F-14 WVR Part I – From Beyond to Within

Heads up, I’m moving again.
I probably won’t be able to write or correct articles for the next couple of weeks. Feel free to send any feedback or comment, I will try to asnwer asap!

Before proceeding, I strongly suggest you to read the articles about recurring topics in BVR, WVR and Intercept and the in-depth look at the relation between SR, TA and the information provided by the TID in AS mode. They cover notions such as TA, ATA, Drift and so on, concepts that reappear very often when the topic is Air Combat.

This series aims to complete the journey started with the discussion about BVR and Timeline and reworked for the F-14.
It is slightly different from the usual and can be divided into two “conceptual blocks”, spread among different articles: transition from BVR to WVR and BFM (with some mentions to ACM). As BFM are primarily the front-seater’s playground, the focus will be the role of the RIO and how he can help the his Pilot.
As always, flying and employing the F-14 is a two-men job.
Note: a Glossarium covering most of the terminology is available here.

Resuming where we left

Banzai plan and the transition into visual range were barely mentioned in the previous series. These articles aim to fill the gap left and provide some information, procedures and suggestions, when it comes to DCS.

When leaving is no longer an option

The limit that defines the boundaries of the Within Visual Range scenario is usually set to 10nm. There are a number of situations that can force the Section to accept the merge:

  • Drop and Reset are criteria used to interrupt the engagement of a Targeted contact/Group and return to the previous position. If the hostile contact is too close, aborting may not be the safest option.
  • A Hostile can pop-up at close range using terrain masking, or there can be a leaker from a different CAP area or again, it can be a contact that slipped through due to bad or poorly executed radar sanitization.
  • The Section is in a position that satisfies a number of criteria mentioned below (“Winning vs Losing“). Navy doctrine suggest that Banzai plan is the default option when such criteria are met.

Refreshing old concepts

In a standard timeline scenario, post employment the Section cranks, assesses the situation and Decides.

As mentioned, the US Navy doctrine sets Banzai as the default plan if certain criteria are met but, of course, it depends on you, the SOP and contracts of your vWing/vSquadron or group of friends. Where I fly we consider Skate as the default contract, as we train against F-16C and F/A-18C, both very capable at medium to short range and more modern (HMS and AIM-9X are a deadly combination). Even an AIM-120C “maddoged” towards the F-14 whilst they try to run away can be a serious threat. If the F-14 is used in a more appropriate setting (mid ’70s to 2000s), the fight is much more “fair” (although there is no such thing in war) and Banzai becomes a much more appealing option.
At the end of the day, it is up to you.


This simplified (and a bit convoluted) sketch shows some possibilities post the first employment (ranges of course depend on the parameters such as altitude, Vc, F-14 speed on so on):

  • Employ at 35nm: plan skate, Out at A-Pole;
  • Employ at 22nm: plan skate (short-skate), Abort at A-Pole;
  • Accept the merge: plan banzai.

Note: A-Pole is estimated based on a set of fixed parameters, until we have an actual working indication of the missile status.


Decisions, decisions, decisions

The Decide phase, described by the CNATRA P-825, 13-10, mentions the criteria that, if met, should lead the Section to press into the merge:

  • Timeline adherence: if the fighters have employed to the sorted target at the ranges described by the timeline (or different contract);
  • Bandit awareness: if the bandit shows indications of targeting the Section. This is defined as TA≤30° or TA≤60° if the target is spiked.

By crossing these criteria, a “win/lose” table can be produced:

TA≤30° or Spiked?
On Timeline YES Winning WINNING
NO Losing Winning
Italic: Bad;
Underlined: Good;
Bold: those are just labels, mate..

There are more considerations to do on the tactical level, tasking, mission objectives and so on, but that table should give a good idea of the concept of gaining advantage, maintaining advantage, killing the target and avoiding the merge if the position is unfavourable (for the purpose of this article we assume that the goal is merging).

Accepting the merge does not mean charging straight into the target. Considering a scenario where the aircraft is pitbull and plan is Banzai, there are a number of possible “approaches” to the target: air combat is very dynamic and fast, never set on a strategy but be ready to adapt and react. This requires a good level of SA.

As mentioned above, an important factor is establishing if the target is aware or not. The TA is one of the key parameters used to establish the SA of the target. TA>30° and naked or TA>60° means that the target is not aware of the Section (in theory), as the Section is either outside the radar cone, or beyond the gimbal limits. This means that the target has reduced SA.


Unaware Hostile Group Scenario

CNATRA P-825 describes very well the procedure if the target is unaware at page 13-11. Summarizing and simplifying it, the aim is decreasing the Lateral Separation, place the target on a Collision Course and then merge.
The first step is placing the target at 50-60 ATA:

If the TA does not decrease, the target should be maintained at 60 ATA and the aircraft should accelerate to Vcontact + 0.1IMN.
If the TA instead decreases, it should be reduced to 45-35 by placing the target on Collision.
In both cases, follow-on shots should be employed.

