One Versus Five (1v5)
This episode happened several months after I went through the Topgun class, and is one of the more memorable flights of my entire career.
...Those flights were part of a research project in which Miramar squadrons explored tactics against the new MiG-23 “Flogger.” MiG-23s were more capable than MiG-17s and MiG-21s in some important respects, with better radars, better missiles, and great top speed. They were good interceptors. One significant limitation was their relatively poor maneuverability. In the early 1980s Floggers were becoming fairly common in potential enemy air forces, and their ability to launch missiles at us before the merge caused real concern.
The research project was called “Rising Fighter.”
Rising Fighter consisted of 2vUNK scenarios in which two Tomcats ran intercepts and engaged regular Navy F-4 Phantoms in dogfights. Phantoms provided a good simulation of many Flogger characteristics. We flew all runs on the instrumented TACTS Range, with high quality intercept control and real-time kill removal. That meant that a good missile shot by either the fighters (Tomcats) or the bandits (Phantoms) resulted in an aircraft being called “dead” and immediately leaving the area. Tomcats used only Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles, the same as the Phantoms and similar to a Flogger’s.
In these 2vUNK runs we were always outnumbered. Our primary advantages were our better radar to help us develop SA during the intercept, and our superior maneuverability once we got to the merge. The hard part was getting there. Unlike many of my Topgun flights, these guys could shoot us in the face and kill us.
Eight weeks after we finished Topgun, Jaws and I joined Cowboy and Ice for a week of Rising Fighter, one flight per day for five days. The Phantom pilots and RIOs were not Topgun instructors, but several of them had been through the class. They were front-line Navy fighter crews trying hard to survive in realistic simulated combat, just like us.
Most flights included at least two intercepts to engagements, and the odds were 2v4, 2v5, or 2v6. But that was only how the intercept started. With the aggressive pre-merge shots and kills, both sides suffered casualties. For me, Rising Fighter was just the right challenge. We would start a run, the radar picture would show five bogeys, and I would think, bring it on.
Seared into my memory forever are snapshot images from a flight that started as a 2v6 and turned into a long 1v5 engagement. We scored one kill on the intercept, but Cowboy our wingman was kill-removed just before the merge, leaving Jaws and me to fight five Phantoms. It was a day with a high layer of thick clouds, softening the browns and grays of the desert during those microseconds I registered the terrain for orientation. Through my visor I noticed our wings, with the high-lift leading edge slats deployed, tremble under high g forces and turbulent airflow while we stressed our fighter in max-performance turns. At that fuel state we weighed more than 25 tons.
It wasn’t easy, but Jaws and I were in our element. We had refreshed our Topgun-class contracts such as who looked forward and who looked back. Our weapons system use and inter-cockpit comms were very effective, based on practice, debriefs, and constant improvement. We used every system available in our Tomcat, including radar warning equipment to alert us when an F-4 locked us up in preparation for a missile shot, something we could not use against Topgun jets, which had no radars. We pulled more than 6 g’s for much of the fight, but this wasn’t a problem after all of the dogfighting I had done in the past few months.
This memorable 1v5 was a tight turning engagement approaching two minutes duration. I had to suppress my inclination to watch the “dogfight action” over Jaws’ shoulder, but my concern was defensive lookout. Over my right shoulder I picked up a Phantom slicing through a descending turn, a few seconds from becoming a threat, as we pursued another Phantom through a left turn. Over the ICS I told Jaws, “Approaching, right four (o’clock) high. Okay, hard right.”
As Jaws broke off his attack on the jet in front of us, an irritating screech from our warning equipment announced that the Phantom had taken a radar lock, he was about to launch a missile. I made an awkward reach with my right hand to launch a few rounds of decoy flares and chaff in anticipation of the shot. We used simulated missiles, but real chaff and flares. The chaff broke his radar lock as our hard right turn neutralized his approach. We traded updates on the F-4s remaining in the fight as Jaws returned to pursuing our original target. There was a lot going on.
We got three kills then bugged out southwest because of low fuel.