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Thread: Pierre Sprey's analysis of fighters. 30 years later. yay or nay?

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    Pierre Sprey's analysis of fighters. 30 years later. yay or nay?

    H_K posted this interesting link
    http://pogoarchives.org/labyrinth/09/08.pdf

    no need to read all 159 pages, he basically says:

    F-86: whoops the derriere of all century fighters, only F-5 comes close

    F-104: great aircraft except for crappy turning. could've been best fighter until the 1970s

    Mirage III: like F-104 with poorer thrust and less acceleration. French engine sucks. With a J79, could've been like a half size F-106 or a F-104 thats more balanced

    F-5: most effective a2a aircraft in 60s to early 70s, could generate more sorties than f-16s. problem is poor visibility and acceleration. combat persistence on par with F-15A. F-14 and F-15 can't convcingly dominate the F-5 still. F-5 still has problems with F-86

    Kfir: Mirage III with J79 but got too heavy and sucks

    Draken: better acceleration than Mirage III, F-4, and F-100. great maximum turn rate since F-86, better dog fighter than century fighters and even F-14. Swedes regret getting Viggen. F-16s have a hard time with the Draken. its only flaw is the Falcon fcs and missile.

    F-16: could've been great until they added multi-role features and made it fat. one F-16 may not be able to defeat as many enemies as 6 F-5s (sortie issue mentioned above). Still, can kill as well as the F-15

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    He says some other interesting things that are generally ignored:

    1. Training and tactics are critical. He actually stated that in realistic USAF/USN tactics exercises had to be changed daily in order to avoid devastating losses.

    2. Sortie generation are going down due to declines in aircraft numbers (no it didn't start in 1991 or at start of GFC). Current fleet sizes are fine for blowing up defenceless third worlders, but insufficient for high intensity conflict.

    3. Emphasis on:
    - Attaining surprise - key component of warfare since humans first started beating each other up with sticks. Today it relates very much to modern fighter design (i.e. stealth)
    - Outnumbering the enemy - key component of warfare since humans first started beating each other up with sticks.
    - Outmaneouvring and outlasting the enemy
    - Achieving reliable kills - the age old question of BVR v WVR comes into this.

    4. Aircraft to emphasise passive over active sensors - in 2013 networked data links, IRST etc kind of come into this.

    I think his analysis raises some good issues and highlights the key problems aircraft designers and tacticians need to solve to win A2A combat.

    I don't necessarily agree with his conclusion of "small = best." The combat record of US/Israeli F-15 and to a lesser degree Iranian F-14s and Ethiopian Su-27s would appear to counter that theory.





    I'll add one of my own comments as it kind of thing to think about the future of air combat:

    "The last A2A combat between jet fighters occured in September 2001 between 2 IDF/AF F-15s and 2 SyAF MiG-29s. Contrary to popular thought it was a WVR combat involving some classy maneouvring by the F-15s and not a BVR combat."
    Last edited by thobbes; 26th September 2013 at 04:47.
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    He makes some good points but is about 100% wrong with the Viggen vs Draken.

    Viggen was the ultimate Cold War platform. It was faster than the Draken, it turned better, had better range, it had datalinks that where exeptionally modern, it required shorter runways etc. And it started out as an attack ac... I think it still is the only Swedish ac to have gone up with the SR71 and succesfully obtained missile lock on.

    But the first years where troublesome, just like they where with Tunnan (crosswinds during landing killed a lot of pilots because of the swept back wings), or Draken (unintentional Cobra maneuvering in the 60s put pilots in spin and that killed many, it was pretty unstable as an ac and needed several upgrades before being competitive to Lansen).

    During the 50s we averaged 21 killed pilots per year by accidents alone, in 40 years of cold war we had over 600 dead pilots + civilian casualties. Most of them died in Tunnan and Draken.


    When Viggen came we finally had a high performing ac that was "safe" to fly fast at low altitude.
    Last edited by Tu22m; 26th September 2013 at 06:46.
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    I think this pdf is mandatory for all non-pilots wanting to get a grip on A2A.

