit
Spectre 1-1 [Fwd] ► Check Master Arm
(In reality the crew checks tapes as well but it is irrelevant in DCS).
During this process the wingman should not communicate (besides acknowledging, if necessary, on Fwd) but can and has to step-in in case any assumption is wrong, sees a group non communicated by the Controller or possesses information that can increase the SA.
Past the Commit, the Controller labels the picture and names the groups whenever possible (this topic is quite lengthy and not covered by this article).
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Targeting means taking responsibility for that Group/multiple Groups from the AWACS. Target is directive call to target specific group; Targeted is informative call that somebody already targeted specific group.
The Target with the highest Priority is defined as the highest threat in the tactical picture. This evaluation depends on a number of parameters such as the mission task (e.g. by prioritizing Strikers over Screening or Escorting aircraft).
Other criteria are:
Not all Groups can be targeted at the same time, untargeted Groups can be directed to be monitored by the AWACS.
Next, the Flow Range is evaluated. The Flow Range is usually no less than the Meld range and is defined as the minimum distance between two groups to allow the Section to complete the Timeline versus the targeted group.
The Flow Range is not considered versus single group scenarios and is always considered versus 2+ groups.
Spectre 1-1 [Aft] ► Spectre, Targeted single group, Mary 11 22 33 thousand.
Spectre 1-1 [Aft] ► Spectre, Targeted single group.
Whereas in a 2vsN scenario:
Spectre 1-1 [Aft] ► Spectre, Targeted lead group.
The Controller monitors the untargeted groups, providing SA if the situation changes.
The Section leader can also Target wingmen to different Groups which needs to be engaged or monitored at the same time:
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An addition to the doctrinal Timeline, a short briefing at Section level can be useful:
Spectre 1-1 [Fwd] ► Spectre, plan skate South, shoot 40nm, one each. Spectre 1-2 [Fwd] ► Two.
This is de facto the new timeline contract. It is useful when flying with less experienced players, the tactical situation is rapidly evolving or, for instance, if the Section wants to take advantage of the impressive range of the AIM-54.
If this part is skipped, the plan is defined later, post the Assess and Decide phase.
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This call is used to inform all other aircraft that the Section is at a specific point of the timeline and engaging the Targeted group. The Tactical control switches from YY to BRAA.
The fighter with the Targeted group in the AoR will communicate by means of the Aft radio. For instance, if the target is low and in the AoR of the wingman:
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Meld signals the end of the sanitization and both fighters in the Sections will focus their radars on the target.
Per sé is a simple operation but the limitations of the AWG-9 WCS can induce some delays and errors. In primis, TWS radar sweep takes always 2″. In cases of poor SA, this can delay the acquiring operations. In case of high altitude delta, the aircraft with good radar return may pass the antenna elevation angle to the other member of the section. In fact, since the fighters are sanitizing the same amount of azimuth volume, but different altitudes, the most important part of the meld call is the altitude.
Due to the lack of TWS Auto in the current F-14B, Melding 2-3 miles in front of the target helps to maintain the soft lock.
In case multiple missiles are launched to separate tracks at the same time, the call is:
Spectre 1-1 [Aft] ► Spectre 1-1, Fox-3, two ships
If another missile is fired to a target whilst the first missile is still flying, the call is:
Spectre 1-1 [Aft] ► Spectre 1-1, second Fox-3
The Crank is an informative/directive call. Consists in a manoeuvre aiming to increase the lateral separation with the target. The crank manoeuvre is performed whether the Section launches or not.
If, due to the geometry, the Wingman risks losing the target (ergo, the antenna reaches its limits and can’t illuminate the target any more if the turn continues), he should call:
Spectre 1-2 [Fwd] ► Spectre 1-2, Gimbals
The Leader than must manoeuvre to prevent the loss of lock. If the LRIO is about to lose the target for the same reason, he has to immediately call Gimbals in the ICS.
