SEAD Strike the old school way - an AAR
Had an utterly exhilarating mission in a single player campaign, and felt I just had to share.
Early in the Rolling Fire campaign, I’m having trouble dealing with some of the SAM sites. Specifically, I’ve had little success with HARMs. I rarely hit any radar systems with HARMs, and when I do, I still need to task additional strikes to target the launchers. Another SEAD Strike mission out of Choonwon comes up, targeting a SA2 SAM site protecting an airbase about 20 miles north of the border in the North West, and I decide I’m going to try something different with this one.
I modify every aspect of the mission. Instead of the default loadout with HARMs, I decide my two ship will be loaded with 6 MK-20 Rockeye, a pair of fuel tanks and a jammer pod each. A pair of AMRAAMs and a pair of Sidewinders complete the loadout for defensive purposes.
In planning, the site’s Fang Song B radar is marked on steerpoint 5, and a run in at 335 degrees will allow the attacker to nail a set of four launchers plus the Fang Song in a single run. With a slight adjustment, another set of launchers could be dropped on in the same pass, so the waypoints are setup accordingly. All this will take place at around 300 feet, rather than the 22K feet default. I also take the opportunity to add threat rings and the FLOT line to my DTE so they’ll show up in my HSD.
This one-pass-haul-ass plan is because of all the threats in the area:
- Some Mig 23 CAPS to the North and East of the site.
- SA2’s to the north and northwest of the target that cover the area.
- AAA sites to the west, as well as one AAA site at the target itself, covering the Fang Song. This site has previously been hit, so it’s operating at about 55%
The IP is moved to 25 miles out, just before the border and FLOT. The general plan is to climb out to 25000 feet to cruise (it’s a long way). At stp 3 begin a shallow dive towards the IP at stpt 4, 30 miles away, so that by the time we cross the FLOT, we’re in the weeds, well below SAM coverage.
After an uneventful ramp start and taxi, we blast down the runway in formation, and climb out in the mid-morning sun (it’s around 9.30am). After setting up the autopilot parameters, I turn it on and let it climb the jet out to stp 2 at just under 7 degrees climbing angle, while I busy myself with setting up my weapons (2000ft burst alt, drop in pairs), countermeasures program (2), bombing mode (ccip) and other sundries. I also switch radios to UHF 12 so I can listen in on proximity traffic to get an idea of what’s going on around me in the theatre, as well as setting up preferred radar and hsd ranges, and radar scan parameters. Once I’m happy, I settle in for the long flight to stp 2, and manage my climb angle vs speed vs eta accordingly.
Once we hit 25K feet, I level off and relax for a bit, listening in to proximity radio traffic. Not much going on out here, mostly just flights arranging themselves, preparing for battle. Constant calls for formation changes and adjustments make for interesting listening, giving an insight into how other flight leads do things. I check in with AWACS now and again to get a threat picture. At this point we’re still pretty far in the south, so I don’t expect anything other than ‘Picture clear’ for a while still.
We hit stp 2, and turn towards 3 immediately. We’re a minute early, but I’m not too concerned since we’re the only element in this package. As we approach stp 3, things seem to be heating up a bit on the proximity channels, as a bunch of packages actually start engaging enemy forces. AWACS also reports heavy activity over the FLOT, which is now roughly 30 miles away.
At stp 3 I disengage the autopilot, nose over and begin a shallow dive to get in the weeds before stp 4. I order my wingman to go trail and kick out, giving him more than enough room to do his thing over the target without me getting in the way. At this time I run through my IP checks, because I don’t want to be head down when we’re running in at 300 feet.
Master arm on, a-g mode, ccip pipper is there, sms page setup with correct bomb parameters, switch page to hsd, drop scale to 15 miles.
By the time we hit the IP at stp 4, we’re flying 550 Kn at around 500 feet. I switch the radios to UHF 6, the package-only channel so I’m not distracted by the tremendous radio traffic on proximity. There’s a hell of a lot going on over the FLOT, from multiple strikes, CAS and interdiction operations to tons of air-to-air combat.
We silently cross the FLOT into enemy territory at 300 feet altitude pressing 550 knots. I line up the run in to a heading of 335. We pass over a small town with a few apartment blocks. At this altitude and speed I have no doubt we’ve smashed a few windows passing these buildings so closely, and no doubt a few phone calls are being made to the nearby airbase. Oh well.
At around 10 miles out, we clear a hill and I can start to make out the Fang Song. It’s a pretty tall system, relatively easy to spot. To my left is the AAA, so I keep an eye on the threat rings on the hsd. As I’m properly lined up, I expect to see a group of launchers and their support vehicles lined up horizontally before the radar, and yep, there they are!
I rapidly climb to 2000 feet to give me a bit of room to attack. The pipper creeps up quickly and as soon as it hits the launchers, I mash the pickle button.
I’ve rocked my wings left a little, so I’m losing my line up on the radar. I quickly adjust with a bit of right side stick, but the distance is short and I close the gap really fast. When I pickle over the radar, the jet is leaning slightly right. I hope the bombs still hit!
