A lot of my recent flying with the DCS: F/A-18C Hornet has been practice runs. There’s a couple of reasons for that including some performance challenges that DCS World has had as well as being spread thin on some other exciting flight simulation moments. Last night, however, I got to put the Hornet back into action on Persian Gulf at War. This is the latest episode of my ‘Flight Journal’ series.
Practice runs with JDAM and HARM
Recently I’ve been flying some practice runs with the JDAM and HARM weapon systems on the Hornet. Both are very different systems with different purposes but together you can use them to fly a single ship Hornet with the capability of knocking down or suppressing a SAM battery (a SEAD or suppression of enemy air defenses) and then taking out a target, precisely, and return to base without too much trouble – if everything goes to plan.
To get to that point, a little training is required and so recently I’ve been flying missions on the Hoggit Training Server getting practice in on how to hit targets with the JDAM and work my way through the procedures.
JDAM on the Hornet is surprisingly easy. Once you master the basic controls for the Litening targeting pod, you can use the pod to pinpoint a target and the coordinates are transferred immediately to the JDAM when in target of opportunity mode (TOO). Then all you need to do is fly towards the target and the display on the HUD will indicate when you’re in range. Then you pickle the bomb and move on to the next target.
Also part of the training regimen was the JSOW both A and C variants. I’ll hopefully be using those against some targets soon.
Starting off from Al Dhafra Air Base located to the south of Dubai, I picked my strike loadout featuring two AIM-9X Sidewinders on the wingtips, four GBU-32 250lb JDAM bombs on dual racks on the outer wing pylons, two AGM-88 HARM missiles on the inner wing pylons, a single AIM-120C on the right cheek station and a Litening targeting pod on the left cheek station plus a fuel tank on the centerline.
You need to be prepared for anything in a complex scenario that we often face on Persian Gulf at War where you could easily run into a new SAM battery that had just popped up or interceptors coming in from the north. This is my kick in the door load-out that enables me to handle a little bit of everything.
A power station designated with the codename ‘Avocado’ and located 60nm north of Al Dhafra was my first target. On arrival I noted that the target had already been hit several minutes early (by an AV-8B) with several smaller buildings burning.
I decided to make the larger buildings my target. I wasn’t certain if the 250lb JDAM would do the trick or not so I decided that I would target both buildings with two bombs. Targeting pod trained on the first target, I passed the coordinates to the first GBU-38 and pickled. Then, a similar setup with the second bomb and pickled that as well. Repeat on the second target.
All four bombs hit and two buildings were destroyed taking out the largest parts of that target area while flying far higher than any of the defending AAA or SAM’s.
I could have easily turned around at this point but I decided to press on as I still had both HARM’s which I didn’t need to use to clear out any larger scale SAM threats. So, I decided to press on and look for SAM targets.
At this point a GCI signed on (“Magic is sunrise”) so I checked in on 134.00 MHz to find out more on the nearest SAM site and what other strike packages could use SEAD support. There were some and so I was sent north towards Qeshm island. Periodically a Hawk SAM site would paint me and some of the other aircraft in the area but as I closed in on the location that search radar turned into a track radar. The Hawk battery had opened fire.
Although I still couldn’t see them, it was clear that missiles were now on the way and it was time to get out of the way. Magnum times two on the HARM missiles with a quick burst of afterburner and a roll inverted and pull through to put my nose towards the deck in a 60 degree dive away from the SAM site.
With these long range engagements I’ve learned to do everything to bleed the missiles of energy so the fancy evasive was, at least in my mind, designed to force the missiles to change their target orientation while simultaneously giving me more speed as I dove away. The next part of the evasive was a couple of S-turns again aimed at forcing the missiles to turn and finally I climbed and dove a few more times before the RWR warning stopped.
At this point I was down to about 7,000 lbs of fuel remaining which was good but getting a little low and I had 150 nautical miles ahead of me. Fortunately, without any other disturbances I was able to make it all the way back to home base without any more trouble.
Flying and fighting a complex jet like the Hornet in DCS World takes a lot of time and practice. When you pull off a challenging mission, even if its not filled with much enemy opposition, it still end sup being a satisfying moment.
Parking back on the ramp at Al Dhafra Air Base and shutting down the engines is just the last part of a complex series of systems and procedures that I’ve slowly learned to do in this module over the last couple of years. For others it’s the Warthog, M-2000C or F-14 but for me it’s the Hornet and this was a nice way to get back in to DCS multiplayer after a long absence from any of the more challenging multiplayer scenarios. With new systems and more familiarity with them, I feel more ready than ever to tackle more challenging scenarios although I still have an awful lot to learn too.