In order to be effective, the introduced separation should be ~50° of ATA (Antenna Train Angle, topic I plan to cover when I’ll discuss the Intercept Geometry). Fighter velocity vector must have more of a cross-range component than a downrange component, this is fairly easy to assess by means of the TID in Aircraft Stabilized mode.
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Whilst Cranking, the Section assess the situation, until the missile status changes, DOR and later MAR are reached, leading to the Decide phase.
Appropriate calls should be made when the missile status changes:
at missile timeout;
if the missile is thrashed;
if the missile is active.
Timeout means that the missile has reached its intended target (it does not imply a kill). The relative call is includes the who the missile was shot to, the group they are part of and the altitude:
Spectre 1-1 [Aft] ► Spectre 1-1, timeout, single only, single group, 33 thousand.
If a missile is Thrashed, it means it has been defeated by ECM, target manoeuvring or other issues.
Spectre 1-1 [Aft] ► Spectre 1-1, shot thrashed.
Pitbull informs that the missile has activated its internal radar and it does not require support from the mother aircraft any more (I haven’t tested if maintaining the lock helps the missile though). This means that the aircraft is now able to manoeuvre freely.
The current implementation of the F-14B should display a timer (Time To Impact) and an indication of the status of the missile but it is quite unreliable. Is the WCS that gives the “Go Active” command to the AIM-54, and the TTI timer of an active missile should blink.
The Section should also evaluate their sensors and SA:
RWR: Spike / Nails / Naked;
Visual: Tally / No Joy.
The Section can also ask the Controller to provide the Separation from the target group:
Spectre 1-1 [Aft] ► Darkstar, Spectre 1-1, separation single group. Darkstar [Aft] ► Spectre 1-1, Darkstar, single group separation 11 22 33 thousand, hot, hostile.
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As the Crank is established and the situation assessed, the Leader must consider the next step. Proceeding into a merge has more risks but going out may compromise the success of the mission.
F-14 and Merge: Considerations
The CNATRA P-825, 14-36, proposes a series of criteria to assess whether the Section is winning or not and how the flow proceeds towards the Merge if the Section is winning. As a rule of thumb, as F-14 playing in a modern environment we should avoid merging (if not for training purposes) because the adversaries usually have the advantage at shorter ranges due their more modern weapons and devices (AIM-9X, AIM-120C, HMS and so on). The avionics of the F-14B is based on technology from the ’60s: even a good and advantageous situation can be flipped in an instant by an AIM-9X, thanks to its incredible off-boresight capability on top of the HMS.
Against similar-era aircraft instead, the F-14 is a very dangerous opponent due to its weapons, flight characteristics and sheer power.
Without going too much into the details, the main criteria to decide whether merging or not are:
Timeline adherence: if the weapons have been employed at the correct step of the timeline with the appropriate sort;
Target awareness: if the bandit show that it is targeting us it is about to target the Section (TA<30° or TA<60° and Section is Spiked).
Depending on such considerations, the Plan is developed (note that the Section Plan block seen previously may have already defined the standard contract, although it is not part of the doctrinal Timeline).
Skate (Launch and Leave): descriptive call to support the missile to timeout and then leave without merging. The Section should leave before DOR (Desired Out Range). Abort (+ Direction) is the call to execute aggressive leave (maximum performance turn), Out (+ Direction) is the call to turn to a Cold aspect relative to the target.
Skate is used as a mean to maintain the distance, launch and then reset.
Banzai (Launch and Decide): directive call to execute Launch and Defend tactics. It means that the fighters will support the missile until its timeout, then proceed to merge.
Short Skate (Launch and Leave): it is defined as the directive/informative to execute Launch and Leave before MAR (Minimum Abort Range). As for Skate, it doesn’t involve the merge with the target.
Launch and Decide
Whilst Launch and Leave tactics usually imply a reset, leaving open the opportunity of recommitting (albeit at different ranges), Banzai signals the intention of the Section to Commit to the Merge.
