A dogfight, or dog fight, is a form of engagement between fighter aircraft; in particular, combat of maneuver at short range, where each side is aware of the other's presence. Dogfighting first appeared during World War I, shortly after the invention of the airplane. Until at least 1992, it was a component in every major war, despite beliefs after World War II that increasingly greater speeds and longer range weapons would make dogfighting obsolete. Modern terminology for air-to-air combat is air combat maneuvering (ACM), which refers to tactical situations requiring the use of individual basic fighter maneuvers (BFM) to attack or evade one or more opponents. This differs from aerial warfare, which deals with the strategy involved in planning and executing various missions.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 2.1 World War I
- 2.2 Spanish Civil War
- 2.3 World War II
- 2.4 Korean War
- 2.5 Vietnam War
- 2.6 Arab-Israeli conflicts
- 2.7 Indo-Pakistani wars
- 2.8 Falklands War
- 2.9 Iran-Iraq War
- 2.10 Persian Gulf War
- 2.11 Balkans conflict
- 3 Modern air combat
- 4 See also
- 5 Footnotes
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
The term dogfight has been used for centuries to describe a melee; a fierce battle between two or more opponents. The term gained popularity during World War II, although its origin in air combat can be traced to the latter years of World War I. The first written reference to the modern day usage of the word comes from Fly Papers, by A. E. Illingworth, in 1919, “The battle develops into a ‘dog-fight’, small groups of machines engaging each other in a fight to the death.” The term fighter ace generally applies to any pilot who eliminates five opponent craft in the air (or, in Germany during World War I, ten aircraft), although not necessarily in a dogfight.
World War I
Dogfighting first emerged in World War I. Ever since "heavier than air" flight became a reality in 1903, people had been trying to figure out how to use this new technology for warfare. Aircraft were initially used as mobile observation vehicles, and early pilots gave little thought to aerial combat. Balloons had been used for this purpose since the American Civil War in 1861. According to Basil Collier “The Chinese are believed to have used man-lifting kites for military reconnaissance before or soon after the Christian era”. The new airplanes proved their worth by spotting the hidden German advance on Paris in the second month of the war.
Enemy pilots at first simply exchanged waves, or shook their fists at each other. Due to weight restrictions, only small weapons could be carried on board. Intrepid pilots decided to interfere with enemy reconnaissance by improvised means, including throwing bricks, grenades and sometimes rope, which they hoped would entangle the enemy plane's propeller. The first dogfight is believed to have taken place on 28 August 1914, when Norman Spratt, flying an unarmed Sopwith Tabloid, forced down a German Albatros C.I two-seater.
Pilots then began firing hand-held guns at enemy planes, such as pistols and carbines. In August 1914, Staff-Captain Pyotr Nesterov, from Russia, became the first pilot to ram his plane into an enemy spotter aircraft. In October 1914, an airplane was shot down by a hand gun from another plane for the first time over Rheims, France. Once machine guns were mounted to the airplane, either on a flexible mounting or higher on the wings of early biplanes, the era of air combat began.
The biggest problem was mounting a machine gun onto an aircraft so that it could be fired forward, through the propeller, and aimed by pointing the nose of the aircraft directly at the enemy. Roland Garros solved this problem by mounting steel deflector wedges to the propeller of a Morane Saulnier monoplane. He achieved three kills, but was forced down due to engine failure down behind enemy lines, and captured before he could destroy his plane by burning it. The wreckage was brought to Anthony Fokker, a Dutch designer who built aircraft for the Germans. Fokker decided that the wedges were much too risky, and improved the design by connecting the trigger of an MG 08 Maxim machine gun to the timing of the engine. The Germans acquired an early air superiority due to the invention of the synchronization gear in 1915, transforming air combat with the Fokker E.I, the first synchronized, forward firing fighter plane. On the evening of July 1, 1915, the very first aerial engagement by a fighter plane armed with a synchronized, forward-firing machine gun occurred just to the east of Luneville, France. The German Fokker E.I was flown by Lieutenant Kurt Wintgens, earning the victory over a French two-seat observation monoplane. Later that same month, on July 25, 1915, British Royal Flying Corps (RFC) Major Lanoe Hawker, flying a very early production Bristol Scout C., attacked three separate aircraft during a single sortie, shooting down two with a non-synchronizable Lewis gun which was mounted next to his cockpit at an outwards angle to avoid hitting the propeller. He forced the third one down, and was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Battles in the air increased as the technological advantage swung from the British to the Germans, then back again. The Feldflieger Abteilung observation units of the German air service, in 1914-15, consisted of six two-seat observation aircraft each, with each unit assigned to a particular German Army headquarters location. They had but a single Fokker Eindecker aircraft assigned to each "FFA" unit for general defensive duties, so pilots such as Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke began as lone hunters with each "FFA" unit, shooting unarmed spotter planes and enemy aircraft out of the sky. During the first part of the war, there was no established tactical doctrine for air-to-air combat. Oswald Boelcke was the first to analyze the tactics of aerial warfare, resulting in a set of rules known as the Dicta Boelcke. Many of Boelcke's concepts, conceived in 1916, are still applicable today, including use of sun and altitude, surprise attack, and turning to meet a threat.