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    ed, is there a way i can copy text as text instead of as an image somehow ?
    Last edited by obligatory; 26th September 2013 at 13:04.
    the missile will require about five times the G capability of the target to complete a successful intercept.
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    I think the paper brought out some good points, but was obviously focused on the "knife fight" in close air to air engagement, so that focus results in conclusions that favor small, light, highly manuverable fighters, and puts less emphasis on avionics. Through hard lessons most have learned not to get in a knife fight with a superior, nimble fighter. Almost all western fighters of the 60's and 70's generation would lose in a low, slow dogfight with a nimble opponant like the F-5, MiG 17 or even F-86 with a good pilot. These forces had to re-learn to use your energy, tactics and avionis to your advantage. When the rules of engagment allow BVR engagment, avionics and weapons become much more important.

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    Taking the V out of PVID

    Air Vice Marshal Osley: And so the strength of the joint strike fighter—and I use this as an example—is that it {the F-35} has the ability to have up to 650 parameters by which it will identify a potential threat out there. Other aircraft, such as the F22 have about a third of that and fourth-generation aircraft have perhaps half a dozen. So if you are in an F18 or in some of the other Soviet aircraft you only have a very limited understanding of what the threat is and being able to identify it at a distance. If we are able to do as we plan with the F35, and that is to have good access to the software and to be able to program it appropriately with mission data, it will have the ability to identify hostile aircraft at quite a considerable distance. Then decisions will be made within the formation, it will play to its strengths and it will defeat it, but not by going within visual range.
    "The early bird gets the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese."

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    For more than 40 years, the RAF has taken the view that given the cost of training a modern fighter pilot, it would be folly to send him to war in anything else but a full-specification warplane.

    In the late 1970s, the editor of Flight ran repeated editorials calling for the development of a single-seat single-engined ‘Spitwulf’. These wreaked havoc on the blood pressure of senior RAF officers.
    Mercurius Cantabrigiensis

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    He actually take all A2A related issues into account,
    like range being a function of fuel fraction and cruise efficiency,
    read on from page 107 outlasting the enemy
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    ed: as Mercurius touched on, the cost of training, 30-45 sorties per month per pilot to reach towards their full potential,
    it better be a fighter a/c with low operational cost !
    As is clear, no single quality is as important as pilot proficiency in A2A, meaning training is the last thing to skimp on.
    Last edited by obligatory; 26th September 2013 at 16:14.
    the missile will require about five times the G capability of the target to complete a successful intercept.
    -Robert L Shaw

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    I'm wondering what Sprey would think of the Gripen, apart from the obvious non optimal rearward visibility.

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    Air Vice Marshal Osley: And so the strength of the joint strike fighter—and I use this as an example—is that it {the F-35} has the ability to have up to 650 parameters by which it will identify a potential threat out there. Other aircraft, such as the F22 have about a third of that and fourth-generation aircraft have perhaps half a dozen. So if you are in an F18 or in some of the other Soviet aircraft

    WAT

    you only have a very limited understanding of what the threat is and being able to identify it at a distance. If we are able to do as we plan with the F35, and that is to have good access to the software and to be able to program it appropriately with mission data, it will have the ability to identify hostile aircraft at quite a considerable distance. Then decisions will be made within the formation, it will play to its strengths and it will defeat it, but not by going within visual range.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CACPu39fgBg

    I am not being entirely flippant here. I have no idea what the 650 parameters are and the number doesn't make a lot of sense. Spectra? Wavebands? Details in the radar image? Also, the more parameters there are, the more complicated it gets to fuse them and ID the target.

    Finally, it comes down to physics. All I've got in BVR is two fuzzballs, one thermal and one of scattered RF, the latter being combined with convincing DRFM jamming, and I have to pick the fuzzballs apart and see if they tell me anything useful. You may also have some adversary emissions depending on how he's playing the game, but they probably don't come from the closest target. Meanwhile, both RCS reduction measures and jamming take away some of my classic NCTR tools and I have to use new ones... bearing in mind that if I am relying on stealth to survive I have to be parsimonious with my own emissions.

