Air-to-ground basic tactics
- 1 Learning objectives
- 2 Learning files
- 3 Quick tips
- 4 Preface
- 5 Notes On DPRK Air Defenses
- 6 Recommended Techniques For AI Flights
- 7 Assisting AI Flights: (A)FAC Support
- 8 The Basic Non-Computed Pop-Up Attack
- 9 Real-life video examples
- Use a visual IP for attack runs
- Conduct pop up attacks
Procedure for CCRP
- Switch AG master mode
- Make sure master ARM is on
- Select target on FCR using arrow keys
- Select using TMS up
- Fly into line on HUD-Note:Time should be counting down at bottom right HUD
- Get meatball on line
- Hold down pickle until aircraft shakes, time to target starts counting up or you have confirmed release
Procedure for CCIP
- Same as steps 1-3 above
- Use SMS page to switch modes
- put pipper on the target
- Hit TMS up-Note:recommend hold pickle as well at this point
- Fly into fall line(like CCRP) while holding pickle
Procedure for DTOSS
- Same as 1-3 for CCRP
- Change angle of release in SMS
- Shows loft in °
- When line first comes down pull up to angle and release
- Note: used most often in SEAD and not recommended for beginners
The 1989 KTO has, over the course of several campaign packages, asserted itself as a dangerous and ever-changing environment where our collective reliance on more modern technology has shown itself to be a major weakness. There is a great opportunity here for us, as virtual pilots, to observe, learn, evolve, and adapt to these new challenges.
One of the challenges presented to the United Operations Air Force squadron is that of Airborne Interdictions, and the role that F-16s play in them. Understanding how to conduct AI flights without the aid of Sniper TGPs and smart bombs, while maintaining good kill rates and low airframe casualties, is something we have yet to master.
In an effort to increase our overall effectiveness in these engagements, I have compiled several possible techniques below that may, in certain situations, be more effective both in terms of offensive capability, and in preservation of friendly forces. Where able, I have provided information either from tests conducted personally, by others, or from in-game scenarios presented during the present campaign.
Note that techniques involving the implementation of AGM-65 “Maverick” air-to-ground missiles is not covered here, as it is questionable at this time (BMS 4.33 U3) whether they work as intended or desired.
Notes On DPRK Air Defenses
DPRK air defenses consist of overlapping layers of low- and high-altitude threats. Battalions subject to targeting during AI flights most often employ some combination of low-altitude MANPADs, low-to-medium altitude infrared- or radar-guided missile systems, and low-to-medium altitude AAA.
MANPAD and IR-guided ground-to-air missiles can be effective up to 15,000 ft. AGL and up to 10nm, and should be considered very dangerous within their weapons envelope. Which of these threats are attached to targeted battalions varies wildly, and therefore the maximum amount of caution should be maintained even when dealing with less effective versions of these defenses, such as the SA-7.
AAA threats attached to target battalions also vary in their range and effectiveness, but their immediate danger to AI flights is also significantly less than that of enemy missiles.
Recommended Techniques For AI Flights
Below are recommended tactics for acquiring and prosecuting targets in AI flights, at the discretion of the package or flight leader. No one strategy is effective against all scenarios, and the pros and cons of each should be weighed heavily before their consideration.
High-Altitude Dive-Bomb (HADB) Attacks
HADB attacks take place at altitudes above 25,000 ft. AGL and consist of a brief and violent dive to visually acquire targets, and mark targets for CCIP bombing, followed by a similarly violent climb and release of ordnance. Done properly, a HADB attack will result in a swift attack with good accuracy, while keeping the airframe outside of the WEZ of enemy low-altitude SAMs.
The procedure for HADB ordnance release is as follows:
The pilot is at or above 25,000 ft. AGL and has a target acquired through instruments or visually. They fly a wings-level approach for CCRP bombing, but do not pickle ordnance at the release cue. At the release cue, the plane turns sharply inverted, idle throttle, and pulls a max-G (per CAT status) dive down until the target, or the target designator box on the HUD, is visible. The pilot then rolls upright, switches to CCIP bombing mode, and places the pipper over the target. While holding the pickle button, the pilot goes to full gate and pulls a (per CAT status) max-G climb at a high pitch while following the fall line for the CCIP bomb release. Flares should be released during the initial dive, acquisition of target, and egress, especially if under the hard deck. The ordnance is released during the climb and the plane recovers above the WEZ of potential enemy ground threats.
HADB attacks present many benefits over other bombing methods: done successfully, the aircraft will never dive below the hard deck for portable SAMs. At the same time, pilots are forced to visually acquire their targets, which reduces friendly-fire or collateral damage. This is also a rapid and quickly repeatable attack that could see a ship or flight re-attack a target swiftly while maintaining good situational awareness of ground forces composition.