British Brigadier General Hugh Trenchard ordered that all reconnaissance aircraft had to be supported by at least three fighters, creating the first use of tactical formations in the air. The Germans responded by forming Jastas, large squadrons of fighters solely dedicated to destroying enemy aircraft, under the supervision of Boelcke. Pilots who shot down five or more fighters became known as aces. One of the most famous dogfights, resulting in the death of Major Hawker, is described by the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen,
I WAS extremely proud when, one fine day, I was informed that the airman whom I had brought down on the twenty- third of November, 1916, was the English [version of] Immelmann.... First we circled twenty times to the left, and then thirty times to the right. Each tried to get behind and above the other. Soon I discovered that I was not meeting a beginner. He had not the slightest intention of breaking off the fight. He was traveling in a machine which turned beautifully. However, my own was better at rising than his, and I succeeded at last in getting above and beyond my English waltzing partner.... The impertinent fellow was full of cheek and when we had got down to about 3,000 feet he merrily waved to me as if he would say, "Well, how do you do?" The circles which we made around one another were so narrow that their diameter was probably no more than 250 or 300 feet. I had time to take a good look at my opponent.... When he had come down to about three hundred feet he tried to escape by flying in a zig-zag course during which, as is well known, it is difficult for an observer to shoot. That was my most favorable moment. I followed him at an altitude of from two hundred and fifty feet to one hundred and fifty feet, firing all the time. The Englishman could not help falling. But the jamming of my gun nearly robbed me of my success. My opponent fell, shot through the head, one hundred and fifty feet behind our line.
By the end of the war, the underpowered machines from just ten years prior had been transformed into fairly powerful, swift, and heavily armed fighter planes, and the basic tactics for dogfighting had been laid down.
Spanish Civil War
Airplane technology rapidly increased in sophistication after World War I. By 1936, dogfighting was thought to be a thing of the past, since aircraft were reaching top speeds of over 250 miles per hour (400 km/h). The experiences of the Spanish civil war proved this theory was wrong.
At the beginning of the war, new tactics were developed, most notably in the Luftwaffe Condor Legion. Lieutenant Werner Mölders advised abandoning the standard “V” formation used in combat, and pairing fighters in twos, starting the practice of having a wingman at one's side. He advised that pairs of aircraft approaching a fight should increase the distance between them instead of holding tight formations, a precursor to the combat spread maneuver. He also started the practice of training pilots to fly at night, and with instruments only. Using the new tactics, and flying the newest Bf 109 fighters, the Germans shot down 22 Spanish Republican fighters within a five-day period, suffering no losses of their own.
World War II
Strategies for fighter development
During the 1930s two different streams of thought about air-to-air combat began to emerge, resulting in two different streams of monoplane fighter development. In Japan and Italy especially, there continued to be a strong belief that lightly armed, highly maneuverable single seat fighters would still play a primary role in air-to-air combat. Aircraft such as the Nakajima Ki-27 and Nakajima Ki-43 and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero in Japan, and the Fiat G.50 and Macchi C.200 in Italy epitomised a generation of monoplanes designed to this concept.