    So if you tell me you have NCTR in the bag while remaining LPI/LPD, permit me to be sceptical.
    Last edited by LowObservable; 26th September 2013 at 22:40.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Y-20 Bacon View Post
    H_K posted this interesting link
    http://pogoarchives.org/labyrinth/09/08.pdf

    no need to read all 159 pages, he basically says:

    F-86: whoops the derriere of all century fighters, only F-5 comes close

    F-104: great aircraft except for crappy turning. could've been best fighter until the 1970s

    Mirage III: like F-104 with poorer thrust and less acceleration. French engine sucks. With a J79, could've been like a half size F-106 or a F-104 thats more balanced

    F-5: most effective a2a aircraft in 60s to early 70s, could generate more sorties than f-16s. problem is poor visibility and acceleration. combat persistence on par with F-15A. F-14 and F-15 can't convcingly dominate the F-5 still. F-5 still has problems with F-86

    Kfir: Mirage III with J79 but got too heavy and sucks

    Draken: better acceleration than Mirage III, F-4, and F-100. great maximum turn rate since F-86, better dog fighter than century fighters and even F-14. Swedes regret getting Viggen. F-16s have a hard time with the Draken. its only flaw is the Falcon fcs and missile.

    F-16: could've been great until they added multi-role features and made it fat. one F-16 may not be able to defeat as many enemies as 6 F-5s (sortie issue mentioned above). Still, can kill as well as the F-15

    He had a lot of good points that are still universally accepted. You will have a hard time finding a professional that won't tell you that training, being the first to detect your opponent, and being the first to positively ID your opponent all play a critical role in determining outcomes.

    On the other hand, his bottom line assessments have been more or less universally rejected. Probably the closest thing flying today to his ideal jet is the Gripen, but even that has placed a major emphasis on BVR combat, sensors, and networking, albeit in a small, low-cost airframe.

    Most of the world's air forces with any choice in the matter have gone with medium to heavy weight twin engined fighters for air superiority missions. Russia is going with the PAK FA, Su-35, Su-27 variants, and the Mig-31. The US of course is relying on the F-22 and F-15C. India and China are both going with Su-27 variants with the PAK FA, Su-35, and J-20 coming down the pipe. The best funded European forces have the Eurofighter or Rafale.

    There is of course the J-10 and advanced variants of the F-16 and Mig-29, but those aren't any closer to his ideal than the Gripen, especially in the latest incarnations.

    It is also worth noting that while good examples of air to air combat have been rare in recent decades, those we have are essentially devoid of the sort of turning fights that were the focus of his thinking. (that isn't to say WVR engagements haven't happened)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mercurius View Post
    For more than 40 years, the RAF has taken the view that given the cost of training a modern fighter pilot, it would be folly to send him to war in anything else but a full-specification warplane.
    RAF's 1980's warplans included Hawks armed with Sidewinders, not to mention Tornado ADV's with their awesome concrete block radars

    But that aside, given how expensive fighter units are to raise & train, it's true that warplane performance is probably wrong place to save money from. Sprey's analysis reflects the era when stopping the Soviet hordes in an intense all-out brawl was paramount, and it reflects the experience of Korean, Vietnam and Yom Kippur wars. There it was important to create large number of sorties to ensure best effectiveness in limited spacetime, in both saturating the defences and overcoming enemy offensive capability. In confused knife fights, small agile fighter could still be very competive. (US "Light Fighter Mafia" was enraged when F-16 was "watered down" from it's original cheap, super-agile day fighter into much more expensive & heavier multirole fighter.)

    Unfortunately, Sprey's analysis is timed in the era when this paradigm was beginning to fade so much of it seems anachronistic or downright wrong. AEW planes, datalinks, improved fighter radars, computers and better displays made it easier for fighter pilot to achieve kind of long-range situational awareness which was lacking in the '60s and '70s and preventing effective BVR combat. Air combat moved to longer ranges and focus shifted to tactical maneuvering instead of quick turn fighting. Also, scenarios shifted away from all-out blitzkrieg through Fulda gap, to more calculated, limited set-piece operations.

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    Good post Low Observable.
    "It will be so loud that if we move in next door to you, your lawn will die".
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    Quote Originally Posted by LowObservable View Post
    Air Vice Marshal Osley: And so the strength of the joint strike fighter—and I use this as an example—is that it {the F-35} has the ability to have up to 650 parameters by which it will identify a potential threat out there. Other aircraft, such as the F22 have about a third of that and fourth-generation aircraft have perhaps half a dozen. So if you are in an F18 or in some of the other Soviet aircraft

    WAT

    you only have a very limited understanding of what the threat is and being able to identify it at a distance. If we are able to do as we plan with the F35, and that is to have good access to the software and to be able to program it appropriately with mission data, it will have the ability to identify hostile aircraft at quite a considerable distance. Then decisions will be made within the formation, it will play to its strengths and it will defeat it, but not by going within visual range.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CACPu39fgBg

    I am not being entirely flippant here. I have no idea what the 650 parameters are and the number doesn't make a lot of sense. Spectra? Wavebands? Details in the radar image? Also, the more parameters there are, the more complicated it gets to fuse them and ID the target.