Spectre 1-1 [Aft] ► Spectre, Banzai.
If the Section is spiked they should defend right after the missile timeout. The defending manoeuvre consists in beaming and releasing chaffs.
Merging and Radar modes
According to CNATRA P-825, this should happen NLT 8nm and radar should be set to RWS/140/6B/20NM (SRR – Short Range Radar). Merging in the F-14 can be a different experience, I plan to going into its details when the new WCS is completed and released by Heatblur, covering aspects such as the use of the AIM-54 at short range. The Phoenix in fact is fired active off the rail making it completely fire and forget but it is also a very heavy missile. Moreover, the radar suffers again from the lack of 6B and the absence of MPRF, leaving the inexperienced RIO wondering what is the best AWG-9 setting to push. This, on top of the several radar modes usable by the Pilot.
When Spiked, the Section defends. The Leader does not call Spike, he just directs the defensive action.
Spectre 1-2 [Fwd] ► Two, spiked; Spectre 1-2 [Aft] ► Spectre 1-2, timeout, right man, single group.
If the Section is still Spiked after Notching for more than 10″, it should Abort.
The transition from BVR to WVR is the focus of a new series of articles.
A new series was necessary due to the length and the complexity of the topic, in order to introduce all the necessary concepts before diving into the merge. Find out more here.
Launch and Leave
The main difference between Skate and Short Stake is the Leave distance from the target. Skate should Abort/Out before DOR (Desired Out Range) whereas Short Skate should leave before MAR (Minimum Abort Range).
Out and Abort have similar meaning but Abort is a high-G, maximum performance turn.
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This is how the standard Timeline appears when applied to DCS’ F-14 scenario. Ranges may vary according to a wide number of parameters (such as the mission task, payload, fuel status and so on).
Please note that I haven’t drawn the flow post Launch and Decide.
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Unless the Section opted for L&D then Merge, they should be leaving either using Out or Abort. When the Section is leaving, it follows a series of manoeuvres defined to ensure the safety of the aircraft and the crew. By Resetting, the Section should:
turn hard, placing the target Cold at TA>50°;
monitor for 5″ if range > 20nm, 10″ if range <20nm;
execute high-performance turn to place the target at the Section 6′, then unload and extend. Set Buster to obtain SPDSection ≥ SPDTarget + 0.1 IMN (Indicated Mach Number). Radar should be set to SRR;
direct the Controller to monitor the previously targeted Group.
If the former target later matches the Commit Criteria, the Section can Commit on it again. CNATRA P-825 suggests that, in case of Abort and having the target at the Section’s 6′, and in order to Employ again following the doctrinal Timeline, a spacing of 30nm should be adopted (2nm to turn in and 3nm to gain SA before Meld range).
The ranges I proposed for the F-14 are much longer (Meld: 40nm, Employment: 35nm) but such ranges can be even too wide, depending on the situation. Following some tests (but ultimately depending on a number of parameters), the F-14 firing an AIM-54 can Employ at 30nm and leave at DOR as the missile goes Pitbull. Then, if Skating, can Reset to 40nm and turn, assess and build SA whilst turning, Meld at 35nm and Employ again at 30nm, fundamentally creating a sort of an “Employment ring”. This situation can continue until, for example, the target meets the Drop Criteria or the flow turns into L&D.
Another outcome of the first employment is much simpler and immediate if the range and the situation does not allow for a prolonged manoeuvre: Reset the radar (SRR), Assess Spikes and Turn In. At that point the Leader Employs on any Leaker in the scanned area.
Executing Banzai rather than Short Skate depends on the AMR satisfied and the Abort criteria met.
The two above are just examples. The point is understanding that there are options: the ultimate goal is being able to see them, assess the situation, evaluate the options and execute them.
