Thursday, April 17, 2014

Attacking the Barn With The Red Roof - DCS A-10C

In his fantastic book, "The Warthog and Close Air Support Debate", Douglas Campbell comments about how different the battlefield looks to the soldier and to the airman. In page two, a clear example is provided in which the soldier asks the pilot to attack the barn with the red roof. The pilot, from his point of view, can see many of those. Which one is the target?

Without any doubt, close air support has come a long way since the times where the problem mentioned above was all too common. The advances in global positioning, optics and data transmission packed in a modern close air support platform like the A-10C would look like magic to a forward air controller from the WWII era.

In this blog entry, a short reflection/tribute to how efficient close air support can be in the modern battlefield. The emphasis is on how the gadgets included in the A-10C help the pilot to accomplish his mission. These are screenshots from a custom-made mission in the highly detailed DCS A-10C flight simulator (Eagle Dynamics).

Exhibit A. While the forward air controller is giving his 9-line "speech", I'm prepping my aircraft while in autopilot mode. The autopilot mode is "hold altitude only", which allows to keep the bird in a holding a circular pattern at a distance from the enemy threats.
Exhibit B. The forward air controller (its position is shown as a green "x" in the display above) has just sent me the coordinates of my target (a SAM vehicle), which is shown as a red triangle in the moving map/TAD. The cross is a cursor that allows the selection and creation of waypoints, markpoints and more. I am about to select that red triangle so I can point my targeting pod and weapons on the target.

Exhibit C. The targeting pod's (TGP) lenses are a powerful eye over the battlefield. One should not fall to the false belief that the TGP provides a God's, all seeing view of the world. In this case, a couple of trees and an extremely inconvenient fold of the terrain kept my TGP blind off this target. I had to fly a wide circle over the target area, keeping distance and altitude (don't forget my target is a SAM), to actually "see" the target. 
Exhibit D. Relative position aids and target area memory. Once you have flown the not-so friendly skies, under the constant feeling that  a SAM will be shoveled through your engines, it is easy to loose orientation. Every freaking city looks the same from 22,000 ft! Lost track of where to point your pod? A long push to the "china hat" switch on your throttle will bring the pod looking at the mark you made before. To keep you oriented on where the hell is that target area, one can use the moving map/TAD, which shows the position of your aircraft and of the targeting pod aiming. Feeling like you can't take your eyes off the targeting pod? A small dot (above the "6M" marker in the TGP) displays to which side of the aircraft your TGP is pointing (at 3 o'clock in this case). The target area is in the outskirts of Tskhinvali, that city below at 3 o'clock low.

Exhibit E. Guided weapons. A Maverick missile is going downrange, electro-optically guided by the heat emitted by the target. 

Exhibit F. Overkills. A second Maverick missile is about to strike the already destroyed target. Not exactly a technical marvel of the modern day, but the heat of battle continues to force this upon the insecurities and failures of rookie pilots. In this case, I didn't break after shooting the first missile. Too close to the target area, there goes another missile just in case!
And just to contrast the sophistication of targeting and weapons delivery technology in the A-10C, the simplicity of flying the bird back to base. A slow, stick and rudder approach and landing into Batumi International Airport.

The airport is seen as a green box in the HUD. I positively hate approaching this place. Even more during bad weather. The sharp turn over the Black Sea never fails to make me loose my orientation.

On final. I love how you can trim the A-10C down to 150 kts for a seamless and flawless touchdown.

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