    Finally, it comes down to physics. All I've got in BVR is two fuzzballs, one thermal and one of scattered RF, the latter being combined with convincing DRFM jamming, and I have to pick the fuzzballs apart and see if they tell me anything useful. You may also have some adversary emissions depending on how he's playing the game, but they probably don't come from the closest target. Meanwhile, both RCS reduction measures and jamming take away some of my classic NCTR tools and I have to use new ones... bearing in mind that if I am relying on stealth to survive I have to be parsimonious with my own emissions.

    So if you tell me you have NCTR in the bag while remaining LPI/LPD, permit me to be sceptical.
    Its been discussed before

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    So if tracking technology fails to keep up with stealth technology, we'll we be back to pre-1930s - knife fighting dog fights based on near random encounters as there is no way for anyone to actually reliably track enemy aircraft?
    "It will be so loud that if we move in next door to you, your lawn will die".
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    If every combat airplane had the capabilities of F-35 in EMCON, you are correct -- chance encounters and many mutual kills.

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    So this might be something to expect in the future once 6th generation becomes common place (like in 2050)?

    It would make pre-emptive strikes especially vicious - expect a 1967 type scenario every time.
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    Civil VHF has a requirement of tracking a/c within a 4 km corridor at 150 nm, (compare to the range of the astra aam seeker of 16 km)
    US has fiddle with pre-emptive strikes since the reinvention of cruise missiles -every time
    Last edited by obligatory; 27th September 2013 at 01:39.
    the missile will require about five times the G capability of the target to complete a successful intercept.
    -Robert L Shaw

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    Quote Originally Posted by obligatory View Post
    US has fiddle with pre-emptive strikes since the reinvention of cruise missiles -every time
    But have never really achieved the Israeli 1967 result which was a masterpiece in application of the military art.
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    Quote Originally Posted by thobbes View Post
    So if tracking technology fails to keep up with stealth technology, we'll we be back to pre-1930s - knife fighting dog fights based on near random encounters as there is no way for anyone to actually reliably track enemy aircraft?
    No, the one side with inferior stealth tech will die. The other will prevail through avoidance, BVR* and sneak attack.

    *Every conscious nation with superior stealth tech will makes sure they feed a counter-stealth team with enough data to keep-up with the tech advance. Hence, if you've got the best stealth outta here, you are for sure among the ones leading the countering tech. An evidence to say but as we ear so much fallacious claims relative to that subject, I found a necessity to write it down once more.

    By the way, extreme kinematics perf is an anti-stealth tech by itself
    Last edited by TomcatViP; 27th September 2013 at 02:44.

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    VHF always kept up, so i don't see random* encounters at higher altitudes, which is the only BVR altitude.
    Ok, a deep strike flight won't be able to rely on radar cover, so they will be subject to a surprise.
    *There will be an uncertainty of 2 km, but i'm assuming IRST & Mk1 Eyeball will pick up the slack,
    and then there is another issue, it will depend on if the air space is crowded with other friendly fighters,
    that will determine if a visual ID is needed, lest OPFOR revile his ID & exact location by activating AESA radar
    Last edited by obligatory; 27th September 2013 at 02:40.
    the missile will require about five times the G capability of the target to complete a successful intercept.
    -Robert L Shaw

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    I think a lot of these sorts of conclusions were made in that brief period when missiles weren't good enough to be much more than a complement to guns, they quickly became less relevant as missiles gained range, guidance sensitivity and the rest.

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    And i think fighter performance, counter measures, and not least MAWS gained at the same pace,
    so it is still critical to leave so little re-action time as possible, i.e point blank is still by far the most advantageous range,
    in fact i'm willing to bet no high performance fighter equipped with MAWS has ever been shot down by a missile at range over 5 nm,
    which is what constitutes as the WVR/BVR divider

    There is also a possibility that this little device becomes standard on a pylon, to zap incoming,
    i just pray it doesnt become standard armament of sunday terrorists
    The experimental missile is called the Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project weapon. It provides the capability for selective high-frequency radio wave strikes against numerous targets during a single mission
    http://defense.aol.com/2012/10/23/ne...n-microwave-t/
    Last edited by obligatory; 27th September 2013 at 07:45.
    the missile will require about five times the G capability of the target to complete a successful intercept.
    -Robert L Shaw

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    Sprey had no way to anticipate missile technology that could attack from every angle and launch from any position.
    Go Huskers!