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Explanations of some terms and acronyms used in this article, plus others you may run into at some point. I added the source of the definitions. Some meanings may vary depending on the age of the document and the military branch (id est navy vs air force). DR= Decision Range: “The minimum range at which a fighter can execute the briefed notch maneuver, remain there for a pre-briefed period of time in an attempt to defeat spikes, and then execute an abort maneuver. This maneuver will kinematically defeat any missiles shot at the fighter and momentarily keep the fighter outside the threat’s maximum stern weapons employment zone (WEZ) once the abort maneuver is completed. This definition does not address an adversary’s capability to eventually enter a stern WEZ by continuing to run down the fighter.” (Korean AF BEM A1-41) FR = “FR (factor range)—During merge tactics, the minimum acceptable distance between the group being merged with and the next nearest group. Groups outside of this range are unlikely to affect the merge with the targeted group. FR should allow engaging and killing the targeted group, egressing tail aspect to the second group, and remaining outside that group’s maximum stern WEZ. FR is driven by threat weapons capability, fighter weapons capability, closure, and proficiency.” (AFTTP 3-1.1) MAR = “Minimum abort range (MAR) – The range at which an aircraft can execute a maximum performance out/abort manoeuvre and kinematically defeat any missiles and remain outside an adversary’s WEZ.” (AFTTP 3-1.1) DOR = “DOR (desired out range)/MOR (minimum out range)—Range from the closest bandit where an aircraft’s “out” will defeat any bandit’s weapons in the air or still on the jet and preserve enough distance to make an “in” decision with sufficient time to reengage the same group with launch-and-decide tactics. This also gives trailing elements a “clean” picture, reducing identification problems when targeting.” (AFTTP 3-1.1) LAR= “is a three dimensional volume of space around a hostile aircraft into which the fighter must fly in order to have a chance to successfully employ its weapons. The fighter will maneuver in altitude, airspeed, and heading in order to achieve the best weapon solution for his opponent. The LAR is largest (i.e., longest RMAX) with 0 TA, at high airspeed and high altitude and is smallest (i.e.,shortest RMAX) in the rear quarter at low altitude and low airspeed. Missiles like altitude, airspeed, and closure to achieve maximum kinematics.” (P-825 12-1) Skate = “Informative or directive call to execute launch-and-leave tactics and be out no later than desired out range (DOR)/minimum out range (MOR).” (AFTTP 3-1.1) Short Skate = “Informative or directive call to execute launch-and-leave tactics and be out no later than minimum abort range (MAR)/decision range (DR).” (AFTTP 3-1.1) Banzai = “Informative/directive call to execute launch and decide tactics.” (AFTTP 3-1.1) Out (w/direction)= “Informative call indicating a turn to a cold aspect relative to the known threat.” (AFTTP 3-1.1) Abort (w/direction)= “Abort is maximum performance, 135 degree overbank, nose slicing turn to put the threat at the6 o’clock position and accelerating to .7 IMN” (P-825 14-45) Crank (w/direction) = “F-Pole maneuver; implies illuminating target at radar gimbal limits.” (AFTTP 3-1.1) Notch (w/direction) = “Directive (informative) for an all-aspect missile defensive maneuver to place threat radar/missile near the beam.” (AFTTP 3-1.1) Pump (w/direction) = [AF] “A briefed maneuver to low aspect to stop closure on the threat or geographical boundary with the intent to reengage.” (Korean AF BEM A1-41) Bugout (w/direction) = [AF] “Separation from that particular engagement/attack/operation; no intent to reengage/return.” Extend (w/direction) = [AF] “Short-term maneuver to gain energy, distance, or separation normally with the intent of reengaging.” A-Pole = “The distance from the launching aircraft to the target when a missile begins active guidance.” (AFTTP 3-1.1) E-Pole = “The range from a threat aircraft that an abort maneuver must be accomplished to kinematically defeat any missile the bandit could have launched or is launching.” (AFTTP 3-1.1) F-Pole = “F-Pole is the separation between the launch aircraft and the target at missile endgame/impact.” (AFTTP 3-1.1) M-Pole = (not applicable) Fighter-Target range when the missiles activates its seeker (MPRF). N-Pole = Notch-Pole. WEZ = Weapons Engagement Zone. “The three-dimensional volume of airspace around a fighter into which the hostile aircraft must fly to employ weapons.” (P-825 15-2)
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This datasheet above assumes an Employment and Crank at 35nm for the AIM-54A Mk60 versus a manoeuvring target (the Mk47 versions may shorter the timeline by 2nm-5nm depending on the situation).