The other stream of thought, which emerged primarily in Britain, Germany, the Soviet Union and the United States was the belief the high speeds of modern combat aircraft and the g-forces imposed by aerial combat meant that dogfighting in the classic WW I sense would be impossible. Fighters such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Supermarine Spitfire, the Yakovlev Yak-1 and the Curtiss P-40 were all designed for high level speeds and a good rate of climb. Good maneuverability was not a primary objective.
Immediately following the Spanish civil war came World War II, during which dogfighting was most prevalent. It was widely believed that strategic bombing alone was synonymous with air power; a fallacy that would not be fully understood until Vietnam. After the failings in Spain, a greater emphasis was placed on the accuracy of air-to-ground attacks. The need to stop bombers from reaching their targets, or to protect them on their missions, was the primary purpose for most dogfights of the era.
Dogfighting over Europe
Dogfighting was very prominent in the skies over Europe. The air force in France, while a major force during World War I, was inadequate and poorly organized, and quickly fell to the German onslaught. As the first battles between the Germans and the British began, the power of the German’s anti-aircraft artillery became readily apparent, with 88 millimeter shells capable of firing 40,000 feet (12,000 m) in the air. General Wolfram von Richthofen noted that these guns were equally destructive when used for ground fire. The German Bf 109 and the British Spitfire were some of the most common fighters used in the European theater.
A typical dogfight is described by an unnamed pilot,
Pulling up into his blind spot I watched his plane grow larger and larger in my sight. But this German pilot was not content to fly straight and level. Before I could open fire his plane slewed to the right, and seeing me on his tail, he jerked back on the stick into the only defensive maneuver his plane could make. I banked my 47 over to the right and pulled back on the stick, striving to get him once more into my ring sight. The violent maneuver applied terrific G’s to my body, and I started to black out as the blood rushed from my head. Fighting every second to overcome this blackness about me, I pulled back on the stick, further and further, so that the enemy would just show at the bottom of my ring sight to allow for the correct deflection.
We were both flying in a tight circle. Just a little more and I’ll have him. Pressing the [trigger] I waited expectantly for the 109 to explode. I’ve hit his wing. A section two-feet long broke loose from the right wing as the machine gun cut like a machete through it. Too low, a little more rudder and the bullets will find his cockpit. I could see occasional strikes further up the wing, but it was too late. The 109, sensing that I was inside him on the turn, slunk into a nearby cloud. Straightening my plane, I climbed over the top of the bank, and poised on the other side, waiting for him to appear. But the 109 did not appear, and not wishing to tempt the gods of fate further, I pushed my stick forward, entered the protective cover of the clouds, and headed home.
During this time, three new Russian fighters, the LaGG-1, the Yak-1, and the MiG-1 were just coming off of the production line. The Soviet Air Defense Force had been fraught with problems since World War I. The German Barbarossa offensive on 22 June 1941, destroyed more than 2000 Soviet aircraft on the first day, and more than 5000 before October. With great desperation, the Soviets fought in dogfights over Leningrad, Moscow, and the Ukraine for more than a year.
Fireteam, a triple of aircraft ("troika"), has been the main tactical unit used in battles since the beginning of World War II. The analysis and synthesis of fighting experience resulted in a conclusion that group tactics should have been rejected and replaced by action pairs. However, ramming an opponent was still a common practice among the pilots of the Soviet Union. Another successful maneuver was a "Sokolinnyi udar" (falcon punch) when a pilot got an advantage of power by swooping down on an opponent and using the sunlight conditions. This maneuver and many other tactical principles were introduced by Alexander Pokryshkin, one of the greatest tactician of the Soviet Air Force who showed his worth during World War II. His famous motto sounded as "Height, speed, maneuver, fire!". It became popular in the air armies and was adopted by pilots.
Struggling with morale problems, the Soviets slowly and methodically began to regain air supremacy after the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943. This theater is notable for including the only female fighter aces in history, Yekaterina Budanova and Lydia Litvyak.
USA and Japan
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in the Hawaiian Islands, the United States entered the war. The Japanese used the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, an extremely lightweight fighter known for its exceptional range and maneuverability. The U.S. military tested out the Akutan Zero, an A6M2 which was captured intact in 1942, advising "Never attempt to dogfight a Zero." Even though its engine was rather low in power, the Zero had very low wing loading characteristics, a small turn radius, a top speed over 330 MPH, and could climb better than any fighter used by the U.S. at that time, although it was poorly armored compared to U.S. aircraft.
