DCS World 2.5 beta has massively updated the firepower on the F/A-18C with the introduction of the AIM-120B, AIM-120C, and AIM-9X air-to-air missiles. I tested them out and here are some reactions.
Lobbing missiles at range
While flying the Hornet armed with AIM-7 Sparrows I feel like a capable but somewhat limited air-to-air platform with a missile that lacks flexibility. The AIM-7 feels slow (even if its Mach 4 specs seem to roughly compare with the AIM-120) and a lot of that has to do with its semi-active nature – you need to keep your radar locked and pointed on target until impact.
With the AIM-120 all you need to do is wait for the timer to count down until the radar goes active. At closer ranges this is immediate and it means that you can currently (using STT) lock, fire, and lock a new target and fire at that too without worrying about the first missile. That’s a massive improvement in capability and it makes the Hornet much more dangerous in a fight.
Future sensor updates will add datalink (via LINK-16) and the ability to lock and fire on targets while using TWS (track-while-scan) mode. Things get very interesting when using these abilities which will further enhance the F/A-18s BVR medium range missile capability.
Close in too
The AIM-9X is an interesting introduction as its the first new air-to-air missile introduced into the series in quite some time. The AIM-9X is a fairly substantial upgrade over the AIM-9L that we’re so used to using. Its fast, agile, resistant to flares, and right now offers a small but substantial upgrade over the earlier Lima version of the Sidewinder.
Coming later is the JHMCS helmet which will let you lock targets at off-boresight angles (supposedly approaching 90 degrees) which will make the Hornet an even more dangerous dogfighter. Further comparisons between the AIM-9X and the R-73 (AA-11 “Archer”) and those missiles off-boresight abilities should make for considerable debate.
A heavy loadout
A fun thing that Eagle Dynamics has added is the rack launcher for the AIM-120, a system that has been trialed and tested on the Hornet (but not operationally used to the best of our knowledge). The 10 missile loadout gives the Hornet different look.
In situations that call for masses of missiles, this seems like a good solution. For long range CAP and situations requiring more agility, taking fewer missiles may be a better option.
As always, the Hornet remains a flexible multi-role platform adept in a variety of roles and Eagle Dynamics has given their DCS World module a whole lot of extra punch.