There are also many drawbacks to HADB bombing. At high altitudes, it can be difficult for pilots to visually identify targets, especially when targets are stationary or in cover. It is very easy for a pilot to over-G their aircraft either on initial attack, or on the climb out of the threat envelope, which can result in hung stores, dud bombs, structural failures to the aircraft, or system faults. It is also very easy for pilots to spend too much time searching for targets during a dive, and fall below the hard deck and thus be exposed to lethal air defenses. HADB attacks also consume more fuel than traditional attacks, and cannot be repeated infinitely without seriously reducing TOS.
Medium Or High-Altitude Wings-Level Attacks
Wings-level attacks prosecuted with the CCRP bombing mode are more effective in BMS 4.33 U3 than in reality, and should be treated as a serious tactic with a good chance of success. BMS in its current model does not simulate the effect of wind on deployed ordnance, effectively ensuring that a bomb will hit what it’s pointed at, assuming the flight profile is correct and the targeting computer is working properly. Dumb munitions such as the Mk.20 “Rockeye” cluster bomb, Mk.82 500 lb. bomb, and Mk.84 1000 lb. bomb, can be extremely accurate against stationary targets, even at altitudes above 30,000 ft. This makes wings-level deliveries an extremely safe attack strategy where low-altitude flight proves to be too costly. Its precision is enough to destroy sensitive targets such as bridges, and battalions where collateral damage is not a factor.
Although wings-level attacks are very safe for the attacking aircraft, they are also subject to a variety of problems, namely with regards to situational awareness. These attacks are reliant on external coordination to acquire targets—either pre-briefed Target Mark Points, reliable FCR information, or talk-ons from (A)FACs. These attacks are also completely ineffective against mobile targets, or targets that are in very close proximity to friendly forces, civilians, or civilian infrastructure.
Low-altitude attacks against AI targets with uncompromised AA capabilities is extremely dangerous. While these attacks are not subject to the same disadvantages as the previously-mentioned tactics are, namely with regards to target acquisition, visual identification, and instruments-reliance, these benefits come at the cost of an incredibly higher likelihood of counterattack by hostile ground forces. Under 15,000 ft. AGL, aircraft will be subject to IR-guided MANPAD threats. Under 10,000 ft., the aircraft is also at risk from SHORAD threats such as the SA-19 “Grison” and the ZSU-23-4 “Shilka” self-propelled AAA, which are incredibly effective at close ranges. These threats absolutely must not be treated lightly. Low-altitude attacks against AI targets should therefore only be conducted against targets that are known to have compromised or disabled AA capabilities. If a target’s AA capability is unknown, it must be assumed to be uncompromised!
Nap Of The Earth (NOE) Attacks
NOE approaches are necessary for deep strike packages like Operation Opera because you won't have enough support to fight your way into the airspace. We don't do it mainly because we frag big packages with enough support to fight in and establish local air superiority as well as destroy air defense assets. NOE still is necessary on some extremely heavily defended targets (Sa-10 site etc).
NOE attacks are conducted at altitudes under 1,000 ft. AGL, and often at altitudes under 300 ft. AGL. Using the terrain of the AO, and natural and unnatural formations, to mask aircraft from detection and ground fire, aircraft maneuver at these extremely low altitudes to conduct surprise attacks against either unsuspecting ground targets, or targets unable to engage aircraft at such proximity. NOE attacks come in two flavours: lay-down, and pop-up.
During a lay-down attack, the aircraft approaches its target at NOE altitudes and uses pre-briefed information to prosecute a CCRP bombing run while “skimming the deck”. These attacks require pre-briefed information and a static target, and are not good for engaging multiple targets at a time. Additionally, these attacks require retarded ordnance with chutes or fins (such as the Mk.82 AIR or Mk.82 SE, respectively) to delay the bomb from detonating while the aircraft is within its blast range.
Consequently, lay-down attacks are best used against priority targets such as SAM radar sites or static battalion MANPAD threats, and in AOs with natural terrain masking such as mountains, valleys, and ridges.
During a pop-up attack, the aircraft “pops” up to observe and identify targets a set distance away from the target position. The aircraft then deploys their ordnance over the target area, and returns to NOE flight to escape the enemy weapon parameters. Pop-up attacks are more dangerous to conduct because of the prolonged flight time within the enemy’s WEZ.
The procedure for conducting a pop-up attack is as follows:
The pilot approaches the target area at NOE altitudes, using visual cues, the FCR, Target Mark Points, or Target Steerpoints to determine the appropriate distance at which to pop up. The aircraft enters a sharp and violent climb, followed by an immediate inversion, to gain situational awareness over the target area, up to 3,000 ft. AGL, and visually acquires the target. The aircraft then rights itself, and uses the CCIP bombing mode to release ordnance, after which it immediately descends back to NOE altitude and proceeds away from the target area.
