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How to Quickly and Effectively Locate and Lock Air-to-Air, Beyond Visual Range - Threats Using the AN/APG-68

By TreeHugger 388 th VFW (Stephen R. Dines)

Introduction

The objective of this short course is to teach virtual air combat pilots of the 388 th VFW how to quickly and effectively locate and lock up air-to- air targets that are beyond visual range (BVR). To accomplish this objective, the content of this course will include basics of the Falcon’s fire control radar system (AN/APG-68) operation. Actual air-to-air radar strategies used by members of the 388 th VFW and real F-16 pilots will also be presented.

You are reminded that information presented in this course is intended solely for members of the 388 th VFW and cannot be distributed outside the wing without the written authorization of the 388 th VFW command staff.

Definitions and Important Radar Controls

The AN/APG-68 in air-to-air mode (all references made to the radar in this course are in reference to air-to-air mode) sweeps an area of coverage that is based on three elements: azimuth, elevation, and range of the scan. Azimuth refers to how far left and right the radar covers (in degrees, 10, 30, or 60). Azimuth settings are changed by selecting the OSB-18 button on the MFD using the mouse or pressing the F-8 key on the keyboard.

Elevation refers how far up and down the radar scans. Elevation is scanned in bars up to a maximum of four. Since the AN/APG-68’s radar beam is narrow, the radar must scan separate bars to cover large areas. The available bar scan settings are dependant on the radar master mode but can include Bar One, Bar Two and Bar four. Elevation can be changed by selecting the OSB-17 button on the MFD using the mouse, or pressing the shift and F-8 keys on the keyboard.

The number of degrees of azimuth and elevation together determine the maximum search pattern of the radar or “search area. ” Targets that exist outside of the maximum search area are sometimes referred to as outside the “gimbal limits. ”

Radar Range, on the other hand, refers to the distance the radar “ sees ” from the nose of the jet in nautical miles (nm). The greater the range or distance, the more search area presented on the MFD. The radar range can be changed by moving the radar acquisition cursor up or down or by pressing the OSB-19 and the OSB-20 buttons on the MFD using

388 th VFW Training Document:

How to Quickly and Effectively Locate and Lock Air-to-Air BVR Threats

the mouse. It can also be changed by pressing the F-3 and F-4 keys on the keyboard to decrease or increase the range, respectively.

The best advice from pilots of the 388 th VFW is to map the above mentioned radar controls to your joystick or Hands on Throttle and Stick (HOTAS). This practice can enable quick changes to radar settings without the pilot having to refer to the keyboard. This will help you to maintain situational awareness, especially during combat Within Visual Range (WVR) as discussed in the section on ACM below. At a minimum, you should plan to map the following radar commands to your HOTAS system:

Cycle air-to-air modes

Radar Cursor Up, Down, Left and Right

Lock Target on Nose

Cycle Air-to-Air Hardpoints

Radar Standby

Tilt Radar Up and Down

Designate Target

Radar Range

Each joystick is different, but you should plan to map the Radar Cursor Controls, Tilt Radar, and the Radar Range controls to the throttle stick. Cycle Air-to-Air and Lock Target on Nose should be mapped to the flight stick. The remaining controls can be mapped to meet your personal preference. Brief descriptions of these controls and additional recommendations for proper mapping to a HOTAS system are presented the sections that follow.

Radar Coverage, Modes, and Settings

The fundamental thing to remember about radar coverage is it depends on three settings: azimuth, elevation, and range. The higher the settings the more coverage you obtain and the longer it takes the radar to complete scanning the volume of airspace. Therefore, if you want to reduce the time it takes to acquire a target, you must become familiar with how the various radar settings affect radar coverage. Once you learn this, you can use the different settings to help you “buy time ” to gain a tactical advantage against your adversary. The various radar modes (i.e., Range While Search (RWS), Track While Scan (TWS), Air Combat Mode (ACM) and Velocity Search (VS)) can also have a impact on radar coverage, but are more specific to certain tactical situations as will be discussed later.

What is the best mode and setting for acquiring a target quickly? The proper radar mode and settings will depend on your current tactical situation. The sections that follow are intended to illustrate some basic tips on the appropriate modes and settings for various tactical situations that you may find yourself in during Falcon4 adventures.

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388 th VFW Training Document:

How to Quickly and Effectively Locate and Lock Air-to-Air BVR Threats

The following two examples illustrate appropriate use of the AN/AGP-68’s Range While Search Mode (RWS) air-to-air radar.

