Beyond visual range (BVR) will remain the raging controversy in air combat until a definitive, modern air war — which nobody wants — proves which side is correct.
The Air Power Australia group, which defiantly wears its pro-F-22/anti-F-35 bias on its sleeve, make a strong case today against BVR, breaking down the odds of failure at each step in the BVR kill-chain.
- Active missile confirmed on launch rail — 0.1% (chance of failure)
- Search and track radar jammed — 5%
- Launch or missile failure — 5%
- Guidance link jammed — 3%
- Seeker head jammed or diverted — 30%
- Chaff or decoys seduce the seeker — 5%
- Seeker chooses towed decoy — 5%
- Aircraft out-manuevers missile — 40%
- Fuse or warhead failure — 2%
PROBABILITY OF A BVR MISSILE KILL: 17.1%
The question is simple: Even if it is technically possible to destroy an opponent’s aircraft beyond a pilot’s visual range, is it now or will it ever become tactically feasible?
Pierre Sprey, a co-father of the A-10 and F-16, adamantly says no. The fog of war and the complexity of air combat dictates that pilots must wait until their targets come within visual range before they can be shut down. Even if they dare to fire, the chances of a BVR missile kill are too small for the strategy to work.
But the US Air Force corporately says yes, a sentiment echoed by the makers of the F-35 Lightning II, which its supporters will likely concede is optimized for the BVR fight.
To be sure, since 1991, the USAF has fired 13 AMRAAMs to achieve six BVR kills, a 45% success rate, according to this Rand air power study. But Rand’s analysts note that these shots have come against inferior or unsuspecting opponents, and offer no confidence that an engagement with modern Su-30s would bear similar results.