DCS F-14 & RIO Gaming

A look at Tactical Pascale’s Simple Intercept Video

This article is part of the postmortem of the Intercept Geometry study in "Virtual Backseaters Volume I".
I originally used another video, instead of Tactical Pascale's. However, his video is clear, straightforward, and easy to understand. It greatly shows the application of a simple intercept to DCS, and it helps to discussion about the purpose of studying the (declassified) details of the Intercept Geometry.

One of the questions the postmortem tries to answer is simple: “Intercept Geometry: is it worth studying it?”

The discussion about the Intercept Geometry was long and went too deep to be applied to DCS out of the box (or in a real situation, for the matter). The topics are, in fact, “school” notions, as Victory205 (SME for Heatblur) defined them. However, they provide a set of bedrock concepts that have concrete and immediate benefits.

Learning the “school stuff”, gives unprecedented understanding of the scenario, boosting the ability of generating situational awareness faster and better, and therefore facilitates planning ahead and reacting to changes, ultimately leading to a tangible advantage in a virtual battle.

A concrete example

Tactical Pascale recently (at the moment of writing) release a video about a simple GCI-driven intercept. In case you have not seen it yet, this is the link.

It is very well-made, simple to understand and provides a beautiful first look at a simple intercept.
So, why not take the occasion to a have a chat about what the “school stuff” allows you to understand versus the perspective of a player new to this topic?

The new-pilot’s point of view

Let’s say a pilot unfamiliar with this topic watches the video and take notes. An imaginary bullet list would look like this (TP = Tactical Pascale), perhaps:

  1. TP assessed the bearing, if it does not change, there is collision heading;
  2. TP realizes the bearing is not changing;
  3. TP plans the manoeuvre to create space;
  4. TP, once the bearing has changed enough, turned towards the target again, creating a triangle, with the angles adjacent the hypotenuse quite similar (20°);
  5. TP turns to the reciprocal;
  6. TP, at a certain angle, starts the turn into the bandit.

It is a lot to digest for a new player, but there are valuable information here: for instance, the importance of a controller (especially a good one, and the AWACS in DCS is not one of them), on top of the ability of viewing the scenario from a different perspective, and to plan ahead using the information the pilot has.
Moreover, the video clearly shows how the mechanic of the intercept is quite simple when the target is cooperative:

  • understand the situation;
  • create space;
  • use the created space to manoeuvre and gain a concrete advantage (FOX-2 from the RQ).

The “school stuff” point of view

After studying the “school stuff”, we have a much, much better understanding of what Tactical Pascale is doing.
In primis, we understand the ultimate objective: a stern conversion turn into the bandit’s rear quarter, enabling both Visual Identification (VID) and FOX-2 employment versus a cooperative target.
We can immediately imagine the gameplan: we need a certain amount of Lateral Separation to make the turn, so we need to gain it (Cut-Away), lose it (Cut Into) or maintain it (Zero Cut). However, we do not have information about the Target Aspect, but this is easily solved by using the drift (which, at range, can take a bit of time – this is another limitation of the dreadful DCS AWACS).
Once we have the TA, the range comes from the BRA call, so we can determine the LS. At that point, we can implement the original gameplan, obtain a satisfactory amount of LS, then turn to Zero-Cut to lock it. Then, either the Counterturn tables (or other means), we can execute the conversion.

Now let’s break down the process and have a look at the modus operandi.

“TP assessed the bearing”

What TP is describing, is the Drift, a recurring phenomenon that is really helpful to assess the situation. As we know, when there is no Drift, there is Collision Course. This notion is very useful for the RIO (or the pilot, in this case), as they can assess the bearing (or the Antenna Train Angle – ATA, as long as the Fighter Heading does not change) to immediately tell whether Collision is established or not.

“TP realizes the bearing is not changing”

It looks like that the bandit is coming straight towards to the fighter (ergo, Target Aspect is approximately zero). This means that there is no lateral separation, and if he wants to make a stern conversion later (at the moment the bandit is still at 70 nm), he needs to introduce some.
The problem in this scenario is that he will never build Lateral Separation, as flying towards the Bandit Reciprocal captures the Lateral Separation. In fact, the relation between the Target Aspect and the Range will be always constant.