A pilot who realized that new tactics had to be devised was Lieutenant Commander John S. "Jimmy" Thach, commander of Fighting Three in San Diego. He read the early reports coming out of China and wrestled with the problem of his F4F Wildcats being relatively slower and much less maneuverable than the Japanese planes. He devised a defensive maneuver called the "Thach Weave." Lieutenant Commander Thach reasoned that two planes, a leader and his wingman, could fly about 200 feet apart and adopt a weaving formation when under attack by Japanese fighters.
Thach later faced the A6M Zero during the Battle of Midway, in June 1942, for the test of his theory. Although outnumbered, he found that a Zero would lock onto the tail of one of the fighters. In response, the two planes would turn toward each other. When the Zero followed its original target through the turn it would come into a position to be fired on by the target's wingman, and the predator would become the prey. His tactic proved to be effective and was soon adopted by other squadrons. The Thach Weave helped make up for the inferiority of the US planes in maneuverability and numbers, until new aircraft could be brought into service. The usefulness of this strategy survives until today.
Another effective maneuver used by the U.S. pilots was a simple break, which consisted of turning sharply across an attacker's flight path, which worked well because the large nose of the Zero tended to obstruct the pilot's view. Still another good tactic was a high-side guns pass, which consisted of diving upon the Zero, shooting in one, high-speed pass, and using the speed to climb back above the fight to dive again. By 1943 the U.S. technology began to produce planes that were better matched against the Japanese planes, such as the Grumman F6F Hellcat, and the Vought F4U Corsair.
Technology advanced extremely fast during World War II in ways that would change dogfighting forever. Jet propulsion had been demonstrated long before the war, by German engineer Hans von Ohain in 1934, and by a British engineer named Frank Whittle in 1937. The Messerschmitt Me 262 was the first jet fighter to be used in battle, with a speed over 500 mph, and began taking a toll on Allied bombing missions in 1944. The British were testing a jet that same year, the Gloster Meteor, which would later see action in the Korean War. Although U.S. General Hap Arnold test flew the XP-59A in 1942, the plane was never used in combat. Other prime inventions of the era include radar and air-to-air missiles.
Enemy pilots were construed as weak and evil. For example in World War II, describing the Soviet tactics, the Luftwaffe claimed that, "The characteristic feature of the average Soviet fighter pilot were a tendency toward caution and reluctance instead of toughness and stamina, brute strength instead of genuine combat efficiency, abysmal hatred instead of fairness and chivalry...."
After World War II, the question began to rise about the future usefulness of fighter aircraft. This was especially true for the U.S., where the focus was placed on small, fast, long-range bombers capable of delivering atomic bombs. The Korean War began in June 1950, and the North Koreans were outmatched by the U.S. Air Force. The war was nearly over by October, with the occupation of North Korea when, on November 1, Chinese MiG-15s attacked. The Chinese began supplying North Korea with troops and provisions, and the war quickly resumed.
At 100 MPH faster, the MiG-15 was more than a match for the U.S. P-80 Shooting Star, using the same dive and shoot tactic that the Americans found so useful against Japan. The U.S. jets had inferior weaponry, and suffered from problems with production and parts. The U.S. resorted to using mainly the more maneuverable propeller driven fighters during the war, such as the P-51 Mustang which was carried over from World War II. The P-47 Thunderbolt was not used in Korea. The North American P-51 Mustang was used by the USAF during the Korean War, mainly in the close air support role with the P-47 not being deployed to Korea. Since the Mustang was more vulnerable to being shot down, (and many were lost due to anti-aircraft fire), some former P-47 pilots suggested the more durable Thunderbolt should have been sent to Korea; however the P-51D was available in greater numbers in the USAF and ANG inventories. (See footnote  under Wikipedia article on P-47 Thunderbolt.)
