Decisions, decisions ... what to do next. The grid lines indicate 20x20 km. Click the image for an expanded view.
The mission is to destroy the enemy tanks before they reach the front line. Resources available: a two aircraft flight of A-10s armed with AGM-65Ds and an special operations team behind the enemy lines.
In the image above the small arrows indicate the likely route the enemy tanks will take: a small valley between the Caucasus mountains and a patch of hills. We will need the assistance of the SOF team to know if and how the tanks are moving. Two SA-11 launchers are already known to be operative: one in the valley and the other one near the coast line. At the front line, the enemy infantry will likely have a good supply of portable IR-guided missiles (MANPADS).
The environment for this mission is moderate to high threat. At least in my experience, the SA-11 is a nasty foe. The two-stage missiles it fires out range our AGM-65Ds by more than a dozen kilometers. The MANPADS threat is no slouch either: silent (you get no instruments warning when they are shoved up to your engines) and many (cheap and easy to transport), I never take any chances against them.
In the image above, the aircraft icons represent different approaches I considered.
"Front Door", is the diddle, diddle, straight up the middle approach. Conscious of my poor piloting skills, I abandoned it quickly because I tend to get too close to any target and the MANPADS would take me out of action rapidly. Also, there is the line of sight issue when one approaches frontally a column of vehicles moving down a road: they tend to have a smaller footprint in my sights and disappear all at once when they move through moderate elevations.
"Slalom" involves popping up from the mountain range, acquire, fire and bug out towards the cover offered by the Caucasus. I called it "slalom" because I tend to spend too much time acquiring, and using this attack approach would have me flying downhill from a starting altitude of 2,000 meters. One would think that in a situation like that the terrain clutter would protect an aircraft from the enemy radars target acquisition systems, but alas the SA-11 is a heck of an air defense that fires a heck of a missile.
Though not undefeatable, the SA-11in the valley complicates things beyond recognition. That SA-11 in the valley ... it needs to be put out of action.
Did you know that you can safely approach an enemy SA-11, without being fired at, if you fly at around 30 feet above the surface level? That trick could be used against the SA-11 in the coast line ("Salty") because flying at very low altitude is easier on water bodies. But that would still leave me with the task of dealing with the other SA-11 and we have only 8 AGM-65Ds in this flight. Suppressing just one SA-11 is all I can stomach right now.
Using the Death Canyon to approach and engage the SA-11 in the valley ("Trench Rat") is just a crazy idea I had. Useless. The SA-11 is just at the gate of the canyon. Where would I break if I get fired? Upwards?
With these ideas in mind my flight plan was born (see way points in the figure above). Way point (WP) 6 is where I will start my attack run on the SA-11 located in the valley. I will pop up above the mountains at WP6. The altitude of the Caucasus there is just 1,300 m (compare that to the 2,000 of "Slalom"). I will then dive onto the SA-11 and destroy it. May my shooting fail, hopefully I will be inside a 3 km ring around this SA-11 (these things can't fire at you if you are closer than 3 km) and with more freedom to asses the situation. WP7 is just an orientation point, I would prefer not to fly through it but rather take the tank targets from a distance.
WP5 is the initial point (IP) far enough from the real attack position. I kept the IP a bit far from where the shooting will happen because if my initial run fails earlier than I can shoot anything, I want to go back to the IP and re asses from the safety of a good covered position. In addition, remember that IPs should be easily recognizable from the air without the aid of instruments. Mountain peaks look the same when you are flying in combat, so I don't use them as IPs.
WP4 is the contact point (CP). This is where I will wait for the ground element to give us a go/no-go.
I chose WP2 at a landmark (where two rivers merge) and WP3 as an intermediate, general orientation WP. Remember, flying the A-10 in combat is more about sensibly using the terrain rather than chasing waypoints. I don't mean to fly straight between WP2 and WP3, and I don't see the need to complicate the flight plan with 25 extra waypoints that will become a chore to manage and follow during the flight.
In that spirit, we fly ...