Commentary on the Rafale vs F-22 dogfight analysis

Commentary on the Rafale vs F-22 dogfight analysis

Video here is an analysis of the F-22 vs Rafale dogfight which happened in 2006. I will be providing additional commentary, which may help answer or clear up some questions. I am not however a pilot, but rather a military history enthusiast with additional interest in modern military.

The two humps visible on lower portion of the camera capture are Rafale’s Front Sector Optronics (OSF), consisting of an IRST and a TV camera. The system is capable of detecting another fighter from 130 km tail-on at 20 000 ft., 110 km at low level, and 80 km from the front. Target identification through imagery is possible at 55 km, while laser rangefinder has a range of 22 to 40 km.

Now onto HUD, as shown paused at the beginning. Numbers in the upper left corner (to the left of the directional degree indicator) are airspeed in knots, with the Mach number just below it (at 5:49 one can read 486 / 0,86). To the left and lower, near left border of the screen, is radar indicator (“RDR”). Letters below RDR read “SIM” and “DGFT”, which probably stands for “simulated dogfight”. Just below the dogfight indicator is the angle-of-attack indicator. The line reads “AoA 10,7”, which means that Rafale is at 10,7 degrees angle-of-attack at the time (3:02) when Grim Reaper says he cannot read it. And the indicators in the low left (below and to the right of the AoA readout) read “MIW / 4 FM / bRD”. The letters in the center of the HUD read “F?D EW”.

Double rungs on the pitch ladder are, as will be shown later, a consequence of whatever was done during the video coding / recoding. Altitude indicator is in hundreds of feet, in the dotted circle in the upper right area of the HUD (reading 190, so dogfight starts at 19 000 ft). To the lower right of it is a number “4000”, and to the right below of it “40 NM” and “2”. Below this is the cross, and below the cross is the G load indicator, which at the moment of the pause reads “G 6.1”.

Dotted rungs (?) actually do appear to have a pitch line pointing to the horizon: every dotted line has a pair of “horns”, one at each end.

It is interesting that Rafale has two indicators on where target is relative to the HUD: the targeting box and the indicator on the cross, low right on the HUD. Compared to the arrows in the F-16 / F-18, it also appears to indicate how far off the HUD the target is, making it far superior. The G-force indicator is also there, just to the lower right of the cross, while the Angle of Attack indicator is across it, on the left of the screen.

The circle which follows radar lock indicator (square / triangle) is the missile seeker indicator.

At 4:28, the dynamic launch zone appears, but only what appears to be letters “BCT” to the left of it is in any way readable. The cross which also appears, to the right of it, shows where target indicator is on the HUD. The box for which Grim Reaper says at 7:40 “I have no idea what that box is” appears to be the steerpoint symbol.

Rafale appears to be capable of both gaining and dumping energy at high rate. This is crucial in a dogfight, as one does not want to stay at the same state for too long. There are quite a few turns in the 7 – 8 g range, and Rafale dumps most of its energy more than once to get into an advantageous position. That pays off, as it eventually gets first a missile lock, and some time after, a gun solution on the F-22.

At one point, Rafale goes as low as 202 knots (14:02 in the video) while at 28 degrees AoA, and soon after to 161 knots and 27 degrees AoA. Grim Reaper states that “it’s a trust vectoring aircraft (so) Raptor probably likes being at 150 knots (…). Rafale certainly won’t, because it is a traditional non-thrust vectoring”, but this is wrong as Rafale’s close-coupled canards provide it with most benefits of the thrust vectoring.

At 15:20, Raptor crosses in front of the Rafale, and Rafale gains a radar target lock. At that position, Raptor would have been dead in any kind of real fight. It is also notable that Raptor is somewhat below Rafale, though Rafale has traded most of its energy to gain the firing position, and Rafale calls a Fox Two.

At around 16:10, Rafale switches to gun and the gun snake appears, and at 16:50 Raptor again crosses Rafale’s sights. At 20:47, Rafale is again above the Raptor, and at 21:36 it gains a lock on Raptor which in the meantime has climbes somewhat above Rafale.

For the most of the fight, Rafale is dominant in both energy management and positioning (angle). It gains radar lock at multiple points. Early in the fight, it trades a lot of attitude in exchange for the airspeed. At the end Rafale trades all energy to gain a lock on a climbing Raptor. By 23:42, Raptor is again below Rafale and appears to be struggling with energy even more than Rafale, as is commented in the video, and few seconds later (at around 24:00), Rafale gains a missile lock. At 24:11, Rafale’s gun piper is near Raptor, and around 24:25 Rafale has a gun kill, and calls the end (“Request Terminate”).

But Rafale overall dominates the fight, even at low speeds, thanks to its close-coupled canards. And it is the final winner.

Now onto the second video:

Rafale starts with airspeed of 420 knots, and the fight starts from within visual range, at altitude of 20 000 ft. At the start it pulls in, which as noted in the video indicates that the starting setup was a beam set. Beam set is explained here as follows:

“For the Abeam set, the fight is on right away and is a neutral, known airspeed start. The initial abeam setup merge need no longer be co-altitude, allowing the fighters to add/subtract energy through the use of descending or climbing pre-merge. This allows each fighter to execute their respective BFM gameplan. Look to control that first merge so you can execute your HA gameplan.”

This means that both fighters are flying parallel to each other at the start, with known airspeed and altitude – though altitude may or may not be the same for both. Rafale pulls a hard 6,5 g turn right away, and goes aggressively nose low. By 10:32 he has a lock, but has lost 7 500 ft while maintaining cca 500 knots.

When video is restarted at 13:10, Rafale pulls up to 9 g or so. It appears that it manages to pull a much tighter turn than Raptor does, and it gets Raptor out in front, and in a position where Rafale could easily get a missile shot. At 14:47 Rafale could also have gotten shot, but as explained, does not take it in order to get into a more favourable position. At 15:02 Raptor passes in front of Rafale, which may indicate that the Raptor pilot has lost the track of Rafale.

They note that Rafale is great at getting angles, and is similar in that regard to US F-18 Hornet, and also note that the floor is not, in fact, at 10 000 ft. At 18:10 Raptor finally notices Rafale and attempts to evade. At 19:55 or so Rafale is again above Raptor and targeting him. At 20:10 Rafale has a gun solution on Raptor, but fight may have been over at that time. At 20:44 Rafale calls “back to the airmax”.

Overall, Rafale did beat the Raptor. And this is really not something that should be surprising. Raptor is a large, heavy aircraft that is optimized for beyond visual range combat. It has powerful engines, but relies on thrust vectoring for nose pointing, which leads to massive energy loss in a fight. Rafale is much smaller, much lighter, has superior aerodynamics and slightly lower wing loading. As such, it will handle much better in a dogfight, while relying on its electronic warfare and ECM capabilities to deny the enemy ability to successfully engage at beyond visual range. While luck is always a factor, as they note, Rafale is in fact a superior dogfighter – regardless of all the excuses made in the analysis at the end. F-22 is excellent aircraft, but every design involves compromises, and Rafale is far more optimized for close-in fighting than F-22 is. F-22 can dogfight, but it is not an area where it will feel comfortable compared to something like F-18, Rafale or Gripen.

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