To combat the MiGs, the F-86 Sabre was put into production. The U.S. pilots had a number of major advantages over the Chinese, including the G-suit and the radar-ranging gunsight. Chinese fighters were often seen spinning off out of control during a hard turn because the pilot had lost consciousness. The Chinese were very competent in a dogfight, and large swirling battles were fought in the skies over Korea. However, it is highly suspected by many U.S. pilots that some of the opponents they faced over Korea were in fact well-trained Soviet pilots, who the Americans referred to as "honchos," (a Japanese word, meaning "bosses"). Major Robinson Risner recalls,
Seeing one another about the same time, the MiG flight and my flight dropped [our extra fuel] tanks.. He was so low he was throwing up small rocks. I dropped down to get him, but to hit him I had to get down in his jet wash. He'd chop the throttle and throw out his speed brakes. I would coast up beside him, wingtip to wingtip. When it looked like I was going to overshoot him, I would roll over the top and come down on the other side of him. When I did, he'd go into a hard turn, pulling all the Gs he could. This guy was one fantastic pilot.
The war in the air, however, eventually came to a stalemate as fighting ceased between the two factions. Later after the fall of the Soviet Union, Soviet records showed that Russian pilots were indeed in the air. Some at times in the fury of combat reverted to the Russian language over the radio.
The Vietnam War "was the first 'modern' air war" in which air to air missiles were the primary weapons during aerial combat, and was the only confrontation between the latest aerial and ground defense technologies between the former Soviet Union and the United States. If U.S. air power could successfully conduct war against Soviet doctrine and equipment in the skies over North Vietnam, then it could expect to successfully operate against the Soviet Union during a massive war in Europe. Over the skies of North Vietnam, U.S. aircraft would be attacking the "most formidable and most heavily defended targets in the history of aerial warfare."
By this time, dogfighting techniques had fallen out of favor in U.S. training doctrines, as missiles were considered to be all that was necessary to shoot down the big bombers expected to be deployed by the Soviet Union. As a result, air combat methods known by fighter pilots since World War I became all but lost as veterans from WWII and Korea retired and didn't pass them on to succeeding generations. American fighter pilots would meet in the skies in secret to engage in mock combat to try and maintain some level of proficiency. It wasn't until TOPGUN was established for the Navy in 1969 and Red Flag was started for the Air Force in 1975 that pilots were formally trained in dogfighting again.
Both U.S. and Soviet built jet fighters were primarily designed for intercepting bombers, and then shooting them down with air to air missiles. With possibly a few exceptions, such as the U.S. Navy's F-8 Crusader and the U.S. Air Force's F-100 Super Sabre which both mounted 4 20mm cannons each, jets were not designed for dog fighting other jet aircraft. Soviet doctrine called for their interceptors to be strictly vectored towards their targets by Ground Control Intercept (GCI) operators. As a consequence, U.S. RF-101 Voodoo's conducting reconnaissance missions, or F-102 Delta Daggers, F-104 Starfighters performing MiGCAP duties, and the strike aircraft themselves, such as F-105 Thunderchiefs, A-4 Skyhawks, A-6 Intruders, F-4 Phantoms, and B-52's flying over North Vietnam were met by MiG-17s (or Chicom J-5s), MiG-19s (Chicom J-6s), and MiG-21s being vectored directly to them by GCI operators who worked in conjunction with Surface to Air Missile (SAM) crews. U.S. aircraft which successfully made it through the NVAF MiGs were then confronted with the SAMs and AAA batteries.
This triad defense system of GCI controlled MiGs, Missiles (SAMs), and AAA enabled the North Vietnamese MiGs to utilize their aircraft's design capabilities as their designers had intended, that of, in the vernacular of the time, making "one pass, and then hauling ass", which was, in practice, quickly firing at their targets and then speeding away. By 1967 the Soviets had supplied the NVAF with enough missile firing MiG-21s to allow the North Vietnamese to routinely engage U.S. aircraft, and to rely less and less on their aged MiG-17s, although many North Vietnamese pilots still preferred the MiG-17s agility and easy maintenance. With the arrival of the additional MiG-21s, and by 1969 MiG-19s (J-6s) imported from Red China, engagements between U.S. and NVAF jets became generally divided into two arenas; MiG-21s engaged at higher altitudes, while MiG-17s and MiG-19s would try to give battle at lower altitudes where their cannons were more effective.
