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A2A Wingman Tactics
by Dan "Crash" Crenshaw


With the advent of LAN play, which has been around for quite some time, and now Internet multi-player options, wingman responsibilities and wingman tactics are more important than ever. Many sims have fairly comprehensive wingman instruction menus, but many people are not really sure what they are commanding the wingman to do or when to use these commands. While this article will emphasize tactics for multi-player situations, many of the basics here will easily and readily apply to solo player situations as well.

First I want to start out with an excerpt from an actual Air Force Training manual:

Wingman Responsibilities

"Wingmen have the supporting role in a flight. They help the leader plan and organize the mission. They have visual lookout and radar responsibilities, and perform backup navigation tasks. Wingmen engage as briefed or when directed by the leader and support when the leader engages. It is essential that the wingmen understand their briefed responsibilities and execute their offensive or defensive contract in a disciplined manner."

What I would like to emphasize from this short paragraph is the "SUPPORT" function. Many of us play solo play like we are "MAVERICK" from the movie TOPGUN. And we do it quite successfully despite the likelihood that it would not work in real life. But if you coordinate and plan attacks, you will be stunned how much easier the same exact situation becomes. Prime example here is the many posts from people that have a difficult time winning a campaign in the EF2000 family of products. Solo players get the feeling of me against the world. In LAN play, the feeling is still there, except for a slight twist now it's YOU and 7 or more of your friends against the world. But if we all decide we are a hot shot pilot that will win the war on our own we will fail. If we work as a team, victory becomes much more likely.

The 209th VFS Delta Hawks operate as "2-ship elements" and "4-ship flights". Missions are picked by the lead based on what would be the most effective mission at this point in the war. Formations are formed and tasked based on pilot mission preferences and flight requirements. Each 4-ship flight has a flight leader. The flight leader is considered the primary point of contact for any information. Flight leaders communicate between themselves and then pass this information along to their respective flights (flight leads usually have at least a 2 radio set up at our meets, command uses a different frequency from the flights, and each wing has a specified frequency. This helps eliminate cross-talking and mass confusion during A2A contact or strike actions).

During our meets, the wingman offers information from their radar sweeps, and visual information. They take commands from the flight lead for various tasks (Radar Sweeps, formations, Drag or Bracket Engage, etc.). Wingmen will also offer up suggestions during missions (when to perform radar sweeps, potential tactics, terrain features that may prove beneficial, etc.) We switch off Flight Lead responsibilities so everyone that wants the responsibility of Flight Lead gets the opportunity.

Hopefully you now understand from the above, that discipline needs to play an important part of your multi-player experiences to gain the full benefit. Your human wingmen have a latitude and flexibility that computer wingmen do not have. Use this feature to your advantage. If the situation changes, change your tactics immediately.

"Flexibility is the Key to Airpower...Indecision is the Key to Flexibility"

Warner "Fozzie Bear" Trest

Much of the information included in this article has been derived from several actual Air Force and Navy combat manuals as well as various strategy guides written for some of the flight sims current and past. Most of these tactics are used very effectively in LAN play by the 209th VFS Delta Hawks. Since many flight simulations model various aspects better than others do, I am trying to include everything that may be pertinent. Some of the cautions taken on various maneuvers may be executed in vain in some sims, while mandatory in others. These tactics would work very well in actual air combat.

It should also be noted that ranges are based upon accurate weapons modeling. Increase ranges accordingly for weapons carried that have a greater accurate kill range. (Note: Even S225's in EF2000/TACTCOM have a relatively low PK at long range. I regularly wait until about 15NM before launching even these missiles. They do get the bandits attention at long range and may buy you precious time, but do not count on a kill. At 15NM or less, they are almost a certain kill. The same goes for AIM 120's in EF2000.)

While not stated in the actual maneuvers, fighters should maintain about 3,000 feet or so of separation between each other during an intercept. Formation placement is offered as a positional reference. A good example of this is to watch your computer run wingmen in EF2000/TACTCOM when you give the "COMBAT SPREAD" maneuver command from flight formation. Watch the fighters develop vertical and horizontal separation, but the formation stays pretty much the same.

EF Formation

You will see several quotes from Major Robey Price USAFR. Major Price has spent 15 1/2 years in the Air Force and Air National Guard which included flying various fighter aircraft (including the F-16 Falcon). I would like to thank Major Price for proof-reading and his insightful real world input. Where at all possible, I have opted for the F-16 pilots perspective as opposed to the various other Air Force and Navy documents used in this article.

TACTICS

I will focus on a standard 2-ship element. These tactics can easily be applied to a 4-ship flight. In a 4-ship, each 2-ship element would perform as 1 fighter of a 2-ship element. This would then be evaluated after the first break where each 2-ship would then determine the best tactic to use for the current situation. A general and basic rule of thumb here, and this is really simplifying things: If you are a strike package and have an Escort let the Escort do their job. Do not engage until all other available options are exhausted. If you have no Escort flight and are engaged before IP, both 2-ship elements should engage.

If you have no Escort flight and are engaged after IP, only the threatened 2-ship element should respond. The non-threatened 2-ship element should follow through with its mission.

I will not go into great detail about how to execute these maneuvers except where necessary. Communication between these 2 elements is essential during this entire combat phase. There are many 2-ship intercept options, but most are variations on three basic profiles: the Bracket, the Single Side Offset, and the Inside Out.

