An intriguing account of an encounter between Royal Navy Sea Harriers, F5Es, and F15s
Myself, Morts and a legendary character called Dave Braithwaite, flew our shiny new jets to the Aggressor base to do battle. There we were warmly welcomed by the Aggressors and three days of intensive fighter combat training began. USAF Aggressor Squadrons consist of specially selected USAF fighter pilots and were formed specifically to give the best possible fighter combat training to USAF squadrons throughout the world, and to NATO squadrons in Europe. They are highly regarded for their professionalism and expertise. They avow no bullshit in their post-flight debriefs and their simple aim is to improve the fighting capability of the squadrons that they work with.
On the first day, the two teams briefed each other about their own aircraft characteristics (the Aggressors flew the F5E) and then got airborne for 1-v-1 fighter combat. The F5E is even smaller than the SHAR, turns much better and can accelerate to supersonic speed extremely quickly in a nose low situation. Its armament is the same as that of the SHAR. Sidewinder missiles and guns. The results of the first three 1-v-1 combat sessions were: I had four kills and none against; Morts had three kills and one against; Dave scored two against two. The Aggressor pilots were astonished. Later that day, One of their staff pilots approached Mortimer. "Jesus Christ. Morts! Who are you guys? What's going on? Have you been sent here to evaluate us?"
Morts assured him that that was not the case. The Aggressors were intrigued that a fresh-from-formation squadron team could do so well against them. and so we agreed to try some special combat evaluation sorties with them to give them a better chance of understanding the SHAR. "What I suggest we do," I briefed, "is set up each combat with your F5s in a position of clear advantage over us. That is to say you can take up the "perch'. at about 2000 feet above us, about 800 yards on the beam and 2000 yards back. We shall commence each combat when you turn in On us. We'll be watching you and when you turn in we'll counter [turn] hard in towards you. At this point you will be able to track us and attempt to get an acquisition with your missiles. As you come into missile range we shall deny you a shot by hiding our jet exhaust from your missile.
In the SHAR that is relatively easy to do: we just drop about 30 degress of nozzle. This will pitch our nose up instantaneously about 20 degrees, diffuse the hot gases of our exhausts and hide the exhaust from you by placing our wing between your missile and the source of heat. You will still be able to track us with your nose and by this time you should have a lot of overtake, that is you will be closing in rapidly towards guns range. Before you get to guns range we will commence a high-G braking stop barrel roll which you won't be able to follow. This will allow us to roll over you and decelerate to a position behind you where you will be in our gunsights. That's the aim of the game, gentlemen; let's go and see if it works, and see whether you can come up with an answer to our moves."
The combats went as planned with about the same ratio of kills as on the first sortie. Missile shots were denied to the F5s and as my own opponent closed in towards guns range I pulled the joystick fully back in my midriff and used a combination of aileron and then full rudder to corkscrew the jet into the vertical. Breathing hard from the excitement, I relaxed the flight controls and swung the nozzles down and forward into the full braking stop position. Suddenly the F5 was no longer pointing at me but was being sucked and pulled down below me. Nozzles aft again and full rudder, aileron and elevator to pass through the inverted and then roll down behind the F5. The fight was over. Either with missile or gun, the Freedom Fighter was finished.
On day two of the detachment I flew against the Aggressor Boss and was beaten in one of the four combats that took place. The fight had progressed until both jets were near to base height, and slow. It was almost stalemate and in that situation I should have walked it. But one of the F5's specialities is being moderately capable in the slow-speed regime, and although it can't fly as slow as the SHAR it can manoeuvre more freely at a slightly higher speed. Our two jets were crossing over each other in our attempts to point at the other aircraft and shoot (a manoeuvre known as horizontal scissors) when I momentarily let my jet's nose drop below the horizon. I had briefed my team that on no account must they let this happen against the F5 or that fight would be lost. I was furious with myself as I had wanted to return to Yeovilton with a clean sheet. Nevertheless, it was a highly successful first look at dissimilar combat, with the team kill ratios against one of the best outfits around being 12:I, 9:3 and 6:6. making an aggregate kill rate of 27 to 10 in the SHAR's favour.
All the lads on the IFTU were delighted and I submitted a short paper to the MOD to report the detail of the Aggressor visit. It was an honest report. and it complimented the Aggressors on their professionalism and integrity But it pulled no punches on the score-line, or the capabilities of the Sea Jet. As a matter of internal MOD courtesy, a copy of the report was passed to the appropriate RAF Harrier desk and from there it was passed on up the line to the hierarchy. It was apparent that the courtesy was neither welcomed nor honoured at higher level because within days of the initial report being submitted, an Air Vice-Marshal stormed into the Aggressor Squadron Commander's office at Alconbury, threw a copy of my report down on the table, and asked, "Have you seen this. Colonel?" Obviously, the Crabs didn't relish the idea of the SHAR being a successful fighter and were presumably trying to question the validity of the report. This rather underhand intrusion caused unnecessary embarrassment all round and was a most unwelcome gesture.