At the conclusion of the air war in 1973, U.S. airmen had downed 202 communist MiGs, including 2 downed by B-52 tailgunners from their quad .50 caliber machine guns; this at a cost of 90 U.S. aircraft to NVAF MiGs. The USAF claimed 137 MiGs while the USN/USMC brought down 65 in air to air combat. From these figures, the USAF had 40 gun kills, and the USN claimed 8 cannon victories. This number approached parity with the NVAF MiG's 37 gun kill figures.
Approximately 612 radar guided AIM-7 Sparrow missiles were fired during the war, scoring 56 MiG kills, while 454 heat-seeking AIM-9 Sidewinders were launched achieving 81 aerial victories. During Operation Rolling Thunder 54 AIM-4 Falcon missiles were fired obtaining 5 kills. By contrast, NVAF MiG-21s obtained 53 air to air kills with their AA-2 "Atoll" missiles, from an unknown number of launchings. At least 3 MiG-21s, and all of the MiG-17s and MiG-19s (J-6s) made the remaining 37 kills, from their 90 total, with their 23mm, 30mm and 37mm cannons.
As part of the North Vietnamese triad system of defense, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) had become an ever-increasing threat. U.S Air Force Brigadier General Robin Olds describes a typical encounter with surface-to-air missiles, which during a period of time in Vietnam was referred to as either a "MiG day" or a "Sam day", this was a Sam day.
Here come the SAMs. The trick is seeing the launch. You can see the steam. It goes straight up, turns more level, then the booster drops off. If it maintains a relatively stable position, it's coming right for you and you're in trouble. You're eager to make a move but can't. If you dodge too fast it will turn and catch you; if you wait too late it will explode near enough to get you. What you do at the right moment is poke your nose down, go down as hard as you can, pull maybe three negative Gs at 550 knots and once it follows you down, you go up as hard as you can. It can't follow that and goes under.
This passage from a USAF booklet explained a MiG day:
"If you know a MiG-21 is in your area or you lose sight of one and want to find it again: Roll out wings level for 15 seconds, then look in your 6 o'clock about 1.5 miles. It will be there. Probably you'll see mach 2 Atoll (air to air missile) smoke trail first before you see the MiG. But remember that's where the MiG-21 is! Just ask one of the 20 aircrews shot down during Linebacker that never knew they were under attack."
The Arab-Israeli conflicts were a series of wars between the country of Israel and its surrounding Arab neighbors. Those that involved dogfighting occurred between 1948 and 1985. The wars escalated on 14 May 1948, the day Israel declared its sovereignty from Britain. The War of Independence was followed by the Suez-Sinai War in 1956, the Six Day War in 1967, the War of Attrition, the Yom-Kippur War in 1973, and the First Lebanon War in the early 1980s.
The wars began with both sides using propeller planes, such as Spitfires, Avia S-199s, and P-51s, then progressed to older jets like MiG-15s and Dassault Mysteres. In the latter wars dogfighting ensued between modern aircraft, like F-15s and F-16s against MiG-21s and MiG-25s. Although usually outnumbered, the Israelis managed to defeat the air forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria in dogfights, often achieving kill ratios ranging from 10:1 to over 20:1, which is usually attributed to better training of the Israeli pilots and a technological advantage.
In 1965, war erupted between India and Pakistan over the disputed province of Kashmir. The Pakistani flew F-86 Sabres and F-104 Starfighters, while the Indians flew planes such as MiG-21s, Dassault Ouragans, and Hawker Hunters. The short, violent conflict lasted three weeks, afterwhich the claims of air-to-air kills were exaggerated by both sides, with the Pakistani admitting 39 planes lost, while the Indians admitted to 11 losses.
The ceasefire in 1965 lasted 6 years as both sides prepared their militaries. In 1971, war broke out again when Pakistan divided, and the Indians supported East Pakistan. During these dogfights, the effectiveness of air-to-air missiles proved to be only slightly better than in Vietnam, but often had trouble firing during high-g turns, tracking targets at low altitude, and could not be fired from all aspect angles, requiring pilots to maneuver onto the tail of their opponents. By the end of the 1971 war, the Indians claimed 44 kills and 24 losses in dogfights, while Pakistan reported 156 kills and 55 losses.