1. The Bracket

The Bracket intercept is intended to envelop or "squeeze" the target formation from both sides after a front quarter merge. In many instances, a Bracket maneuver will be initiated from a full head on or "High Aspect" merge.

Entry into a Bracket maneuver is initiated with an offset turn meant to bracket the bandit formation. This offset turn should be initiated about 20 miles out (this is assuming the use of AIM-120's as a long-range missile). Maintain contact with your wingman. Make sure you know where he is.

You must bracket early enough to get around on the flank of the bandit formation. Thus your initiation of the Bracket Maneuver will vary in distance dependant upon the size of the bandit formation. Ideally, you want to start your Bracket outside of visual range. An important point here is the visual range for the Bandit getting a "Tally" on you...not necessarily you getting the "Tally" on him. If you're "flying" a large airplane like an F-15 "Eagle" or F-14 "Tomcat", then you must Bracket farther out than if you're "flying" a F-16 "Falcon" or MiG-21 "Fishbed". Maintain contact with your wingman. Make sure you know where he is.

At about 10 to 15 NM, you should begin the acquisition phase of targeting. It is imperative that you call your target. As an example:

Crash and Rhino are heading N-to-S toward a bandit 2-ship. Crash is on the left side of the formation. Rhino, his wingman, is deployed on the right side. As Lead, Crash says, "Crash has the East man...Rhino take the west man." Rhino acknowledges, "Two."

Use terminology that will not leave any doubt as to your target. To take the time and effort to maneuver into position only to have both aircraft launch on the same target is futile. You can not afford to waste a missile on an already destroyed aircraft. Also be careful not to "cross lock', or lock onto the target on opposite side of the formation while your wingman locks onto the target on YOUR side of the formation. This will cause an early collapse of the formation. Constant communication is key here. Confirm your wingman's location.

Janes F15

At about 12 to 8 NM, you would turn into the bandit formation for a Pure Pursuit. It is at this time that you will most susceptible to detection. Again, confirm Wingman location. The next phase of the intercept will require close contact and possible support.

Your initial shot would happen about now. Things happen very fast now. At 8 NM at a closure rate of 1200 or so knots, you will be "in his chili" almost immediately or the bandit will be in yours. Now is the time you and your wingman must really watch out for each other. You are into short-range missile range now and if you didn't hit or kill your target, he is coming around on you now for his chance.

Go to short range. Lets assume that both aircraft missed their targets. Follow through your the flight path that will take you through the bandits formation. This is often called "Blow Through," as in a directive call from lead to the formation to "blow through" so that slow speed "knife fights" don't develop. Stay fast and regroup on the other side of the bandits' formation. They should be jinking and trying to come around to shoot back. Lock onto the bandit that is turning to the outside. If both bandits break in the same direction, there are very good odds that one of your flight will have a low aspect, high Pk shot on at least one of the bandits. At this point you are into close combat. I will address that later.

Executed well, you should have a shot at the bandits while denying them a shot at you. All of this assumes that the bandits cooperate and fly their designated flight path.

2. Bandit Counters

The 3 most common defenses to the Bracket are to maneuver away, a Wide Split or an Offset maneuver.

Maneuver Away
If the bandits turn away from the intercept, collapse the bracket and convert the intercept into a single side offset intercept. It is virtual suicide to continue a bracket in this event since it will force one of your flight in front of the bandits. Lead Pursuit may speed you shot parameters in this event.

Wide Split
If the bandits split wide, or the formation is wide to begin with, this could lead to a potential Bracket situation against your flight. As lead, the easiest counter here is to position you on the outside of the bandits. This will most likely leave your wingman with bandits at 10 and 2 o'clock in a bracketed situation. You will be required to protect the much more vulnerable fighter in this scenario. You may also attempt an Inside Out maneuver in this situation. This will be discussed later in detail. Care must be taken when trying this; it could result in leaving both aircraft in a very vulnerable position.

Offset
A third less likely used tactic to counter a bracket is the Bandit Offset. In this maneuver, the bandits will attempt to counter a bracket by off setting to one side and out numbering on of your flight. As soon as this is detected, you must determine the target. This is the "HOT" fighter (targeted or in a really bad position to allow it to be targeted soon). The other fighter, "COLD" (this fighter is not engaged and usually in a position to come into the fight in a rather advantageous position if he can get there fast enough), must take immediate action to compromise the bandits plans. Become aggressive and get into the fight. Once you have evened the odds again, you will be able to reanalyze the situation and determine another plan of attack. In the offset situation, it is very possible for the "COLD" aircraft to get in for a 6 shot on at least 1 of the bandits.

Advantages to the Bracket Intercept are:
a) Multi-axis entry. Complication of the bandits visual acquisition on both attacking fighter.

Any bandit reaction once the closure phase of the bracket begins will provide turning room to at least one attacking fighter that will lead to weapons parameters. At least 1-attacking unit should see enough of a bandit profile to VID if required (not as critical in a game setting, but vital in actual air combat ("Unless of course you only require EID like Desert Storm.", Major Robey Price USAFR))

Allows a "switch" option in the event the bandits attempt an Inside Out counter.

Disadvantages:
a) A wide split is easily detected by enemy radar.
b) Wingman to wingman visual contact is difficult to maintain.
c) A bandit Split or Drag counter can force drastic plan corrections at close range (inside 15 to 20 NM)

Go to Part II


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