RWS

In this first example, suppose you have just taken off and are heading to your next steerpoint. After a quick check of your radar, Threat Warning System (TWS), and a call into AWACs, you determine the “ picture is clear. ” Under these conditions, you may want to leave the radar in RWS, which is the F-16 pilot’s primary search mode for radar lookout and target detection. Pilots from the 388 th VFW and real F-16 pilots recommend using this mode for searching since RWS mode has the largest azimuth sweep (60º left and right for a whopping total of 120º of horizontal coverage off the nose of your jet!). Therefore, if you are looking for the best coverage RWS is the mode of choice. The default radar settings in RWS mode are azimuth=60º, Elevation=4 bars, and range=80 nm. I usually set the range at 40 nm. That way, I am not broadcasting my presence to everyone on the planet. However, I may periodically change the range to 80 nm or 160 nm to check the airspace over the target area or steerpoint. This practice can give me some last- minute data that I can use to change my ingress to the target, if necessary. Once I am done looking over a given area, however, I will change the range setting back to 40 nm. This practice is reportedly consistent with other virtual pilots of the 388 th VFW.

If, however, you are getting "spiked ” by an inbound bandit or maybe you just received a threat warning from AWACS or from another flight element, you will want to adjust the azimuth, elevation and range of your radar accordingly to locate the threat quickly. The next example illustrates a situation where changing these radar settings may be appropriate. Remember, the sooner you can acquire an inbound threat, the better your chances of gaining a tactical advantage and surviving the encounter.

In our second example, suppose you are flying at your planned altitude and heading when you receive information that an inbound bandit is off your nose at 45 nm, 30 degrees-right, and at angels 25. In this situation, you can narrow the radar search a bit to find the contact more quickly. From the RWS radar default mode (azimuth=60º, Elevation=4 bars, and range=80nm), you might change your azimuth to 30º and reduce the elevation scan to 2 bars. If you still cannot “see ” the bandit, you may need to tilt the radar antenna to make certain that you are scanning the proper altitude off your nose. Knowing how much to tilt your radar will require that you interpret information from the radar acquisition cursor on the MFD radar picture. Tilting the radar and using the radar acquisition cursor will be discussed in the next section.

Figures 1a and 1b below show how the radar display changes slightly after

1a and 1b below show how the radar display changes slightly after 3 Azimuth is 60º

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Azimuth is 60º or A=6

1a and 1b below show how the radar display changes slightly after 3 Azimuth is 60º

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388 th VFW Training Document:

How to Quickly and Effectively Locate and Lock Air-to-Air BVR Threats

new settings for elevation and azimuth are made. As you can see from the figures, the azimuth gates changed size as the azimuth setting was changed from 60º to 30º and the displayed number near OSB 18 on the radar display changed from six (6) to three (3).

Figure 1a Please note that the azimuth scan bars do not appear on the scope when the azimuth is set at 60º. This is because they would lie outside the field of view on the radar picture. Likewise, the elevation number displayed next to OSB-17 on the radar display changed from four (4) to

next to OSB-17 on the radar display changed from four (4) to two (2). Elevation is

two (2).

Elevation is set at Bar-4

Azimuth is set at 30º or A=3 Note the Azimuth gates narrowed to represent 30º
Azimuth is set at 30º or A=3
Note the Azimuth gates
narrowed to represent 30º of
horizontal scan in either
di ti
Elevation set to Bar-2,
B=2

Figure 1-b

Let us now look at what happens when we tilt the radar.

Radar Tilting

Figure 2 below shows the radar picture in RWS default mode just after takeoff. Note the position of the radar acquisition cursor. It is near the lower right of the left MFD and is comprised of two small vertical lines with two numbers adjacent and two the right of these vertical lines. The top number shows the upper altitude of the total scan (i.e., 1-bar, 2-bar or 4-bar) and the lower altitude is represented by the number on the bottom.

In our example, the lower altitude of the scan is 13,000 feet and the upper altitude of the scan is 18,000 feet as shown in Figure 2. What these elevation numbers reveal is the total elevation of the scan in feet. Another way to think of this is that we have “bracketed ” a discrete elevation interval (5,000 feet) within our current scan. Under most circumstances, we should be able to see a radar return or contact that is within range and within this elevation interval.