The Falklands War began on 2 April 1982, when Argentina invaded the Falkland islands, and then the island of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which were small disputed British dependencies. Because Britain had no military bases nearby, and few aircraft carriers, the Argentinians did not expect a response from Britain, but on 5 April the British sent carriers sailing to the Falklands with Sea Harrier Jumpjets on board. The Sea Harrier, being initially designed as a ground-attack fighter, was equipped not for dogfighting but for Soviet bomber interception; thus the aircraft had to undergo many modifications, and the pilots needed extra training.
The Argentinians had superior numbers, but their forces mainly consisted of older jets from the 1960s, such as Dassault Mirage IIIs and Israeli Daggers. The Argentinians were also handicapped by the long distance from mainland airfields and a lack of refuelling tankers. Neither side was ready for war, but both prepared all through April as diplomacy failed. The fighting started on May 1, and was to become the largest naval and air conflict since World War II. By the end of the war, Argentina lost 20 fighters in dogfights, while Britain only lost one Sea Harrier to ground fire. The Americans supplied late model Sidewinder missiles to the British; this and the analysis of French Mirage combat tactics made the difference.
In the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 (also known as first Gulf War) many dogfights happened between Iranian Air Force and Saddam Hussein's Iraq Air Force. At early years of the war IRIAF has the superiority however at the end of the war Iranian Air Force lost its superiority due to the lack of their western made aircraft spare parts and out dated equipment. see for example Operation Sultan 10. The conflict also saw the only confirmed helicopter dogfights in history, with Iranian AH-1 Cobras entering combat against Iraqi Hind gunships.
Persian Gulf War
In the Gulf War of 1990-1991 dogfighting once again proved its usefulness when the Coalition Air Force had to face off against the Iraqi Air Force, which at the time was the fifth largest in the world. By the second day of the war, the U.S. achieved air superiority. Many dogfights occurred during the short conflict, often involving many planes. By the end of January, 1991, the term "furball" became a popular word to describe the hectic situation of many dogfights, occurring at the same time within the same relatively small airspace. By the end of the war, the U.S. claimed 39 Iraqi aircraft in air-to-air victories to the loss of only one F/A-18 and one drone. Of the 39 victories, 36 were taken by F-15 Eagles.
During the Balkans conflict, in 1999, three MiG-29s of the Yugoslav Air Force were shot down in dogfights with NATO aircraft. Two were downed on 25 March, the third day of the war, by U.S. F-15s, while the third was shot down by an F-16 Falcon on May 4.
Modern air combat
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Since World War II there have been many cases of air-to-air combat. Even in the jet age, modern air-to-air combat can develop into dogfights. A fighter can evade a missile by abrupt maximum-performance turns and employing countermeasures—such as chaff and flares—provided they can detect the missile via a radar warning receiver (RWR) or visually. If beyond-visual-range (BVR) missiles can be defeated, pilots can press the attack and very quickly arrive at the within-visual-range (WVR) arena. This will typically result in a high-speed neutral pass (or merge) from which the opposing pilots must decide to turn and continue the fight with their opponent or continue straight and 'bug-out'. The turning fight that develops can be commonly called a dog fight, or air combat maneuvering (ACM).
Superiority in a dogfight can depend on a pilot's experience and skill, and the agility of his fighter when flown at minimum air speeds approaching loss of control (causing a danger of stalling); the winner typically plays to the strengths of his own aircraft while forcing his adversary to fly at a design disadvantage. Dogfights are generally contests fought at low airspeeds, while maintaining enough energy for violent acrobatic maneuvering, as pilots attempt to remain within air speeds with a maximum turn rate and minimum turn radius: the so-called "corner speed" that often lies between 300 and 400 knots, depending on the aircraft's design. Therefore a dogfight has nothing to do with supersonic speed, but much to do with the engine power that makes supersonic flight possible. The supermaneuverable F-22 Raptor can stand on its steerable nozzles at less than 100 knots airspeed, yet quickly maneuver to bring its M-61 Vulcan cannon to bear on a nearby evasive target, while a F-15 Eagle is more likely to use its thrust to maintain its relatively high corner speed, working to counter the drag caused by tight turns.
