Monthly Archives: August 2013

Insert clever Fishbreath/Warthog pun here

As the most dedicated Russophile among my flight-simming friends, I strapped myself into the cockpit of my early-birthday-present A-10C intending to make like good Soviet propagandist and put it down for every trivial flaw I could find in otherwise-perfect product of decadent capitalism. My final opinion turned out to be a little more measured. The Charlie Warthog is, in a lot of ways, a fine aircraft, and perhaps even the Su-25T’s superior (I would say the jury is still out), but it’s not quite the world-beater I thought it might be.

I’ll start with how it flies. The one-word description is ‘docile’; the two-word description is ‘very docile’. Those big, straight wings yield excellent handling at low speeds, a great roll rate, and all-around pleasant performance. The two podded turbofans strapped to the fuselage in back are high-bypass, which is to say they’re the same sort as the engines on most airliners: the jet exhaust contributes less than the volume of air moved by the fan at the front. It doesn’t make for a fast airplane, and indeed a loaded Warthog struggles to reach the sorts of speeds I consider ‘slow’ in the Su-25, but in any aircraft without an air-to-ground radar, sloth is a virtue (which explains my thing for helicopters). I count this one as even. The Su-25 has better thrust-to-weight and better ability to escape danger, but the A-10 can loiter just about forever and is an easier weapons platform.

Since all fixed-wing planes are basically the same, I got on top of the flying thing in just about no time flat. The two remaining pillars of the Warthog (the systems and the weapons) I learned at about the same time, but I’m going to hit weapons first. The biggest drawback compared to other the other DCS platforms of my acquaintance is the inexcusable lack of dedicated anti-tank missiles. The Su-25T can carry sixteen, plus another six laser-guided missiles, and that’s a lot of semi-standoff capability. On the other hand, the A-10’s gun is worthy of all the praise it garners. It’s effective against every target up to and including the vaunted M1 Abrams, provided you attack from the right aspect, and it makes a lovely, lovely sound.

The guided bomb options (fitted with the GPS-guided JDAM kits and the laser-guided Paveway kits) are good, and can be mounted on most of the hardpoints, but the Maverick only works on two of them, and the Su-25T’s Kh-25 (the Maverickski) is roughly equivalent. The Warthog’s rocket options are typically American, which is to say horrid; the Russians, with their long experience in Afghanistan, have a much better selection (from tiny little 57mm peashooters to 340mm monsters). The Su-25 has better light and medium weapons, and the A-10 has better heavy stuff; in my book, that goes to the Su-25.

Finally, we come to avionics, that traditional locus of American superiority, and the A-10C doesn’t disappoint. The dash holds two color multifunction displays, which control the armaments and targeting, and can display a moving map, and it’s all brilliant. The A-10’s targeting pod (the LITENING, a hardpoint-mounted jobber), through gyroscopes, gimbals, and voodoo magic (I repeat myself), plus a healthy dose of positional awareness, can track a point on the ground even if the wing or the airplane is blocking it, through a complete turn. It features an absurd amount of zoom, plus an IR camera and a standard CCD, and really, it’s hard to say anything bad about it.

It also feeds into the Sensor Point of Interest concept: with any sensor, from the targeting pod to the navigation display to a Maverick seeker to the little visual designation cursor on the HUD, you can declare a Sensor Point of Interest. It sticks around, and you can slew all of your sensors to it at any time. It’s a very, very handy bit of systems integration, and makes re-locating targets on subsequent attack passes a lot easier than they are in the Su-25.

Still, as good as it is, the designers missed two tricks. For one: by Russian standards, the A-10C’s autopilot is archaic. The Su-25T and the Ka-50 both have modes galore, up to and including ones which will follow the mission route or line up on a target, and the A-10 has… one mode which orbits, and one mode which flies straight and level. An orbit mode being the bare minimum for a single-seat attack aircraft, the A-10’s omission of anything fancier is a significant strike against it, given how much head-down work it expects you to be doing. The second one, I wouldn’t have thought of had it not been for the Su-25T: an infrared jammer in the tail. It makes a great deal of sense. Attack planes hang around at low level, where any mujahid with an SA-7 can take a pop at them, and having a bit of kit which makes rear-aspect attacks difficult is a gigantic win.

In the end, the Warthog is what I expected it to be: a solid ground-attack platform with a gun that’s unmatched in its effectiveness. At the same time, it isn’t quite what I expected. It’s only just entering service now, and being such a modern piece of kit, I have to wonder: why did the Air Force settle for very good, when perfect was so nearly within their grasp?

Breath of Fish, Foot of Frog: A Su-25T Mission Log

I, with a metrical title, recount my thoughts on recent Su-25T shenanigans, including the two failed attempts before the one that made parvusimperator’s final report. -Fish

I’ve already written my initial impressions of the Su-25T, so I can skip that part and go straight to the SEAD mission.

