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Trends in Air-to-Air Combat


LostCosmonaut
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I was reading an article the other day about this.  I think large/heavy fighters or bombers being used as missile trucks are looking more and more likely.  The reasoning being given is with stealth becoming a dominant technology the low capacity of the Raptor/F35 with internal stores comes into play.

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The major issue that the BVR crowd isn't addressing is that most future air warfare conflicts won't be pitting best against best. Much more likely is some kind of "peacekeeping" OP where you have a first world top-of-the-line jet going up against some rebel/rogue country Mig-21 jet.

 

And the issue there is that it will be an invariably messy conflict over airspace that still has civilian traffic; at which point the rules of engagement will almost certainly require visual confirmation before any engagement to avoid mistakenly shooting down any civilian jet liners.

 

Still, if a conventional war does break out, I don't think you can go very wrong with FIRE EVERYTHING.

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The major issue that the BVR crowd isn't addressing is that most future air warfare conflicts won't be pitting best against best. Much more likely is some kind of "peacekeeping" OP where you have a first world top-of-the-line jet going up against some rebel/rogue country Mig-21 jet.

 

And the issue there is that it will be an invariably messy conflict over airspace that still has civilian traffic; at which point the rules of engagement will almost certainly require visual confirmation before any engagement to avoid mistakenly shooting down any civilian jet liners.

 

Still, if a conventional war does break out, I don't think you can go very wrong with FIRE EVERYTHING.

 

Improvements in radar MASINT are supposed to mitigate this problem to a large degree.  Radar returns from engine compressor blades in particular are, at least per Raytheon boilerplate, very reliable identifiers for a radar with enough post-processing power.

 

There are other solutions too, like the high-magnification stabilized camera slaved to the radar on the tomcat.

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Doesn't overall pK scale exponentially with the number of missiles launched? Isn't this just a great argument for firing sprays of low-cost missiles at things you want dead? Which, in turn, is a great argument for using something cheap and cheerful to haul a bunch of these missiles into the air?

 

Edit: Cheap and cheerful should include, of course, as much stealth as can be shoved in. Additionally, isn't one of the ideas here that missiles have simply overtaken combat aircraft in the manoeuvre role (including, presumably, defensively) and that future aerial warfare platforms should thus become optimised as carriers for missiles rather than manned missiles themselves? It seems pretty straightforward and sensible (to me, at least) when put in those terms. I mean, a gun-armed fighter can be conceived as nothing more than a manned surface-to-air missile, so passing the buck onto more capable unmanned systems then simply becomes an inevitable product of the march of technology (similar to the biplane-monoplane-jet model of development we've all internalised) rather than some sort of alternative option to the current progression.

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It would scale something like exponentially within certain limits; I would think.  Probability of evasion being equal to probability of evasion vs. 1 missile raised to the power of the number of missiles being shot at the target.

 

Roving missile busses have been proposed before:

 

820202342295828290.jpg

 

The biggest issue I can see is that long-range missiles are freakishly expensive.  AIM-54 was millions of dollars per shot.

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It would scale something like exponentially within certain limits; I would think.  Probability of evasion being equal to probability of evasion vs. 1 missile raised to the power of the number of missiles being shot at the target.

 

> 1 p(K) would mean an asymptotic approach to 1, wouldn't it?

 

There's also the question of a basic level of complexity required for a nonzero p(K), and where the low hanging fruit is, and how much there is. Paying some amount over twice as much for a jump from .5 to .75 would likely be worth it once you count missiles per sortie and sorties per airframe per conflict time.

 

I think the problem with long range missiles is part getting the avionics sophisticated enough for a longer flight time, a more complicated flight path, and just a larger, more energetic missile that can still maneuver meaningfully. Complexity spirals outward and every part is more expensive.

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> 1 p(K) would mean an asymptotic approach to 1, wouldn't it?

 

 

 

... Damn, you're right.  Probability of evasion would decay exponentially.

 

I feel bad at math.

 

I really don't know enough about missiles to say why the big, long-range ones were so expensive.  AIM-54 had hideously primitive electronics onboard; I don't know if more modern stuff would make it cheaper.  I just know that they are.  Per a quick google, one AIM-120D is about 3X the cost of an AIM-9X.