Both lay-down and pop-up NOE attacks suffer from the same disadvantages as low-altitude wings-level bombing—aircraft are exposed, albeit more briefly, to a broad range of enemy air defenses. Additionally, NOE attacks place friendly forces at greater risk of counter-attack by enemy air forces, and NOE aircraft will expend exponentially more fuel for each bombing run than aircraft attacking at higher altitudes. Thus, NOE attacks should only be prosecuted against high-priority threats in areas contested by high-altitude SAM threats like the SA-2.
Assisting AI Flights: (A)FAC Support
Utilizing fast, efficient, and practical (A)FAC support in conjunction with AI flights is an extraordinary way to boost the efficiency of Airborne Interdictions both in terms of time (target acquisition) and delivery (focus on priority targets, BDA). While UOAF has limited recent experience utilizing the (A)FAC in AI packages, the potential for this role to expedite release of ordnance during this missions is high.
Two airframes should be considered when choosing a ship for AFAC duties in the current UOAF theater: the A-10A Thunderbolt II “Warthog”, and the F-16CG Fighting Falcon Block 40/42 equipped with the LANTIRN pod. The former is an excellent low-altitude close-air-support (CAS) vehicle capable of prosecuting priority targets with bombs or missiles, and the latter is adept at high-altitude observation of hostile forces and prosecution of targets of opportunity with smart laser-guided ordnance. For the purposes of this document, we will discuss the AFAC as it pertains to the F-16CG.
The AFAC is an invaluable asset in providing talk-on support for aircraft who do not have the situational awareness (SA) to prosecute targets on their own. With a TGP, the AFAC can confirm targets that are difficult to detect or difficult to discern on the FCR, and from altitudes where visual acquisition would be impossible. With proper coordination, this means the major disadvantages of both HADB and high-altitude wings-level bombing can be mitigated or entirely avoided.
While the exact implementation of (A)FAC coordination is up for debate, these guidelines should be adhered to:
- the (A)FAC should remain outside the WEZ of any known or assumed threats in the AO
- the (A)FAC’s primary responsibility should be in identifying and broadcasting the location of targets and threats to aircraft that are unable to acquire them by other means, either through talk-on, reference points, or bullseye calls
- the (A)FAC’s secondary responsibility should be BDA of deployed ordnance by friendly forces and comments for re-attack
- the (A)FAC’s tertiary responsibility should be to prosecute threats that prevent friendly aircraft from safely attacking ground targets during an Airborne Interdiction with smart or standoff munitions
In conclusion, there are multiple ways to attack a target during Airborne Interdictions, even without the technology present in previous campaigns. Choosing the right method of attack for a given scenario, taking into account factors such as enemy SAM, SHORAD, and AAA capabilities, the presence of masking terrain, enemy mobility, and (A)FAC support, is imperative to ensure maximum effectiveness and survivability.
The Basic Non-Computed Pop-Up Attack
Involves a low-level approach approach to the target followed by a climb to attack altitude, target acquisition, a descent to ordnance release altitude (aka release point) and escape.
- Surprise/confuse/avoid enemy air defenses - they won't have enough time to attack you effectively.
- Avoid detection on the ingress - for VERY deep strikes where you don't have the force to have a huge package defending the strike element.
- Approach the target at low altitude, lower than 1000 is preferred. 6-7 miles out Switch to master A-G mode, CCRP. Reference target steer.
- ~4 miles from the target, extend 20-30 degrees offset left or right of the target.
- Climb 20-30 degrees at 3-3.5 miles. Climb to 3000-8000 while maintaining speed.
- Visually acquire target, rocking the wings left or right will help.
- Switch to CCIP, roll onto a final attack heading, descend and release.
- Escape by egressing to the opposite direction of expected enemy air defenses or threats and return to low altitude.
- To remain undetected, remain NOE (nap of the earth, lower than 500 feet altitude) and go radar silent by clicking OVRD on the FCR or by switching the radar switch on the top left portion of the cockpit area to silent.
- Have flares ready on target approach, spam them when you initially pop up, when you reach attack altitude, when you release and when you escape. The biggest threat during a pop-up attack is a manpad - which unlike SAMs, don't require time to track or acquire you.
- Switch DED data switch on right side of cockpit to up position in order to reference the DED without glancing down.
- Switch RDR ALT to up position to know true altitude from ground.
- Ensure arming delay on your bombs is 1 second or less. For arming delay or ground bombing mode basics see this.
- If you are very low on final attack you may have to pull up 10-15 degrees for 1-2 seconds before rolling back down to low altitude to deconflict your aircraft with the weapon effect, especially with 1000 lb bombs.