The following are the results of a quick comparison between AIM-54C Mk47 and AIM-54A Mk60 versus a non-manoeuvring target at constant speed. The crank is made by Iceman, so it is not an aggressive manoeuvre. A harder turn, combined with slowing down, can increase both the A-POLE and the F-POLE distances.
Rough NEZ estimation for the AIM-54
The AIM-54 NEZ in its current implementation can be estimated empirically by means of some simple tests (I may dedicate a more extensive test to this topic at some point. This is only one scenario, just to convey the idea. In order to be more complete, changes in speed, altitude, profile should be taken into account).
I placed an F-16C Blk50 (clean) flying cold (TA ~180) at ~17nm from an F-14 cruising at .91M. The F-16 is accelerating from .7M (exit from max performance turn) to 2M (to resemble the max possible speed), at 25000.
NOTE: No avoid issues with the ZDF, I locked the target in PSTT.
AIM-54 Motor out
A second test, in similar conditions but with the F-14B coming perpendicularly to the F-16C (ergo the F-16C is beaming the F-14, the target was locked by means of P STT):
AIM-54 Motor out
This is far from being a thorough test, but gives a general idea of the capabilities of the AIM-54A Mk60. The results show how the AIM-54A Mk60 has enough energy to hit an Aborting target at 16nm (15nm including some tolerance).
Short Skate Launch
Short Skate dictates Leaving before MAR. Note that the missile employment is not taken for granted, the Section may be performing, for instance, a VID.
The following test evaluates at what range an AIM-54 can be fired to respect the Abort at MAR against a manoeuvring target (F-16C) armed with AIM-120C. The objective is leaving when the AIM-54 is active whilst staying out of the enemy’s WEZ.
The following is an AIM-54C Mk47 fired at 20nm:
The AIM-54, compared to the AIM-120, accelerates quite poorly therefore the period between the launch and the activation is often longer than the period between activation and the hit, even at short range. On the other hand, the AIM-120 loses speed at a much higher rate.
During the crank I went Gate to increase the amount of energy bled by the incoming AIM-120, I turned at 6G constant, losing only M.01 during the turn. Such manoeuvre put me well outside the WEZ of the AIM-120.
Initial speed: M.8 (F-14), M.8 (F-16C)
Distance at launch: 20.3nm
Speed at launch: M.93 (F-14), M.85 (F-16C)
Then, post crank and Abort, the AIM-54 hit the target at a distance of 14.26nm (F-14 vs F-16).
The AIM-54C Mk47 went active after ~25″. Until we get a decent indication of the status of the WCS, those 25″ can work as reference.
Note that the AI is nowhere near as competent as a human player: Tacview shows how the F-16 bleeds energy for no reason, slowing down and giving away any possible advantage. Therefore, take all the numbers here with a grain of salt (NOTE: I already added 1nm as tolerance to these results).
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I included my F-14 Timeline datasheet draft months ago in my Kneeboard packs. Initially just a sketch, I later refined as I did more tests.
I decided to add the handwriting-style parts as notes to this specific implementation of the Timeline. This Kneeboard page is not completed yet, I will update it and update the Kneeboard Pack as I develop it.
I hoped you enjoyed this article about the Timeline. Feel free to share feedback and suggestions!