The Boss of the Aggressors was rather upset by the incident, but his staff did get in touch with me by phone to say that the report was a good one, and valid. A few days later, the telephone on my desk at Yeovilton rang "Good morning, Sir. This is the F15 Eagle Squadron at Bitburg in Germany. Could I speak with Commander Sharkey, please?" "Certainly! Speaking!"
"Sir, I hear you had a good experience against the Aggressor Squadron at Alconbury, recently. Is that correct?" "Yes. that's right." "Well, Sir, if you"re happy with the idea we'd be delighted to come across to Somerset to do some combat with you. We'd bring over four F15s to see how you get on against Our jet. We hear you did pretty good against the Aggressors." "That would be splendid!" I replied. "We would love to see you here at Yeovilton and to fly with you. Just let us know when you expect to arrive and we'll be at your pleasure for the duration." p>Word had got around fast and the elite of the USAF in Europe couldn't resist the chance to see how good the SHAR was - and whether Alconbury was just a flash in the pan. True to their word, the Bitburg boy, arrived at Yeovilton with four of their magnificent fighters for a day's Air Combat Manoeuvring. It was agreed that the aircraft should operate in pairs against each other , which brought fighter tactics really into play (as opposed to just matching aircraft for aircraft, pilot for pilot. in a 1-v-1 fight). The visitors were fully equipped with their radar and were simulating Sparrow AIM-7E missiles, Sidewinders and guns. The SHARS were without radar but were fitted with their radar warning receivers and were simulating Sidewinders and guns.
The two combat sessions were set up over North Devon and the Bristol Channel, with the dissimilar pairs running in towards each other from a distance of about 40 nautical miles. My team were given radar direction from ground radar by a brilliant Direction Officer of many years' experience named Harry O'Grady Having spent years flying the Phantom and using the Sparrow missile, which has an excellent head-on firing capability, I knew how to deny the F15 a valid Sparrow shot from head-on and had briefed my pilots accordingly. The tactic worked well. There were no head-on claims from the F-l5s as they ran in and, as the two aircraft types entered the same airspace, fully developed combat began.
Initially, the F-15s had the advantage. Their radars pinpointed the SHARs and directed their pilots' eyes on to the smaller jets. The SHARs flew at about 12,000 feet, which was where we wanted to meet the opposition, and so the F-15s came in from very high level (30.000 feet plus). rolling over and looping down towards the stem of our Sea Jet formation This was when the SHAR was most vulnerable. It was essential that visual contact was made. Morts came to the rescue.
"High in the 6 o'clock, Boss! Break port and up! They are about 3 miles and closing fast!" The aircraft shuddered in the hard turn with the nose rising to meet the threat. "Tallyho! On both! I'm flying through the right-hand man and reversing on him. Your tail is clear." The nose of the SeaJet passed through the vertical` with my head strained round as far as it would go to keep tabs on the F-15 which, feeling threatened. had engaged burners and had also pulled vertically upwards and over the top (about 5000 feet above me) As the F-15 came down the other side of the vertical manoeuvre he found me still pointing at him all the way. Trying the same move twice was not a good idea` but that's what he did. I predicted the move, sliced my nose early through the vertical and found myself sitting astern the two white-hot plumes at the back of the US fighter. "Fox Two away!" I called, simulating the release of the Sidewinder missile. Morts fared just as well. The detailed post-flight debriefs showed a 7 to 1 valid kill claim by the SHARs. The Alconbury experience had been no flash in the pan. The Sea Harrier had really arrived on the fighter combat scene.
Ed. Note: a version of the sea harrier has been adapted by the USAF and designated AV8A.
FRS1 Reconnaissance Strike Fighter
The Sea Harrier FRS1 was developed from the land based Harrier GR1. It was first flown on 20th August 1978, and entered service in 1980 upon the commissioning of the Royal Navy's first STOVL carrier HMS Invincible. Although developed from a ground attack aircraft the Sea Harrier proved itself in the air-to-air role during the Falklands War where it scored several kills against Argentinean aircraft with newly acquired Sidewinder missiles.
A total of 57 FRS1 were built between 1978 and 1988, 22 of which have been written-off.
Dimensions: Span 7.70 m (25ft 3in) ; Length 14.50 m (47ft 7in) ; Height 3.71 m (12ft 2in) ; Wing Area 18.68 sq.m (201.1 sq.ft)
Weights: Empty 5942 kg (13,100 lb) ; Maximum Take-off 11884 kg (26,200 lb)
Powerplant: one Rolls Royce Pegasus Mk 104 vectored-thrust turbofan (non afterburning) - 9725 kg (21,500 lb) dry thrust.
Performance: Maximum speed at sea level with full AAM load 690 mph (1100 kph, 600 kt) ; Service ceiling 51,000 ft (15545 m)
Avionics: Blue Fox multi-mode radar ; radar warning receiver.
Armament: Optional 2 30 mm Aden gun pods ; 5 pylons for 3629 kg (8,000 lb) of stores inc. Sidewinder AAMs , up to 2 Sea Eagle AShMs and free-fall bombs (including nuclear).
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