As we were getting our armaments in order, kicking the tires, and lighting the fires, I suggested, “Why don’t we try a synchronized takeoff?”

Parvusimperator raised several legitimate objections: “Because I only started flying this aircraft an hour or two ago? Because it wanders all over the runway? Because we’ll crash into each other and die?”

“Pessimist,” I said. We lined up on the runway in rough formation, him as the leader ahead and to my left. We held the brakes in, ran up the engines, and released the brakes as we started rolling… and somehow, most of the way down the runway, I passed him. As little sense as that made, it wasn’t hard to get back in formation—I just slowed down and let him pass me. We turned toward the target, three SAM batteries 100 kilometers southeast of our airfield. Two of them were medium-range area defense systems: one 9K37 Buk and one Improved Hawk. One 9K33 Osa provided short-range support. Soon after we left the field, we were already getting painted by the I-Hawk’s search radar. The radar warning receiver made a little ‘boop’ every now and then as the beam hit us. Range to target, according to our instruments, was about 90 kilometers when we started getting the radar signal, and parvusimperator’s anti-radiation missiles had a range of about 50 kilometers. We drove in to that range at about 500 meters above ground level, whereupon parvusimperator lofted the first missile at the I-Hawk’s search radar. By that time, the Buk had found us, and we turned in that direction. After parvusimperator launched his missile, the annoying solid tone my radar warning receiver was blaring into my ears turned into an annoying fast beeping.

“I’ve been launched on. Going defensive,” I said, feeling very professional as I rolled out of formation, left a cloud of chaff in my wake, and dove for the deck. Looking out the right side of my cockpit, I could actually see the missile’s smoke trail off in the distance, headed in my direction. Fortunately, my dive to the deck and my turn to put the missile on my three-o’clock ran it out of energy before it could hit me. Parvusimperator, who had been watching his missile in, was less lucky: although he had fired on the Buk battery before the missiles launched, the battery’s search radar had cued the launcher’s fire control radar onto us, letting it launch its missiles and guide them to us even after parvusimperator’s missile knocked out the search radar. He took a hit and punched out, and we restarted. Our second try didn’t go much better—owing to a DCS bug, the anti-radiation missiles blew up moments after leaving their hardpoints.

On the third try, we finally found a little more success: parvusimperator launched from nearly maximum range on both of the long-range SAMs, and tagged the short-range one with one of his other SEAD missiles. Lacking his fancy ELINT pod (which gives him HUD cues toward radars, and therefore targets), I had to resort to more desperate measures: first, my FLIR targeting pod, which proved unhelpful, and finally my good old Mark I eyeball. I found the smoking husk of the Osa, dropping a cluster bomb on it for good measure, and headed north from there, following the threat heading indicator on my radar warning receiver and eventually finding the Hawk battery just as parvusimperator did. I made one pass with rockets and destroyed the launcher, and was looping around for another when parvusimperator tagged the last vehicle with a laser-guided missile. That done, we climbed to our rendezvous point, formed up again, and went home.

Protivtankovy Parvusimperator

The DCS Su-25T Frogfoot is the only attack aircraft in my simulated stable right now. In the interests of cooperation, parvusimperator learned to fly it a few nights ago, and has recounted his experience with it here for your edification. -Fish

As resident NATO-trained attack pilot, I took to the Su-25T without too much trouble. It certainly helped that this sim uses somewhat simplified modeling, so startup was a breeze. I can’t help but feel that the A-10C and the Su-25T are designed for very different missions. The A-10C has JDAMS and LGBs, some of which are quite large (2,000 lb. class). It also has Mavericks, which are a nice blend of fire-and-forget-ness and range. On the other hand, the Su-25T carries Vikhr ATGMs, and why the A-10C can’t equip Hellfires is beyond me. It would really improve tankbusting capability. Alas, the Su-25T only carries 16 Vikhrs, which some Soviet pencil-pusher probably figured was enough. However, the A-10C at least has some weapons that can do the same job as the Vikhrs. As for Vikhr employment, they’re very fast, but you have to maintain the target lock until impact, just like a Sparrow. The speed makes up for any inconvenience.

The bigger oversight in the A-10 is the inability to carry ARMs. The Su-25T can carry an ELINT pod to help you find SAM radars and Kh-58 and Kh-25MPU antiradiation missiles to kill them. With the A-10C, you have to rely on the Maverick, which basically means you can only kill Osa and Strela-1 SAMs with any degree of safety. Strela-10s can be engaged with care.