The next set of vehicles come up quickly and I have little time to adjust. If I can nail just a couple of the four, I’ll be satisfied.
That’s them, all done. Remembering the AAA site to the North West, I turn right a little and put some distance behind me. The “2” symbol is still showing up on my RWR, so I assume I missed the radar. I also notice a “23” symbol to the North East. One of the MiG 23 CAPs I mentioned before must now be taking an interest in all the commotion here and he’s coming over to take a look.
Once I clear about 6 miles out, I execute a long, slow right turn and point back at the other side of the airfield. I look over to where my bombs dropped. There are secondaries at both sets of launchers, so those were good hits. The radar though, is still standing, and definitely still tracking me.
My wingman calls Rockeye as he gets his bombs off. That’s that. We have no more weapons and that radar is still going to cause grief to friendly flights in the area. I make a quick decision to take that radar out at any cost. I’m still flying pretty low, at this stage I’m at around 400 feet. Instead of straightening up with the nose on the airfield and escaping to the FLOT, I continue the turn and go after that radar with guns. Another “23” symbol appears, this time to the North West of me.
I pull up the strafe pipper on the hud, and line up for a very low, very fast gunnery shot on the radar. This is exceptionally risky stuff, because every gun in the area is shooting at me, and I’m heading straight back into the lion’s den with nothing more than my 20mm. On top of that, my hair is on fire just a couple of hundred feet off the ground, and MiG 23’s, smelling blood, are screaming in at high speed, itching to nail a Viper.
I adjust my flight path so the strafe pipper is right over the radar, and when I’m in range I fire a medium burst.
I miss, but adjust and fire a second, longer burst.
I watch as the 20mm shells rip into the dish, and indeed, the rest of the structure, tearing it apart completely.
Now to get the hell out of here. And here’s where my troubles really begin. By now I’m flying lower than 200 feet at around 480 kn. Even the tiniest mistake will see me end up a lawn dart, so I climb a little to give me a bit of breathing room. Because I deviated from the original plan in order to gun the radar, my escape routes are no longer safe. If I pull left directly towards the FLOT, I will fly directly over that AAA site. If I pull right and circle all the way around again, the MiG 23 (and any other CAPs possibly inbound) will easily catch me. In the heat of the moment, I decide to go direct and hope my speed is enough to throw off the AAA.
I blow past popping flares and chaff, and hope to hell they don’t nail me. Just as I think I’m home free, warning lights start flashing. The Master Caution light comes on and WARN flashes in the HUD. The right wing dips and immediately the jet loses a few hundred feet as the nose points to the ground. CRAAAAAAAP, I’ve been hit!
Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.
I battle to regain control of the jet. The engine is spewing thick black smoke, and I can’t get her to fly straight. However, I do have some control. My hand eases off the ejection handle as I figure I can rescue the situation. I don’t feel like getting captured behind enemy lines, so if I have to punch out, I want it to be in friendly territory.
First things first. Need to stabilise the aircraft. After some wrangling, I discover that with some left trim, the jet will fly more or less straight with constant stick adjustment. Of course, this is not wings level. The right wing is dipped at around 30 degrees bank. If I straighten her up, she turns left, so I keep her banked.
With fairly stable flight re-established, I check the engine. Even though there’s smoke pouring out, it still works just fine. It responds perfectly to all throttle inputs, and there is nothing to indicate a fuel leak. I don’t risk going to afterburner though. With the speed I have already, I’m hoping that won’t be necessary.
The avionics are damaged. Right MFD is gone, and the flight mode is locked on a-g, with no way to switch out. As I am in gun strafe mode, I still have the strafe pipper on the hud, and there is no way to change anything on the sms page, so I’m stuck with that. While I’m there, I go to selective jettison, select the wing tanks and hit the pickle. They come off! That’s a huge relief. I flip the CAT switch now that the jet is lighter. I switch to the hsd page and try and adjust the range. No dice. Can’t switch steer points either, so the current steerpoint is stuck on stp 5.
The RWR still works as do the countermeasures. That’s lucky because one of the MiG 23 symbols appears to be gaining on me. That’s all I need now! He’s getting close, and soon the missile launch warning starts blaring at me. He’s at my 7 o’clock, so I figure with my current speed I should be able to outrun his missile. I hit CMS up to run the current countermeasures program, and the jet pops chaff and flares. It works, and the missile warning disappears.
He’s still on me, and looks like he’s gaining. I don’t want to light the burner, in case the engine dies, but even if i could, the MiG 23 would still be able to gun me down as he’s twice as fast. I call on my wingman to clear my six. He confirms and not long after calls fox 3 medium. The 23 disappears from my RWR, obviously with his own problems now that an AMRAAM is inbound. He abandons the chase. I call on my wingie to rejoin, because knowing him, he’ll stick around there until he gets shot down. He confirms with, “2, on my way”.
