8.) With my southern pair about to fire I get ready to arc my northern pair to hit the enemy from behind.
9.) Weapon away. Meteor fired at max range.
10.) Weapon guiding now — still the Flankers are unaware we are here.
11.) First missile is decoyed by the Flankers’ chaff — but a second one is now heading its way.
12.) Second missile is also dodged. I risk going active with my radar to firm up a solution for two more shots.
13.) Splash one Flanker. However my AI in automatic fire mode decides to loose its fourth and last missile — effectively putting it out of the battle — since I have no intention of closing in to the merge for a guns duel. I decide to RTB it.
14.) I may have to take that back. The A.I. was smarter than I thought and was actually aiming at the second Flanker — hopefully setting up his wingman who still has missiles for an easy kill.
15.) The southern F-35 fires two Meteors at the southern bandit.
16.) Second Flanker splashed. However I now have two Su-35s bearing down on the southern F-35 which is down to one remaining missile. I kick the northern pair into full power to get them to intercept the last two Su-35s.
17.) For my last Meteor from my southern F-35, I decide to switch to manual targeting and allow the Flanker to get closer to 50 nautical miles to put it at the heart of the Meteor’s engagement envelope. A risky move, but it could pay off.
18.) My last Meteor from the southern F-35 is about to go active.
19.) Splash Flanker number three! Waiting to launch the Meteor until it was closer paid off. I now have two F-35s Winchester, two F-35s still with four Meteors and one bandit left.
20.) With the Flanker now vectoring south — there is about 25 nautical miles before it comes into Meteor range of my northern pair.
21.) Coming in range — I risk going active with radar to firm up the firing solution.
22.) Switching the radar on has the effect of getting the Su-35s attention and it turns to north to meet the new threat. Four Meteors streak away to the last Su-35.
23.) Four Meteors inbound to the bandit.
24.) First Meteor is spoofed, the second connects. The last Flanker is down. In the whole scenario — Red Air only got two missiles off.
SIDE: United Kingdom
EXPENDITURES: 12 Meteors
SIDE: Red Air
LOSSES: Four Su-35S Flankers
EXPENDITURES: Two AA-12 Adder A [R-77, RVV-AE] Nine Generic Chaff Salvo [four Cartridges]
From the Red Air perspective
1.) One of the very cool aspects of a sandbox simulation like CMANO is its ability to jump into a Gods-eye view showing all sides, or even to switch sides. Let’s take a look at this scenario from the Flankers’ point of view.
2.) With my four Flankers spaced roughly 40 nautical miles apart, I am hoping that I can pick up an F-35 in our wide sweep. Intel has said there are F-35s in the Baltic — but where are they?
3.) Getting closer — but my radars are still not picking anything up.
4.) Meanwhile it is a very uncomfortable experience to be flying into a zone where stealth fighters have been reported. I have PESA radar and 40 missiles between us — but we still haven’t picked up a sniff of the F-35s.
5.) Still no contacts. Could they be further in?
6.) At time of firing — still no contact.
7.) My southern Su-35S spots a missile contrail arcing their way — at only 13 nautical miles away.
8.) After decoying two missiles a third Meteor obliterates my southern Flanker. Luckily I now have an ESM spike which shows a radar to the south. Time to turn to meet the threat.
9.) At about 76 nautical miles away I finally am able to classify the threat as an F-35 using my IRST.
10.) A second Flanker goes down — again from a F-35 I haven’t seen. However I still have a contact on a F-35 to the south, although frustratingly there is no speed or altitude information.
11.) Another missile warning — this time from a different bearing to the F-35 we are chasing!
12.) A third Flanker from my flight is blasted out of the sky. At this point, with three aircraft down any sane fighter pilot would be thinking about egressing and how to escape — but since only ones and zeroes are losing their digital lives here, I’m going to press on.
Perhaps I can kill the pesky F-35 we did have a track on.
13.) Whaaaat? A FCR (fire control radar) spike pops up behind me? Turn to face this or keep after the original contact?
14.) I turn north to meet the new threat. Three wingmen down, but at least I now seem to have a radar contact on the edge of my WEZ.
15.) I fire two AA-12s at the contact — but predictably there are two missile contrails heading down my throat too. The last Flanker goes down in a ball of flame.
16.) Even with the Flankers’ EMCON set to passive — AWACS was able to direct the F-35s to classify the hostiles as Su-35s at a range of around 96 nautical miles using their passive ETOS.
Game over for Red Air.
The challenge for any “Red Pilot” to solve is that if the F-35s keep their radar off it is extremely difficult for the Flankers — even with PESA radar to detect them.
The Meteor BVRAAM, with its high agility in the end-game means that even the highly maneuverable Su-35S can lose energy dodging these shots which appear out of nowhere. Even armed with 10 missiles each, the Flankers need a reliable target before they can engage, which the F-35s simply do not provide.
As a final test — I decided to hand complete control of the F-35s to the A.I., assigning them a CAP zone to defend and switched to Red Air with the intention of finally beating them.
I also loosen up the RoE for both sides allowing the fighters to fire on anything not friendly, rather than hostile contacts. But, even using sneaky tactics (one Flanker with radar on as bait, the rest silent relying on passive sensors) the result was much the same — with missiles appearing out of nowhere and from unexpected directions.
I finally managed to down a F-35 when the A.I. made the mistake of switching its radar on deep inside my WEZ — a mistake that a well-trained human F-35 pilot probably wouldn’t make. However, by that time I had lost three Flankers — a Pyrrhic victory at best.
Trying to even the balance
After about 15 runthroughs with the Su-35s being shot out of the sky, I decided to add more Red support assets. The first being a A-50 “Mainstay” to provide AEW coverage and the second a Su-24MP Fencer F EW variant to provide jamming capability.
Surely this would jam the missiles and allow the Su-35s to get to the merge?
1.) As you can see — despite jamming from my stand-off ECM aircraft (top right) on my missiles, my northernmost F-35 has dispatched the northern Su-35 with its first missile. Other missiles from F-35s (staying radar silent) are on the way.
2.) Despite ECM two more Meteors find their mark. It may be that the jammer needs to be closer to have a better effect — however that risks turning it into an easy target for my F-35s.
3.) Last Su-35 is about to be shot down. At this point I have dispatched four Flankers and still have three Meteors left with no F-35s lost. If I was feeling really aggressive I could now go after the defenseless AWACS and Fencer to finish them off.
This of course, was a quick and dirty look at a possible future air combat scenario using the F-35 rather than exhaustive simulation and testing that goes on in military or defense industry labs. However ,it does throw up some interesting observations. In more than 15 runthroughs the kill ratio was 3:0 or 4:0 to the F-35s, with a couple of instances of 3:1.
So what does this tell us?
First. The F-35 certainly does not suck at air combat, providing it keeps within its own realm. As this testing demonstrated, the challenge for any future “Red Air” pilot will be detecting the F-35 and then getting close enough to nullify its LO features in the merge.
Though CMANO simulation is extremely powerful in modelling kinematics, sensors and is a huge leap from the earlier Harpoon, it does not model a 3D ACM encounter in high-fidelity like say Falcon 4 or DCS. Post merge, like real-life, it then becomes more matter of chance.
However a third playthrough, ironically, did see a F-35 close to guns range and destroy a Su-35 leaving the score at three Flankers to nil F-35Bs lost. In around 15 runthroughs, the F-35 came out ahead each time, with the worst result being three Su-35s lost to one F-35 shot down. As noted above, professional air warfare tactics experts would undoubtedly be able to do better.