You should be able to use the upper and lower elevation numbers next to the target acquisition cursor to help you quickly decide whether your current radar settings are going to enable you to see a potential threat,

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388 th VFW Training Document:

How to Quickly and Effectively Locate and Lock Air-to-Air BVR Threats

especially if you have a bullseye on a high-aspect bandit. If you know the threat’s altitude, you

Radar Acquisition Cursor. The upper number is 18 and the lower number is 13, representing
Radar Acquisition Cursor. The upper
number is 18 and the lower number is
13, representing he elevation range of
the erti al s an

Figure 2: Radar Tilting

can quickly determine from viewing the elevation numbers on the radar acquisition cursor whether you have properly “bracketed” him.

To illustrate how to effectively tilt your radar, please consider the following example. Suppose you receive a bullseye call on a threat, that is 35 nm, 30º left of your nose and at angels 20. If you are at angels

15 in RWS mode, you may want to narrow the azimuth to 30º and set the bar scan at two (2). In order to acquire the threat quickly, you will need to adjust the tilt on the radar to bracket an altitude of 20,000 feet at

a range of 40 nm.

If you do not see the threat with these radar settings, you may try reducing the azimuth setting to 10º and drop the bar scan to one (1) and tilt the radar accordingly to bracket the correct elevation to see the inbound threat. This will put your air-to-air radar in “ spotlight mode ” and will enable you to burn through his “jammers” or electronic countermeasures, if he has them on. It is reported by some members of the 388 th VFW that in this mode you can see bandits 80 nm off your nose!

If you have tried to narrow your search but still cannot locate the threat, you have a several options:

1) Keep trying the methods discussed in the previous two paragraphs, 2) “ Open up ” the search by using the default settings for azimuth and elevation, and as a last resort, 3) Check your six!

Remember, radar tilt is controlled by the F5 and F7 keys on the keyboard. As suggested in the previous section, you should plan to map these

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If you fail to do this, you may not see the threat.

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388 th VFW Training Document:

How to Quickly and Effectively Locate and Lock Air-to-Air BVR Threats

important commands to your HOTAS. For my setup, I have mapped these

commands to a two-way button on my throttle control stick.

important commands is important so take the time to plan out your individual configuration – you will be glad you did when the heat of virtual combat starts to rise.

Mapping the

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388 th VFW Training Document:

How to Quickly and Effectively Locate and Lock Air-to-Air BVR Threats

Other Radar Modes and Some Rules of Thumb

All of the examples presented thus far involved the AN/APG-68 air-to-air radar in RWS mode. What about the other radar modes available in the Falcon4 world such as TWS, ACM and VS? The remaining BVR range radar modes are TWS and VS. VS will not be discussed because it is seldom used by F-16 pilots since it provides information on the closure rate of targets only and does not provide enough information on a threat to be particularly useful. TWS, however, is a very useful and important mode and will be discussed next. ACM mode is beyond the scope of this course, but will be discussed briefly after TWS.

TWS

TWS master mode is used primarily to track multiple targets at one time. It is the best mode for determining the number of contacts that are within range of the radar. TWS also provides data on heading, relative airspeed, and can enable you to track up to 16 targets at once. The limit of TWS is that it can only sweep an azimuth of only 25º in either direction off the nose of your jet at 3-bars and only 10º at 4-bars. Therefore, TWS is not the primary choice for searching airspace by many virtual pilots or real F-16 pilots. TWS is usually called up after threats have been located using RWS. However, some members of the 388 th VFW use this mode as their primary search mode with great success. When might you use TWS? To answer this question, consider the following example.

In this example, suppose you are inbound on a ground target approximately 90 nm off the nose of your jet and that you are at angles 20 with the AN/AGP-68 radar in default mode (RWS: azimuth of 60º, 4-bar scan, and range 80 nm). In this example, your jet is loaded with a full complement of CBU-87s (a very effective cluster bomb against light and medium armored vehicles, troops, and light buildings) and four AIM-120s (I will assume you know what the 120’s are for!). Before you reach the initial point, which is the steerpoint before you reach the target, it is good practice to check the airspace over the target area so that you can make last-minute changes to the ingress if the situation warrants. To do this, you would adjust the radar range setting accordingly to include the target area.

Before we continue with this example, it is recommended that you use the Horizontal Situation Display (HSD) in conjunction with the radar display and note the position of the radar acquisition cursor in relation to the ground target area. Figure 3 illustrates a cockpit view showing the radar picture and HSD for the tactical situation given in this example.

