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Combat radius refers to the distance from an airbase that a warplane can reach, patrol there for a set amount of time and return to base with minimal fuel left, thus completing a combat mission. For a given aircraft, its combat radius varies according to whether or not it carries external drop tanks, the level (altitude) of the combat mission, and the amount and weight of ordnance it is carrying:
- An aircraft with drop tanks will have a greater combat radius than the same one without, due to the extra amount of fuel carried.
- An aircraft engaged in a low-level (lo) combat mission will have a smaller combat radius than the same one engaged in a high-level (hi) mission, due to higher fuel consumption at lower altitudes (higher atmospheric pressure / air density).
- An aircraft with more and heavier ordnance will have a smaller combat radius than the same one with less and lighter ordnance, due to higher fuel consumption at heavier weights.
The combat radius of an aircraft is often given with its mission profile (without in-air refueling). For example:
- The F-16 Fighting Falcon's combat radius is 550 km (340 mi) on a hi-lo-hi mission with six 450 kg (1,000 lb) bombs.
- The F/A-18 Hornet has a combat radius of 537 km (330 mi) on a hi-lo-lo-hi mission.
Combat radius is always smaller than maximum range, the distance which the aircraft can fly the farthest with maximum payload and without refueling, or ferry range, the distance the aircraft can fly the farthest with drop tanks, no ordnance and without refueling.
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