As seen in the previous articles, the simplest way to achieve and maintain 35-45 TA when on collision course is flying co-speed and co-altitude and using the RBRG/ATA as reference.

Maintaining the target on a Collision course is very important as placing the target in the “Hot” side of the TID results in the aircraft flying in front of the target’s nose (which is extremely dangerous). Placing the target in the “Cold” side of the TID may delay the merge and increase the time to kill. Which means: don’t play with your food. It may fight back! 🙂
Dad jokes aside, protracting the situation impacts the SA, the fuel consumption and may expose the Section to threats (in primis, the target regaining SA).

Unaware Bogey Group Scenario

Bogey usually does not allow weapon emplyoment until other criteria are met and the contact is escalated to Hostile.
This situation follows the same techniques discussed in the previous scenario, but without the employment of weapons until a VID is executed to satisfy the ROE.

Aware Hostile Group Scenario

This situation is the most dangerous for the Section as they may be actively targeted. This scenario includes any TA<30 or TA<60 and Spiked. The Section should actively defend as soon as the employed missile goes timeout or pitpull by placing the target to the beam by means of a hard turn at the same level, and chaffing.
Post defending, if the aircraft were naked when defended, or they were spiked but, after defending, are naked, they can resume immediately and pitch in to the target. If the aircraft was spiked it is still spiked through the defensive manoeuvre, they should wait 10″ and then force the merge, as maintaining the status quo gives only more advantage to the hostile (for instance by allowing a stern conversion turn into the aircraft).

When pitching into the target (by turning 110°-130°) out of the defence, the radar modes should be decided depending on the range from the target. P-825 suggests two “stances” depending on the distance:

  • if SR > 5nm, select SRM and set the radar to RWS/20nm/140/6B, cursor to 8-10nm and brack the bandit’s last known altitude.
  • If inside 5nm, WACQ mode should be selected. WACT stands for “Wide Angle Acquisition Mode”.

In order to simplify the comms between the RIO and the Pilot, a new Brevity is introduced: Bricks.

“Bricks” is both a directive and a descriptive call. The call directs the pilot to disregard the assigned in heading and place the contact on the nose. The call describes that radar SA has been regained.

AWG-9 Management: personal considerations

The settings suggested by the P-825, obviously, cannot be directly applied to the F-14.
These are some ideas and considerations out of my experience as virtual RIO in the F-14 (note that at the moment of writing, the WCS and the AIM-54 have not been overhauled yet).

  • SR > 5nm: the closest radar mode for the AWG-9 to the suggested RWS/140/6B is RWS/130/8B, which takes circa 14″ to complete the scan. Personally, I prefer PSRCH/20nm/80/4B (or tighter and taller, depending on the situation): the full sweep takes longer than the 2″ of the TWS scan pattern, but it covers a wider area and I lock in STT directly from the DDD. If the weapon selected is an AIM-54, then I may flip the MSL OPT 3-way switch to PH ACT. Remember that if SR < 10nm and in the forward hemisphere, the missile is commanded active automatically by the WCS and relies on the SARH guidance only if the target is not “seen” by the missile’s seeker. Considering the speed of the AIM-54 (although it accelerates slower than an AIM-120C), the F-14 can launch, crank and almost immediately defend (for example a break into beaming or split-S, depending on the situation) with reasonable chances to hit or force the target to defend. The AIM-54 can also be launched in TWS but such mode is limited to a 2″ sweep, it is slower since it has to build a track, does not allow a follow up shot with an AIM-7, and PD modes cannot be STABbed OUT (disabling the ground stabilization, making handling the antenna much easier, especially at wide Δ Altitude).
    That being said, the variables in this scenario are so many that there is no rules can be set in stone: there is only practice, training and ability to adapt to the situation.
  • Inside 5nm: the Wide Angle Acquisition mode is not present in the F-14. I usually push VSL LOW (if the target if pretty much in front on the F-14), leave the management of the radar to the pilot and prepare to visually acquire the target, operate the countermeasures and check IFF and distance when something is locked. Before doing that, I try to pay attention at the discrepancies between the INS and the DL, so I can correct what is displayed on the TID and better guide the pilot.
    The role of the RIO in the WVR arena will be discussed in-depth in a later article.

Theory, Practice.. and DCS

After all this words, some considerations must be made when it comes to translate these concepts to DCS:

  • If you play vs AI, well, the AI sees everything and, unless scripted or commanded, it turns hot on you right away.
  • In typical PvP server instead, usually both sides have AWACS support (for balancing reasons), hence building or regaining SA is a quite simple operation.

Point being: criteria such as the “TA>30° and naked or TA>60°” work only up to a certain point.

At the end of the day, this is a game. Articles such as this and the Timeline should provide you a glance of how real-life training is conducted (although I really doubt this stuff is still in use and declassified at the same time). If anything, they provide a good framework on top of which you or your vSquadron can build organized and working SOP and contracts.


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