I focus on pressing towards the FLOT when another 23 shows up, this time on my 9 o’clock. I turn away from him, hoping to outrun any missiles he sends my way. I can’t turn too much though, because that would just get me deeper in enemy territory, or at least away from the FLOT. Luckily a group of inbound friendly fighters engage him after a few minutes and he disappears from the RWR. I immediately turn back towards the FLOT. My RWR shows up a “29” symbol as well, directly at my six, but a long way away. I definitely cannot afford to stick around, but at least the MiG 29 is not an immediate threat. Seems my little adventure has shaken up the hornet’s nest.
Eventually, I cross over the border and am soon clear of all threat rings. With a sigh of relief I climb out of the weeds to 10000 feet and call AWACS for a vector to the nearest airfield. There’s one just 30 miles away. Cool! I turn towards it and look up the field on my charts. Then, a thought hits me: I still have plenty of fuel, the engine is fine. Why not get this bird home? I call AWACS again and ask for vectors to home-plate.
“Home-plate, bearing 1-2-5, one hundred miles” comes the reply. A hundred miles. That’s not bad. I turn to that heading and drive towards my homebase. Keeping the jet steady is a constant fight. Even with trim, the nose wants to drop and I’m still flying at a 30 degree right bank angle.
Without having to constantly dodge hills and valleys, I take the opportunity to do a full systems check, cycling through the F-ACK items on the Pilot Fault Display. The list is long and distinguished, mostly FLCS and avionics/bus related errors. I take a mental note of some of the big ones, but there is nothing there to indicate any engine faults, which is good. Not sure where the smoke is coming from though, so I still elect not to use the burner if I can help it.
I press on, with regular calls to AWACS for a bearing update. When I’m 30 miles out, I call inbound, then declare an emergency so they can have the fire trucks ready. The tower clears me all the way in, even though there’s a long queue. Another thought strikes me as I set up my approach: I can’t land this bird banked at a 30 degree angle. The wing will hit the ground at speed which will cause the jet to tumble. Not a good end to an already harrowing mission.
Instead, I experiment a bit with the controls to try and get her to fly straight with wings level. After trying a few combinations, I find that easing off the trim, leveling the wings and constantly applying light counter rudder is enough to get the jet flying straight and level. When I’ve lined up, I pop the airbrake, and drop the landing gear. Even with the jet stuck in a-g and the strafe pipper up, the landing bar still comes up on the hud. Great!
Riding the rudder and managing my aoa with the throttle, I slam her in for a solid, if hard, landing. Thankfully I didn’t damage the landing gear (although my kidneys will never be the same) and the NWS still works. I immediately turn it on and hit the toe brakes. The jet slows and I slowly taxi off the runway, while the fire engines rush towards me.
Now I can breathe! Mission finally over, I check the plane in with the ground crews and head to the debrief room back at the squadron. The mission is deemed a success, with both my wingman and I getting an excellent rating. I’ve destroyed 7 ground targets, including the Fang Song B radar with 20mm fire. My first pair of bombs took out 4 vehicles, including two launchers. The second pair actually damaged the radar, but did not destroy it. The third pair was dropped on another group of four vehicles, but managed to destroy two launchers. My wingman destroyed 4 vehicles with his run. All in all, the SAM site is now at 9%, with no Fang Song. That is a fantastic result!
My wingman also fired two AMRAAMs at an enemy fighter (likely the Mig 23 that he helped me out with). Both missed, so that guy gets to fight another day, but at least he didn’t add me to his tally.
My wingman’s jet is just fine, and will likely be rotated on to the next mission in a few hours. My jet is labelled “damaged”, which means it will be in repairs for at least a while before seeing action again. Still, that’s much better than losing her entirely and me having to get picked up by a rescue team.
In hindsight, I probably could have turned the long way around after gunning the radar, lobbing an AMRAAM in the MiG’s direction. This would have been enough to put him on the defensive and bought me enough time to complete my turn, drop my tanks, light the burner and blast my way to the FLOT in relative safety. In the heat of battle, I made the wrong choice. I was lucky to survive, and only did so thanks to my wingman. That lesson cost me a case of beer and a lifetime of gratitude!
Nice write-up Zeppelin, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!
Thanks hoover! Thoroughly enjoyed flying it
Very nice reading! Thanks for posting!
Well, that felt like reading a specialty book! Professional grade writing, very nice, thanks for posting
Excellent read. I like the cannon part, it’s something I’ve been doing again my self. Nothing like a strafe + maneuver + flares to feel alive.
Very well written! Very agile and immersive storytelling! Thanks for posting.
Very nice write-up Zeppelin … when does the next installment come out!!
Very nice writing Zeppelin. And nice work in the heat of battle…
Very nice write-up Zeppelin … when does the next installment come out!!
Thanks Bull, glad you enjoyed it! I wrote this because at that moment I felt I had to share a really fun mission with SOMEONE and none of my friends would get it :rolleyes:
Don’t know when the next one will be mate, but this is certainly encouraging feedback.
Thanks for the encouraging feedback folks, much appreciated!