The continued importance of maintaining dogfighting proficiency was demonstrated during the Vietnam War. American pilots flew aircraft such as the F-4 Phantom II, equipped with long-range AIM-7 Sparrow missiles and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. However, air crews were required not to fire any missiles without having visually identified the target first, to make absolutely sure they were not an ally, thus losing this technological advantage. The AIM-7 missile was also not very reliable, making heavy use of delicate components such as vacuum tubes, which could not endure tropical climates, carrier takeoffs, and high-G maneuvers. Also, they had semi-active radar homing, meaning that they used the carrier plane's radar signals to home in on the target. The missiles themselves did not have a radar system, but "listened" to the pings of the attacker's radar and used the reflection of the prey aircraft to home in on it. AIM-9 missile were heat-seeking fire-and-forget missiles, meaning that once they had a lock on a heat source, they would attempt to hit it. They were only useful in short range, and in many cases failed, due to a number of factors, including delicate instruments and false heat sources (such as the sun). Additionally, early versions of the F-4 (prior to the E model) relied solely on missiles, having no guns nor lead-computing Gyro gunsight, and were therefore very vulnerable in the gun-range combat that could ensue.
Lightweight, short-endurance, point-defense fighters such as the MiG-17 and MiG-21 are typically far more agile than heavy, long-range, fighter-bombers (see the F-105 Thunderchief). Still, using superior tactics, the AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range missiles, and cannon fire, American pilots were able to gain significant victories in the air over North Vietnam, especially after the 1969 establishment of the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) to restore dogfighting ability to its pilots. At this school, pilots learned to exchange airspeed for altitude, using maneuvers like the Immelman turn and the Split-S, and to master tricks that put them behind an enemy fighter, where the enemy is vulnerable to heat-seeking Sidewinder missiles.
Referring back the previous section, which focused on tactics developed during World War II, the North Vietnamese MiG-17 resorted to use of the Lufbery maneuver on occasion when cornered by faster F-4 Phantom fighters. Whereas the Thach Weave is used as aircraft move towards a point in space, the Lufbery is employed over a fixed point.
With modern Radar guided air-to-air missiles like the AMRAAM greatly extending the general engagement range of jet fighters, some experts hypothesize that dogfighting may be headed toward extinction, but others cite the occurrences in Vietnam as evidence otherwise. However, it is worth noting that there have been a great number of Beyond-Visual-Range (BVR) kills occurring during and after Operation Desert Storm. This was due to the improved reliability of BVR missiles, radars, and most importantly, the integration of C3I assets such as AWACS aircraft into the realm of aerial warfare. This provided Coalition forces with a superior picture of the battlefield and in conjunction with airspace management allowed utilization of BVR weaponry.
Despite this the improvement of all-aspect IR, missiles coupled with helmet-mounted sights, has reduced the necessity of tail-chase attacks. In addition, Russian development of tail-mounted radar and rear-firing missiles has reduced Russian planes' vulnerability to tail-chase attacks.
Yet because this feature is only present on the most modern jets, and missiles are a finite resource, the US Navy (TOPGUN) and the US Air Force (Red Flag) continue to teach postgraduate-level classes in air-combat-maneuvering engagements. Russian aircraft manufacturers heavily emphasize supermaneuverability and dogfight capabilities in fighter design, with aircraft such as the Su-37 or the Su-30MKI demonstrating advanced thrust vectoring systems to achieve these goals, pushing the aircraft to its limits to give it an advantage in combat. USAF fighters, such as the F-15 and F-16, tend to favor higher speeds, because of their emphasis on high power-to-weight ratio and low wing-loading; although the F-22 has supermaneuverability with its own vectored thrust.
Today modern advances in the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle have thrown into question the continuing relevance of dogfighting. A computer-chip can be subject to far greater G-forces than a human pilot even with a G-suit. Yet air superiority fighter planes continue to be developed by multiple nations.
|Wikisource has several original texts related to: Air combat in the Vietnam War|
- Aerial warfare
- Dicta Boelcke
- Erich Hartmann
- Immelmann turn
- John Boyd (military strategist)
- List of aircraft shootdowns
- Lufbery circle
- Robin Olds
- Split S
- Thach Weave
- The Scissors
- Battle of Britain
- Aerobatic maneuvers
- Whifferdill turn
- Post–World War II air-to-air combat losses
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