“TP plans the manoeuvre to create space”

The explanation he gives is simple and on point: by turning away from the target, the lateral separation increases. This enables the Counterturn later on.
He does it by adding a ±50° offset (Cut Away). However, when deciding the angles, you should consider if the amount of offset is enough (or too much!). This is a good question: Tactical Pascale aims for an LS of 7-8 nm before the conversion, so approximately between 40,000ft – 50,000ft, and at the moment the target aspect is zero. It takes time to build it up. Just to be on the safe side, Tactical Pascale hit the burners, so the TA builds up quicker.
Note that the Collision captures the TA; therefore the ATA can be increased considerably and, when the goal is met, the fighter can simply turn to Collision. This usually works better than being very conservative with the offset, perhaps ending up with not enough LS, and requiring a Displacement Turn to regain it in extremis.
Back to the video, TP’s objective is to introduce a bearing of 330. Since he knows the BR and the bearing, he can immediately calculate the Target Aspect: TA = BR → BB = 310 – 330 = 20 Right.

“TP turns to collision”

Collision has the peculiarity of “locking” the Target Aspect: this is the ideal technique to apply when the objective (→building TA) is achieved. Another implication, is that the ATA does not change (and since the fighter’s heading does not change either, the BB is still the same).
In the video, Tactical Pascale builds an isosceles triangle with the angles at the base of 20° each. Those angles are the Target Aspect and the Antenna Train Angle, and this scenario occurs very frequently in the basic documentation. However, be careful with the speed: the “CC → TA=ATA, but opposite is sign” relation works only when the aircraft are co-speed. The relations still kind of holds if delta speed is low enough, but the greater it is (imagine an F-14A gating whilst intercepting a Tu-95), the wider the difference between the two angles (Refer to this study to have an idea of the magnitude of the possible error if the heading of the fighter is not constantly corrected).
Back to the scenario, if the angles are maintained, the F-5 will physically impact the target. This is not the goal of the Stern Conversion intercept so, at some point, something has to change.
The formula TP used is one of the basic CCC (Collision Course Correction) formulas discussed in the CNATRA P-825/02 and on the website in the Intercept Geometry Study Part 7 (and the book as well): BR → BB → CC.

“TP turns to the reciprocal”

Flying towards the reciprocal of a target (Zero Cut) has multiple interesting implications:

  • in primis the LS is locked: the range decreases, but the TA increases, and they balance themselves out;
  • then, the ratio at which the angles change is knows: the TA doubles as the range is halved, and since TA=ATA in this case, the ATA doubles too. This allows us to predict what is going to happen in the future, and at what range (or angle) we should start the Counterturn (CT).

In the video, TP turns to reciprocal at about 25 nm. Assuming the TA calculated before is still more or less correct, the resulting Lateral Separation is: LS = 25 * 20 * 100 = 50,000ft. Spot on!

“TP, at a certain angle, starts the turn into the bandit”

This part is the simplest, as the fighter can be flown through a set of known gates until the matching parameters (again, those are known values) for the CT are met, and the turn.
The turn is easy at first, then harder as the TA increases. This manoeuvre positions the fighter in an excellent spot for a FOX-2 shot from the RQ or, like in this case, allows to level off and flying wing-level with the target.
Unfortunately, TP burned a bit of separation when his heading was slightly too hot, but eventually the manoeuvre was again spot on.

Fun fact: this happened regularly to most of my pilots, without them realizing: some were distracted by the TID repeater, others were trying to Tally the target. You can tell that TP knows “a wee bit more” than us, desk pilots!

Conclusions

If it is not apparent yet, there’s a flippin’ metric ton of stuff going on behind the curtains, even in an intercept as simple as the one showed by Tactical Pascale. To such an extent that we can tell already that spending some time studying the basics of the intercept geometry really provides a more in-depth perspective. Most importantly, it allows the crew to quickly recognize and react to changes in the gameplan (e.g. if the target is jinking), and to understand the consequences that those changes have on the intercept.

So, to answer the question, is it worth it? Well, you tell me. The mechanical application of procedures such as the one described in Tactical Pascale’s excellent video do not require any background knowledge, so it is entirely up to the player whether diving into the books or not.
Personally, my answer is a sound “yes, definitely!”.

The only “regret”? You can get used to the sources and their availability, but unfortunately, the declassified documentation only goes up to a certain point. After that, it’s a wall of “it’s classified” or “I can’t talk about it“.

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