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Improvements in radar MASINT are supposed to mitigate this problem to a large degree.  Radar returns from engine compressor blades in particular are, at least per Raytheon boilerplate, very reliable identifiers for a radar with enough post-processing power.

 

There are other solutions too, like the high-magnification stabilized camera slaved to the radar on the tomcat.

 

Key word though is "supposed", and just to be safe RoE will still very likely require final visual identification before taking any shot.

 

Mistakes do happen when you're relying entirely on radar, such as the recent Malaysian airline shoot down or the case of an AEGIS downing an Iranian jetliner. By contrast it's almost impossible to mistakenly shoot down an innocent airliner at visual range.

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More thoughts on the report:

 

One issue I can see is that it envisions near-peer competitors who refuse to operate their own awacs and distributed sensors (but have stealthy supercruising jets). Surely any competent adversary expecting a deep strike by the U.S. is now sticking IRST systems and radar sets all over the landscape in order to nullify the range advantage provided by the stealth boat/drone swarm approach?

 

Adding to the above (and per my ongoing obsession with drone spam), wouldn't one approach be to simply saturate the air environment with cheap, disposable assets in order to confuse and overwhelm the lesser number of missile boats your opponent is using?

 

Finally, I wonder about the use of anti-stealth (as in: a bunch of hard-to-kill targets designed to suck attention away from your quieter birds) as a means of levelling the playing field and degrading an opponent's sensor capability.

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More thoughts on the report:

 

One issue I can see is that it envisions near-peer competitors who refuse to operate their own awacs and distributed sensors (but have stealthy supercruising jets). Surely any competent adversary expecting a deep strike by the U.S. is now sticking IRST systems and radar sets all over the landscape in order to nullify the range advantage provided by the stealth boat/drone swarm approach?

 

Adding to the above (and per my ongoing obsession with drone spam), wouldn't one approach be to simply saturate the air environment with cheap, disposable assets in order to confuse and overwhelm the lesser number of missile boats your opponent is using?

 

Finally, I wonder about the use of anti-stealth (as in: a bunch of hard-to-kill targets designed to suck attention away from your quieter birds) as a means of levelling the playing field and degrading an opponent's sensor capability.

 

 

There are a number of sensors you could blanket the landscape with in order to detect airborne intruders, even stealthy ones.  IRST, radar, acoustic, even Schlieren photography has been tossed around if you're worried about supersonic things.  One of the biggest potential changes would be radar with a distributed, widespread receiver antenna array.  Stealth design is predicated on the assumption that the radar receiver is singular and co-located with the radar emitter.  With modern post-processing and computers, it's pretty easy to imagine that this could easily not be the case.  But then, maybe there are counter-measures to that approach as well and they're just secret.  Could be; even as late as the 1970s the consensus in a lot of public journals was that you couldn't deliberately design aircraft to reduce their RCS!

 

But these approaches, with the possible exception of distributed receiver antenna radar arrays do not put air defense back to the pre-stealth paradigm.  IRST has a maximum range of low tens of kilometers at best.  If the weather is slightly bad, an F-22 could simply fly above the maximum detection range of a ground-based IRST.  Ditto acoustic or Schlieren approaches; at best you have a sensor array that tells you when the enemy has already penetrated your national borders.  You don't get any advanced warning when they're still outside a ways so you can scramble your interceptors or missile crews or whatever.

 

The biggest weakness of the drone swarm is achieving surprise in a strategic sense.  It's hard to design small aircraft to have lots of range because of square/cube scaling effects.  Fairly small aircraft can be designed to have long range, e.g. global hawk, but they tend to be slow, which makes interception easy.  Anyone who is planning to zerg rush you with little model airplanes is going to need to sit right on your border.

 

As for anti-stealth, meet the ADM-20:

 

ADM-20_Quail.jpg

 

This was a little drone that packed away nicely into the bomb bay of a B-52.  It has various tricks that increased its radar cross section and IR signature to approximately that of a B-52's.  The idea was that each B-52 would carry two of these decoys, and launch them when they began to enter enemy air defense range.

 

The USAF felt that improvements in Soviet radar technology in the 1970s would allow them to discriminate between decoys and real bombers sufficiently well that the ADM-20 was no longer useful.

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