The A-10C’s avionics really put it ahead of the Su-25T. The MFDs, Digital stores management, moving map capability, and, most especially, Litening Targeting Pod capability dramatically improve flyability. The Litening pod’s electro-optical sensors are stabilized, so airframe buffeting doesn’t show up in your display. It will also remember where it was pointing provided you don’t exceed it’s G-limits, which is next to impossible in the A-10C. So the pod will helpfully remain pointed at the bit of dirt, Soviet armored vehicle or terrorist’s left nostril that you were looking at before you decided to turn to bring weapons to bear or evade ground fire. This also lets the experienced Hog-driver orbit either around the target area or next to the target area while he searches. The one advantage of the Shkval and/or Khod on the Su-25T is that since it is forward-aspect only, you always see an indication of where it’s searching in your HUD, making searching with visual references in front of you much easier for the novice pilot.
The Digital Stores Management System (DSMS, pronounced diz-miz) is super convenient, and analog systems don’t even come close. DSMS lets you select which pylon you want to launch stores from (helpful for balance), tells you how many rockets you have remaining, and lets you set fusing options and targeting modes (e.g. CCIP/CCRP). The A-10C’s presentation of CCIP and CCRP are better, as they help you fly onto the correct path to hit your target.

As mentioned before, the Su-25T handles better than the A-10C full stop. It’s faster and more agile. Ground handling is a bit tricky, and that is the one handling vice of the type. The Su-25T is also not well equipped for loitering, using thirsty turbojet engines.

I will also add that the Su-25T’s weapons encourages close flying, so I got to test how well the Rook could withstand 12.7mm BMG rounds the hard way. Several passes over M1 Abrams tanks had resulted in my plane being positively riddled, causing Flight Instructor Fishbreath to recommend that I return to base twice. I did no such thing and pressed my attack until I was happy I killed enough tanks. Afterwards, damage assessment from my instructor indicated that my plane was riddled with holes and it was missing several panels. However, handling wasn’t very impaired, which impressed me (and was the reason I had kept attacking, since it seemed like nothing important was damaged). Airbrakes deployed fine on my final approach. Given damage to my wings and flaps, my instructor suggested not using flaps to avoid a spin if only one of them deployed. At approach altitude, I agreed. Passing the outer marker, I put my gear down. But main gear did not budge. I opted for a belly landing, and continued with the approach. As my plane jolted to the ground, I deployed my parachute, but it didn’t seem to do anything. Eventually I skidded to a stop and shut down my engines. Now I could take a look at the external view, which showed that the part of the tail holding the braking chute was completely shot away. But despite all of the damage and missing bits, the Rook brought me home alive, and earns that special place in my heart, along with other ugly-but-tough planes like the Hog and the Wildcat.

With the newfound SEAD ability, Fishbreath and my now-proficient self decided we would go SAM-killin’. I took the ELINT pod and ARMs to kill SAM radars, and he took rockets and cluster bombs to kill TELs and command vehicles. We took off simultaneously, and then held formation like pros into the target until we started getting lit up by search radars. Our targets were an MIM-23 Hawk battery, an 9K37 Buk (SA-11 Gadfly) battery and an 9K33 Osa (SA-8 Gecko) battery. My plan was to hit the Hawk and the Buk with long-range Kh-58s, and then nail the Osa with a Kh-25MPU. Fishbreath would then destroy remaining launchers and command vehicles with cluster bombs and rockets. Closest to our ingress route was the Hawk battery, and it is very unnerving to hear that it has locked onto you while you wait for the battery to come within range of your missiles.

Accompanied by the Bomb Run theme from Dr. Strangelove, I shoved my throttles to the stops and bore in on the Hawk battery at full power. I launched one Kh-58 at it, and then turned to engage the Buk. By now I was much closer to the Buk, so I was able to launch shortly after acquiring it. I then promptly turned away hard to stay out of range of the missiles and avoid reprisals. Once I noted that the missiles had hit their targets, I engaged the Osa battery with a Kh-25MPU. After impact, I thought my threat display ought to be clear, and at first it was.

After only the briefest of moments, it became clear that there were still active radars. I detected radars from the Buk and the Hawk still active. I thought that we probably only had search radars left, but I decided to silence the infernal beeping of the RWR just the same. I rolled in on the Buk, locked it up, and fired my other Kh-25MPU. Bozhe moi! It blew up just in front of my nose! Clearly capitalist spies had gotten to our missile stocks. Also, I was out of ARMs. I would have to use other missiles. And, unfortunately, I couldn’t directly cue these with the ELINT pod. So I got my flightpath so that the radar icon was near an attitude marking on my HUD, then switched to air-to-ground mode and engaged the Buk search radar with a Kh-25ML. That target down, I decided to finish off the Hawk sensors. After a few tries, the same technique worked like a charm. Fishbreath finished off the battery with some rockets, guided in by smoke from the burning radars.

Landing the Su-25T with its parachute was quite fun. The return from this flight was my first proper landing in a fully functional plane and ILS cues made it a breeze.