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388 th VFW Training Document:

How to Quickly and Effectively Locate and Lock Air-to-Air BVR Threats

Target Area Radar Acquisition Cursors
Target Area
Radar
Acquisition
Cursors

Figure 3

As can be seen from the Figure 3, the HSD provides the pilot with an excellent reference on the route of your current flight, ground target location, and threat position relative the target area. As you move the radar acquisition cursor on your radar display, the same cursor on the HSD mimics your inputs showing you a “ birds eye view ” of where your radar is looking. This turns out to be very useful for a couple of important reasons. First, using both MFDs in this way can help you gain situational awareness regarding your position relative to the ground target and any airborne threats within range of your radar. Secondly, this method can also help you to decide if a change in ingress to the target area is warranted (you want to avoid jettisoning the CBU-87s unnecessarily!).

With the radar’s range set at 160 nm, it is now possible to check the airspace over the target area since our ground target is roughly 90 nm off the nose of our jet. By using the radar picture and HSD together as discussed above, it will be possible to view any threats in relation to the target area. Now that we have a better understanding of how to use the radar picture and HSD together to improve our situational awareness, let us now return to our example.

Suppose that after approximately 45 seconds into the search you receive a radar contact somewhere near the target area. In RWS mode, you may be able to determine the contact’s heading based on target histories but at that range, it may not be possible. Furthermore, you may not be able to determine the number of threats that make up that particular radar contact either. Since RWS does not lend itself well to differentiating between targets in close formation, especially at approximately 90 nm, it may be a good time to switch radar modes. Before you do this, if you place your radar acquisition cursor over the radar contact at this point, you can get a fix on the bullseye of the contact. With a quick note of this information, you are now ready to switch to TWS mode.

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388 th VFW Training Document:

How to Quickly and Effectively Locate and Lock Air-to-Air BVR Threats

Once you switch to TWS mode, you can use the bullseye information and change the radar settings in TWS to quickly reacquire the target exactly how we did this in RWS mode. In our present example, we just obtained the bullseye information on the contacts and can now narrow the azimuth and elevation a bit to locate the target quickly if necessary. The TWS default radar picture is shown on Figure 4.

The TWS default radar picture is shown on Figure 4. Figure 4: TWS in Default –

Figure 4: TWS in Default – Note position of radar contact in relation to the target area.

As you can see from Figure 4, the TWS radar mode provides a better view of the number of targets, their relative airspeed, and direction or heading. To lock up these targets, you would simply place the radar acquisition cursor over the target and designate it by pressing the appropriate button on you joystick setup or by pressing the “0 ” key on the numeric pad on your keyboard. Remember that if you lock up a threat, you will sound off his TWS and alert him of your presence. You may not want to do this until he has a high aspect or you are confident that you can take him out without disrupting your time over the target.

Let us now take a brief look at what we can do to quickly and effectively locate and lock targets that are WVR.

ACM

The primary purpose of ACM master mode is to point your weapons at threats WVR. At this range (usually within 15 nm), you will not have time to fiddle with the radar settings to attempt to locate a target since he will be working to get into position on your six o’clock or to get you into his weapons parameters. Since the objective of this course is to quickly acquire targets beyond visual range, it is not within the scope of this course to discuss ACM target acquisition. We can mention, however, that the best strategy for acquiring targets quickly using ACM is to map the following radar commands to your HOTAS so that you are not struggling to find the right key on the keyboard, especially when you may

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388 th VFW Training Document:

How to Quickly and Effectively Locate and Lock Air-to-Air BVR Threats

be short on time. At a minimum, the following commands should be mapped to your joystick.

Cycle Air-to-Air Modes

Cycle Air-to-Air Submodes

Lock Target on Nose

Lock Next Target

The Cycle Air-to-Air Modes and Cycle Air-to-Air Submodes will enable you to cycle through all of the AN/AGP-68 master modes and submodes quickly by just pressing a button on your joystick. This will help you to avoid looking away from the screen and risk loosing situational awareness. Lock Target on the Nose will help you to quickly lock the target right out in front of you without waiting on the radar to complete the scan. This can be a lifesaver in a head-to-head situation. Lock Next Target can be used to lock the next target within the view of the HUD.

A complete description of all of the ACM submodes can be found in the Falcon 4.0 instruction manual.

Closing Comments

What is the most important thing to remember when trying to quickly locate and lock air-to-air BVR threats? Map the important radar commands to your HOTAS system to start. Once you have done that, practice adjusting the radar settings and tilting your radar to paint your contact quickly. When you become proficient at making changes to your radar modes and settings quickly by using the bottons on your HOTAS system, you can focus the majority of your attention on maintaining situational awareness and planning a strategy to gain a tactical advantage at the merge, if it comes down to that!

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