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    Quote Originally Posted by MadRat View Post
    Sprey had no way to anticipate missile technology that could attack from every angle and launch from any position.
    That will be useful when it happens, but physics being what they are, missile kinematics are still compromised in a tail-chase and altitude differences and a HOBS shot consumes a lot of energy.

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    The more things change... the more they stay the same.

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    Who knows how effective missile defense will be in 10 years,
    I see he proposes a standardized performance parameter with regard to transient performance (switching directions rapidly)
    as: Time to roll 180* and then instantly 180* in the other direction,
    and: Time to pitch up and back.
    I think it would be useful to measure combat range as a function of fuel fraction with 30% economic cruise to area, 40% at max dry, and 30% back including reserve, taking respective speeds into account.
    Last edited by obligatory; 27th September 2013 at 13:55.
    the missile will require about five times the G capability of the target to complete a successful intercept.
    -Robert L Shaw

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    Quote Originally Posted by hopsalot View Post
    He had a lot of good points that are still universally accepted. You will have a hard time finding a professional that won't tell you that training, being the first to detect your opponent, and being the first to positively ID your opponent all play a critical role in determining outcomes.

    On the other hand, his bottom line assessments have been more or less universally rejected.
    100% agree. Sprey's "Measures of Effectiveness" are very intuitive, and still very relevant. But he can't seem to acknowledge that sometimes bigger/complicated = more effective, according to his own criteria.

    For example, how would he rate the Rafale vs. Mirage 2000?

    Mirage 2000: smaller, cheaper, simpler engine, no navalization penalty etc.
    Rafale: more likely to achieve tactical surprise (passive sensors, situational awareness, low RCS - probably in that order of importance), better loiter (thanks to engines that Sprey would probably consider "overly complex"), more manoeuverable (twin engine acceleration), better gun. Not to mention much more flexible (strike, carrier-capable etc).

    Which is better? Rafale, without a doubt.

    Would Sprey be able to acknowledge this? I guess his counter-argument would be that the proper comparison would be Gripen vs. Rafale, and that buying a large number of Gripens would be better than buying a small number of Rafales... which the Swiss evaluation doesn't seem to entirely agree with.
    Last edited by H_K; 27th September 2013 at 14:35.

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    On page 152 where he outline the optimal fighter,
    he does start off with the two largest potentials he see, namely
    1] supercruise and 2] primarily passive sensors,
    both of which goes to Rafale, not because its larger, but because its newer,
    while more maneuverable can be attributed to unstable design and movable canards, which also demanded newer FCS.
    (he does speculate "deltas also have better supersonic cruise drag, particularly if trim drag is minimized with negative static margin control systems")
    Finally the Swiss did pursue the smaller Gripen NG, one reason would be the 40% fuel increase,
    but more importantly because of the underlying theme of the entire approach: more fighters for the same buck,
    with an operational cost allowing for extensive A2A training of the pilots.
    As the Swiss can see on the western border,
    the Rafale have an operational cost that caused France to introduce the surreal "conscript pilots" aka 2nd tier pilots,
    which naturally will be pivotal in war, and/or crippling in peacetime.
    France: Reduced Training Costs, Pilot Flight Hours, Two-Tier Pilot Policy
    http://forum.keypublishing.com/showt...r-Pilot-Policy
    Last edited by obligatory; 27th September 2013 at 15:12.
    the missile will require about five times the G capability of the target to complete a successful intercept.
    -Robert L Shaw

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    Summary Assessment p.159
    The surprise advantages of a small, supercruising fighter using passive avionics would represent a
    much more dangerous threat to todays Soviet fighters than the Me-262 jet posed to P-51 in WW2.
    If, in addition, this supercruising fighter provided three times* the effective force in the air of todays F-16,
    then the entire Soviet air force would be obsolete until replaced with an equivalent supercruiser.

    *three times the effective force due to lower cost,
    lower acquisition cost, lower operational cost, and lower training cost,
    allowing a threefold increase of pilot/machine for the same buck
    the missile will require about five times the G capability of the target to complete a successful intercept.
    -Robert L Shaw

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