- "Keep your head on a swivel" The entire time, do not go heads down in the cockpit, look to your left and right constantly for mud, air defenses, launches and ground fire. The most dangerous point during the attack is not the pop-up itself but the ingress to the target area, which is likely to have ground units surrounding it.
- Use the MISSILE STEP HOTAS function to switch from CCRP to CCIP instantly, the default binding is shift /
- Release all your bombs in ONE PASS - for every additional pass you make your risk of being shot down increases by an order of magnitude. The surprise factor that you had on the initial pop-up attack does not last; this is modeled in BMS/Falcon.
- Approach the target in CCRP mode in order to get bearing to target and range to target information on the HUD. Use the bearing line from the guncross at the top of your HUD to orient yourself visually to the target. If you it says 30 and is pointing to the bottom left, you should look to your 10 o'clock for the target. Then switch to CCIP once the target is visually acquired after the pop-up.
What About Computed Pop-Up Attacks?
You can also use the Weapons Delivery Planner to do computed pop-up attacks, which use a series of HUD cues and follows a pre-programmed attack plan. I don't bother, and if you are new to the game, I recommend learning other things in the sim first before trying to mess with computed attacks. Computed attacks are perfection, but 99 times out of a 100 that level of accuracy is not necessary.
Using a computed pop-up profile using weapon delivery planner you can make a precise attack on a target, and this is known as a low altitude lofting attack. Useful for attacking EXTREMELY heavily defended targets in which a medium altitude ingress or even a standard pop-up attack is impossible.
This sort of thing would have been VERY common if we ever went to war with Russia. They actually were frequently attempted by f-15e strike eagles during the gulf war and they took significant casualties. It's an interesting comparison because both the a-10 and f-15e drivers were trained for fighting the russians using these sort of tactics. The a-10 squadrons drastically changed to adapt for desert fighting, adopting high altitude dive bomb attacks, the f-15e squadrons DID NOT until later in the air campaign and had notable casualties before transitioning. Check out f-15e by smallwood, some epic accounts of LAT attacks.
Basically if we were ever to fight a nation which was as proficient as the Russians we would HAVE to do attacks like this due to the amount, lethality and scope of air defenses. We wouldn't be loitering around dropping LGBs on them from 25,000 feet for 20 minutes like we did in Libya.
Low Altitude Toss attack profile with CBU-87s:
JDAM in Low Altitude Toss:
The concept of the LAT delivery was to be used by the RAF in the 1960's against the USSR. The weapon was to be a 400 kiloton Thermonuclear Bomb! Weighing in at 950 Lbs. Called the WE 177, with a ground burst or air burst choice of detonation. Carried on the Vulcan, V bomber. The weapon was carried by the RAF until 1998! Only us crazy Brits would consider "Tossing" a nuclear bomb at Russia!! Yet the tactic was well practised and was "ready to go". As Chris points out, if we were to attack heavily defended targets, that had Russian ground to air, in the Viper, the LAT would still be a viable attack method.
The WDP is useful but in a crunch scenario just put your release angle at 45 degrees and loft according to the loft cues. When it comes to lofting there are two variables: distance from target and altitude of release with both being inversely proportional. The higher your loft angle (approaching 45 degrees), the more standoff range you will have. You will, however, be at high altitude at release and are more susceptible to AAA and SAMs in addition to your escape corridor diminishing. The other extreme is lofting at 5 or 10 degrees where you keep your aircraft low in altitude but you are 2 miles away from the target and are very susceptible to MANPADs ans SAMs at that point. I personally recommend an angle of 25 to reap the benefits of both variables.
Real-life video examples
F-16C HUD video - CCRP and CCIP
- With the above video, notice how the pilot is about 13 seconds late in his delivery (notice the CRUS Time On Steer) page, which is absolutely perfect considering he is not the #1 of the flight, which of course dropped bombs first and was probably seconds away or exactly perfect from his fragged Time on Steer. Pay attention to altitude, speed, and angle off target. Angle off target is the three digit number to the left of the gun cross at the top. CCRP is great for orienting yourself on the target while seeking ranging information. The pilot switches to CCIP because he wants more control over the drop parameters and CCRP has no advantage once the target is visual.
- Notice that his radar altimeter is reading about 400 feet during ingress, but his main altimeter is reading about 1,500. This is because the main altimeter is barometric and the terrain itself is at about 1,000 feet Above Sea Level. So technically he is 500 feet off the ground. He could have disabled "Altitude... Altitude" by reducing his ALLOW setting in the "2" ICP setting. He probably left it on to keep him aware.
- There is a setting to enable the DED display to show up on your HUD. I believe pilots are required to have this enabled when they are attacking so that flight information relative to the HUD's picture can be seen.
- This pilot begins his pull up exactly 4.5 miles from the target and at a +50 degree angle to the target. Notice that he is referencing steer * The pilot also is careful not to exceed about 5 g's because he is CAT III.